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 Vol. 6, No. 7 

July 2004


~ Page 2 ~

The Truth About
Speaking in Tongues

By Louis Rushmore


Image About 34 years ago when I was 16-years-old, I was a confused Catholic teenager, looking for the one, true church of the Bible, and not at all sure I would recognize it if I stumbled over it. Consequently, on one occasion I accepted an invitation to attend a Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International meeting. My brother, Larry, and I arrived in a banquet hall where we were served a good, hearty meal. The large gathering was punctuated with some Catholic nuns, wearing their black habits, and I suspect that people from many denominations were present that night. After dinner, we turned our attention to the elevated stage at the front of the hall where we listened to preaching and lively religious music.

When the altar call was made, dozens of people, including my brother and I, responded and were directed to kneel at the foot of the stage. That's when I found out that one could not graciously return to his seat until he had spoken in tongues! Right then I knew that my stone-sober, melancholy personality was not conducive to speaking in tongues and that I was in a heap of trouble. I wondered how in the world I was ever going to get back to my seat and eventually escape the madness into which I had gotten myself.

Most of the people who had responded with my brother and me had little difficulty speaking in tongues, and they got to return to their seats. Several of us, though, were unable to speak in tongues and our number was becoming fewer and more conspicuous. So, coaches worked themselves from person to person across the front of that stage and back again as long as it took, giving starters for the lingerers to say to get them started. I remember being amazed when my brother, one year younger than me and who has cerebral palsy, spoke in tongues and was permitted to return to his seat. (He had never spoken in tongues before and to my knowledge he has never spoken in tongues since.)

There I was, still stuck up front with just a few holdouts who had not been able to speak in tongues. Finally, I just repeated back to my handlers the nonsensical syllables they had fed me, and that passed for speaking in tongues, and I was permitted to return to my seat. Brethren, I knew that I had not spoken in tongues, and the promoters of that charismatic or Pentecostal event knew that I had not spoken in tongues. That whole scenario was a valuable lesson and life experience regarding what passes today for the sham or tomfoolery of speaking in tongues.

A word of caution is in order, brethren. Out of context, it certainly will not help my credibility if someone were to go about saying that Louis Rushmore has spoken or speaks in tongues. ;{)

In reality, "The Truth About Speaking in Tongues" is not difficult to ascertain. After all, the subject only presents itself in a small number of passages. For instance, the primary Greek word for "tongue" (glossa) appears just 50 times in the New Testament; however, many of those occurrences do not pertain to "speaking in tongues." "Only three New Testament books mention the gift of tongue-speaking or glossolalia. (Glossolalia is from the Greek, 'glossa' = tongue, and 'laleo,' to speak)" (Clarke, "Part One" 2). "All that one can find recorded in the New Testament on the subject of 'speaking in tongues' is found in five passages. These are Mark 16:17-18, Acts 2:1-13, Acts l0:47 through 11:18, Acts 19:1-7, and I Cor. 12:l through 14:40" (Bennett 19).

Tongue first refers to the organ of speech in one's mouth (James 3:5-10). Secondly, tongue is used figuratively to refer to speech. As in English, the New Testament uses the word "tongue" (glossa) when referring to a literal tongue, something shaped like or resembling a tongue and languages. Speaking in tongues in the New Testament pertained to languages, whereas contemporary speaking in tongues is merely ecstatic utterances.

The word glossa is used in various ways in the New Testament. In thirteen passages, it is used to refer to the tongue (the organ of speech). A few examples are Mark 7:33, 35; Luke 1:64; 16:24; 1 Corinthians 14:9; James 1:26; 3:5-6, 8; 1 Peter 3:10; 1 John 3:18 and Revelation 16:10. Glossa is used of "that which is shaped like a tongue" in Acts 2:3. It is used four times in a poetical or rhetorical sense (Acts 2:26; Rom. 3:13; 14:11; Phil. 2:11). In the majority of passages (thirty-two to be exact), it is used of human languages. Some examples are Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4, 11; 10:46; 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28, 30; 13:1, 8; 14:2, 4, 5, 6, 1, 14, 18, 19,22, 23, 26, 39; Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 1:7; 14:6; 17:5. (Stevens 21)

Curiously, proponents of tongue-speaking today purport to rely on the Bible for authority to speak in tongues, while ignoring biblical regulation of speaking in tongues.

In fact, it is ironic that advocates of modern day "tongue-speaking" would bring up I Corinthians 14, because, this chapter, correctly understood, literally demolishes the argument for the kind of tongue-speaking man claims today… Indeed, the so-called modern day tongue-speakers of today may claim to have the same power as believers in the first century, but they don't want to be governed by the same rules bound upon those first century believers in the practice of these gifts! …the conduct of women in the assembly where the tongue-speaking takes place. Paul instructed the women at Corinth to keep silence in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34). Therefore, even if women could speak in tongues today, it would be sinful for them to do so in the public assembly. Yet, the modern day "Holy Ghost" meetings freely encourage women to speak out. Paul also indicates that tongue-speaking was to be done by one person at a time (I Cor 14:27-31). This is not like the charismatic meetings of today when all are encouraged to "get the Spirit" at the same time. We need to remember that God is not the author of confusion and all things are to be done decently and in order (I Corinthians 14:33, 40). (Clarke, "Part Three" 1-2)

The balance of this presentation will biblically define and examine the phenomena of first century tongue-speaking, define contemporary tongue-speaking, and contrast the two. The history and modern introduction of what passes for contemporary speaking in tongues will be introduced so that its distinction from the biblical occasion of speaking in tongues can be more easily understood. Finally, the serious ramifications for modern tongue-speaking will be enumerated. Ascertaining the "Truth About Speaking in Tongues" is our goal, which will be relentlessly and definitively pursued in the following material.

Definition of Biblical Terms

According to the apostle Peter, the speaking in tongues of Acts 2 was a manifestation pertaining to the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28-3:2 (Acts 2:16-21). In addition, Jesus only ten days before speaking in tongues was inaugurated in Acts 2 specifically prophesied about them. "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues" (Mark 16:17). "…Mark 16:17 records the promise of glossolalia, but we must refer to the book of Acts to acquire a more accurate definition of first century glossolalia" (Clarke, "Part One" 2).

It is not until Acts 2 unfolds with the introduction of speaking in tongues that one finds a biblical definition for speaking in tongues. Acts 2 is decisive in its definition of first century tongue-speaking, which definition carries to the explanation of speaking in tongues elsewhere in the New Testament and which definition is the sole standard by which what passes today for speaking in tongues must be critically reviewed.

Almost everyone, irrespective of some people's preference for defining speaking in tongues as ecstatic utterances, recognizes, howbeit for some reluctantly, that speaking in tongues as found in Acts 2 pertains to real, first century languages. To circumvent the evidence respecting speaking in tongues found in Acts 2, proponents of ecstatic utterances resort to either of two ploys to offset the impact of the Acts 2 definition of speaking in tongues. They state that (1) speaking in tongues of Acts 2 is different from the speaking in tongues of 1 Corinthians 14, or (2) speaking in tongues of 1 Corinthians 14 is ecstatic utterances and must be applied retrospectively to Acts 2 to define speaking in tongues found there. Both procedures for defending modern day speaking in tongues are fallacious uses of Scripture and miserably fail respecting biblical hermeneutics.

The immediately following quotation demonstrates ploy number one, and we doubt that "[m]ost scholars" concur with it.

Most scholars assume that the phenomena described in Ac 2.4 and in 1 Cor 14.2 are significantly different in that in one instance people understood in their own regional language or dialect and in the other instance an interpreter was required. It is for that reason that many interpret glossa in 1 Cor 14.2 as ecstatic speech, which was also an element in Hellenistic religions and constituted a symbol of divine inspiration. (Louw and Nida)

The quotation below, ploy number two, displays a shocking disregard for divine inspiration as it manifested itself through divinely chosen human penman (2 Pet. 1:20-21).

Although it is generally agreed that Luke intended the phrase 'to speak in other tongues' to mean that the disciples spoke in foreign languages, this explanation has not been universally accepted. …In the opinion of most modern scholars the glossolalia of Acts 2:1-13 was similar to that described in 1 Cor. 12-14, and consisted of unintelligible ecstatic utterances. They advance various theories to explain why Luke wrote instead about foreign languages. Some think he may have misinterpreted his sources and inserted 'other' (Acts 2:4) on his own initiative; others suggest that he may have interpolated the reference to foreign languages as a more favourable explanation when glossolalia fell into disrepute. (New Bible Dictionary).

Doubt is attached to the reference to "most modern scholars" here as well, for among other reasons, the previous source with its viewpoint and the following source with its contradictory viewpoint could hardly both be represented by the "most scholars."

Several reference works to which one might ordinarily appeal for information about any number of religious topics interject an endorsement for ecstatic utterances. In addition to the sources already cited, these include the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia and The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Some sources, such as Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, attempt to appease both those who view speaking in tongues as languages and those who favor ecstatic utterances.

Through divine inspiration, the apostle Peter defined speaking in tongues in Acts 2. That God-given definition applies to each instance in the New Testament where speaking in tongues occurs. "In Luke's writings, the gift of tongues refers to a gift of language miraculously wrought by the operation of the Holy Spirit. There is no indication that Paul used the word glossa in a different sense than Luke" (Stevens 21).

It must be remembered that this is the first occurrence of glossolalia. A first occurrence of anything usually requires a detailed description of the even. That is precisely what Luke gives us in Acts 2. Therefore, all other passages that refer to glossolalia are bound by the definition and pattern of "Pentecostal glossolalia" unless otherwise indicated. (Clarke, "Part One" 2)

Lenski, a Lutheran commentator, concurs with following astute observations.

…Luke's description as given in the Acts is decisive for what Paul writes in Corinthians. This is reversed by some. They seek to determine what happened in Corinth and then either square Luke's account with what they think occurred at Corinth or posit two different gifts of tongues… Luke is the one who fully describes what the tongues are while Paul takes for granted that his readers know what they are and therefore offers no description. Luke writes for a reader (Theophilus) who may never have heard of this gift, at least may never have seen this gift in operation. Paul writes for readers who have often heard members of their own congregation speak in tongues. (qtd. in Clarke, "Part One" 2)

The inescapable conclusion from Acts 2 is that speaking in tongues referred to speaking in languages, through the assistance of miracles, that the apostles did not know and had not studied.

What this gift actually was has been a subject of much discussion. Some have argued that it was merely an outward sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit among the disciples, typifying his manifold gifts, and showing that salvation was to be extended to all nations. But the words of Luke (Acts 2:9) clearly show that the various peoples in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost did really hear themselves addressed in their own special language with which they were naturally acquainted (comp. Joel 2:28, 29). (Easton)

Acts 2

The Greek word dialektos means "a (mode of) discourse, i.e. 'dialect' (Strong's). The word dialektos appears six times in New Testament, five times translated "tongue" and one time translated "language"; the word always means language (Acts 1:19; 2:6, 8; 21:40; 22:2; 26:14).

The Greek glossa again follows in verse 11. "Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2:11). Clearly, glossa and dialektos are used interchangeably in Acts 2, meaning that within the context of speaking in tongues and in Acts 2 glossa refers to languages, not ecstatic utterances.

Luke uses the words "glossa" and "dialektos" interchangeably. The apostles were speaking in tongues, "glossa." The apostles were speaking in a language, "dialektos." The tongues -- or languages -- that they spoke were not some heavenly unknown language. The languages were known by the men who heard. What they heard was not a conglomeration of unintelligible syllables. What they heard was their own native tongue -- the language wherein they were born. (Jividen 37)

Numerous commentaries and other resources honestly record the obvious and intended sense of speaking in tongues in Acts 2, despite what popular, denominational preferences may be. For instance, Matthew Henry wrote:

They began to speak with other tongues, besides their native language, though they had never learned any other. …They did not speak here and there a word of another tongue, or stammer out some broken sentences, but spoke it as readily, properly, and elegantly, as if it had been their mother-tongue; for whatever was produced by miracle was the best of the kind. They spoke not from any previous thought or meditation, but as the Spirit gave them utterance; he furnished them with the matter as well as the language. (Matthew Henry's emphasis added)

Robertson noted regarding the ostentatious verbal, visual and audible display in Acts 2:

Other than their native tongues. Each one began to speak in a language that he had not acquired and yet it was a real language and understood by those from various lands familiar with them. It was not jargon, but intelligible language. Jesus had said that the gospel was to go to all the nations and here the various tongues of earth were spoken. …The gift of tongues came also on the house of Cornelius at Caesarea (Acts 10:44-47; 11:15-17), the disciples of John at Ephesus (Acts 19:6), the disciples at Corinth (1 Cor 14:1-33). …Paul explains in 1 Cor 14:22 that "tongues" were a sign to unbelievers and were not to be exercised unless one was present who understood them and could translate them. This restriction disposes at once of the modern so-called tongues which are nothing but jargon and hysteria. (Robertson's emphasis added)

Albert Barnes, the Presbyterian commentator, likewise underscores the plain, unambiguous sense of Acts 2. "But the natural and obvious meaning of the passage is, that they were endowed by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit with ability to speak foreign languages, and languages to them before unknown." (Barnes' emphasis added). Don De Welt of the Christian Church concurs (38).

The Purpose of Speaking in Tongues

The Acts 2 context also supplies in miniature the purpose of speaking in tongues, further confirming that speaking in tongues pertained to languages rather than ecstatic utterances. Jews from 15 different nations had assembled in Jerusalem on that Pentecost (Acts 2:9-11).

But, there were but twelve apostles, and at least fourteen different nationalities of people represented. Not fourteen different languages, however; since all were Jews, and some of the countries mentioned utilized the same dialect. The Phrygians and Pamphylians both spoke Greek; the Parthians, Medes, and Elamites all spoke Persian, though of different dialects. Barnes estimates that there must have been some seven or eight different languages known to this crowd. (Woods 11)

…the crowd that gathered around the apostles were amazed and marveled. The men they saw were Galileans, but the language they heard was their own. The marvel of it all was that men who were of one dialect could fluently speak another language. …some fifteen nationalities are represented by Luke in connection with the "tongue-speaking" sign. These nationalities probably refer to Jews of the dispersion who no longer knew Aramaic. If languages of these nationalities were not meant, why would these different nationalities be mentioned? (Jividen 37)

Speaking in tongues or languages through miraculous assistance rather than through laboriously learning fitted the apostles and other first century Christians for taking the Gospel to the world immediately, in fulfillment of the Great Commission of our Lord (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 1:8).

The prevalent belief of the Church has been that in the Pentecostal gift the disciples received a supernatural knowledge of all such languages, as they needed for their work as evangelists. The knowledge was permanent, and could be used at their own will, as if it had been acquired in the common order of things. With this they went forth to preach to the nations. ...We never read of foreign tongues creating any impediment to the spread of the Gospel, or requiring laborious application for the acquisition of them. If we look into modern missionary reports, we meet with a great deal about learning the languages of natives. Why is there nothing of the kind in the New Test., unless because they were acquired supernaturally? …The account in Acts 2 is explicit, and allows of no uncertainty or evasion. The speakers were Galileans, capable at most of expressing themselves in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew; and a multitude of foreigners from a great many regions heard themselves accosted as in the land of their birth. If the apostles spoke just as they might have been expected to speak, and with no more compass of expression than suited their condition and history, why should any astonishment have been produced by their attainments? But the multitudes were confounded, and they were all amazed and marveled, not merely at the doctrines propounded, but, specifically, because every man heard them speak in his own language. How came Galileans, they asked, to be such linguists? to be so familiar with languages alien to their annals? There is here an obviousness of meaning which no subtlety or sophistry can ever explain away. (McClintock and Strong emphasis added)

The affect of speaking in tongues in the first century was to undo the confusion of languages that God caused at the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:9). "…[A]s Babel brought as its penalty the confusion of tongues, so the Pentecostal gift of tongues symbolizes the reunion of the scattered nations" (Fausset's). Adam Clarke, Methodist commentator, adds:

At the building of Babel the language of the people was confounded; and, in consequence of this, they became scattered over the face of the earth: at this foundation of the Christian church, the gift of various languages was given to the apostles, that the scattered nations might be gathered; and united under one shepherd and superintendent (episkopos) of all souls. (Clarke's Commentary)

Besides affording early Christians an expedited means of fulfilling the Great Commission, first century speaking in tongues was proof (a "sign") to unbelievers that God was working through the tongue speakers (Mark 16:17; 1 Cor. 14:22). The scenario in Acts 2 portrays a lot of excitement by unbelieving Jews over the ability of obviously inexperienced yet fluent multilingual Galileans to speak in a number of languages. "Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?" (Acts 2:6-8). Speaking in tongues was an attention-getter.

Still another purpose for first century speaking in tongues was to receive and tell new revelation from God. On some occasions there may be little distinction between speaking in another language through the assistance of miracles and at the same time relaying new information from God to man through the same vehicle. Especially in Acts 2, one sees verbal inspiration at work through the vehicle of speaking in tongues. The apostles could hardly have been expected to choose the appropriate words from their vocabularies to express, for instance, the bogus, so-called thought inspiration, when those foreign words were not in the apostles' vocabularies.

The promise of a new power coming from the divine Spirit, giving not only comfort and insight into truth but fresh powers of utterance of some kind, appears often in our Lord's teaching. The disciples were to take no thought of what they should speak, for the Spirit of their Father would speak in them (Matt 10:19-20; Mark 13:11). The lips of Galilean peasants were to speak freely and boldly before kings. In Mark 16:17 we have a more definite term employed: "They will speak with new tongues." It can hardly be questioned that the obvious meaning of the promise is that the disciples should speak in new languages that they had not learned as other men learn them. (Unger's; McClintock and Strong)

Acts 10-11; 19; 1 Corinthians 14

Even charismatics who reluctantly admit that the Acts 2 speaking in tongues pertains to languages suppose that ecstatic utterances are meant in 1 Corinthians 14. In truth, though, speaking in tongues is the same creature each time it is represented throughout the Book of Acts and in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Mark 16:17 introduced speaking in tongues and Acts 2 defined it, after which its use appears in Acts and 1 Corinthians without the need for any further explanation.

As to what Jesus meant in Mk. 16:17 by new tongues one must examine subsequent historical material in the New Testament. …The inspired Luke does not leave us in doubt that the "other tongues" were actual languages. Visitors from some fifteen nations asked, "How hear we, every man in our own language-dialektos-wherein we were born?" (2:8). Certainly it was a miracle that the apostles could speak in languages which they had never learned, thus in "new tongues." …While Peter was preaching in the house of Cornelius at Caesarea, the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles assembled there and they spoke "with tongues" (Acts 10:46). Since Peter later declared that this was "the like gift" which the apostles received on Pentecost, it is clear that the Gentiles also spoke in actual, contemporary languages which they had not learned. The next reference to glossolalia is found in Acts 19:1-7. Paul baptized twelve men at Ephesus, laid his hands on them, and "the Holy Spirit came on them and they spake with tongues, and prophesied" (verses 5-7). It is reasonable to assume that they also spoke in actual languages, for, had the phenomenon been different from that of Acts 2 and 10, Luke would surely have given some explanation. We thus conclude that in all the incidents in Acts it was the miracle of speaking in contemporary languages which the speakers had not by natural means learned. …gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1-4). …Lenski [504-505] has aptly stated: "Luke's description in Acts is decisive for what Paul writes in Corinthians. …Luke is the one who fully describes what the tongues are while Paul takes for granted that his readers know what they are and therefore offers no description." … received on Pentecost, it is clear that the Gentiles also spoke in actual, contemporary languages which they had not learned. (Bennett)

Gus Nichols had a picturesque way of summarizing the first century abuses of tongues in Corinth, which description aptly describes modern day speaking in tongues, too.

Before the apostles had died, and before miraculous gifts had ceased (1 Cor. 13:8-13), the church at Corinth was in confusion, and were conducting a sort of frog-in-the-mill-pond kind of public services (1 Cor. 14:26). God was not the author of their confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). They were not doing things decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40). They were following after things of show and pomp, rather than after charity or love (1 Cor. 14:l). They desired the wrong kind of gifts (v. 1). The church was permitting speakers of a foreign, or unknown tongue, or language, to address the assembly, when no one but God could understand them. Such was forbidden unless there was someone to interpret the speeches so the audience could be edified (1 Cor. 14:2-4, 26-28). We would not permit a foreigner in his unknown tongue to lead a prayer in our services, unless he had an interpreter; for we speak only in English. Some things are not expedient (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23; 1 Cor. 14:5). Even back there when they had the gift of tongues, there was no profit in speaking in tongues, and it was forbidden, when the audience could have been addressed in its own tongue or language (1 Cor. 14:6-l 2). (25 emphasis added)

Over the years, I have studied (besides English) Greek, Latin, German and Spanish. If I had learned any of these foreign languages sufficiently, and if I still recalled them adequately, what purpose would be served by orating to an English-speaking audience in one of these other languages, with or without an interpreter? In an effort to draw attention to oneself and to superficially enhance the spirituality of the worship assembly, aided by miracles, some Christians at Corinth arbitrarily decided to do just that. They were abusing the miracle of speaking in tongues and detracting from instead of contributing to the edification of the church. Though edification could be had through an interpreter, there was no good reason in the first place to unnecessarily speak in foreign languages under the circumstances described.

Paul indicates that he is not discouraging the use of the gifts, but that he is arguing for the necessity of correcting the misuse of the gift of tongues (1-19). …In appealing to the church to use the spiritual gifts as they were intended, Paul sets forth certain rules and regulations to be followed (20-40). (Applebury 248-249)

The regulation of speaking in tongues that applied to those in the first century who really did have miraculous ability to speak in tongues would apply equally today to contemporary people who claim to speak in tongues. It is truly remarkable that one's pitiful use of Scripture purportedly sanctions an act but refuses to be regulated by the same Scripture. That is either moral dishonesty or mental deficiency!

Charismatics and Pentecostals have manufactured the doctrine of ecstatic utterances, what they call speaking in tongues, based on an italicized word that only appears in one standard translation. An italicized word in a Bible translation represents the insertion of a word by the translators for which there is no corresponding word in the original language; translators do this, hoping to help rather than hinder English readers to understand the meaning of a text. The King James Version has "unknown" preceding "tongue" in 1 Corinthians 14:2, 4, 13-14, 19 and 27, whereas "unknown" does not appear in those verses in the ASV, NKJV, NIV, RSV and NASB.

It was never mere "ecstatic speech" without discernable meaning. Rather, it involved one man speaking in a language which was foreign to him but which was readily understood by those who normally spoke that language. …Thus there has never been any such things as an "unknown tongue." The insertion of the adjective "unknown" into the King James Version by the translators (I Cor. 14:2, 4, 13, 14, 19, 27) was unjustified and most unfortunate for many Bible students. In the English text the word appears in italics, which means that the word is not found in the original Greek text. Someone may object to this by saying that Paul wrote of a man speaking in a tongue "unto God; for no man understandeth." (cf. I Cor. 14:2). It may be contended that this is a categorical statement meaning that there is a tongue which men cannot understand and which is intelligible only to God. In reality this verse only refers to a situation where no man present at that particular service understands the speaker. In such a case as this -- where the speaker was given a language not represented by those hearing him -- the man speaking in that tongue would be understood only by God! And since there would be no edification for the hearers in such a situation, Paul commanded that such persons not speak publicly until an interpreter was present (I Cor. 14:27). Thus it is shown that the tongue was never "unknown" in the absolute sense, for it was capable of interpretation. (Shelly 44-45)

Cross-referencing 1 Corinthians 14:21 with its Old Testament counterpart further aids in ascertaining the nature of the tongues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14.

Finally, Paul's quotation from Isaiah 28:11-12 in I Corinthians 14:21 shows that languages are meant. Isaiah's prophecy was not about ecstatic utterances, but a foreign language. Isaiah was referring to the Assyrians who would be used by God as an instrument of punishment. (Stevens 22)

Gus Nichols further illustrated the sense of languages with which one is unfamiliar as it is introduced in 1 Corinthians 14. Other instances of similar circumstances to what appears in 1 Corinthians 14 occur elsewhere in the Bible.

The "new tongues" promised here were new languages -- tongues to the apostles who formerly did not know such languages. Moses said unto Israel. "The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from afar... a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand" (Deut. 28:49). To Israel their tongue would be an "unknown tongue." That is, it would be such to the Israelites. To them it would be an "new tongue" -- a strange or unknown language. The fact that Israel would not understand the foreign language does in no wise mean that those speaking were merely jabbering. In fact muttering and jabbering are no tongue at all, any more than a baby is speaking in a tongue when it is jabbering. (22)

Careful attention to the context of 1 Corinthians 14 reveals that the intent of the apostolic writer is for miraculous gifts -- mainly speaking in tongues -- be used in such a way as to edify the church rather than mystify and confuse it. Edification is stressed repeatedly in the chapter (1 Cor. 14:3-5, 12, 17, 26). The purpose of using tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 was to promote "understanding" (v. 15) and "teach" (v. 19). Ecstatic utterances appeal to the emotions but they do not edify, increase understanding or teach. Consequently, 1 Corinthians 14 was a prohibition of speaking (then, with the aid of miracles) in languages that the audience did not know and which did not edify (cause understanding and teach) the assembly. Likewise, the 1 Corinthians 14 prohibition applies to ecstatic utterances that pass for speaking in tongues (and which are not the result of miracles) because they do not edify (cause understanding and teach).

The End of Miracles

Common sense demands that one concur with brother Roy Deaver that there were nine miraculous gifts, all of which remain if one remains, but miracles have ceased (44-46).

But before the New Testament was all written, they had nine gifts of the Spirit, or Spiritual gifts in the church (I Cor. 12: 1,8-10). Tongues and interpretation of tongues were two of the nine. Some contend for tongues today, but leave the other eight behind. But they all ceased together. These gifts were bestowed by the laying on of the apostles' hands (Acts 8:18; Rom. 1:11; Acts 19:5-7; II Tim. 3:5-6). All know that when the apostles all died they ceased to lay on hands and bestow these gifts, and they naturally ceased. (Nichols 24-25)

Miracles were never an end to themselves, but they served a specific purpose, which when that purpose was fulfilled, miracles ceased. Miracles were provisional in nature; when they completed that which they were intended by God to do, they were no longer needed and they ceased. The apostle Paul addressed the use of miracles in first century Corinth, namely their abuse, in 1 Corinthians 12-14. In 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, the apostle foretold that miracles would end. Specifically respecting our topic, "…tongues…shall cease…" (v. 8). Verse 9 introduces that through miracles new revelation from God was received in parts -- partial and piecemeal respecting several inspired speakers on a number of occasions; speaking was provided them by the Holy Spirit. The New Testament had not been completed yet, but it was in the process of being written (e.g., 1 Corinthians). However, Paul contrasted that situation of partial, piecemeal revelation with a counterpart that would be complete or perfected, thereby displacing the partial, piecemeal revelation attributed to miracles (v. 10). "9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away" (1 Cor. 13:9-10). James 1:25 refers to God's Word as "the perfect law of liberty."

First Corinthians 13:11-12 present two "before and after" illustrations to contrast partial, piecemeal revelation received through miracles with the superior completed revelation that was to displace miracle-assisted revelation. Verse 11 resorts to childhood versus adulthood, miracles represented by childhood and adulthood representing completed revelation. Verse 12 refers to polished metal or other reflective surfaces such as water used anciently for mirrors versus the clarity with which one sees someone face to face. The former represents the miracle assisted, partial piecemeal revelation whereas the latter represents the completed revelation that we call the New Testament.

Ephesians 4:11-14 parallels the 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 passage and also uses the illustration of childhood contrasted with adulthood for the same purpose. Miracle assisted workers appear in verse 11 on whom the early church relied for revelation from God. That situation, though, was temporary and to last only "till we all come in the unity of the faith, and knowledge of the Son of God… (v.13). Ministers, for instance, today must study God's Word rather than rely on miraculous assistance from the Holy Spirit.

The purpose of miracles appears in Mark 16:20: "…confirming the word with signs following." Miracles already confirmed the Word in the first century (Heb. 2:3-4). Therefore, when the last apostle died, and when the last person upon whom an apostle laid hands to transfer miraculous power died, miracles ceased. The death of miracle-workers and the collection of the New Testament books occurred around the end of the first century and the beginning of the second century (Col. 4:16; 2 Pet. 3:16). Incidentally, this was a long time before the Catholic Church got around to officiating the New Testament canon.

Linguistically Contemporary Tongue-Speaking Non-Languages

The very sounds passed off today as speaking in tongues fail the test, on many fronts, for being languages, earthly or heavenly. Whereas so-called tongue-speakers today string together nonsensical syllables, one mark of speaking in tongues in the first century was the use of real words. Peter said he was using "words" (Acts 2:22), and Paul specified the use of "words" in tongue-speaking. It is no wonder then that first century speaking in tongues could be interpreted.

It is important to notice that the apostle speaks of words in connection with tongue-speaking. Hence, the tongues of which Paul speaks were not comprised of syllables randomly strung together in incoherent fashion. Rather, the tongues under consideration by Paul were connected with actual words. This shows conclusively that the tongues under consideration here at Corinth, were actual languages, just as the tongues were on the Day of Pentecost. (Clarke, "Part Three" 1)

The significance of ascertaining that speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 pertains to words cannot be overemphasized. Though some charismatics and Pentecostals admit the Acts 2 speaking in tongues pertained to languages, none of them acknowledge that speaking in tongues found in 1 Corinthians 14 pertains to languages. Uniformly, contemporary tongue-speakers view 1 Corinthians 14 as justification for their ecstatic utterances.

Speaking in tongues in the first century, as already noted, aided early Christians in fulfilling the Great Commission. Yet, today, those who claim to speak in tongues must use the services of an interpreter or learn the new language -- like every other human being under the same circumstances. Pentecostals just laugh and offer no explanation when this glaring inconsistency is brought to their attention (Crain 2). James Bales observed: "Missionaries today must learn the language of the people to whom they preach, they do not get it by inspiration" (qtd. in Clarke, "Part Three" 2).

Contemporary speaking in tongues has been the focus of several critical reviews by numerous skeptics. These reviews range from astute observations to scientific analysis by professional linguists. In both instances, contemporary speaking in tongues fail to pass for genuine languages. Sellers Crain has noticed that those who profess to be speaking in tongues in our society only reflect knowledge of the English language in their selection of syllables. "First, why were the people who said they were speaking in tongues, speaking only English syllables? If it was a different language why did it not sound like another tongue instead of English?" (3).

E. Mansell Pattison disclosed some pertinent data in his article, "Behavior Science Research on the Nature of Glossolalia" in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation. He concluded, "Thus, glossolalia does not appear to be a 'strange language,' but rather the aborted formation of a familiar language" (qtd. in Stevens 22). Stevens summarized respecting the linguistic quality of contemporary tongue-speaking:

Ecstatic utterances do not produce a language capable of being interpreted. …Structural studies of glossolalia as performed by charismatics today shows that it is nothing more than the aborted formation of a familiar language that has been acquired through imitation and rehearsal. The true gift of tongues and the modern glossolalia stand worlds apart! (22)

Butler, a Christian Church commentator, recorded in his commentary these telling linguistic evaluations of glossolalia.

It is clear that Paul is speaking of actual human languages when he says "tongues" and not of the modern phenomena called glossolalia (a word not found in that form in the New Testament at all). The modern, alleged, ''speaking in tongues" has been thoroughly analyzed by linguistics and philologists and their conclusions repudiate it as being any form of language at all (see The Psychology of Speaking In Tongues, by John P. Kildahl, pub. Harper and Row, 1972). Dr. Kildahl also documents cases where actual human language, spoken in an audience where the language was not understood except by the speaker, received a so-called miraculous interpretation and it was not at all what the speaker said. Modern glossolalia is pseudo-miraculous! (307 emphasis added)

B.J. Clarke gleaned the following summaries of studied evaluations respecting contemporary speaking in tongues.

One definition of tongue-speaking in a modern context is given by R.R. Williams: "ecstatic speech often connected with religious excitement." Ira J. Martin describes it as a "frenzied, inarticulate jargon with a sprinkling of incoherent ejaculations whose inflections and fonal qualities have characteristics of speech. In his book, Tongue Speaking, Martin R. Kelsey gives the following definition: "It is a spontaneous utterance of uncomprehended and seemingly random speech in sounds… (qtd. in Clarke, "Part Two" 2)

The book, Speaking with Tongues, Historically and Psychologically Considered, published by Yale University Press, makes this assessment of modern day speaking in tongues. "They are… but a ludicrous and silly mistake of the man's imagination allied to some species of humorous hallucination and are not to be considered seriously, or they are a perjury, or a ghastly jest, or a very profound mental trick, or the loose jargon of a maniac" (qtd. in Clevenger 28). "Jividen points out, the explanation of tongue-speaking experiences today are to be found in abnormal psychology and not in the New Testament" (qtd. in Clarke, "Part Three" 1).

Historical Reference to Ecstatic Utterances

Pagan religions that were contemporary with Christianity in the first century practiced ecstatic utterances and claimed that such displays were evidence of inspiration and revelation from their pagan gods. However, what was ascribed in Acts 2 and elsewhere in the New Testament to the apostles of Christ and other Christians was discernible immediately as something different from merely ecstatic utterances with the mere claim of inspiration and revelation. Only being enabled miraculously and spontaneously to speak in real languages that they had not studied set the early, tongue-speaking Christians apart from babblers of their day.

Pre-Christian Graeco-Roman religions had their priests and priestesses who delivered oracles which they claimed originated with the gods, messages spoken "with obscurity and unintelligibility" and requiring interpretation. …A further evidence that the "tongues" of I Corinthians refers to living languages is that the tongues needed interpretation. …In none of these passages is there any suggestion that unintelligible jargon is "interpreted." Through careful linguistic studies of these Greek terms, appearing in both the Septuagint (Greek) Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, J.G. Davies concluded: "The word used by St. Paul of interpreting glossolalia carries with it the strong suggestion of translating of foreign language." ["Pentecost and Glossolalia." Journal of Theological Studies, N.S., Vol. 3, Pt. 1 (April, 1952). p. 230.] (qtd. in Bennett)

McClintock and Strong chronicles some of the occasions of ecstatic utterances among nonconformist groups sporadically throughout the centuries.

More distinct parallels are found in the accounts of the wilder, more excited sects which have, from time to time, appeared in the history of Christendom. Tertullian (De Ania. c. 9), as a Montanist, claims the "revelationum charismata" as given to a sister of that sect. They came to her "inter dominica solemnia;" she was, "per ecstasin, in spiritu," conversing with angels, and with the Lord himself, seeing and hearing mysteries ("sacramenta"), reading the hearts of men, prescribing remedies for those who needed them. The movement of the mendicant orders in the 13th century, the prophesyings of the 16th in England, the early history of the disciples of George Fox, that of the Jansenists in France, the revivals under Wesley and Whitefield, those of a later date in Sweden, America, and Ireland, have, in like manner, been fruitful in ecstatic phenomena more or less closely resembling those which we are now considering. (McClintock and Strong)

Butler summarizes ecstatic utterances throughout the ages. "Ecstatic, esoteric glossolalia similar to Christian glossolalia has been practiced, and is being practiced, by pagans in ancient and modern times (Hittites, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks, East Africans, Islamics, American Indians, Caribbean voodoo practitioners, and many others)" (309). Clearly, ecstatic utterances lack the credibility to validate themselves as being divine in origin.

The resurgence of ecstatic utterances is attributed to a college student in the early twentieth century "…on New Year's Eve, 1900 at Bethel Bible College of Topeka, Kansas" (Clarke, "Part Two" 2). The very nature of the emotional display attached to ecstatic utterances is "contagious" to persons of like emotional composition. "…ecstasy and convulsive movement that became contagious, and many who were thus seized prophesied and uttered unintelligible expressions in an unconscious state. " (qtd. in  Clevenger 28).

The modern Pentecostal revival is said to have begun on Jan. 1, 1901, when Agnes Ozman, a student in a Bible College in Topeka, Kansas, spoke in tongues. Today, tongue-speaking is practiced by most Pentecostal bodies. "Neo-Pentecostalism" is the term that refers to the spread of glossolalia to the established churches, both Catholic and Protestant. Hoekemag documents claims to tongue-speaking in such denominations as: Episcopal, Presbyterian, Reformed Church of America, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, and among several smaller religious fellowships. (Clevenger, 28-29)

Clevenger adds that speaking in tongues occurs also among the Catholic Apostolic Church, Mormons, Shakers and some French Huguenots (28). B.J. Clarke adds, "For the first half of this century [twentieth century] the 'tongues movement' was restricted to the Pentecostals. However, at present there are many different kinds of churches who claim tongue-speaking. They are called Neo-Pentecostals and their glossolalial claims are identical to their predecessors" ("Part Two" 2).

Whether ancient pagan or contemporary worshipper, simply claiming to speak in tongues lacks evidence to substantiate any valid connection with Almighty God. "Experiential claims are empty and vain unless Biblical proof is found in support of these claims. A million claims will not change the teaching of the Bible on the matter" (Clarke, "Part One" 1).

The claims of modem-day religionists to speak in tongues are without any scriptural basis whatsoever, and they prove absolutely nothing as far as the speaker's relationship with God is concerned. The history of glossolalia furnishes clear and abundant evidence that tongue-speaking has not been confined to worshippers of God and servants of Christ, but pagans, unbelievers, and all kinds of people in religious error have made the same claim and demonstrated it to their own satisfaction. (Clevenger 27)

Ramifications of Modern Day Speaking in Tongues

Modern-day speaking in tongues dare not be relegated to the amusing, emotional outbursts of gullible and delusional persons, as though the whole matter were of no real consequence. "If one claims the ability to 'speak in tongues,' he is contending that his message is a revelation from God. In such a case, his words rival those of the Bible. Are we to understand that this is not a dangerous teaching, worthy of censure?" (Jackson 23).

It is evident that charismatics and Pentecostals have very little regard for the Bible, which is how we should expect it to be if they are animated by and their very words, howbeit ecstatic utterances, are attributable to the Holy Spirit. Their view of authority in religion condescends to crude subjectivism, displacing any objective view of the absolute truth of the Bible. The emotionalism of ecstatic utterances and attendant bodily demonstrations become the sole object of their religion.

Those who have embraced it largely abandon objective truth considerations in order to cling to what they deem as a "better felt than told" religion. It matters little to them what the Bible actually teaches -- they just take their hand, pat their chest and say, "I've got it right here!" Whereupon Scriptural logic and reason flies out the window. (Boren 9)

However, an ecstatic utterance (unlike miraculously speaking in unlearned languages as the apostles did, Acts 2:1ff) lacks the credibility to validate itself.

Let it first be pointed out that no claim of miraculous power to speak in tongues, heal the sick or perform any other supernatural act should be accepted at face value. Human claims are not self-authenticating in religion! There must be an absolute standard by which all men may objectively evaluate such claims. There is such a standard -- and that standard is the New Testament. The New Testament must sit in judgment upon human actions, not vice versa! (Deaver 42)

Seth Wilson, Dean Emeritus of Ozark Bible College (Christian Church), denotes persons professing to speak in tongues today (ecstatic utterances) claim to be above critical review or amenability to the Scriptures.

The tongues-speaker (modern-day) who says, "You cannot understand or give any true judgment about a gift from God which you have not experienced and do not believe in," is saying, in effect, that it is not subject to critical examination in the light of Scripture. An error which grows out of this is the belief that one cannot understand the Bible unless he has been "baptized in the Holy Spirit." To say that only the believer in the tongues experience is qualified to comment on it begs the question, supposes that it is always from God, and puts the subjective (inward and personal feeling) above the Scripture as a source of truth. This takes the attitude that tongues speaking is something that is beyond the realm of reasonable evidence or factual investigation. (qtd. in Butler 317-318 emphasis added)

Strongly fixated on so-called speaking in tongues, charismatics and Pentecostals firmly argue that no one can actually be saved unless he speaks in tongues (ecstatic utterances). An ecstatic utterance was the sign of salvation in that banquet hall with the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International meeting where I found myself trapped, kneeling at the foot of a stage. When a new preacher replaced the retiring preach at the First Church of God in Greenville, PA (where I worshipped while dating one young lady a few decades ago), the membership discovered what being Pentecostal meant and that they could not be saved unless they spoke in tongues.

Speaking in tongues is emphasized by contemporary charismatics and Pentecostals to the point that they believe one cannot be saved unless he speaks in these ecstatic utterances. The United Pentecostal Church is another case in point. Yet, as DeLoach observed, not everyone even in the first century when inarguably Bible miracles existed, did every child of God possess the ability to perform each kind of miracle.

The glaring error of this is seen in the fact that not all believers in New Testament times spake in tongues. Paul clearly states in I Cor. 12 that not all possessed every gift. "To another divers kinds of tongues" indicate that not everyone possessed that gift even when the spiritual gifts were being exercised. (15)

One of the ramifications of modern day speaking in tongues displaces the water baptism of the Great Commission. In the first century, there were two means by which miraculous power, including speaking in tongues, was received: (1) Holy Spirit baptism like the apostles (Acts 1:26-2:4) or at least directly from heaven without human intervention (Acts 10-11), and (2) as a result of the imposition of apostolic hands (Acts 19:6). All those upon whom the apostles laid their hands admittedly have died. Hence, anyone today claiming to speak in tongues, at least indirectly, is claiming also that he has been baptized in the Holy Spirit. However, from the time of Ephesians 4:5 forward there has been only one baptism available to humanity -- the water baptism of the Great Commission (1 Pet. 3:20-21).

Obviously, the man who now claims to speak in tongues has not had apostolic hands placed upon him. Therefore, he is claiming to have received Holy Spirit baptism. But, if the baptism of the Great Commission (Mark 16:16) is baptism in water (and it is) and is for all men (and it is), and if -- in addition to water baptism  there is Holy Spirit baptism, then there are now two baptisms. But, this would contradict Paul's statement in Ephesians 4:4, 5 -- "There is… one baptism." If the baptism of the Great Commission is water baptism, and if this water baptism is the "one baptism" of Ephesians 4:5, then there is now no such thing as Holy Spirit baptism. And, if there is no Holy Spirit baptism, there is no speaking in tongues. (Deaver 46)

Speaking in tongues today would imply Holy Spirit baptism. There is only one baptism today, and that baptism is baptism in water for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21). Therefore, contemporary speaking in tongues would imply that there are too many baptisms today.


James Meadows succinctly summarizes topic of speaking in tongues miraculously.

In Acts 2 tongues are definitely called languages (Acts 2:1-8). Tongue speakers in the first century understood what they were saying (1 Cor. 14:3-5, 16-19); that which they spoke could be translated into a language so as to be understood (1 Cor. 14:5); tongues were regarded as the least of the gifts (1 Cor. 12:8-10; 12:18-20); and they were for the purpose of convincing unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:22; cf. Acts 10:44-46). …There are no apostles today to transmit the miraculous power to others (Acts 6:6-7; 8:13-18; 19:1-6). (2)

However, for every genuine article, there is a fake that is but a fleeting shadow of the real thing. Even a sham such as ecstatic utterances is a left-handed compliment to first century speaking in tongues, the real thing. The counterfeit item testifies to the existence and worthiness of that which it emulates. "Like all God's gifts, tongues had their counterfeit. The latter are morbid, the forerunners or results of disease. The true tongues were given to men in full vigour, preceded by no fanatic madness, and followed by no prostration as the reaction" (Fausset's).

Of course, every person today who speaks, speaks in a tongue, howbeit not miraculously, but through learning and practice. The signal difference between first century speaking in tongues and the present is that early Christians were afforded the ability (miraculously) to speak in languages they had not studied, but anyone today needing to speak in a foreign (unknown to him) tongue must study to learn it. The same principle applies to first century interpreters of tongues versus bona fide interpreters of tongues (languages) today; formerly during the period of miracles Christians could interpret languages aided by miracles, but today anyone interpreting must already know the respective languages (having before learned them).

Do men speak in tongues today? Yes. In fact, there is not a speaking individual alive who does not speak in some tongue. Some are capable of speaking in several tongues: English, French, Spanish, Russian, and the list goes on. The crucial question is whether men can speak in tongues in the same manner as the apostles and other first century Christians did. (Clarke, "Part One" 1)

On May 17, 2004 while I was string-trimming the back edge of the shed that I call my print shop, spontaneously and without presence of mind, I found myself briefly, but vigorously, embraced in ecstatic utterances (for which there was no interpreter) and rapid dancing. However, I assure you, brethren, it was not the Holy Spirit that moved me. Rather, a snake shot out from the foundation of that building between my legs, and I hate snakes with a capital "H."Image

Works Cited

Adam Clarke's Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.

Applebury, T.R.Studies in First Corinthians. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1963.

Barnes' Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.

Bennett, Weldon. "To 'Speak in a Tongue' Is to Speak Miraculously in a Language." Spiritual Sword 6.3 (1974): 19-22.

Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, 1994.

Boren, Maxie B. "Speaking in Tongues." Spiritual Sword. 25.4 (1994): 8-11.

Butler, Paul T. Studies in Firs Corinthians. CD-ROM. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1992.

Clarke, B.J. "What the Bible Teaches About Speaking in Tongues (Part One)." Power 6.10 (1997): 1-2.

Clarke, B.J. "What the Bible Teaches About Speaking in Tongues (Part Two)." Power 6.10 (1997): 1-2.

Clarke, B.J. "What the Bible Teaches About Speaking in Tongues (Part Three)." Power 6.12 (1997): 1-2.

Clevenger, Eugene W. "Even Atheists and Pagans Can Speak Gibberish." Spiritual Sword. 6.3 (1974): 27-29.

Crain, Sellers S. "Speaking in Tongues." The World Evangelist. 29.6 (2001): 2-3.

Deaver, Roy. "The Claim to 'Speak in Tongues' Is a Claim to Have Been Baptized in the Holy Spirit." Spiritual Sword. 6.3 (1974): 44-46.

DeLoach, Clarence, Jr. "The United Pentecostal Church: The Plan of Salvation." Spiritual Sword. 12.3 (1981): 14-16.

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Jackson, Wayne. "Book Review: Who Is My Brother?" Spiritual Sword.  30.1 (1998): 22-24.

Jividen, Jimmy. Glossolalia. Ft. Worth: Star, 1971.

Kittel, Gerhard, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume. CD-ROM. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.

Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains. CD-ROM. New York: United Bible Societies, 1989.

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Nichols, Gus. "No One Can 'Speak in a Tongue' Today." Spiritual Sword, 6.3 (1974): 22-26.

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Shelly, Rubel. "No One Has the Gift of 'Tongues' Today!" Spiritual Sword. 2.1 (1970): 42-47.

Stevens, David P. "Tongue Speaking." Therefore Stand. 16 (2000): 21-22.

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