The first place that speaking in tongues occur in the New Testament was in Acts 2:1-4: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” The word tongues has a literal translation in the Greek of “languages”. This means that the tongues that were being spoken were those of a known language. The tongues were words with specific meaning and not just babbling. This is clarified in Acts 2:7-11, “Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”
Acts 10:44-46 also has a reference to tongues: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues (literally, languages) and praising God.” Notice that the Holy Spirit was poured out and they were not baptized into the Holy Spirit or received a baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Biblical scholars agree that in Acts 19:1-7 and elsewhere that these verses clearly indicate that tongues were intended “to overcome unbelief” (Walvoord and Zuck 1984, 409). They were specifically for unbelievers and to validate Paul’s message and to overcome the listener’s unbelief (Walvoord and Zuck 1984, 408, 409).
Even at the risk of offending some, this reminds me of snake handlers. Some churches take one text out of context and make it a pretext and sadly, the worship is more centered on the gift of tongues or the handling of snakes than it is with Christ being the center of worship. Jesus Christ should always be the center of all worship services and never any gift since Paul tells us not to exalt in any gifts of the Spirit since they come from God anyway.
Taking Text out of Context
Here is a personal note on the gift of tongues and the twisting of scriptures. Sadly, many denominations or churches do not take problematic scriptures and place them against all the scriptures relating to a particular subject to discover the proper context to see whether it is biblically sound or not. This is what is meant by “rightly dividing the Word of God” (II Tim 2:15) and “scripture is of no private interpretation” (II Pet. 1:2). A sound principle is that if there is a problematic scripture or verse; take all the other scriptures that relate to this subject and place them all against the one scripture or scriptures to bring clarity to the subject. If we still can not decide its meaning, then this might be God’s prerogative alone to know about and we have no business trying to inject or infer meaning when God is not clear on the subject. If God has not plainly revealed its meaning in scripture or it is not clarified by other scripture, then this is not revelation from God intended for us and should not be taken as such. Revelation from men is highly questionable and not like the inerrant Word which is infallible. If God had wanted us to fully understand it, He would have revealed it. Some things that are not clear must be for Him alone to know and we have no business trying to decode such enigmatic scriptures into a meaning that we were never intended to know in the first place.