Are Tongues Necessary For Salvation?

The book of Acts records a number of occurrences of people being filled with the Holy Spirit and beginning to speak in tongues. Throughout church history, the debate has raged on about the nature of these tongues. Are they other human languages? Are they ecstatic gibberish, only comprehensible to the heavenly host? But the issue may be pressed further. If somebody speaks in these ecstatic tongues, do they have a deeper level of interaction with the divine than others? Are they more holy? Further even, are tongues necessary for salvation? This is the position of the Oneness Pentecostal movement, which has its’ roots in the early 1900’s (which strikes me as ironic, because if you are going to espouse a plan of salvation, you should probably ensure that it is not foreign to church history. Lest you suggest that the gates of Hell prevailed againt it [Matt. 16:18]).

So the Oneness Pentecostal movement suggests that unless one speaks in ecstatic tongues, they are not really Christians and have not really been born again. They will appeal to Jesus’ command to be baptized by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8), arguing that this was first demonstrated at Pentecost in Acts 2. Thus Acts 2:38 is the signature of the Oneness Pentecostal movement, which commands the new converts to repent and be baptized in the name of Christ, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. They argue that upon the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit, one will necessarily speak in tongues.

This is founded mostly upon the book of Acts, because, they say, throughout the book of Acts, every single time somebody receives the Spirit, they speak in ecstatic tongues. Thus, they conclude, everybody who ever receives the Spirit will speak in ecstatic tongues. Consequently, those who do not speak in ecstatic tongues do not have the Holy Spirit, are not born again, and are not real Christians. Are they right? Are tongues necessary for salvation?

Are the tongues in Acts human languages? Everybody who speaks, speaks in tongues. I am typing in a tongue as I write this article. English is a tongue. Spanish is a tongue. Tongues is just a synonymn for languages. If one says that they are speaking in new tongues, they could just be saying that they are learning a new language. People speak with new tongues all of the time. But when it happened in Acts, at Pentecost, it was a miracle. People learned an entire new language instantaneously.

That is why the Jews said that they heard people from various places speaking the wonders of God in their own native language (Acts 2:8-11). This was the nature of tongues in the book of Acts. But there is no recording in Acts of people speaking in ecstatic, incomprehensible tongues upon receiving the Holy Spirit. No biblical data whatsoever.

Did everyone who received the Spirit speak in tongues? That primary argument that the Oneness Pentecostal movement will appeal to is that every time, in the book of Acts, that somebody received the Spirit, they spoke in tongues. That was the constant formula then, and therefore, it should be the formula now. The problem is that it is not true. There are events in which people received the Spirit, and yet did not speak in tongues. Acts 4:31, Acts 8:17, and the conversion of Paul the apostle in Acts 9. People received the Spirit, and there is no recording of them speaking in tongues.

One might say that the tongues just were not recorded. Fine, maybe so. But the point is that this shuts down the argument that every time somebody received the Spirit, they were recorded to have spoken in tongues. That is not the case. If we are going to say that they still did anyway, then it makes one wonder what else we could add. Maybe they went through various Catholic sacraments as well. Maybe they drank poison. Maybe they laid on a bed of nails. The point is that we should base our doctrine on what the Scripture says, not on what we have read between the lines.

1 Corinthians 12-14 In 1 Corinthians 12:29-30, Paul explained that different people have different gifts in the Kingdom, and all function together. But they are not all the same. He writes, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues?” Of course, in the context of this passage, these questions are rhetorical, the implicit answer being, no, not all brothers and sisters in Christ do all of these things. This is obvious because he was teaching here that we have different duties in the church and in evangelism. So he seems to obviously be teaching that not everyone speaks in tongues.

To this, most who believe this doctrine will reply that there is a diversity of tongues, or there is more than one breed of tongues, and the one being described in 1 Corinthians 12 is known as the gift of tongues, but the one that is a necessary evidence of the Holy Spirit that all believers have is known as tongues for edification. Now this seems to me to just be an ad hoc argument. Paul’s letter falsifies the doctrine, so they just change it in response. Anyway…

But let’s for a moment grant for charity that there are a diversity of tongues. In the very passage that Bible speaks of tongues for edification, Paul still maintains the same stance, that not every born again believer does it. In 1 Corinthians 14:4a, Paul says, Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies himself… So if there is a diversity of tongues, Paul is speaking of the edification breed in this passage. He goes on to say (v. 5), I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.

So in reference to what is known as tongues for edification, Paul says that while he would like everybody to be able to do it, they cannot, and he would prefer that they prophecy. Thus Paul seemed to very strongly disconfirm the view that tongues are necessary for salvation.

If you would like to get in on the discussion about this, join my Theology Discussion Group!



Related posts