Is it acceptable for an Adventist to speak in tongues?

Questions & Answers September 8, 2017

Q: Is speaking in tongues one of the spiritual gifts and is it valid to speak in tongues as a Seventh-day Adventist? I need you to explain these Bible texts: 1 Corinthians 1:5, 13:13, 14:1-28, Acts 2:4, 19:6, and Mark 16:17. — Mung San, from Thailand

A: Mung San, yes, speaking in tongues is one of the spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, and yes, it is possible for a Seventh-day Adventist to speak in tongues — as long as it is the true gift of tongues described in the Bible, given to him or her by the Holy Spirit.

The word “tongue” in Greek is glōssa, which can refer to the organ of the body by which we speak (Mark 7:33, 35; Luke 1:64) or to what is spoken — a language (Acts 2:11). The context of Acts 2 is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost which appeared like tongues of fire being placed on each of the apostles, who were enabled to speak in languages other than their mother tongue (verses 3, 4) so that people from many different nations were able to understand the preaching of the gospel in their own native language (verses 8, 11).

This marvelous gift of the Spirit enabled the gospel to spread very rapidly to many different people groups throughout the Roman Empire. Clearly, something similar is described in Acts 19:6 because those who spoke in tongues also “prophesied.” These are the “new tongues” mentioned by Jesus in Mark 16:17 as a sign that would follow the believers. The book of Acts records the fulfillment of this and other signs, including miracles of healing, casting out demons, and Paul’s handling and being bitten by a snake without any harm (Acts 5:12-16; Acts 28:3-5).

In 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, Paul lists a number of spiritual gifts, including wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and miracles. “Different kinds of tongues” is also listed as one of the spiritual gifts, together with “the interpretation of tongues.” Since interpretation is mentioned, the gift of tongues described in 1 Corinthians 14:1-28 must be a translatable human language rather than merely ecstatic speech or some unintelligible angelic language.

In fact, Paul insists that what is said must also be translated — each was to speak in turn and then wait for someone to interpret what was said so that the whole church could be edified and blessed (verses 27, 28). This is important because all of the gifts are for the edification of the church as a whole, not just a few individuals (1 Corinthians 12:7).

As we know from the rest of the epistle, a number of problems existed within the church in Corinth (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 1:11; 5:1; 6:1; 11:17-22). This apparently included speaking in tongues because Paul initially indicates that nobody was understanding what was being said (verse 2). This is why he indicates that prophecy is better than speaking in tongues (verse 5) and why, to correct the problem, he gives rules for the church in this situation: each was to speak in turn and then wait for someone to interpret what was said so that the whole church could be edified and blessed (verses 27, 28). Genuine gifts of the Spirit will produce good fruit (Matthew 7:15-19). In fact, love itself, which Paul identifies as the “greatest” gift (1 Corinthians 13:13) is a listed as a “fruit” of the Spirit (Galations 5:22).

To learn more about the gift of speaking in tongues, I recommend reading a short article, “The Gift of Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14,” which addresses the question, “Is the gift of tongues unintelligible utterances or foreign languages?” on the Biblical Research Institute’s website.

For a more in-depth study on the subject (that specifically addresses many of the texts you listed), you may want to read the paper, “Speaking in Tongues,” by Harry W. Lowe, on the Biblical Research Institute’s website.