Question: "Do you have to speak in tongues to be saved?"

Answer: No, speaking in tongues is not a requirement for salvation. The Bible records instances of some believers using the gift of tongues, but it does not teach that speaking in tongues is evidence of salvation. Those who teach that one must speak in tongues to be saved tend to point to a few specific examples in the book of Acts where tongues was a sign of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and thus of salvation.

In Acts 10 the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household come to faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit comes on them, and they begin speaking in tongues. This was a sign to Peter that these Gentiles were saved and given the Holy Spirit—Peter would have immediately associated this event with what happened on the Day of Pentecost, when the church began among the Jews. Now Gentiles were being saved as well as the Jews, and Peter had the verification: this group of Gentiles were speaking in tongues.

In Acts 19:4–6, the apostle Paul found some disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus. These men had accepted John’s message of repentance but did not yet know about the Holy Spirit. Paul pointed them to Jesus, and they believed and were baptized in Jesus’ name. Paul put his hands on the men, and they received the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by their speaking in tongues. In this case, speaking in tongues was used as a sign to them and to Paul that the men had believed the full message of the gospel. It was also a sign to the whole city of Ephesus, that great center of Gentile commerce, art, and idolatry. God was readying His work in Ephesus, and here were men fitted to His purpose, able to speak the gospel in whatever language was needed.

The salvation of Cornelius and the men of Ephesus represent specific instances in which speaking in tongues was an evidence or a sign that the new birth had occurred. These instances are the exception and not the rule. Notice that throughout the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament we do not see speaking in tongues associated with salvation. None of the gospel presentations in the New Testament mention tongues (John 3:16–18; Ephesians 2:1–10; Acts 4:12; 16:31; Romans 10:9–13; 1 Corinthians 15:3–8; Ephesians 2:1–10). Were speaking in tongues necessary for salvation, or even the primary signifier of salvation, we would expect to read much more about tongues.

A proper view of the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues is essential in understanding why speaking in tongues is not a sign of salvation. The gift of tongues was given on the Day of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit came to permanently indwell the followers of Christ. The gift manifested itself in the ability to speak foreign languages without learning them, and the early church used this gift to preach Christ (Acts 2:4–12). Many translations, such as the New Living Translation and Holman Christian Standard Bible, interpret the word “tongues” as “languages.” The Greek word is glossa, which refers to the physical tongue or to a language. Some today associate the gift of tongues with ecstatic, unintelligible utterances and “heavenly” (i.e., mystical, unknown) languages, but that does not fit the biblical model. The gift of tongues or languages was meant to communicate a message and served as a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22), and it ceased with the apostolic age, as Paul said it would (1 Corinthians 13:8). Missionaries to a foreign field must now go to language school and learn the language they will minister in. Speaking in tongues was a spiritual gift given to some, not all (1 Corinthians 12:30). It is never presented as a requirement for salvation in Scripture.

The Bible emphasizes that not everyone will have the same gift. As Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions in 1 Corinthians 12:29–30: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” The implied answer is “no.” In the body of Christ, different parts have different functions (1 Corinthians 12:18–20). Even in the early church, when the gift of tongues was in use, not every Christian was expected or required to speak in tongues. The Holy Spirit gave the gift of tongues to those He wanted to have it (1 Corinthians 12:11).

Faith in Jesus Christ—His work on the cross and His resurrection—is what saves people (1 Corinthians 15:3–4) by the grace of God. If salvation requires more than faith, then faith would be accompanied by works, which goes against the teaching of Scripture (see Ephesians 2:8–9). Just as the Judaizers argued that Christians had to follow parts of the Mosaic Law to be saved, so also some today claim that more must be done for salvation. Such teaching isn’t warranted in the Bible (see Galatians 2:16).

If a person has placed faith in Christ, then his or her life will indeed give evidence of salvation (James 2:22). Bearing the fruit of the Spirit, loving others, and obeying the Lord will demonstrate that a person’s life has been transformed by Christ (Galatians 5:22–23; John 13:34–35; 14:15). Living for Jesus, not speaking in tongues, provides evidence of salvation.