What the Bible Says About Tongues & Miracles

The goal of this post is to discern whether the signs, wonders, and tongues of modern neo-Pentecostalism (hence forth called charismatic/continuism) are the same as the biblical gifts mentioned in the NT from which they are supposedly derived.

The reason for this article rests in the many charismatic claims that the baptism of the Holy Spirit, miracles, and subsequent tongues are evidence of both salvation and apostolic authority.

These claims have made sign gifts a threshold issue for the church. Despite what some supposedly “open but cautious” theologians state, there can be no middle ground regarding this issue – the supposed supernatural signs are either of the Holy Spirit and intended for all Christians in the final age or are a demonic distraction seeking to thwart Christian truth and peace. For evidence on the sheer volume, see THIS.

The only acceptable authority for this article is the Bible. Experience does not stand as litmus because many pagan cultures and societies have practiced signs and miracles empowered by both magic and demonic forces.


house-of-generals-bkTo begin, it is important to point out how rarely the Bible discusses any “gift” of signs, wonders, or tongues. After listening to modern charismata-continuist proponents [Those that preach signs, wonders, and tongues as evidence of salvation and/or anointing], one would be surprised to learn that there is relatively little in the Bible which illustrates, let alone commends, an individual gift of supernatural ability. Even more remarkable is the relatively brief mentions of spiritual gifts of any type.

The only passage in the four Gospels which mentions an apparent spiritual gift is Mark 6:17-20 (and the term gift isn’t even mentioned). This means that half of the New Testament all but ignores individual spiritual gifts. Of course, this is because spiritual gifts were not given until the church age begun at Pentecost. Subsequently, there is no list of spiritual gifts in Acts, and it’s only in four of the epistles where we learn about gifts – Romans 12, 1 Cor 12-14, Eph 4, and 1 Peter 4.

The gifts described in those epistles aren’t defined, are clearly given at conversion by the sovereign God, and don’t require pleading, emotion, or any form of ecstatic behavior. Also, each of the texts are different in their listing of gifts, meaning there isn’t an exact number of gifts nor exact description of each gift nor an exact way God bestows each gift. Clearly the Holy Spirit works in a more general manner, allowing gifts be effused through local church obedience and usage rather than through specialized anointing, heritage, or online testing so common today.

Summary: A cursory study of the New Testament reveals that gifts are given by God so that a Christian can minister to others – some to believers, some to unbelievers – but there is relatively said about gifts and as we’ll see later, there are no texts that specify God gave gifts for personal benefit or edification.


Over the past one hundred years the charismatic-continuist camp has taught that one must be “baptized” a second time by the Holy Spirit. Some teach that this merely empowers ministry, others that this is the true sign of salvation. However, this is clearly un-biblical.

The book of Acts teaches that the Holy Spirit is given at conversion. In Acts 11, Peter defends himself before the leaders of Jerusalem. The angel told Cornelius that Peter would speak words whereby “you shall be saved and all your house,” (11:14). The gift was poured out on them because they “believed on the Lord Jesus Christ” (11:17). The leaders rejoiced because God gave to the Gentiles also “repentance unto life” (11:18). There can be no doubt that in Acts 10-11 that Cornelius and his house were converted.

Likewise, in acts 19:6 Paul realized the men weren’t acting appropriately and asked if they received the Holy Spirit. When they said no, Paul asked a vital question, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” He clearly realized they couldn’t have been baptized into Jesus, since they had not received the Spirit. The epistles go on to support the fact that at conversion the Holy Spirit regenerates and indwells a believers (Rom 8:9, 1 Cor 6:17).

Summary: Clearly Peter and Paul expected people to receive the Spirit when they believed. The remainder of the New Testament supports this teaching.


There is a common teaching that believers are to be seeking certain gifts. Much of this is based in 1 Corinthians 12:31, “But earnestly desire the greater gifts…” However, as we see in the verse itself, this is not to presume sign gifts; in fact the context clearly specifies the “greater gifts” as apostolic, prophetic, and teaching ministry, “And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings…” (v. 28) The words first, second, and third can only refer to priority…” So, if one were to be seeking something, it should be the ministry of missionary work and the pastorate. However, the Greek word often translated “desire” isn’t referencing an active seeking (as if someone can transfer their gift) Instead, it is a word for jealousy, placed in a clause insinuating passion and zeal.

Zeloo is the Greek word translated covet or desire. Although it is sometimes translated as covet or desire, a thorough study of zeloo indicates that it means to be zealous (KJV, ASV, NIV). Zeal for some often implies desire but this meaning is derived from the context rather than the word itself… The entire section of 1 Corinthians (chapters 12-14) stresses the priority of the edifying gifts – apostle, prophet, and teacher – over the more spectacular gifts of tongues, which was apparently receiving undue emphasis at Corinth…[i]

Summary: In context, 1 Corinthians 12:31 urges the church to be actively zealous for the missionary and pulpit ministry. Paul is simply telling the Corinthians to be enthusiastic and passionate about the greater gifts, because those gifts edify their church. Each believer is to accept the gift He’s been given by God while helping to promote/support the gifts which more prominently build and extend the church.


The Gospels systematically spell out who the twelve apostles were. They were men with Jesus, who’d seen Him resurrected, sent out to preach, and performing miracles (Matt 10:2, Luke 6:13, 9:1-10, 17:5). This is evidenced in Acts 1:21-22 when another man (Matthias) was chosen to replace Judas, “Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

1 Corinthians 15:4-5 expands on this when Paul writes, “ and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;  then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;  and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” In this verse Paul connects the appearance of the Lord with his own apostleship and even goes so far to call himself “last of all” clarifying an end to this manifestation and office of apostleship.

Ephesians 2:20 provides the historical framework for Paul’s definition of apostleship. He writes, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone…” The genitive case here is appositional and can be translated “built upon the foundation which is the apostles and prophets.” Thus, the gospels provide the litmus for an apostle, Paul calls himself the last apostle, and Ephesians 2:20 provides the chronological purpose.

Summary: Scripturally, apostles were men commissioned by Christ, witnesses of His resurrection, and able to perform miracles (at-will via God’s power at their command, not prayer via God’s sovereign choice). Jesus was the cornerstone of the church, the apostles were the foundation, and all subsequent evangelists and teachers build upon them. Therefore, this special office of apostle was unique to the 1st century and has ceased.


When we discuss spiritual gifts we must focus in on spiritual gifts given to the church age because we are in fact living in the church age. Based on this, the miracles done by Jesus before the day of Pentecost will not be a main part of this discussion. [A theological system, often termed Kingdom Theology, that points to Jesus as our example for daily belief and conduct is fraught with inconsistencies. For extensive evaluation on this cultish system read author’s title, “Defining Deception.”] It is also important to define the word “miracle” which Webster’s describes as, “An extraordinary event, outside scientific law, presumed to be caused by God.” Therefore, as we assess miracles, understand that these are signs and wonders beyond the typical human function and with clear supernatural results witnessed by many.


The only text in the Gospels which deals with an ongoing exercise of gifts after Pentecost is Mark 15:15-20, “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

In these verses, Mark clearly connects the miraculous signs with preaching the gospel – Demon casting, tongues, holding snakes, drinking poison are all signs (semeion) performed in order to confirm Jesus and His words. Jesus said these signs would follow those who “believed.” However, grammatically the antecedent “shall accompany” could just as easily refer to those who had believed up until the time Jesus spoke it as to those who “would believe” on into church history. Based on this, the ongoing status of this promise must be derived from the logic of context – The fact that Jesus said this to the apostles and referred to those “who had believed” (past aorist) implies the words were only for the early group of believers who indeed had followed Him up until that point.

What concretes this interpretation as correct is a simple analysis of the entire promise itself. Note that if tongues and healing are still present today, then so are snake handling and poison drinking! In essence, if this text applied to believers of all time, then no believer would ever die from drinking poison or from snakebite! The fact that this is an unconditional promise, not dependent on “faith” or “crowds” or “trances” (and without failure), proves it is a divine promise for a specific time. Furthermore, the Gospels continually develop the theme that Jesus healed when and how he chose, not based on the faith of people, and often despite the faith of people (Matt 8:5-13, Mark 1:23-26, Mark 9:17-29, Luke 17:11-19, John 5:1-16) marking Christ’s miracle ministry as light years different from anything showcased today. Jesus never attempted to heal and then failed.

Summary: The Gospels describe a unique period of history, as God on earth displayed His divinity, and anointed select men to launch the foundation of the church and document Holy Scripture. Jesus healed everyone who came, never failed, and did not require the “faith” of an individual to do so. Therefore his work is unique and should never be the normative experience or expectation of church age believers.


The book of Acts provides a powerful description of signs and wonders done by the apostles to uniquely empower and set apart the early church. There are many miracles to note (Acts 2:1-14, 2:22, 3:3-16, 4:29-30, 5:1-10, 6:8, 8:6-13, 9:1-18, 9:32-42, 13:11-12, 14:3, 14:8-10, 19:11-12, 20:9-12, 20:17-38).

However, a cursory reading of the book will show that the events of Acts are far different from the supposed miracles of charismata-continuism today. Note these clear differences: 1) The miracles were performed by apostles with the exception of Philip & Stephen 2) The miracles were performed upon unbelievers 3) The miracles were not done in a church meeting 4) The miracles were performed by men not by prayer/commanding God 5) The miracles were clear and seen by many 6) The faith of the recipient did not alter the miracle 7) There were no miracle failures.

Aside from the clear differences between apostolic miracles and the “miracles” of today, there is another vital element in the book of Acts which indicates the apostolic church was unique and not to be the normative example. We can term this the issue of “negative miracles.” An example of these negative miracles were Ananias and his wife, who dropped dead on command, after lying to the Holy Spirit and church (Acts 5:1-10). Similarly, a magician named Elymas opposed the apostles, and was immediately blinded by Paul (Acts 13:11). Stories like this abound, clarifying that the first few years of apostolic ministry were a far cry from the normative church age experience, and any position which claims miracles still exist, must not only evidence miracles of staggering scale but also note very difficult measures of church discipline. Clearly, these were acts done by apostolic authority and not by simple prayers of a faithful congregation!

Summary: The Book of Acts overtly stands out as a unique beginning to the church age, where apostles wielded miraculous authority, and thousands of unbelievers came to be taught, after witnessing friends or family members healed. However, this is not normative in church history, was limited to those designated “apostle” and certainly consisted of miracles far greater than anything proposed by modern charismatic-continuism.


There are mentions of miracles throughout the epistles however they succinctly support the apostolic work of Paul (ex. Romans 15:19, 1 Cor 2:4, 2 Cor 6:7, 2 Cor 12:12, Gal 3:5). Hebrews 2:3-4 specifically connects miracles, signs, and wonders with eyewitnesses of the Lord. Finally, James 5:14-15 stands in quiet opposition to any supposed teaching of signs and wonders. James writes, “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.  Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up…”

Note that James commands the sick person call for the elders of the church and not for a healer! The elders simply pray for the man and anoint him with oil or medicine; no one lays hands, no one mumbles, no one commands, no public faith meeting is held. The prayer of the elders is an agency whereby God may (or may not) heal by His power. There isn’t even any mention of the sick person’s faith…

Miraculous answers to prayer by God are not proof that individuals have the gift of miracles or healing. Further, since miraculous experiences may not be from God (Matt 7:22-23) all experiences must be verified by Scripture! Until adequate biblical support for today’s supposed miracle claims is presented, there is no reason to give any credence to the leader or the practice.

There are many who say, “We need to be a first century church.” If this is true, then I submit we need to study the example of the first century church rather than the first century apostles. The early churches seem to have been much like the average Bible believing churches today… They had problems with adultery, theft, heartless affection, factions, doctrine, etc. There’s no basis for the belief that healers and other miracle workers were in the local churches at all. There is no evidence, as is so often naively assumed, that the New Testament churches were “turning the world upside down.” It was Paul doing this! In fact, only a few churches were ever commended for their belief and behavior – Revelation 2 and 3 give us a realistic evaluation of the first century church. Of the seven churches, only two are “spiritual,” and they are not characterized by miracle power.”[ii]

Summary: The epistles do not recognize any healing ministry or itinerant healers. James 5 implies that early in church history (AD 45-50) apostolic healing gifts had already faded. Instead, the sick were to humbly go to their local church for prayer by elders. Remarkably, there is NO exhortation in any of the epistles for members of local churches to use miraculous gifts of any type, and there is no suggestion the “faith” of the individual is a factor in his or her healing! Furthermore, an entire study of post-Pentecost apostolic healing suggests that any supposed “healer” who fails even ONCE be immediately dismissed as deceiver.  


For the past 100 years the charismata-continuist group has proposed that speaking intongues tongues is a necessary sign of post-conversion “baptism in the Spirit.” However, Pentecostals are not agreed on what “speaking in tongues” actually is; some say it’s the ability to speak a foreign language, others that it is a prayer language. Sadly, this tangle has led to much confusion and insecurity around the world.

Adding to the confusion is the entire lack of support from church history. The charismatic-continuist camp claims to trace its lineage back to Montanus and Irenaeus (circa 170AD) through Cevenols, the Shakers, and up to Wesley. However, a cursory study of history shows this to be a quite broken thread of documentation. Furthermore, these men themselves didn’t claim to be proponents or practitioners of tongues (Montanus was a false prophet and never claimed the gift of tongues, Irenaeus referred to known languages not ecstatic speech, Cevenols used children to prophesy and wrongly predicted the return of Christ, Irvingites led people into false doctrine, Shakers weren’t even Christian, Ranters were outright immoral, and Wesley himself never documented conversions based on the shaking phenomena). All this to say, it’s near impossible to verify any fundamentally Christian sect in history who practiced sign gifts, or even claimed to.

[Before writing further I suggest the “Burden of Proof” be put back where it belong. The charismatic-continuist movement has slowly shifted the burden of proof (regarding the temporary nature of sign gifts) to their opponents. As Thomas Edgar forecasted a generation ago they have done this by presumptuously stating, “all things need be the same” and demanded proof otherwise. However, the facts, Scriptural and historical, show that the Holy Spirit, and His church, have not ever functioned precisely as described in Acts! Based on this, the presumption “all things remain the same” is false. And therefore, the burden of proof logically rests not on orthodox Christians over the past 1800 years but on any and all who insist that all gifts are to be seen today.]

Now, allow me to present the historically orthodox understanding of biblical tongues.


The Greek word for tongue “glossa” is foundational to determining the course and function of biblical tongues. Language scholars Liddell and Scott provide that biblical Greek held the term “glossa” to reference “the tongue, organ of speech, or language (known or foreign)…”[iii] Historic language scholars Moulton and Milligan confirm that biblical and secular Greek used glossa to mean “normal human language, local peculiarities of speech, or the physical tongue.”[iv] Additionally, Robert Gundry specifies “the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) always used the word glossa to reference human language, and sometimes of a nation in the sense of a language unit. Glossa occurs 114 times in the canonical books and never means unintelligible speech. It always refers to the tongue itself or speech.”[v]

The clear position of scholars is that all biblical tongues refer to a language and not some form of ecstatic speech or unintelligible groaning etc. Remarkably, the same can be true of classical Greek. Aristotle writes, “An ordinary word is one used by everybody, a rare word one used by some…”[vi] (italics mine) In classical Greek, the word “glotta” is the word translated “rare” in Aristotle’s passage. Glotta (the Attic for glossa) does not describe a strange, obscure utterance but normal language.

Plutarch does the same, “There is no occasion to be surprised at the revamping of these words into Greek… those who speak of such word as strange or unusual falsely accuse it of using barbarisms.” (Italics mine) [vii] Note Plutarch even provides contextual structure, clarifying why “other words” are merely foreign language and should not count people “barbarians.” Clearly, the term glotta is used to describe Greek words which the ancient poets were attempting to revive.

The point is that ancient Greeks (biblical and classical) didn’t use “glossa” to mean ecstatic speech. In fact, time and again we see that this word modern bibles translate as tongues simply means a physical organ or a known language. This is foundational to the remainder of our discussion, proving that the Bible never commends ecstatic outbursts, mumbling, or private prayer languages.


The New Testament uses the typical word for tongues 50 times. All of the passages are clear and undisputed except those describing the “gift” of tongues. However, it was never meant to be confusing: The basic rule of interpretation is that passages must be interpreted by their most common usage unless the context clearly dictates otherwise.

There is little argument that the tongues spoken on the day of Pentecost in Acts refers to normal languages, or foreign languages, spoken in an intelligent manner. Acts 2:4-8 states, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?” (Italics mine)

The speaking in this texts is described by the word glossa (and dialektos which means the language of the nation). Quite obviously the “gift” of tongues given to the apostles was that they preach in a manner where foreigners could understand. It is vital to note that this is the only passage in the entire Bible that directly describes the gift of tongues given by the Holy Spirit. This means the passage must be the determinative description and nature for any further “speaking in tongues.” Very strong evidence would need to be applied to depict tongues as something different from its first biblical depiction and instruction.

The other mentions of tongues in Acts happened similar to Acts 2. Specifically, they came quickly and were used as an evangelistic language, leading foreigners to understand the gospel (Acts 10:46, 19:6). Note that the phenomena came suddenly (like Pentecost), apart from any seeking, in a calm and orderly way, in a missionary environment, there were no trances, no emotive outbursts, and the amazement is always on the part of the hearers (unsaved) and not the preacher! There is no depiction of jerking, quaking, convulsions, barking, dancing, or drunken behavior.


1 Corinthians 12-14 is often cited as the foundation for speaking in tongues. It is the longest portion of Bible devoted to tongues but interestingly the passage doesn’t say what tongues are. The argument made “for tongues” as a signature sign of the Holy Spirit’s filling is that the tongues spoken of in this chapter are a form of “ecstatic language”, “angel speak”, or “prayer language.” Various portions of this chapter are used to promote this position, but sadly each of them are textually, contextually, historically, and experientially inaccurate. Let’s consider, and clarify, the most widely argued texts in support of tongues as an ecstatic utterance…

a. Tongues of Angels in 1 Corinthians 13

Many suggest that 1 Corinthians 13:1 references tongues of angels, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong…” However, a broader reading of the text indicates Paul is using hyperbole to state a necessary spiritual condition vs. a disappointing spiritual condition. Notice, the three examples he uses, I’ve highlighted them with parenthesis…

If I speak with the tongues of men (which I can do) and of angels (which I cannot do), but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy (which I can do), and know all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains (which I cannot do), but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor (which I can do), and if I surrender my body to be burned (which I cannot do*), but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

As you can see, Paul is setting up a series of hypothetical exaggerations explaining what he can and cannot do, indicating that all of it is useless without love! One of the “cannots” is speaking with angels! Further evidence stems from 1 Cor 13:8 which says tongues will one day cease. Obviously angelic language doesn’t need to cease so why would tongues cease if they were an angelic language? Still further evidence rests in the many biblical depictions of angels speaking to men. Why would there need be men speaking angelic language when angels can clearly understand human language? The point is that this text in no way describes an ecstatic utterance or angelic language.

* “Surrender” references a hand-over without reason (hyperbolic sarcasm), clearly not something Paul would do or recommend.

b. Prayer Languages in 1 Corinthians 14

The modern charismatic-continuist movement derives most of its defense for prayer language or ecstatic speech from the text of 1 Corinthians 14. As shown above, there is every reason (grammatically, culturally, and historically) to interpret this text just like it’s Acts 2 counterpart – referencing tongues “glossa” as a language spoken by men through the power of the Holy Spirit.

[It is imperative to remember 1) There is no evidence for the word tongue (glossa) ever used to mean unintelligible speech 2) There is no evidence in the OT of people practicing this speech 3) Glossa means foreign language in every other part of the NT 4) Acts 2 is the only clear description of tongues as a gift and clearly means foreign language.] Let’s look at seven portions of 1 Corinthians 14 which prove Paul is describing a foreign tongue and not an ecstatic utterance…

1. What is the Context?

To begin, 1 Corinthians 14 is set in the context of an assembly (church gathering). This is important because Paul is not writing to individuals about their private prayer life! The entire context refers to a situation where others are present, where an interpreter may or not be around, and where others will want to speak and join. Notice key terms in 1 Corinthians 14, “edifies the church” (v. 4), “edified” (v. 5), “assembly” (v. 12), “in the assembly” (v. 19), “gathered together” (v. 23), “keep silent” (v. 28), “women silent in assemblies” (v. 34) Thus, the overarching theme of 1 Corinthians 14 is that the assembly needs to be edified in a way which all can enjoy (teaching) and in a way far superior to signs which unbelievers can’t understand. The overarching theme of 1 Corinthians 14 isn’t in support of tongues but to LIMIT tongues. As Gundry states,

“Paul’s is stating that the tongue is unintelligible not because it’s an ecstatic language, but because neither the speaker nor anyone else in the congregation happens to have the gift of interpretation… It is the absence of interpretation which makes the tongue unintelligible.”[viii]

Obviously the Corinthians are confused in their morning worship services, not because people are babbling, but because people are speaking other languages and there’s no one there to interpret! The congregation as a whole doesn’t know the language so Paul is commanding they rectify this situation.

2. What are the Mysteries?

Many charismatic-continuist’s will focus in on the word “mysteries” (1 Cor 14:2) implying that a private prayer language connects them to quasi-spiritual mysteries. However, the term mysteries is a common biblical term for “something not formerly understood’ (Matt 13:11, Eph 1:9, 5:32, Colossians 2:2, 1 Tim 3:9) and simply means spiritual truth new to the age in which a person lives. For example, the arrival of Jesus was a mystery revealed, the second advent of Jesus is a mystery yet to be revealed etc. This in no way infers that believers are to be seeking mystical experiences.

3. Why Does Paul Refer to Instruments?

1 Corinthians 14:7-9 says, “Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp?  For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken?”

These verses are an illustration of Paul’s primary focus – speech, which isn’t understood, is useless! The emphasis here isn’t on the “indistinct” sounds but on the failure of the sounds to communicate anything! Paul is saying that if a bugle blurts a bunch of noise which isn’t in musical form, no one will understand or enjoy the sound. Likewise, the same was true when many Corinthians were standing up and speaking various languages without interpretation. No one was strengthened, no one was encouraged, and unbelievers weren’t reached!

4. What is Barbarian Speech?

1 Corinthians 14:11 states, “Therefore if I do not know the meaning of the voice I shall be a barbarian to the one speaking…” The term barbaros was a well-understood phrase in Greek culture meaning “one who speaks a strange language.” In fact, the four times it’s used in the NT it refers to non-Greeks or those of a different culture who speak a different language! It’s simply a term that references non-Greek people who sounded “different” due to their ethnicity and language barrier.

5. Why Does Paul Refer to Signs?

In 1 Corinthians 14:21-23 Paul even uses the OT to support his directive that these other languages were evangelistic outreach to outsiders not meant as personal prayer languages for personal edification. Paul writes, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,” says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe…”

Paul’s quotation is from Isaiah 28:11 where the Hebrew refers to men “stammering” in speech. The word “stammering” (la’ag) means “mocking” and the context speaks of God’s judgment upon Israel by a nation which speaks a language foreign to their ears (the Assyrians). Back in 1 Corinthians 14:22, Paul uses the word hoste (so then) to connect the statement with v. 21, introducing a conclusion based on the preceding statement. Because verse 21 is a quote regarding other languages, the conclusion in verse 22 must also refer to language.

In brief, there’s absolutely no chance Paul would build a direct argument regarding magical prayer languages or unintelligible utterances on a passage referring to normal language in the Old Testament.

6. Why Does Paul Mention Private Prayer?

In 1 Corinthians 14:28 Paul speaks to the person whose been doing the speaking out of turn and causing confusion, “if there be no interpreter, let him keep quiet in the assembly, and speak to himself and to God.” Some falsely interpret this as prayer language when in fact it’s a negative thrust: “If you can’t do things in order then sit down and keep it to yourself!” In context, Paul clearly wants people to stop distracting the assembly with their outbursts.

7. Why Does Paul Set an Order?

1 Corinthians 14:32-33 goes on to set rules for prophecy and inherently the same argument would apply to those speaking in tongues. Paul expects the church to be held and conducted in order, demanding only one person speak at a time, and even requesting the women stay silent. Notice, this verse says nothing about the style of speech and only about the direction and control of the speech! There is nothing here to indicate tongues as anything other than a foreign language spoken for the good of unbelievers.

Plainly speaking there is nothing in 1 Corinthians 12-14 which requires a meaning for tongues contrary to the historically documented meaning of Acts 2 “glossa.” In fact, the idea of an Acts 2 non-understood foreign language is acceptable in every instance, and the only form which is appropriate. The evidence shows that both Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12-14 are referencing a non-learned language spoken by the early Christians. This stands in opposition to ecstatic utterance in church and private prayer language at home for three principal reasons 1) The evidence for ecstatic speech is mere inference 2) Ecstatic speech is contrary to the purpose of biblical tongues 3) Ecstatic speech is contrary to the purpose of biblical gifts [evangelism].

Summary: 1 Corinthians 13:1 references tongues of men as a language, 1 Corinthians 14 is set in the context of an orderly public service where people are learning the newly revealed “mysteries” of Christ Jesus (14:2), commanded to speak with a goal of encouraging people (14:7-9), in languages that were foreign (14:11), specifically for the unbelievers who were new to the church (14:21-23), in an orderly way (14:28), and if one couldn’t do this they were to sit down and keep to themselves (14:28).


Based on all we’ve studied, can we say the sign gifts of miracles and tongues ceased? Resolutely yes! One incontrovertible fact explains why – the gift of New Testament apostleship has ceased – The fact that one gift was clearly temporary, given to specific men, ending with one specific man, with gifts that were promised to fade, and that the normative experience of all Christian orthodoxy is in support of this fact over 1800 years, proves overwhelmingly that this is what the Holy Spirit intended.

Ephesians 2:20 clarified the apostles were the foundation, 2 Corinthians 12:12 told us the apostles were given ability to perform special signs, so clearly if the apostles are gone there is no one left to perform the stated miracles. We’re also living witnesses that the normative promises by Christ (drinking poison, handling snakes), and discipline of the early church (death of Ananias and Sapphira etc.) has discontinued, along with any confirmed wielding of miracles or tongues for 1800 years.

Moreover, far and away the greatest confirmation of the cessation of these gifts is the unbiblical nature of modern fakery. The proposed miracles and lifestyle of modern charismata-continuist teachers (i.e. gold teeth, feathers, failed healings, healing services, prosperity promises etc) are entirely out of line, and without precedent, in the biblical version of signs and wonders. Likewise, the modern version of tongues (private prayer languages, babbling in worship, no interpretation, drunken behavior, dancing, jerking, and trances) is entirely out of line with biblical verity.

Based on all the data, evidence does not demand cessationism defend its position but rather that charistmatic-continuism provide evidence for theirs! It is crystal clear that Satan has launched a late age subterfuge, using the Holy Spirit’s name, to con many into emotional experiences, while the true Gospel, and orthodox faith, are cloaked. Let this never be true of us. Instead, may we hearken to Christ’s words given Philadelphia in Revelation 3:8, “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name”

[i] Edgar, Miraculous Gifts, Loizeaux Brothers, 1983, pp 26

[ii] ibid, pp 103

[iii] Liddell & Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford, 1968, pp. 353

[iv] Moulton & Milligan, Vocabulary of Greek Testament from Papyri, Hodder & Stoughton, pp. 128

[v] Gundry, Ecstatic Utterance, Journal of Theological Studies Vol. XVII, 1966, pp 299

[vi] Aristotle, Poetics 21, Loeb Classical Library, 145B

[vii] Plutarch, Isis & Osiris 61, Loeb Classical Library, 375

[viii] Gundry, Ecstatic Utterance, Journal of Theological Studies Vol. XVII, 1966, pp 302-303

17 thoughts on “What the Bible Says About Tongues & Miracles

  1. All very well reasoned; well done. Here’s the rub:

    I used to be the preacher in a church that believed all the things you hold as your position. I vigorously refuted Pentecostalism and the like. Then one day, I was challenged to read the book of Acts, forgetting what I’d been told and taught about it… just to read to see what the Word said. I was shocked to find that the Pentecostal view was actually more biblical than my own! I came to understand–from the Word of God alone–that we cessationists had it wrong. I prayed to God to show me the truth.

    That was over 25 years ago. I have since witnessed incredible things…. a man who never knew Spanish prophesying in perfect Spanish to a woman he didn’t know accurate details and instructions about an upcoming event, deaf ears opened, eyes healed, diseases cured, demons cast out.

    Many of the things I preached against as having ceased with the Apostles, have taken place at my hands and in front of my very eyes.

    Just maybe remember this: Either miracles and spiritual gifts are still given by God, or they’re not. If they’re still around, then reasoning with all your best argument won’t change that.

    1. Not sure how you’re sucked, I have found the more I studied acts, and what Paul teaches, the further from Pentacostalism I went. I have never met one, including me, that actually kept things in context.

      Especially on tongues. Tongues was clearly REAL languages. The ecstatic modern version is just that. It was clearly not a normative thing. How can ppl think Acts 2 is normal for us, it wasn’t considered so for the early church fathers many of whom were discipled by the apostles. You and others ignore history and live on a bed of lies. I did too. I pray God opens your eyes.

  2. No where in Scripture does it say that any of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are done away with today until the return of the Lord Jesus at the last day.

  3. You kept referring to “charismatic Gifts” or “Sign Gifts” but Paul put them all together. And in Acts 19 It was written that they were believing disciples. Sounds like they already were saved and had the Holy Ghost. Then Paul ” laid hands on them.(oh my) and the were then not only baptized in water but by the spirit. However I will say that Acts 2:38 is wildly taken wrong. This is not NEEDED for salvation. To say it is is blasphemy against the finished work on the cross. And you keep saying that one thing all true Gift users saw Jesus personally? In spirit yes! But not flesh… and Anthony Wood if God no longer calls or gives revelation who called you into the ministry?

  4. Re. Mark 15:15-20. It seems to me that preaching, conversion and signs will carry on in a tag fashion generationally till Jesus returns. Contextually the three are inseparaple. They can’t surely be the privilege of only the 12 apostles and those they would personally reach in their lifetimes. Otherwise none of us would be saved, not even you. And as for poison and snakes couldn’t​ those be also part of the hyperbole you mentioned elsewhere in your piece? Maybe, maybe not, but surely the teaching is that God’s power can protect us from lots of nasty stuff, beside venom and other poisons, when we believe and continue to preach the Gospel as Jesus commanded us through the first apostles, no?

  5. Hi, I have just one question. Didn’t Paul say somewhere that he spoke in tongues more than anyone else? Isn’t this the prayer language?

    1. Hello Lee –

      Yes Paul does write about tongues and the fact that He prays in tongues more than most – and yes it is a prayer language but many get the gift of tongues and the prophecy of tongues confused – and yet others who do not understand tongues cut it completely out of their teaching. Paul writes about tongues in 1 Corinthians – In chapter 14:1-7 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification. But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? Paul is teaching the Church at Corinth the order of things and the difference between gift of tongues and the prophecy of tongues. The gift of tongues is given to you by the Holy Spirit and when you pray you may pray in tongues or even a groan uttered by the Holy Spirit will be heard and interpreted by God who knows your heart – but the gift of tongues is for you the individual. The tongues of prophecy – like any other prophecy – is for the glory of the Lord God. This happens when the spirit speaks through a member of the church where another one or two can interpret the words of the speaker for the church – what is key to remember are the characteristics of the Holy Spirit – and what they are not. If the Pastor is delivering the word of God and many members are yelling and shouting and speaking in their own tongue – then the truth of the gospel is drowned out – this is not of the Holy Spirit. If you are praying and the Holy Spirit takes over and begins to pray for you – you may hear a different language but you can come out of it immediately – it is not some demonic voodoo trance it is gentle and loving as is the Holy Spirit and you are in control of your faculties. What is important to remember about the Church at Corinth is its members and the false gods they worshiped and how they worshiped those gods. Mainly their religious gatherings were feasts with wine and orgies and the men and women were loud and boisterous with much wailing and writhing on the floor – Paul even mentions unspeakable perversions in this Church. So Paul was correcting them from their old ways of worship and indoctrinating them into the Christian worship and explaining the difference between the gift of tongues and the prophecy of tongues. Truly if any of us walked into a church where people were all shouting different languages and writhing on the ground or running around with arms raised shouting in tongues at the top of their lungs – we might wonder if this was the church for us because these people seem crazy and I cant understand a word anyone is speaking. Not many would stay. This is what Paul was correcting.

      Kind regards,
      J Arnn
      Jewish Studies for Christians

      1. Thank you John for your response in regards to my question. It has brought clarity to my confused mind lol. Being raised from birth in all different denominational experiences I sometimes wonder if I know the real Jesus and the faith that He and the early apostles taught. Most of the time I spend my days in complete confusion wondering if I’m doing the right thing. Please don’t stop writing and communicating as you are doing. It is much needed in the realm of modern Christianity. God bless you


  6. Lee,

    Just like Solomon did – pray to God in the name of Jesus for wisdom – everything is at your fingertips in your bible. Confusion is not of God so rebuke it and pray for wisdom – since you are a believer in Jesus you are elevated to the high position of king/priest in Him and you reign in life through Jesus for the glory of God. Pray for wisdom in His name and confusion will flee.

    J Arnn
    Jewish Studies for Christians

  7. I read the whole article but somehow i must have missed the actual “biblical proof”, because i can’t see it anywhere? Would you mind pointing it out? It must have been in one of those grammar or Greek lessons, without which you seem to imply that nobody would ever be able to fully understand the Word of God?

    Has God really intended for all his children to be Greek or grammar scholars to be able to understand His Word? Or rather you see this used to support weak arguments and various “biblical proofs”?

  8. I have too many questions to ask, but time would not allot it. You, yourself have drawn these conclusions. I presume Cessationism is where you are at. There are a number of things you mentioned that are not true. Interesting how you folks are bent toward your views and “seem” to be trying to counter the extremes in or on the Charismatic side. I get it and there are abuses. However, you have taken extremes by your conclusions. And let me just say, even conservative scholars (Grudem, Piper, Arnold, N.T. Wright, Kallas, Bailey, .. even Millard Erickson does not draw a complete conclusion) agree the gifts of the Spirit have not ceased. And I have named only a few.
    Be the church and stop attacking it and thus, dividing it.

  9. Easy to understand that those who believe in spirituals gifts those not possess them. They are shamefull for christianity !

  10. I just wonder. If you think that all spiritual gifts has ceased, why would there be a need for dicernment? Why should we test the spirits, if they won’t appear to be similar to the Holy Spirit?

    I totally agree that there are demonic spirits in the church today, but the answer is not that the Holy Spirit doesn’t operate and all spiritual gifts are either fake or demonic.

  11. I wonder if you have ever come into situations where people were terminal or crying out to the Lord for some deliverance ? Where there is an end to earthly help ? Your message is in error, you say Jesus Christ is not the same as He was, contradicting scripture.

  12. Sorry but did you look that?
    Acts 8: 14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: 15 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:16 (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

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