Speaking in Tongues Debate - 09 - Jesus and Tongues

Chapter 9 


    What surprised me the most was the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ, our Divine Example, never spoke in tongues. He had the Holy Spirit without measure, and all the gifts, though apparently not this one. He didn't seem to miss it at all. He didn't speak about it, nor did He seem to pursue it. But if speaking in tongues is all that it is made out to be, and if it is as useful as I had heard, Jesus certainly would have needed it-He who prayed so much with weeping, who often fasted, and who preached salvation to the crowds, who wearied Himself healing the sick. This indisputable evidence of the total absence of speaking in tongues in the life of Jesus disappoints certain defenders of this doctrine to the point that, in order to save face, they are obliged to expose themselves to the twisting of the Scriptures to their own destruction (II Pet 3:16).

    Here is what one says in an attempted answer to non-charismatics, "If Jesus Christ has never spoken in tongues it is because He was perfect, and being perfect, He had no need to edify Himself!"

    To this skillful maneuver we answer by one simple question, "Why did the Lord, who was perfect, require that John the Baptist administer to Him the baptism of repentance since He had no need of repentance?"

    He did it for us because we needed to know what was needful.

    If, therefore, the divine Son of God never spoke in tongues it was because he knew that practically all of His Church would never have need of doing so.

    If speaking in tongues had the renewing and restorative power that some believe it to have, Christ would have, more than anyone, needed it. He was often physically exhausted. So, why didn't Christ ever edify Himself by, speaking in tongues, I wondered? If speaking in tongues should be exercised in private, or among friends, why didn't He ever use it? Why didn't He pray in tongues when there were so many people coming to Him to be healed? Why didn't He link speaking in tongues to the casting out of demons if that were the best way to do it? Why didn't He sing in tongues when He climbed the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:26)? Why didn't He blend His voice with those of the angels when He saw them ascending and descending upon Him (John 1:51)? Why, I wondered, didn't He possess this gift? Why didn't He try to add this sign to the others for the good of His ministry?

    Reading I Corinthians 12, I found nine gifts of the Spirit which are:



Miraculous powers


Discerning of spirits

Different kinds of tongues


    Our Lord had, and used, all of these gifts except that of speaking in tongues and its clarifying corollary, interpretation. Had God deprived Him of this precious gift? Had God taken it away from Him? Was this gift outside of His grasp? Was He not spiritual enough to receive it? Had He not sought after it ardently enough? All of this is unthinkable and borders upon heresy. It is clear that Jesus Christ had the Spirit without limit (John 3:34). Since He had this gift, why didn't He use it? Simply because it was not necessary to do so... but why not?
    Could it be that the people who were with Him had no need to see this sign, whereas they really needed all the others? Could Jesus really have the fullness of the gifts of the Spirit without having this one? Here, more than ever, my questions irritated those around me. I was some sort of "Jack-in-the-box" full of troublesome questions! They were just the kind that nobody wanted to answer.

    Once again, I was reduced to calling upon God and waiting upon the Holy Spirit for an answer. The answer sprang out of the entire Scriptures and was in perfect harmony with the four Gospels.

The "Why" explained

    Jesus rarely left the confines of Palestine. His Gospel did not go beyond the lost sheep of the house of Israel. "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans" (Matt 10:6). His ministry was only to the Jews, and excluded foreigners because the worldwide aspect of His teaching was still hidden. There was not yet any question of "peoples, tribes, nations, and tongues." Nothing, or almost nothing, in His words would allow us to have an inkling as to international scope of His work in the future.

    The sign of tongues, therefore, had no reason for existing yet, nor any reason to be manifested. Up to this point there was nothing to irritate the Jews and make them jealous of the grace given to the Gentiles, for they had not yet been brought into the picture. Jesus only mentioned speaking in tongues one time at the very end of His ministry, when He said in Mark 16:17, "They will speak with new tongues". It is highly significant to notice that He says it in the flow of the preceding phrases, "Go into all the world..... It is the famous "...to every creature" that evoked the gift of speaking in tongues. The narrow limits of Jewish nationalism were going to break open. But the Lord knew that "this people" would do everything possible to keep the Good News from being announced to other peoples and in other tongues. At that time He would give to "this people" by His disciples the appropriate sign that He himself in His wisdom never desired, nor had the occasion to use. Still in harmony with what has been said, the inverse situation is seen in the Gentile cities of Athens and Malta. They were outside of the presence of "this Jewish people" who fiercely opposed their salvation. There, speaking in tongues was no longer necessary, not, any more than it is today, for "the Jewish people" is no longer a force against the salvation of the world.

It is so simple

    The biblical explanation that speaking in tongues was a sign only for the Jews worried some of my best friends. They asked me, "How can you be sure that the "sign was not for unbelievers among the Gentiles?" The answer is simple. Two events in the New Testament had the same significance: Peter's vision in Acts 10 which gave him the green light to visit the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 10:9-16), and the gift of speaking in tongues.

    What was the meaning of the sheet let down from heaven full of unclean animals? What was the significance of these animals, unclean according to Moses' Law (Leviticus 11), which Peter would never have touched? Everybody knows. They represented all that was not Jewish, that is to say, peoples of other tongues. It is hard to imagine this vision being given to anyone but a Jew, for it was the Jews who needed to learn not to consider unclean those whom God had declared clean. Peter was personally edified by his vision which would in turn, edify others.

    Speaking in tongues had exactly the same meaning. Peter, because he was a Jew and because of his natural unbelief in accepting the salvation of the Gentiles, needed such a vision. In the same way, other Jews who were also opposed to the salvation of the nations, needed a sign such as speaking in tongues. This sign, like the thrice repeated vision of Peter, taught them that their Jehovah's salvation (Acts 2:17,21) was henceforth for "whosoever", or "everyone", and for "all flesh", or all tongues. Some of my friends, who once thought that speaking in tongues was also for Gentiles, were confounded when I told them, "It is as if an English speaking person were to speak French miraculously by the Spirit right here. Would that prove to you that the Gospel could at last cross the Atlantic or the English Channel? Of course not! Everyone has known that for a long time. So the sign would be completely irrelevant for you." No, the Holy Spirit does not fight as a man beating the air (I Cor 9:26). Peter's vision was not continually repeated. It was seen three times successively and then "the sheet was taken back into heaven" (Acts 10: 16). The same thing happened to the gift of tongues. As Saint Augustine clearly states, "... This happened to announce something, (that the Gospel was to be announced to the ends of the earth), then disappeared." (See St. Augustine Chap 9). Is it necessary to speak the Eskimo's tongue to establish the fact once and for all that they are clean in God's eyes? Hudson Taylor and all the missionaries with him never needed the sign of tongues to realize with apostolic amazement (Acts 11:18) that God also loved the Chinese, and that He accepted them as well as their language. Christians in the world today do not need Peter's vision, nor speaking in tongues, nor anything else of this nature to convince them of this great truth. It is no longer disputed.


    I mentioned before that the vision of Peter and the speaking of tongues were one and the same thing. It must be understood that the contents are the same, only the presentation is different. Taking into account this difference of presentation, we discover between the two signs very remarkable points in common, which are not found in any other gifts of the Spirit.

The vision was given to a believer but was directed toward his unbelief. Similarly, speaking in tongues was exercised by believers but concerned their unbelief.
The vision was a sign for the apostles who did not believe in the salvation of those who did not speak the same language as they did. Peter's vision and Cornelius speaking in tongues led the apostles to say: "Therefore God has given them the same gift as to us: God has accorded repentance also to the Gentiles" (Acts 11: 17,18).
The vision was repeated a limited number of times, but we are reminded of its significance each time we read Acts 10 and 11. Likewise, the speaking in tongues was limited by the Holy Spirit (I Cor 13:8), but we are reminded of its significance when we read the Scriptures.
The vision was given for this people only. Similarly, the speaking in tongues was for this people only (I Cor 14:21).
The vision confirmed to a Jew that salvation extended beyond the nation of Israel, and that the Gospel reached to all mankind. Thus, also, the speaking in tongues confirmed to the Jews that salvation went beyond them and that God poured out His Spirit on all flesh.
The vision explained the universal and multi-lingual dimensions of the new preaching. So also, the speaking in tongues showed that the Gospel went beyond the supporter of Israel only and extended to whosoever.
The vision was not continued, but was withdrawn into heaven. So also, speaking in tongues did not continue but was withdrawn.
The vision was fully explained at the conversion of Cornelius. Likewise, the speaking in tongues is only fully understood in the light of the conversion of peoples speaking foreign and barbaric tongues, that is to say, pagans.
The vision would be out of place in an assembly of believers who already believe in the universality of salvation. Similarly, speaking in tongues is not a sign for believers (I Cor 14:22), and is therefore out of place among them.
Peter was personally edified by his vision. In what way? Only in the plain meaning of the vision. No other meaning can be retained. So also, those speaking in tongues were evidently edified within the meaning of the sign conveyed. Thus, the new idea was conveyed to them that the Spirit was poured out on all flesh, on all tongues, and "oh, mystery" that the pagans belonged to the same body and shared the same promises... (Eph 3:6)
If the vision was repeated three times for Peter it is inconceivable that, once the message was understood, it should be repeated during the rest of his ministry. Speaking in tongues is conveyed to us three times in Acts 2, 10 and 19 for the apostolic and Judeo-Christian Church, until this was well understood, and not beyond.
    The following argument leads to an absurd conclusion, as follows:
    If speaking in tongues is still for our time, then the same applies to Peter's vision. If the first sign should be sought then should the second? But who in our present-day church, composed as it is of all peoples, nations, tribes and languages, needs to be told repeatedly by a sign that salvation is for all peoples, nation, tribes and languages?

    In conclusion then, the vision of impure animals taught Peter the Jew exactly the same thing that the speaking in tongues conveyed to the Jews who were unwilling to believe it; that the way of salvation, the access to the God of Israel, was henceforth open to foreigners and barbarians whose language was miraculously spoken by the Holy Spirit.

    Based on the unmoving rock of the Holy Scriptures, I maintain with the Apostle Paul that speaking in tongues, as well as Peter's vision, was for this people (I Cor 14:21). These Jews not only despised other tongues and refused to believe (I Cor 14:21) in their salvation, but also reached the height of their sin by hindering anyone from preaching to the Gentiles (I Thess 2:16).

A difficult Exegesis

    In I Corinthians 14:22 the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells us that the sign of speaking in tongues was not for believers, but for unbelievers. Then he turns around in the very next verse and says just the opposite! On the surface it looks as though the Holy Spirit is contradicting Himself when He says, "if, therefore, the whole church should assemble together and all speak in tongues, and men unversed in spiritual gifts or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?" (I Cor 14:24). No one ever untangled this inextricable paradox for me. It is true that if the non-believers of verses 22, 23 and 24 are indiscriminately from Israel or from the Gentiles, the contradiction remains. But the problem disappears if you accept that Paul had two kinds of non-believers in view.

The non-believers of verse 22 are identified in verse 21, "I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me...... They are Jews. The sign was for them.
The others, non-believers of verse 23, the unlearned ones who do not understand, were men of the common people-and not of this people. In other words, they were Gentiles from the city of Corinth. The sign of tongues was not for them. That is what the Holy Spirit is saying here.
    This exegesis erases the contradiction and confirms that the sign of tongues-obviously not understood by the Gentiles-was not for them but was reserved for this people, the Jews, in order to bring them to believe that the Gentiles were grafted into the body of Christ which is the Church. Let me finish this paragraph by pointing out one more thing in verse 24 and 25. Here the gift of prophecy is used in contrast to speaking in tongues. Though it is destined to believers, it had the advantage of being understood by unbelievers as well because it was articulated in their own language. The result was profound conversions and troubled consciences, to the extent that some of the common people fell on their faces confessing that God was in their midst.

    I have also noted with astonishment to what extent the Enemy blinds the spiritual intelligence of certain Christians on this point of doctrine which is so easily grasped. Recently I questioned three persons young in the faith and of a very low level of instruction. After this, I repeated the experience with three children of 8 and 9 years of age. I read to them very slowly the account of Peter's vision in Acts chapter 10. I asked them to tell me what they had understood. With several excusable hesitations all of them gave me the correct answers which can be thus summed up: by the vision Peter understood that he could go and proclaim salvation to the gentiles.

    If those without instruction, as well as children without knowledge, have understood the import of the sign given to Peter, why are older Christians who claim to be animated by the Holy Spirit, Who is to "guide us into all the truth", incapable of grasping the import of this other similar sign which is that of speaking in tongues?

    It should be noted that, in the expression, "speaking in tongues", the word "tongues", which explains it all, is found; while in Peter's vision, which means the same thing, the word "tongues" is not found. As I see it, only a spirit of blindness can take from their minds that which is self-explanatory.

    Why have so many among God's people become incapable of grasping the explanations of the Holy Spirit, Who says to us, for example, that:

1. "one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God" (I Cor 14:2).

2. This sign was not for believers (I Cor 14:22).

3. This sign was for the unbelievers among the Jews (I Cor 14:21, 22).

    These passages are easier to understand than is John 3:16 or Romans 3:23, and yet they do not understand them.

    Dare I say that they do not want to understand them lest they be "converted and healed" of their error?

Why to the Jews only?

    In the face of my insistence to believe with Saint Paul that speaking in tongues, like the vision of Peter, was for "this people" (the Jews), someone asks with irritation, "Why to the Jews only?" Because the Holy Spirit teaches us in Romans 9:4 that to the Jews belong the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises.

    The Savior came to them and for them first of all. The apostles were Jews. In fact, the Church at the beginning was Jewish. Everything was in Jewish hands. Now, the most favorably disposed among them, Peter being the first, would have kept themselves from sharing this marvelous Good News with foreigners whom they classed as being of barbarous tongues. Speaking in these detested foreign tongues, and the vision of Peter, have been the two signs by which God wished to convince this people (the Jews) of the universal character of the Gospel. He wanted by this means to lead them to believe this great mystery that in Christ Jesus the Gentiles (the tongues) were made one with them (the believing Jews) in one and the same body (Eph 3:16). Both signs meant that and nothing but that.