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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Speaking in Tongues

Don Stewart :: Is There a Difference between the Gift of Tongues and the Sign of Tongues?

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Is There a Difference between the Gift of Tongues and the Sign of Tongues?

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues – Question 6

There are some people who make the distinction between the gift of tongues and the sign of tongues. They argue that what we find in the Book of Acts is the sign of tongues while in First Corinthians we have the gift of tongues. Is this a distinction which the Bible makes?

Tongues Is a Spiritual Gift

First, we must acknowledge that Scripture speaks of speaking in tongues as being a spiritual gift. Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and to another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to know whether it is really the Spirit of God or another spirit that is speaking. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, and another is given the ability to interpret what is being said (1 Corinthians 12:10 NLT).

Here he lists tongues as a gift. Therefore, there is such a thing as the “gift of tongues.”

The Bible also says that tongues are also a sign. He wrote to the Corinthians.

It follows that speaking in other languages is intended as a sign, not to believers but for unbelievers. But prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers (1 Corinthians 14:22 HCSB).

Does this mean there are two different gifts? How can speaking in tongues be a spiritual gift as well as a sign?

There Was No Interpreter Present in the Book of Acts

One argument given for this position is the use of an interpreter in the church of Corinth. When tongue speaking occurred at the church meeting it was necessary for an interpreter to be present.

However, in the Book of Acts, there was such interpreter present. The content of the message was not what was stressed but rather that the tongue-speaking was a sign from God that the Holy Spirit had come down in a unique way.

Therefore, the tongues-speaking as recorded in the Book of Acts were a sign to the unbelievers while the speaking in tongues that were exercised in Corinth was a spiritual gift that needed interpretation.

We Should Be Careful about Our Conclusions

The idea of having an interpreter does not necessarily mean there is a distinction between the sign of tongues and the gift of tongues. It merely means that the speaking in tongues can function in a number of different ways. It can be a sign of God’s Spirit coming in a historical situation or it can be a spiritual gift to be used in the church meeting.

Even if there is a clear distinction between the “sign” of tongues and the “gift” of tongues we should be careful about drawing any conclusions.

Summary – Question 6
Is There a Difference between the Gift of Tongues and the Sign of Tongues?

There are those who make a distinction between the sign of speaking in tongues and the gift of tongues. Indeed, they see them as two entirely different things.

The Book of Acts records tongues a sign for unbelievers. In each case, the supernatural ability to speak in a language never before learned fell upon certain people. These episodes were always signs to the other people present.

However, the tongue-speaking in Corinth is an entirely different matter. Here we find the gift of tongues being spoken of; not the sign of tongues.

In addition, in Corinth there was to be an interpreter present when the gift was exercised. Yet there was no such interpreter present when the sign of tongues was exercised. Thus, it seems that we are looking at two different things.

This, however, does not necessarily mean that there is the gift of tongues and also a sign of tongues. The gift itself can act as a sign in certain situations.

The problem which everyone has is our limited amount of knowledge about this subject. The Bible does not give any further explanations. Therefore, any conclusions we come up with must be guardedly held.

What Did Paul Mean by the Statement, "When the Perfect Has Come the Imperfect Will Be Done Away?" ← Prior Section
In What Sense Is Speaking in Tongues a Sign to Those Who Do Not Believe? Next Section →
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