The gift of tongues is probably the most controversial of all
gifts, especially with the purported revival of tongues
in the 20th century. Tongues, or glossolalia, today closely
resembles that of ancient pagan priests, who used tongues as a vehicle
but not as a means of discerning authentic revelation from
God. These tongues are usually collections of rhythmic sounds
or gibberish, experienced while under an emotional high of great joy and
ecstasy, often including trances with howling, violent and exhaustive
physical motions, and even foaming at the mouth. These tongues are
usually not reported as being intelligible languages, and the
tongue-speakers are usually those who allow their emotional experiences
to shape their doctrinal beliefs. The question is whether or not the
tongues of the 20th century are indeed a revival of the New Testament
gift of tongues, after a period of nearly 2000 years during which this
gift was neither manifested or proclaimed.
Does the Gift of Tongues Function Today?
20th Century Tongues
Let's first examine the tongues of the 20th century. There was
no reliable record of tongue-speaking between the first century and the
twentieth century. The first revival of the gift of tongues
is reported to have occurred around 1900, with the first movement to
gain momentum starting in 1906. In that year, W. J.
Seymore burst into tongue-speaking during a high state of emotional
frenzy at a church
service in Los Angeles. From this event has grown the modern Assemblies of God and Pentecostal
movements. Then, on April 3, 1960, in an Episcopal church
California, Dennis J. Bennett announced his newly discovered gift of
tongues. From this event came the Neo-Pentecostal movement
which has seen tongue-speaking spread into even the older conservative
denominations such as the Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, and
Catholics. The question is still relevant, as to whether this
tongue-speaking is real, and whether it is Godly, Satanic, or psychological.
Bible Study of Tongues
When we check to see what the Bible says about tongues, we must begin
at Isaiah 28:9-12. Here, Isaiah declares the judgment of God
upon the nation of Israel, which had been guilty of immorality,
alcoholism, failure to absorb God's word, and hypocritical religious
practices. We see here that God will reject Israel. She will
stand on stammering legs, and be taught God's word in ANOTHER
TONGUE. In other words, Israel would be taught Bible doctrine in a language other than
Hebrew, or some Gentile language. This would be a humiliating
experience for Israel to be taught by Gentiles, because of their Godly
heritage. The key here is that God would speak in foreign languages to his own people.
Now, in Acts 2:11, at Pentecost, we see the fulfillment of this
prophecy. By this time, many Jews had been scattered to
various countries, and they spoke the native languages of those
countries instead of Hebrew. When the Holy Spirit came, these
Jews were evangelized in their various languages, other than Hebrew. We
see from Luke 21:20 that this was a sign to the nation of Israel of
His judgment upon her by temporarily abandoning his own people. This
was to fulfill the prophecy of Israel's rejection and dispersion in
Leviticus 26:27-46. They would be given the opportunity, here
at Pentecost, to turn to Christ, but later, in 70 AD, they would be
dispersed. From this we can conclude that the gift of tongues
was a sign to the Jews that they had better accept the truth that
Christ is their Messiah, because their judgment was forthcoming. That
tongues was a sign gift to the Jews is verified in 1 Corinthians
14:20-22, where Paul makes reference to Isaiah 28:11-12, as well as
Deuteronomy 28:49. This is in contrast to most of the
gifts which had the purpose of edification. Note
that 1 Corinthians 14:20-22 is the only passage in the Bible that
states the purpose of the gift of tongues. Once the purpose
of the gift of tongues was fulfilled, and the Jews had been warned of
their coming dispersion, tongues ceased, because God was no longer
testifying to Israel as a nation, although He will resume His
relationship with Israel in the future. This is why we say
that we couldn't possibly have the gift of tongues today, because there
is no reason for it, in that it has already fulfilled its
purpose. New Testament tongues were always directed toward
the Jews, and there were always Jews present when tongues were
used. Tongues ended for good in 70 AD when Israel was dispersed.
Today's tongues include much activity which is similar to demonic
activity, such as shaking, convulsions, falling down, dancing,
clapping, and visions. Many today seek to speak in tongues,
unlike the believers in the book of Acts who were not trying to speak
in tongues when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Today there are
even those who teach those who want to speak in tongues, by having them
to think visually, picture Christ in their minds, rapidly repeat
certain sounds or syllables over and over again, and free up the
emotions. This sounds more like demonic activity than New
Testament tongues. It is obvious from Acts 2 and 1
Corinthians 14:35 (where the word "ask" is used as a woman asking her
husband a question in an intelligible language) that the tongues of the
New Testament were actual foreign languages which were understood by
foreigners, rather than just gibberish like we see today. Furthermore,
in 1 Corinthians 12:30, Paul verifies that not everyone
has the gift of tongues, so to claim that all believers will speak in
tongues is without merit. Also, when Paul says "if I speak
in tongues of men and of angels," in 1 Corinthians 13:1, this doesn't
mean that he spoke in gibberish angel talk. He is saying "even
if he could." Also, when Paul speaks of
gifts (1 Cor. 12:31), he means that each congregation
(because "seek" here is plural) should seek gifts that the congregation
as a whole is lacking, such as searching for a
pastor, but he doesn't mean we should individually seek gifts that we don't have.
Linguistic scholars have studied 20th century tongue-speaking, and here
are some of their findings: There is no distinguishing
vocabulary, there are no grammatical features, there is only simulated
foreign sound, there are no language characteristics whatsoever, there
is usually only a repetition of a few syllables, and there is always an
American English (or native tongue) accent. In short, the linguists
call it ecstatic gibberish, rather than foreign languages.
Modern-day tongues could be physiological. Scientists know
that we use our subconscious minds, or exalted memories in strange
ways. Tongues could be incoherent thoughts of the
subconscious somehow verbalized by psyched-up emotional states.
Psychologists have studied tongues and determined that it could be
brought on by a neurotic condition. It could be the way that
those who thrive on emotions manifest their emotional, pathological
condition. In a book called "The Modern Tongues and Healing Movement"
by Carol Steegle, we learn that nervous conditions can indeed override the
In "A Biblical Evaluation of the 20th Century Tongues Movement" by Jody
Dillow, tongues is described as being completely psychological, and
most former tongue-speakers who have abandoned the movement would agree
that it was psychological for them. Psychologists say that
the phenomenon is easy to produce and readily understandable. It is
much in line with the decomposition of speech often associated with
victims of strokes, paralysis, or drug use. It is possible to
simply lose willful control of speech simply through self-release.
It is Satan's intention to use his supernatural powers in order to
distort God's truth. Satan is the great deceiver, and he will
deceive us at every opportunity. We must learn that not all
supernatural activity comes from God. In fact, not all good
activity comes from God. See 1 John 4:1-4, 2 Thessalonians
2:7-8, and Isaiah 8:18-19. Satan may work good in a
particular situation if it will promote his greater cause of distorting
God's revealed word. It may even be within Satan's power to work a fake gift of tongues.
In fact, let's take a brief look at some of the similarities noted in
Dr. Steegle's book between tongue-speakers and spiritist mediums at
demonic seances. In both situations it is common to see bodies shaking, quivering, jerking, and moving
uncontrollably. The emotions, or feelings, have control to produce sensations, feelings of
electrical shock, and tingling. The breathing becomes rapid
and irregular, the chest heaves, and dizziness, unconsciousness, and
fainting may occur. The stances are similar, and there is
some falling backward, paralysis, and an ecstatic environment. Tongues may just be another form of demonic activity.
In summary, note all of passages in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 through
14 which cite contradictions between the tongues of the New Testament and the tongues of today:
Our conclusion can only be that the gift of tongues that is seen today is not the New Testament gift of tongues.
- In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul lists the spiritual
gifts in order of importance (by saying "God has appointed first of
all apostles, second prophets, . . ."), and he ranks tongues
last. This is in sharp contrast with those today who claim
that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is always manifested
by speaking in tongues.
- In 1 Corinthians 12:30, Paul states that not all
believers speak in tongues. Again, many Pentecostals argue that all
believers who are baptized with the Holy Spirit will speak in tongues.
- In 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, we see that tongues was
meant to be a temporary gift. It was to last only until "the perfect"
came (verse 10). We know from verse 9 that this "perfect"
is the completed revelation from God, or the New Testament Canon.
It was completed in the first century, and this is
why there were no tongues between the 1st and the 20th centuries.
Today's Pentecostals must not think that people like Martin
Luther were even baptized with the Holy Spirit.
- Though many Pentecostals support their position with 1
Corinthians 14:2, this verse is still talking about speaking
in a foreign language. Paul is saying that it does no good if a
person speaks in tongues but there is nobody present who understands that language.
- In 1 Corinthians 14:4-5, Paul again de-emphasizes the importance
of tongues by stating that prophecy (God's word) is more
important than tongues because prophecy edifies the church.
- In 1 Corinthians 14:6, Paul says that even if he
spoke in tongues but nobody understood the revelation, no good would be served.
- In 1 Corinthians 14:9, Paul says, "Unless you speak
intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying?"
- Though Paul spoke in tongues, in 1 Corinthians
14:18-19, he says he would rather speak 5 intelligible words to instruct
others than ten thousand words in a tongue. Again, prophecy
and edification is emphasized over tongues.
- We have already seen that 1 Corinthians 14:20-22
states the purpose of tongues as being a sign to their Jews of their
impending judgment and dispersion, and their warning that they should turn to Christ.
- Tongues was solely for unbelievers, but prophecy was
for believers (1 Corinthians 14:22).
- Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:23 that tongue-speakers
will naturally be looked upon as being crazy, where prophecy will convict and edify.
- By 1 Corinthians 14:27, only 3 different people can
speak in tongues during one meeting. At today's Pentecostal meetings,
most everyone who is present is encouraged to do it.
- By 1 Corinthians 14:27, only 1 person can speak in
tongues at one time. Today, sometimes the whole congregation speaks
in tongues at the same time.
- By 1 Corinthians 14:27, there must be an interpreter
present. Today, most gibberish is never interpreted, and when interpreting
is proclaimed, there is still no revelation from God.
- By 1 Corinthians 14:40, church
services are always to be kept fitting and orderly. Today's Pentecostal meetings are everything but reverent and orderly.
Owen Weber 2009