Why the Gift of Tongues is Not an Active Ministry in Today’s Church

Why the Gift of Tongues is not an Active Ministry in Today's Church

A large part of putting one’s faith in Jesus Christ is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. With this indwelling comes a spiritual gift to each believer to use for the building up of the church.

Spiritual gifts are gifts of God given to those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and who have received the gift of God’s grace. The Apostle Paul instructs the purpose of gifts quite clearly: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12, ESV). As members of His body He equips us with gifts (1 Cor. 12:6) which we are then empowered to use, by the Holy Spirit (12:11), so that we are able to “[build] up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).

Something that may be confused with spiritual gifts are the fruit of the Spirit. While both

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areas are given by and empowered by the same source (1 Cor. 12:6, 11; Gal. 5:18) there is a distinct difference. Spiritual gifts are given on an individual basis: “But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor. 7:7). The fruit of the Spirit is how those who have put their faith in Christ are able to live (Gal. 5:22-24), as opposed to those who have not (vv. 19-21).

With that being said, one’s spiritual maturity is not determined by having and using a spiritual gift. Spiritual gifts are for ministering and building up the body of Christ (Eph 4:12). But, as stated in Galatians 5:24, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Fruit of the Spirit is a continual walk, spiritual gifts are used at specific times for specific purposes.

There is one gift that seems to draw the most attention. The gift of tongues is, “Speak[ing] not to men but to God…utter[ing] mysteries in the Spirit” (1 Cor. 14:2). The purpose of this gift is twofold. First, if the one in possession of such a gift is able to interpret what he says, he must use it as a witness to unbelievers (v. 21) or, in order to, minister to a body of believers (vv. 26-27). Second, one can use this gift to offer such tongues to the Lord as prayers and worship (vv. 14-17).

Baptism in the Holy Spirit can be associated with speaking in tongues. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the indwelling of the Spirit, as promised by Christ (Acts 1:5), to all those who put their faith in Him (15:7-9).

Is speaking in tongues the sign of baptism in the Holy Spirit? No. While there are instances recorded in scripture of after receiving the Holy Spirit individuals speak in tongues (Acts 2:4; 10:44-48), it is important to remember that tongues are a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:10) and are given as directed by God (vv. 4-7).

Another question is whether or not tongues are still valid today. The positive group, made up of Pentecostals and most charismatics, hold that tongues are for everyone as a result of baptism in the Spirit, and as such should be sought out. The negative group “[asserts] that the ‘perfect’ in 1 Corinthians 13:10 (KJV) meant the canon, and therefore at the close of the canon tongues ‘ceased in and of themselves.”[1]

This author sides with the negative camp but disagrees with their assertion that the “perfect” represents the close of the canon. In 1 Corinthians 13:8 Paul states that prophesies and knowledge will “pass away” and tongues will “cease.” The Greek verb used for prophesies and knowledge is “be abolished”, meaning that something will put an end to them.[2] For tongues, the Greek verb used means that they will cease by themselves, and since the “perfect,” which will put an end to prophesies and knowledge in verse ten, does not put an end to tongues, it should be understood that they are not present to be abolished by the “perfect.”[3]

Since we now have God’s Word delivered to us in it’s complete, inerrant, and inspired form (Rev. 22:18-19), there is no longer a need for the use of tongues. So then, what is the “perfect” spoken of? In light of 1 Corinthians 13:9 it must be when we are given full knowledge and understanding, which is not until we see our Lord face to face in eternity (v. 4).

Considering the final paragraphs examining the gift of tongues it is appropriate to conclude by restating the purpose of spiritual gifts: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).

What is the point of ‘Points to Remember’ and Questions to Promote Discussion and Bible Study?’ 

Points to Remember

  • Spiritual gifts are given to each believer to use for the building up of the church.
  • Spiritual gifts and the fruit of the Spirit are given by and empowered by the same source (the Spirit) but are not the same (see question #1 below).
  • Since we now have God’s Word delivered to us in it’s complete, inerrant, and inspired form (Rev. 22:18-19), there is no longer a need for the use of tongues.

Questions to Promote Discussion and Bible Study

(feel free to share your answers (and questions!) in the comments below)

  1. What is the difference between the fruit of the Spirit and spiritual gifts? What verses support your view?
  2. What are the two original purposes of the gift of speaking in tongues?
  3. What is baptism in the Holy Spirit? Is speaking in tongues the sign of baptism in the Holy Spirit?
  4. Do you believe that tongues are still in use today? Please explain why or why not with Scripture as your source.


  • [1] Osborne, G.R. “Tongues, Speaking in.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Elwell, A. Walter. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 2001), 1208.
  • [2] MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Commentary. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), 1598.
  • [3] Ibid.


Osborne, G.R. “Tongues, Speaking in.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Elwell, A. Walter. 1208. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 2001.

MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005.

Photo credit:

Article header photo credit: Pentecostés – El Greco (1597) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptism_with_the_Holy_Spirit

Bibliography Photo Credit: http://www.maicar.com/GML/Bibliography.html

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6 thoughts on “Why the Gift of Tongues is Not an Active Ministry in Today’s Church

  1. Having touched on both these points earlier in the week, the difference between ‘fruits of the Spirit’ and spiritual gifts are exactly what you said. Spiritual gifts are given to us directly by God to use to build up His Church.

    Romans 1:11-12
    I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.

    When we become believers, we are all given a spiritual gift. We are given a gift to be used for the good of others. Spiritual gifts surpass our natural talents because it is an ability that is given to us by the Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts are given to us to be used in dedication to the service of God.

    Romans 12:6-8
    We have different gifts according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

    Fruits of the spirit are more defined; Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control.

    So where does “Speaking in Tongues” fall? Speaking in tongues I believe is a spiritual gift.

    1 Corinthians 13:1-3
    1 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

    From the above verse, it seems that both ‘spiritual gifts’ and ‘fruits of the spirit’ go hand in hand. I did some research and found an article entitled, “The New World of Realities in Which We Live”: How Speaking in Tongues Empowered Early Pentecostals by Gary B. McGee
    In the article, one point stood out to me, “Perhaps in the intervening years it has been assumed that with some embarrassment they returned to the New Testament to discover that tongues largely serves as an avenue of prayer.”

    This article primarily focused on the “connection with love in the Spirit-filled life and the questions that grew around the meaning of the gift of interpretation”. Speaking in tongues is the gift of “prophesying.”

    Baptism of the Holy Spirit to me is when the spirit is alive in us. We are completely filled with a “new power.” In the closing lines of the article I mentioned above, the author states, “The real wonder is the new world of realities in which we live, the new possibilities that arise from our spirit being restored to its proper place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” When we are baptized by the Holy Spirit we are restored. Speaking in tongues is the “possibility” that can arise from being baptized by the spirit, it doesn’t say it will happen, but it could.

    Lastly in the article, the author concludes, “Spirit baptism with tongues-speech brought a jubilant encounter with God that transformed the Pentecostal vanguard, a dynamic event that represented the peak of the nineteenth-century evangelical quest for a deeper experience with the Holy Spirit. Their stories tell how it enlarged the charismatic potential of their spirituality and practice of ministry, and signified a gift of supernatural empowerment for Christian witness in an unbelieving age.”

    Alternatively, 1 Corinthians 14: 20-2 states,

    20 Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21 In the Law it is written:
    “With other tongues
    and through the lips of foreigners
    I will speak to this people,
    but even then they will not listen to me,
    says the Lord.”[a]
    22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

    Paul is stating that tongues are a sign for unbelievers and prophecy for believers, yet it is prophecy that converts the unbeliever and tongues that fail to do it. Speaking in tongues is proof that the Holy Spirit is speaking through the person. Speaking in tongues is a “manifestation of the divine.” Speaking in tongues serves as a sign to unbelievers that God’s power is true but it doesn’t signify the Gospel. Nor does speaking in tongues communicate the gospel. This is why speaking tongues is a “spiritual gift.” A greater gift.

    From personal experience, I had an encounter with a group of people speaking tongues at the start of every fellowship meeting. We would open with prayer and worship, which included speaking in tongues. Admittedly, the shock of and the unfamiliarity I have with speaking in tongues was definitely a new experience for me. Is it something I would personally do? No.

    1 Corinthians 13:8
    8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

    This can be interpreted that tongues will “cease” with their purpose has been fulfilled. While we are given a spiritual gift when we become believers, some of us may be rewarded with the gift of speaking in tongues and some of us will not.

    In conclusion, God’s Word is our ultimate source for truth and it is the gift given to us by God to spread and build up His Church. No speaking in tongues should be done unless the tongues are interpreted (1 Corinthians 14: 27-28). Speaking in tongues is a gift that can be used when someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit when they want to and is not the basis for baptism. Speaking in tongues will cease when God’s revelation is complete. God’s perfect revelation is found in His Word and no other or new revelation is needed (Revelation 22:18)

    • Julie,

      Thanks for taking the time to submit your reply in such a detailed manner. I hope that the points to remember and questions were helpful in taking you to the Word to do some reading of your own (which appears to be the case).

      I may have a few points of disagreement with a couple of items in your reply, but as I am not as learned on the topic as I would like, I will save my thoughts for later. This paper is a broad look at the topic of tongues, and I plan to do a more in-depth study of the gift. Take a look at the history of it, the New Testament use of it, the current use of it, and more detailed look at where Scripture stands. My hope is to publish this week. I hope that my not responding to certain points of yours right now is ok.

      Based on the study I did for this paper I agree with your concluding thought: since we have all that we need in His Word there is no longer a need for the gift of tongues.

      I’m excited to do more study on the topic. If you have any articles (for either side of the story, for or against) send them on over.

      Thanks again for the time you spent on your response. Keep learning!!

      • Aaron,

        Quite alright. This is ALL new for me and I am still learning. The use of tongues was brought to my attention about three to four months ago. Until then I was not familiar with the use of tongues. As stated, the use of tongues in the environment I was in was used in prayer. The article I highlighted in my response was focused primarily on it being an avenue for prayer.

        I am glad that you have included the questions and key points to remember, it helps me focus on what the article is discussing rather than going off on my own tangent. My responses are more for me and the individual research I do on my own is for me.

        After reading through your papers I am considering heavily in pursuing a degree in Biblical Studies and/or Theology. This is something that is very very intriguing to me because as you stated, it’s all so broad.

        I look forward to your response but again don’t feel obligated to on my account. I really need to do some more research on Speaking in Tongues so what I said in my previous response may change. However, my concluding statement will not.

        I have access to scholarly and peer reviewed information so if I find any articles that completely “Wow” me I will definitely pass it along.

        Keep doing what you’re doing Aaron.

        Stay blessed!

      • One might even say that the resurrection marks the ultimate ‘putting on’ of Christ. Paul describes the believer’s eschatological reality as a building in large part because it stands at the end of the process of edification that occurs throughout the present. This reminds us that the goal of edification is the completion of that building which for Paul is the same as bringing to an end the process of transformation into the image of Christ.

        Thus when Paul at 1 Cor 14.4 refers to those who speak in tongues as
        engaged in an activity in which they build up themselves he is referring to that process which ultimately ends in the restoration of the divine image.
        Glossolalia is not the only activity that builds up. Yet it is the only activity Paul speaks of wherein believers are able to build themselves up.

        That’s the jist. Sorry it’s so long 🙂

        • Crap, it didnt post the whole thing. But I found an article on Speaking on Tongues, and it clearly defined what the purpose is and aligned it with scripture. Apparently I can’t cut and paste the entire article here. If I email it, you won’t be able to view it, so I will try and highlight the important parts later.

          The article is, “Reflective Speech: Glossolalia and the Image of God. Pneuma: The Journal Of The Society For Pentecostal Studies, 28(2), 189-201.” Maybe you can find it within your University’s research databases. The article gets good on pages 195-201, which is where I tried copying & pasting the information. I guess Word Press hit the mother load 🙂 Enjoy it!

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