Miraculous Spiritual Gift Of Tongue Speaking


Spoken gifts

Gifts which had to do with the spoken word.

a. Preaching and Teaching, Prophecy, ‘pro fetes’, to speak forth.

b. The ability to distinguish between spirits. Possibly relating to exorcism.

c. The ability to speak other languages. Languages which had not been learned. Acts 2:1-11.

d. The ability to interpret the languages used. 1 Corinthians 12:10.

I think we also saw that, at that time and in those circumstances, these were not merely extravagant demonstrations of miraculous power, but gifts which were eminently practical, the purpose being to edify, and build up the entire church. 1 Corinthians 14:12.

Since that was the Spirit’s purpose in bestowing the gifts, it wasn’t necessary that every member of the church should possess them, nor were members regarded as second-class Christians if they didn’t possess gifts.

The closing verses of 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 proves this, ‘Do all speak with tongues? Do all possess the gift of healing? Do all interpret?’

The implied answer to these questions is no!

c. The ability to speak other languages.

The word ‘divers’, ‘genos’ is race, stock, family. The word ‘genos’ is used 21 times in the New Testament and for the most part, indicates one’s nationality. This helps us understand what the gift of tongues was all about. The word ‘tongues’, ‘glossa’ is defined as a tongue, language.

Clearly, the language spoken was of differing nationalities. One who had the gift of tongues was able to speak a language of another race of people without ever studying the language.

Modern-day ‘tongue speaking’. What is it?

1. Books, giving instruction on how to speak in tongues are easy to obtain, and instruction is often given in ‘Pentecostal’ assemblies to those who are anxious to learn!

When a friend of mine worked with the Wembley congregation, a man who professed to possess the ‘gift of tongues’, offered to give him a ‘demonstration’! This could hardly be described as ‘the work of the Holy Spirit’.

2. Scientific studies by highly qualified people have proved that ‘glossolalia’ is a learned behaviour.

This is how it is described by Dr Felicity Goodman, a Psychological Anthropologist, in her work entitled ‘Speaking in tongues. A cross-cultural study in Glossolalia’, which was published by the University of Chicago Press, in 1972. She studied tape recordings of tongue-speaking, made in Pentecostal Churches in America, Spain Mayan, and other English-speaking groups, as well as pagan rituals in Japan, Africa, Borneo and Indonesia.

Her concluding statement reads, ‘Glossolalia is a learned behaviour because direct instruction is given on how to speak in tongues.’ Just over 25 years ago in 1987, in fact, in ‘The Encyclopaedia of Religion’, Dr Goodman wrote, ‘Modern researchers accept that there is an association between trance and glossolalia.’

Another Researcher, Dr Sheila A. Womack, pointed to the similarities between modern tongue-speaking and what is called ‘T.S.’, the abbreviation used for ‘trouette syndrome’, which is a disorder of the nervous system that is demonstrated by ‘uncontrolled movements and sounds.’

And one more testimony, the University of Pennsylvania took brain images of five women who were said to be speaking in tongues and discovered that the frontal lobes, the ‘thinking’ reasoning part of the brain, through which people control what they do were inactive. And the sounds were being produced by the part of the brain that is responsible for emotions and feelings.

Furthermore, the scans also recorded a reduction in the activity of the left claudate, the part of the brain which is active when the subject is experiencing positive emotion or pleasure. The researchers came to the conclusion that the subjects had yielded some control over their bodies and their emotions. And they knew it. And were enjoying it.

My friend was told that to speak in tongues one must put his mind into ‘neutral, take a deep breath, and let the sound come out’!

It is impossible to believe that they were acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

‘Tongues’ are mentioned three times in the Book of Acts

Note that in 16ll, the word ‘tongue’ meant ‘language’. Acts 2:3-4. Pentecost. Notice the definition, ‘other tongues’. The phrase, ‘unknown tongues’ is not found in the Scriptures. What was heard were not incomprehensive noises, not ‘babble’, but ‘known’ languages.

In fact, considering the number of nations represented in the chapter, 16 in all, the miracle was that they all heard in the language in which they were born. This fact has raised an interesting question, was this only a miracle of speech, but was there also a miracle of hearing!

The House of Cornelius. Acts 10:44-48

Although Cornelius was a Roman it seems evident from the special attention he received from the Holy Spirit, that he was a proselyte. He had embraced Judaism, to some extent, so that his prayers were being heard in heaven.

Notice also, Acts 11:15, that the reference is to ‘the same ‘gift’ as at the beginning’ suggests that the bestowal of this gift wasn’t something that had recurred very frequently up to that time. This kind of event wasn’t something which Peter and his Jewish brethren had encountered before.

Ephesus. Acts 19:1-7

The men involved in this incident were also Jews who had received the baptism of John after it had been superseded by the Lord’s Baptism.

These examples suggest that the gift of tongues was bestowed, initially at least, to enable the message to be preached in a manner that provided the Jews that the Gospel was from God.

1. Peter in Acts 2, refers to Joel 2:28.

‘It shall come to pass…….pour out My Spirit…’

2. In Isaiah 28:11 the A.V. use of the word ‘stammering’ is likely to be misunderstood but doesn’t mean stuttering!

Look at 1 Corinthians 14:21 and you will see that Paul reveals that the statement of Isaiah predicted the gift of tongues! Using Paul’s statement, we see that through the prophet Isaiah, God declared that He would speak to ‘this people,’ the disobedient Jews through the gift of language.

Now look at Acts 18:7, and you will see that one of the first converts in Corinth, was Justus a ‘God worshipper,’ which is a term for a devout keeper of the Law. And his house was ‘next to the synagogue’.

You must imagine the first meetings of the Christians in Corinth meeting with the apostle Paul, in the House of Justus, next door to the synagogue, exercising the gift of tongues, after they had the hands of Paul the apostle laid on them! If this occurred, the Jews would wonder what was happening!

The gifts were originally bestowed by the Holy Spirit, as witnessed on the Day of Pentecost. Later, they were bestowed by the imposition of the hands of the Lord’s apostles. Hence, Paul writes to Timothy, ‘do not neglect the gift’. 2 Timothy 1:6.

In Acts 8, the apostles Peter and John went to Samaria and laid hands on the converts, Acts 8:17, and Simon the Sorcerer saw that in this way the Holy Spirit was given.

This can only refer to the bestowal of the gifts of the Spirit because at their baptism, the Samaritans would have received the ‘dorea’ of the Spirit, as promised in the Gospel. Acts 2:38-39.

Furthermore, the laying on of the hands of the apostles must have been followed by a demonstration of spiritual gifts, because Simon ‘saw’ something that led him to ask that he also, might be given the same power, Acts 8:18.

However, since those who received the gifts in this way weren’t able to pass on the power, the bestowal of spiritual gifts by the laying on of the hands of an apostle passed away with the deaths of the apostles themselves.

We have already looked at the claims of those people who profess to speak in tongues today and, I hope we have seen how mistaken they are. Perhaps ‘self-deceived’ is the kinder and more accurate description of their condition.

Biblical tongue-speaking

1. In 1 Corinthians 14, the term ‘unknown’, in regard to tongues was italicized in the KJV because it doesn’t appear in the original Greek text, 1 Corinthians 14:2 1/ Corinthians 14:4 / 1 Corinthians 14:13-14 / 1 Corinthians 14:19 / 1 Corinthians 14:27.

By inserting this word into their translation, the translators were attempting to aid the English reader. They undoubtedly were hoping to convey the idea that the languages to which Paul referred were ‘unknown’ to the speaker, i.e., the speaker had no prior training by which to learn or know the language.

He spoke the language strictly by God’s miraculous empowerment. ‘Unknown’ certainly wasn’t intended to convey the idea that the tongues were unknown to all humans and, as such, were non-earthly, non-human languages.

2. The events reported at the very beginning of the Christian religion.

Acts 2 set the precedent for understanding that tongue-speaking entailed no more than the ability to speak a foreign human language, which the speaker had not studied, to people from a variety of geographical locales, Parthians, Medes, Arabians. Acts 2:9-11.

The unbiased Bible student must conclude that what is described in detail in Acts 2 is the same phenomenon alluded to in 1 Corinthians 14.

All tongue-speaking in the Bible consisted of known human languages, ideally known to the very audience being addressed that were unknown, i.e., unstudied, unlearned, by the one who was speaking the language.

3. There is simply no such thing as an ‘ecstatic utterance’ in the New Testament.

The tongue-speaking of 1 Corinthians 14 entailed human language, not incoherent gibberish. A simple reading of the chapter demonstrates that known human languages are under consideration.

For example, Paul paralleled tongue-speaking with the use of the trumpet in warfare. If the bugler sounded meaningless noise, the military would be thrown into confusion.

It was imperative for the bugler to blow the proper notes and tones, i.e., meaningful musical ‘language,’ so that the army would understand what was being communicated, whether to charge, engage or retreat. Sound without sense fails to achieve the very purpose of tongue-speaking.

Paul then stated, ‘So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me.’ 1 Corinthians 14:9-11

Obviously, Paul was referring to human languages, those that exist ‘in the world.’ He envisioned a scenario where two individuals, who spoke different languages, are attempting to communicate with each other.

If one speaks in Spanish and the other in German, as they attempt to speak to one another, each would be a ‘foreigner’ to the other. Neither would understand what the other was attempting to say. Hence the need for tongue-speaking, i.e., the ability to speak a human language unknown to the speaker but known to the recipient.

Later in the chapter, Paul quoted Isaiah 28:11+12 where God threatened the Israelites with the fact that their failure to listen to Him, by means of the words spoken by His prophets, meant that He soon would be communicating to them through the language of their Assyrian conquerors, conquerors whom God would send against them. This powerful illustration presupposes the fact that in both Isaiah and 1 Corinthians, human languages are under consideration.

After quoting Isaiah, Paul drew the conclusion that tongue-speaking was intended by God to be directed to unbelievers, 1 Corinthians 14:22.


Because it would prove to the unbeliever that the tongue-speaker, who didn’t possess the natural ability to speak that language, was being empowered by God to speak in the language spoken by the unbeliever.

The unbeliever would recognise the divine origin of the tongue speaker’s ability, and thereby be willing to consider the words being spoken as the instructions of God.

Again, an examination of 1 Corinthians 14 yields the result that no contextual justification exists for drawing the conclusion that the Bible refers to, let alone endorses, the notion of ‘ecstatic’ speech.

But what about Paul’s passing reference to the ‘tongues of angels’ in 1 Corinthians 13:1?

Wouldn’t this reference prove that tongue-speaking could involve languages beyond those spoken by humans?

In the first place, consider the role, purpose, and activity of angels described in the Bible. The word ‘angel’, in Greek is ‘angelos’, in Hebrew it is the word ‘malak’ and it simply means ‘messenger’ one who ‘speaks and acts in the place of the one who has sent him’. It doesn’t mean merely ‘to send,’ but rather ‘to send a messenger, message’.

It is true that angels in both the Old and New Testaments carried out a wide range of activities beyond message bearing, including, worshipping God, Revelation 5:11-12, comforting, aiding, and protecting, Daniel 6:22 / Matthew 4:11 / Luke 22:43 / Acts 5:19 / Hebrews 1:14 and executing judgment and inflicting punishment and death, Matthew 13:49 / Acts 12:23.

But it remains true to say that the meaning of the term ‘angel’ is a messenger, one who communicates a spoken message. Therefore, their principal role in God’s scheme of things was to function as messengers to humans. Consequently, angels always are represented in Scripture as communicating in ‘human language’.

In the second place, what logical reason exists for humans to speak in an alleged ‘angelic’ language that is different from human language? What would be the spiritual benefit?

The Bible certainly makes no provision for humans to communicate with angels in such a language, nor would there be any need for an angel to communicate to a human in a non-earthly language.

The whole point of 1 Corinthians 12-13 was to stress the need to function in the church in ways that were meaningful and understandable. Since God, by His very nature, never would do anything superfluous, unnecessary, or frivolous, it follows that He wouldn’t bestow upon a human being the ability to speak in a nonhuman language.

The ability would serve no purpose! The Bible simply offers no rationale nor justification for identifying the ‘tongues of angels’ in 1 Corinthians 13:1 with some heavenly, otherworldly, non-earthly languages.

In the third place, if, in fact, the ‘tongues of angels’ refer to known human languages, what was Paul’s point?

Since angels were God’s appointed spokesmen, they naturally would perform their assignment in such a way that God would be represented as He would want to be.

God’s own angelic messengers would have complied with their responsibility in such a way and manner that they would have God’s approval. In other words, angels would naturally articulate God’s message as well as it could be expressed, i.e., perfectly.

When God inspired mere humans to communicate His will, He integrated their own educational background, stylistic idiosyncrasies, and vocabulary into their oral and literary productions. No such need would have existed for angels. Their communications would have been unfiltered through human agency. Their announcements would have been the essence and pinnacle of eloquence and oratorical skill.

Perhaps, then, Paul wasn’t drawing a contrast between human and nonhuman languages at all. Before referring to the ‘tongues of angels,’ he referred to ‘the tongues of men.’ Why would Paul say, ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men’?

After all, isn’t that precisely what all adult humans do? We, humans, speak at least one human language! Paul must have been referring, then, not to the ability to speak a human language, but to the ability to speak all human languages.

No tongue-speaker in the first-century church had the ability to speak all human languages. In fact, the textual evidence indicates that most tongue-speakers probably had the ability to speak only one human language, which he, himself, didn’t understand, thus necessitating the need for an inspired interpreter, 1 Corinthians 12:30 / 1 Corinthians 14:26-28.

Paul could apparently speak more languages than any of the others, 1 Corinthians 14:18. If the ‘tongues of men’ referred to the number of human languages, rather than referring to the ability to speak a human language, then the ‘tongues of angels’ would refer not to the ability to speak an angelic language but to the ability to speak human languages ‘the way angels do’.

Here, then, would have been Paul’s point, even if a tongue-speaker could speak every human language known to man, and even if that tongue-speaker could speak those human languages with the efficiency, skill, and perfection that God’s angelic messengers have spoken them in history, without love, the ability would be wasted.

With this understanding of the text, Paul wasn’t contrasting human with nonhuman language. He was encompassing both the quantity, if I could speak all human languages and the quality, if I could speak them perfectly, of speaking human language.

One final point on the matter of the ‘tongues of angels’ merits mention. Even if the expression actually refers to angelic tongues that are nonhuman, it still is likely that tongue-speakers were incapable of speaking such languages.


Paul was speaking hypothetically and hyperbolically. No human being, with the exception of perhaps Jesus, has ever been able to speak in all human languages. For Paul to suggest such was to pose a hypothetical situation. It was to exaggerate the facts. So Paul’s meaning was, ‘even if I were capable of speaking all human languages, which I’m not.’

Likewise, no human being has ever been able to speak the tongues of angels. So Paul’s meaning was, ‘even if I were capable of speaking the languages of angels, which I’m not.’

This conclusion is supported further by the verse that follows the reference to the ‘tongues of angels.’ There, Paul used two additional hypothetical events when he said, ‘If I, know all mysteries and all knowledge’ and ‘if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,’ 1 Corinthians 13:2

But no one on the planet, with the exception of Deity, has understood all mysteries and all knowledge, nor has ha faith that could literally remove mountains. Again, Paul was merely saying, ‘even if I could do such things, which I can’t.’

4. Paul stated very clearly that tongue-speaking was a ‘sign to unbelievers’, not believers. 1 Corinthians 14:22.

Tongue speaking was to be done in their presence, to convince them of the truth being spoken, i.e., to confirm the Word.

The tongue-speaking being practised today is done in the presence of those who already believe that tongue-speaking is occurring and, when an unbeliever, who is sceptical of the genuineness of the activity, makes an appearance in such an assembly, the claim often is made that tongue-speaking cannot occur because of the presence of unbelief.

Once again, the New Testament teaches the very opposite of those who claim the ability to speak in tongues today.

5. The recipient of a miraculous gift in the New Testament could ‘control himself’. 1 Corinthians 14:32.

He wasn’t overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit so he began to babble or flail about. Tongue-speaking today is frequently practised in a setting where the individuals who claim to be exercising the gift are speaking uncontrollably at the very time that others are either doing the same thing or engaging in some other action.

This overlapping activity is in direct violation of three of Paul’s commands

1. That each individual takes their turn, one at a time.

2. That no more than three tongue speakers speak per service, and

3. That tongue-speakers remain silent if no interpreter is present. 1 Corinthians 14:27-28.

The claim by many today is to be able to speak in tongues is simply out of harmony with New Testament teaching. Anyone can babble, make up sounds, and claim he or she is speaking in tongues. But such conduct is no sign today. It is precisely the same phenomenon that pagan religions have practised through the centuries.

In the New Testament, however, no one questioned the authenticity of tongue-speaking.


The speaker was speaking a known human language that could be understood by those present who knew that language and knew that that particular speaker didn’t know that language beforehand.

If and when self-proclaimed tongue-speakers today demonstrate that genuine New Testament gift, their message could be accepted as being from God.

But no one today has demonstrated that genuine New Testament gift.