Does the Gift of Tongues Function Today?

The gift of tongues is probably the most controversial of all the spiritual 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 for worship 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 nor proclaimed.

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 in 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 spiritual 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 seeking spiritual 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

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 vocal chords.

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.

Satanic Powers

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 sťances. 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:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. In 1 Corinthians 14:6, Paul says that even if he spoke in tongues but nobody understood the revelation, no good would be served.

  7. In 1 Corinthians 14:9, Paul says, "Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying?"

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Tongues was solely for unbelievers, but prophecy was for believers (1 Corinthians 14:22).

  11. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:23 that tongue-speakers will naturally be looked upon as being crazy, where prophecy will convict and edify.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.
Our conclusion can only be that the gift of tongues that is seen today is not the New Testament gift of tongues.

Owen Weber 2009