Do all believers speak in tongues?

Spiritual gifts

1 Corinthians chapters 12, 13 & 14

1 Corinthians chapters 12, 13 and 14 explain the purpose and use of the spiritual gifts within the church (the gathered assembly).


In Chapter 12, Paul, the apostle, uses the illustration of the human body. The human body is made up of many parts and functions (such as eyes, nose, ears, legs, etc), which work together as one unit. The church (which is the body of Christ), functions in the same way, for example, there are different ministries and gifts used within the church (the gathered assembly), but all work together to uplift and strengthen the church.

In Chapter 13, he shows us that although we may have the gifts, if we do not use them with love, (and love edifies, uplifts – see 1 Corinthian 8v1), then we are nothing. Note that he never says that the gifts are nothing, but that I am nothing.

The gifts are the means by which we uplift each other when gathered together in the church, they are the channel through which we love each other, (as love edifies/builds up 1 Corinthians 8v1).

In Chapter 14, Paul instructs us how to use the gifts in order to obtain the maximum uplifting (edifying) for the church. The spiritual gifts are for the uplifting of the church (when gathered together).

Note: Every believer speaks in tongues when they receive the Holy Spirit (Mark 16v17-18; Acts 2v4; Acts 10v44-46), but not everyone uses the MINISTRY of tongues within the church (1 Corinthians 12v29-30).

The gifts

1 Corinthians 12

1 Corinthians 12v1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

Note: Paul clearly states that he is referring to the spiritual gifts.

Different functions within the church/assembly

1 Corinthians 12v4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

Note: There are different gifts, ministries and operations within the church (gathered assembly).

Everyone has a function

1 Corinthians 12v7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

Note: Everyone in the church has a manifestation, ie a gift, ministry, operation to profit withal, (ie with the church). The manifestations are shown below in verses 8-10.

Each person has a manifestation (gift ministry)

1 Corinthians 12v8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:


Note: One of the gifts is tongues (verse 10), and in verse 9, we see that one of the gifts is faith.
Question: Paul is pointing out that not everyone uses the same ministry/gift in the church. Therefore, we can conclude from verse 9, that not everyone has faith, see verse 11.

Does every Christian believer have faith? Of course they do, because without faith we cannot be saved, yet Paul tells us in verse 9 that faith is one of the gifts, (and we see through this chapter that not everyone has the same gift). Paul is not referring to saving faith in verse 9, just as he isn’t questioning in verse 10, every believer’s ability to speak in tongues. He is talking about the use of faith and tongues within the gathered (church) assembly.

Everyones function combines with the other function to edify the church/assembly

1 Corinthians 12v11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. 12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

Note: Each of these nine gifts are divided amongst the believers within the gathered assembly. Not all have faith (verse 9). Paul explains that as our human body has many functions (ie, seeing, hearing, speaking), and all of those functions work together as a body, so it is also with the Body of Christ (the church assembly). If we all speak in tongues [in the church meeting] (see 1 Corinthians 14v23), then where are the other functions within the assembly (church).

A point about 1 Corinthians 14v23, why would Paul say ‘if all speak with tongues’, if all cannot speak with tongues. His statement would not make sense.

1 Corinthians 14

This is the aim and motive (or purpose) of the gifts

1 Corinthians 14v12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.

Note again: This is the main purpose why we gather together (in the church assembly), to EDIFY (build each other up).

Only words which are understood edify/uplift the hearer

1 Corinthians 14v6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?

Note: What profit (or EDIFYING) will I bring to the church (assembly) if I speak in tongues, (as no one will understand me, no one except myself will be edified/built up, see 1 Corinthians 14v4 –tongues edify me). But if I speak prophesy, doctrine (teaching), knowledge, revelation, then the assembly will be EDIFIED because they understand what I am saying, see 1 Corinthians 14v4 – prophecy edifies the church/assembly).

Paul understood the value of tongues to the speaker, but also understood the value of words which are understood by the church/assembly

1 Corinthians 14v18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

Note: because of 1 Corinthians 14v4, (that tongues edify only the speaker and prophecy edifies everyone else in the assembly), Paul’s desire was to speak in tongues when he wasn’t gathered in the assembly/church and speak words that others understood (such as prophecy, knowledge, doctrine, etc) when he was gathered with God’s people in the church assembly.

He knew the value of speaking in tongues and therefore spoke in tongues more than all (1 Corinthians 14v18), but in the church (the gathered assembly), he would rather speak five words that others can understand (such as prophecy, knowledge, etc), because those five words (which are understood) will edify (uplift) the hearers (in the gathered church assembly), whereas tongues will not uplift the hearers because they do not understand what is being said.

The purpose of gathering together (in the church) is to uplift (edify) each other with God’s word (which can be understood, through doctrine, prophecy, etc). Tongues do not edify/uplift the church, but do edify/uplift the speaker. 1 Corinthians 14v4.

Why then are tongues used in the church/assembly if only the speaker is edified/uplifted?

1 Corinthians 14v20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. 21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. 22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.

Note: Paul doesn’t want us to misunderstand, (unfortunately, many have misunderstood). Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 28v11) that tongues will be a sign to the unbeliever (1 Corinthians 14v21-22). Interpretation of the tongue will edify/uplift the church/assembly. (1 Corinthians 14v13).

Why is speaking in tongues in the church/assembly limited to two or three?

1 Corinthians 14v27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.

Note: Each of the three tongues is to be interpreted so that the church will understand and be edified (uplifted). We are told in numerous places in both old and new testaments that two or three witnesses establish a point. 2 Corinthians 13v1. Here we see that tongues is a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14v22) and this is established with two or three witnesses.

1 Corinthians 14v28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.

As stated in chapter 12, everyone has a role to play within the church/assembly – chapter 14 tells us how we do this?

1 Corinthians 14v26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

Note: Paul is showing us here how to get maximum uplifting (edifying) when we gather together. Each person uplifts the church with words that we understand (prophecy, knowledge, doctrine, etc). Two or three tongues as a sign to any unbelievers present and interpretation (in a language that we all understand) so that the church/assembly can be uplifted (edified).

In the light of Paul’s explanation of how the church functions in the same way as a human body, we now understand his question in 1 Corinthians 12v29-31

1 Corinthians 12v29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? 30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

Note: Paul’s question in 1 Corinthians 12v29-30 is now explained. In the church, (the gathered assembly), not everyone speaks in tongues (or has faith, 1 Corinthians 12v9), because if they all did the same thing IN THE CHURCH ASSEMBLY, where is the body (the functioning as a body).

1 Corinthians 12v9 tells us that FAITH is one of the nine gifts listed and tongues is another (verse 10). We understand that Paul is not talking about saving faith, but faith used in ministry. In the same way all speak in tongues Acts 2v4; Acts 10v44-46; Acts 19v1-6; Mark 16v17 when they receive the Holy Spirit and Paul said that he thanked God that he spoke in tongues more than anyone (1 Corinthians 14v18), but IN THE CHURCH his desire was not to edify/uplift himself (1 Corinthians 14v4) but to uplift the church (1 Corinthians 14v18; 1 Corinthians 14v4) by speaking words they understood.

So, to conclude

Every believer speaks in tongues Acts 2v4; Acts 10v44-46; Acts 19v1-6; Mark 16v17 when they receive the Holy Spirit. Tongues is for the individual to edify/uplift self (at home) (1 Corinthians 14v4), prophecy is for the church (in the meeting) to uplift others (1 Corinthians 14v4). Tongues is for the individual to speak with God (1 Corinthians 14v2), prophecy is to speak to the church (1 Corinthians 14v3). Only three tongues (maximum) are allowed to be spoken in the church, as a sign to any unbelievers present (1 Corinthians 14v22), that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be establish (2 Corinthians 13v1).

One last thought: Let’s imagine that we are Jews and were there on the day of Pentecost when the disciples received the Holy Spirit and spoke with tongues, (Acts 2v1-4). We (Jews) hear the disciples speaking in tongues (in our own languages) and we are confused. So we ask the disciples ‘What is this?’ (verse 12)

Then Peter, (the apostle), stands up and explains to us, (the Jews), in verse 16-17, that these tongues we hear is the Holy Spirit, (just as the prophet Joel had prophesied). We are then told in verse 38, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ Would you expect to speak in tongues? Remember, we have just been told by Peter that the tongues we hear is the Holy Spirit and are now told that we…shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. I most certainly would expect to speak in tongues just as they did.

Jesus said that believers will speak in tongues

Mark 16v17-18: 17 And these signs; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Question: Who will speak with new tongues?

Answer: Those who believe. Every believer speaks in tongues when they receive the Holy Spirit, but not all will use the ministry (gift) of tongues in the church, because only 2 or 3 tongues are allowed to be spoken, (see 1 Corinthians 14v27).


© Carl Gibbard 2020. This study may be freely used for personal study, teaching and distribution as it is with no changes, alterations, additions or deletions.