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 What is Speaking in Tongues?

John Hoole January 11, 2009


Last week, we began our investigation of what the Bible says about "Speaking in Tongues." Tongues has been one of the most talked-about phenomena in Christianity over the past 50-100 years. Pentecostalism beginning in the early 20th century, and the Charismatic movement in the 50's and 60's, has brought speaking in tongues to the forefront. As you have heard me say on several occasions, these branches of Christianity are without doubt the fastest growing segments of Christianity.

During my lifetime, I have heard a number of responses by non-Pentecostal people about the topic of speaking in tongues. They range from, "Tongues may be alright - even biblical - but what good does it do," to the more extreme, "Speaking in tongues is of the devil." Still others who don't deny the possibility of speaking in tongues, say "it is so controversial - maybe even divisive - so why 'rock the boat,' speaking of their church.

I might also mention that most of the opposition to the Pentecostal movement comes from the evangelical segment of Christianity. The liberal segments of Christianity don't generally give it much thought, but dismiss it outright because their doctrines don't allow for the supernatural. After all, if one does not take the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, then speaking in tongues is a myth.

But for us that take every word of the Bible as having been inspired by God (2 timothy 3:16), we cannot escape or dismiss such topics. We believe the words of Psalm 119:105 (KJV): "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." We take the Bible very seriously.

For me, personally, speaking in tongues has been a very important part of my prayer and praise to God. Growing up in a Pentecostal pastor's family, speaking in tongues was totally accepted. At a very early age, I had received Christ as my Savior, but I cannot tell you exactly when. But on March 18th, 1960, I was forever changed, because that is the date when I received the Holy Spirit baptism, and spoke in tongues for the first time. From that moment, my life was never the same again.

I cannot say that at that moment I was ready to give an adequate answer to anyone who might ask a reason for my belief in tongues. But, in my study of the Bible since, I am absolutely convince that there is a firm biblical foundation that has been laid for my Pentecostal belief. It is my hope that this series of lessons will be useful in strengthening your conviction of your Pentecostal faith.

The Holy Spirit wants to be your personal prayer partner. He wants to give you your prayer language. He is a prayer partner that makes connecting with God both possible and powerful.

The Bible mentions speaking in tongues some 35 times. That is a lot - so this subject should not be cast aside lightly. It is an important topic for the Church of Christ. God does not fill His Word with things of minor importance.

Let me quickly review just a few of the points I made in our last lesson. While many Christians today speak negatively about the topic of tongues, the Bible, I believe, has always spoken very positively about this gift.

In Acts 2, every one of the 12 apostles spoke in tongues - as well as the other 108 that were there. In 1 Corinthians, Paul thanks God that he speaks in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:18), and expresses his desire that all Christians speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:5). We are told that speaking in tongues will edify or strengthen our spirits (See 1 Cor. 14:4; Jude 20). In Ephesians 6:18, we are exhorted to pray in the Spirit on all occasions.

The New Testament was written by people who spoke in tongues. In the New Testament Church, speaking in tongues was considered normal activity for all Christians. And because the New Testament so stresses the importance of tongues, we should examine carefully the biblical teaching about this topic.

I would like to underscore one fact above all others about the matter of speaking in tongues. Jesus is the One who introduced the subject of spiritual language. I think that fact is important, something that deserves and needs to sink into the collective mindset of the church. By that, I mean no one less than our dear Savior Himself first spoke of tongues - promising this blessing to his followers.

Mark 16:17 (NKJV) is part of the Great Commission to go into all the world with the gospel.

17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;

This is where tongues - spiritual language - starts in the New Testament.

As we investigate what the Bible says about speaking in tongues, I want to address a series of basic questions, like:

1. What is speaking in tongues - how would you define or describe it?
2. Are tongues real languages?
3. Does a person "lose control" when speaking in tongues?
4. Is the gift of tongues given to enable the speaker to preach the gospel in foreign languages?
5. Is tongues something to be feared?
6. Is speaking in tongues available to everyone?
7. Why did God choose tongues as one of the gifts?
8. What is the value of speaking in tongues?
9. Will tongues ever cease? If so, when?
10. Did Jesus speak in tongues?
11. What about those having great ministries without speaking in tongues?
12. Have tongues speakers reached Christian utopia?
13. Is praying in the Spirit the same as praying in tongues?
14. Are tongues speakers better Christian than those who do not speak in tongues?
15. John, do you believe tongues really is the initial physical evidence to the Baptism in the Holy Spirit?
16. When a person speaks in tongues, why does there seem to be a lot of repetition?
17. Can Satan understand us when we speak in tongues.

Now, let's begin our journey to understanding what the Bible says about speaking in tongues.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE OR DEFINE SPEAKING IN TONGUES?

The gift of tongues - praying in an unknown tongue - praying in other tongues - praying in the Spirit, are various manners of describing the experience of speaking in tongues. There are a number of various phrases that describe speaking in tongues. Some refer to it as their "prayer language." Other call it their "heavenly language."

As we have already seen in the illustration given at the beginning of our last lesson, it is possible for the language to be an earthly language, not heavenly. But, I don't really have a problem with this description, since the new tongue was given them by God in Heaven. Still others call speaking in tongues their "spiritual language." I have a book by Jack Hayford with the title, "The Beauty of Spiritual Language." The gift of tongues is simply the God-given capacity for your spirit to express itself in words your mind does not understand.

1 Corinthians 14:14 NKJV

14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.

In the Philip's Translation, this verse reads:

"For if I pray in a tongues my spirit is praying, but my mind is inactive."

In the Amplified Bible, it reads:

14 For if I pray in an [unknown] tongue, my spirit [by the Holy Spirit within me] prays, but my mind is unproductive [it bears no fruit and helps nobody].

Praying in tongues is spirit to Spirit communication with God, without the mind being involved. Speaking in tongues is Holy Spirit inspired speech in a language unknown to the speaker.

The Greek word that is translated as "tongues" is "GLOSSAIS." The root word is Glossa (accent on last syllable). You sometimes hear the term glossolalia as referring to speaking in tongues. That is because LALEO (La-LE-o) is the Greek word for "speak" or "talk."

In Act 2:4, which, in part, reads: "...and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave utterance." In this verse, the Greek word translated "speak" is LALEIN. Its root word is Laleo.

Before leaving this, I need to make another comment. Just as our English word "tongue" can refer to the bodily part inside our mouth as well as referring to a language, so also that is the case in the Greek language. So, in the story found in Luke 16 about the rich man and Lazarus, where the rich man goes to Hades and is in torment, he sees Lazarus in Abraham's bosom and asks Abraham to send Lazarus with some water to cool his tongue (Luke 16:24). The Greek word, glossasi, is used. In fact, in Acts 2:3 is says that on the Day of Pentecost "cloven tongues of fire sat on each of them." Again, the Greek word, glossais, is used of the cloven tongues.

Back to our topic. Speaking in other tongues is Holy Spirit inspired speech in a language not known by the speaker. It occurs when a believer allows the indwelling Spirit of God to guide the form of words uttered.

When you or I speak in our native tongue, or any language which you have consciously learned, your mind controls what is said. But speaking in tongues is a speaking prompted not by our mind, but by the Holy Spirit, where He decides what is said.

   
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