What Are The Biblical Guidelines For Speaking In Tongues

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Are Tongues For Today?

What Are The Biblical Guidelines For Speaking In Tongues?

       We are in the midst of a short series of messages entitled:  “Are Tongues For Today?”  I believe that God has impressed upon me that it is time to bring this teaching to the Sunday morning crowd.

       In this short series of messages, we are answering three questions, “Are tongues for Today?”  “Why do I speak in tongues?” and, “What are the Biblical guidelines for speaking in tongues?”

In the first message, we dealt with the question, “Are Tongues For Today?”  In that message, we removed the Biblical obstacles to believing that tongues are for today and covered a verse that contains an inference that tongues are still for today.

Last week, we dealt with the question, “Why do I speak in tongues?”  I gave ten Biblically related reasons why I speak in tongues.

Today we come to the last message in this short series, and I will entertain the question, “What are the Biblical guidelines for speaking in tongues?”

       What I started to do in 1997 and continue to do today is develop a fresh Biblical theology of the baptism in the Holy Ghost and spiritual manifestations, which includes tongues.  I have trademarked the word “Biblecostal”™ which was was first used on October 16th, 1998, in an attempt to keep from being theologically categorized and lumped in with people who are different from us—not because of any sense of superiority or pride, but for the sake of clarity in teaching.  There are two seemingly opposite poles of theological teaching.  I refer to them as Pentecostal and Fundamental or Conservative Evangelical, with the latter having its roots in Fundamentalism.  I want to state for the record that I object to the terms and the stereotypes attached to the terms Pentecostal, Fundamental, and Evangelical, as they are currently being used.  In a manner of speaking,

·        We are all Pentecostal, because the Church was born on the Great Day of Pentecost.

·        We are all Fundamental, if we believe in the fundamentals of the Bible.

·        We are all Evangelicals, if we believe in the Evangel, i.e. the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, these names are commonly used in America with some sense of meaning.  So, I will reluctantly use them as they are currently used.

If you want to study the distinctives of “BiblecostalismÔ, get a copy of my paper:  “Towards A BiblecostalÔ Theology And Hermeneutic 3.”  There has been one update since I wrote that and the update is captured in this statement, “In the NT, the baptism in the Holy Ghost is always accompanied by inspired speech, and that inspired speech tends to be tongues and/or prophecy.”  “One of the distinctive characteristics of BiblecostalismÔ is that we hold to some of the beliefs of both Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism simultaneously, because they are Biblical.  Like the Bible and the post-postmodern world in which we live, it is no longer inconceivable to hold to two beliefs or positions that seem to be antithetical.  It is now possible to be both/and, rather than either/or.”[1]

       We are not going to be discussing the broader perspectives that have to do with “Biblecostalism,” but the narrower perspective of tongues or “spiritual language.”

       Remember, I have already done a great deal of this teaching in various venues to defend the manifestation of tongues.  I will not be doing that today.  I will be basically discussing guidelines for using tongues in the church assembly.

       To begin this sermon, I need to make some disclaimers.  First, because this is a very controversial subject, I do not need—nor am I trying—to make anyone agree with me.  Tongues are not salvific; therefore differences of opinion are healthy and often good.

       Secondly, I am not trying to make anyone speak in tongues.  Again since speaking in tongues is not salvific, I feel no need to put pressure upon anyone to speak in tongues.  Any emotion that you will see in me, concerning the subject, has to do with enthusiasm concerning the Biblical purpose of tongues and wanting to share something wonderful with you, not pressure to make anyone speak in tongues.

       Thirdly, I want the same courtesy that I am giving.  I am not trying to make anyone speak in tongues and no one should try to keep me from speaking in tongues, as long as it is in keeping with the guidelines given in the Bible.

Fourthly, my understanding of these things comes from much, much study of Acts 2, 8, 10, 19, 1 Corinthians 12-14, and the surrounding passages.  I have been studying these things for most of my 43 years of Christianity.  I have been intensely studying these things over the last six plus years.  In addition to my study of this topic, I have read through the Bible over 30 times, and I continue both my study of these things and to read through the Bible once a year.

       Fifthly, our church will be a church where both those who speak in tongues and those who don’t will attend.  We will practice tolerance, acceptance, and love for those who believe differently and worship differently from us, as long as those beliefs and behaviors are not obviously anti-biblical, divisive, or destructive.

(But, because of the amount of distortion, bias, and strong feelings concerning tongues, I am going to first cover what tongues are not, before I deal with the Biblical guidelines for speaking in tongues.  Remember that I am covering one manifestation or tool on my spiritual tool belt!)

·        Speaking in tongues is not a status symbol.

This is one of the ugly things about speaking in tongues.  There are still those in the church, as there was in the church at Corinth, who view and portray speaking in tongues as some type of rite of initiation to the status of super-spiritual or superior.  This creates the “haves” and the “have nots.”  Anyone who has not spoken in tongues feels inferior or like a second-class Christian.

       I want to state again, succinctly and forthrightly, that I will not tolerate that kind of attitude or behavior in our church.  We are all equally important as members of the body of Christ.

·        Speaking in tongues is not a substitute for spiritual growth.

Speaking in tongues does not take away the need to grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Speaking in tongues does not take away the need to read the Word of God, pray, gather together for fellowship and service, witness, build up the saints, or obey Jesus Christ.

·        Speaking in tongues does not render one sinless.

Those who speak in tongues still sin.  Those who speak in tongues still must keep short accounts with God through repentance.

·        Speaking in tongues is a spiritual tool for enhanced communication with the Father, which comes along with the baptism in the Holy Ghost.

Everyone who is saved is given a coupon for a red phone.  Many people don’t know it and many of those who know it don’t want it!

(With these short disclaimers, let’s begin to set out the Biblical guidelines for speaking in tongues, especially in the church service.)

       Now, in the Bible, I believe there are two different kinds of tongues:  known human languages and unknown preconceptual languages.  I am indebted to one of my mentors and one of the men on my personal board of accountability, Jack Hayford, because my view has been greatly impacted by his teaching in the book The Beauty Of Spiritual Language.

Nevertheless, “After much study, consideration, and reconsideration, I believe the manifestation of tongues in Acts is speaking in known, human languages that were not learned, through the power of the Holy Spirit, at the coming of the Holy Spirit to different people groups in keeping with Acts 1:8.”[2]  In Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19 there were multiple transactions of the Holy Spirit, i.e. the baptism in the Holy Ghost, the filling of the Holy Ghost, being born of the Holy Ghost, etc., but right now I am pointing out the advent of the Holy Spirit to different people groups.  It says in Acts 2 that the Jewish proselytes from various ethnicities heard the 120 praising God in their own languages, when they were speaking in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  So, these were known human languages that were not known by the speakers, but known by the hearers, that accompanied the advent of the Holy Spirit to the Jews in Jerusalem and Judea, in Acts 2; the mixed Jewish heritage of the Samaritans in Samaria, in Acts 8; and the Gentiles near and far, in Acts 10 and 19.

It seems that once this function was fulfilled, the nature of tongues changed.  The transition may have been underway in Acts 19:1-7, because there is no statement of understanding, interpretation, or explanation of the tongues that occurred there.”[3]  Whereas, “The tongues in 1 Corinthians are transrational[4], precognitive, or preconceptual language.  The prefix ‘trans’ means beyond.  These post-Acts tongues are not “irrational,” but ‘transrational,’ i.e. they are beyond the rational, beyond the mind.  The Spirit is a higher faculty for communicating with God than the mind!  These tongues are precognitive, which means that they flow out of our spirits before they have been processed cognitively or through our minds.  These tongues are preconceptual, which means they have not been processed in the mind and therefore have not been assigned to certain concepts.

So, the two kinds of tongues are known human languages and unknown preconceptual language.  This may have been what Paul was discussing in

1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

The tongues of men seems clear enough, but what are the tongues of angels.  Could this be precognitive tongues?  Some think so.

·        Some call these tongues angelic language, because it is the languages of angels.

·        Some call these tongues heavenly language, because angels speak human languages on earth—but may speak their angelic languages in the heavens.

Now, in addition to the fact that I believe there are two kinds of tongues, I also believe there are two kinds of preconceptual tongues.  If this is not true then Paul’s writings seem to make no sense.  There are times when Paul talks as if only certain believers can speak in tongues, and then he turns around and exhorts and wishes that all believers would speak in tongues.  This makes no sense unless there are two kinds of tongues, i.e. the grace of tongues and the gift of tongues.  The grace of tongues is a hotline to heaven that usually doesn’t receive a message back from God, except, “I hear you and I am here for you!”  The gift of tongues is a hotline to heaven that receives a message that is to be given to the local church.

       One example of the two different uses of tongues is seen in

1 Corinthians 14:5 (NASB-U), “Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.”

       First of all, we see Paul’s wish or desire for the Corinthians.  His wish is that they all spoke in tongues.  Now, since the gift of tongues is not available to all believers (1 Cor. 12:30), what is Paul talking about?  But, Paul makes sense, if we understand that Paul is not talking about the gift of tongues, but the grace of tongues.  This verse is often overlooked by conservatives, because of the statement which follows—but the context must be kept in mind.  His greater wish is that the Corinthians would prophesy, but the context is in the worship service.  That is what Paul is discussing.

       So, Paul wanted all of the Corinthians to speak in tongues, i.e. unknown, preconceptual language, in private, but in the worship service prophecy is better—with one exception:  when the tongues are interpreted.  When the tongues are interpreted, they are equivalent to prophecy.  I believe Paul is discussing the gift of tongues, when used in the worship service, but the grace of tongues when used privately!!!  A similar thing can be noted in 1 Corinthians 14:18-19.

(Let’s deal briefly with the grace of tongues, so that we may set out the guidelines of the gift of tongues.)

The Grace Of Tongues

The grace of tongues is the manifestation of spiritual language that graciously accompanies the baptism in the Holy Ghost, which empowers believers to be witnesses unto Jesus Christ and to transact Kingdom business, with miracles, signs, and wonders, and is available to every believer.

       Since the grace of tongues is basically used in one’s closet of prayer or privately, there is no need for interpretation.  The problem is, “Should the grace of tongues ever be spoken in the church?”

       This grace of spiritual language does not need interpretation, because it is a means of personal edification that is spoken between the believer and God, and is not intended nor practiced as a message, word, or prophecy to anyone else.

       I believe Paul covers this in

1 Corinthians 14:28 (NASB-U), “But if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.”

This is not completely clear, but it seems plausible to me that there would be one or two people in the assembly who were known to have the gift of interpretation.  So, if you didn’t have your own interpretation and no one was in attendance with the gift of interpretation, those with the gift of tongues should remain silent in the assembly.

The next phrase qualifies Paul’s instructions and gives some additional information.  Paul says that the one speaking in these tongues should speak to himself/herself and to God.  Once again, it is hard to say exactly what Paul meant, but it seems to me that Paul was prohibiting the public proclamation of personal tongues.  He said that one could speak to himself and to God.

Now how does one speak to himself?  This could mean to speak to oneself internally or in one’s mind, but it could also mean to speak lowly in an inaudible voice.  When we say that someone is talking to himself or herself, what do we mean?  We mean that the person’s lips are moving and we know that s/he is talking, but we cannot make out what that person is saying.  I do that on occasion.  I speak directly to God in my prayer language, but no one knows that I have done that—because I speak to myself, i.e. in a very quiet voice.

       Furthermore, as the organizer, Sr. Pastor, and Bishop of “The Beth-el Association of Visionary Churches,” I reserve the right to overflow in my spiritual langauge, not profusively, but from time-to-time, because it is the overflow of my worship, praise, prayer, and spiritual warfare, as I minister.  I will often alert you to that manifestation, contextualize it, and explain it by letting you know that no interpretation is needed, because no message to the assembly was intended.

       There will be times, when I am led by God that I will ask the assembly to minister in their spiritual languages and I will explain what we are doing.

(Okay, let’s move on to:)

The Gift of Tongues

       The gift of tongues is the manifestation of spiritual language that is graciously given for the purpose of giving a message, word, or prophecy to the gathered assembly.

       Specific guidelines for its usage are given in

1 Corinthians 14:26-27 (NASB-U), “What is the outcome then, brethren?  When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation.  Let all things be done for edification. [27] If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret” (emphasis mine).

       It is interesting to note that although many churches claim to be New Testament churches, this service does not resemble the ordered, intellectual services that many churches have today.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First of all, these churches were Jewish, not American.  The early church had not been heavily influenced by the Greek mindset, which is heavily oriented towards the intellectual.  On the contrary, the early church was much more heavily influenced by the Hebrew mindset.  Therefore the services were practical, interactive, passionate, personal, etc.

Secondly, the size of the house churches during the time of Paul’s writing was probably no larger than 50 members.  With small house churches, the order of Hebrew influenced service was interactive, spontaneous, and extemporaneous.  This order of service would not work well in modern churches of much larger attendance—particularly in very large churches like The House of the Lord, where there may be as many as 2,000 in one special service.

Now, there seems to be some confusion over the translation of the next phrase, but I believe that Paul is saying that even in the early house churches there should be at most three messages from three different people in tongues, and each should give his/her message in turn—and then someone must interpret each message.  This is very different from some extreme Pentecostal churches, and probably very different from his opponents in the church at Corinth.  I don’t say this as a put down or to be critical, but rather as an observation.  The Evangelical perspective is no better, in that they don’t consider or allow any of what Paul is prescribing.

Be that as it may, when the gift of tongues is exercised in the assembly, this manifestation of spiritual language is to always be interpreted or explained.  We have already covered that Scripture, 1 Corinthians 14:27-28.

       In a church this large, the gift of spiritual language will probably only be exercised by me on a Sunday morning and I will give the interpretation.

       In smaller gatherings, we may be able to follow Paul’s guidelines.

       Please keep in mind that a spiritual interpretation is not an exegetical translation, but the Spirit-prompted summary of what God is saying to the assembly.

       Also, please be aware of

1 Corinthians 14:32-33 (NLT), “Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can wait their turn. [33] For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the other churches.”

There is no behavior that we cannot control!!!

       Finally, I believe that Paul teaches that not all believers will exercise the gift of spiritual language in the gathered assembly.  This is seen in

1 Corinthians 12:29-30 (NASB-U), “All are not apostles, are they?  All are not prophets, are they?  All are not teachers, are they?  All are not workers of miracles, are they?  All do not have gifts of healings, do they?  All do not speak with tongues, do they?  All do not interpret, do they?”

       This is an ad hoc list of gifted persons and spiritual gifts.  The point is that not all believers will exercise the gift of tongues.

(You have in your notes a chart that I composed earlier that contrasts the grace of tongues, with the gift of tongues.)

The Grace Of Tongues Versus

The Gift Of Tongues

| !! The Grace Of Tongues

(Spiritual Language)[5]  | !! The Gift Of Tongues

(Spiritual Messages)(A burden of the Holy Spirit) |

Accompanies the baptism in the Holy Spirit Given by the Holy Spirit

| On the Day of Pentecost and the Advent of the Holy Spirit to different nations in Acts (Acts 2; 8; 10; 19) | !!!! At other times (1 Corinthians 12-14)


A resource or provision A gift or spiritual manifestation

| A personal spiritual language (Spoken to God) | !!!! A public proclamation (Spoken to people)


| !!!! For prayer, praise, and worship, and spiritual warfare

| For prophetic utterances |

For use in private (or quietly in public) For use in public
For personal growth For public growth
Does not need interpretation, but may need explanation, if it breaks out in the assembly Always needs interpretation

       As we come to the end of this short series, I thank God for the tremendous blessing of tongues, but I would remind us of Paul’s admonition in

1 Corinthians 14:39-40 (NASB-U), “Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. [40] But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.”

(Now is the Day of Salvation!  Come to Jesus, Now!)


Call to Discipleship


[1] Joey Johnson, “Towards A Biblecostal Theology And Hermeneutic,” October 16, 1998.

[2] Joey Johnson, “Towards A Biblecostal Theology And Hermeneutic,” April 17, 2002.

[3] Joey Johnson, “Towards A Biblecostal Theology And Hermeneutic,” April 17, 2002.

[4] Spirit-Filled Life Bible (Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991), 1737.

[5] Jack Hayford, The Beauty Of Spiritual Language, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1996.

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