Do All Speak in Tongues?

Assuming that speaking in tongues is the sole “sign” of receiving the gift of the Spirit creates a problem. In 1 Corinthians, Paul indicates that not all believers do, in fact, speak in tongues, but elsewhere, he teaches that genuine believers have God’s Spirit. And if they do not, they are not true disciples of Jesus.

Put another way, if one must speak in tongues to have the gift of the Spirit, If some members of the church do not speak in tongues, at least in Corinth, then the latter group has not received the Spirit, and therefore, its members are not disciples and remain in an unredeemed state.

Worship - Photo by Aliane Schwartzhaupt on Unsplash
[Photo by Aliane Schwartzhaupt on Unsplash]

1 Corinthians, Paul takes up the subject of spiritual gifts and works to correct certain abuses of the gifts. But he also uses the situation to teach the Corinthians about unity in the body of Christ even amid diversity, and how the gifts of the Spirit ought to operate.


In Corinth, there is a “diversity of ministry yet the same Lord” – It is the same God working in each ministry for the benefit of the whole. The Spirit grants gifts to each believer to profit the congregation – (1 Corinthians 12:1-11).

Collectively, disciples comprise the one “body of Christ, and severally members of it.” Has not God appointed some in the church as apostles, some as prophets, others as teachers or workers of miracles, along with the gifts of healing, helps,” governments, and “kinds of tongues”? – (1 Corinthians 12:27-30).

This summary is followed by a series of rhetorical questions, each of which expects a negative answer. Are all apostles?” Obviously not. Are all prophets or teachers? Does every member have the gift of healing? Do all speak in tongues, or does everyone interpret them? In each case, the expected answer is “no.”


Thus, Paul’s question, do “all speak in tongues, is an obstacle to the claim that speaking in tongues is THE sole evidence of the gift of the Spirit, or that anyone who does not speak in tongues has not received the Spirit.

Proponents of this view propose at least two solutions to this conundrum. First, they divide the church into two groups – one comprised of believers who are “spirit-filled,” and the other of those who are not. This creates two classes or categories of Christians, “spirit-filled” and “not spirit-filled,” a division foreign to the New Testament.

Nowhere does the New Testament divide the church in this way, nowhere does it recognize that some Christians have the Spirit but others do not. Either you have the Spirit of God and are a genuine believer, or you do not have the Spirit because you are not yet a follower of Jesus.

Receiving the gift of the Spirit is basic to Christian existence, and there is no life in Christ or the church without it.

The other solution claims there are two distinct classes of tongues - first, the “personal prayer language” one receives when being baptized in the Spirit. Second, the “gift of tongues” is given to certain members to speak messages of God to the congregation. And, allegedly, in chapter 12, Paul is referring to the latter, the “gift of tongues” given for the benefit of the whole congregation.

But Paul does not make this distinction; he does not divide “tongues” into two separate gifts of the Spirit, one individual and the other corporate. This second idea is an artificial construct.


In chapter 14, the Apostle does state that the man who speaks in tongues “speaks not to men but God,” whereas, the one who prophesies “edifies” the entire congregation. In the worship service, the man who prophesies is of more benefit to the church than the one who speaks in tongues, “except he interprets” thereby edifying the church.

If the one who speaks in tongues does not interpret what he has said, or someone else does not do so, the church remains un-edified since no one understands what has been said, though the one speaking in tongues may edify himself. Regardless, the one who speaks in tongues should “pray that he may interpret” or remain silent in the assembly.

Paul says nothing here about two separate “gifts of the Spirit.” He does not exhort the man who speaks in tongues to acquire the other “gift of tongues” intended for public use in addition to his personal “prayer language.”

Instead, Paul instructs the man who speaks in tongues in the assembly but without an interpretation to seek the gift of interpretation so he may reveal what he has been saying to God in secret – (1 Corinthians 14:1-13).

The most straightforward explanation is that the gift of speaking in tongues is not given to every believer. Therefore, it is not the only evidence or “sign” that someone has received the Spirit of God, though it certainly is one of several possible signs.

In the book of Acts, there are three examples of individuals speaking in tongues when they received the Spirit, but we also have cases where the recipients of the Spirit “magnify God” or “prophesy,” as well as the “sound of a rushing mighty wind” and the appearance of “tongues of fire” on disciples when the Spirit fell on them.

If we assume from these incidents that speaking tongues is the evidence for receiving the Spirit, should we not also expect the gift of prophecy, wind-like sounds, and “tongues of fire” to also provide proof that someone now has the gift of the Spirit?

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