Is speaking in tongues evidence of salvation in Jesus Christ and thus something all Christians should be practicing?
The question was posed before Hank Hanegraaff, also known as the "Bible Answer Man," during his radio show. Hanegraaf made it clear that what happened on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit allowed followers of Jesus to speak in tongues, as described in the book of Acts, was a "non-normative event."
"You think for example of what happened back in the Old Testament, when men were trying to excel by their own humanistic endeavors, God divided the languages, so that their plans and plots would be foiled. In the Pentecost you have a reversal of what you have at the Tower of Babel," Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute, said.
"It is as if a unification takes place in a miraculous way so that the Gospel can go out to the far reaches of the world. I think that the fact that this is communicated as a historical narrative, something that actually happened, is wonderful, but to project this in such a way that this is now normative for all people at all places at all times, simply does not fit what you have in the didactic portions of Scripture," he argued.
He listed 1 Corinthians 12 as an example that proves that not all believers speak in tongues.
"That gift is not a gift given to everyone. And even if people speak in tongues in the context of Acts, in 1 Corinthians 14 we are told that there has to be an interpretation, otherwise it edifies the person, but doesn't edify the body," the radio host, who converted from evangelicalism to Eastern Orthodoxy last year, said.
"The ultimate goal is for the strengthening of the body so that the body of Christ might be equipped, and the body of Christ might be extorted and encouraged, and therefore there is a purpose for the tongues if they are used within the context of the body of Christ."
He said that the debate on whether speaking in tongues is or is not for today will "go on until the Lord returns," and said that it's a valid one to have within the body of Christ.
The CRI president noted that plenty of Christians do believe that speaking in tongues is a gift that God gives to people, and they have various explanations for how that gift is used.
"But to say that this is the evidence of the in-filling of the Holy Spirit I think goes beyond Scripture," he said.
Craig Keener, F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, whose expertise includes the New Testament and miracles, told The Christian Post he would nuance some things differently, but not "radically differently" from what Hanegraaff is suggesting.
"The question Hank Hanegraaff is answering in this case is whether you have to speak in tongues to be saved. Obviously that is false!" Keener told CP in an email Thursday.
The professor agreed with Hanegraaff that what happened in Acts 2 was a "reversal of Babel" and that the Pentecost event was "not normative."
But he said he would expect such an experience "more often" than what Hanegraaff suggested.
Keener explained the purpose of the Holy Spirit coming on believers in the book of Acts, believed to be written by Luke.
"I think Luke's point is to show how the coming of the Spirit is connected with empowerment for ministry to all peoples (Acts 1:8); the disciples worshiping in other people's languages was showing that God was empowering His church for this mission," he stated.
"Luke does not mention it in every case of filling with the Spirit in Acts so we don't have sufficient evidence to say that it will always happen when an individual is filled with the Spirit; given what Luke teaches about empowerment of the Spirit to speak for God, I would expect people who are filled with the Spirit to speak for God sooner or later, and given how beautiful that genuine prayer in tongues is as part of one's prayer life (certainly it is a very significant part of my own), I always celebrate it when someone experiences this."