Is Speaking in Tongues Necessary For Salvation?

There are some Christians who believe and teach that in order to be saved, a person must speak in tongues, which is a miraculous ability to speak in other languages that is given by the Holy Spirit. In particular, a group known as Oneness Pentecostals have popularized this teaching. Yet I would contend that this belief is not Biblical and, in fact, is contrary to sound doctrine and downright dangerous and heretical.

There are a few ways to approach this question. The first is to establish the New Testament’s basic teaching on how salvation works. The second way is to look at the basic arguments that proponents of tongues-salvation make and show the faults in them.

Salvation: A Brief Overview

It is simply impossible to examine every verse of Scripture that speaks of salvation without going to great lengths, so for the sake of brevity I have pulled out some common passages that talk about how to be saved. The message is clear and consistent!

  • Acts 16:30-32 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” [31] And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” [32] And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.
  • Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
  • Romans 10:9-10 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [10] For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
  • Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The consistent testimony of Scripture, which has been held by Christians for two millennia, is that salvation comes by believing in Jesus Christ. The process of being forgiven for sin and reconciled to God requires nothing but faith in what Jesus has done! He died to pay the penalty for sin and rose again to secure our eternal life, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn that gift. It is God’s grace to be received by sinners through faith. That’s it, that’s all…case closed!

To teach otherwise (or believe otherwise) is a damnable lie that perverts the good news and twists the truth of God’s Word. It is no small matter. The eternal salvation of lost people is of the utmost importance, and therefore the message of hope must be truthful, precise and clear. Be saved by faith alone in Christ alone – that is the message we cling to!

Therefore, we ought to reject the doctrine of tongues-salvation simply on the grounds that it adds a requirement to salvation that is unbiblical.

Examining the Tongues-Salvation Doctrine

Nevertheless, it is useful to take the common lines of reasoning that proponents of tongues-salvation set forth and examine them in light of Scripture. We should not just prove our own point, but be able to refute a false one as well. So, let’s look at the two most common points that are used to support tongues-salvation and see how they measure up to the Bible.

Reason #1 – You MUST have the Holy Spirit to be saved, and speaking in tongues is THE evidence you have the Spirit.

It is right to say that a person must have the Holy Spirit to be saved. The second part of Romans 8:9 says clearly “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” This is true. However, it is false to contend that tongues is the proof that one has the Spirit.

I have heard one person argue, “Every time a new believer receives the Spirit in the New Testament they speak in tongues.” The following verses would be cited in their defense.

  • Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
  • Acts 10:45-46 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. [46] For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.
  • Acts 19:6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.

While these are definitely instances of believers speaking in tongues as a result of being filled with the Spirit, it is not a complete picture. There are many other instances in the New Testament where believers are filled with the Spirit and it results in manifestations other than speaking in tongues. For instance:

  • John the baptist is filled with the Spirit as an unborn infant, and there is no record of him ever speaking in tongues (Luke 1:15)
  • Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit and prophesies (Luke 1:41-42)
  • Zechariah is filled with the Spirit and likewise prophesies (Luke 1:67)
  • Peter is filled with the Spirit and preaches the gospel (Acts 4:8)
  • The disciples are filled with the Spirit and speak the word with boldness (Acts 4:31)
  • Saul is filled with the Spirit and has his eyesight restored, and is baptized (Acts 9:17-19)
  • Paul is filled with the Spirit and rebukes and blinds Elymas the false prophet/magician (Acts 13:9-12)
  • The disciples are filled with Spirit and experience joy (Acts 13:52)

What we see is that speaking in tongues is just one manifestation of being filled with the Spirit. Other manifestations might include prophesying, preaching, evangelism, healing, obedience in baptism, rebuke, and joy. Additionally, the clearest summary of the evidence of the Spirit doesn’t mention speaking in tongues or anything miraculous at all. Galatians 5:22-23 says “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

As if this is not evidence enough, the apostle Paul tackles the subject of tongues directly in 1 Corinthians 12 and concludes (twice) that not every believer will speak in tongues. The first example says:

1 Corinthians 12:7-11 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. [8] For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, [9] to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, [10] to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. [11] All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

The entire point of this passage is to show that the Holy Spirit gives different spiritual gifts to different people. Some will be given the ability to speak in tongues, and others will not. Plus, it is the Holy Spirit who distributes these gifts according to his own will, so there is nothing we can even do to control whether we speak in tongues or not.

The second instance in 1 Corinthians 12 is as follows.

1 Corinthians 12:29-30 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? [30] Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

In the context of the whole chapter, these are meant to be taken as rhetorical questions. The implied answer is “no”. Paul is teaching that not every believer will be an apostle, prophet, teacher, miracle worker, healer, tongues-speaker, or tongues-interpreter. Therefore, to say that a person must speak in tongues in order to be saved goes against the clear teaching of Paul and the various manifestations of the Spirit among God’s people.

Reason #2 – Jesus said that his followers WILL speak in tongues.

Jesus says at the end of the gospel of Mark:

Mark 16:16-18 “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. [17] And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; [18] they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Those who believe in tongues-salvation will point to this passage and say that Jesus clearly teaches that speaking in tongues “will accompany those who believe”. Yet there are a couple of reasons why this is not the conclusion to come to when interpreting this passage.

  1. The list is hypothetical, not mandatory. Jesus is not saying that every believer will display every one of these signs. Instead, he is saying that his followers will have signs of power follow them in a communal sense, not an individual one. Actually, all but one of these miracles (drinking poison being the lone exception) is demonstrated by believers in the Bible. Christians cast out demons (Luke 10:17), spoke in tongues (1 Corinthians 12), survived snake bites (Acts 28:1-6), and healed people (Acts 5:16). Yet these are to be seen as displays of God’s power, not normal, everyday occurrences. Anyone who says otherwise I would challenge with this question: “If these are the norm, then why don’t you visit the hospital daily to heal people, or sit around on Saturday night drinking household cleaners?” The reason is because, deep down, we know that Jesus does not mean these to be normal things, but amazing acts of God that will be demonstrated among his people on a case-by-case basis at his own discretion.
  2. The authenticity of the passage is questionable. If you look up Mark 16:9-20 in your Bible, you will likely find some sort of notation that says that the earliest manuscripts of Mark’s gospel do not contain this passage. In other words, the manuscript evidence shows that Mark 16:9-20 could possibly have been added in by an editor later on and not written by Mark himself. If that were the case, it is not inspired by the Spirit and therefore not truly part of the Bible. Since we are not certain about the authenticity of this passage, we should be cautious about making any firm doctrinal commitments from it. (As an aside, if this freaks you out, the current manuscript evidence questions less than 1% of the Bible as being authentic, and in places where we are unsure, most Bibles place a notation there. What this means is that the Bible you read everyday is amazingly accurate and honest in places where it is not certain.)

Summary

It is obvious from the above that tongues-salvation is an unbiblical idea. It is a damnable distortion of the true gospel and rejects the truth of God’s Word. Our salvation is not dependent on speaking in tongues. Instead, it is dependent on faith in Jesus. He alone can save us, and there is nothing more we need. Saved by faith alone in Christ alone – this is the message we should diligently cherish and joyfully share with the world!

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