Why Did People in the Bible Speak in Tongues?
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One of the key aspects to understanding this gift is when it is given. Whether Jew or Gentile, the gift did not manifest until after the profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Messiah, and salvation. Spiritual gifts are associated with and attributed to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit of God, no one is speaking in tongues. Other important aspects include that Jews and Gentiles received the gift, and that it was used both in church assemblies and outside of them.
At Pentecost, this gift appeared for the first time, and the members of the church immediately went out and began to spread the Gospel to the international crowds gathered in Jerusalem. It was so strange to the people hearing this group of Galilean Jews speaking in their own languages, some people thought they were drunk at nine in the morning.
Peter clarified, and stated, “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,’” explaining how this manifestation of the Holy Spirit fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. Also important, the close tie Peter makes with glossalalia and prophetic gifts aligns with Paul’s connection between the two gifts in 1 Corinthians 14.
The most important reason people spoke in tongues was to fulfill the Great Commission, to glorify God by spreading the Gospel, and obey the leadings of the Holy Spirit. For Paul, the gift should bring others to Christ and to build up the church. He wrote, “Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers … When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:22, 26).
The individual speaking in tongues and the interpreter, as well as anyone speaking prophecy, should be glorifying God, and not themselves.
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