Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What is “Speaking in Tongues”? Is it speaking in gibberish? Do I need to speak in tongues? What does the Bible say?


There are certain denominations that practice what they call “speaking in tongues”. Usually it is a person speaking sporadic sounds that would probably be described as “gibberish”. This is not what the Bible refers to as “speaking in tongues”. What many people call “speaking in tongues” is nothing more than an emotional response. It is possible for a person to stir their emotions so much that they fall down, twitch and even make incoherent sounds. 

There are videos of teenage girls falling on the ground, convulsing and screaming when the Beatles came into town. The behavior of the Beatles fans is similar to the intense emotional response, of many in Charismatic Churches. (Do a quick Youtube search of “Bealtlemania” or “Beatles Fans” and compare it to footage of Pentecostal worship assemblies). 

One would imagine, that if you got your emotions stirred up, and you also knew that you were expected to “allow the Holy Spirit”  to cause you to speak in tongues, convulse etc.., that it would be easy to subconsciously make it happen. What many in the modern religious world call “tongue speaking”, however,  is not the same as tongue speaking in the Bible.

Speaking in Tongues in the Bible

“Tongue speaking” in the Bible is nothing more than the miraculous ability to communicate in a language that you previously did not know. The word “tongue” is used to signify “language”. 

Before ascending into heaven, Jesus told His Disciples: “and these signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues” (Mark 16:17).

In Acts chapter 2 the ability to speak in tongues was given to the Disciples. Notice how this phenomenon is described. 
...and divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:3-11)
There is no doubt when looking at the passages above, that “speaking in tongues” is the same as speaking a different language. In 1st Corinthians 14, Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to worship in an orderly manner. It appears that some may have been speaking in other languages without a translator. If no one was able to translate, it was disorderly. In (1 Corinthians 14:27 he writes “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret”.

It is clear from Scripture that “speaking in tongues” is nothing more than the supernatural ability to speak a language that you previously did not know. This would be a needed gift in the First Century as the Disciples were traveling into other regions and preaching the Gospel to peoples who may not have spoke the same language as them.

Do I need to speak in tongues? Do people speak in tongues today? What should I conclude?

When looking at the passages that mention speaking in tongues, one should conclude the following. 
  • First, “tongue” just means “language. 
  • Second, in the early years of the church some were given the ability by the Holy Spirit to speak a language they did not already know (this is “speaking in tongues”). 
  • Third, tongue speaking was for the purpose of “confirming the word”. Note: Mark 16:17-20: 
    • “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs."
  • Fourth, once we had the completed revelation of God (ie. The New Testament), the supernatural gifts designed to reveal and confirm the Word were no longer needed. Note: 1 Corinthians 13:8-10:
    • Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away".
      • I believe “the perfect” in this context is to be understood as the Word of God. 
Tongue speaking was a miraculous ability given by the Holy Spirit to some early Christians, so they could speak the Word in a language they did not previously know and prove to others that they were from God. This supernatural ability served its purpose until the written revelation of God was complete.


CS - Quotes from ESV Bible