What is the Gift of Tongues?

Of all the gifts of the Spirit, I think the gift of tongues is the gift that I am most distanced from. I don’t mean this solely from a personal standpoint (as I have never spoken in tongues), but also from a biblical standpoint. Every time I do more research into this issue, I end up with even less certainty about it. Growing up, I was surrounded by people who spoke in tongues. Often, during worship services or youth gatherings, I would hear them exercise their gift. However, most of the people I knew only did so in private. Once or twice I remember hearing it during a sermon. Every time I got the chance I would ask them what they believed tongues to be. I received lots of varied answers. Sometimes, it was prophetic utterances of God meant to guide the church (so long as it can be interpreted correctly). Other times, it was simply praise to God spoken in a language that was not understood by other hearers. Many would say that it was the language of angels. But most of my acquaintances who spoke in tongues said it was an unintelligible, private prayer language (with these, of course, I never heard them exercise their gift).

The gift of tongues first appears in the pages of Scripture in Acts 2 (Mark 16:17 does not qualify due to the probability that it is a late, spurious addition). Here are the four definite places where the gift of tongues is mentioned: Acts 2:1-13; Acts 10:44-48; Acts 19:1-7; and 1 Corinthians 12-14.

I find that this must be placed in two categories: ontology and teleology (just to use some big words and sound like I know what I am talking about!). Ontology deals with the nature of tongues, asking What is the gift of tongues? Teleology deals with the purpose of tongues, asking Why did God give it? or What is its occasion?

Here are a few options concerning the “what” or ontology of tongues:

1. Human Language

2. Unintelligible or Ecstatic Utterance

3. Angelic Language

Here are a few options concerning the “why” or teleology of tongues:

1. Evangelism

2. Evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit

3. Private prayer language

4. Prophetic utterance

Now, of course, a chart!


I am going to use this chart to work through the options.

1. Human Language for Evangelism

This is the most accepted view among hard and soft cessationists (those who believe the gift has ceased due to an exhaustion of purpose). According to this view, every time the gift of tongues was exercised, it was a known human language being spoken for the purpose of evangelizing. This notion seems to be supported by the first occurrence of the gift in Acts 2:6-7: “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?'” The case is strengthened when Paul tells the Corinthians (who seem to be using their gift of tongues, uninterpreted, during church service) that tongues is a “sign” for unbelievers and then links it to the evangelization, in known “tongues,” of “foreigners”: “In the Law it is written, ‘By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’ Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers.” (1Co 14:21-22)

Due to the purpose (teleology) of the gift, many soft cessationists would say that this gift can (and probably is) still exercised on a limited basis on the mission field.

It is obvious that those in Acts 2 who heard the Apostles speaking in tongues did not need an interpreter. This suggests that when a native speaker of the language is present, they are their own interpreter — they receive the ultimate end or purpose of the gift as they hear God being praised in their own language.


While this view does hold some appeal and biblical support, I think it has some significant problems.

1. While it is definite that the Acts 2 occurrence has an ontology of speaking in known languages, it does not seem to have an evangelistic purpose. After all, in Peter’s explanation of the phenomenon starting in Acts 2:14, he seems to return to his own native tongue (probably Aramaic or Hebrew) in order to evangelize. Therefore, he was no longer speaking in tongues when he shared with the Jews from every nation about Christ. I suppose we could say that the gift of tongues served an evangelistic purpose in gathering the people together, bringing “awe” and “bewilderment.” This would be a sort of “pre-evangelism” purpose. But wouldn’t that just make the gift of tongues a sub-gift of miracles? I suppose this could be.

2. The two other occurrences of the gift in the book of Acts do not include any evangelistic purpose (Acts 10:44-48; Acts 19:1-7). There were not even any unbelievers around. As to its ontology in these two cases, we just don’t know. Nothing is mentioned about speaking in any known tongue.

3. Paul seems to give a definite purpose (teleology) for the gift in 1 Cor. 14:2 and 1 Cor. 14:4 when he says that the one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself as he speaks not to men but to God.

2. Angelic Language

I am not going to match here as I think it is sufficient to deal with the “angelic language” option by itself.

Some people believe that the ontology of tongues is to be able to speak in the language of angels. They get this from 1 Cor. 13:1 where Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but do not love, I am nothing but a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.” It may seem reasonable to suppose this, since it is included in the same section where Paul is talking about the issue of spiritual gifts.


I suppose I don’t have much of a problem with this, other than the fact that Paul was probably being quite rhetorical here. In other words, his purpose was not to define the ontology of the gift of tongues, but to show how much greater love is than even something as magnificent as speaking in the language of angels. The Corinthians were elevating their gift of tongues above the virtue of love. I think Paul was saying that not only is the ability to speak in your gift of tongues not greater than love, but even the ability to speak in the tongue of angels is not greater than love. Therefore, this probably has nothing to do with the gift of tongues at all, except in an indirect way.

2. Evidence of the dwelling of the Holy Spirit


Again, I think it is important to deal with this teleological option by itself.

Classical Pentecostals have traditionally believed that speaking in tongues is the sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if you speak in tongues, then the Holy Spirit dwells in you. If you have not, then you do not have the Holy Spirit. This option, at first, seems reasonable, as this is what happened on the day of Pentecost. Christ told the Apostles to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). In Acts 2, this baptism came and they were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues” (Acts 2:4). As well, in Acts 10, when the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit, the primary evidence of it was them speaking in tongues (Acts 10:44-46). Finally, in Acts 19:1-6, the Ephesians whom Paul laid his hands on evidenced the presence of the Holy Spirit by speaking in tongues.


While it is true that in the three instances listed above, an evidence that the Holy Spirit had indwelt believers was their ability to speak in tongues, there are five major problems I see with this belief:

1) These are the only three places where tongues is mentioned in connection with people becoming believers. All the others do not mention tongues being present (Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4; Acts 7:12, 17, 39; Acts 8:18; Acts 13:12; Acts 16:30-34, et al). Therefore, this does not seem to be normative.

2) Personal and historical experience militates against this. Let’s face it, I have a dog in this fight. If tongues is the evidence that the Holy Spirit is present within a believer, I am in trouble, as I have never spoke in tongues. As well, this gift is hard to find in history. Virtually no saint of the past has experienced it.

3) If speaking in tongues was the sole way a person could know that the Holy Spirit was in them (i.e., that they are saved), then it goes without saying that it would be mentioned more explicitly elsewhere. John does not even mention this in 1 John, where one of his primary purposes is to show readers how they may know that they are children of God (1 John 5:13). If speaking in tongues is the evidence, then that is all he would have to say, right?

4) It may surprise people to know that other religions often have an expression of “worship” that is best described as tongues: Paganism, many shamans, Voodoo, and some forms of Hindu are just a few. Even Joseph Smith believed in the gift. In other words, it does not seem to be a uniquely Christian claim. Since tongues is a supernatural expression of God through us, it would seem that all expressions of the gift outside of Christianity are either from a different supernatural source, or are simply self-produced. Either way, they are illegitimate expressions. The point is that while the gift might have uniquely evidenced the presence of the Holy Spirit in the early church due to its novelty, now that it has been adopted by so many other faiths, it fails to qualify to fulfill this purpose today.

5) Most importantly, Paul clearly says that not all (Christians) speak in tongues (1 Cor. 12:30).

3. Unintelligible Utterances which are Prophetic


Many believe that the gift of tongues is (ontologically) unintelligible speech which (teleologically) is prophetic. In this case, tongues would be a subset of the gift of prophecy. The primary defense here, to me, would be the necessity of the gift of interpretation. Paul says that spiritual gifts are for the building up of the body. Therefore, according to this view, tongues is worth very little without communal understanding.

Listen to this:

1 Cor. 14:12-17
So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. 13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up.

Therefore, if you speak in a tongue, you need to have an interpreter. Otherwise, it is unfruitful. Paul’s rhetoric adds to the idea that tongues are prophetic in purpose:

1 Cor. 14:6
Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?

In other words, the only way tongues has communal benefit is if it brings revelation, knowledge, or teaching. Therefore, there must be an interpreter. If tongues was anything other than revelation, knowledge, or teaching (i.e., simple praise), then Paul’s admonishment here makes little sense.

Finally, in Acts 2:17, Peter, in defense of the occurrence of the gift of tongues to the people, says that what they were seeing (all the Apostles speaking in tongues) fulfilled Joel’s prophecy. However, the passage quoted in Joel does not speak about tongues, but rather prophecy. Therefore, Peter seemed to be telling them that what they were seeing was the liberal distribution of the gift of prophecy taking the form of tongues:

Act 2:16-18
“But this is what was spoken about through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it will be,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”


While I can see where those who believe this are coming from with regard to 1 Corinthians 12-14 and in the quotation of Joel, I see some more explicit statements conflicting with this. In the three occurrences in Acts, there is never an interpreter mentioned (unless you see the natives as their own interpreters in Acts 2). As well, it does not seem to qualify as “prophecy” in each of the Acts passages, but praise. In Acts 2:11, it is said that the Apostles were speaking of the “mighty works of God.” In Acts 10:39, Cornelius and his household were speaking in tongues and “praising God.” In Acts 19:6, it says that “they began to speak in tongues and prophesy.” The implication of this verse is that speaking in tongues is distinct from prophecy.

In addition to this, if tongues is nothing more than the gift of prophecy, what is up with Paul’s distinction between the gift of tongues and prophecy in 1 Corinthians 12:28-29? And why do we suddenly need a tag team to hear God speak?

Finally, in 1 Cor. 14:16-17, Paul specifically links tongues with praise.

(Of course, it could be that praise and prophecy are not mutually exclusive, which would modify my criticism here quite a bit.)

4. Unintelligible Utterance which is a Private Prayer Language (i.e., self-edification)

Finally, there are those that believe that tongues is (ontologically) unintelligible utterance which is primarily (teleologically) purposed for personal edification through private prayer. The support for this view comes from Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 14. There are three specific things he says that make the case for this view strong:

1 Cor. 14:2
“For the one speaking in a tongue does not speak to people but to God, for no one understands; he is speaking mysteries by the Spirit.”

1 Cor. 14:4
“The one who speaks in a tongue builds himself up, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.”

1 Cor 14:28
“But if there is no interpreter, he should be silent in the church. Let him speak to himself and to God.”

In each one of these, we see that tongues seems to be primarily for the purpose of self-edification; it is between the speaker and God. Of course, there can be times when tongues are spoken in church, but this is not ideal (unless there is an interpreter).


While on the surface, these passages of Scripture seem compelling, I do have four problems with this view as well.

1. This does not seem to be the way the gift was used in the book of Acts. Again, Acts 1 clearly records the use of other known languages. In all three occurrences in Acts, this is not a private event and it is not interpreted. However, it is praise (prayer) to God and I suppose it would be presumptuous to say that there was not personal edification happening.

2. More importantly, Paul says that the charismata are given by the Holy Spirit “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). That is what the “body” illustration is about, is it not? We all need each other. The eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you. Neither can the foot say to the nose, you are no help. I don’t see how a gift given primarily (if not exclusively) for private prayer can be said to be for the “common good,” contributing to the whole. The passages listed above may not be meant to define what the gift of tongues is supposed to be, but to define how it could be misused for self-edification. “Let him speak to himself and to God” could be a bad thing, since Paul has just said that his mind is “unfruitful” when he speaks in a tongue without an interpreter (1 Cor. 14:14). The solution for this “unfruitful” prayer is to “pray with the spirit and the mind” (i.e., not in a tongue).

1 Cor. 14:15
“What should I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind. I will sing praises with my spirit, but I will also sing praises with my mind.”

Translation: I will not pray in tongues. In other words, Paul could be saying that if there is not an interpreter, there is no point to tongues. But if you must speak in a tongue without one (and be unfruitful), don’t do it in the church (1 Cor. 14:28).

Some may say that private edification will ultimately produce communal edification. I have a hard time seeing this, as one could say that about anything. For example, I may have the gift of giving, but I practice this alone. I just give to myself. After all, if I am happy, then this benefits everyone, as I will be more kind to them. I don’t think we can go in this direction as it would seem to nullify everything that Paul is arguing.

I need to focus a bit more on the gift of interpretation in relation to this private prayer language idea. If the gift of tongues is meant to be primarily a private prayer language that is between the speaker and God, then why do we need to “gift of interpretation” (1 Cor. 12:10; 14:26)? Is this a “just in case” gift? Just in case someone exercises their private prayer language in a public setting (a general no-no), God has provided those with the gift of interpretation. Not only would this be a superfluous gift, but I am afraid that whoever possess this gift in the body of Christ will find their body part dead due to a lack of oxygen (so long as tongues is exercised properly). However, if the gift was meant to be more than a private prayer language, such as speaking in another known language or, better, prophecy, then the gift of interpretation makes more sense.

3. How could it be that an unintelligible private prayer language can be said to be a “sign for unbelievers”? (1 Cor. 14:22). 1 Corinthians 14:23-24 seems to say just the opposite, as unbelievers will think you are “mad” for speaking in tongues. I don’t really know where to go there.

4. How does one legitimize the gift if it is an unintelligible private prayer language? Epistemic verification is very important to me. It answers the “how do you know?” question. When I hear people speak in tongues, I don’t automatically believe that it is legitimate. In fact, I don’t know if I have ever heard a legitimate expression of the gift. Why? Because if the gift of tongues is not a known language or prophecy, every time it is expressed it is not falsifiable. I would not even know how to evaluate its legitimacy if it came out of my mouth! Did I get tongue-tied? Am I having a stroke? Am I speaking out of my head? Is it a cave to emotional pressure?

Granted, when push comes to shove, if it is merely a private prayer language, I suppose it is not my job to know whether it is a legitimate expression. It is between the person and God. However, from a pastoral standpoint, it would be nice to have an answer to someone who asks how they are supposed to know whether they are speaking in tongues or not (and this is often asked; the “you just know” answer does not help much).


The gift of tongues is quite possibly the most bizarre of all the gifts of the Spirit. And when I say “bizarre,” I mean the word in its technically precise way: “odd, out of the ordinary, sensational.” I don’t really know what to do with it. I want to lean in the direction that tongues is the ability to speak in a known language, which is unknown to the speaker, only because that seems to make the most sense out of it, gives it a communal purpose, and is falsifiable. However, I am not sure I can go there due to the difficulties I have already discussed. I find that all the options have benefits and drawbacks. At this point, it is a matter of choosing the option that has the least difficulties. If you ask me where I stand today, I would say that the unintelligible, spoken, private prayer language (that can occasionally be understood as other languages) option in spite of all its problems, seems best.

I know that what I have said here does not speak directly to the issue of whether the gift of tongues continued or ceased, but it does help. If tongues is merely a private prayer language with no prophetic element to it at all, I am going to have little reason to argue that it ceased. As bizarre as it still may be, that is no reason to reject it. If such were the case, to me it would become more like an inarticulate expression of spiritual emotion, not unlike laughter or crying. Maybe it is something you cannot help (although, if that is the case, it would seem that everyone should get the gift).

In sum, I sympathize more and more with John Chrysostom, the fourth-century commentator who, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 12, essentially says “I don’t know what any of this means. It’s too obscure” (Chrystostom, Homilies on First Corinthians, xxix, 1).

54 Responses to “What is the Gift of Tongues?”

  1. I like the way you made your charts and explained each option. It has been so long since I did that.
    You listed the reasons you believe tongues are a private prayer language. Many of my friends pray in tongues. Paul does mention praying in tongues, but I think in the whole context, prophecy is greater as it edifies the body, and tongues edifies oneself.
    Spiritual gifts are always given for edification of the body. I personally have no problem with someone who wants to go into their prayer closet and pray in tongues. That is their prerogative.
    But when Paul clearly states the purpose of tongues in 1 Cor 14:20,21, I must reject the idea of praying in tongues. I often hear it in churches, and it is totally out of line with the guidelines Paul gives.
    As I said before, if someone wants to pray in tongues, I am not going to stop them. But I do not believe that was ever the purpose of tongues.

  2. I have spoken in tongues since i was age 7, i do it very rarely now in fact it has probably been close to a year since i have. Growing up i too was surrounded with tongues speech, it was a given in the church i grew up in that if you are going to pray you better pray in tongues. As i grew older though i found that it was very difficult for me to pray in just plain ole english, and this bothered me, i felt like i had nothing to say but i could prattle on in tongues all day long. So i began intentionally praying in justvregular intelligble english. Sometimes i would even in my best effort not begin speaking in tongues. I have said all of this to make a point. Sometime i think people like to speak in tongues or emphasize tongues because it is easier to jibber jabber than to take time to say something with aritculatiin and intent in your words. Thats why i started praying in english again cuz i felt like if iwanted to prayvfor someone how can that person take comfort in my prayer or say amen when all i do is jibber jabber.

  3. I am a credentialed Assemblies of God minister. For the record, we believe tongues are the initial evidence of the BAPTISM of the Holy Spirit, NOT of the INDWELLING of the Holy Spirit. We do not consider speaking in tongues in any way, shape, or form connected to or evidence of salvation. There are denominations that do (i.e. the United Pentecostals, who also deny the Trinity), but classical Pentecostalism has never taught that tongues was evidence of salvation or of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As Romans 8 says, if any one does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. ALL Christians are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and tongues has nothing whatsoever to do with this.

  4. I think tongues is, by design, “bizarre”. Humility guards every passage of grace. Unknown Tongues, as a devotional gift (as opposed to “divers kinds of tongues”) are entirely volitional (as opposed to those gifts which operate “as He wills”) and provide for our individual edification.

    It is humbling to come to the end of our intellects ability to perceive the unknown. It is much more humbling to realize that we enjoy access to these mysteries and, indeed, more intimate communion with Christ through such an unintelligent (anti-intelligent?) behavior.

    An interesting book was written nearly 50 years ago. The book sold millions of copies. Titled “They speak with other tongues” it provided a sort of theological explanation of the phenomenon within a narrative.

    It tracks the odyssey of authors and journalists John and Elizabeth Sherrill as they explored the subject. Two characters featured prominently in the book are Harald Bredesen and David du Plessis.

    Harald, an ordained Lutheran Minister and David would become pioneers in the Charismatic Movement.

    Harald would become a dear friend and mentor to me in later years and David’s brother, Justus, who labored alongside him would as well.

    In fact, in only a few weeks I will be traveling to Massachusetts to conduct an interview with the Sherrills. I hope to reduce the many hours of interview into a 90 minute long documentary which explores the phenomenon.

    While the phrase “charismatic movement” has become burdened by strange and, frankly, unscriptural practices it was not always so. I hope to recover its essence in this documentary.

    Nevertheless, you owe it to yourself to read the book and follow the couples exploration of the subject and phenomenon (link here … ). It makes for a very intriguing read.

  5. CMP,

    Very interesting article.

    You come close, but you don’t say it, and you did not add it to the chart: tounges are also a sign of the indwelling of a demon.

    I think it is interesting that you did not add it to the chart. Is that because you did not want to offend? Or truly did not think of it?

    If the latter, isn’t it amazing how demons and the evil one do not seem to be on the mind of most of today’s Christians, even though the Scriptural evidence of their activity is pretty clear?

    1 John 4:1 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

  6. St. Paul reminds us that the important aspect of God’s gifts to us, are their use.

    No doubt some have the gift of tongues.

    But of what use is it?

  7. Michael,

    I’ve enjoyed your thoughtful analysis of this subject.

    For what it’s worth, in your chart I think you left off the teleology of tongues that the scripture actually describes, that is, doxology.

    Acts 2:11 -“we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

    1 Corinthians 14:15 – “I will sing praise with my spirit”

    1 Corinthians 14:16-17 – “Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. ”

    I don’t know that this influences your conclusion regarding cessationism, but in my reading I think it’s seldom mentioned as the primary purpose for tongues in the first century and a possible reason for its continuance today.

  8. I spent a lot of time in a Pentecostal church, and while I do see how it can be useful in a church service, I also see how it is (often?) abused, or in the very least “unchecked” and accepted as “from God.” But at the same time, I ame EXTREMELY hesitant to say an entire denomination of Christianity is that wrong – how that member of the body of Christ, while following Christ as wholeheartedly as any other denomination, could be SO wrong if there’s nothing to it.

    I come down on it in a similar way to many things that are debatable … “It’s probably LESS important than pentecostals (who sort of put toungues on a pedestal) think it is, and MORE important than non-tounges-ers think it is.” There’s SOMETHING to it today, and I don’t think it ceased. It think it does have a great spiritual value, I just don’t think it’s very manageable in a corpo rate sense, and that makes people nervous.

    Bottom line is, the bible DOES support tongues, whatever it is. To say tongues ceased, although possibly true, I don’t think is biblically supported. Where the bible says tongues may cease, I think it’s saying the gift comes and goes – you don’t ALWAYS pray in tongue, sometimes you stop. But I could be wrong.

    I like CMPs last line … “I don’t know what any of this means.” But that obscurity is evidence neither that it does nor doesn’t exist. Tongues, in the very least, DID exist, and in the very most DOES exist. ANd either way, it was A GIFT FROM GOD. Whatever our philosophical or logical assessment of it.

  9. My experience with tongues is personal. I don’t do it all the time. I actually don’t do it that often. For me, I pray in tongues when there’s something particularly critical on my mind. For me, praying in tongues is like prayer with a little extra something on it.

    When I pray in English, I tend to ask for what I want. But when I pray in tongues, I can take an important request and TRULY Put it in God’s hands. When I pray in tongues, I’m praying about something specific, I just don’t necessarily know WHAT to pray. I heard a speaker explain it like this (this was helpful to me). It’s like praying for good food. When you pray in English, you ask for the foods you like. When you pray in tongues, you ask for spinach. It’s what you need and you submit your desires to God, and you submit yourself to his will in that situation. You change the focus from what YOU want in a situation, to what GOD WANTS FOR YOU in a situation.

    I also found, like @tory said above, that if I pray in tongues too habitually, I stop thinking and get lazy. Praying in English keeps me and my mind engaged. Praying in tongues allows me to submit my will to God’s.

  10. First time I’ve responded to one of your blogs – most of the time I agree, but others I do not. Today is one of them. I don’t understand why we disqualify Mark 16 just because it could have been added later – who cares? It’s in the bible and it’s scripture; therefore it is infalable and is the all breathing Word of God. Correct? Aso, why no reference to Romans 8?

    Second, it’s hard for me to hear a study on tongues by someone who has never spoken in tongues. To me it’s like someone who have never tasted alcohol telling me drinking alcohol is a sin and if I have one drop I am going to be drunk.

    Also, do we reduce the significance of being baptized by the Holy Spirit? Is tongues misused? Of course it is because we are humans. Why can’t there be two types of tongues? One private and one public?

    The translation of 1 Cor. 14:15 seems a little biased :). Why can’t we just accept it as fact? Not everything of the Spirit are we going to understand. I fully believe that the spirit if God moves today with healing and so on. I don’t understand why some people get healed and others don’t, but I will always believe in the spiritual gift of healing?

    I am sorry if any of this comes across offensive, that is not my goal or desire.

  11. Let’s clear up any bad logic in this – if someone is saved they might speak in tongues, but not necessarily. Thus, it is not “proof”, in the logical sense of “If and only if”. To say, I am saved if and only if I speak in tongues is clearly wrong, and unscriptural. Whew!
    Scriptures tell us that the Spirit groans within us in unintelligible groanings, etc., so that tongues might also be considered spiritual “growing pains” as the Spirit moves. By my experience it is intimate and personal and as Jesus says, better to retreat to privacy when you pray than be a show-off.
    Lastly, to say that there is no “need” for tongues, or healing, etc., because of evangelical efforts is incorrect in my opinion. The Gifts are more than mere utilitarian demonstrations of God’s power to the world.

  12. Indeed “Pauo” (Gk.) “cease” simply means to stop, to make an end, and it is used mostly in the Middle Voice in the Greek NT. Thus it comes to an end, but willingly. And this appears to be the case at the end of the 1st century Church. Though of course this had a bit of a time lag, but when the Apostles were finally gone, history seems to indicate this. And btw, we should see Tertullian’s use of the New Prophecy as more of an apologetic, i.e. to argue, here he was simply more of a polemicist! And we still need this kind of African (Cyprian and Augustine), Latin Christian thinking Christianity!

  13. I didn’t quite follow, Fr. Are you saying you think tongues are, or are not, active today?

    And if not, then how do people who don’t believe tongues is an active give today explain what I am doing when I pray in tongues?

    I have a close relationship with the lord. If the tongues I speak aren’t “real,” then why doesn’t Jesus tell me that when I’m talking to him?

    I don’t “need” tongues, I just use it sometimes when I’m praying fervently. If it wasn’t real, wouldn’t I have a check in my spirit (my sheep know my voice)?

  14. I posted earlier, yet the post continues to await moderation. Is that typical?

  15. @Mike: I generally don’t believe myself in the whole of charismatic “gifts”, and the glossolalia or fullest so-called doctrine of tongues. But that, does not include every facet of tongues etc., as I have mentioned before I do see the doctrine or teaching of the gift glossa or tongues for personal prayer, (1 Cor. 14: 2 ; 3 ; 9-11 ; 14-15 ; 19). But it would appear to my mind anyway, that the aspect of tongues, as a “sign” for unbelievers has itself “ceased”, (1 Cor. 13: 8-11, etc.) But most certainly the Word of God has now the place of ascendancy and authority, in the life of the Church. And yes, after the life & ministry of the Apostles, I believe the so-called sign-gifts ceased. (Note, 2 Cor. 12: 12)

  16. Jonathan, you said;

    “Second, it’s hard for me to hear a study on tongues by someone who has never spoken in tongues. To me it’s like someone who have never tasted alcohol telling me drinking alcohol is a sin and if I have one drop I am going to be drunk.”

    Well perhaps I might add some credibility to the discussion. I spent many years in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles where it was common for tongues and interpretations to occur. I also practiced what is identified as speaking in tongues as a private prayer language. I won’t reiterate the support, as much as been identified here, especially as it relates to the private prayer language.

    It was not until I began seeing the purpose of the gifts related to the testimony of Christ that I began to re-visit why these practices are engaged in. It was never about the gift but the giver. I’ve actually come to believe that asking if the gifts have ceased is not the right question. Rather, it is ‘are the gifts needed’. For that reason, I’ve landed as a soft cessationist believing that the gift can be exercised where needed, meaning the absence of bibles and for the purpose of divine communication with those who have not heard.

    In terms of the public speaking in tongues in the church, to be honest most of what I heard was so generic that a powerfully preached word from scripture would have sufficed. Actually, it would have been better. I also witnessed on many occasions, pastors or other visible leaders speak in their private language publicly. Well, that of course flies in the face of 1 Corinthians 14:22.

    Regarding the private prayer language, I do not believe that Paul is supporting that. Having engaged in the practice for many years myself, then coming to the conclusion that this does not reference a prayer language, I’ve stopped now for many years. So I have solidly been on both sides of the fence. I can emphatically say that the private language did nothing to enhance my Christian walk or prayer. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is mainly psychological, which is why I don’t quibble if someone is edified by it in their private prayer time. But the practice of publicly displaying the private language should not be present in our assemblies.

  17. Amen Lisa, I generally don’t talk about my own experience here (having lived thru both part of the Catholic and Anglican charismatic movement – British 70’s and 80’s), which has been as only one who can use this gift in my prayer closet. But, I too don’t see it as affecting me spiritually really. I mean as in the area of grace. And I would agree that it is somewhat psychological, and perhaps near some aspect of Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious. Though Jung himself is not a systematic philosophical thinker, and should not be trusted, certainly. But some of his ideas that we all go thru some process of psychological ‘individuation’ whereby a person goes thru a developmental journey, which certainly moves toward our final destiny, and of course this is ‘In Christ’ for the Christian, does have some human validity.

  18. Note, perhaps one the hardest “individual” process’s is realizing our most total sinfulness of self and selfishness (under the Law of God)! (Roman 7: 13-25). The so-called Augustinian Conversion, which is most certainly Pauline, is a great theological and yet very human spiritual reality! It was one of my most enlightening and so-called existential experences of faith, over 40 years ago now by God’s grace & glory!

  19. Hmm. Well, I can’t ignore my own experience. I agree with Lisa that public speaking in tongues is probably not more effective than a well-preached message on the same subject, I know my own experiences with Jesus. For example … I am in a serious conflict with my brother (physical brother, not Christian brother … although he is a Christian). I don’t know what to pray. I don’t know what to do. And when I pray about it, asking the Lord for wisdom or guidance, *sometimes* he tells me to pray in tongues. I stand by that. Has praying in tongues fixed my relationship with my brother? No. Not yet, at least. But it does keep me aligned with God. And when I’m talking to Him (Jesus), and I think he’s telling me to pray in tongues, I don’t know what to tell you … I’m going to do what I think Jesus is telling me to do.

    Even if I’m wrong, my heart is right. My heart is to obey Christ. Is it psychological? Maybe – there’s no way to prove it’s not. But in my case, I can honestly say that my intent is to obey Christ. I believe I have the gift of tongues as a private prayer language. So for me, to not do what I believe Jesus is telling me to do in prayer would be to disobey him. Especially on a debatable topic. I MIGHT BE RIGHT!!! But even if I’m wrong and it’s only psychological, in my spirit I am still walking in obedience to my savior and that’s all I care about.

  20. @Mike were all psychological persons, and this does not make the human psychological wrong at all, but only God In Christ dare touch that place, certainly not us! But yes, always the obedience of grace! :)

  21. @ Ann (Comment 3)
    According to you, classical Pentecostalism has never taught that tongues were the evidence of salvation or of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but are the initial evidence of the BAPTISM of the Holy Spirit.

    If one pursues the logic presented in your comments, he/she has to concede that all the people who never displayed ‘Tongues’ as the initial evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit have never received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Please correct me if I am wrong. But the Bible says that “For in one Spirit WE WERE ALL BAPTIZED into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, WE WERE ALL MADE TO DRINK of the one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13 NET). I’ve got two questions.

    1. Paul does not mention that Tongues were/are the evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. IS there any Scriptural evidence to substantiate your view/statement?

    2. Does the absence of veritable proofs for the presence of tongues throughout the church history imply that all those great men of God including but not limited to the Reformers in history never received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

    @CMP- The best analysis of tongues I’ve ever come across.

  22. Good “hammer” questions and points there “Mathew John”! ;)

  23. CMP,

    You don’t seem to be answering any of the questions raised here in the comments, but I really want to know your opinion on this:

    Is it possible that the gift of tongues is multifaceted so that depending on the need or situation it will have a different ontological and teleological manifestation? In other words, maybe it is sometimes for prophecy and sometimes for private prayer. Maybe it is sometimes in human languages and sometimes in unintelligible utterance. What do you think?

  24. There appear to be two entirely different operations addressed by Paul. Tongues for personal edification, the other for the specific benefit of another.

    One is volitional while the other occurs “as the Spirit wills”. Paul seems to suggest that of all the charisms, the vocal gifts are more subject to abuse. That makes sense given their rather subjective nature.

    Consequently Paul encourages a highly objective approach to their use … publicly. Yet he encourages all to speak with tongues privately.

    He also hints at their remarkably potent nature. Tongues (“unintelligible””, not “different kinds” ) promotes spiritual edification as we “utter mysteries”. This is a remarkable statement.

    If tongues of this sort is volitional then it must necessarily exist beyond and in addition to the list of charisms listed in chapter 12. Furthermore, given Paul’s admonition that he “would have you all speak with tongues” suggests this was a distinct and essential element in the normative Christian experience.

    Nor is there any hint of its tentative nature. Indeed, the manner in which it is presented suggests it is an essential element of the Christian’s devotional life.

  25. I’ve heard hundreds of people speak in tongues during my childhood years going to church my grandmother being just one of them, she loved Jesus more than life itself and I think it’s a gift a wonderful gift even as a child it didn’t scare me I knew it was somthing special at a young age, keep on praying people it’s all we got. Love you all

  26. 1 Cor 14:22 “Tongues are a sign… for unbelievers”.

    I think the use of the term “unbelievers” here must include an element of open-heartedness or willingness to learn. There is surely no benefit to the hardened unbeliever. In Acts 2 some were impressed by hearing words “in their own language” but others hearing the same speakers thought they were drunk! (This could also mean the gift was as much in the hearer’s ear as on the speaker’s tongue)

    Used specifically in this way the term “unbeliever” could also be applied to committed Christians (like the apostle Peter) who had something new to learn, and in that case it would be wrong to say their were no “unbelievers” present at the home of Cornelius, for Peter was effectively an “unbeliever” as far as gentile inclusion was concerned. The witness of tongues was for his benefit and so the Acts 10 experience was a valid illustration of Paul’s assertion in 1 Cor 14:22.

    There may perhaps have been a similar case of doubt (“unbelief”) from some believers, possibly from Paul himself, or he may have been wanting to reassure his companions (of the validity of the discipleship claimed in Acts 19:1) which would have justified the witness of the gift of tongues in the same way (i.e. as a sign for “unbelievers”)

  27. Perhaps we can say that both these aspects of “tongues” were for the infant church? Just a point, since I have not found myself the personal gift of tongues in the prayer closet to be such a profound sense of personal Christian growth. In fact, it seems that more of a silent contemplative prayer life is a greater devotional! I have only touched the latter myself.

    I love this piece and quote of John Wesley: The Prayer Room at John Wesley’s House, London. He used to pray here night and morning: ‘I sit down alone; my God is here.’

  28. This is an odd discussion – some have obviously have the gift of tongues, or at least think they do. And the ones that don’t have it seem to feel the need to convince them that they’re wrong.

    Why? Why not just say, “Hmm. Maybe I don’t understand.”

    I coincidentally heard a very apropos quote today …

    “He that will believe only what he can fully comprehend must have a long head or a very short creed.”

    I find theological discussions very helpful UNTIL sides are taken and defended.

    As a tongues-speaker, I can say with no reservations that it COULD BE purely psychological, but I don’t think it is. I think there’s something to it.

    But with that said, I find it odd that tongues does only seem to manifest itself within denominations that believe it is real. So I could be wrong.

    But at the same time, I find it odd that tongues tends NOT to manifest itself within denominations that DON’T believe it is real. It is just as likely that the lack of tongues is purely psychological – you don’t experience it because, logically and psychologically, you can’t accept it.

    Interesting … yet we have this need to defend our positions.

  29. No, I cannot see that such a profoundly essential and influential gift would be unavailable or, more to the point, unnecessary for Christians today. Indeed, it would seem, given the trajectory of human history, to be far more invaluable today than it was for a nascent Church.

    More importantly though, there simply exists nowhere in scripture, any suggestion that these gifts ceased to be of value or importance for later generations.

    That you have experienced little personal value in the experience may simply suggest that you might wish to explore its purpose and meaning further. Perhaps your experience is hindered by perspectives not entirely informed by scripture.

  30. Indeed Larry your position is simply pro, which is fine for you, but is not yet so simple for many others! So suggest this further “perspectives” informed by Scripture! This sounds rather High-Strung at best!

  31. Are you suggesting that matters such as this are beyond certainty … that scripture is so ambiguous that certainty is impossible. Yes, there is a certainty bred of hubris … but also a certainty which the truth yields.

    We are exploring a portion of scripture which, if allowed to speak for itself, offers rather clear guidance. When, however, we impose upon it, in the fashion of doctrinaires, our philosophical bent … well, clarity soon gives way to a sort of invented murkiness.

    This text was written plainly in order to correct error and promote the presence of God in that (and our) assemblies and private lives. It strikes me as unwise to unnecessarily complicate what was communicated with such simplicity.

  32. @Larry: You must forgive me, I am a “theolog”, first. I mean biblical theology really presses me, in what I think and allow. And I think this is part of our best existential faith & experience ‘In Christ’, for like Paul, our mystery is always in Him!

  33. I stated earlier what I believe the Bible teaches on tongues. As I am reading the various responses, I notice that they are either based on what the Bible teaches or experience.
    In 1979 I got involved in a charismatic church where tongues were rampant. I was urged not to go back my previous Bible church or talk to anyone at Dallas Theological Seminary. They said Satan will use that to get me to doubt. If I told the pastor, “The Bible says…” his response was, “You can prove anything you want in the Bible.” The longer I was in that church, the more I felt like I was drifting away from the God as the Bible reveals. I made a decision to leave the church. I started reading every book I could, talked to my pastor and was firmly convinced that the tongues being spoken today are not Biblical tongues.
    One of the books, The Charismatics by John MacArthur was very helpful. Several months later, Moody Monthly Magazine printed excerpts from The Charismatics for 3 months. You should have seen all the negative responses, where MacArthur was called everything you can imagine. I remember talking to a friend later, and he pointed out, that none of the responses refuted MacArthur’s teachings with the Bible. Instead they just called him names.
    I won’t deny you’ve had an experience. But friends, when I study Acts, 1 Corinthians and the gifts of the Spirit, it is clear that tongues was given for a distinct purpose; a sign to unbelievers. My former pastor, Tom Nelson gave a message on tongues, concluding with 10 things you need to know about tongues, all from the Bible. While I will not deny the experience of anyone who prays in tongues, the purpose of tongues is not a prayer language. It is for this reason I have never prayed in tongues, and I never will.

  34. I simply think you are over thinking this whole concept, speaking in tongues, when a person for me stood up in the middle of service and spoke in tongues, the true believers in Christ felt a presence, every man, woman and child, I remember getting the chills every time, so instead of trying to dissect this gift accept it for what it is
    A GIFT for his children of the church, you just feel his presance and you know it’s no rambling of someone seeking attention or faking it. Just believe

  35. Ya know if you comprehend the bible to do this or to do that , that’s fine for you, but I never died before, have you? Well then what do we really know, science has theories, but no facts, all a person simply has is his or her beliefs period. You can use all the big words you want and give meaning to the bible the way you want to interpitate it’s meaning but who’s knows for sure, we will ONEDAY!!!!!

  36. Science sent a man to the Moon, and that is factual, and they used factual science! Btw, my father was a scientist, RIP, an Irish Brit., and he got to meet that great American Neil Armstrong, once! So let’s not play down good science and “facts”! Note, Math! And “beliefs” are not non-historical, even in Christianity! Just a note here, to be careful and even “historical”! :)

  37. @Michael Karpf, I don’t think that is a fair assessment. Saying people’s beliefs are based EITHER on scripture OR on experience is akin to saying YOUR interpretation is obviously based on scripture, so opposing views must not be.

    How foolish!

    Do you really mean to say that your brothers and sisters in Christ are IGNORING scripture because of their experience??? Why would any Christian do that?

    The more rational, reasonable, and frankly logical conclusion would be people’s views on tongues are based on scripture AND experience. Otherwise, you are relegating entire denominations to pigheadedness. “I know what the bible says, but I don’t care … I believe in tongues.”

    I doubt that is the case very much. Especially since MY exprience is that I do speak in tongues, and MY reading of scripture (not my ignoring of scripture) supports it.

  38. One other comment, @Michael Karpf, is that I noticed your decision to leave a tongues-speaking church was based on experience, not scripture. You then went about finding books and assembling scripture to support your newfound position.

    Just like we all do. I learned a new word here a few weeks ago … Eisegesis. According to Wikipedia ( Eisegesis is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that it introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, and/or biases into and onto the text. The act is often used to “prove” a pre-held point of concern to the reader and to provide him or her with confirmation bias in accordance with his or her pre-held agenda.

    It’s so easy to accuse others of it, but so difficult to see in ourselves. When in reality, we’re ALL eat up with it. it’s not good or bad, it’s just fallible.

  39. @Mike: Nice, “into” (Eise) rather than “to lead out”. Indeed Exegesis is always harder!

  40. @Mike O – Please reread Michael Karpf’s post. It says, “As I am reading the various responses, I notice that they are either based on what the Bible teaches or experience.” He DOESN’T say, “one side’s responses are based on experience and the other on the Bible.” Look again at the 39 responses: There are those who say there are no tongues today based on their experience and others who say there are tongues – again based on experience. Others say there are tongues today – and use the Bible to prove their point; others use the Bible to show they aren’t for today. (Obviously, some are combinations.)

    I took his point to mean that we are having discussing two issues here: my experience vs. your experience and my interpretation of the Bible vs. your interpretation of the Bible. I believe we must base our doctrine on the Word of God – experience can seem to support or go against our doctrine, but it should never produce our doctrine. If you believe that tongues are for today, fine. Just don’t dismiss others by simply saying the Bible plainly supports your position or that your experience is so wonderful it must be God. If we look at truly godly people today, and those throughout church history, many of them do (did) not speak in tongues. Don’t just say that it is because they don’t want to or they aren’t open to the leading of the Spirit. I think we need to believe people like CMP who say they really have wanted to experience this (and/or asked God for it) but have not experienced it.

    Really – we all know experience can be used to prove almost anything. For example, the Mormons teach that you can KNOW that the book of Mormon is inspired by the “burning in your bosom.”

  41. That’s your come back, they sent a MAN to the moon. Wow that’s great, did they also send one to heaven. Maybe lunch with The Lord? I think not Believe what you will, that’s your right, but science has nothing to do with the creation of man or the existatance of god. Sorry dont buy all the stories I hear or read. Not being negative but I don’t buy into science for my answers to life or death.

  42. No disrespect to your father, sorry

  43. @Mshep2 and @Michael Karpf, I stand corrected. And my intent was never to take my side. We’re *all* using scripture, and we *all* have our own experiences.

    So when all is said and done, and we are all finally with Jesus, who will have been wrong about tongues? Probably all of us. :)

  44. @Jim: You used the word “science” too generally! That was my point! Note here too human logic, which we still must somewhat use, and even press somewhat in our Biblical approach! Note the biblical Bereans in Acts 17:10-11) Indeed God’s wants the human heart & mind!

  45. I agree with your last comment, forgive my ignorance.

  46. MikeO and MShep2 thank you both for your input. All of us, including myself, have the tendency to try to get scripture to say what we want it to say. Coming out of Dallas Theological Seminary, and what I was taught there, naturally I am more inclined to agree with them, rather than a different interpretation.
    In contrast with “eisegesis” is “exegesis.” This is what most solid Bible teaching is derived from. Exegesis is from the Greek verb “exergeomai” which means “to lead out.” In Luke 24:35, the two men on the road to Emmaus, explained to Jesus what happened. In John 1:18, Jesus explained or revealed the Father.
    Exegesis is a process, a science and an art. By studying the passage in it’s original language, an exegete is able “to lead out” the meaning of the text. It is very slow and tedious but also very rewarding. I love doing it! It takes about 10 hours, and requires translation, comparing the Greek manuscripts, lexical, syntactical and grammatical analyses, all to help me understand what the author wrote, who he wrote it to, why he wrote it, and it’s message. Without this, a Bible teacher is on a shaky foundation. It is my contention, and this is a whole different subject, that much of the prosperity preaching we hear today is not based on sound exegesis.
    I understand not everyone has the privilege of attending seminary and studying Greek and Hebrew. God has placed gifted teachers in the body, and it is well worth our time to learn from them.
    Something else happened, after I left the charismatic church. I found great freedom in Christ. That is liberating. God’s truth does not enslave us, it liberates us.
    Thank you for your input. And speaking of exegesis, I have 3 messages to preach over the next few weeks, so it’s time for me to start exegeting.

  47. Rock on DTS! I have a signed copy, hardback of course (1977 Zondervan), of Dwight Pentecost’s book: Things To Come, A Study In Biblical Eschatology. Long story, but my older now Anglo-Irish cousin got this for me! He’s an English Baptist now. Btw he claims we have some kind of family connection to the Scots-English, Peter Taylor Forsyth? But I think it is just in his head! ;) Talk about an eclectic and eccentric! I guess it runs in the family! ;) Wow, come to think of it, so was PT Forsyth, as a theologian… an unsystematic systematician!

  48. Hey Michael,
    I have recently had an interesting thought on the 1 Cor. passage and by no means have I really investigated the theory to an end, but based on the fact that Paul in 1 Cor. is correcting the malpractice of tongues in the book, tongues here could simply the use which the Corinthian church had, not necessarily an authentic use. Paul though is not concerned with it being an authentic use or not, and Paul may not even know what all spiritual gifting may be! So Paul may even give the benefit of the doubt here (and even hints to that in chp. 13 as one of the outworkings of love), but does inform them as to the guidelines for the gifts (tongues especially) so that if it WAS a false use the guidelines would put an end to abuse of a false gift and if it was legit, it could be allowed to continue. After all, who is Paul (and I think Paul would agree) to say no to a legitimate outworking of the Holy Spirit.
    I have never really voiced this theory, so I am interested to see what comments you might have!

    • Maybe. In this case Paul would be saying “When you speak in tongues you speak to God, not to men” as an indictment to their non-communal use rather than defining what tongues actually is.

  49. Having worshipped in a church firsthand witnessing the use of tongues and prophetic utterances (forth telling, not foretelling) in a very practical and logical manner (“civil” if I may add, i.e., non emotional) and having the gift of tongues myself; I conclude that a private prayer language is all that I am left with these days. We worship in a Orthodox Calvinist church. Both my wife and I pray in tongues while praying together. What I mean by that is, we utter while the other prays with the mind. This works well even when I am listening to a sermon so my mind does not wander (I speak without sound so not to disturb others around me). I find there is just so much ignorance, unbelief and unwillingness to understand tongues among my Christian friends that I enjoy the gift in my home, car, during a walk, and in the presence of G-d alone! Have you ever wondered what most people are doing while the church collectively “prays silently?” Well, it is none my business!

  50. I think you did a good job with this, even though you have never spoke in tongues before. I do not think you were offensive or defensive in any way. I think you were very honest and sincere. I spoke in tongues for the first time when I was about 15. I was very depressed and I repented while laying in bed one night after a church service. I remember the moment I repented, a light shown from my ceiling, a peace I have never felt but always wanted saturated me, and I began to speak in tongues all at the same time. I do believe this subject is a hard one, especially if one has never been around it or witnessed it. I joined a UPC church, but this was after I had received this. I do not any longer agree with the teachings of UPC, but I do belong to a church that believes in the gift still. I do not believe it is a part of salvation, but just a gift. I know that throughout my life I have experienced some awesome encounters with God and other supernatural things while praying in the Spirit. I have had times when that is all I could do, I was so down or depressed. For the most part, every time I cried out to God in my spirit this way through his Spirit, I always have felt that peace come over me and leave me in peace, like the day I first did so. I am just appriciate the way you went about this, just giving your honest opinion, without putting it down or lifting it up. :) God bless all! LOVE is the key!!


  1. Recommended reading for December 7th, 2012. | Near Emmaus - December 7, 2012

    […] C. Michael Patton: What is the Gift of Tongues? […]

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