19 September 2022

Do All Speak in Tongues?

Does the New Testament teach that all believers receive the gift of tongues when they are baptized in the Spirit? 

A problem with the assumption that speaking in tongues is the only “sign” that someone has recieved God’s Spirit is Paul’s indication in 1 Corinthians that not all believers do speak in tongues. Moreover, elsewhere, he teaches that all believers have God’s Spirit, and if they do not, they are not true disciples.

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

In 1 Corinthians, Paul takes up the subject of spiritual gifts and works to correct certain inappropriate ways of using the gifts. And he uses the situation to teach the Corinthians about unity in the body of Christ even amid diversity.


In the church, 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).

Moreover, together we 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 healings, 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 answer is “no.”


This is a serious obstacle to the claim that speaking in tongues is THE 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 have proposed 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 composed of those who are not. This creates two classes or categories of Christians, a division foreign to the New Testament, or at least, to the theology of Paul.

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 a follower of Jesus Christ or a member of the church.

The receipt of the gift of the Spirit is basic to Christian existence, and there is no life in Christ without it.

Another solution claims there are two distinct classes of tongues. First, is the “personal prayer language” one receives when he or she is baptized in the Spirit. Second, the “gift of tongues” that is given to certain members to speak messages of God to the congregation.

And, allegedly, Paul in chapter 12 is referring to the latter, the “gift of tongues” given to benefit the whole congregation rather than the “personal prayer language” all spirit-filled believers possess.

However, Paul never makes that distinction; he never divides “tongues” into two separate gifts of the Spirit, one individual and the other corporate. This is an artificial construct, an argument that smacks of special pleading.


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” and the church thereby “receives edifying.” The concern is the edification of the entire congregation.

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 he has 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 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. Instead, he instructs that man 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 answer is that the gift of speaking in tongues is not given to every Christian, and therefore, it is not the only evidence or “sign” that someone has received the Spirit of God, though it certainly can be.

And in the book of Acts, we have three examples of individuals speaking in tongues when they received the Spirit, but we also have cases when the recipients “magnified God” or “prophesied,” 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.

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