‘I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all, yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue (1 Corinthians 14:18, 19).’
The First Occasion of Speaking ‘with’ Tongues
The first experience of speaking ‘with’ tongues (Acts 2:4) was at the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (v 1) when the New Testament Church was inaugurated. The Spirit came in great power (cf. Acts 1:8) manifesting itself with what appeared to be tongues of fire that ‘sat upon each’ (Acts 2:3) of about 120 men and women (Acts 1:15). They were assembled together waiting for the promise of Jesus to be fulfilled (v 8). The Holy Spirit would empower them to be witnesses of Jesus ‘in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (v 8).’
They heard the sound of ‘a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting (Acts 2:2).’ ‘They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (v 4).’
At the time of this supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit a multitude of Jews from every nation were in Jerusalem, and having heard the sound they came together and met with those who had been in the upper room. Amazingly, they heard them speaking their own languages (v 11). They were testifying of ‘the wonderful works of God (v 11).’ Peter stood up, and with a raised voice he preached the gospel to them. He told them that Jesus had been crucified by lawless hands, and that He had been raised from death to life by God the Father (vv 24, 32). Afterwards He ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9) where He sat at the Father’s right hand (Acts 2:33).
When the people heard this they asked Peter what they should do (v 37). He told them to repent and to be baptised for the remission of their sins. That very day about 3,000 repented and were baptised (v 41).
The Second Occasion of Speaking ‘with’ Tongues
The next time we hear of speaking with tongues is after Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius and his household. As Peter was speaking (Acts 10:44) ‘the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word,’ and they spoke with tongues and magnified God (v 46). They were baptised in the name of the Lord (v 48). On that occasion there was no mention of ‘the sound of a rushing wind’ as at Jerusalem, or of the appearance of ‘tongues as of fire’.
The Third Occasion of Speaking ‘with’ Tongues
Speaking ‘with’ tongues happened again when Paul met about twelve disciples at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7). With these twelve or so men there may also have been womenfolk. They had been baptised by John the Baptist, but none of them had received ‘the Holy Spirit (v 2).’ Paul told them they ‘should believe’ on ‘Christ Jesus.’ Thereafter, they were baptised in His name, and when Paul laid his hands on them ‘they spoke with tongues (vv 5, 6) and they prophesied.’
On all three of the above occasions people spoke ‘with tongues’. ‘Tongues’ when translated from the original Greek is ‘languages’. So they spoke actual known languages.
Further Mentions of Speaking Tongues
Tongues are again mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14.
In 1 Corinthians 12:27, 28 Paul speaks of Christ’s members within the church: ‘first apostles, second prophets, third teachers’; then he mentions ‘miracles’, followed by ‘gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.’ In verse 30 he asks, ‘Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?’’ He said the Corinthians should desire the best gifts (v 31). In Chapter 13 he explained that there was something more excellent than the gifts previously mentioned; namely, the gift of love, and if he were without it he would be ‘nothing (13:2).’ After describing the nature of this [agape] love, he stated that it is the greatest of the gifts (13:13) – the one gift all should desire (12:31).
Let’s remind ourselves that out of the four gifts listed, Paul relegated tongues to being last (12:28), and not all were given that particular gift (v 30). Although Paul spoke more with tongues than the others (1 Corinthians 14:18) he laid down a rule saying no more than three should speak (v 29) during a meeting. He also said there must be interpreters (vv 27, 28). Without interpreters, others would not profit. Take note that interpretation is a gift (1 Corinthians 12:10).
The Difference Between Speaking ‘with tongues’ and ‘in a tongue’
Speaking ‘in a tongue’ is different to speaking ‘with tongues’. The latter refers to actual languages spoken by various people groups (Acts 2:8-11). The former, ‘in a tongue’ is a singular language known to God (1 Corinthians 14:2), but not necessarily known by the speaker. Hence, if he or she is unable to interpret (v 13), there must be someone present who can. Whenever there is speaking ‘with tongues’ or ‘in a tongue’ there must always be interpreters, otherwise the speakers should cease.
I have no personal experience of speaking ‘in a tongue’ or speaking ‘with tongues’. The only language I speak is English, and it was not given to me as a gift from God. I had to work at it, and still do. I know there are people who claim they speak ‘in a tongue’, and there are those who claim they speak ‘with tongues’. If they are not bogus, God will reward them for using their gifts *to His glory (Ephesians 6:7, 8).
Just one last thought, Paul in all of his travels promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ, must many times have used God’s gift of speaking ‘with tongues’ to great effect. He did not claim this, but surely it was true. He thanked God that he spoke with tongues (1 Corinthians 14:18), He said he would rather speak with his ‘understanding’ in order to teach, as this was preferable to speaking ‘ten thousand words in an unknown tongue, (vv 13-19).’
*Do All to the Glory of God
Some References to Speaking ‘with tongues’ or ‘in a tongue’
1 Corinthians 12:28, 30.
1 Corinthians 13:1, 8; 14:6, 18, 21, 22, 23.
1 Corinthians 14:1, 2, 4-6, 8, 12 -14, 18, 19, 23, 27, 39.
Acts 2:4, 11, 46.