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QUESTION: Do You Have to Speak in Tongues to Go To Heaven?


I received the following question a couple of weeks ago via the Question Box on our congregation’s website, www.Plymouth-church.com, where I have answered an average of 2 questions per week for the past four years.

Do you have to speak in tongues to go to heaven?

The short, quick answer is, “No.”

Corinth was a church where confusion reigned. Part, but not all, of that confusion was because many of the members of that congregation elevated speaking in tongues to something God never meant it to be. They seemed to be boasting of the ability to speak in tongues and disrupting the assembly of the church to “show off” their gift. By doing so, they exalted themselves instead of Christ.

In Paul’s first epistle to them, he dealt with speaking in tongues in two chapters (12 & 14), wrapped around a plea to them to “desire earnestly the more excellent gift.” While he did not forbid them to speak in tongues, he did strongly discourage them. In chapter 13, he even said that tongues would cease.

Whereas today, many say that speaking in tongues is the sign of being baptized in the Holy Spirit, there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that. Instead, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul said that tongues are a sign for unbelievers.

When the assembled crowd on Pentecost, who did not believe in Jesus, heard those who had received the Spirit glorifying God in their own languages, they marveled and wondered what was happening. This opened the door for Peter to preach the good news to these unbelievers, and three thousand of them received his message and were baptized that day.

Similarly, when God through the Spirit sent Peter to the home of Cornelius (Acts 10 & 11), when that Gentile assembly began speaking in tongues, the Jews accompanying him (who did not believe the gospel was for Gentiles as well as Jews) were astonished. Peter, who had already received a vision from God on this matter, asked them, “Who can forbid water that these should not be baptized?” When he returned to Jerusalem, the church called on Peter to explain himself. He had gone to Gentiles; he had eaten with them; he had baptized them. What was he thinking? These disciples of Jesus obviously did not believe Gentiles had any part in the good news of Jesus. When Peter explained that God had given the Gentiles the gift of tongues, the assembled church rejoiced that God had granted repentance unto life even to the Gentiles.

In each of those instances, unbelievers were convinced by the sign. No where, though, does Scripture call speaking in tongues the sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Yes, it was one of the spiritual gifts – but it was not “the more excellent gift.”

In fact, in in 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul wrote that we all are baptized by (literally “in”) one Spirit.” Later, toward the end of the chapter, he asked a series of rhetorical questions, all of which should be answered, “No.” One of these was, “Do all speak in tongues?” It was just after this series of questions that he said he wanted to show them a more excellent way – the way of love.

When people boasted over others because of tongues, they were not walking in love. They were not following the greatest commands of our Lord: to love God with all our being and to love ones neighbor as you love yourself.

Too much focus on things such as speaking in tongues tends to turn us away from truly following Jesus. Hence, Paul played tongues down as an important spiritual gift. In fact, in chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians he elevated the message spoken above the experience of speaking in tongues, for he commanded them not to speak in tongues if there were no interpreter present. He said he would rather speak 5 intelligible words than 10,000 words in a tongue no one could understand.

Why the difference? Five words you understand can edify you; “God loves you; love Him” can build you up. Ten thousand words you do not understand do not build you up – except perhaps in your own eyes.

In my own experience I have seen the truth in what Paul taught. I have seen people who speak in tongues look at others as “inferior” Christians because they do not share that experience. Today, some are even teaching that unless you speak in tongues, you do not have the Holy Spirit and you are not going to heaven. This is exactly the kind of thing Paul was fighting against in the Corinthian congregation of God’s church.

The true evidence of the presence of the Spirit is in the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-24. When we walk in the Spirit, we demonstrate that we are children of God as we glorify Him in our lives.

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12 Responses

  1. Sorry, but Paul never discouraged them but even said himself, “I thank God I speak in tounges more than ye all.” Look it up. he never said it was wrong and the church of Corinth did speak in tounges which is simply praises unto God: Read YOUR Bible. Ofcourse tounges will cease because we will be in heaven speaking the same praises in the same language to God. Everyone who spoke in tounges in the bible, what does it say: They recieved the Holyghost speaking in other tounges (Acts 2:1-5; Acts 2:38). By the way, be careful what you say, the Bible clearly states in first Corinthians that the Holyghost is a sign to those who don’t believe right, so how do you know you have the holyghost? God made there a sign so you would not have to question whether you got it or not. You’re Welcome: It is because I care… Don’t tell people lies, but tell them the truth!

    • Brandon,
      Thank you for your comment. However, I suggest that you go back and read again what I wrote. Also please read 1 Corinthians 12 – 14, the passage on which I based most of my article. I would also suggest that you learn to approach dispute with more of the Spirit of Christ instead of accusing them of telling people lies. Respectfully disagree, but do not judge motives. Also, make sure the Bible actually says what you say it says. You claimed Biblical authority for some things that the text does not actually say. For example, you said, “the Bible clearly states in first Corinthians that the Holyghost is a sign to those who don’t believe right….” It actually says “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers” (1 Cor. 12:22). You read into that it is a sign to those who do not believe right. The text said nothing about not believing right. Nor does it say anywhere that tongues are the sign of being baptized in the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit). That is an assertion of modern Pentecostalism, not a teaching of the Bible.

      As I pointed out in my original article, 1 Corinthians 12:13 states out right that all of the Corinthian Christians (and by implication, that all Christians) had been baptized in (or by) “one Spirit.” In this chapter, “Spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit that all Christians have. Yet, later in that chapter Paul also denied that all of them spoke in tongues.

      And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:28-31, NIV)

      Not all are apostles. Not all are prophets. Not all are teachers. Not all work miracles. Not all have gifts of healing. Not all speak in tongues. Not all interpret tongues. Yet all can desire the greater gifts of the most excellent way.

      Paul did say that in the assembly no one should speak in tongues unless there were an interpreter. He also stated the reason for this:

      He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified. Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? (1 Corinthians 14:4-6, NIV)

      So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church. For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says. (1 Corinthians 14:9-13, NIV)

      1 Corinthians 14 shows that the church is edified by the message, not by the mere fact of speaking in a tongue. Paul said he would rather speak 5 words that can be understood by those around him than 10,000 words in a tongue that is unintelligible.

      The question I was answering was, “Do you have to speak in tongues to go to heaven?” I answered it according to the Scriptures, saying nothing but what I could see written there. If you believe that this is telling people lies, you need to examine the Scriptures again, which I encourage you to do.

      Respectfully yours,

      Jerry Starling

  2. I THINK TONGUES ARE BEING SPOKEN BY THOES WHO ARE GIFTED WITH IT.

    • Thank you for your comment. However, merely expressing an opinion is not the purpose of this site. We are trying to discuss the truth of the gospel. The basis of the discussion is the Scripture. We all have opinions. I believe that mine are the best ones in the world – because as soon as someone convinces me he has a better one, I adopt it. Merely stating one’s opinion does not convince any one. Those who are committed Christians do not form their opinions by counting how many hold the opinion; our convictions come from careful examination of God’s Word. That is what I have tried to do. It’s o.k. To disagree with ME. However, to be convincing you must speak from the Scriptures – not just express opinions.

  3. I also remember Paul asking the church to not speak in tongues. Speaking in tongues is not necessary if we all speak the same language. That is the point of speaking in tongues. I attended a church where people spoke it tongues and I found it very weird. Made me doubt them a little. I understand English so speak to me in English. If you have spoken in tongues, then great. But it doesn’t define the holy spirit. I would rather have love and wisdom any day. God, send to me what you know I need!!! Thanks Jerry. I love the way you explain our hard questions. I’m following you now.

  4. Thank you Jerry. I have been struggling on the subject of speaking in tongues for awhile….I grew up in a “Christian” church and since I have gotten married, I started going to a Pentacostal church with my wife and her family….It was definitely a culture shock for me. Since going and hearing and seeing the “speaking in tongues in action” coupled with the scripture I have been reading (1Corinthians 14 in particular) I am really questioning how they explain some of their practices. At the same time though I am wondering if they are right on some things…I dont want to go my whole life wondering what is right or wrong and end up getting it wrong…..I would like further Biblical information on speaking in tongues and whether it is right or wrong…..also if there is 2 different baptisms that Christians have to have…baptism with water and with the Holy Ghost…..I had never heard that until I started going to the Pentecostal church….Thanks

    • Tom, thanks for visiting and for you comment/question. I believe the Scriptures teach there is one baptism – but it has a human side and a divine side. The human side is in water; the divine side is in the Holy Spirit. No where, though, does the Bible call speaking in tongues the sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Rather, this divine side of baptism results in forgiveness of sin and the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit. It is this gift of the Spirit that aids the child of God to develop the character of Jesus described in Galatians 5:22ff as the fruit of the Spirit. It is the divine presence in our lives that makes it possible for us to truly walk in newness of lifel. I have several posts on this subject. You can find these by going here.

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  5. Jerry,
    Clicking on (here) did not work.

  6. I have been being taught that one has to speak in tongues to go to heaven. The Lord has opened my eyes to this and I agree with the scripture that was discussed here. Now, how do I talk to the bishop about this? Will he ask me to leave the church? I even have family that wanted to worship there, but feel as though they were being mislead, which caused me to pray and research this further.

    • Loretta, I have no way of knowing how your bishop will react to your new insights. However, I doubt he will receive them with open arms. If not, you will have a decision to make. It sounds as if your family may have already had misgivings about the teaching this bishop is providing. Was it in relation to this same issue? If not, perhaps you might want to examine another area of his teaching – and maybe even find someone in whom you (and your family) can have more confidence. Is it possible that your family was more interested in worshiping with you than in worshiping there? If so, you might be able to lead them into worshiping God in a place that has more fidelity to the word of God. If there is a Church of Christ nearby, let me encourage you to check it out.

      • My family has the same issue, and had disagreed with me believing the church. That is what had bothered me so, and got me to seek God’s guidance on the subject. I will search for a Church of Christ in the area and visit. It is not only that they would like to attend the same church, but that they receive the truth, same as I hope for me. I also, spoke to a family friend that pastors a Full Gospel church. He believes mush of the same as where I attend, except they do things differently about the speaking in tongues. But, what bothered me about this was the fact that he said he still lies and God will chastise him immediately. I thought that we were to not sin, meaning, that if we know it’s wrong ahead of time, don’t do it. He quoted from first John about us being a liar if we say we don’t have sin. I understand it differently. Thank you for replying and having patience with a mislead person.

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