What is Speaking in Tongues?
What is speaking in tongues?
The word “tongues” is simply an old English word for “languages”. Simply stated, if you speak in different tongues, it means that you speak in different languages.
Everybody has their own "tongue". It is an old-English way of saying everybody has their own language. One person's "tongue" can be English, another person's "tongue" can be Spanish, and yet another person's tongue can be French.
However, when Pentecostal Christians use this term it almost always is referring to a supernatural phenomena described in the Bible. Let's look at a few scriptures:
What is Tongues?
Ac 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit
Waiting & praying in one accord
Ac 10:44-48 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.
The Holy Spirit fell on them
Ac 19:6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.
The Holy Spirit came upon them
The laying on of hands
In the table above we see three instances of speaking in tongues in the book of Acts.
- The first happened when the people were “filled with the Holy Spirit”
- The second happened when the Holy Spirit “fell” on the people
- The third happened when the Holy Spirit “came” on the people.
This leads us to ask the questions:
- Does everyone who is “filled with the Holy Spirit” speak in tongues?
- Does everyone upon the Holy Spirit “falls” speak in tongues?
- Does everyone upon the Holy Spirit comes upon speak in tongues?
Filled with the Holy Spirit
Some people claim they were "filled with the Holy Spirit". Some people hold THE infilling with the Holy Spirit to be synonymous with speaking in tongues. But is this true?
In order to fully understand what the term "filled with the Holy Spirit" means, we must examine the scriptures thoroughly. We must study every occurrence of the phrase, and note whether or not speaking in tongues is accompanied by the infilling of the Spirit.
Such a study would prove that speaking in tongues does not accompany every instance of the infilling of the Holy Spirit. In fact, most of the time it doesn't.
The book of Acts clearly records an instance, arguably the first instance of a supernatural phenomena where the Spirit of God animates human beings so intimately that He takes hold of their tongues and speaks through their mouths.
In other words, we see in the book of Acts an instance where God speaks through people. The Lord took control of the disciples tongues and spoke through them with languages they did not learn, proclaiming the works and wonders of God.
However, we must keep in mind that everything that was spoken was understood by somebody in attendance. There were people present from other nations, presumably people who did not understand Hebrew. Therefore God spoke through the apostles in the mother languages of the people present, thus overriding the need to learn the language.
The Holy Spirit overstepped the intellect, and overrode the need to learn the languages of the people present. This in itself was a sign and a wonder. But why? This miracle of God shows us to what extent the Lord will go to communicate to unbelievers, and people of other nations and cultures. The Lord wanted to proclaim His message to these people, and He was willing to go the extra mile to do so.
Down through the ages there has been reports of men and women who have received this gift of what they call "speaking in tongues". From the saints of old to the men and women of God today there have been many reports of people who have authentically received the gift of speaking in tongues. I would call it "authentic tongues".
What do I mean by authentic tongues? I mean that a person, empowered and animated by the Holy Spirit, spoke in a language he or she has never learned. Not only that, but to make it "authentic", someone was present to hear the message and understood the message leading to the praise and honor of God and/or the exhortation and comfort of His people.
My "Tongue" is English
Imagine being there in the upper room when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost. It says that people from many other nations and languages were present.
Perhaps someone was there who spoke English. If that were the case, they probably heard one of the disciples speaking English. Let's not forget that none of the apostles of the Lord spoke English. In fact, there is no record that the Lord Himself ever spoke English. Having the Bible translated into English, sometimes we forget this important point.
So then, there is a good possibility that English was one of the "tongues" that was spoken on the day of Pentecost.
Many Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians believe that speaking in tongues entails speaking in a language that you do not understand. If they were at the upper room when the Holy Spirit was poured out they would almost certainly misjudge the gift of tongues. They would say that everyone that was not speaking in English was speaking in tongues. They would probably approach the English speaking apostle and ask him why he didn't receive the "baptism of the Holy Spirit". Perhaps they would ask the English speaking apostle why he didn't receive the gift of tongues. This would be foolish on their part because the English speaking apostle IS speaking in tongues.
The Evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit
Without writing a large volume here, I must say that the scriptures does NOT teach this. If you look up everywhere in the scriptures where the phrase "baptism of the Holy Spirit", "baptized in the Spirit", "filled with the Spirit", etc... etc... you will find that on only a few occasions does it ever mention that the parties involved ever spoke with other tongues.
Speaking in tongues can be an evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but it certainly is not the only evidence.
I am reminded of the words of William Seymour (1870-1915), the founder of Pentecostalism in the United States:
“If you get angry or speak evil or backbite, I care not how many tongues you have, you have not the baptism with the Holy Spirit.”
That is the truth. That is solid Bible teaching. But how many times do you hear that taught in Pentecostal churches today?
Teach me to Speak in Tongues
There are many churches today that "teach" people to speak in other tongues. They say something like "just say one syllable words at first and the rest will come"
They teach you that you should begin by saying, "Ba Ba Sha Ka La La".... or something to that effect.
They tell you to keep "speaking in tongues" and your "heavenly language" will get more fluent after time. They teach that the more you speak in tongues the more fluent you will be in tongues.
ALL of these teachings are false and misleading according to the word of God. NONE of the disciples had to be "taught" how to speak in tongues. The absolute opposite is true. NONE of them were taught at all. It was a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit, an authentic work of God, NOT a work of the flesh, nor was it the work of a human. The whole idea is that the tongues they spoke in was not taught or coached by any man. It was a fluent, and supernatural language given by the Holy Spirit Himself.
The gift of "speaking in tongues" is very real. There are people who actually have the authentic gift of tongues. One example is that of an old man who attended the "Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship". Whenever the Holy Spirit would come upon him in power he would shout. Nobody knew what he was saying. People thought he was just making funny sounds by shouting things like "HEY! SEE! CHA!" (those where not the actual words and sounds that he made, but I think you get the picture).
But one day, he was sitting beside a Japanese man when this happened. The Japanese man approached him and asked him if he knew he was speaking Japanese. The old man was shocked, and said, "No, I didn't know that".
The Japanese man said that he kept on shouting "Jesus is #1!" over and over again in Japanese. This is remarkable because apparently one of the popular sayings of advertisers in Japan is "_____ is #1"
This is an example of true, authentic tongues. it was a sign and wonder that glorified God.
However, sadly enough there are way too many churches, pastors and Christians out there that teach people to babble, and then tell them that they have the gift of tongues.
There are too many Christians out there teaching others to babble and then they get excited and say they have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. This is a deception and a fallacy.
It is time that Pentecostals REALLY be baptized in the Spirit. But the number one "evidence" of the baptism of the Spirit is LOVE. Never forget that.
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Christopher Enoch (author) on May 17, 2014:
Mario, you have a very erroneous theology.
First and foremost, you have a very crafty way of using 1 Cor. 13:8-10 as the foundation for your argument. When you quote this passage, you leave out the most important part, "When that which is perfect is come..."
You have your head buried so far in the sand you don't even know the context of the passage.
Paul CLEARLY is talking about the day when perfection comes, when everything is brought to light, when everything that is hidden will be made known, as Jesus taught. Paul CLEARLY reiterated this theme by saying "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."
The time has not yet come when the glory, majesty, and all of the mysteries of God are made known.
The time has not yet come when perfect knowledge is come, and there is nothing more to learn.
Perfect knowledge has not yet come. You don't know all. Not even Paul, who wrote that passage admits he don't know all. And because perfection has not yet come, we need prophecy, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.
Prophecy, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues serve the purpose of revealing the hidden mysteries of God.
What Paul said is nothing more than common sense. Once everything is revealed as the scriptures prophecy... once all secrets are revealed, and all knowledge is come... once everyone knows everything... who needs prophecy?
The purpose of prophecy, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues is to break through the "veil" and give us a little glimpse into the secrets of God. The Bible, itself, obviously leaves out a LOT of detail.
Just the life of Jesus alone would not be able to be written about in a single book! Not even the whole world could contain all the knowledge of Jesus!... let alone DETAILS of the story of creation, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, David.... the list goes on and on and on and on and on........
Do you know EVERYTHING yet?
Has PERFECT knowledge come in your life yet?
Let me answer those questions for you: obviously NOT
And this is where prophecy, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues comes in. You need the gift of prophecy to operate in your life. You need tongues and the interpretation of tongues to be spoken over you.
And just because tongues is not mentioned in the later books, doesn't mean anything. I am an author. I wrote about tongues in my former books. But I haven't mentioned tongues at all in my most recent works. Does that mean they have ceased? It is a no-brainer, buddy.
You obviously need to repent of the hidden sins in your life, get right with God, ask Him for His mercy, and His Spirit, and His gifts. There is MUCH MORE to Christianity than reading Greek dictionaries, misinterpreting scripture, misquoting scripture, and taking it out of context.
Last, but not least, if you saw what I saw, heard what I heard, and experienced what I experienced, you would change your mind in a flash.
Tell my fellow church member that when he spoke in Japanese when the Spirit came upon him mightily that tongues don't exist. He'll laugh in your face. He proclaimed the wonders and the glory of God in a language He never learned.
Tell the Jewish fellow who visited the Azusa Street Revival, who went upstairs, only to see a girl who had been visibly overcome by the Spirit of God, speaking the wonders of God in fluent Hebrew, although she had never been taught a word of Hebrew in her life. That Jewish man, by the way, gave His life to Jesus on the spot! What he saw changed his life!
Tell him that tongues ceased thousands of years ago. He'd laugh in your face. You might as well tell a kid in a candy store that candy doesn't exist.
You are blind.
There are countless instances over the years when book of Acts-type tongues manifested. Many came to the faith because of this phenomena.
You have your head buried in the sand of shallow, and hallow pseudo-intellectualism that is not even in context with the scriptures or what God is doing today.
mario on May 17, 2014:
What Happened To Biblical Tongues?
"[W]hether [there be] prophecies, they shall [be done away]; whether [there be] tongues, they sahll cease; whether [there be] knowledge, it shall [be done away]. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, and we prophesy in part...[T]hat which is in part shall be done away." (I Corinthians 13:8-10) The Greek word which is used theree times in this passage, and is translated "shall be done away" means "shall be abolished," or "shall be rendered inactive" (Zodhiates), but the Greek word translated "shall cease" means "shall come to an absolute end" (Zodhiates). Paul was saying that the revelation gifts of knowledge and prophecy would be abolished, and since tongues would no longer be necessary, the gift would just come to an end: Biblical tongues simply ceased. The gift of tongues is mentioned along with knowledge and prophecy in I Corinthians 13:8, but only prophecy and knowledge are refered to in the next verse, tongues had already dropped out. Tongues was the very first spiritual gift to be manifested on the Day of Pentecost, and it appears to be the very first gift to end also. Spiritual gifts are listed for us in three books of the New Testament: 1) I Corinthians (12:8-10, 28-30), 2) Romans (12:6-8), and 3) Ephesians (4:11). Only I Corinthians lists tongues. I Corinthians was written in 55 or 56 A.D., Romans around 57 or 58 A.D., and Ephesians about 61 or 62 A.D. (according to several references). It seems that tongues had already ceased by the time Romans was written. Tongues are never referred to by any New Testament writer after the year 56. Tongues have ceased!
Jerry W Hulse from Kingsport, Tennessee / Philippines on January 11, 2013:
Great Hub, voted up
Christopher Enoch (author) on April 19, 2012:
Hi Sammy R,
Not only is this a very good comment, you have have submitted very good questions!
The answer to your question, "when someone speaks in tongues when there is no audience, does it mean the tongues are not authentic?" is no. You do not need an audience to make it authentic. But you need an interpretation. Paul made it clear, "Wherefore let him that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue pray that he may interpret."
Yes, Paul said that he who speaks in tongues speaks mysteries. Again this passage comes from the same chapter (1 Cor. 14) as the above passage. But Paul made it clear that such practices should be accompanied by interpretation, thus making it understandable and "fruitful" as Paul puts it.
Finally, let's look at the passage about speaking in the tongues of angels:
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. - 1Cr 13:1-3 KJV"
Although I believe it is possible to speak in the tongues of angels, Paul didn't imply that he actually did. In this context he lumped "speaking in the tongues of angels" together with "understand all mysteries, and all knowledge", and "give my body to be burned"... not that any of the above applies to him, but rather he was making a point that without love none of that would be meaningful.
The bottom line in all these passages is that tongues should be understood.
Sammy R. on March 02, 2012:
Interesting read! However, the problem with every teaching I have read on this topic it is clear that the authors fall into 2 defined categories ; those who believe in the benefit and importance of Publicly speaking in unknown tongues....and those who believe that tongues ought to be discouraged in public forums..... You belong to the latter!
I wish someone wrote an article that is unbiased!
You have referred to the "pentecost experience" in support of your opinion that tongues must always be understood by someone in the audience for them to be "authentic" !
The question is, when someone speaks in tongues when there is no audience, does it mean the tongues are not authentic?
Secondly, Paul speaks about this topic in the book of 1st Corinthians and says....".......... he who speaks in a tongue speaks mysteries...." This would mean that there are tongues that cannot be understood..........He goes further and says...." you can speak in tongues of men and tongues of angels....."
Assuming someone speaks in tongues of angels, doesn't it follow then that no human will understand them unless by divine help of God?