The Gift of Speaking in Tongues
July 10th, 1966 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 14:1-40
7-10-66 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are sharing the First Baptist Church morning service here in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Speaking in Tongues. For a very long time we have been in a series of sermons on the Holy Spirit, and in that series there is now a series being preached on the gifts of the Spirit. In Romans, in Ephesians, in 1 Corinthians, Paul names thirty of those gifts; nineteen different ones. Four of them are sign gifts; the gift of miracles, the gifts of healing, the gift of speaking in tongues, and the gift of interpretation of tongues. Next Sunday morning the sermon will be The Interpretation of Tongues. Today, the sermon is the Gift of Speaking in Tongues. I suppose that I have been years and years in preparation on this sermon, yet when I had finished it and looked at it, one would have thought it could have been done in five minutes. But there has not been anything over which I have struggled in my own spirit, and in my study, and in my own observation in the thirty-eight years that I have been a preacher, more than over this subject of glossolalia. That’s a funny-sounding name: glossolalia, speaking in tongues.
For about two thousand years it was almost unknown and unheard of, and then in the middle of the last century there was an Englishman by the name of Irving, a tall fellow about six feet, five inches tall, with his hair uncut, long, flowing over his shoulders, a Presbyterian, and associated with the world-famed Dr. Chalmers, and he led a movement, a tongue-speaking movement. And it has appeared again in this century and in our day. Some of the finest Baptist churches in this state are divided, cleft, tragically so, and some of the fine churches in this city wrestle with that at this present moment. So when we address ourselves to this subject, we are looking at one of the phenomenal developments in Christendom this very hour.
Now, how shall I do it? These two sermons ought to be together, the one next Sunday and the one this Sunday, but there is not the beginning of time to present them, so I just pray, I could hope that you could listen next Sunday also. And if you are unable to, these sermons will be printed in a book, and the book will be out the last of this year. It will be entitled The Holy Spirit in Today’s World.
Now, presenting the message; do you remember a television program called "Dragnet," and there was a man by the name of Webb who was the detective in that long series? And in every one of the stories, there always was developed a scene wherein the detective would say to a man, usually garrulous, that he was questioning, he would say, quote, "Just the facts, mister, just give me the facts." Do you remember that? "Just the facts, mister, just give me the facts." This sermon will be that. "Just the facts, preacher, just give me the facts": what does God say? What does the Bible say? What is presented in the Holy Scriptures? And then next Sunday, we shall speak on the interpretation.
Now, the facts: what are the facts of glossolalia? When I turn to the second chapter of the Book of Acts: "When the day of Pentecost was fully come, there came suddenly a sound from heaven as of a rushing, mighty wind," the first miracle, "and there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire," the second miracle [Acts 2:1-3]. Over in Embree Hall, there is a magnificent painting that will be greatly enlarged and housed in one of the magnificent structures in the city of Dallas beyond North Park. It is in the Hillcrest Cemetery area, as you have in Forest Lawn in Los Angeles. The marvelous miracle of Pentecost is presented in that glorious pictures.
Now the third miracle was: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" [Acts 2:4]. Now, there were dwelling there in Jerusalem Jews, Hellenists from all over the world. And they heard every man [speak] in his own language, the glorious works of God, "and they were amazed and marveled, saying, Are not all of these which speak Galileans? How hear we then every man in [our] own tongue, wherein [we were] born?" [Acts 2:8]. Parthians, and Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Latins. It was a phenomenal miracle, three of them: the sound as of a rushing mighty wind, the fire as it parted and lambently flamed upwards over the head of each apostle, and the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God in languages. And all of the people, all of those representatives of those languages could hear it and understand it, and they were amazed by it!
I turn the page now to the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts. In the household of Cornelius at Caesarea, when Peter was done with his sermon in verse 44 of chapter 10, "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all of them which heard the word. And those Jews that were there with Simon Peter were amazed because on these Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God" [Acts 10:44-46].
Now the third time in the Book of Acts: in chapter 19, it came to pass that Paul found certain disciples. "And he said to them: Have you received the Holy Spirit," and the King James Version is translated, "since ye believed?" [Acts 19:2]. Pisteusontes: when you believed. Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you were saved? When you believed? They said unto him, "We have not heard so much whether there be a Holy Spirit." And he said, "Well, whose disciples are you then?" And they said, "John the Baptist." The Baptist movement did not die when John was beheaded – and I am preaching on the martyrdom of John the Baptist tonight – but the Baptist movement continued alongside the Christian movement, and the disciples of John made disciples, who made disciples, who made disciples, who made disciples, and there are disciples of John the Baptist today. And these men were disciples of disciples, of disciples, of disciples, of disciples of John the Baptist.
Now John the Baptist preached the Holy Spirit. And these men haven’t even heard of such a thing as the Holy Spirit. So Paul preached the gospel unto them, and they were saved, and they were baptized. "And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came upon them; and they spake with tongues and prophesied," magnified God [Acts 19:6].
Now, that is all in the Book of Acts. I have read all of it to you. There is one other place in the New Testament, and it is in the passage of 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, chapter 13, and chapter 14. In 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, in listing the nine gifts of the Spirit here, the last two are: "To another, diverse kinds of tongues; and to another, the interpretation of tongues." Then chapter 14 is a discussion of this gift of speaking in tongues. In Pentecost it was an understood language, but in the Corinthians’ church it is an un-understandable language. It is an unknown tongue. In the second verse, Paul says: "He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him. It is an unknown tongue." And in verse 14: "For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. " It is an unknown tongue.
Glossolalia, an unknown tongue; I am astonished at many things in the Bible, in the Word of God. I am astonished at this! I am amazed at it! I am overwhelmed by it!
"But the facts, mister, just tell us the facts." These are the facts. One: the saints of the Old Testament had all of the gifts of the Spirit. All of them are seen in the spirit-filled men of God of the Old Testament, but not this. This phenomenon is not seen in the Old Testament, nor is there any approach to it. Second: this phenomenon of speaking in unknown, un-understandable tongues is not seen in the life of our Lord.
And to be honest, again, I could not conceive of Jesus the Son of God speaking in unknown tongues. Nor is there anything in the life of our Master that approximates it or approaches it. In the Gospels, it is never mentioned, never referred to; the most spiritual Gospel, that of John, never mentions it. It is not seen in the life or ministry of our Lord. In the listings of the gifts in Romans and in Ephesians, it is never referred to. Nor is it found in any church, except in this one church in Corinth that Paul – that Paul calls a carnal church, and the people as babes in Christ. It is not found in the churches of Macedonia, in the churches of Achaia, in the churches of Asia, in the churches of Judea, in the churches of Samaria, in the churches of Rome; it is never referred to. The only time it is ever seen is in this one carnal church in Corinth, in Corinth. It is never referred to in the epistles of Paul except here in the letter to Corinth. It is never referred to in the pastoral epistles when Paul writes to his young sons in the ministry how to conduct a house of God, how to carry on the work of the Lord. It is never referred to. It is never referred to in the Book of Hebrews. It is never referred to in the general epistles by Peter, James, and by John, and it is never referred to in the Revelation. It is a phenomenon that you find only in this church in Corinth, this speaking in an unknown tongue.
So I take up this Holy Book and I read what Paul has to say in this fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians about glossolalia, speaking in unknown tongues. And when I read that chapter, I can see plainly, evidently, lucidly, I can see that Paul is wrestling with a problem in the church at Corinth. It is always a problem! It has never been anything else in the history of the world but a problem! And Paul is wrestling with it here in the church at Corinth, plainly, manifestly.
"Why,", "when you come together as a church and you speak in tongues, and there comes an unbeliever, will he not say: You are" – and it is translated here – "mad?" [1 Corinthians 14:23]. The Greek word is mainomai, which is a Greek word for "insane." When I turn to the last verse in that chapter, he says: "Let all things be done decently and in order." He’s having trouble with it. It is a problem in the church at Corinth! Can’t you see the difference?
Had the church at Corinth given itself to great things, Paul would have commended them and encouraged them. Had the church at Corinth given themselves to a great sacrificial commitment to God, he would have written words of encouragement and commendation. Had they been given to prayer, to intercession, to witness, to testimony, to any of the fruits of the Spirit, Paul would have written to them words of commendation. But he is wrestling with this problem! It is a problem in the church at Corinth! And this chapter that Paul writes concerning glossolalia, speaking in tongues, this chapter is not a series of rules to speak in tongues, but it is a series of mandates to restrict it! In every way possible, Paul is seeking to control, to dissuade, to discourage!
"Just give me the facts, mister, give me the facts." We are going to look at every one of them. Even in these words where Paul speaks of speaking in tongues in the spirit of permission and understanding, he will always put a "but" with it. I am going to read them all. I am going to read every time that he says anything that might open the door to glossolalia. But every time he will say something of permission, he will say "but" – and then seek to interdict its use and its practice and its exercise. Look at it, 1 Corinthians 14, verse 4: "He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that" speaks intelligibly, "prophesieth," speaks out, "edifieth the church." When a man speaks in an unknown tongue, he may build up his own spiritual egotism and his own feeling of rapture or ecstasy, but, says Paul, for the church, we need a plain and intelligible language.
All right, turn the page and look at that but again: verse 5. Turn the page just a little. I forget you don’t have my Bible. Verse 5: "I would," he says, "that ye all spake with tongues, but" – and always it is there – "I would that you all spake with tongues, but rather that you spake intelligently and intelligibly." All right, once again, verse 18: "I thank my God that I speak with tongues more than you all: But" – always that – "but in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."
Now there is one other place; we are reading all of them. The thirty-ninth verse: "Forbid not to speak with tongues, but brethren, covet to prophesy, to speak to edification, and intelligently." I am just repeating that when you read that chapter, Paul is wrestling with a problem! It is a divisive problem even in this carnal church in Corinth. All right, having seen the tenor and the feelings in the heart of the apostle as he writes, now let’s see what he says. "Just the facts, mister, what are the facts?"
One: did you ever see such tremendous odds as Paul writes? "In the church, I had rather speak five words with my understanding," five words with my understanding, "that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue." Five to ten thousand; did you ever see such tremendous odds? And yet there are men who had rather give themselves to that deprecatory situation that Paul described. Five to ten thousand and I don’t understand it. I don’t understand it. He’s doing everything possible to dissuade, to discourage. "Let us speak five words intelligently, understandably, than ten thousand in an unknown tongue."
All right, second – just give us the facts, mister, just the facts – second: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: it is not permitted unto them to speak. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church" [1 Corinthians 14:34-35]. Now I turn the page in my Bible. I turn the page, and here in the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul has just described how a woman ought to dress when she prays in public and when she prophesies in public [1 Corinthians 11:5].
Now this man Paul is stupid if he cannot remember that one page over he just got through writing how a woman is to dress when she prays in public and when she prophesies, prophemi, when she speaks out in public; and turn the page, and he writes, "Let the women keep silence in the churches; it is not permitted for them to speak. For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church." Well, the reason and the answer is plain. He has spoken here of these women in the very heart and middle in the chapter on glossolalia, and he is talking about a woman speaking in an unknown tongue! He’s talking about speaking in tongues!
Well, why would Paul object so to a woman speaking in an unknown tongue? When you study ancient Greek history, it is very apparent, most apparent. If you have ever visited the ancient site of Corinth, the sea is right here and the city is here; the ancient city was built here. And right there in the most impressive Acrocorinthus you could ever imagine, the Acropolis of Corinth: far more majestic, higher, larger than the Acropolis in Athens crowned by the Parthenon – the Acropolis of Corinth, and on top of that Acropolis was a glorious Greek temple to Aphrodite. Her Latin name is Venus, and in that ancient day, they worshiped the goddess Aphrodite, Venus, in sexual orgies. When a man went up to worship Aphrodite, that’s the way he worshiped her. The filth and the dirt of those ancient religious worships lie untranslatable in the language in which they have lain for thousands of years. You don’t translate it into modern language. And every one of those temples had women dedicated to the goddess. And those women, in order to carry through those orgies of worship, worked themselves up into frenzies!
And Paul said if there were to happen by an unbeliever, and he stopped, and he looked in, and there your women are speaking in unknown tongues, he would say, "Well, we have a little colony of Aphrodites here. Let’s go in and take part in the orgy." "No!" said Paul; such a thing is unthought for; it is unnameable in the house of God and in the churches of Christ! Let your women keep silence. It is a shame, as up there in Aphrodite, it is a shame for a woman to speak in an unknown tongue in the church. And you take the women out of the unknown tongues movement and it will die overnight. The frenzy, the ecstasy, the unknown glossolalia is kept alive by women, and Paul says, "No!" "Just the facts, mister, just the facts."
Well, what is this? And what is its purpose? God has a purpose at Pentecost. You saw it. At Caesarea in the household of the Gentiles you saw it, and at Ephesus you saw it, and here he is speaking of it. This thing is in the Bible. Well, what does it mean? Where did it come from, and what is its purpose? "Just the facts, mister, just tell us the facts." Paul, under the inspiration of God, interprets what God has done, and what it meant. You listen, verse 21, 22: "In the law" – that’s in the Old Testament – "In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that they will not hear Me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not" [1 Corinthians 14:21-22].
Well, what does it mean? What is Paul speaking of here? In this glossolalia, in this speaking of tongues, what does he mean? Why, it is simple. It is plain. He is quoting here Isaiah 28:11 in the Old Testament, which is called the law of the whole book. In the Old Testament "it is written," then he quotes Isaiah 28:11: "With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak to these people and yet for all of that they will not obey Me." They will not repent and believe Me and trust Me. Now, the historical context of that prophecy of Isaiah was this: the Lord said to His prophet Isaiah, "You say to these people, ‘I have spoken to you plainly. I have spoken to you in intelligent language. I have spoken to you in a language you can understand, in your mother’s tongue, but you are obstinate, and recalcitrant, and incorrigible, and disobedient. Now, says the Lord God, I am going to speak to you in a language that you cannot understand, with foreign tongues.’" And the historical context is God brought in the Assyrian, and they couldn’t understand Assyrian, and God brought in the Babylonians, and they couldn’t understand Chaldean. And the Lord spoke to Israel as a sign in these other tongues and other languages, and yet they didn’t repent, and they didn’t believe.
Now Paul takes that prophecy out of Isaiah, and he applies it to what God is doing to the Jewish nation and the Jewish people. "Wherefore," he says, "tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not." It is a sign! Well, I can see that now plainly. Pentecost, there were three signs to the Jewish nation and the Jewish people, to the Jews in Jerusalem. At the beginning of this new dispensation, there were three – there were three signs from God that this is of heaven; a new dispensation, a new era [Acts 2:2-4]. First: the sound as of a rushing, mighty wind: pneuma, breath, a type of the Holy Spirit. Second: fire that clove, that split, that parted, flaming above each one. Fire is a sign of the Holy Spirit. Third: the gift of tongues; and they spake the word of God in the languages of all of the people, the Jewish people who had gathered there for Pentecostal feast day from the ends of the earth; it was a sign to the Jewish nation. I can see that. And the same thing happened at Caesarea. The speaking in tongues was a sign, as Paul says; it is a sign, for there were those Jewish brethren who came with Simon Peter into the house of the Gentile Cornelius [Acts 10:45-46], and when they returned to Jerusalem in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts, Peter and those Jews were called on the carpet.
You went into the house of a Gentile – and it is not lawful for a Jew to go into his house, much less eat with them – and Paul – and, and Simon Peter replied, "But, my brothers, we saw the sign from God!" That’s what he said: "this thing that happened at Pentecost, the sign from God that this is the gospel of the new dispensation, that same sign saw we at Caesarea, for we saw these Gentiles speak with tongues, even as we saw at Pentecost" [Acts 11:15-17]. I understand that. The gift of tongues was the sign gift as Paul says to the Jewish nation, to the Jewish people in introducing the new dispensation.
But to a Gentile – now I’m going to continue, the next verse – but to us, to us, if the church comes together and you speak in tongues, and there comes a visitor by, he will say, "You are mainesthe! You are mad! You are insane!" But if a man prophesies, if he promethe, if he speaks intelligently, and there come in that man unbelieving, the secrets of his heart will be manifest, he will be convicted in his soul, and he will bow down and worship God and say, "God is among you in truth" [1 Corinthians 14:23-25]. The sign was for the Jewish nation and the Jewish people as you see at Pentecost, as you see at Caesarea.
But when you turn to the Gentile world, to preach the gospel of the Son of God, could you imagine in your wildest imagination, could you imagine Paul standing on Mars Hill before the court of the Areopagus, the Supreme Court of the Athenian nation – could you imagine Paul standing there before the Areopagus speaking in tongues, and Silas standing by his side to interpret? They would have said, "They are insane. They are mad." "Just the facts, mister, just tell us the facts." Tongues were for a sign, and when the sign had done its purpose, it ceased. We shall preach on that. Tongues shall cease, said Paul [1 Corinthians 13:8].
And to recreate the sign is an affront to God! It is not faith! It is presumption! Oh, my soul, the parting of the Red Sea under the hand of Moses – and we stand there and say, "Lord God, do it again! Part the Red Sea again! Why, You did it, do it again! Let’s see it!" It was a sign under the hand of Moses delivering God’s people in a new dispensation, that of the law. Do it again? It had served its purpose.
And Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind, and Elisha saw the chariot of fire and the horses of fire [2 Kings 2:11-12]. And we stand by the side of a godly prophet Isaiah, a John the Baptist, a Peter, a Paul, and we say, "Do it again! Let’s see you go up into heaven in a chariot of fire! Do it again." How beautiful the story of the incarnation. And the angels came and they spake. Lee Roy says they sang; God says they spake. Just depends on which one you want to follow. And they spake, and it was a glorious power. And we stand out under the night sky and say, "Lord, do it again! Let’s hear the angels speak according to the Word of God, and sing according to Lee Roy Till – let’s see if He can do it. Do it again." Or the star comes: "Lord, do it again!" And they spake with tongues, a sign at Pentecost; "Lord, do it again! Do it again." You finally disrupt the very purpose of God! And Paul says, "And the unbelievers come by, and they say you are mainomai, you have lost your mind." Isn’t that a compliment to the house of God and to the kingdom of Jesus?
Well, what does he say for us then? Ah, he has a lot to say to us. He starts at verse 6. He starts at verse 6: "Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you? If I speak in an unknown language and an unknown tongue, what shall I profit you, except I speak to you by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine in understandable language, what shall I profit you? Why," he says, "even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction of sound, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?" [1 Corinthians 14:6-7].
Just make a conglomerate out of that organ, and then somebody try to play it and see if it makes music. Every sound, every note has to be distinct and understood. What if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound? Who is to prepare himself to battle? When I turn to the thirty-third chapter of Ezekiel, God says, "I put you on a wall, a watchman, and when you see the sword come, blow the trumpet! If you do not blow the trumpet and the people die, their blood will I require at your hand" [Ezekiel 33:2-6]. "The trumpet has to give a certain sound. So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongues words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air" [1 Corinthians 14:9]. Paul is making appeal for what is sane, and understandable, and intelligent, and decent, and in order! Why, I just feel the throb of a man as he speaks. When you come to church and when the people are gathered together, speak in an intelligent language.
And then finally – and I must close – when the whole church is come together in one place, verse 23 and 25, there come in those that are unbelievers, if you are talking in tongues, will they not say, "You are mad?" But if all prophesy and speak out to edification, to encouragement, to faith, to trust, to belief, if all prophesy and there come in one that believeth not, he’s convinced of all, he’s judged of all, and the secrets of his heart are made manifest, and the Spirit of God convicts him. And so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is among you in truth [1 Corinthians 14:23-25]. That’s the way, says Paul; that’s the way. The sign was for the Jewish nation at the beginning of the new dispensation. It served its purpose. It is done. It has ceased. No need for this kind. But now, when you come together in church, let God call the lost to faith and the commitment by a plain and an understandable word. And the simpler you can make it, the more effective will God use it and bless it.
For God does not call His people to faith by sign, and by wonders, and by miracles, and by voices, and by tongues, and by strange sounds; but when God speaks to your heart, it will be in a plain and a simple language, and that is all that we could ask. Trusting Jesus, we are not looking for an intervention from heaven. We are not looking for a sign or a wonder. It is enough that "Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that He was buried, and that the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. And it is enough that Jesus has promised "Those that come unto Me, I will in no wise cast out" [John 6:37]. They that received Him, "to them gave He the right to become children of God, even unto them that trust in His name" [John 1:11-12], and that’s enough.
He doesn’t call us in these marvelous, marvelous signs that introduced the new dispensations. He calls us in simple faith and trust in Jesus – minus signs, minus voices, minus strange phenomena, minus miracles – just trusting Jesus; that is all, and more than enough.
I heard the choir one time sing a song, and the first stanza and the chorus of that song has lingered in my mind. "Just trusting Jesus, and it’s enough; don’t need anything else, that’s enough." And I asked Lee Roy if he wouldn’t sing that stanza and that chorus for us; catch its spirit and its commitment of love and grace and trust to Jesus. It’s enough, sing it:
My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device nor creed;
I trust the ever living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.
I need no other argument,
I need no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.
["My Faith Has Found a Resting Place"; Eliza E. Hewitt, 1891]
Isn’t that the gospel? "I need no other argument, I need no other plea," even in an unknown tongue. "It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me." Why, if God were to give a sign, I might wonder at it and thank Him for the grace so sweetly vouchsafed, but I wouldn’t think of it in terms of being needed as an addendum to my confidence in Jesus. "It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me." Come in to the Lord, minus signs, minus miracles, minus wonders, just trusting Jesus, and that’s all.
That’s the invitation we press to your heart this morning; you, you, trusting the Lord, "Here I am, giving my soul to Jesus. Here I stand." A couple you, come, a couple you. Oh, what a precious fellowship is this church! A family you, one somebody you, when we sing in a moment this hymn of commitment, "My Faith Looks Up to Thee," on the first note of the first stanza, come, come. When you stand up, stand up coming. "Wife, let’s go. This is God’s house. This is Bethel. This is the gate to heaven." Come, in this balcony ’round, on this lower floor, come. Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.