Thu, 10/03/2019 - 6:15am



The topic of tongues could be one of the most controversial subjects for the New Testament believer. There are many questions that are associated with it. Here are a few:

Is the gift of tongues still in operation today?

What is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

Does every believer have the gift of tongues?

Can the gift of tongues be learned?

Is an ecstatic utterance considered a tongue?

Are there angelic tongues?

Is there such a thing as a prayer tongue?

Should every believer speak in prayer tongues?

Is the speaking in prayer tongues the evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

There are some churches that would answer yes to these questions and others that would answer no. I am going to try and supply you with the reasons behind the yes or no answers.

When this study is over you should have a firm grasp concerning the description of each of the different tongues that are mentioned in scripture, each of their purposes, and whether a believer must speak in one of them in order to evidence that they have received the indwelling Spirit thus confirming their salvation.

This endeavor might reaffirm your own belief system or it might equip you with a clearer understanding as to why the contrary view to your belief system appears to be more solidly founded on scripture. My hope is that you will not be afraid to look at a perspective on any topic that is different from the viewpoint you have been taught.


How Many Different Kinds of Tongues Are There?

Let’s begin by taking a look at the different tongues that are mentioned in the Bible. Let’s try to find out what is the purpose of each and what scriptures are used to support the exercise of such.

A. The Natural Tongues or Languages

There are the natural tongues or languages, which the many cultures of the population speak (e.g. Italian, German, etc.).

Genesis 11:9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

The Bible indicates that the peoples of the earth initially spoke the same language; however, when they attempted to build a tower to reach up to the heavens, God thwarted their plans.

After Their Families, after Their Tongues
Suggested Reading: Genesis 11:1-9

Following the flood, Noah’s three sons had families, which repopulated the earth. Eventually, they relocated to a plain in the land of Shinar. At this time, they were of one language and of one vocabulary. They had a collective desire to build a city and a tower (temple) that could reach heaven. This complex, called a ziggurat, would have been an enormous structure comprised of a series of stairs designed to reach the heavens, where gods were thought to dwell. At the top of each section of staircase would be a bed, table, and food to provide a place of rest and refreshment when the gods descended from the sky to the earth. In my mind, this says that the people wanted to have a relationship with God but didn’t know what was pleasing to Him.

These people were Noah’s ancestors. The Bible has this to say about God’s relationship with Noah.

Genesis 6:8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

Genesis 6:9 These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.

Noah found grace (the favor of God; God’s response to saving faith) in the sight of God. In other words, God revealed himself to Noah and Noah believed in Him. But this was not all that was said about him. He was mentioned as being a just (righteous; blameless in character and conduct) man and perfect (always obeyed God). As a result, he walked (had continual communion; had continual fellowship) with God.

This, however, is what God truly wants of us, not someone building a tower in order to try to reach him, but an inward tower. We can’t find God through human effort, but He finds us and gives us an opportunity to respond to his invitation for salvation. After which, He declares to those who have believed in Him His plan for their life. In Noah’s case, God wanted him to build an ark in order to preserve as many as possible from the impending flood which was to come that would destroy most of mankind, and along with it remove the wickedness that had permeated their thoughts, words, and actions to such a degree that if the flood had not occurred it was possible that there would not even be a small remnant left who would follow Him. It appears that God’s means of communicating to Noah was by words spoken to his mind and probably to which only he could hear.

So, the Lord decided to come down to the earth and see the city and tower for Himself. His comment concerning it was that it was based on evil plans and schemes, because anything that man attempts to do in trying to find God and attain His approval through self-effort is considered evil. In order to abrupt or cause this project to be halted, the Lord confounded (put in disorder) their language. This carries the idea of the people not being able to understand one another. Considering the massive building project, it would probably have taken all of the people to build it. Now a large segment of the population could not understand each other.

A few years ago, I volunteered to help build houses with Habitat for Humanity on the island of Haiti. A total of about 600 plus volunteers from all over the world attended. When we arrived at the worksite where we were to build 100 houses, the group broke up into teams of about 8-10 for every two-house construction project. Along with this, a family member who would eventually live in each house was obligated in assisting with its construction. On one of the days, I was asked to work with a male owner, who spoke Creole. I didn’t understand one word of what he spoke and neither did he understand one word of English. I tried to communicate to him with hand gestures as best I could. When I tried to get him involved with carpentry, I had to literally show him by example what I wanted him to do. This was so time consuming that we got very little done. Here we have an example as to how different languages can impact a building project.

The natural result of this confusion was that the peoples with different languages scattered (parted from one another). The city and the story associated with it, was called Babel, meaning to confound or to confuse. The Lord confused the people from mingling together and in continuing on in working together by means of producing new languages, because their deed of building this temple was evil (man’s attempt to find and reach God).

B. Angelic Tongues:

1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

What is an angelic tongue? It seems that an angelic tongue would be a tongue or language which is unique to angels. Why would a believer want to speak in an angelic tongue?

This verse implies that there is value in speaking in a foreign tongue (language) or in the tongues of angels. In the Corinthian church, having the gift of tongues, which we will talk about next, would be considered valuable before the assembly. (1 Corinthians 14:5) The first word of this verse, the word Though can also mean “If”. Most of the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, and in Koine Greek the word “If” can have one of four meanings, based on the condition that it is in (its position and function in the sentence).

This word is in what is termed a third-class condition, meaning “if: maybe yes or maybe no.” In other words, Paul was saying something like, “Either way, if I spoke in a different human language or an angelic tongue and didn’t have God’s love then this awesome accomplishment would be like playing a musical instrument without harmony or melody that would contribute nothing to the welfare of others.” It’s possible that the apostle Paul never spoke in an angelic tongue, but used the declaration of it as an example to convey that even if a believer could speak in a foreign tongue or even in a tongue that would be considered as the pinnacle of speaking in tongues, if this was done without charity, then it would profit them nothing.

C. The Gift of Tongues:

1 Corinthians 12:4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

The word gifts refer to divine empowerments, which are distributed by the Holy Spirit to each believer. Some receive only one gift while others receive more than one. A gift is not a talent. A talent is received at natural birth; a spiritual gift is received at spiritual birth. Some believe that there could be as many as 15 different spiritual gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:7, 10 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

This particular gift involves a believer speaking forth words in a known language, which was unknown to them and the hearers, that God wanted to be conveyed in order for the church to be edified. In order for the church to be edified someone needed to be able to interpret what was said in the language of the people present, otherwise they wouldn’t receive edification. There is another gift called the gift of the interpretation of tongues, which would operate in this manner.

Some believe that this gift was first exercised on the day of Pentecost. What is the day of Pentecost?

And They…Began to Speak with Other Tongues:
Suggested Reading: Acts 2:1-41

The day of Pentecost was the 50th day following seven weeks of grain harvest for the Jews. Many of them would attend this feast from all parts of the world, speaking different languages (having over time learned the language of the country they were residing in). This was the day that the promised Holy Spirit came upon the disciples (about 120 of them) in an upper room in Jerusalem. Almost immediately after they were filled with the Spirit and began to speak with other tongues.

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

This word tongues is from the Greek word gloosais, which means unintelligible sounds. In other words, the sounds were unintelligible to the person who spoke them.

Acts 2:6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.

The specific tongue to which this referred was unveiled when all the Jews who attended this feast, each heard a tongue spoken in their own language by the disciples. This is supported by the word language that is taken from the Greek word dialektoo, which means the tongue or language peculiar to any people. In this case, the use of the gift of tongues was different in the sense that, because of the diversity of languages present there was no need for the gift of the interpretation of tongues. Each disciple spoke in a tongue unknown to them, but known to some of the hearers. In a different setting, such as in a church assembly, where most of the people would speak the same language, the tongue (the foreign language) that was unknown to both the speaker and the hearers would be declared in the language of the hearers by someone with the gift of interpretation.

D. Unknown Tongue:

What is an unknown tongue? An unknown tongue could be a tongue which is unknown to the speaker and unknown to the hearers. An example of an unknown tongue can be found in contrast to the gift of prophesy.

He That Speaks in an Unknown Tongue:
1 Corinthians 14:1-4 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.

Is there any indication as to what kind of unknown tongue is being referred to here?

1 Corinthians 14:27-28 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.

As indicated by these verses, the unknown tongue in order to understand it there needs to be someone in the body of Christ who can interpret it by means of the gift of interpretation. This gift is used to interpret the gift of tongues, i.e. the speaking forth in foreign languages unknown to the speaker and hearers.

Apparently, in the Corinthian church, there were two concerns in relation to the gift of tongues. Some were exercising it at various times during prayer, while singing, or when the assembly of believers gathered during worship without there being an interpreter present. Thus, without an interpreter, the church would not receive edifying (building up).

So, if a believer has the gift of tongues and there is no one available who has the gift of interpretation of tongues, whether they were with other believers during prayer, when singing, with the assembly during worship service, etc., then they should not speak forth the tongue. In this instance, they should speak it to themselves silently and inwardly, thus giving thanks to God.

1 Corinthians 14:2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.

There are some who will say that the words in and unknown tongue (gloossees) doesn’t refer to a foreign language, but unintelligible sounds. While this is true in the sense that the speaker and hearers will find these sounds unintelligible, the context will reveal what type of tongue this is.

Are all the tongues that are characterized as being unknown classified as expressing a foreign language? Some would say no and proclaim that there is a different tongue called a prayer tongue, which is also unknown and of which we will take a look at shortly.

E. Ecstatic Utterance:

What is an ecstatic utterance? An ecstatic utterance is the transmission of sounds, which you could also call gibberish, unintelligible, or babbling in a non-existent language. Some have given different names for ecstatic utterances such as the language of the spirit or the language of heaven. Some believe that in some instances when the word tongue is used in scripture it could mean the transmission of unintelligible sounds in a non-existent language. Is there any example of this in scripture?

1 Corinthians 14:19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

There are six examples of scripture in the Epistles that uses the words unknown tongue. Some believe that these words are representative of expressing an ecstatic utterance. The only way to determine if this is the case is to look at the scriptures, the historical background, and the words used from the original language of the Koine Greek to make a decision about such.
There is however at least on example of an ecstatic utterance that I found which is not in scripture and has to do with the worship of Apollo. At one time, there was a pagan shrine (oracle) located at Delphi, a town to the northwest of Corinth. Abiding there was a false prophetess named Pythia, who was possessed by a demon that controlled her vocal chords. Apparently, she would speak in frenzied utterances and it is believed that her attendants would translate these sounds.

E. Prayer Tongue:

What is a prayer tongue? Allegedly, this is a tongue expressed by a believer during prayer, which when spoken provides no understanding of what is said, but does provide personal edification.

1 Corinthians 14:14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

As the apostle Paul states, if he were to pray in an unknown tongue thus making unintelligible sounds, then his spirit (human spirit) would offer prayers, but he would not have any understanding or clear ideas about the divine things to which they are about.

1 Corithians 14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.

One benefit of expressing an unknown tongue is that the believer will edify him/her self. In other words, he/she will receive personal edification and exhilaration in the sense of being the object of God’s grace and offering praise to Him. As we shall see later in this study, there are some that also believe that if a person repents of their sins and believes in Christ and subsequently speaks forth in a prayer tongue, then this signifies that he/she has received the indwelling Spirit and is truly saved. Is this supported by scripture? We’ll see.

1 Corinthians 14:2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.

This verse gives us an understanding of what is being expressed by a prayer tongue and that is mysteries, which are truths requiring a supernatural disclosure. What this allows us to deduce is that these mysteries pertain to a known language and therefore we can conclude that what is being said is not an ecstatic utterance.

Now that we know there are at least six descriptions of tongues, what we will be ultimately trying to determine in this study is as to whether there is such a tongue as a prayer tongue.

Why is this important?

This is important because there are many churches who believe that if someone who calls themselves a Christian does not express this tongue, then they are actually not saved. This is a serious conclusion that needs to be investigated further. As we proceed to find out whether this is true or not, we will also focus on the gift of tongues as many churches believe that praying in a tongue with no understanding is simply the exercising of the gift of tongues in prayer without someone present who has the gift of interpretation.

With these thoughts in mind, in the next chapter, we will attempt to answer the question, what is the purpose of the gift of tongues? Are you aware that the gift of tongues has more than one purpose?

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