Speaking In Tongues Study

August 6, 2013 at 12:26pm

By Mark Jungwirth.

Speaking in Tongues is only mentioned in 3 books in the Bible: Mark, Acts, and Corinthians. In Mark, it is spoken of, but not in detail. In Acts, it is referring to someone speaking an understandable human language that they couldn’t possibly know how to speak. And in Corinthians, tongues are mentioned by Paul only to give a rebuke to the Corinthians for perverting and misusing the gift. The next point that must be understood is that when the Bible talks about speaking in tongues, the word “tongues” is glóssa, which simply means “tongue (the body part)” or “languages”. It’s obvious from the context that the meaning in the case of “speaking in tongues” is languages. In other words, the gift of tongues is more properly translated “the gift of languages”.


Mark 16:17  And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. [ languages]


Acts 2:3  Tongues [ the body part] like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them. 


(When it says “tongues as of fire”, it is describing when God supernaturally manifested literal tongues (the body part) that looked as if they were made of fire, which represented the language that each individual was speaking. This was the 2nd physically noticeable sign from God, the first being the “noise like a violent rushing wind”, in the previous verse Acts 2:2)


Acts 2:4  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues,  [ languages] as the Spirit gave them utterance.


Acts 2:11  Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues [ languages] the wonderful works of God. 


(For absolute proof that regular human languages were being spoken, look at verses 5-11, “And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”  First, the listing of the different countries, and the fact that it says specifically in verse 8, “And how is it that we hear, each in our own language to which we were born,”  proves undoubtedly that “speaking in tongues” means speaking in a human language that the speaker has not learned. Second, the fact that Gallileans were speaking in Jewish languages is a big deal. Gallileans were uneducated and couldn’t speak those languages. Also, it was unimagginable to the Jews that God would communicate in a Gentile language. This was part of the miraculous sign to them that God had brought salvation to both Jews and Gentiles through Christ. The fact that Jews were hearing works of God declared in their own dialects by people who didn’t speak such languages was fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 28:11, which Paul addresses specifically in 1 Corinthians 14:21.)


Acts 10:46  For they heard them speak with tongues [ languages], and magnify God. Then answered Peter.


Acts 19:6  And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues [ languages], and prophesied.


*Note: The KJV sometimes says “unknown tongues” in Corinthians, rather than just “tongues”. The word “unknown” does NOT appear in the original Greek. As well, it could be logically concluded that when it says “unknown tongues” that it is not saying the language is some sort of mystery language that nobody knows, but that it means the language is simply a language that the speaker does not know, which is exactly how the gift of tongues is described every place in scripture.  


1 Corinthians 12:10  To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another diverse kinds of tongues [ languages]; to another the interpretation of tongues [ languages].


1 Corinthians 12:28  And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues [ languages].


1 Corinthians 12:30  Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues [ languages]? Do all interpret?


1 Corinthians 13:1  If I speak with the tongues [ languages] of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 


(Just to note: 1 Cor. 13:1 in the KJV says “Though I speak”, not “if I speak”, but in the original Greek it is properly translated “If I speak”.  Paul is using hyperbole here, saying “I don’t care if you speak like a man or an angel, if you do it without love, its meaningless.” This is well supported by the very next 2 verses, and by the ending of the previous chapter. Some Pentecostals and Charismatics have taken the words “tongues of men and of angels” out of context here and claim that it means speaking in an angelic language for private prayer. They combine this verse with Romans 8:26 “Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities for we know not what we should pray for as we ought but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”  Nowhere does it say anything about a private prayer language there. It says that the spirit makes intercession for us with groanings that CAN’T be uttered, not language that CAN be uttered (meaning cant be spoken with words). And it’s not us doing it, it’s the Holy Spirit. The word “groanings” is stenagmós – groaning (sighing), especially brought on by circumstances creating great pressure. See 4727 (stenazo). Stenázo (from 4728 /stenós, “compressed, constricted”) – properly, to groan because of pressure of being exerted forward (like the forward pressure of childbirth); (figuratively) to feel pressure from what is coming on – which can be intensely pleasant or anguishing (depending on the context). The words “can not be uttered” is alalétos in the Greek, which means “unutterable” or “inexpressible”. When it says “groanings too deep for words” or “groanings that cant be uttered” it means literal groaning or sighing, not speaking gibberish. Therefor, this scripture is clearly NOT referring to speaking in tongues or an “angelic language”. It is simply saying that when you are under great stress and pressure that you may actually groan or sigh (being too stressed to speak properly) and the Holy Spirit, knowing what you are groaning for, makes intercession for you to God.   It’s important to realize that nowhere in scripture is it ever recorded that angels have their own language or speak in non-human language. Every instance where an angel speaks in scripture it is in a regular human language. A very interesting point that must be made here is found in the Greek in Matthew 6:7.  “But when you pray, use not vain repetitions as the heathen do, for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”  The word for “vain repetitions” is battologéo, which means “to blubber nonsensical repetitions.” And the word comes from “batta” and “logos”. Logos means “word”. Batta is an onomatopoeia, which means it is a word whose sound suggests the sense. Example: The letter B makes the “buh” sound, the letter K makes the “kah” sound, and the letter G makes the “guh” sound. Buh, kah, and guh are onomatopoeias, as are words like “hiss” and “whoosh”. In other words, what Christ is saying in Matthew 6:7 could be taken to mean “Do not say ‘Kah buh lo tay ma’ like the heathen do.”  But regardless of whether or not this rendering of battologéo is what was intended, there is still no scriptural justification for speaking in such a manner.  


1 Corinthians 13:8  Love never fails: but whether there be prophecies, they shall pass away; whether there be tongues [ languages], they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall pass away.


(Here the words for “Cease” and for “Pass Away” are 2 different words, which may mean 2 different things. “Pass away” is katargethesontai, which is a future indicative passive verb. Passive meaning nothing is going to act upon it. It will “pass away” on its own. While “Cease” is pausontai, which is a future indicative middle verb (not passive) which could mean something will act upon it, making it cease, or putting it to an end. I say “which could mean something will act upon it” because it can’t be proven if the author meant for a different meaning by using the terms “cease” VS “pass away”. It is very possible that Paul simply meant that all of these things will stop when “the perfect comes” (mentioned in the following verses). 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 says, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.”  The “perfect” can’t be the 2nd coming of Christ because knowledge and prophecy will still have their place, as we will still be in our human bodies here on Earth. The “perfect”, according to many Bible scholars, is the eternal state, the New Heaven and New Earth. This can be verified by looking at the Greek word for “perfect”. The word is teleion, which means “absolutely complete, or fully developed in all parts”; then by looking at the Greek word for “be done away” at the end of verse 10. The word is katargethesetai, which means “to be rendered ineffectual.”  In other words, “we know in part and prophesy in part, but when that which is complete has come, the partial knowledge and partial prophecy will be rendered ineffectual.”  God is saying that knowledge and prophecy will be complete and fully developed, that we will have all knowledge. This is further proven by Luke 12:2 “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.”  This explains why partial knowledge and partial prophecy will be ineffectual. And if prophecy and knowledge won’t be rendered ineffectual until we’re in our spiritual forms in the eternal New Heaven and New Earth, and tongues will cease by something making them cease, then this means that tongues must cease sometime in regular Earthly human history. Based upon historical evidence and study of scripture, the most logical time for this to happen would be with the completion of Biblical scripture. In all known church history and writings after the New Testament, the “gibberish version of “tongues” had never been regarded as orthodox (accepted by most Christians) until the rise of Pentecostalism. References to speaking in tongues by the Church fathers are rare. Other than Irenaeus’ 2nd-century reference to many in the church speaking all kinds of languages “through the Spirit”, and Tertullian’s reference in 207 AD to the spiritual gift of interpretation of tongues being encountered in his day, there are no other known first-hand accounts of speaking in tongues, and very few second-hand accounts among their writings. And in their writings we see again, “speaking in tongues” is talking about actual human languages. I do not take the cessationist position that tongues have ceased with the completion of scripture, based upon testimonies from various legitimate Christians (all of whom speak of “tongues” as being a human language that they didnt know how to speak), and based upon the fact that cessationists also say that all of the “sign gifts” such as healing are no longer in operation but regardless, it is abundantly clear that it is not gibberish talk. It is being able to speak in a language that the speaker has not learned.)


1 Corinthians 14:2  For he who speaks in a tongue [ language] is not talking to men but to God; because no one knows what he is saying; but in the Spirit he speaks mysteries. (Paul is not affirming the idea that “tongues” are also a privatre prayer language to God, he is saying “If you speak in a tongue [ language] only God knows what you are saying. You may speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit, but its useless because nobody understands you.” This is proven by the context and content of the very next verses and the rest of the chapter.)


1 Corinthians 14:4  He who speaks in a tongue [ language] edifies himself; but he who gives the prophet’s word edifies the church. 


(It is clear by the previous verses that the gift is for edification of the church, not for edification of yourself. Self-edification puffs you up and makes you prideful. Here, Paul is warning against the selfish and show-off-ish use of the gift.)


1 Corinthians 14:5  I would that ye all spake with tongues [ languages] but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, unless he interprets, that the church may receive edifying.  


1 Corinthians 14:6  Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues [ languages], what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?


1 Corinthians 14:11-19 Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. Even so, you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue [ language], my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the mind. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the mind. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God I speak with tongues [ languages] more than you all, yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue [ language].


(Paul makes it abundantly clear that speaking in tongues is pointless if the hearer can’t understand you.)


1 Corinthians 14:21-23  In the law it is written, With men of other tongues [ languages] and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues               [ languages] are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that do not believe: but prophesying is not for them that do not believe, but for them which believe. If therefore the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues [ languages], and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that you are mad? 


(When Paul says, “In the Law it is written,” he is referencing Isaiah 28:11 because when the Gallileans spoke in Jewish dialects at Pentecost, it was the fulfillment of that prophecy.) 


1 Corinthians 14:27-28  If anyone speaks in a tongue [ language], let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.


(This is very clear and tight restriction on use of tongues in the church. All Paul is saying here is, “If you’re going to speak in a language, make sure it gets translated so that everyone knows what is being said. Otherwise, be silent, because without translation your gift is being abused by showing it off with no purpose.” These two verses should be shown to almost every modern tongue-speaker. Regardless of whether or not someone chooses to believe in the modern gibberish version of tongues, they should at least recognize and live by the guidelines laid out in God’s Word.) 


1 Corinthians 14:34-38  Let women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone does not recognize this, let him not be recognized.


(Many women will not want to acknowledge these scriptures, and many pastors will not teach the truth of what they say, however, God’s Word is God’s Word. And here Paul is stressing this teaching so much that he actually says “If anyone does not recognize these teachings as being commanded by God Himself, let that person not be recognized as a true believer.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that. Women are not to speak in tongues, or at all during church service. They are to be submissive, in general, toward men, and should look to their husbands for spiritual headship and instruction.) 


1 Corinthians 14:39  Wherefore, brethren, desire to prophesy, and don’t forbid to speak with tongues [languages]. 


(Finally, after giving such a rebuke, Paul closes by clarifying that there is indeed a proper manner in which to exercise the gift of tongues.)


* If what modern tongue-speakers do is actually speaking an “angelic language” why are there no discernible words in that language? Why is it that you can compare 2 modern tongue-speakers and often they sound so similar (even saying the exact same “words” in order), but when the supposed translation is given you often find they said vastly different things? (Example: Person 1 says “Ka lo boba tah see tah tay no mo.”, and person 2 says “Ka lo boba tay tah see tah no mo”  These 2 “sentences” should be translated to say similar things if this is an actual language with actual words, however, we often find that “tongues” will be this similar, but with vastly different translations. And often times the length of the supposed translation won’t seem to match the length of what is being said “in tongues”.  If this is a language, why is it that we can’t analyze words and conjugations and figure out what is being said, at least to some degree? The answer is: because it isn’t actually a language. Its gibberish. And if it isn’t an actual language then it isn’t the gift of languages. 



* In 1972, William J. Samarin, a linguist from the University of Toronto, published a thorough assessment of Pentecostal glossolalia which became a classic work on its linguistic characteristics.[6] His assessment was based on a large sample of glossolalia recorded in public and private Christian meetings in Italy, The Netherlands, Jamaica, Canada and the USA over the course of five years; his wide range included the Puerto Ricans of the Bronx, the Snake Handlers of the Appalachians and the Russian Molokan in Los Angeles.



Samarin found that glossolalic speech does resemble human language in some respects. The speaker uses accent, rhythm, intonation and pauses to break up the speech into distinct units. Each unit is itself made up of syllables, the syllables being formed from consonants and vowels taken from a language known to the speaker:



It is verbal behaviour that consists of using a certain number of consonants and vowels[…]in a limited number of syllables that in turn are organized into larger units that are taken apart and rearranged pseudogrammatically[…]with variations in pitch, volume, speed and intensity.[7]



[Glossolalia] consists of strings of syllables, made up of sounds taken from all those that the speaker knows, put together more or less haphazardly but emerging nevertheless as word-like and sentence-like units because of realistic, language-like rhythm and melody.[8]



That the sounds are taken from the set of sounds already known to the speaker is confirmed by others. Felicitas Goodman, a psychological anthropologist and linguist, also found that the speech of glossolalists reflected the patterns of speech of the speaker’s native language.[9]



Samarin found that the resemblance to human language was merely on the surface and so concluded that glossolalia is “only a facade of language”.[10] He reached this conclusion because the syllable string did not form words, the stream of speech was not internally organized, and – most importantly of all – there was no systematic relationship between units of speech and concepts. Humans use language to communicate but glossolalia does not. Therefore he concluded that glossolalia is not “a specimen of human language because it is neither internally organized nor systematically related to the world man perceives”.[10] On the basis of his linguistic analysis, Samarin defined Pentecostal glossolalia as “meaningless but phonologically structured human utterance, believed by the speaker to be a real language but bearing no systematic resemblance to any natural language, living or dead”.[11]


Felicitas Goodman studied a number of Pentecostal communities in the United States, the Caribbean and Mexico; these included English, Spanish and Mayan speaking groups. She compared what she found with recordings of non-Christian rituals from Africa, Borneo, Indonesia and Japan. She took into account both the segmental structure (such as sounds, syllables, phrases) and the supra-segmental elements (rhythm, accent, intonation) and concluded that there was no distinction between what was practiced by the Pentecostal Protestants and the followers of other religions.[12]



 There is no biblical support for the idea that speaking in tongues means speaking in “angelic” gibberish. Every instance in scripture where tongues are mentioned it is clear that it is talking about an actual understandable human language. There is also no scientific evidence that the gibberish modern tongue-speakers use is a language. Tongues may or may not be in operation in modern times. Although it appears from church history, and from scripture study, that the gift is no longer in operation, even if it is, the gift is being able to speak in a language you haven’t learned, not speaking gibberish. Hence the gift being called the “gift of languages”, not the “gift of gibberish”.   

By Mark Jungwirth.