Speaking In Tongues (Glossolalia)

There are essentially three different types of speaking in tongues found in the Bible. We find speaking in tongues as a prayer language, the gift of speaking in tongues which is used with the gift of interpretation of tongues, and we find Xenoglossy. These are mentioned in Mark 16:17; Acts 2; Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6 and 1 Corinthians (12-14). Some also point to passages such as Isaiah 28:11 and Joel 2:28-29 as evidence that speaking in tongues was a sign of God's oncoming judgment. Other verses by inference may be considered to refer to "speaking in tongues", such as Isaiah 28:11, Romans 8:26 Ephesians 6:18, and Jude 20.

This is a difficult issue to address because it is somewhat controversial and the Church is somewhat split on this. After Pentecost and the early church, we find tongues rarely written about until the 20th century. A summary can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossolalia We have a few writings from some early Church Fathers and Christian authors.

Justin Martyr, also known as Saint Justin (c. 100 – 165 AD), is very well-respected and was martyred, alongside some of his students. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue did survive. He wrote the following general statements about the gifts being active in the Church:

"For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to this present time." (Justin Martyr, c. 150)[1]

"Now, it is possible to see amongst us women and men who possess gifts of the Spirit of God." (Justin Martyr, c. 150)[2]

The Didache, estimated to have been written in the very late first or early second century, makes reference to prophets who spoke by the Spirit traveling from church to church.

Another early Christian author was Irenaeus. He was an early Church Father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. He wrote the following:

"In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God." (Irenaeus, c. 180 AD)[3]

And Tertullian, another Christian author from the same period (c. 160 - c. 225 AD) wrote:

"Let Marcion then exhibit, as gifts of his god, some prophets, such as have not spoken by human sense, but with the Spirit of God, such as have both predicted things to come, and have made manifest the secrets of the heart; let him produce a psalm, a vision, a prayer -- only let it be by the Spirit, in an ecstasy, that is, in a rapture, whenever an interpretation of tongues has occurred to him; let him show to me also, that any woman of boastful tongue in his community has ever prophesied from amongst those specially holy sisters of his. Now all these signs (of spiritual gifts) are forthcoming from my side without any difficulty, and they agree, too, with the rules, and the dispensations, and the instructions of the Creator; therefore without doubt the Christ, and the Spirit, and the apostle, belong severally to my God. Here, then, is my frank avowal for any one who cares to require it." (Tertullian, c. 207)[4]

Then we read John Chrysostom (c. 344 – 407), the Archbishop of Constantinople and an important Early Church Father, write:

"This whole phenomenon [of speaking in tongues] is very obscure, but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such then as used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity hath produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?" (Chrysostom, 344–407)[5]

The rarity of speaking in tongues is echoed by Augustine of Hippo:

"In the earliest times, "the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed: and they spake with tongues", which they had not learned, "as the Spirit gave them utterance". These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to shew that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away. In the laying on of hands now, that persons may receive the Holy Ghost, do we look that they should speak with tongues? Or when he laid the hand on infants, did each one of you look to see whether they would speak with tongues, and, when he saw that they did not speak with tongues, was any of you so strong-minded as to say, These have not received the Holy Ghost; for, had they received, they would speak with tongues as was the case in those times? If then the witness of the presence of the Holy Ghost be not given through these miracles, by what is it given, by what does one get to know that he has received the Holy Ghost? Let him question his own heart. If he love his brother, the Spirit of God dwelleth in him." (Augustine of Hippo, 354–430)[6]

It isn't until the beginning of the 20th century that we find tongues more common and even occuring in groups. It's interesting that it is claimed to have begun precisely at the beginning of the 20th century on January 1. This is the story as told by the numerous authors on Wikipedia:

"In 1900, Parham opened Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas, where he taught initial evidence. During a service on 1 January 1901, a student named Agnes Ozman asked for prayer and the laying on of hands to specifically ask God to fill her with the Holy Spirit. She became the first of many students to experience glossolalia, coincidentally in the first hours of the 20th century. Parham followed within the next few days. Parham called his new movement the Apostolic Faith. In 1905, he moved to Houston and opened a Bible school there. One of his students was William Seymour, an African-American preacher. In 1906, Seymour traveled to Los Angeles where his preaching ignited the Azusa Street Revival. This revival is considered the birth of the global Pentecostal movement. Witnesses at the Azusa Street Revival wrote of seeing fire resting on the heads of participants, miraculous healings in the meetings, and incidents of speaking in tongues...The revival at Azusa Street lasted until around 1915. From it grew many new Pentecostal churches as people visited the services in Los Angeles and took their newfound beliefs to communities around the United States and abroad. During the 20th century, glossolalia became an important part of the identity of these religious groups. During the 1960s, the charismatic movement within the mainline Protestant churches and among charismatic Roman Catholics would adopt some Pentecostal beliefs, and the practice of glossolalia would spread to other Christian denominations."[7]

In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul says a lot about tongues. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 he states:

"There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills."

It is clear that these gifts are "for the profit of all." Then he states in 1 Corinthians 12:28-31:

"And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way."

Paul the goes on in 1 Corinthians 13 to talk about the greatest gift, love. At the end of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul states:

"Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known" (1 Corinthians 13:8-12).

Some believe Paul is saying that the gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge will "cease," "vanish," and "be done away." Some believe this was soon after this time in the Corinthian church while others believe it will be when Christ comes back. It is not clear interpreting this (by using hermeneutics) and it largely depends on several things such as how you define the terms, what qualifies as use of these gifts, and if they have genuinely and clearly been used by the Holy Spirit (God). This is difficult to assess.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul specifically addresses the gifts of prophecy and tongues. He starts the chapter by saying in 1 Corinthians 14:1, "Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy."

This makes sense as he then states:

"For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification" (1 Corinthians 14:2-5).

It is clear from this passage that tongues is speaking to God, not men (v. 2), prophecy is to men (v. 3), tongues are to edify yourself but prophecy edifies the church (v. 4), and lastly that Paul wished everyone would speak in tongues but even more that everyone prophecied, unless the tongues could be interpreted for the edification of the church. Paul then says a lot about tongues and the need for interpretation and order. Then in 1 Corinthians 14:28, Paul states that if there is no interpreter for tongues in the church, the person praying in tongues should "keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God." This would be an example of tongues as a prayer language because the person is quietly praying in tongues between them and God. So tongues is essentially a personal prayer language unless there is an interpreter and then it is for the edification of the church.


Xenoglossy is speaking or writing in a natural language that was previously unknown to the speaker. Example - The New Testament claims that xenoglossy took place at Pentecost. The Book of Acts (Acts 2:1-13) describes Galileans speaking in non-native languages drawn from all over the Roman Empire, so that visitors to Jerusalem could understand them declaring "the mighty works of God". The visitors included Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Cyrenian Libya, and Rome. The author of the Book of Acts calls this phenomenon "speaking in tongues" and this was the first occurance of speaking in tongues in the Bible. The description of what happened at Pentecost is different from what is observed in modern glossolalia (what mostly Pentecostal and charismatic Christians call 'speaking in tongues'), although Christians who practice glossolalia today link what they do to what happened at Pentecost.

Personally, I have seen this gift abused and I have had numerous bad experiences with it. One pentecostal church I went to believed you had to speak in tongues if you had the baptism of the Holy Spirit so a group from the church prayed over me and tried to get me to speak in tongues, but I simply spoke gibberish as anyone could do what I was doing, and I wasn't edified by doing it. A Pastor at another church tried to convince me that speaking in tongues was mindless, challenging me to try to count chairs while speaking gibberish. I could count while doing it but I wasn't convinced. Numerous other groups and people have prayed over me but it has always clearly been gibberish with me moving my mouth and making the sounds, even if I'm not very mindful of them. I believe tongues are clearly different to the speaker than speaking gibberish as the Bible says it will edify us (1 Corinthians 14:4) and it is our spirit praying (1 Corinthians 14:14-15). According to people who pray in tongues, there is clearly a difference. In 2018, after 20+ years of seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit and tongues, I still haven't been able to pray in tongues but I did get a sense of what it may feel like. As I was speaking gibberish, for a split second, I wasn't mindful of what I was saying and it almost felt like I took a back seat. I'm not sure if that is what it should feel like but I am going to continue to pursue tongues as God has instructed us.

So did God start using these gifts again in the 20th century? I have clearly seen prophecy (depending how you define prophecy), and I believe in tongues, despite the abuse.

Feel free to contact me if you have anything you would like to share with me. We are all on a journey and I pray your beliefs are being transformed by God as we all mature in Him.


1. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 82.
2. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 88.
3. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter VI.
4. Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book V, Chapter VIII, s:Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Anti-Marcion/The Five Books Against Marcion/Book V/VIII.
5. Chrystostom, Homilies on First Corinthians, xxix, 1
6. Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John 6:10, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers [7:497-98]
7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossolalia

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