Question: What is the purpose of the gift of tongues?
Answer: The gift of tongues is sometimes characterized as speaking in a language no one understands. However, the Prophet Joseph Smith referred to the events in Acts 2 to clarify that this gift of the Spirit is “given for the purpose of preaching [the gospel] among those who language is not understood; as on the day of Pentecost...The ultimate design of [the gift of] tongues is to speak to foreigners” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 383-84)
The Feast of Pentecost, a major Jewish holiday, brought Jews from many nations to Jerusalem. The gift of tongues allowed these visitors to understand the Apostles’ words in their native languages.
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1 And when the day of Pentecost (had arrived) was fully come, they (the apostles and other faithful saints) were all with one accord in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire (what appeared to be tongues of fire which separated), and it sat upon each of them (JST “and it rested upon each of them”).
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (the ability to speak).
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem (staying in Jerusalem for the Pentecost festivities) Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded (confused), because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
7 And they (the people in the crowd) were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans (Aren’t these men who are speaking from Galilee)?
8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born (then how is it that each of us is hearing them in our native language)?
Note: Luke next records some of the nationalities and foreign languages represented in the crowd.
9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judæa, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes (converts to Judaism),
11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues (in our native language) the wonderful works of God.
12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt (were confused), saying one to another, What meaneth this?
13 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine. (Some ridiculed what was going on, saying that the apostles were drunk.)
14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judæa, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem (and all you from other countries who are visiting in Jerusalem), be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:
15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day (it is only 9 AM).
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Elder Robert D. Hales, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“And again, it is given to some to speak with tongues;
“And to another is given the interpretation of tongues” (D&C 46:24–25).
Many of you who have gone to foreign lands have been given the gift to speak with tongues and to translate, or have the interpretation of tongues.
“And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God” (D&C 46:26).
We are told by prophets in this dispensation that revelation for the direction of the Church will not be given through the gift of tongues. The reason for this is that it is very easy for Lucifer to falsely duplicate the gift of tongues and confuse the members of the Church.
Satan has the power to trick us as it pertains to some of the gifts of the Spirit. One in which he is the most deceptive is the gift of tongues. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (1801–77) explained the need to be cautious when considering the gift of tongues.
“You may speak in tongues for your own comfort, but I lay this down for a rule, that if anything is taught by the gift of tongues, it is not to be received for doctrine” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 229).
“Speak not in the gift of tongues without understanding it, or without interpretation. The devil can speak in tongues” (Teachings, 162).
“The gift of tongues is not … empowered to dictate … the Church. All gifts and endowments given of the Lord to members of his Church are not given to control the Church; but they are under the control and guidance of the Priesthood, and are judged of by it” (Discourses of Brigham Young, comp. John A. Widtsoe , 343).
The gift of tongues is used by missionaries to teach the gospel to the nations of the world.
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Sources: Come, Follow Me–For Individuals and Families, p. 103; The New Testament Made Easier, Part 2, Volume 3, by David J. Ridges, 3-5; Excerpt from February 2002, Ensign, “Gifts of the Spirit,” by Elder Robert D. Hales, Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.