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 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.)
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:
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.)
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