Do all Christians speak in tongues?

Everyone who is a genuine Christian speaks in other tongues. Since you at Third Mill don't speak in tongues you are not Christians. Case in point, Cornelius in Acts 10:34-47. He and his family received the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues as the spirit of God gave them the utterance. Acts 19:1-7 states when Paul came across about 12 disciples in Ephesus they too received the Holy Ghost in the same like manner having all things in common with Paul and the rest of the disciples. You see, God is not going to give us a dumb spirit which cannot talk; it will speak for itself. Isaiah 28:11-12 says for with stammering lips and another tongue will I speak to my people. Acts 1:8 states that they all were filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit of God gave them the utterance. That is the evidence that if the Holy Ghost is in you it will speak for itself. Whenever someone received the Holy Spirit they spoke in tongues and magnified God. There is no other scripture in the Bible stating otherwise.
First, I will acknowledge that there are different views concerning tongues and the sign gifts. I encourage you to read, "Have the Gifts of the Spirit Ceased?" below which briefly describes the four major views, which are cessation, continuation, charismatic and modification. I personally am a cessationist so my answer here will be from that perspective.

I fully agree with you that in Acts 1, 10 and 19 all who heard the message of the gospel and believed spoke in tongues, as the Spirit willed (cf. Heb. 2:4). This was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (cf. Isa. 28:11-12). However, there is much more to understand about Isaiah 28:11-12 and Hebrews 2:1-4, so please keep reading.

I do not agree, however, that all genuine Christians must speak in tongues. Why? One reason is because Paul asks the following rhetorical questions, "Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" (1 Cor. 12:30). Of course the answer is absolutely not, because all of us have different gifts according as the Spirit himself gives (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4, 7-11, 28; 14:5; Heb. 2:3-4, etc.). To assert that all Christians must speak in tongues goes against Scripture itself.

Paul writes: "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" (1 Cor. 13:8). The Greek word for "stilled" is pausontai meaning "ceased" or "make to cease." Here, the apostle definitively states that the sign gift of tongues will cease. So, the original audience of Paul's letter expected tongues to cease. Since according to Scripture this gift will be absolutely stilled, the only remaining question is when did this happen? In examining the original language of this text, Stanley D. Toussaint states (Greek transliterated):

It is not without significance that Paul uses katargeo of both prophecies and knowledge when he says prophecies and knowledge will be done away. However he carefully selects the verb pauo when he speaks of the cessation of tongues. katargeo means "to render inoperative, to supersede." In the active voice pauo means "to make to cease." Why this change? This change of verbs cannot be accounted for by saying Paul does this to avoid repetition. That Paul did not fear repetition is seen in the fact that he employs katargeo no less than four times in verses 8, 10, and 11. The conclusion seems clear. Tongues are viewed as ceasing before Christ comes, while prophecies and knowledge are rendered inoperative by the Lord's return. [1]

Toussaint helps to clarify that, according to the Holy Spirit who inspired all passages of Scripture (2 Pet. 1:20-21), the sign gift of tongues are rendered inoperative before prophecy and knowledge! Why? Because they have already served their purpose as a judgment upon Israel (cf. Isa. 28:11-12), which Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 14:21-22, writing, "In the Law it is written, ‘By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’" Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers."

My understanding (again, not necessarily that of all at Third Mill) is that Mark 16:17 states that tongues was one of the sign gifts that would accompany the apostles' teaching as they went throughout the world sharing the gospel (cf. Acts 2:43; 5:12; 14:3; 15:12; 2 Cor. 12:12). However, while the gift of tongues was a miraculous gift, the age of miracles and revelation ended with the apostles. The last recorded miracles in the New Testament occurred in approximately 58 A.D. with the healings on the island of Malta (Acts 28:7-10). Ephesians was written in 60-62 A.D., well after 1 Corinthians (55 A.D.), and it mentions many gifts but no sign gifts. The sign gift of tongues appears to be already beginning to make an exit from redemptive history.

To say the sign gift of tongues and interpretation is still active infers that there may be new biblical revelation. However, the canon of Scripture is closed. We shouldn't attempt to add or subtract from the Scripture (cf. Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18-19). In this respect, Hebrews 2:1-4 (written in approximately 70 A.D.) is very interesting:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

The Greek word for "heard" is akouo. In Hebrews 2:1, "heard" is in the aorist tense. It is indicating a past time. Philip Hughes states, "The past tense of the verb spoke indicates, further, that God's speaking is complete: this is true not only of the past era of the Old Testament prophets but also of the present age of messianic fulfillment. God's word in Christ has been spoken, fully and finally." [2] F. F. Bruce agrees writing, "His word was not completely uttered until Christ came; but when Christ came, the word spoken in Him was indeed God's final word. … The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond Him." [3]

This text becomes even more intriguing when we understand that the author is speaking of the word being confirmed by signs in the past, not his present day (Heb. 2:3-4). If the sign gifts still existed while speaking of the same salvation spoken of by Jesus and his apostles (Heb. 2:3), why didn't the author of Hebrews just say that the Holy Spirit was still confirming his word with such gifts? Perhaps it is because they were making or had already made their exit. F. F. Bruce comments:

The testimony of the New Testament writings to the regularity with which these phenomena accompanied the preaching and receiving of the gospel in the early apostolic age is impressive in its range. ... They were matters of common knowledge and widespread Christian experience, and the reference to them here is calculated to restore the readers' faith in the gospel as God's authoritative message. [4]

So, according to the book of Hebrews, it appears that these temporary sign gifts had already ceased.

It's important to understand that one of the purposes of tongues was a specific sign to unbelieving Israel during a particular time in redemptive history (1 Cor. 14:21-22). Isaiah 28 is one of the "woe" declarations "against" Israel:

Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards... For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people, to whom he has said, "This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose"; yet they would not hear.

Part of Israel's divine sentence is given in Isaiah 28:11-12, and Paul, in speaking about tongues, refers to this text in 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 writing:

In the Law it is written, "By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord." Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.

The gift of tongues was a judgment sign against Israel for their unfaithfulness and unbelief. Charles Hodge states:

"The Jews had refused to hear the prophets speaking their own language, and God threatened to bring upon them a people whose language they could not understand. This was a judgment, a mark of displeasure intended as a punishment and not for their conversion." [5]

John MacArthur agrees:
Those strange tongues, Paul says, are what you now know and experience as the gift of languages. God has given that gift as a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers. Here is the heart of chapter 14 and the most important truth about this phenomenon: it was given as a sign, and as a sign to unbelievers, specifically unbelieving Jews, the unbelievers among this people. The gift of tongues was given solely as a sign to unbelieving Israel. [6]

Because of the judgment of tongues upon Israel, the church now includes even more Gentiles in-grafted into the God's olive tree (Rom. 11; cf. Isa. 42:6; Zech. 14:16; Matt. 15:21-28; Acts 2:1-11; Gal. 2:1-14; 3:25-26; Eph. 3:4-6, etc.). Tongues were a sign that God would now enlarge his work, as he had promised Abraham, the father of "many nations" – not just one nation (Gen. 17:4). It is well established historically that the temple fell in 70 A.D. thus Judaism as a true religion could no longer operate biblically according to the Old Testament (the temple curtain tore at time of the cross, no animal sacrifices, no priests, etc.). So, there is no longer a need for the sign gift of tongues. They have already served their purpose. Isaiah's prophecy has been fulfilled.

Some other points to consider:

(1) Biblically, there appears to only be three primary ages in which God worked signs through his appointed men: (a) with Moses and Joshua; (b) Elijah and Elisha; and (c) Christ and his apostles. In each case, the miracles were confirming signs to establish the credibility of the one(s) who directly spoke for God. Though some of the word is still left to be fulfilled, there is no new revelation, so the sign gifts should be considered as having ceased;

(2) Essentially, tongues were part of the sign gifts that came through the Spirit's ministry to the apostles (cf. Mark 16:17). Once their respective ministries were accomplished in laying the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:18-21; cf. 1 Cor. 3:10), the need for these authenticating signs ceased to exist;

(3) Paul refers to the apostles themselves as one of the gifts given to the church (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). The gift of apostleship has ceased, so this at least implies other gifts may cease as well;

(4) At Pentecost the languages spoken (tongues) were understandable languages that already existed in that day (Acts 2:11; cf. Acts 2:1-13). Nothing biblically justifies the unknown and unintelligible languages (gibberish) many hear today. However, if some charismatics desire to use the Bible to justify the use of this, and if it is the same Spirit giving the gift, then should there not at least be some correlation between what existed yesterday and what we hear today?

(5) While some church fathers believed some of the sign gifts still existed in their day, Chrysostom (Homily 8 on Colossians; Homily 25 on John) and Augustine (On the Profit of Believing [NPNF1-03:34]; On True Religion [25.47]; Retractions [1.12.7]) speak of their cessation. Justyn Martyr and Origin did as well.

Now, as for tongues and genuine Christians, folks at Third Millennium Ministries are genuinely Christian and believe salvation is in Christ alone, but there is room for differing views among us about the subject of sign gifts.

One last thing. The Holy Spirit of God is a “person,” not an "it". He is very active in his church, it's inception was with him, and he continues to grow it in love, grace, mercy and wisdom and adds souls to it as he wills. (Please see, "The Holy Spirit in the Westminster Standards?" below.)


[1] Stanley D. Toussaint, "First Corinthians Thirteen: the Tongues Question," BibSac Oct, 1963, p. 314-15.

[2] Philip E. Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), p. 37.

[3] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle To The Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), p. 3.

[4] _____. The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), p. 68-69.

[5] Charles Hodge, 1 Corinthians, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1995), p. 257.

[6] John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), p. 381.

Related Topics

Have the Gifts of the Spirit Ceased?
The Holy Spirit in the Westminster Standards?
Overview of the Book of Hebrews
The Old/New Testament Church
Is Jesus the ONLY WAY to Heaven?
We Believe in Jesus
We Believe in God
We Believe In The Holy Spirit
The Apostles' Creed

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).