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

Don Stewart :: Should a Person Seek to Speak in Tongues?

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Should a Person Seek to Speak in Tongues?

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues – Question 9

There are those who encourage every believer to seek to speak in tongues. The following passage from Paul is usually cited as evidence that this should be the case.

Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:5 NRSV).

This seems to be an encouragement for each and every believer to seek the gift of speaking in tongues.

Elsewhere Paul wrote of his own experience with speaking in tongues.

I thank God that I speak in [other] languages more than all of you (1 Corinthians 14:18 HCSB).

These passages supposedly encourage every believer to seek the gift. Therefore, it is argued, every believer should seek to speak in tongues.

Not Every Believer Should Seek to Speak in Tongues

However, we find the Bible making no such command that every believer should seek to speak in tongues. We can make the following observations.

The Verse Does Not Say All Should Speak with Tongues

The verse used to advocate all believers should seek to speak in tongues needs to be read in it entirety. It reads as follows.

Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up (1 Corinthians 14:5 NRSV).

Paul was not saying that everyone should seek to speak in tongues. He is contrasting the gift of tongues with prophecy. Notice he sees the prophesying as something which is more desired than speaking in tongues. The key is to exercise the gift to build up the church, the body of Christ.

Tongues Is a Gift from God for Some Believers

The Scriptures says speaking in tongues is a gift from God. But the Bible does not encourage or command the believer to seek to speak in tongues. Paul asked the question.

Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in languages? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:30 HCSB).

The way the sentence is structured in Greek demands a “no” answer. The New Living Translation renders the verse in this manner.

Does everyone have the gift of healing? Of course not. Does God give all of us the ability to speak in unknown languages? Can everyone interpret unknown languages? No! (1 Corinthians 12:30 NLT).

This is the proper understanding of what Paul is saying to them. He emphasizes that not every believer has these particular gifts. Therefore not everyone has the gift of speaking in languages or tongues.

The Bible Does Not Say We Should Seek This Gift

There is no passage in Scripture that says that believers should seek the gift of speaking in tongues. If the Scripture does not command believers to seek to speak in tongues, then neither should anyone else command them to do this. Indeed, we should not go beyond what the Scripture says.

God Gives the Gifts as He Wills

The Bible teaches that spiritual gifts are given as the Holy Spirit wills. We read the following in First Corinthians.

But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11 NKJV).

It is the Holy Spirit, and He alone, who decides which gifts we have.

Paul Told Believers to Be Eager to Prophesy Not to Seek to Speak in Tongues

Paul told believers to be eager to prophesy but not to speak in tongues. He wrote.

So, dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39 NLT).

In the same verse that Paul told the believers to be eager to prophesy he said nothing about being eager to speak with tongues. This is another indication that he did not expect everyone to seek the gift.

In sum, there is nothing in the Bible that indicates that a believer should seek to speak in tongues.

Summary – Question 9
Should a Person Seek to Speak in Tongues?

It has been advocated by some people that all believers should seek to speak in tongues. There are a number of reasons that are given for this.

First, they mention that the Apostle Paul said that he wished that everyone spoke in tongues. This is assumed to mean that the he wanted all believers in Christ to exercise the gift.

Paul also indicated that he spoke in tongues more than anyone. The fact that he said this is further indication that people should seek this gift. However, this is not a biblical position. There are a number of responses we can make.

To begin with, when Paul said he wanted everyone to speak in tongues he was actually emphasizing the gift of prophecy as being superior to speaking in tongues. Therefore, when the passage is read in context it isn’t an encouragement for every believer to speak in tongues.

Furthermore, Paul also makes it clear that no every believer has the gift that is given by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, each of us has been given different gifts.

There is something else. The Bible never says that anyone should seek the gift of speaking in tongues. In fact, the Bible is clear that the Holy Spirit alone determines which gifts believers have – we have no say so in the matter.

Finally, Scripture does say to be eager to prophesy but it never says to be eager to seek to speak in tongues.

Consequently, when we look at the totality of Scripture we find there is no indication whatsoever that all believers should seek to speak in tongues.

Must a Person Speak in Tongues to Be Saved? ← Prior Section
Is Speaking in Tongues to Build up Oneself a Proper Goal? Next Section →
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