This is what I believe the Bible says concerning speaking in tongues. In view of fact fact of the mistakes commonly made in the body of Christ about speaking in tongues.
Just in the sense that people make a mistake in the nature of man, in that they claim man is a spirit, he has a soul and he lives in a body, which is wrong, the same type of mistake is made about speaking in tongues. It has to be said first of all that speaking in tongues is just one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and it comes in diverse operations and differences of administration just like the other gifts in which also, there are diversities of gifts (c.f 1 Corinthians 12: 4-6)
Charity is above all the most important attribute of a Christian, far more important than the gifts, and the gifts are only meant to perfect Christians in love, that is, lead them to be mature Christ-like individuals, who are mature in love. After being a man in Christ the Bible makes it clear that the gifts would no longer be needed (when I was a child I spoke as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things). So, the folly of paying so much emphasis on speaking in tongues is clear, when in fact prophecy is more important than speaking in tongues and charity (love) is even more important than both.
Now the Bible says in Corinthians 12:31 "But covet earnestly the best gifts and yet show I unto you a more excellent way." What is this "more excellent way," the Bible talks about? Evidently, for one to say that there is a more excellent way implies that there is an excellent way. This excellent way is what the Bible refers to as the gifts of the Spirit in their operation, but the more excellent way is charity.
The Bible, the word of God, continues in I Corinthians chapter 13 from verse 1.
1. Though I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as a sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal.
2. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4. Charity suffereth long, and is kind: charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.
5. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.
6. Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth,
7. Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8. Charity never faileth, but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish sway.
9. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part
10. But when that which is perfect is come then that which is in part shall be done away.
11. When I was a child, I spoke as child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known,
13. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
We can see from the passage above, when someone becomes a man in Christ he puts away things the Bible refers to as "childish." From the context, it will clearly be seen after a deep thought without bias, that these things the Bible refers to as "childish" are the gifts of the Spirit. That is why it is difficult to convince young Christians that speaking in tongues, and even other gifts are temporal and only help in maturing a Christian.
To these kind of people, the outward manifestations of power and the working of signs and miracles is more important than the beauty of love.
Someone might not be able to blame them for this, for what would one expect more from a child. We can imagine a real life scenario in which a child starts crying immediately the mother goes out to work, though this action would definitely be ridiculous if seen in a teenager or a mature person.
So also, there are many older Christians who refuse to mature and place undue emphasis on speaking in tongues.
For them speaking in tongues is the all in all of Christianity. How wrong can they be!
In the scriptures hardly is a scripture beside another by coincidence. In fact there is no coincidence in the scriptures and everything has been put in place deliberately by God, the scriptures being inspired by the Holy Ghost for a purpose, So why is a whole passage about charity (love) fitted between two passages about the gifts of the Spirit? The message God is trying to pass across is clear enough, Charity is the most important thing. Another reason why the passage on charity is fitted in between passages on the gifts might be that the gifts in their operation have something to do with charity.
One might come to the last conclusion based on the fact that in I Corinthians 14:1, which follow immediately after 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible says "follow after charity, and desire Spiritual gifts, but rather that than ye may prophesy, which buttresses the fact that the charity has something to do with the gifts in their application.
As it has been said above, speaking in tongues is only one of the gifts of the Spirit and it should be remarked here that there is nothing like the doctrine of the so-called phrase, the Holy Ghost baptism with the "evidence" of speaking in tongues, neither is everyone supposed to speak in tongues as the scriptures definitely attest to 1 Corinthians 12-14).
There is nothing liker the "evidence" of speaking in tongues in the Bible, when the Bible talks about the Holy Ghost baptism. To form a doctrine out of this view and say one must always speak in tongues after receiving with the Holy Ghost baptism is definitely wrong. Agreed in a few places in the four or so recorded places in the Acts of the Apostle, where it is said that the Holy Ghost came down, it is said that those who received the Holy Ghost baptism also spoke in tongues, but it is surely not a thing someone can form a doctrine on and say - "the Holy Ghost baptism with the "evidence" of speaking in tongues."
In most of the places in the Acts of Apostle in which it is said that they spoke in tongues after receiving the Holy Ghost, it is also said that they magnified God and in one place in particular it is also said that they "prophesied", implying that the Holy Ghost baptism is not the same as speaking in tongues in general.
Let us quote this passage before we give the plausible reasons why in the early Church the Holy Ghost baptism usually manifested in the unique gift of speaking in tongues and sometimes as prophecy also. I call speaking in tongues a unique gift so that I am no way against the use of this gift, only the misuse of it.
The passage is in Acts 19: 1-7.
"And it came to pass that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples.
He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, we have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
And he said unto them, unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, unto John's baptism.
Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is on Christ Jesus.
When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them: and they speak with tongues, and prophesied.
And all the men were about twelve."
I thank God that this passage was allowed in the scripture or should I say put there by the Holy Ghost, otherwise what confusion we would have in the Church. When the Holy Ghost came down on the men, they spoke in tongues and prophesied, so there is nothing like the Holy Ghost baptism with the “evidence” of speaking in tongues." What is actually the case is the "Holy Ghosts baptism with the evidence of a gift of the Spirit."
Then, it is clear why the Holy Ghost baptism usually manifested with speaking in tongues in the early Church. As we have seen above these gifts also have something to do with charity. And as we have also seen in I Corinthians 14:1, the Christian is advised to follow after charity and desire spiritual gifts especially, that he may prophesy. He is admonished to do this because in doing so he would be moving closer to the purpose and goal of God for his life in the overall vision that he should be mature and be formed in love. So it is for that reason that I Corinthians 14:1 says, again, "follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy."
The Bible makes us to know that there are various grades of spiritual gifts, and that some are actually more important than speaking in tongues. So again the reasons why they spoke in tongues in the early Church cannot be far fetched, why they spoke in tongues more (or should I say why it is recorded they spoke in tongues more, than they prophesied).
These are the reasons I can give why they spoke in tongues in the early Church:
God used the spectacular gift of speaking in tongues to advance His kingdom. Having just started in the building of the Church, God needed to use speaking in tongues to catch men's attention knowing man's feeble ways and man's attraction to the spectacular rather than the more important attribute of love. That the early Christians also misunderstood this point, Paul had to write lengthy letters to the Corinthians to make them see that they needed to be more mature in love than the speaking in tongues they were laying emphasis on.
To buttress this point is the fact that the Bible says speaking in tongues is meant more for a sign to unbelievers whereas prophecy serves more for a sign to believers. Since there were more unbelievers in the early Church that had to be reached, more manifestations of this gift might have been necessary.
The gifts operate in us by us "walking in charity and desiring the spiritual gifts." One can say that those people recorded in the book of Acts as speaking in tongues were not fully mature in love, hence most of the time they exercised the lesser gift of speaking in tongues when the Holy Ghost descended on them.
The present author is a case in point. When I was a teenager and in my early twenties I used to operate the gift of prophecy without actually having any control over it. The prophecy just came, and I had no control over it myself. Usually the prophecy, with the word of knowledge and word of wisdom, came in the form of a vision, usually around afternoon time. During these afternoons, I slept, and the visions came during the sleep except only for one vision I saw with my eyes wide open while reading a book on my bed. It is now on looking back that I now know that I was exhibiting certain traits in I Corinthians 13, that was why I received the visions, and not only that, I must have desired spiritual gifts. Another thing I notice in the visions was that people who God used in them to give me revelations were people in which love existed between us, going on to prove what I have been saying, namely that charity (love) is very important in the application of these gifts.
In this context it is useful to note when speaking about the gifts ceasing in 1 Corinthians 13, the context is about “accomplished love” and not about “accomplished writings” as some say.
Again since speaking in tongues is a gift, you might not have any control over it in its application, and you just cannot "start" speaking in tongues. Though there could be exceptions to this because, there are "diversities of operations" and the administration of the Holy Ghost might be different from one individual to another.
It is not just plausible that all those speaking in tongue and "babbling" as I would call it are praying. We all need to go back to the foundation and examine the basics. You just do not say, let's start speaking in tongues and everybody stand "babbling." The Bible makes us to be aware that speaking in tongues is in the tongues of men and of angels and in the early Church people could hear that these men speak in their native tongues and perhaps dialects. The Bible says in I Corinthians 14:21 "with men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the LORD. This is quoted from Isaiah 28. Also in the same I Corinthians 14, the same Bible says in malice we should be children, but in understanding we should be men.
So here is what we have been saying about speaking in tongues:
It is just one of the gifts of the Spirit.
It comes in diverse operations and differences of administration. This means the way the gifts are exercised in one person might be totally different from the way they are exercised in the other person.
It is not synonymous with the Holy Ghost baptism in the sense that once you receive the Holy Ghost baptism you must also always speak in tongues. It is possible that when you receive the Holy Ghost baptism you might speak in tongues, but it is not the same as speaking in tongues all the time you receive the Holy Ghost.
It is a lesser gift to prophecy and it is mainly for the edification of a person, while prophecy is for the edification of the whole Church. Therefore we are advised to seek to prophesy rather than the speak with tongues. This is what the word of God is saying in I Corinthians 14: 1-32. People quote this verse in that passage wrongly, I Corinthians 14:2 "for he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God, for no man understandeth him, howbeit in the Spirit he speaketh mysteries." Here in this verse, the word of God was admonishing us, rather to prophesy than speak in tongues, if you read the whole context of the passage, saying someone who speaks in tongues though speaking mysteries to God, only edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the Church. And the Greek word Musterion, translated mysteries, does not signify something that can't be known, but signifies something that is hidden but is now being revealed openly. This is the context it is used in the Bible.
All these gifts including speaking in tongue operate by us walking in love. It is the amount of love that we operate that might rather dictate what kind of gift we operate. We must also actually desire the gifts, hence the command in I Corinthians 14:1 quoted here again "follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy."
The gifts are not an end in themselves but a means to an end in that they are to make us or help us to be conformed to the image of Christ, and we are not to lay undue emphasis on them. As we have said before, charity is the most important attribute of a Christian.
After we become mature in love the gifts vanish only to reoccur perhaps when we go back a bit in the Christian life, by falling unintentionally into sin ( when I was a child, I spoke as a child, etc). This is what the Bible is probably saying, when it says where there is sin grace much more abounds. All these just show that God still loves us even when we sin. But in this wise it should be said, that there is a sin unto death and also a sin the Bible refers to as not unto death in the sense that if one sins in this regard he can still be prayed for. God knows our weaknesses and it is in this sense, that when we are feeble and weak, he still encourages us and shows us love. I am talking from personal experience.
Speaking in tongues is either in the tongues of men, like German, French, Spanish, Yoruba and so on and in the tongues of angels, This explains the fact that, no man might understand him because he might be speaking the tongues of angels, when one speaks in tongues, since speaking in tongues can also be in the tongue of angels.
A third reason why they spoke in tongues is probably because God wants us to go back to the original "one language" and " one speech.” “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to , let us make brick and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone and slime they had for mortar." Genesis l1:1-3.
We should usually try to know the mind of the messenger, then we would get the message. In the same way, we should try to know the mind of God. People actually do stupid things, all in the name of religion. People babble, when in actual fact they think they are praying. I once went to a church. The pastor said let us pray.
So they prayed for an hour or so in "tongues." They were saying things like LABABAKASHBABA, LABABABABUSHKABA...... After an hour, he said amen, and they all finished and went straight home.
The Hebrew word for brick Lebenah could be broken down to form “son of a woman” while the Hebrew word for stone Eben, could be broken into Av, father, and Ben son, to form son of a father. This is, if we remember that the letter B in Hebrew, Beth, which has numerology two and represents a house, without the Dagesh, is pronounced like V. So the people left the son of the father for the son of a woman. The concept of Babel is found throughout the Bible in the form of Babylon which runs throughout. Also the people actually made "bricks" in Egypt. This concept of Babylon and Babel implies that man now speaks different languages and is confused and in a confused state which can only be righted by being married to the Son of the father, Jesus Christ. (Jesus performed his first miracle (sign, Semeion), at a marriage in Cana of Galilee.
So it is this context that they spoke in tongues in Acts reminding humanity that they have to be a faithful bride to Christ. Noteworthy is the fact that the virtuous woman in proverbs 31, is represented in the beginning of every verse by all the Hebrew letters in order, the letters Shin and Sin being counted as one in the Hebrew.
When Paul said he spoke in tongues more them everybody else the plural of tongue, glossa ,that is glossai, is used, in this case it means languages more understandable to the hearers, that is "spoken languages" and this also should not be taken that people should "babble" and say because of this they are "speaking in tongues" since Paul said he spoke in tongues more than all.
When remembering the Hebrew letters, the beginning of the letters, Aleph, represents the figure one and is represented by an Ox. Beth, by a house, Gimel by a Camel and Daleth for figure four, by a door. In this context, the letter Tav, which represents the number 400 also is represented by a cross. The Israelites were said, would spend 400 years "in bondage" in Egypt. They actually spent 430 years, though some Hebrew scholars say they spent around 200 years, or should I say just more than 200 years. Some have used this to mean that they prolonged the original 400 years mentioned by God to Abraham, by thirty years.
However, what the Bible says is that they would be "in bondage" 400 years. We can then note, when leaving Egypt they actually formed a cross by the blood on the doorposts, a symbol of the letter Tav, represented by 400.