The gift of tongues (part one)


One day I was talking to some LDS women about the gifts of the Spirit and we were discussing whether these gifts were present in the general church membership. One of the gifts talked about was the gift of tongues. It was the opinion of the women that it was given to missionaries so that they could preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to non-members who spoke a foreign language. In other words, they believed that the gift of tongues was given in response to a need: preaching the gospel. I did not find this entirely scriptural.

In chapter 22 of the Church published book, Gospel Principles, entitled The Gifts of the Spirit, it states the following:

The Gift of Tongues (D&C 46: 24)

Sometimes it is necessary to communicate the gospel in a language we have not learned. When this happens, the Lord can bless us with the ability to speak that language. Many missionaries have received the gift of tongues when there was a great need for it. For example, Elder Alonzo A. Hinckley was a missionary in Holland who understood and spoke very little Dutch even though he had prayed and studied hard. When he returned to a home he had visited before, a lady opened the door and spoke to him very angrily in Dutch. To his amazement he could understand every word. He felt a strong desire to bear his testimony to her in Dutch. He began to speak, and the words came out very clearly in Dutch. But when he returned to show his mission president that he could speak Dutch, the ability had left him. Many faithful members have been blessed with the gift of tongues. (See Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:32-33.)

I do not believe that the above gift is the same gift of tongues spoken of in the scriptures. First, I’ll list the scriptures and then explain my reasoning.

The following is a complete list of every scripture that mentions the gift of tongues: Mark 16: 17; Acts 2: 4; Acts 10: 46; Acts 19: 6; 1 Cor. 12: 10; 1 Cor. 12: 28; 1 Cor. 12: 30; 1 Cor. 13: 1; 1 Cor. 13: 8; 1 Cor. 14; 2 Ne. 31: 13-14; 2 Ne. 32: 2; Omni 1: 25; Alma 9: 21; 3 Nephi 29: 6; Morm. 9: 7; Morm. 9: 24; Moro. 10: 15; D&C 46: 24; D&C 109: 36; A of F 1: 7.

Here is my analysis, reasoning and understanding of the gift of tongues.

Sign of a true follower of Jesus Christ
First of all, the gift of tongues is one of the signs of a true believer in Jesus Christ. (See Mark 16: 17; 1 Cor. 14: 22; Morm. 9: 24.)

Sign of faith; lack thereof is sign of unbelief
It is a sign that the person has faith in Jesus Christ. Its lack is a sign of unbelief.

Moroni said, “And now I speak unto all the ends of the earth–that if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief. And wo be unto the children of men if this be the case; for there shall be none that doeth good among you, no not one. For if there be one among you that doeth good, he shall work by the power and gifts of God.” (Moro. 10: 23-24)

Sign of sanctification
It is a sign of sanctification. (See 2 Ne. 31: 13-14.) After baptism we are commanded to receive the Holy Ghost. The reception of the Holy Ghost sanctifies us:

Jesus said, “Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.” (3 Ne. 27: 20)

Sign of being filled with the Holy Ghost
This is a gift of the Spirit and is exercised when the person is filled by the Holy Ghost. The person speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost, therefore, they speak the words of Christ. (See Acts 2: 4; Acts 19: 6; 2 Ne. 32: 2.)

Sign specifically to the unbelievers

Paul said, “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not.” (1 Cor. 14: 22)

The message is spoken to God, not man
Those that possess and exercise the gift of tongues are speaking to God, not to man. They “magnify God,” “speak unto God,” “speak mysteries,” “give thanks unto God,” and “shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.” (See Acts 10: 46; 1 Cor. 14: 2, 16-17; 2 Ne. 31: 13.)

The gift of tongues is to edify only those who have it
The gift of tongues only edifies those who have it unless someone with the gift of interpretation of tongues interprets what is said. (See 1 Cor. 14: 4.)

The gift of tongues should be had by all

Paul said, “I would that ye all spake with tongues.” (1 Cor. 14: 5)

The gift of tongues is greater than the gift of prophecy…
…if it is interpreted by one who possesses the gift of interpretation of tongues. (See 1 Cor. 14: 5.)

The gift of tongues has been given to the latter-day church
(See D&C 46: 24.)

The tongue used is the tongue of angels
(See 1 Cor. 13: 1; 2 Ne. 31: 13-14; 2 Ne. 32: 2.)

Cloven tongues of fire may be present
The gift of tongues may be accompanied by cloven tongues of fire upon the speaker.

The author of Acts wrote, “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.” (Acts 2: 3)

(See also D&C 109: 36.) The Prophet’s prayer was answered by the Lord at the dedication of the Kirtland temple and the gift of tongues was poured out. An account of what occurred during that time and of the outpouring of the gift of tongues is found here:

http://www.2s2.com/chapmanresearch/user/documents/kirtland.html

The gift of tongues can come upon unbaptized persons who believe
Just as the power of the Holy Ghost can come upon a person prior to baptism, so can the Holy Ghost bestow a manifestation of the gift of tongues upon believing, unbaptized people. (See Acts 10: 46; Hel. 5: 43-45; D&C 46: 9.)

We are commanded to seek the gift of tongues
The Lord enumerated the best gifts He has given to His church (see D&C 46: 10) in section 46 of the Doctrine and Covenants. In this section He commands us to ask of Him with these words:

The Lord said, “But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally.” (D&C 46: 7)

He also instructs us to seek the best gifts (which includes the gift of tongues.) One of the purposes of seeking and obtaining these “best” gifts is so that we are not deceived.

The Lord said, “Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given; for verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts.” (D&C 46: 8-9)

We must ask for the gift of tongues in faith in order to get it
Seeking the gift of tongues is the same as asking for the gift of tongues. (See D&C 46: 9.) The Lord also says in the same section:

The Lord said, “And it shall come to pass that he that asketh in Spirit shall receive in Spirit; that unto some it may be given to have all those gifts, that there may be a head, in order that every member may be profited thereby.He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh.” ( D&C 46: 28-30)

We are given one gift, but all are available, including the gift of tongues
Initially, the Lord gives one gift to every member of the church (D&C 46: 11), but then He goes on to say that we can get every gift (D&C 46: 29.)

Conclusion
My conclusion is that the gift of tongues, as explained in the Holy Scriptures, is not the same “gift of tongues” which President Joseph Fielding Smith speaks of. A more accurate title to the gift that President Smith described would be the “gift of foreign language communication.” Although there are many gifts of the Spirit, the gift of tongues which is a sign of a true believer, a sign to non-believers of the true church, a sign of sanctification and a means whereby a man or woman can shout praises to God in the tongue of angels and be edified by the mysteries spoken thereby, this particular, specific and scriptural gift of tongues does not seem to be present in the current Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The gift of tongues is listed among the Lord’s enumeration of best gifts given to His church. The lesser “gift of foreign language communication” that President Smith calls the “gift of tongues” is not listed there. Although it may, indeed, be a spiritual gift of God, it is not a “best gift” of God, but one of the lesser ones.

I can only speculate as to the reason why this lesser “gift of foreign language communication” is manifested by missionaries preaching the gospel and not the greater gift of tongues. The only conclusion I can come to is that the missionaries are asking God for the ability to communicate the gospel in a foreign language, and so they receive according to their prayers, whereas the general membership of the church is not asking God for the gift of tongues, and He gives it not. There may be confusion as to what exactly is the gift of tongues and thus, perhaps many members think the “gift of foreign language communication” is the same thing as the gift of tongues and therefore are content with the lesser gift. Or it may be that when they read the scriptures, especially 1 Cor. 14, they get the idea that the gift of tongues is not desirable, yet Paul does not say that. He says, “I would that ye all spake with tongues.” This lack of desire on the part of the LDS, coupled with a lack of asking for the gift of tongues has, perhaps, caused it to be removed from the general membership. This means that one of the signs of the church of Christ is gone.

Another misconception may be the thought on the part of the LDS that the gift of tongues is a lesser gift, less than the gift of prophecy, and thus no one wants to have it and no one asks for it. (My conversation with the two LDS women revealed that they didn’t think the scriptural gift of tongues was all that useful and didn’t want to have it.) Yet the scriptures clearly say that it, coupled with the gift of interpretation of tongues, is greater than the gift of prophecy, for the gift of tongues is the gift of prophecy spoken in the tongue of angels, which is a language of power, hence the occasional cloven tongue of fire that accompanies the manifestation. The speaker speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost to God, he speaks the words of Christ and he speaks in the Spirit, “wherefore it is done even as he” sayeth.

Finally, another potential reason may be that members don’t want to feel embarrassed by their neighbors and looked upon as crazy if they ask for and receive this gift, which shows forth an abundance of manifestation when activated. It may be be easier to testify to someone of the “good feelings” one had when reading the Book of Mormon than testifying that they spoke to God in an angelic tongue, surrounded by tongues of fire. It is easier to be accepted by our neighbors if we don’t have weird experiences like this.

In the next post I will write the account found in the Book of Mormon of the gift of tongues. It may give us all a taste of what we are missing, merely because we don’t desire it and don’t ask for it.

Next Gift of Tongues article: The gift of tongues (part two): a Book of Mormon account

Complete List of Articles authored by LDS Anarchist

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7 Comments

  1. On The Seer Stone blog I answered a question asked in their recent post entitled, Cloven Tongues Like as of Fire? In that post, it was asked, Does anyone know what the “cloven tongues like as of fire” represents in Acts 2:3? I wish to post here, on this blog, the answer I gave there:

    I suspect that cloven tongues is a manifestation of plasma discharge in which “twin Birkeland filaments rotat[e] like a corkscrew about a center. Given this symmetry, the blast effects from the twin arcs will tend to cancel at the center, leaving [the center] relatively unscathed.” The person speaking in tongues, then, would be surrounded by these two whirling tongues of plasma without being harmed. To the observer, it would look just like “cloven tongues of fire” but would, in actuality be a plasma discharge (electrical display) and not your average wood-burning fire.

    I also want to point out that the Nephite account of tongues, found in the next post of this series (The gift of tongues part two), uses the word “encircled” a few times when describing the “fire.” Encircle is an appropriate word as that is what these Birkeland currents do.

  2. I think maybe you’re going too far with the “plasma physics” analogies. Unless you’ve received this lost-from-the-Church gift-of-tongues, you may be deceiving yourself, as you quoted, “that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts”. If we’ve lost these gifts, “there shall be none that doeth good among you, no not one”, that includes you and me and our speculations as to the gift of tongues, plasma-inspired interpretations or otherwise.

    We are commanded by Christ to “be ye therefore wise as serpents”. And it is the serpent that has a cloven tongue. I think the cloven tongue of fire speaks wisdom and truth, regardless of the languages used. It is an ability to communicate truth and knowledge that is called “speaking with the tongue of angels”, methinks; e.g., Mark 13:11, “But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.”

    In the final hour when the world is made to agree and to give its kingdom unto the beast, a remnant will be tried and they will speak truth in opposition to the world and the church. Rev. 2:10, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

    The words for tongue appropriately translated from the Greek are “language” and “dialect” (glossa and dialektos, respectively).

    The cloven tongue is a greater gift than prophecy because it teaches truth in all things. Prophecy is truth with respect to one doctrine only. Cloven tongues is truth with respect to all or many doctrines. The spirit of prophecy is a testimony of Jesus Christ. We are made prophets by our own testimony only, and not by the testimony of others. Those who testify of Jesus Christ are prophets, and those who teach false doctrines after testifying of Christ are false prophets (many of which there will be in the last days). So to possess the cloven tongue plus the spirit of prophecy is to be a true prophet, in my interpretation, plasma displays notwithstanding.

  3. Derek, you may be right. I may be taking this interpretation too far. I do not have the gift of tongues, so I can’t speak from personal experience. But if you substitute “language” or “dialect” for tongues in Acts 2: 3, it seems to me to be a strained interpretation. Using the Bible Gateway, here are various translations of that verse:

    They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. (New International Version)

    And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. (New American Standard Bible)

    And there appeared to them tongues resembling fire, which were separated and distributed and which settled on each one of them. (Amplified Bible)

    Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. (New Living Translation)

    And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. (King James Version)

    And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested[a] on each one of them. [a] Or And tongues as of fire appeared to them, distributed among them, and rested (English Standard Version)

    Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there. (Contemporary English Version)

    Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. (New King James Version)

    They saw something like flames of fire that were separated and stood over each person there. (New Century Version)

    And there appeared unto them cloven tongues as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. (21st Century King James Version)

    And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them. (American Standard Version)

    and there appeared to them divided tongues, as it were of fire; it sat also upon each one of them, (Young’s Literal Translation)

    And there appeared to them parted tongues, as of fire, and it sat upon each one of them. (Darby Translation)

    And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

    They saw something that looked like tongues of fire. The flames separated and settled on each of them. (New International Reader’s Version)

    And diverse tongues as fire appeared to them, and it sat on each of them. [And tongues diversely parted as fire appeared to them, and it sat upon each of them.] (Wycliffe New Testament)

    And then they saw tongues like fire. These were divided and came on each one of the people there. (Wordwide English (New Testament))

    They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. (New International Version – UK)

    They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. (Today’s New International Version)

    All of these translations indicate a visual manifestation and not just an audible manifestation. In other words, they actually saw something that resembled fire. Plasma discharges can and do resemble both fire and “tongues of fire,” as well as divided, split or “cloven tongues” of fire. So, in my view, it is not much of a stretch to match the text to the observed plasma behavior of the laboratory.

  4. You are correct in that the verse does seem to inculcate a visible scene of great power and glory. The idea of fireworks is not quite new nor unique:

    Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

    3. cloven tongues, like as of fire, &c.-”disparted tongues,” that is, tongue-shaped, flame-like appearances, rising from a common center or root, and resting upon each of that large company:-beautiful visible symbol of the burning energy of the Spirit now descending in all His plenitude upon the Church, and about to pour itself through every tongue, and over every tribe of men under heaven!

    I don’t doubt that certain powerful manifestations of the holy Spirit are accompanied by fantastic visible displays, but they are probably just as plasma-like as they are fire-like. After all, Spirit is much more fine-grained and perfected than matter, and plasma is a phenomenon of matter, not Spirit (you and I are not in laboratories, nor were the Apostles, etc.). So all plasma achieves is the assignment of new names and modern similitudes, it remains an analogy for a phenomenon of Spirit.

    I think attempting to translate the verse out of Greek really shows how ambiguous the scene is really portrayed. While I prefer King James or Douay-Rheims to most other translations, stressing the Greek all the way through seems to also convey ideas about “division” being created by the tongue (kingdom of God vs. kingdom of the world) or “purification” occurring, etc. YMMV

  5. I do not have the gift of tongues, so I can’t speak from personal experience.

    You certainly seem to have gifts of dialogue, discourse, and communication. You are well-spoken and intelligent, and your teachings and discernments seem clearly thought-out and prayerfully inspired. I wouldn’t discount yourself just yet!

  6. I am the grandson of a Pentecostal preacher. I have read all Mormon Scripture cover to cover and *fervently* belief in its truth and inspiration.

    I *have* the Baptism of the Holy Spirit which is *always* initially evidenced with *private* speaking in unknown tongues. As opposed to the GIFT of tongues, which is a PUBLIC speaking gift in unknown tongues, which all that receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit evidence with the ability to speak privately in unknown tongues do not have.

    The devout Jewish men in Acts 2 from dozens of nations speaking dozens, if not hundreds, of different languages, STOP AND THINK ABOUT IT, do you seriously think that they or anyone could have

    HEARD

    dozens if not hundreds of DIFFERENT languages all being spoken at one time?

    I have been given the gift of interpretation of PUBLIC tongues one time.

    I heard a minister while preaching burst into speaking unknown tongues once and suddenly it was like time stood still and everybody in the church was frozen except for me. That’s the best way I can explain it. And then suddenly those unknown tongues, I began to HEAR THE TRANSLATION IN ENGLISH in my mind.

    What I describe to me that happened to me once, that is

    EXACTLY

    what happened in Acts Chapter 2.

    The Saints filled with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues were all speaking

    ONE LANGUAGE,

    the unknown (to man) tongue of angels, the language of Adam, glossolalia, and then

    GOD ALMIGHTY

    intervened and translated IN TO THEIR INDIVIDUAL MINDS that unknown (to man) tongue of angels, the language of Adam, glossolalia, their dozens and dozens if not hundreds of hundreds of respective languages of the devout Jewish men gathered from all around the world to celebrate the Jewish feast day of Pentecost that ancient year almost 2000 years ago.

    LDS Anarchist is right. This doesn’t happen in the LDS any more. It did in the early LDS church as he has documented. Its COMPLETE ABSENCE is a TRAGEDY OF ENORMOUS PROPORTIONS, far more than ever LDS Anarchist knows! :-(

    PS And, by the way, even though I’ve only been given the gift of interpretation of public tongues one time, I speak in tongues myself

    ANY TIME I DESIRE

    as anyone who has received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit can.

    If you don’t believe me, call me on the phone and I’ll speak in tongues for you over the phone.

    Or meet me in person.

    If you want to see Acts Chapter 2 in action, all you have to do is encounter me. ;)

  7. Here’s what I just wrote on my own religious board that I lead. To wit:

    This LDS Anarchist is quite the fellow. He gives a

    SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATION

    for what I and others have wondered about for ages, namely, what caused (obviously the Spirit of God) the

    CLOVEN TONGUES OF FIRE

    to appear, and he says he believes it is a PLASMA (I guess that means an energy) DISCHARGE!

    Wild! Because I’m certain that he’s right!

    Let me tell you, anybody who has ever received the Holy Ghost, its effect upon you, especially when you first receive it, can be like grabbing on to a

    LIVE WIRE!


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