There are many people today who believe that tongues are “normative” in Christian life. By “normative” I mean that people think that speaking in tongues is the standard for all believers in Jesus Christ. In fact they typically will also say that unless a believer speak in tongues, they are not filled with the spirit, or maybe they are not even saved! While this is interesting to postulate it is not true–as we will see in 1 Corinthians 12-14, tongues are not normative today.
We find in 1 Corinthians 12 that God has given his spirit and has distributed gifts to his people. In 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul writes what some of those gifts are listing “first of all” as being Apostles. He continues with a second, third, and then says that there are “also those” seeming to place an emphasis on the first and listing tongues in a less important position–last!
The next verse, twenty-nine, lists questions which in Greek grammar elicit negative answers. One of these questions is “do all speak in tongues?” The assumed answer, according to Greek grammar is NO, all do not speak in tongues. In fact, Paul lists all the gifts with this type of questioning trying to show that there is no gift of the Spirit that is “normative.” The spirit gives different gifts to all believers. He concludes in 1 Corinthians 12:31 that greater emphasis should be put on the “greater gifts” rather than on the lesser gifts (i.e. speaking in tongues).
Paul, in chapter thirteen, explains that tongues without love is pointless. In verse eight he even says that tongues will cease at some point and because of this he argues that believers should place their emphasis on love, not tongues. Speaking in tongues, apparently, does not even make it to the ‘Top 3’ in verse thirteen–faith, hope, and love.
Chapter fourteen then addresses the issue more directly. In verse five Paul seems to discourage the use of tongues, preferring prophecy for the edification of the church. His argument for this is ‘what good is it if you speak in tongues, but no one can understand what you are saying?’ Under this type of activity, the church is not edified. Another part of Paul’s argument against “normative” tongues is that they will drive unbelievers away from Christ and toward judgement. This argument is found in verses twenty-one through twenty-five. He elevates prophecy again because it is good for both believers and non-believers. Paul’s conclusion is then to put restrictions on the use of tongues. Partly because of their, the Corinthians, unneeded emphasis on this gift, partly because of other people potentially tying it to Corinthian pagan practices, and partly due to it pushing away unbelievers.
Thus, we cannot say that the gift of tongues is ‘extinct.’ We can, though, conclude that it is at least NOT “normative” for all believers. God gives various gifts to different people so that the body of Christ might be built up. We cannot all be the same part or have the same gift, if we did we would not be the body of Christ!