The Gift of Speaking in Tongues
July 10th, 1966 @ 8:15 AM
1 Corinthians 14:1-40
THE GIFT OF SPEAKING IN TONGUES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 14
7-10-66 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled Speaking in Unknown Tongues. In this long series on the Holy Spirit, we have been following a series, in the series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul named thirty of them in three lists, in Romans [Romans 12:6-8], in Ephesians [Ephesians 4:11], and in 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 12:8-10; 12:28-30]. And if we eliminate the duplicates in that list of thirty, there are nineteen separate gifts of the Holy Spirit. And we have been preaching on those nineteen gifts of the Spirit. Five of them are basic gifts for the evangelization of the world [Ephesians 4:11]. There are several of them that are precious ministering gifts that make the household of faith so blessed and so sweet, like a church ought to be. And when a church is not that way, it falls that much short of the purpose and intent of God. A church ought to be a sweet and precious fellowship, comradeship, friendship, bearing one another’s burdens, praying for one another, loving one another, those precious ministering gifts of the Spirit [1 Corinthians 12:8].
Then there are four sign gifts: the gift of miracles, the gifts of healing, the gift of speaking in tongues, and the gift of interpretation of tongues [1 Corinthians 12: 9-10, 28]]. This coming Sunday morning I shall preach on the interpretation of tongues [1 Corinthians 12:10]. Today the sermon concerns speaking in unknown tongues.
I suppose there has not been any sermon in all of my life put together—and I’ve been a preacher for thirty-eight years—there has been no sermon that I ever struggled with over so long a period of time as I have this sermon. It has taken me years, literally years to form it in my own soul and in my own mind. Yet when I had finished it, I looked at it and reviewed it, and I had the impression, “Well, it appears as though such a sermon could have been prepared in five minutes,” after I had finished it.
In the middle of the last century, for the first time in almost two thousand years, there appeared a phenomenon called glossolalia, “speaking in tongues.” The movement was referred, in England, as being “Irvingism,” from the man who led the movement, Irving, a tall, six-foot-four inch man, with long hair, uncut hair, and he looked upon himself as a prophet. And he led a movement called glossolalia, speaking in tongues. And in the middle of this century, again, in the twentieth century, it is seen everywhere. We have not met it in this church, but I go to churches that have been torn apart, split, fragmentized, atomized. There are some of the noblest churches of our Baptist General Convention in Texas that has in it that deep cleavage over glossolalia, speaking in tongues.
Well, how you going to build this sermon? What you going to do? Do you remember a TV program named “Dragnet”? “Dragnet,” once in a while I’d see it, and there was a man named Webb on that program “Dragnet,” and in every one of those stories they would so turn it around where that detective would say to a fellow that he was questioning, he would say, I quote, “Just the facts, mister, just give me the facts.” You remember that? “Just the facts, mister, just give me the facts.” This sermon is that: “Just the facts, pastor, just tell us the facts.”
Three times in the Book of Acts speaking in tongues is presented. Acts chapter 2: “When the day of Pentecost was fully come…suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of a rushing mighty wind”; that was the first miracle [Acts 2:1-2]. “Cloven tongues like as of fire” [Acts 2:3]; that was the second miracle. The third one: “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]. And these Jews, Hellenists who had gathered from all over the world there at Pentecost, “They were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, Medes, Elamites,” on and on and on [Acts 2:7-10]. They were all amazed because they heard them “speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” [Acts 2:11]. Those three miracles, the sound as of a rushing mighty wind, pneuma, “breath,” the word for the Spirit [Acts 2:1-2]; and the fire, which is another rtype and emblem of the Holy Spirit [Acts 2:3]; and then this understandable language [Acts 2:4]: the Elamite heard a man speaking in his language, the Parthian heard a man speaking in his language, the Mesopotamian, the Aramian, the Cappadocian, the Pontian, the Asian, the Phrygian, the Pamphylian, the Egyptian, the Libyans and Cyrenians, on and on and on. Every man heard in his own language this marvelous outpouring of the grace and mercy of God [Acts 2:6-8]. Those were the three miracles at Pentecost.
Now when I turn to the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts, in the story of the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles for the first time, in the household of Cornelius [Acts 10:34-43], “While Peter yet spake,” this is the forty-fourth verse of chapter 10, “While Peter yet spake, the Holy Spirit fell on them which heard the word [Acts 10:44]. And those Jews were astonished because on the 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]. That’s the second time.
Now the third time is at Ephesus, that polyglot city of Ephesus. Paul, finding twelve disciples there, said unto them, “Have ye received the Holy Spirit,” and the King James Version translates, “since you believed, pisteusantes, having believed, when you believed did you receive the Holy Spirit?” And they said, “We never heard of such a thing as the Holy Spirit.” Well, he said, “Whose disciples are you?” And they said, “John” [Acts 19:1-3]. The John the Baptist movement continued even after John the Baptist was martyred; the Baptist movement continued parallel with the Christian movement, and did so for hundreds and hundreds of years. There’s a John the Baptist group today: the Mandeans. After two thousand years there are still disciples of John the Baptist. John the Baptist preached the Holy Spirit; but these disciples of disciples of disciples of disciples of John the Baptist had never heard of the Holy Spirit. So John, so Paul preached the gospel to the disciples of John, and they were saved, and they were baptized [Acts 19:4-5]. “And Paul laid his hands upon them, and the Holy Spirit came upon them; and they spake with tongues and prophesied” [Acts 19: 6]. Now that’s the three places in Acts: at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-8], at Caesarea [Acts 10:34-46], and at Ephesus [Acts 19:1-6].
Now there’s one other passage in the Bible where the tongues are mentioned, and that’s in this passage in 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14. In chapter 12, in the list of the nine gifts of the Spirit here, the last he names are, “To some divers kinds of tongues; and to some the interpretation of tongues” [1 Corinthians 12:10]. Then the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, he discusses this “unknown tongue” [1 Corinthians 14:2]. At Pentecost it was an understandable language [Acts 2:4-8]; but the discussion in the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians it is an un-understandable language. For Paul says, in verse 2, “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him” [1 Corinthians 14:2]. Now I know by that that it is an unknown tongue that he’s speaking of: “for no man understandeth him” [1 Corinthians 14:2]. In the fourteenth chapter of that discussion, Paul says, “For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful” [1 Corinthians 14:14]. So it is an unknown tongue that Paul discusses in the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians.
Now what about this? “Just the facts, mister, just the facts; just tell us the facts.” All right, let’s begin. We’re going to lay before us all of the facts that the Bible presents of glossolalia. Then next Sunday we’re going to look at those facts. First, the facts. This is an astonishment to me: as I read the Bible I am astonished at many things; I am astonished also at this. The facts, why should you be so astonished? First, because such a thing, such a phenomenon is not found in the Old Testament. All of the other gifts of the Holy Spirit are found in those saints of the Old Testament who were filled with the Holy Spirit, but never this, nor anything that approximates this. There is nothing that even borders such a phenomenon in any of the saints of the Old Testament. It is absolutely unknown.
The facts, second, Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit [Isaiah 11;1-2], and in the power of the Holy Spirit He healed [Matthew 12:28], and in the power of the Holy Spirit He preached [Luke 4:1, 14], and in the power of the Holy Spirit he confronted Satan [Luke 4:1, 18]. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit [Luke 4:1, 14].
But there is nothing of this in the life of our Lord, nor anything that approximates it; nor could I conceive in my wildest imagination my Lord speaking in unknown tongues. There is nothing of that in the life of the Lord Jesus, absolutely nothing. There is nothing of that in the Gospels, nothing. There is nothing that approximates this in the life and ministry of our Lord or in the four Gospels. There is nothing of this in any of the churches to which Paul wrote, except this one church in Corinth [1 Corinthians 12-14]. There is nothing of it. The churches of Asia, of Macedonia, of Galatia, of Judea, of Samaria, the church at Rome, there is nothing that approximates it; it is never referred to and never mentioned.
There is nothing of it in the pastoral epistles of our great apostle as he writes to his sons in the ministry how to carry on the work. It is never referred to and never mentioned. It is not mentioned in the Book of Hebrews. It is not mentioned in the general epistles by James and Peter and John. It is never referred to in the Revelation. The only place that you find this is in the church at Corinth. The only church in which such a phenomenon is seen is in the church at Corinth. And of course, Paul called the church at Corinth “carnal” and “babes in Christ” [1 Corinthians 3:1].
Now when I read this fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, and this is the discussion of glossolalia, when I read it, immediately, immediately—and a blind man could see it, and a man whose heart was like stone—immediately I can see, it is written in every syllable: “You have got a problem. You have a real problem” [1 Corinthians 14:2-40]. And Paul is wrestling with a real problem. He never had it in Rome, never had it at Philippi, never had it at Thessalonica, never had it anywhere else, just in this one carnal church. Paul is wrestling with a problem [1 Corinthians 14:2-40]. Just the facts, mister, just the facts.
For example, Paul will say, “When you come together and speak in tongues, and there come in unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?” [1 Corinthians 14:23]. Mainomai, that’s the Greek word for “insane,” “insane.” He’s having a problem in Corinth. Look at his last word here: “Let all things be done decently and in order” [1 Corinthians 14:40]. Paul is wrestling with this problem in Corinth. Glossolalia is a problem; it is never anything else. It is a problem, and a deep one.
Paul is struggling with it here. Had they been giving themselves to prayer, Paul would have encouraged them. Had they been giving themselves to testimony and soulwinning, Paul would have encouraged them. Had they given themselves to sacrifice and to the pouring out of their lives before God, Paul would have encouraged them. But the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is the strongest discouragement that Paul could write. This is not a commendation for glossolalia; this fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, every syllable of it, is a struggle of restriction against it [1 Corinthians 14:2-14].
Now I’m going to read the few words in here that have a sympathy with it. But every time Paul says it, he will put a “but,” “but.” Now look: in verse 4, “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but, but”—oh, please, please—“but he that prophesieth edifieth the church” [1 Corinthians 14:4]. When a man speaks in an unknown tongue, he may be building up his own spirit; but, oh, but how much better to try to edify the church? All right, look again in the next verse: “I would that you all spake with tongues, but, but rather that ye spoke intelligently, understandably, that ye prophēmi, prophesieth, that you exhorted to edification” [1 Corinthians 14:5]. All right, again: “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 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” [1 Corinthians 14:18-19]. Now one other—and I’ve named, this is all now where he speaks words of sympathy with it—“Forbid not to speak with tongues, but brethren, pray and covet to speak understandably” [1 Corinthians 14:39].
All right, now, just the facts, mister, just the facts. What are the facts? We’re going to name them here in this discussion. First, these are tremendous odds, tremendous odds: “In the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice and mind and intelligence I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue” [1 Corinthians 14:19]. Those are tremendous odds: five to ten thousand. And why a man would choose against that I cannot understand. “I had rather speak five words with my understanding…than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue” [1 Corinthians 14:19].
All right, the second one: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: it is not permitted unto them to speak; they are commanded to be under obedience, as saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” [1 Corinthians 14:34-35]. That’s the second fact. Now Paul is not stupid. Over here in the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, just turn the page back, and he has discussed there how a woman is to dress when she prays in public, and when she prophesies, when she speaks in public [1 Corinthians 11: 5-15]. Now having just got through describing how a woman is to dress when she appears publicly [1 Corinthians 11:5-15], then turn the page and Paul writes, “She is not to speak; she is to keep silence in the church” [1 Corinthians 14: 34]. Well, evidently the man has lost his mind. One page he writes how the woman is to dress when she speaks in public [1 Corinthians 11:5-15], like Philip had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses [Acts 21:9], that is, they spoke to edification. Then to turn the page and he says they are to keep silence [1 Corinthians 14:34]. Well evidently Paul’s lost his mind. Oh no, no! For this mandate here is buried in the midst of this chapter on speaking in tongues. “Your women are not to speak in a tongue, ever, ever, ever, ever.” He’s talking about tongues, glossolalia. “Your women are to keep silence: it is not permitted unto them to speak in a tongue. It is a shame for a woman to speak in a tongue in the church” [1 Corinthians 14:34].
Now if you know anything about Greek history, that’d be very apparent. Have you been to the site of ancient Corinth? Right up there, right here, the sea is here, the city was here, and right there is the Acrocorinthus, the great Acropolis of Corinth. And on top of that acropolis was the famous temple to Aphrodite. In Latin it’d be Venus. And there were women dedicated to the worship of Venus; we would call them prostitutes. And the way they worshipped Aphrodite or Venus was by sexual intercourse; the orgies that are untranslatable, the description of those orgies still lies untranslated in the ancient and dead language of the Greco-Roman world. And in those orgies the women worked themselves up into frenzies. And Paul said when an unbeliever or a Gentile came by and looked into the church, and there were those women in frenzies and in ecstasies, speaking in unknown tongues, Paul said, “How would it be otherwise?” And they say, “Well, we’ve got a little colony of Aphrodite here. Let’s go in and join in the orgy.”
“No,” says Paul, “let your women keep silence: it is not permitted unto them to speak in tongues. It is a shame for a woman to speak in a tongue in the church” [1 Corinthians 14:34]. Just the facts, mister, just the facts. If you were to take women out of the tongues movement, it would die overnight; you’d never hear of it again, never.
All right, just the facts, mister. What are they? Tongues, tongues, as we read them here in the Bible, tongues were for a sign. And there were four of those signs. Signs, the gift of miracles [1 Corinthians 12:10, 28]: the parting of the Red Sea [Exodus 14:21-31], Elijah’s translation into heaven [2 Kings 2:11], signs; the gift of miracles, the gifts of healing, this gift of tongues; and interpretation of tongues [1 Corinthians 12:10]. All right, what is the purpose of the sign? God doesn’t leave us without knowledge. “In the law,” he said, I’m reading in verse 21 now, “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 will they not hear Me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, to them that believe not” [1 Corinthians 14:21-22]. Tongues are a sign to those who believe not, to whom that believe not. Paul is quoting Isaiah 28:11.
Now follow me, Paul is writing here the purpose of that sign of tongues. “In the law it is written,With men of other tongues and with other lips will I speak unto this people Israel, unto the Jews, unto this nation; and yet for all that will the not believe 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]. Now back yonder in Isaiah, he’s quoting Isaiah 28:11, in the days of Isaiah, the Lord said to the prophet, “I have spoken to these people in plain language, in their language, and they will not receive. Therefore,” says the Lord, “I am going to speak to them in a language they do not understand. I am going to speak to them in other languages” [Isaiah 28:11]. And of course, the historical background of the prophet Isaiah was, the prophet was referring to the coming of the Assyrian, and the language of the Assyrian, and the coming of the Babylonians and the language of the Babylonians. “If they will not understand in their own language, I am going to speak to them in a foreign language. And yet even then will they not believe Me”
Now Paul takes that out of the prophet Isaiah, and he applies it to this new dispensation: “Wherefore,” he says, “tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not” [1 Corinthians 14:22]. It is a sign to this Jewish nation and to this Jewish people, a sign.
Now can’t you see that at Pentecost? At Pentecost, that speaking in tongues [Acts 2:5-8] was one of those marvelous signs, one of those marvelous miracles to those Jewish people in Jerusalem at the beginning of this dispensation; it was a sign. One of those miracles, one of those signs was the sound of a mighty rushing wind [Acts 2:1-2]. One of those signs, one of those miracles was the cloven tongues of fire [Acts 2:3]. And there is in Embree Hall a magnificent presentation, a vast, beautiful painting that’s going to placed out here by the Byrd family, by North Park, a glorious presentation of that sign. And the third sign was to that Jewish nation and to those Jewish people, the speaking in other languages and other tongues [Acts 2:4-6]. I can see that.
I can see that at Caesarea: for when they spake with other tongues [Acts 10:44-46], those Jews who were present and the church at Jerusalem, which was a Jewish church, when they thought that the Christian religion was only for those who kept the law of Moses, the sign at Caesarea to that Jewish people and to that Jewish church [Acts 10:44-46], that God had authenticated the opening of the door to the Gentiles was this: they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. It was a sign to that people.
So Paul writes to those Jewish people, to that Jewish nation, the speaking in tongues. But to the Gentiles, it is idiocy. To the Gentiles it is foolishness. For he continues, “If therefore the church come together, this Gentile church come together, and you speak with tongues, will not a Gentile, an unbeliever coming by say you are insane? [1 Corinthians 14:23]. But if all prophesy, if all speak for the Lord, then somebody unconverted will come in and he will fall down on his face and worship God, saying, God is with you in truth” [1 Corinthians 14:24-25]. For a Gentile church to speak in tongues, Paul says, is inanity. Could you conceive of the apostle Paul standing on Mars’ Hill, before the Areopagus, the Supreme Court of the Athenian nation [Acts 17:22], could you conceive of Paul standing on Mars’ Hill and speaking in tongues? and Silas standing by his side to interpret? [1 Corinthians 14:27-28]. It is inanity. Paul says, “Would they not say you are mad?” [1 Corinthians 14:23] I’d say he was mad, he was insane. And any right thinking judge of the earth listening to such a demonstration as that, Paul preaching in a tongue and Silas standing by his side to interpret, would say they are mad. That’s what Paul writes. Just the facts, mister, just the facts.
So Paul says that the speaking in tongues was a sign to the Jewish nation that this is the Spirit and presence of God, the introduction to the new dispensation [Acts 2:4-8]. And to repeat that sign is unthinkable! The Lord parted the Red Sea [Exodus 14:21-31]. Shall I stand and say, “Let’s see the Lord do it again. Do it again, Lord. Part the Red Sea.” Shall I? The Lord translated Elijah up into heaven [2 Kings 2:11]. Shall I stand by a great man of God and say, “Lord, do it again. Do it again. Take up the man of God into heaven.” Shall I? Shall I? The sign is for a purpose; and when it has done its purpose, it no longer has pertinence.
The star guided the wise men to the Babe at Bethlehem [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11]. “Let’s see another star, Lord. Let’s see it again.” The angels sang, the angels spake when the Lord was born [Luke 2:13-14]. “Let’s see You do it again, Lord.” Shall I? And the marvelous sign to the Jewish nation of the speaking in other languages and other tongues [Acts 2:4-12]. “Do it again, Lord. Let’s see You do it again.” Shall I? Shall I? When the sign has served its purpose it no longer has efficacy, it no longer has appropriateness; it has served its purpose, and ceases to be. That’s what Paul is saying [1 Corinthians 13:10].
Then Paul comes down to real common sense, and he pleads—now listen to him as he pleads [1 Corinthians 14:6]—he is pleading for understandable language, for plain English: “Now, brethren, if I come to you,” speaking now, fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, verse 6:
Now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I speak to you plainly…
Even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?
And if a trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.
[1 Corinthians 14:6-9]
Plain English, plain, simple words, like the thirty-third chapter of Ezekiel: “I have set you a watchman on the hill, on the wall; and when you see the sword coming, blow the trumpet, and sound warning to the people [Ezekiel 33:2-7]. But if the trumpet have an uncertain sound, who should prepare himself?” [1 Corinthians 14:8]. Plain language, says Paul.
And how are we saved? And how do we come to God? By signs and by miracles and by wonders? Nay. “If therefore,” the apostle writes, beginning at verse 23:
If therefore the church come together in one place, and you talk with tongues, and there come in unbelievers, will they not say you are insane, you are mad?
But if all prophesy, prophēmi, if all speak intelligently, and there come in one that believeth not, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:
The secrets of his heart are made manifest; and so falling on his face he will worship God, and say God is in you of a truth.
[1 Corinthians 14:23-25]
My brother, when God calls you to faith and to the life of trust in Jesus, He will not call by signs, He will not call by wonders, He will not call by miracles, He will not call by strange sounding words, by voices and tongues. But when God calls you it will be in plain and simple and understandable language: the one that you know. And we’re not to look for our salvation in a miracle or in a sign or in a wonder; we are to look simply trusting Jesus, minus signs, minus wonders, minus miracles, minus tongues, minus voices, minus strange phenomena. He will call us by the Holy Spirit to a simple trust in the Lord Jesus, and that’s enough. Don’t need the rest. What the phenomenon was, a sign back there to the Jewish people [Acts 2:4-8]; today, just trusting the Lord is enough. Don’t need anything else.
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”; Lidie H. Edmunds]
No tongue, no voice, no miracle, no sign, just trusting Jesus, that’s all.
And while we sing this song, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], or put your life in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], while we sing this precious hymn of commitment, in the first note of the first stanza, make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.