Speaking in Tongues — Is Glossolalia Real?

Speaking in an unknown language, as many do in today’s Pentecostal, Charismatic, Catholic, and a few other Christian religions, is generally considered a New Testament phenomenon. This ability was received as one of the miraculous spiritual gifts given to the apostles after the death of Christ and is known as “speaking in tongues.” Although it can technically mean speaking in a foreign earthly language, it is most often considered to be a language of the spirit, or of angels, or even of heaven, and this practice is called glossolalia.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “glossolalia” (from Greek glōssa, “tongue,” and lalia, “talking”), consists of utterances approximating words and speech and is usually produced during states of intense religious experience. The vocal organs of the speaker are affected — the tongue moves, in many cases without the conscious control of the speaker and generally unintelligible speech pours forth. Both speakers and witnesses generally interpret the phenomenon as having a conversation with divine beings or the channeling of a divine proclamation.1 The Merriam-Webster Dictionary adds that it is emotionally charged speech that mimics coherent speech and is uttered in states of religious ecstasy or schizophrenic states.2

Debating the validity of this practice is not my intention, for people have been doing so since the early days of the 20th century, when the modern “speaking in tongues” movement began. My mind is already made up, but my intention for this article is only to present a contrary opinion and let the reader decide what to believe.

When Did It Start?

The whole idea of “speaking in tongues” comes from verses in the book of Acts, chapter 2, which states:

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1–4, NKJV).

It should be noted that most Bible versions translate the word “tongues” as “languages.” In fact, one of the most dynamic translations of these same verses is from The Message Bible, which states:

When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them (Acts 2:1–4).3

If this information isn’t enough to indicate they were speaking in other earthly languages, read verse 8 in most any version and you will understand that the languages were ones that could be fully understood by the people hearing them. “And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” (Acts 2:8, NRSV). So, they began to speak with other languages, besides their own native language, even though they never learned it. They didn’t spout some meaningless babel or “stammer out some broken sentences, but spoke it as easily, properly, and elegantly, as if it had been their mother-tongue.”4

It is evident to me that this event was a heavenly gift so that knowledge about Jesus Christ could be given to those of other nations — foreigners that had not, yet, heard the Gospel. The whole idea of speaking in different languages was to make sure that what was said could be communicated to, and understood by, the people in the assembly. Speaking with some strange mystical mumbling noises would have defeated that purpose.

A Glorious and Blessed Reason

There was a deeper purpose, too, I think. In fact, like the English Christian minister and writer Matthew Henry, I relate the miracle at Pentecost to the scattering of people through a confounding of languages in the book of Genesis at the tower of Babel dispersion. Henry said that the dividing of language at Babel was the casting-off of the pagans, as they lost the language of which God was spoken about and preached. But Pentecost reversed this process by restoring the knowledge of God to all nations.5 This gift at Pentecost allowed the apostles to reach and teach people of different lands and languages and as Paul said, “Tongues, then, are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers…” (1 Corinthians 14:22, NRSV). The curse of Babel in Genesis 11, was dramatically reversed by this Pentecost event.6

The apostles were speaking in real earthly languages during and after Pentecost, but this was no precedent to continue this miracle forever. There is neither a command in the Bible to continue speaking in tongues, nor even a promise that certain people will be able to speak in tongues. There is not even a hint in the Bible, anywhere, that if you are filled with the Holy Spirit, the evidence is an ability to speak in tongues.7

The gifts given at Pentecost were temporary and meant for a particular purpose. The Lord even revealed to Paul that they were going to cease (1 Corinthians 13:8-12). These gifts ceased by the end of the Books of Acts, as “there is no record in Scripture of any of the sign gifts operating in any of the letters that Paul wrote after the end of the Acts period.”8

Being in the Spirit?

The modern “speaking in tongues” Pentecostal movement started in 1906, the Charismatic movement started in 1960, and the Catholic movement started in 19669 and there are others. But before these modern movements of the last century or so, there is a sporadic history of such events going much further back, both before and after the time of Christ. This technique has been faked by demonic spirits, Muslim dervishes, Hindu fakirs, as well as witch doctors in Africa and Asia. So “speaking in tongues, along with their interpretation, is not peculiar to the Christian church, but are common in ancient pagan religions” as well.10

Speaking in tongues is sometimes called “being in the Spirit” and it very well may be — only it may not be the Holy Spirit of God, but of something most sinister. Give this essay some thought and pray over the situation. Don’t get caught up in the wrong kind of spirit.

Copyright © 2018, Dr. Ray Hermann
OutlawBibleStudent.org

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References & Note

1. “Glossolalia,” (Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 14 May 2018), https://www.britannica.com/topic/glossolalia

2. “Glossolalia,” [medical definition], (Merriam-Webster, retrieved June 18, 2018), https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/glossolalia

3. Peterson, Eugene H., The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, (Colorado Springs: NavPress Publishing Group, 2002).

4. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishes, 1991), vol. 6, pp. 13-14.

5. Ibid.

6. Alexander, David and Pat, (Eds.), Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), p. 551.

7. Rice, John R., Speaking in Tongues, (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1973), ch. 4.

8. Kiszonas, Dennis, “When Did the Gift of Tongues Cease?” (Berean Bible Society, retrieved 19 June 2018), https://www.bereanbiblesociety.org/when-did-the-gift-of-tongues-cease/

9. Forsyth, David C., “History of the Charismatic Movement,” (Christian Fallacies, retrieved 16 June 2018), http://www.christianfallacies.com/articles/forsyth/historyOfCharismaticMovement.html

10. Unger, Merrill F., New Testament Teaching on Tongues, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2000), p. 163.

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4 thoughts on “Speaking in Tongues — Is Glossolalia Real?

  1. Wow, I’m amazed that so much can be said about speaking in tongues based on assumptions ,theories & quoting scripture with no consideration of context by someone that has never experienced it.

    Firstly in acts 2 there were 16 languages identified which leaves 104 languages unidentified, hardly tangible proof it was for preaching. The 16 we are identified as known languages only, you can’t just add a theory to those verses its just afactual account of what happened, Peter preached to everybody , he didn’t speak in tongues to them.Please quote a scripture that says speaking in tongues is for preaching or show me an example in the book of acts where it was used for preaching, there isn’t one ,there is however 1 cor 14.2 that says speaking in tongues is for speaking to God NOT man, “for NO MAN shall understand him” Now really can it get much clearer than that? I could show you a few scriptures of people receiving the spirit & speaking tongues as ratification from God as in Mark 16.20.

    Now about the religious ecstacy & emotionally charged stuff , I’m sorry to break this to you but those states of mind are not in the bible concerning speaking in tongues it just seems to be in the dictionary. I’m glad my salvation isn’t based on the webster’s dictionary. So let’s just rule that rubbish out of the equation .

    Please quote a scripture that says it will cease at the end of the book of acts, you say it like it’s a fact yet it is just a theory. Yes it will cease “when that (or he in greek)that is perfect shall come.” It doesn’t say Acts or Revelations or any other event other than the return of Christ ,read vs 12 we certainly dont see face to face or know even as I am known. Paul did say forbid not to speak in tongues & I thank God I speaking tongues more than you all!

    I’m not sure Gods all that interested in the Encyclopedia Brittania explanation of things , the Greek is tongue that’s it ! No more intelligence is warranted, it’s the word of God. It does say he will make people speak in tongues of men & angels though, so some tongues could be identified but nothing more than that.adding theory to that just adulterates the word of God.
    “The whole idea of speaking in tongues comes from verses in the book of Acts, chapter 2,” sorry wrong again even Paul quotes from Isaiah 28 in 1Cor 13.21 so it was mentioned 700 years or so BC.

    You quoted “Tongues, then, are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers…” (1 Corinthians 14:22) please keep this verse in context, Paul listed gifts to be operating in the church of the Bible, tongues , interpretation & prophesy to name 3 of the 9. If you are unsure of the context read verses 4,5,12,19,23,24,26,28 eight verses in the one chapter referring to the gathering of church members.

    In context tongues are for a sign to unbelievers coming to a church meeting , operated 2 or at the most 3 times followed by interpretation of the tongues.This operation of the spiritual gifts IN THE CHURCH is not to be confused with the receiving of the Holy Spirit that Jesus commanded we receive with the evidence of speaking in tongues as they did in Acts 2, Acts 10 & Acts 19.

    Im not sure what bible your reading but mine has multiple references to recieving the holy spirit & speaking in tongues .You know Jesus said believers will speak in tongues and you are saying belevers wont speak in tongues & going even further by saying its demonic . I think I’ll stick with Jesus & the word of God not fanciful theories & worldly knowledge. You have certainly presented a contrary opinion to Gods Word.

    • Thank you for reading this article and taking the time to write about your own interpretation and beliefs. Although we may disagree, I realize many people are passionate about this subject and I appreciate that you were willing to share your thoughts. To be honest, I would encourage more people to do so on all my articles. You may not appreciate my comment, but it does allow me to add a bit more information.

      I did give normal dictionary and encyclopedic definitions about what the world believes ‘speaking in tongues’ is all about. Dictionaries change meaning, over time – sort of an evolution – depending upon current usage, and most always, not biblical. Many times I do that so I can show how the Bible shows a different meaning which never changes. As explained in the article, debating the validity of the practice was not my intention, but only to give facts, so everyone can decide for themselves what to believe. I do, sometimes, give my own opinion, as well as from others which I always document in References & Notes.

      Concerning your statement, “quote a scripture that says it will cease at the end of the book of acts, you say it like it’s a fact yet it is just a theory,” I stated that the Bible says it will stop at some time (1 Cor. 13:8) and it is my opinion that speaking in tongues ended sooner, rather than later, because there is no record in the Bible of this gift being used after the ‘Acts period’ of time. I believe the gifts given at Pentecost were temporary and meant for the particular purpose of spreading the knowledge about Jesus Christ to those of other nations that had not, yet, heard the Gospel.

      You mentioned 1 Cor. 14:2 “says speaking in tongues is for speaking to God NOT man, ‘for NO MAN shall understand him.’” It may be curious to some what Paul meant, but the reading of all of chapter 14 puts the meaning into perspective. As the Holman Bible Handbook states, “Paul claimed that tongues without interpretation is of little value to anyone except to the speaker. The goal of the practice of any spiritual gift is the edification of others. When tongues speakers speak only to themselves, they edify no one. The confusion seems like madness to those outside the church.”1 Tongues of course, is the Greek glōssa, implying, in this case, a naturally unacquired language.2

      I did not state it was all demonic, but did suggest praying over this practice, so as not to get caught up in the wrong kind of spirit. Some historic records indicate it can be from demonic sources as evidenced by Pagan accounts going back before the time of Jesus.3

      1. David S. Dockery, (Ed.), Holman Bible Handbook (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992), pp. 692–693.
      2. Strongs #1100, Greek glōssa, the tongue; by impl. a language (spec., one naturally unacquired).
      Strong, James, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996).
      3. Unger, Merrill F., New Testament Teaching on Tongues, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2000), p. 163.

  2. I am very skeptical of the validity of this mumbo jumbo and think the people who do this are either all caught up in their excitement and may believe they are doing something extra to praise our Lord or they are looking to get attention. If our Lord has blessed them with a new language they would continue to use it when they leave the Church so as to also be able to converse with each other.

    I also don’t believe Satan has slipped into this form of worship because these people would also be telling others about their experience with praying to him after their gibberish experience. Perhaps their meaningless babel started as a mumble, (verbal doodling) and perpetuated as time went by.

    I have always seen this when there are more than one person doing it in the service. I wonder how people would react if no one ever did this at a service and someone new came in and did it. Someone should ask each one of them why they do it and how they go about getting into this groove, and see if they have different answers.

    • Thank you for responding with your insightful comment. When asked, all I got from people who spoke in tongues was that they said the Holy Spirit overcame them. They couldn’t tell me what it meant. I have no doubt that they think it is a message from heaven, but I would think they would understand the message, if it was. And why does it have to be in code?

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