A common argument used by those who oppose speaking in tongues is that it is, or was only a gift for evangelizing those who speak foreign languages.
While it is true that speaking in tongues can serve this purpose, we do not see this as its only purpose in scripture. Those who claim that speaking in tongues is isolated to being a gift for evangelizing purposes often cite Acts 2. However, in Acts 2 the 120 disciples of Jesus were not preaching the gospel to their fellow Jews, who heard them speaking in the language of the nations wherein they were scattered.
The Bible only tells us they heard them speaking the wonderful works of God in those languages (2:6-11). They did not hear the gospel of Christ until Peter stood up and preached it to them. The children of Israel of the Northern tribes had been scattered prior to the southern Kingdom of Judah being taken captive by the Babylonians. The Jews which had been taken captive into Babylon eventually returned to their homeland, the Israelites of the northern Kingdom which were scattered abroad did not. They settled in other countries and when they heard the 120 disciples of Jesus speaking in tongues, they heard them magnifying God in the languages of those nations wherein they had been scattered: And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? ~ v. 8
This got their attention. It did not convict their hearts concerning the gospel. Instead, there was confusion among the Jews as to what was going on among them. According to the Bible, those who heard the 120 disciples speaking in tongues “were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, what does this mean?” ~ v.12
The scripture then says, “Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.” ~ v. 13
They did not hear the gospel until Peter stood up and declared it unto them. Peter did not preach the gospel to them in tongues. They understood Peter without the use of tongues when he stood and preached about Jesus to them. We can see this from the context. The idea that in Acts 2 they spoke with tongues to communicate the gospel of Christ, just isn’t correct.
After they heard the gospel preached by Peter in one language that they all knew, their response was different than when they heard the 120 speaking in tongues of the nations they were all born in. Rather than being amazed and wondering what this means as they did regarding the tongues which brought about mocking from some of them, when they heard the gospel preached by Peter, the Bible says they responded in this way:
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? ~ v. 37
There is a clear distinction between their reaction to speaking in tongues and their reaction to Peter preaching the gospel in Acts 2. In fact, Peter explains the meaning of the speaking in tongues before he declared the gospel of Christ to them.
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. ~ Acts 2:16- 21
After speaking these words, Peter then begins to declare the gospel of Christ (the message about Jesus) to them:
Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. ~ v. 22-24
Later, after the people were pricked in their hearts and asked what they must do, Peter says the following:
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 Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. v. 38-39
In Acts 10, Peter was sent to the home of Cornelius who was a Gentile to testify of the gospel of Christ. Cornelius along with his entire household gathered together to hear the words of salvation from Peter, who was accompanied by some of his fellow Jewish believers in Jesus. As Peter shared the gospel with them, the Bible says that the Holy Ghost fell on Cornelius and those of his household and they began to speak with tongues.
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God… ~ Acts 10:44-46
When the Gentiles first received the gospel, the Holy Spirit fell on them and they spoke with tongues, magnifying God. The Gentiles were the ones receiving the gospel, not the ones evangelizing or preaching the gospel.
In Acts 2, the 120 speaking in tongues got the attention of the Jews and gave Peter the opportunity to preach the gospel to them. In Acts 10, the Gentiles speaking in tongues got the attention of the Jews, because God had given his Spirit freely to the Gentiles apart from the Law.
In the mind of the first century Jew, covenant relationship with God was dependent on Jewish membership along with circumcision and allegiance to the Law of Moses.
However, God had done something so unexpectedly different and entirely new when he sent Peter to Cornelius’ house. He had called out a people from among the Gentiles for his Name and he had done it apart from the Law.
In Acts 15: 7-11 Peter recounts his visit to Cornelius’s house in Acts 10. Peter along with the other Jews who accompanied him saw firsthand the salvation of Gentiles as Cornelius and his house were instantly filled with the Holy Spirit and had spoken with tongues in similar fashion as the Jewish followers of Jesus had experienced in Acts 2.
When Peter returned to Jerusalem from Cornelius’s house he was confronted by the Jews for lodging at the home of Gentiles and eating with them.
And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, saying, thou wentest into men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them. ~ Acts 11:2-3
Peter then rehearsed to the Jews his experience from the beginning (Acts 11:4- 17). Notice the following from Peter’s explanation to Jews:
And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? ~ Acts 11:15-17
Then in verse 18, the scripture says: When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
The evidence which convinced Peter and the Jewish believers at Jerusalem that the Gentiles had been accepted as the people of God, was the Holy Spirit. God had given to the Gentiles the same gift he had been given to the Jews at Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit had now become the new identity of the people of God replacing the old identity of physical circumcision and adhearance to the law.Had Peter and the other Jews not heard the Gentiles speak with tongues, they may have concluded that the Gentiles should take on the yoke of the law. However, Peter reached a different conclusion:
And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. ~ Acts 15:8-11
In the early days of the church in the book of Acts, tongues were not used to preach to others in another language. No one did that. Instead, tongues served as a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit, and this arrested the attention of those who heard. In Acts 2 it arrested the attention of the Jews to whom Peter preached the gospel. In Acts 10, tongues arrested the attention of Peter and his fellow Jews who were sharing the gospel so that they would see what God was doing through the very gospel they were preaching!