The Gift of Tongues

THE GIFT OF TONGUES By Ron Jones, D.D. The Titus Institute © 2022


In Acts 2:4-12, the Greek word "glossa" means "tongue" (a physical tongue) or "language" (what humans speak with their tongues). These verses clearly describe the gift of tongues/languages as the "Spirit-given supernatural ability to speak words of praising God in a human, foreign language not known by the speaker." It is not making "ecstatic utterances." An "ecstatic utterance" is making unintelligible sounds which can be produced by human beings in emotional or other psychological states of mind or can be learned like any other skill. Do we see Christians on a regular basis today exercising this gift as described in Acts 2? No. Do we see "ecstatic utterances" by Christians going on today which was not the gift of tongues as described in Acts 2? Yes.


1 Cor.14:20-22 states, "Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, 'By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.' Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers."

Paul quotes here Isaiah 28:11-12 and says in v. 22 the gift of languages are a sign not to those who believe, but to unbelievers, in particular Jewish unbelievers. What is a "sign"? It is a miracle which points to the fact that God is speaking through the ones performing the miracle. The gift of lanaguages was primarily a sign that God was speaking to the Jews (v.21 "I will speak to this people" context= Jews) that He is bringing judgment on Israel as he offered salvation through the apostles to all men.

In Isaiah 28:11-12, the Jews were rebelling against God and would not listen to His Word through His prophet Isaiah. So Isaiah says in v. 11 God will speak to His people through stammering lips and a foreign tongue (language). This referred to the judgment God would bring on Judah through the Assyrians, a people speaking a foreign language the Jews could not understand. Paul applies this verse to what was happening when God instituted the gift of languages on Pentecost. It was a sign that God was judging unbelieving Israel.

In Acts 2:17, when Peter explains the significance of "tongues" he uses another "judgment" passage, Joel 2. The Jews were very familiar with that passage. They knew that in Joel God is talking about great judgment upon Israel, then great blessing. Peter emphasizes the blessing part, but in the Jewish mind, they knew that there was no blessing without repentance and judgment. Acts 2:12 state "What does this mean?" Peter answers this in his sermon by pointing out God's judgment, they had killed the messiah (v.23).

The gift of languages was a sign that because the nation of Israel rejected her messiah, God's judgment was pending. His judgment would be expressed by turning away from the nation of Israel and offering salvation to the Gentiles and individual Jews and by destroying the nation in 70 A.D. in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army. That is why the gift of languages appear when God reaches out to the Gentiles in Acts 10:44-46. Again, this was a sign of judgment. The Holy Spirit was coming upon the Gentiles (Romans 9-11), a blessing for them, judgment for Israel.

In Acts 19:1-6 again the sign appears. These were Jewish disciples of John the Baptist. This again was a sign that the Jews couldn't just accept John the Baptist, they needed Christ. Jewish OT saints were not saved by just repenting, they needed to come to Jesus Christ by faith. This is the opposite of the belief that tongues are a merely a sign to believers of the baptism of the Spirit, or God's divine favor, or a devotional prayer language. By the way, ecstatic speech would not have been a sign from God to the Jews or anyone else in ancient times since they regularly occurred in some Greek and Roman pagan religions. It was well-known at the oracle at Delphi where the priestess would speak ecstatically and be interpreted by a priest.


The Bible does not say the gift of tongues ceased which is no problem because the Bible didn't say that the prophets would cease after Malachi and they did. God does not indicate when he will begin giving revelation to his people, how long he will give it or when he will stop giving it. He just does it. This is His regular pattern and speaking direct revelation through the apostles using tongues as a sign is no different.

God stopped speaking through prophets and waited for 400 years before He spoke again through John the Baptist and then spoke through the apostles and then stopped again. How do we know God stopped speaking through prophets after Malachi? God simply stopped and the Jews recognized this. Josephus, a 1st century A.D. Jewish historian states "the exact succession of the prophets had ceased." The Jews were not told this, they recognized this when no one showed up with the credentials of a prophet. That is until John the Baptist. So it is not surprising that when the apostles were gone, God did not speak direct revelation again. This is not limiting God, it is merely recognizing that God does different things at different times according to His plan which is the way the Lord has always worked.


1. The purpose of the gift of tongues was completed.

God used the sign of the gift of tongues that he was offering salvation to all men through the apostles for his judgment of Israel. In 70 A.D. Jerusalem was destroyed as Jesus had predicted in Mat.23:33-24:2 as judgment on Israel. By the end of the first century the apostles were gone and the foundation of truth had been laid out (Ephesians 2:20, 3:3-6) and salvation had been offered to all men. There was no longer a need for this sign, God's judgment for the time being was completed.

2. This is consistent with how God has worked in Biblical history.

Only during three periods of time in all of history has God brought together at the same time those who did miracles and received and spoke direct revelation as he did during the time of the Apostles.

1) Moses and Joshua

2) Elijah and Elisha

3) Christ and the Apostles

These men all had several things in common:

1) They were all messengers of direct revelation from God and at crucial periods of redemptive history.

Moses introduced the Pentateuch and the Mosaic Law and with Joshua established the Jewish nation. Elijah and Elisha established the office of the true prophet who spoke from God and was superior to all the prophets of false religions and paved the way for every major and minor O.T. prophet that followed them. Christ and the apostles spoke the New Testament revelation of Jesus Christ as the Word of God. (John 1:1-12, Hebrews 1:1-2)

2) They all authenticated their revelation by working miracles.

Moses and Joshua (Exodus 4:1-6, Joshua 3:7-8; Joshua 10:12-13)

Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:1, 1 Kings 23-24; 2 Kings 2:14-25)

Christ and His apostles (See N.T.)

3) Each major miracle worker was connected with the coming of messiah, both the first and second time. Joshua completed Moses' ministry. Elisha completed Elijah's ministry. The Apostles completed Christ's ministry.

Moses and Elijah Matthew 17:1-3; Malachi 4:4-6

Christ and the apostles (Luke 6:12-16, Matthew19:28)

4) Each period of time was temporary and ended when the miracle workers died.

No one followed them that did both, received direct revelation and performed miracles. The claim that God has always done miracles at all periods of time and if he stopped certain miraculous gifts he would be inconsistent is simply not true. In fact, for God to keep working in the way he did with the apostles today would actually be inconsistent with how God has always worked.

3. This is consistent with the historical evidence after the time of the apostles, after the 1st century A.D.

The historical evidence shows that the prophetic message from God ceased after Malachi and the historical evidence shows that tongues gradually ceased after the apostolic period.

3.1 Church Fathers of the Second and Third Centuries write that they existed, but they both may have been referring to the Montanists (a heretical group)

1) Irenaeus (180 AD)

He writes of miraculous signs and the gift of tongues in only two places in his work, Against Heresies. Miraculous signs are mentioned when he writes, "Wherefore, also, those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ..."(Against Heresies 2.32.4)

Irenaeus mentions the gift of languages later when he writes, "We do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms 'spiritual,' they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit, and not because their flesh has been stripped off and taken away, and because they have become purely spiritual." (Against Heresies 5.6.1)

2) Tertullian (205AD)

He cites an example of a Montanist woman when he writes, "We have now amongst us a sister whose lot it has been to be favoured with sundry gifts of revelation, which she experiences in the Spirit by ecstatic vision amidst the sacred rites of the Lord's day in the church: she converses with angels, and sometimes even with the Lord; she both sees and hears mysterious communications; some men's hearts she understands, and to them who are in need she distributes remedies." (A Treatise on the Soul 9). Tertullian became a Montanist later in life. Montanism was a Christian cult condemned by the early church fathers. They practiced ecstatic speech which was not the Biblical gift of tongues (or human languages).

3.2 Church Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries say they had passed away.

1) Origen (c. 185-253 AD)

He was recognized as one of the most scholarly men of his day within the church. In his apologetic against Celsus he states, "Moreover, the Holy Spirit gave signs of His presence at the beginning of Christ's ministry, and after His ascension He gave still more; but since that time these signs have diminished, although there are still traces of His presence in a few who have had their souls purified by the Gospel, and their actions regulated by its influence." (Against Celsus 7:8)

2) Chrysostom (347-407 AD)

He was held in great regard by believers of all ages in commenting on the 1 Corinthian's tongues passage stated, "This whole place [i.e., I Corinthians 14 and its treatment of tongues] is very obscure; but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity hath produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?" (Homilies on I Corinthians, 29).

3) Augustine (354-430 AD)

In commenting on Acts 2:4 he stated, "In the earliest times, 'the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed; and they spake with tongues,' which they had not learned, 'as the Spirit gave them utterance' [Acts 2:4]. These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to shew that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away." (Homilies on the First Epistle of John 6.10)

Clearly by the time of the fourth century, the miraculaous sign gifts had ceased.

3.3 Supposed manifestations of these gifts were reported as they are today among a few groups throughout history.

1) Montanists

Montanus, and his two prophetesses gathered a following claiming that the Holy Spirit was speaking though them direct revelation. He claimed they were in the "new age of the Spirit" and as proof claimed to exercise the revelatory and miraculous gifts of the Spirit including prophecy and ecstatic speech which they labeled tongues. Montauus also taught that the end of the age was coming in his life time and the New Jerusalem would descend on Phrygia where he lived before he died. Many of them asserted that in these women was something superior to Christ. Some of them denied the Trinity. They were condemned by the Council of Constantinople in 381 as heretics. Irenaeus who mentions that some in the church spoke in tongues was not a Montanist, but looked favorably upon them. Tertullian became a Montanist and claimed that these gifts existed.

2) Cevenol Prophets

In 1685, a group of persecuted Protestants in southern France claimed the "gift of prophecy" and ecstatic speech. The group was soon discredited because of their night raids and military attacks on their persecutors and because their prophecies went unfulfilled.

3) Jansenists

These were a group of Roman Catholic reformers who in 1731 were opposed to the new doctrines of the Reformation and yet also opposed to the Jesuits. Ecstatic phenomena such as ecstatic speech was reported among them.

4) Shakers

This group was founded by "Mother" Ann Lee who lived from 1736-1784. She regarded herself as the "female principle in Christ" and Jesus as the male principle. In 1776, she founded the Shaker Community in New York. She taught the second coming was fulfilled in her and demanded celibacy from her followers. Ecstatic phenomena such as ecstatic speech was reported in their group.

5) Irvingites

Edward Irving, a Scottish Presbyterian minister around 1830 believed that all the revelatory and miraculous gifts should be evidenced in his day. They claimed to have prophesy and speak in tongues and formed a new churchm - the Catholic Apostolic Church. They set up twelve apostles to rule over it. They were discredited because their "revelations" were frequently contradictory to the Bible. One of the leaders later quit the group and attributed all his own "gifts" to the work of evil spirits. Mary Campbell, the first in the group to "speak in tongues" confessed later that she had been dishonest and had been guilty of calling her own utterances the voice of God. Supposedly miraculous healings were followed by death."

6) Mormons

From the beginning, the Mormons believed tongues (ecstatic speech) was a valid gift for today. When their temple was dedicated in Salt Lake City, hundreds of "elders" spoke in tongues (ecstatic speech).

These are the groups throughout history up to the twentieth century that claimed that these revelatory and miraculous gifts were existent in their group. In the 20th century the belief took off in the Pentecostal movement in 1901 and spread to the mainline denominations in 1960. In these groups, the primary "tongues speaking" was ecstatic speech just as it had been in the other groups throughout history.

The historical evidence is obvious. The early church fathers did not believe these gifts existed beyond the Apostolic period. The few groups throughout history up to the 20th century were all heretical groups. It wasn't until the 20th century that many believers got caught up into it. All these groups manifested ecstatic speech as the gift of tongues when in reality the gift of tongues was speaking human foreign languages. Ecstatic speech has been a common occurrence in some pagan religions as we have menitioned and is practiced in India today. The revelatory and miraculous gifts ceased historically.


Those who practice "tongues" today say that these gifts were lost by the church after the Apostolic period because the love of the church grew cold. Is this true, can the church lose its spiritual gifts because of carnality and now have them restored in the 20th century?

1 Cor. 12:7 and 18 tell us that to each believer gifts are given and it is the gift that makes one a "hand or foot." These gifts are given at salvation before carnality can exist and even when carnality does all that means is that the gifts will be exercised in the flesh.

In 1 Corinthians 14:27-32, this is what was happening in Corinth. The gifts were being operated in the flesh, but they existed. Carnality produces confusion, not extinction of the gifts. The revelatory and miraculous gifts were not lost and then restored. They ceased and they do not exist today.


The question is not "Does the Bible clearly say the gift of tongues has ceased?", but rather "Is the true gift of tongues being manifested today?" and "If it is not, is that non-manifestation consistent with how God has clearly revealed He works in the Bible?" The answer to the first question is that the Bible does not say the gift of tongues has ceased anymore than it said that prophecy would cease after Malachi. We do not see the Biblical gift being manifested and that is consistent with how God has worked throughout Biblical history.