Speaking in Tongues


Part One

Part Two

 Early Church Writings on the Gift of Tongues

 Further Thoughts on Speaking in Tongues

Early Church Writings on the Gift of Tongues

The following is an encapsulation of an article by Nathan Busenitz, entitled, “The Gift of Tongues: Comparing the Church Fathers With Contemporary Pentecostalism,” first published in The Master’s Seminary Journal in Spring 2006. [1]  The article may be read in its entirety here.  The author is an M.Div. and Th.M. graduate of The Master’s Seminary and at the time of writing was a Th.D. candidate at TMS, and Research Assistant to the Pastor-Teacher of Grace Community Church.

The Early Church Fathers who lived and wrote in the post-apostolic age (after the death of the apostles) had very little to say about speaking in tongues.  Scholars differ greatly on if and when the Patristic writers said the gift ceased.  However the description of the nature and purpose of the gift, when it was mentioned, was remarkably consistent.  And comparing that consistent view with the modern Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, and their view of speaking in tongues, proves to be very enlightening.  The author’s introduction lays the foundation.

A question that has been the center of heated debate in the last century of evangelical scholarship is, “When did the gift of tongues cease?” On the one hand, cessationists argue that tongues ceased somewhere after the first century. Pentecostal scholars disagree, contending that the charismatic gifts only declined (or continued sporadically) throughout church history, finally and fully resurfacing in the early twentieth century.

To support their views, both sides turn to the church fathers. In citing patristic literature, they attempt to demonstrate either the cessation or the continuation of the charismatic gifts (depending on their perspective). Yet, because the emphasis is so often placed on when the fathers thought tongues ceased, inadequate attention has been given to what the fathers thought tongues were. The purpose of this study is to discover what the church fathers understood the nature and function of tongues-speaking to be, and then to compare that understanding with the contemporary Pentecostal viewpoint. [2]

Pentecostals today would generally define the gift of tongues as ecstatic, non-cognitive speech, which is not understood by the speaker.  On the other hand, the Church Fathers understood it to be the supernatural ability to speak real human languages which the speaker has not studied or learned. 

In spite of a relative de-emphasis placed on tongues-speaking by the church fathers (who speak of prophecy much more than they do of tongues), they are not altogether silent on the issue. In fact, their collective writings overwhelmingly suggest that they associate tongues-speaking with a supernatural ability to speak rational, authentic foreign languages. That proposition is directly supported by Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Hegemonius, Gregory of Nazianzen, Ambrosiaster, Chrysostom, Augustine, Leo the Great, and implied by others (such as Tertullian and Origen). [3]

Pentecostals generally believe that all born-again Christians can and should speak in tongues, and they see it as an indication of spiritual maturity.  In contrast, the writings of the Early Church Fathers indicate that they believed not all Christians had the gift of tongues.

The patristic writings further evidence that all Christians did not speak in tongues. Not only did none of the church fathers claim to speak in tongues personally, they consistently expressed their belief that not every Christian receives that gift (or any one gift, for that matter). Clement of Alexandria explains that “each [believer] has his own proper gift of God—one in one way, another in another.” Hippolytus is even more explicit: “It is not necessary that every one of the faithful should cast out demons, raise the dead, or speak with tongues. But only such a one who has been graciously given this gift—for the purpose that it may be advantageous to the salvation of unbelievers.” Ambrose echoes, “Not all, says he, have the gift of healings, nor do all, says he, speak with tongues. For the whole of the divine gifts cannot exist in each several man.” And Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, and Theodoret of Cyrus agree. The chorus of evidence is overwhelming. The church fathers did not believe that every believer received the same spiritual endowment from the Holy Spirit.  Some were gifted with tongues while others were gifted in other ways. [4]

While Pentecostals often give instruction in how to speak in tongues, those who spoke in tongues in Acts did so spontaneously.  The Church Fathers viewed it as a completely supernatural, unlearned phenomenon.  “No amount of human exertion, initiation, or training could aid in acquiring what was endowed only by the Holy Spirit.” [5]   In addition, the gifts of the spirit, including tongues, were always viewed as being for the purpose of building up the Church.

The early church fathers also understood tongues-speaking to be primarily other-oriented, rather than self-oriented. Its main purpose was to edify, encourage, and evangelize other people (both inside and outside the church). Self-edification was never viewed as the gift’s goal. [6]

The author went on to quote Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Novatian, Hilary, and Clement, all of whom were in agreement.  Basil is quoted as saying, among other things, that “One who receives any of these gifts does not possess it for his own sake but rather for the sake of others.” [7]

Ambrosiaster believes spiritual gifts should be “conducive to the good of the brotherhood.” Chrysostom agrees, arguing that tongues was to be “used for the edification of the whole church.” John Cassian emphasizes the importance of love over any type of spiritual gift. And Theodoret of Cyrus sums up the Corinthian error like this: “The Corinthians also did these things, but they did not use the gifts as they should have done. They were more interested in showing off than in using them for the edification of the church.” [8]

Speaking in tongues also served an important evangelistic purpose.  Hippolytus, John Chrysostom, and Augustine agreed that it also was a sign that the apostles were to go everywhere preaching the gospel.  It was not the ability to preach in another language, though.  That was attempted by some in later years and it failed.  But as a sign that corroborated the preaching it was an evangelistic tool.

This is not to say that the fathers did not recognize an element of personal benefit for the speaker. However, they make it equally clear that the intended use of the gift benefited the entire community, not just the speaker. For this to happen, the tongue had to be interpreted, leading the fathers to emphasize consistently the importance of interpretation. [9]

For the gift to be of benefit to others, it must be interpreted.  Otherwise, no one will understand it.  The gift of interpretation of tongues is not an “optional extra,” it is necessary in order for the gift of tongues to fulfill its purpose of edifying the body of Christ.  John Chrysostom wrote, “Having spoken so much of tongues, that the gift is a thing unprofitable, a thing superfluous, if it have no interpreter.” [10]

A Patristic Definition of Tongues-Speaking:

Based on the patristic evidence, a rudimentary description of tongues (as it was understood by the church fathers) might be stated as follows: the gift of tongues was a solitary and supernaturally endowed ability, given by the Holy Spirit to select Christians, enabling those believers to speak in previously unlearned, rational foreign languages. The intended use of the gift involved either the translation of the message (by an interpreter) for the general edification of fellow believers, or the translation of the message (by the hearer who heard it in his own tongue) for the evangelism of unbelievers. The ability was not given to all Christians nor were they commanded to seek it. In fact, the gift does not even receive a high profile in the patristic literature (especially in comparison to the other gifts). While the fathers do discuss tongues-speaking on occasion, their writings do not highlight it as a normal part of the Christian experience. [11]

Since its inception at the beginning of the 20th century, the modern Pentecostal movement has greatly emphasized speaking in tongues, making it the defining characteristic of the movement.  Historically, the mainstream denominations have tended to distance themselves from it, and even to view it negatively.  This has led many Pentecostals to divide the Church into two classes: those who speak in tongues and those who do not.  Those who do consider themselves more spiritually mature.  This is in stark contrast to the Patristic writers who rarely mentioned it and de-emphasized it when they did.

Regarding the nature of speaking in tongues, Pentecostals believe that it does not always consist of an actual human language.  Kilian McDonnell wrote:

Classical Pentecostals would insist that tongues are a true language and most neo-Pentecostals, Protestant and Catholic, usually agree. All Pentecostal literature, classical, Protestant and Catholic neo-Pentecostal, give examples of foreign languages which were spoken in the presence of someone competent in the language who verified the linguistic authenticity of what was spoken. However, when one accepts the Pentecostal presuppositions, namely that the language can be any language ever spoken, even languages no longer spoken, or even the language of the Angels (they cite 1 Cor. 13:1), the problems of scientific verification become staggering. Also the kind of controlled situation necessary for a truly scientific study rarely obtains when a language is recognized in a Pentecostal meeting. Without this kind of controlled situation most scientists would not accept tongues as true languages, and would rather contend that the recognition of the language by someone linguistically competent is based on psychology rather than linguistic factors. [12]

W. A. Criswell did extensive studies into the phenomenon of glossolalia (speaking in tongues).  He concluded:

As far as I have been able to learn, no real language is ever spoken by the glossolaliast. He truly speaks in an unknown and unknowable tongue. Tape recordings of those speaking in unknown tongues were played before the Toronto Institute of Linguistics. After these learned men in the science of phonetics had studied the recordings, they said, “This is no human language.” [13]

Pentecostals will usually admit that it sounds like gibberish, but they will say that it is a real language, though not necessarily a human one.  They refer to Paul’s statement, “Though I speak with the tongues of men or of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (I Corinthians 13:1).  However, Paul did not say that he did speak with the tongues of angels.  He was using hyperbole, or exaggeration for emphasis, to say that even if he did, he would be nothing without love.  The subsequent verses use the same hyperbolic language: he did not literally have “all knowledge,” or “all faith” or “understand all mysteries” or literally “give his body to be burned.”  Paul knew that when one spoke in tongues it was a real human language.  In chapter 14, verse 10, he says, “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.”  The Patristic writers always described the gift of tongues as speaking real, recognizable languages.

Many present-day Pentecostals have more or less assumed that the historical precedents of tongues-speech were usually glossolalic [unintelligible speech]. This study, however, has found that when the Fathers clarified the nature of the tongues-speech being practiced they most usually specified them as being xenolalic [foreign human languages]. [14]

William Samarin, a linguistic professor at the University of Toronto, attended many Pentecostal meetings around the world in a five-year study.  He concluded:

When the full apparatus of linguistic science comes to bear on glossolalia, this turns out to be only a façade language—although at times a very good one indeed. For when we comprehend what language is, we must conclude that no glossa, no matter how well constructed, is a specimen of human language, because it is neither internally organized nor systematically related to the world man perceives. … Glossolalia is indeed a language in some ways, but this is only because the speaker (unconsciously) wants it to be like language. Yet in spite of superficial similarities, glossolalia is fundamentally not language. [15]

Of course Pentecostals respond that it should not and cannot be analyzed because it is spiritual, but this only serves to further prove that the vast majority of speaking in tongues is not real language.  J. R. Williams, in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology says: “Charismatics are not disturbed by linguists who claim that glossolalia has no observable language structure, for if such were the case, speaking in tongues would not be spiritual but rational speech.” [16]  This is again in stark contrast with the Patristic writers who always regarded it as real languages that could be understood by anyone who knew the language.

Many (though not all) Pentecostals connect speaking in tongues with spirit-baptism, which is seen as a further step in the growth of a Christian.  They are encouraged to seek this experience, and anyone who has not had it is thought to be missing out on the fullness of what is available.

Rick Walston, a Pentecostal, argues that Pentecostals see a difference between the public use of tongues (which he calls “the gift of tongues”) and the private use of tongues (which he calls “devotional tongues” or “prayer language”). [17]  He contends that, while not every Christian should experience public tongues-speaking, every Christian should experience devotional tongues.  In this way, he attempts to reconcile Pentecostal practice with Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 12-14. [18]

This contrasts with the Church Fathers, who never make a distinction between devotional and public speaking in tongues. 

Furthermore, if devotional tongues-speech was a universal part of the early church’s experience, one would expect the church fathers to emphasize it (or at least mention it). Yet, the patristic evidence not only de-emphasizes private tongues-speech, but instead strongly stresses the other-oriented nature of the gift.

A survey of early Christian literature indicates that the church fathers believe in only one gift of tongues, giving no indication to the contrary. Furthermore, they teach that this solitary gift was given to only a select number of Christians—as the Holy Spirit desired.  They do not teach that tongues speaking (either private or public) was the normal experience of every Christian. [19]

Evidence has shown that the phenomenon of speaking in tongues is often the result more of expectation and even peer pressure than a true gift of the spirit.  The learned behavior of speaking foreign-sounding syllables in the belief that it is a gift from God is encouraged by the leadership and other members of the congregation.  Even the speaker himself is convinced that it is expected.  Some churches even offer training in how to speak in tongues.  For example, Charles and Frances Hunter write in their book:

You may start off with a little baby language, but just keep on. Remember when your children were small they started out with a very small vocabulary, and then as they added new letters to it, they were capable of making more words. The same thing is sometimes true of your Spirit language. The Spirit can only give back to you what you give to him, so put those extra sounds of the alphabet in and see what he does with them! Don’t keep on speaking a baby language, but allow the Holy Spirit to develop a full language in and through you. [20]

That speaking in tongues is something to be learned, practiced, and developed is quite different from what the Church Fathers, and the New Testament itself, portray. In the book of Acts those who spoke in tongues had no training, no encouragement, no time to practice.  It happened spontaneously, as a supernatural working of the holy spirit.

Studies have shown that people can be trained to imitate the Pentecostal version of tongues without detection.  And, maybe most significantly, “There are numerous former members of the Pentecostal movement who retain the ability to speak in tongues, even though they have no belief that their speech is a gift of God.” [21]

Kildahl also wrote, “In summary, my glossolalia research has included an examination of the phenomenon itself, and a study of the theories about it. I have concluded that it is a learned behavior which often brings a sense of power and well-being.” [22]  And Spittler notes, “Glossolalia of simply human origin is probably more frequent than recognized. That explains, for example, the humanities scholar who ‘taught himself’ to speak in tongues and can do so at will.” [23]

A footnote in the article further states that “false religions, such as the Hindus, also employ a form of glossolalia nearly identical to the Pentecostal type.” [24]  And another footnote expands on this:

Along these lines, the fact that unintelligible tongues-speech is not the sole property of Pentecostalism is noteworthy. Dayton notes, “In America, for example, glossolalia has appeared in such groups as the Shakers and Mormons of the nineteenth century.” [25]  Robert G. Gromacki observes that frenzied speech (glossolalia) occurred among the ancient Greek and early Phoenician religions, the Greco-Roman mystery religions, Islam, Eskimo paganism, and paganism in Tibet and China. [26]  Hasel [27] also includes “shamans” and “witch doctors” in the list of pagan tongue-speakers. [28]

As stated, Pentecostals tend to distinguish public tongues for building up the Church, and private tongues for building up oneself.  This self-edification is often considered the primary purpose of the gift.  Spittler says that “the significance of glossolalia for the individual speaker may lie in its capacity to vent the inexpressible—hence the observed connection with stress.” [29]  Ernest Best agrees, noting that the practice “certainly brings joy and release from tension to some Christians.” [30]  Wayne E. Ward concurs:

Perhaps the most persistent positive claim for the experience of tongue speaking is that it provides a continuing source of spiritual power and joy in the Christian life. Almost all who have had the experience say that it enriches their prayer life in such a way that it seems they have never prayed before. Many describe an abounding joy which floods their lives, and many others demonstrate a new vitality which is the strongest argument for the tongues experience. [31]

The author, in response to these observations, says, “Self-edification, personal renewal, and private religious experience are listed as primary purposes and results of the gift. The church fathers, on the other hand, do not make any division between public and private tongues.” [32]

Thus, though the church fathers generally recognize that the use of any gift (including tongues) includes some personal benefit, they are also quick to clarify that personal edification is never the main purpose of the gifts. Instead, the ideal use of tongues-speech in any context includes its interpretation for the good of the community. The idea that tongues-speech is primarily intended as stress relief, or even personal spiritual renewal, is a concept that is absent from early Christian literature. [33]

In contrast to the Patristic definition of speaking in tongues above, the author presents the following:

A Pentecostal Definition of Tongues:

Having established the propositions above, an honest Pentecostal description of tongues (at least in its practical outworking) might be stated as follows: The gift of tongues includes the ability to speak in a spiritual language (which has no definable relationship to any authentic rational language) either for the church or for personal edification. If intended for the church, tongues are interpreted by those with the gift of interpretation (with various meanings derived from the same message). If intended for personal edification, the message is not interpreted at all. On the whole, tongues-speaking is often a self-induced phenomenon, available to all who are willing to learn it.  Though some Pentecostal leaders may not endorse this description verbatim, it accurately reflects their writings and parallels the history and practice of tongues-speech in their ecclesiastical circles. [34]

The article then presents the following conclusion:

Based on the preceding study, it follows that the church fathers disagree with contemporary Pentecostals on several fundamental aspects as to the essence and practice of tongues-speaking. While Pentecostal adherents are forced to divide tongues-speaking into two categories—private and public—the church fathers see no such division. Instead, the patristic writings suggest a solitary gift of tongues that consisted of the supernatural ability to speak previously unknown foreign languages for the purpose of evangelism and edification. On this basis it is safe to conclude that the Pentecostal phenomena prevalent over the past century is not the same as that of the early church. Instead it is of recent origin in the history of Christianity.

As Hasel [35] explains, The contemporary phenomenon of “speaking in tongues,” which is practiced by millions of Christians around the world at present, is of recent origin in Christianity. Even though there have been attempts by the score to demonstrate that the phenomenon of glossolalia in modern times has roots going back for centuries in Christian practice, it remains certain that it is of recent origin. [36] 




[1] Busenitz, Nathan. 2006 “The Gift of Tongues: Comparing The Church Fathers With Contemporary Pentecostalism.” Master’s Seminary Journal, 17/1 (Spring 2006): 61-78. [Individual sources for Church Fathers’ quotations are found in the footnotes to the original article.]

[2] Busenitz, pp. 61-62

[3] Busenitz, p. 62

[4] Busenitz, p. 64

[5] Ibid.

[6] Busenitz, p. 65

[7] Ibid.

[8] Busenitz, p. 66

[9] Busenitz, p. 67

[10] Busenitz, p. 68

[11] Ibid.

[12] McDonnell, Kilian. 1973. “The Theology of Speaking in Tongues,” in The Holy Spirit in Today’s Church. ed. Erling Jornstad. Nashville: Abingdon, 93-95. Cited in Busenitz, p. 70.

[13] Criswell, W. A. 1973 “Facts Concerning Modern Glossolalia,” in The Holy Spirit in Today’s Church. ed. Erling Jornstad, p. 92. Nashville: Abingdon. Cited in Busenitz, p. 70.

[14] Hunter, Harold. 1980. Tongues-Speech: A Patristic Analysis, JETS 23/2:135. Cited in Busenitz, p. 71.

[15] Samarin, William J. 1972. Tongues of Men and Angels. New York: Macmillan, pp. 127-28, 227. Cited in Busenitz, pp. 71-72.

[16] Williams, J. R. 1984. “Charismatic Movement,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, p. 207. Grand Rapids: Baker. Cited in Busenitz, pp. 71-72.

[17] Walston, Rick. 2003. The Speaking in Tongues Controversy. Longwood, Fla.: Xulon, pp. 21-23. Cited in Busenitz, p. 72.

[18] Busenitz, p. 72

[19] Busenitz, p. 74

[20] Hunter, Charles and Frances. 1976. Why Should "I" Speak in Tongues??? Houston: Hunter Ministries, p. 188. Cited in Busenitz, pp. 74-75.

[21] Kildahl, John P. 1974. “Six Behavioral Observations about Speaking in Tongues,” in Gifts of the Spirit and the Body of Christ, ed. Elmo J. Agrimoson, p. 77. Minneapolis: Augsburg. Cited in Busenitz, p. 76.

[22] Kildahl, p. 78.

[23] Spittler, R. P. 2002. “Glossolalia,” in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, ed. Stanley M. Burgess, p. 675. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Cited in Busenitz, p. 75.

[24] Busenitz, p. 76

[25] Dayton, Donald W. 2000. Theological Roots of Pentecostalism. Metuchen, N.J.: Hendrickson, pp. 15-16. Cited in Busenitz, p. 71.

[26] Gromacki, Robert G. 1964. The Modern Tongues Movement. Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, pp. 5-10. Cited in Busenitz, p. 71.

[27] Hasel, Gerhard. 1991. Speaking in Tongues. Berrien Springs, Mich.: Adventist Theological Society. pp. 14, 18.  Cited in Busenitz, p. 78.

[28] Busenitz, p. 71

[29] Spittler, p. 75

[30] Best, Ernest. 1986. “The Interpretation of Tongues,” in Speaking in Tongues, ed. Watson E. Mills, 310. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. Cited in Busenitz, p. 76.

[31] Ward, Wayne E. 1969. “Various Views of Tongue Speaking,” in Prudencio Damboriena, Tongues as of Fire. Cleveland, Ohio: Corpus, p. 21. Cited in Busenitz, p. 76.

[32] Busenitz, p. 76

[33] Ibid.

[34] Busenitz, p. 78

[35] Hasel, p. 17.      

[36] Busenitz, p. 78



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Further Thoughts on Speaking in Tongues

When modern-day “speaking in tongues” is compared with the New Testament gift of languages, as well as with what the Post-Apostolic Fathers wrote about it, it is clear that the modern so-called phenomenon of speaking in tongues differs greatly from the genuine gift of the holy spirit seen in the first century.

The Bible clearly teaches that the gift of tongues was not given to everyone, and that it was to be a sign to unbelievers.  The words spoken were to be interpreted so that the church would be edified, and never to be done in private for self-edification.  As a sign, it had the function of confirming the message being preached.  This also makes the modern phenomenon suspect.  The spread of the phenomenon in the 20th century took place among people who held many wrong doctrines, including the Trinity, conscious existence after death, and eternity in heaven as the ultimate destination of Christians.  How then could the phenomenon of modern speaking in tongues be a confirmation of the resurgence of Biblical truth, as is often claimed?

Many Christians who have spoken in tongues would ask, as I myself have asked, “If modern speaking in tongues is not genuine, what was I doing all those years?”  This is a reasonable question.  Some cessationists have gone so far as to suggest that people who speak in tongues today are possessed or controlled by a demon.  Although there have certainly been instances in which this was the case, I believe that most well-meaning Christians who speak in tongues are simply practicing a learned behavior.

“How could anyone ‘learn’ to speak in a language they don’t know?” one might ask.  That’s just the point.  Unless someone is there who knows the language and can testify as to the language and its interpretation, there is no real proof that it is a real language.  And many studies by linguists have confirmed that the instances of speaking in tongues which they observed were not real languages at all.  But since we were taught to practice this learned behavior, we didn’t question it, and even provided what we thought was Biblical evidence for it.

So do I believe that the gift of tongues died out with the apostles?  Not to the point that one could say it doesn’t exist at all today.  But instances of the genuine New Testament gift of languages are extremely few and far between.  The vast majority of tongues speakers do it without interpretation, both privately and publicly, causing great confusion and disorder.  And even those who follow Paul’s exhortation to do all things decently and in order still miss the point and purpose of the gift by speaking in tongues in private either as perfect prayer or for self-edification.  And since in those cases there is no proof that it is a real language, most are practicing a learned behavior.

However, there are some who can relate personal experiences that convinced them that their speaking in tongues was genuine.  One such example was of a man who found himself in a situation in which there were demons and supernatural phenomena, and when he spoke in tongues, they all disappeared.  Of course psychologists would advance any number of theories as to how this worked in the man’s mind.  But certainly God would not ignore the man’s prayerful heart just because of wrong teaching about the gift of tongues.

Another occurrence I’ve heard related more than once was of someone speaking in tongues and interpreting in a public meeting, and someone present knew the language and later testified that it was a genuine language, and that the interpretation was accurate.  But these instances are comparatively rare, even though many well-meaning believers have heard of such occurrences second or third hand, and have the impression that they happen quite frequently.  In those few cases when someone actually identified the language and verified the interpretation, it had the effect of convincing the hearer of the truth of the Gospel, and thus it functioned as a sign.  This was the correct usage of the gift according to the New Testament.  But the vast majority of modern speaking in tongues does not conform to this pattern.

In addition, many are taught how to speak in tongues.  But the apostles and others in the Book of Acts spoke spontaneously, with no teaching or training.  And there is no record of or reference to anyone learning to “develop their tongues” with such activities as going through the alphabet and inserting various different sounds to increase fluidity.  For example, it is believed by some that one’s prayer language may start off as a “baby language” that needs to grow and develop just as a child learns to speak little by little.  Most people that are new to it only repeat a few syllables over and over at first, and gradually become “more fluent.”  In the organization with which I was involved, we even had what were called “practice sessions” in which a facilitator would lead people through various exercises to get better at speaking in tongues.  This may sound quite familiar to those who have experienced such things, but it is quite contrary to the teachings of Scripture. 

Furthermore, some offshoots of that organization, in later years, concluded that since speaking in tongues was “perfect prayer” the interpretation should be in the form of a prayer, rather than a message of exhortation from God as we had done for many years.  After that, when someone in one of those groups spoke in tongues and interpreted, it was in the form of a prayer.   But other offshoots who disagreed continued to interpret in the form of a message from God.  If the tongues and interpretation were genuine, it would come out as the spirit moved the speaker, not as the speaker believed it should be.  There were no classes on speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues in the first century Church.

It is important that we make the Scriptures our guide, and do not allow ourselves to be led by our emotions.  And even if we observe what appears to be a supernatural phenomenon, we must not assume it is a genuine gift of God without testing it according to the Scriptures.  The Bible warns us to beware of false prophets and lying signs and wonders.  (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22; II Thessalonians 2:9)

Not only is the modern widespread phenomenon of “speaking in  tongues” not a genuine resurgence of the New Testament gift, but such focus on the “manifestations” can be a distraction from the true purpose of the holy spirit.  It is the spirit of God and of Jesus at work in our lives and hearts, but focusing on supernatural “powers” often puts one’s focus on oneself and one’s own power, rather than on what God can do by His mighty power.  The spirit enables us to live a holy and Christ-like life, and builds us up and changes us from within, producing the fruit of the spirit.  I was taught that the fruit of the spirit was only produced by “operating the manifestations.”  The emphasis was all wrong.

One of the most frequent responses to this material is to quote Paul’s instruction in I Corinthians 14:39, “…Forbid not to speak with tongues.”  However, I do not forbid speaking in tongues; I merely present what I (and others) believe the Bible teaches, and exhort people to think and decide for themselves.  But it is crucial to recognize the differences between the modern so-called phenomenon of speaking in tongues and the genuine New Testament gift.

I exhort anyone who has experienced this phenomenon to consider carefully what the Bible actually says, and to ask God to guide you and enlighten you.  Let us not be deceived by either ourselves or the wrong teaching of others, but examine the Scriptures to see what the will of the Lord is.

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This page last updated April 19, 2018


Mark Clarke