Speaking in Tongues


The gift of tongues as spoken of in the Bible, is often referred as the Holy Spirit speaking through the individual person.  That is, to use the persons physical body to speak directly to God.  This language is not under stood by the person speaking or to those who hear the speaking as well.

But we find that in the new testament the gift of tongues was the ability to speak a foreign language without having to go and learn the language.

There are very few verses in the Bible which speak about the gift of "speaking in tongues" as it is coined in the charismatic movement. Lets carefully review these scriptures which deal with this controversial issue.

Starting with Mark 16:17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; Here we are told that the gift of tongues is to speak a new language and it would be for a sign. The word used here, if you reference it in a Bible concordances is glossa; Of uncertain affinity; the tongue; by implication a language (specifically one naturally unacquired): - tongue. So here we find that this verse is referring to a person who instantly knows a foreign language without naturally taking the time or effort to learn the language.    

What is the meaning of And these signs shall follow them that believe. There are many places where the word sign is used.  A sign is used to confirm that a person is speaking from God.  Jesus performed many signs in the presence of the people to confirm his deity and to show that he was who he said we was as stated in:

1Corinthians 14:22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. If we stop and think about this verse, it would not make any sense that the gift of tongues is to have the Holy Spirit speak in an unknown language to a non-believer.  It must mean to speak in tongues, is to be able to speak in the person's native language.  This would be a sign that this person is speaking from God and that you better heed the message coming forth. 

Here is a partial list of versus which contain the word signs.  Each one is referencing a conformation that a person or persons are sent from God.  There is never any hint that the Gift of tongues is anything other then this. Mark 16:20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

2Corinthians 12:12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.

Act 2:19 And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke:

Act 2:22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:

Act 2:43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.

Act 4:30 By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.

Act 5:12 And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch.

Act 7:36 He brought them out, after that he had showed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years.

Act 8:13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

Act 14:3 Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

Romans 15:19 Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

1Corinthians 1:22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

Hebrews 2:4 God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?

John 20:30  And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:


The book of Corinthians:

The book of Corinthians is the only epistle in the Bible where this gift is mentioned. 

Every time the word tongue is used in Corinthians it is referring to the Greek word  glossa.  You can cross reference this word using a Strong's concordance.   


 glossa, Of uncertain affinity; the tongue; by implication a language (specifically one naturally unacquired): - tongue.
1Corinthians 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.


Here we find that if a person is speaking in the German language, to a group of people in a church service who do not understand German no one will understand him. 

He is speaking to the people in an unknown tongue, he is not speaking to the people because they do not understand the language.  However God does understand all languages.

Therefore he is speaking to God who does understand him.  So in the spirit (not the Holy Spirit) he speaks a mystery that no one understands.


1Corinthians 14:3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.


If a person preaches in a known tongue all will understand the word of God being taught, this will be for the edification, exhortation, and comfort of those who hear.
1Corinthians 14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.


If I were speaking in a language that you did not understand, it would not be of any use to you.  It would not improve your knowledge of what is being spoken about

However, I would know and understand what I was speaking about and it would be of some use to me only.


1Corinthians 14:5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.


Paul is saying that he wish all would speak with tongues.  First off the word is plural not singular. So this gift is not one language but is more then one.

If this gift of tongues was a language from the Holy Ghost it would be a single language, not multiple.

The gift of tongues is simply the ability to instantly speak another language different then your own to a person in their own language or tongue.

Paul states that is better to speak or preach in a language that is understood by the people present unless there is a person there who can interpret what the person is saying. 

You will find this in many churches where a pastor is sent to a foreign country to preach. The preacher will speak in his own language and a person will translate it into the language of the people present.  If there was no one there to translate it, it would be of no use to the people present and would not edify the people of God.  The pastor would be speaking to himself and to God who would be the only ones who would understand.


1Corinthians 14:6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?


Paul is pressing the point home.  If you don't speak in a language that is understood it is of no value.  It is fruitless to speak when no one can understand the speaker.  It is not only fruitless but it's counter productive as well.
1Corinthians 14:9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.


Paul once again repeats himself.  You will find that in the charismatic movement this kind of thing is practiced.  This is in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Bible as we will see later in this chapter. 
1Corinthians 14:13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.


Here Paul is stating that if he or anyone else is speaking in a foreign language that there be someone there who can translate it into a language that he or others can understand.  This would have an edifying affect to the preaching of the word of God to all who were present. 
1Corinthians 14:14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.


If Paul would pray in an unknown tongue, he would not know what he would be praying about, this would make the words of the prayer to Paul of no value.  
1Corinthians 14:15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.


Paul is saying that when he prays he will pray in his own tongue and he will also sing in his own language, this way he will have an understanding which in turn will glorify God as well.
1Corinthians 14:16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?


If a person was to pray in a language that you did not understand, at the end of that prayer how could you say amen.  How could you be in agreement if you did not understand.

How can the unlearned or the person who has not learned that language which is being spoken agree with the speaker? 

1Corinthians 14:17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.


It could be the best of prayer ever given, but if you did not understand it, it would be of no value to you whatsoever.  It would not edify the church, God, or anyone else who did not recognize the words spoken.
1Corinthians 14:18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:


One way the word of God was passed along was through the evangelizing of the word.  There were no ready available translation of the Bible at that time.  The word of God was preached to the people. 

The only way to preach the word to a person who did not speak the same language as you was to (in God's own time) receive the Gift of tongues from God. In order to reveal the gift of salvation to those who spoke that particular language.


1Corinthians 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.


When there is a gathering of people in one area listening to the word of God, it is better to speak to the mass in a tongue that can be easily understood. 

It is better to speak a few words to a person or group of people then to speak many words that can not be understood. 

Again, an unknown tongue is a foreign language that a person cannot understand.  The word tongues is the word glossa translated from the Greek text meaning a foreign language.

1Corinthians 14:22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.


Here we are told what the gift of tongues are for.  It is mentioned that this gift is for a sign. It is a sign to unbelievers, who were moved when they heard the gospel spoken in their tongue by men who have never learned it and do not understand it.

This is the opposite of what the speaking in tongues movement claims today.  They state that if you can speak in tongues it is a sign to the believer that you have the Holy Ghost.    

However the Bible states that the gift of tongues is a sign to them that do not believe and prophesying is for the believer.


1Corinthians 14:23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?


If the whole church was speaking in their native language at once it would be utter confusion.  Even an outsider, one who was not learned in the word of God would see that there is no order in the house of God.  This would not in anyway edify the church or the people present.

1Corinthians 14:24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:


But, if a non believer were to enter the church and only one person was speaking in his or her native tongue, that person would be able to understand the preaching of the word and be held accountable for the reading or speaking of it.

1Corinthians 14:25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.


This is confirmed by Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
1Corinthians14:27 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.


Here we are told how the speaking in a foreign language should be handled.  If two or three people speak a different language in the mist of people from an different language. One is to speak and the other one is to translate it to the language of the rest of the people present.

We read in the Bible that people from other towns and places would visit the house of God and be allowed to speak. This is different then it is today.  If you tried to openly speak at most churches you would be thrown out in a hurry.

So when a visitor would speak in the house of God there needs to be a person who can interpret the speakers word into the words of the common local people. This was needed in order to edify the church and God.

1Corinthians 14:28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.


But if there be no interpreter he should not speak to the people present.  He should quietly speak to himself and to God.  For he himself and God alone can understand what he is saying.  Using this criteria there would be no confusion in the church and in turn would glorify God. 
1Corinthians 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.


Paul sums it up very precisely and to the point.  The church needs to be held in a orderly fashion.  There is not to be people causing commotion during the church service.  People are not to interrupt the service place with speaking of any foreign language.

You find that in the charismatic churches that people are "speaking in tongues" during the service.  This is nothing more then gibberish. This would not be scriptural it would be a direct contradiction to the word of God as stated here.


1Corinthians 14:37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.


If you do not believe what is written here then you are not a prophet sent from God.
1Corinthians 14:39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.


We should want to be evangelizing for the Lord our God.  We are commanded to go into all the world and preach the gospel.

If the Holy Spirit would give anyone the gift to speak to someone in their own language as a sign then so be it.  This is a sign to the non believer.

1Corinthians 14:40 Let all things be done decently and in order.


 Again there should not be chaos in the service place.  But all things need to be done in accordance with the word of God.

The book of Acts:

Act 2:2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. (3) And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. (4) And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Here once again the word referenced is glossa, Of uncertain affinity; the tongue; by implication a language (specifically one naturally unacquired): - tongue.

Act 2:8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? here the word is still tongues but the underling word is dialektos; a (mode of) discourse, that is, “dialect”: - language, tongue. We not are told that even the dialect was of the language of their birth.  This was shocking to the people who heard this coming from the Galilaeans who were un-learned and un-lettered.  

Act 2:9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, (10) Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, (11) Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. Again we have the word, glossa.

Act 10:46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Here the word tongues again refers to glossa. They spoke with tongues which they never learned, that they might communicate the doctrine of Christ to the hearers. When they spoke with tongues, they magnified God, they spoke of Christ and the benefits of redemption, which Peter had been preaching to the glory of God.

Act 19:6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues (glossa), and prophesied.  Spoke with other tongues, or in other languages, which they had never learned, or had been used to, as the disciples did at the day of "Pentecost": and prophesied; preached, having an extraordinary gift at once, of explaining the prophecies of the Old Testament, and also foretold things to come.

Final Thoughts:

The gift of tongues is a real gift, however, it is not just making some random sounds or some prayer tongue.  It is not some "language" that a person uses to speak to God.

The gift of tongues is the ability to speak a language to a person or a group of people in their own native language without having to first learn that language.  This instant knowledge from God is a miraculous sign showing that the prophets and apostles were sent from God. 


** Note all references are taken from the King James Version.