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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: What Is the Gift of Tongues?

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Don Stewart

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One of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament is the gift of tongues. Tongue-speaking, or glossolalia, is an individual's supernatural ability to speak in a language never before learned. It may be a known earthly language or an unknown heavenly language.

And God has appointed these in the church . . . varieties of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:28).

Different Purposes

The gift of tongues has three different purposes:

(1) A sign to the unbeliever (2) Means to pray (3) A channel through which messages can be given to other Christians.


One of the purposes for tongues was a sign for the unbeliever:

Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22).

Means Of Prayer

It is a means to pray to God:

For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries (1 Corinthians 14:2).

It is a channel through which messages are given to Christians:

For he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification. But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? (1 Corinthians 14:5,6).

In the Book of Acts we find accounts of tongue-speaking which gave evidential value of the message of Christ (Acts 2:10).

Not Every Believer Has The Gift

"Do all speak with tongues?" (1 Corinthians 12:30). The way the sentence is structured in Greek demands that the answer be no. Not everyone should be expected to speak in tongues. Tongues is listed with all the other spiritual gifts and no individual believer has every spiritual gift.

Warnings Against Misuse

The Apostle Paul spoke highly of the gift of tongues:

I wish you all spoke with tongues (1 Corinthians 14:5).

I thank my God that I speak with tongues more than you all (1 Corinthians 14:18).

But he also warned against the misuse of the gift:

But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? (1 Corinthians 14:6).


The Bible sets down guidelines by which the gift of tongues should be exercised. They are found in 1 Corinthians 12-14.

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