In about A.D. 55, when the Apostle Paul wrote the book of First Corinthians, he told the Corinthian church that the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues (which was the supernatural, God-given ability to fluently speak in a known, human language without ever having learned it, e.g., Acts 2:5-11) would someday cease. This is found in 1st Corinthians 13:8. The question, however, is when would this spiritual gift cease. In order to answer this question, we need to see what the Bible says is the primary purpose of this gift that God gave to some, not all, believers (1 Cor. 12:30).
In 1 Cor. 14:22, God tells us that the purpose for tongues (speaking in a known, human language that the speaker never learned) was for a “sign” to unbelievers. But which unbelievers? In 1 Cor. 14:21, it tells us which unbelievers when it states, “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 the unbelievers that Paul is talking about are the “this people” in the passage that Paul is quoting from in the Law (i.e., the Old Testament). And the passage Paul is quoting from in the Old Testament is found in Isaiah 28:11-12, which refers to God’s people, the Israelites/Ephraimites/the Jews (Isa. 28:1; 9:8-9). So Paul is referring to unbelieving Jews that the “sign” of tongues was for.
Now who are the people Isaiah is talking about through whom God is going to speak to the unbelieving Jews? Well, the people Isaiah is talking about who have what the Israelites/Ephraimites would consider as speaking with stammering lips and a foreign tongue are the Assyrians, specifically King Shalmaneser and his invading Assyrian army (2 Kings 17:3-6).
To discover the background of Isaiah 28:11-12, we’ll begin with Isaiah 7:1, 6-9, where God’s prophet Isaiah prophesies in 734 B.C. that within 65 years, Ephraim/Israel will be shattered, so that it is no longer a people/nation (Isa. 7:8). In 722 B.C., King Shalmaneser of Assyria (who reigned from 727-722 B.C.) captured Samaria, the capital of Israel/Ephraim (2 Kings 17:3-6) and deported many of its inhabitants while bringing people from foreign lands to settle in the cities of Samaria/Israel (2 Kings 17:23-24). Then in 669 B.C., many more foreigners were transferred to Samaria by King Ashurbanipal/Osnappar of Assyria (who reigned from 669-633 B.C.) as seen in Ezra 4:10, which was exactly 65 years after Isaiah’s original prophecy in Isaiah 7:8 (Drs. Walvoord and Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament, pp. 1046, 1047). God through the prophet Isaiah predicted that Assyria would be the instrument that He would use to judge/punish godless Israel/Ephraim because of her rejection of and unbelief in Jehovah God (Isa. 8:7; 10:3-6; 2 Kings 17:7, 10, 12, 14-16).
So what is foreign tongues a “sign” of? Well, God gave Israel/Ephraim the “sign” of a foreign tongue being spoken to them as the indicator (Isa. 28:11) as to when this impending (soon to come) judgment/punishment would come, which then occurred shortly thereafter in 722 B.C., as already stated. Israel was lectured with a message of judgment on them through a foreign language/tongue (Assyrian) since they wouldn’t listen to God speak to them through the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 28:11-13) and, in fact, mocked God (Isa. 28:10). The judgment/punishment that God would bring on Israel was that “they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared, and taken captive” (Isa. 28:13). In other words, some of these Jews would be injured, even killed, and most of the rest would be taken into captivity, which is what then happened under King Shalmaneser and his Assyrian army in 722 B.C. (2 Kings 17:3, 6, 18, 23, 25). Years later, God does the same thing to Jerusalem and Judah through another foreign language (Jer. 5:15), only this time it’s the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:1-2; 25:1-11) that God would use to judge/punish the unbelieving, God-rejecting Jews from the southern kingdom (Judah), Jer. 5:1-3, 9, 11-17.
In conclusion, the Apostle Paul is saying that just as a foreign tongue was used as a “sign” of soon-to-come judgment on the unbelieving Jews in Isaiah’s time, so the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues (foreign languages) by Christians would be used as a sign of impending judgment on the unbelieving Jews of Paul’s time. And that’s exactly what happened in A.D. 70, when General Titus and the Roman army marched into Jerusalem, massacred many of the Jews, destroyed the city, and took the rest captive. This judgment came upon these Jews because as a nation they had rejected in unbelief their Messiah, Jesus Christ (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 578; and The New Bible Dictionary, p. 616). So, since the primary purpose of the gift of speaking in tongues was accomplished with the judgment of Israel in A.D. 70, the gift of speaking in tongues ceased by that time. This happened 15 years after Paul wrote the book of First Corinthians. So prior to A.D. 70, Christians weren’t to forbid speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:39) when it was a valid spiritual gift. But after A.D. 70, when the gift ceased, any fake or demonic imitations of the former gift should now be forbidden.
History demonstrates conclusively that tongues did cease
During the age of the Apostolic Fathers (early Christian writers who had direct contact with the apostles) the gift of tongues was not exercised. There is absolutely no mention of tongues in any of their writings. Clement of Rome wrote to the Corinthians in A.D. 95 and discussed their spiritual heritage without once mentioning tongues. He even commended them for their unity. By that time tongues had ceased. The true gift was no longer given by God, and Paul had silenced the quacks by showing that tongues was the least of the gifts and not an indication of spirituality.
Ignatius, who was martyred in A.D. 116, wrote to the Ephesians. (Remember that the gift of tongues was exercised in Ephesus during the time of Paul – Acts 19.) Ignatius did not mention tongues in his letter to the Ephesians. He also wrote to the churches at Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Smyrna, and Philadelphia without mentioning tongues.
Polycarp wrote to the Philippians, and did not mention tongues. The Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle to Diognetus, the Didache, the writings of Papias – none of these mention tongues, though they cover all areas of Christian theology. These were all within a lifetime of the New Testament Age.
Justin Martyr, who was martyred around A.D. 165, traveled extensively throughout the Roman Empire and wrote extensively on Christian doctrine, yet did not mention tongues.
Beginning about A.D. 200, a few extra-Biblical references to tongues appear. These scattered references all seem to be reports concerning the practices of the Montanists. Montanus and his followers are acknowledged by all to have been heretics. Their heresy was primarily in the field of the study of the Holy Spirit and involved an undue emphasis upon miraculous gifts. The testimony of Chrysostom (about A.D. 390) is very clear and interesting. Remarking on the 1 Corinthian passage, he says that the “whole place is very obscure.” He then adds: “…but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation being such as then used to occur, but no longer take place” (Homilies on First Corinthians, XXXIX). It is clear that tongues were not a problem in the early church after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. They had ceased in and of themselves because their purpose had been accomplished.
St. Augustine also attests to the fact that tongues faded away and passed out because that gift had served its purpose. This was written in about A.D. 420. Tongues had served as a sign to unbelievers (Jews) of pending judgment, and the judgment had come and gone (Dr. B. Dunn’s “Speaking in Tongues”, p. 14) – Dr. Sellers’ Biblical Conclusions Concerning Tongues, p. 18. What is the so-called tongues speaking of today then, and where does it come from?
Most of the so-called “tongues speaking” today consists of pointless and repetitious jabbering. It is not a language but is an ecstatic experience furnishing an emotional release and a boost to the ego. As such, it is dangerous both psychologically and spiritually. But there is something even more dangerous. That is demonic glossolalia (tongue speaking). Pagan Greek oracles/priests, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc. have “spoken in tongues” (The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, Moffatt’s New Testament Commentary, pp. 208, 209). Isaiah 8:19 refers to demons who “whisper and mutter” through the vocal cords of mediums and spiritists. In Mark 5:8-12; Luke 4:33-35; 8:27-32; and Matthew 16:22-23 we see demons/Satan speaking by means of the vocal chords of those they inhabit or control.
The Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses (cults, not Christians) claim to be able to speak in tongues also. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1968 edition, vol. 22, p. 75) cites many instances of tongues speaking in pagan cults. The fact that the experience occurs regularly in non-Christian religions argues powerfully that the tongues phenomenon of the 20th century is not being produced by the Holy Spirit. People who have no connection at all with true Christianity speak in tongues. Today, ecstatic speech is found among the Muslims and Eskimos of Greenland (H. Stolee’s Speaking in Tongues, Augsburg, 1963, p. 9). D. Graham writes of a girl in China who was demon-possessed and began to utter words incoherently (Religion in Szechwan Province, China Smithsonian Misc. Collections, LXXX, 4, p. 15). E. Langston says that in East Africa many persons possessed by demons speak fluent Swahili or English, although under normal circumstances they do not understand either language (Langston’s “What Are Demons?” The London Quarterly and Holborn Review, Jan., 1954, p. 30). Psychologists have described glossolalia as happening with people with no strong religious convictions at all (G. Cutten’s Speaking With Tongues Historically and Psychologically Considered, p. 157). Why? Because of auto-hypnosis. In almost every case there is a sense of frustration and inner conflict. This inner tension sets off a search for the “secret” to the abundant Christian life. Tongues promises to be an end to the tension, and people subconsciously begin to seek it. To receive it is to gain the hallmark of spiritual prestige, resulting in the feeling of group acceptance and divine approval. Furthermore, everyone around them is assuring them that this is the solution to their problems. This has a powerful effect and will psychologically induce the phenomenon in some people.
A number of Christian psychiatrists have come to the conclusion that the tongue-speaking phenomenon is completely psychological (Dillow’s Speaking in Tongues, pp. 172-175).
Are There 2 Kinds of Tongues Speaking?
No! Some Pentecostals and Charismatics think there are two different kinds of tongues in the Bible, one a language and the other an ecstatic utterance. Though the Greek word “glossa” may be translated “ecstatic utterance,” its consistent usage in the New Testament is as a foreign language (e.g., Rev. 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; Acts 2:2-4, 11, 26). In fact, the word “glossa” occurs 30 times in the Greek Old Testament, and in every instance it refers to a known language spoken on earth (Gundry’s Journal of Theological Studies, p. 299). Paul specifically states that the tongues of 1 Corinthians 12-14 are foreign languages, because he quotes Isaiah 28:11-12 in 1 Corinthians 14:21 (and the tongues of Isa. 28 is the Assyrian language – Isa. 8:7-15).
Misuse of Hebrews 13:8
To say that speaking in tongues still exists today because “Jesus is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever” makes as much sense as saying we should still sacrifice animals to a Jewish priest because they did it in the Old Testament. Hebrews 13:8 teaches that Jesus Himself (His nature, character, essence, attributes) are the same forever, but not necessarily what He says or does. For example, in Matthew 10:5-7, Jesus commands His disciples to only go to, preach to, and heal Israelites, but then in Matthew 28:19 and Acts 1:8, Jesus tells them to go preach to the whole world. In Matthew 15:24, Jesus says He’s sent to minister only to Israelites, but then in Matthew 15:21-22, 28, we see Him ministering to non-Israelites, as in John 4:7-10, 25-26, 39-43 also. In Luke 9:1-3 and Luke 10:1-4, Jesus tells His disciples to not take money or supplies on their mission, but then in Luke 22:36-37, He tells them to do so. In Mark 1:40-44 and Mark 3:11-12, Jesus tells the healed people to not tell others of their healing through Him, but then in Mark 5:13-18, Jesus reverses it.