Spiritual gifts can be a very controversial subject. The gift of tongues can be an
even greater controversial
topic. Many times we interpret the scriptures
based upon our own experience or our own
presuppositions. It is important to do our
best to avoid this, especially when studying
the topic of tongues. This article will try to
gain a biblical understanding of the gift of
It is important to distinguish that there are two
types of tongues the church believes in today.
The first is that of Acts chapter 2. In Acts
chapter 2 the Apostles were given the gift of
tongues, or foreign languages, to preach the Gospel.
This is the widely accepted view of the Holy Spirit
on Pentecost. God gave the Apostles the
miraculous ability to speak foreign languages to the
people at the feast. This view is not
typically disputed within the church. The
second view is the source of much controversy in the
The second view is that of speaking an unknown
heavenly, or angelic, language. The church has
landed on both sides of this issue. It will
become very clear shortly that this writer believes
in the first view, but not the second. Here
are some questions you might consider when studying
the gift of tongues.
("Ten Hard Questions About Tongues", Yuriy,
Why did tongues as an unknown heavenly language
exist before the birth of Christianity?
Why do non-Christian religions practice the gift
of tongues in their worship?
If interpretation is mandatory (1 Cor. 14:28),
why do we almost never see interpreted tongues?
Why are there no examples of unknown heavenly
languages throughout church history?
Why does the babbling language heard in modern
tongues, when studied with science, have no
distinguishable linguistic features?
If tongues is a real heavenly language, why are
different interpretations given for the same
Why can people be trained to speak in tongues,
apart from supernatural intervention?
Why did Jesus forbid prayer with babbling/long
vain repetitions (Matt. 6:7) if he was going to
give it as a special gift later?
Jesus clearly taught not to pray
with a babbling repetitive language.
The word for vain is battologeō, which
means, "to stammer, use idle words,
babble" (Thayer's - G945)
These are very important questions to answer.
Without being able to answer these questions it
would be hard to justify the use of tongues as an
unknown heavenly language. However, these
questions alone do not pose the only problem with
tongues as a heavenly language. A good study
of the scripture will demonstrate the same.
The Greek word for tongues is glōssa, which
literally means, "the tongue" as an organ
of the body. The secondary definition is,
"a language" (Strong's Dictionary - G1100).
This word is used 50 times in the New Testament and
112 times in the Septuagint Old Testament. The
Hebrew word for tongues is lâshôn which literally
means, "the tongue." The secondary definition
is, "language" (Strong's Dictionary - H3956).
every instance in the Septuagint Old Testament where
the word glōssa is used it is referring to
the physical tongue or a known language. There
is not one example of this word used to describe an
unknown language or heavenly language. In every instance in the New Testament where the
word glōssa is used it is referring to the
physical tongue or a known language as well.
example given in the scripture of someone speaking
in tongues is found in Acts chapter two. Here
the Apostles met in Jerusalem at the Feast of
Pentecost (Acts 2:1, 5). The Holy Spirit fell
upon the Apostles and they began to speak in tongues
(Acts 2:4). It is clear from the text that
these are known languages. In fact, the
languages are listed in Acts 2:8-11.
The only examples given in the scripture regarding
the use of tongues is that of a known language.
exception to this typically comes from 1 Corinthians
chapters 12 through 14. In this section of
scripture it seems common to assume that tongues
is now referring to an unknown heavenly language.
This is very unfortunate. If Paul were
speaking of a different type of tongues he would
have undoubtedly explained so, but he did not. A
more thorough exegesis of this section of
scripture will clearly show a different
Tongues in 1 Corinthians:
The passage in question starts in 1 Corinthians
chapter 12. Here Paul brings up the topic of
"spiritual gifts" (1 Cor. 12:1). In
chapter 12 Paul speaks of the church body and how
God has arranged the use of His gifts as a whole.
There is a purpose and plan for the church and the
use of these gifts. Paul states, "But the
manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to
profit withal" (1 Cor. 12:7). The gifts
of the spirit are designed to profit all members of
the church. These gifts are not to be used
privately, but rather publically so all can benefit.
Using tongues as a private prayer language
contradicts what Paul is here saying. The rest
of the chapter explains how these gifts are used to
benefit the body of Christ. These gifts are
used corporately to benefit the whole body, not
individually to benefit the individual. This
is made more clear later in chapter 14, but first,
we will look at chapter 13.
13 Paul compares all the gifts to something far
greater, that is, love (1 Cor. 13:1). The word for love here
is agapē, which means, "keeping the
commandments" (1 John 5:3). Paul's
point is that the use of these gifts, if you don't
keep God's commandments, is meaningless. For
more on the definition of love please read my
Love of God. The point to chapter 13
is that these spiritual gifts take a clear second
place to love. After all, people will know who
follow the Messiah by their love, or, keeping the
commandments (John 13:35). The proof that we
follow the Messiah is that we keep His commandments,
not whether or not we speak in tongues. Paul
made it clear that not every believer will speak in
tongues (1 Cor. 12:28-30).
first verse of chapter 13 is commonly used to teach
that tongues are a heavenly language. This is
very unfortunate because the context is not that of
tongues, but of love. Paul said, "Though
I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and
have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or
a tinkling cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1). This
verse is used to say that tongues is an angelic language
of heaven, but is this the point Paul is making?
First, throughout scripture whenever we see the
interaction between angels and man the message is
clear and concise. What scriptural evidence is
their to suggest that angels speak differently?
They clearly speak in a way that the message
recipient can understand. Second, the truth is, Paul is using what we call today a
hyperbole. A hyperbole is exaggerating
something so much to emphasize a point. Paul
is saying if he speaks with the tongues of men, or
even of angels, but without love it is pointless.
Paul uses hyperboles quite often. In Galatians
1:8, Paul says, "But though we,
or an angel from heaven,
preach any other gospel unto you than that which we
have preached unto you, let him be accursed."
This is clearly a hyperbole. Paul is not
saying an angel from heaven might contradict the
gospel. He mentions this to emphasize his
point. Even if an angel did contradict the
gospel, we should not believe him. Paul also
was not saying that we should speak in angelic
languages. He mentioned this to emphasize a
point. That is, no matter how impressive your
speaking in tongues is, love is greater.
Chapter 14 is where most of the confusion on the
gift of tongues begins. The problem with most
interpretations of chapter 14 is the entire chapter
is not taken into consideration. In fact, to
have a complete understanding you need to consider
the entire chapters of 12, 13, and 14. Unless
you study these chapters as a whole, it will be
difficult to fully understand the gift of tongues.
Likewise, unless you study the use of tongues in the
Old Testament you will likely lack a full
understanding of the gift of tongues as well.
Here is a look at the often misunderstood 1
Corinthians chapter 14.
The first thing to be aware of is the use of the
word "unknown" in the King James Bible.
This word is in italics, which means it was added
and not part of the translations. Keep this in
mind throughout this part of the study. I will
remove this word when I quote for clarity sake.
Paul starts with the statement, "Follow after
charity (love), and desire spiritual gifts, but
rather that ye may prophesy" (1 Cor. 14:1).
As stated in chapter 13, the most important thing is
that we love, or, keep the commandments, but it is
good to desire spiritual gifts. The gift to be
sought out the most is prophesy. Why?
because, "For he that speaketh in a tongue
speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man
understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh
mysteries" (1 Cor. 14:2). Many try to use
verse two as evidence of a prayer language we use to
speak only to God. However, this is not the
point. The reason those who speak in a tongue
are only speaking to God is given within the verse.
They are speaking to God only because "no man
understands." Paul is not saying there is
a special prayer language for you to speak to God.
The point to these three chapters is edification,
and there is no edification without understanding.
Paul continues, "But he that prophesieth
speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation,
and comfort. He that speaketh in a tongue edifieth
himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the
church. 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" (1 Cor. 14:3-5).
Those who speak in tongues, and cannot interpret,
edify only themselves. The Greek word for
interpret is diermēneuō, which means, "to
explain thoroughly; by implication to translate"
(Strong's Dictionary - G1329). This word
should probably be to translate. Keep in mind,
you can speak a foreign language with understanding,
yet still not be able to interpret or translate.
This does not mean that you can speak in a tongue
without understanding. Neither does this mean
you can edify yourself by speaking an unknown
language that you don't understand yourself.
When you speak in tongues you do understand the
language. This understanding will edify
yourself, but those who do not understand will not
be edified. If you can speak the language you
have understanding, but you just may not be able to
translate for others. There are many articles
explaining the very difficult task of translating
from one language to the next. It takes time
after learning a second language to be able to
translate or interpret that language to other people
because not all words or concepts simply translate
from one language into another.
Paul continues by saying, "And even things
without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp,
except they give a distinction in the sounds, how
shall it be known what is piped or harped? For
if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall
prepare himself to the battle?" (1 Cor.
14:7-8). Paul now compares the use of
instruments to that of language. If you make a
sound that is unknown or uncertain, the sound will
not be understood. How would the soldier know
to prepare for battle if he did not understand the
trumpet sound alerting him to do so. "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. There
are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the
world, and none of them is without signification.
Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I
shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he
that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me" (1
Cor. 14:9-11). Here Paul clearly is speaking
of known languages. The word for "voices"
is phōnē, which literally means, "a
sound, or tone, voice, or speach" (Strong's
Dictionary G5456). This word can be used of
any sound made to communicate. It is most
often translated as "voice." The
context here is of any sound used to communicate.
This is clear evidence that Paul is speaking of
known languages. If this was a language that
only God knows and we do not have understanding of,
this word could not be used. This is why when
you don't understand the meaning of the language you
become as a foreigner (barbarian).
The point to all this so far is the edifying of the
church. "Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are
zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel
to the edifying of the church" (1 Cor. 14:12).
This was the point to chapter 12. The
spiritual gifts have a purpose. They are
designed to benefit the whole congregation (1 Cor.
12:7). Which is why Paul says,
"wherefore let him that speaketh in a tongue pray
that he may interpret" (1 Cor. 14:13).
Without the interpretation the only one that
benefits, or is edified, is the one speaking the
tongue. "For if I pray in a tongue, my
spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful"
(1 Cor. 14:14). Keep in mind, the Greek word
for spirit is pneuma, which means, "a current of
air, that is, breath" (Strong's Dictionary -
G4151). Praying in the spirit means praying
with breath, or out loud. John Gill says this
about verse 14, "I pray with my breath vocally;
or else with affection and devotion, understanding
what I say myself, and so am edified; or rather with
the gift of the Spirit bestowed on me."
This refers to praying out loud in public. The
one who prays has understanding, but his
understanding is unfruitful. That is, not
understood by others. John Gill continues
saying, "what I say with understanding to myself
is unprofitable to others, not being understood by
them." Paul's conclusion, "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"
(1 Cor. 14:15). When you pray or sing in
public, be sure to do so with understanding.
If you don't, "how shall he that occupieth the
room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of
thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou
sayest?" (1 Cor. 14:16-17). This is
clearly speaking of praying out loud in public.
This is not a private prayer language.
"I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than
ye all: 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
a tongue" (1 Cor. 14:18-19). Paul speaks
more languages than the people of the Corinthian
church. After all, Paul was a Pharisee and was
well educated (Phil. 3:4-6). He could speak
many foreign languages, but he is saying that he
would rather speak a language all could understand
than to speak many words that are not understood.
The point again is understanding. Which is why
they are to "be not children in understanding:
howbeit in malice be ye children, but in
understanding be men" (1 Cor. 14:20).
Their understanding should be mature and their
sinfulness should be naive.
The next few verses solidify the exact context of
what Paul is speaking of. "In the law it
is written, With men of other tongues and other lips
will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that
will they not hear me, saith the Lord" (1 Cor.
14:21). Paul quotes Is. 28:11 to verify what
these tongues are really about. If you read
Isaiah chapter 28 you will see that this chapter is
about God's judgment. How does God judge?
One way is with foreign languages. This we
know from the curse of the law. The curses are
listed in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. In
Deuteronomy 28:49 it says, "The LORD shall bring
a nation against thee from far, from the end of the
earth, as swift as the eagle flieth;
a nation whose tongue
thou shalt not understand." The
context of tongues in the New Testament is that of a
warning of judgment. God is warning the
unbelieving Jews that their rejection of the Messiah
will not be forgotten. This is confirmed in
the very next verse. "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" (1 Cor. 14:22). The tongues in
the New Testament are foreign languages designed to
be a sign to unbelieving Jews that judgment is
coming because of their rejection of the Messiah.
This might be referring to the destruction of the
Temple in 70 AD. This was a common theme
throughout the Old Testament. Many times God
warned Israel through foreign languages in the land.
Here are some examples to look up (Is. 28:11, Jer.
5:15, Is. 33:19, Jer. 4:16, Is. 5:26).
God clearly warns nations with foreign languages
The conclusion is simple, if the whole church comes
together, and everyone speaks in foreign languages,
those who are outside the church will think you are
crazy (1 Cor. 14:23). But if everyone
prophesies, those who are outside will be convicted
of all and will praise God (1 Cor. 14:24-25).
If someone has a psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, a
revelation, or an interpretation, "all things
[should] be done unto edifying" (1 Cor. 14:26).
Again, the purpose is edification, or understanding.
If anyone speaks in a tongue (foreign language), let
it be done only by two or three at the most, but
always with an interpreter (1 Cor. 14:27).
"But if there be no interpreter, let him keep
silence in the church; and let him speak to himself,
and to God" (1 Cor. 14:28). Tongues
should never be spoken in the church without an
"Let the prophets speak two or three, and let
the other judge. If any thing be revealed to
another that sitteth by, let the first hold his
peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one,
that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the
prophets. For God is not the author of
confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the
saints" (1 Cor. 14:29-33). God is a God
of order. The prophets should only speak two
or three at a time. The others are to judge
what is spoken. Those who have something to
say are to wait until a time is open. Why?
Because the spirit (breath) of the prophets are
subject to the prophets. Women are also to
keep quiet and learn from their husbands at home (1
Paul then challenges them by saying, "What? came
the word of God out from you? or came it unto you
only? 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. But if any man be ignorant, let him
be ignorant" (1 Cor. 14:36-38). Paul says
this is commanded from the LORD. He concludes
with a harsh statement, "But if any man be
ignorant, let him be ignorant." The ISV
puts it this way, "But if anyone ignores this,
he should be ignored." Paul tells the
Corinthians that if anyone ignores this teaching
they are to be ignored by the church. Anyone
who speaks in tongues without an interpreter or used
in a private prayer language should be ignored.
At least, what they are saying should be ignored.
Paul concludes with, "Wherefore, brethren, covet
to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
Let all things be done decently and in order"
(1 Cor. 14:39-40). He concludes how he began
in chapter 12, the gifts of the spirit have a
purpose and an order. The church should not
deviate from this.
what is going on today?
The tongues used in churches today do not meet the
biblical standards for speaking in tongues.
This use of tongues is what scientists call
glossolalia. Glossolalia has been studied by
scientists for years. "Thorough
research and investigation of this phenomenon leads
to a theory that glossolalia is a natural phenomenon
of 'free vocalization.' It is true that those who
practice glossolalia experience a meaningful and
emotional experience, however, this is not evidence
of a supernatural language, because other forms of
non-language vocalizations, such as crying or
laughing, also produce powerful emotional and
meaningful experiences, yet are still very natural."
("Ten Hard Questions About Tongues", Yuriy,
Today, Christians commonly use an incorrect form of
tongues that the Bible does not support. This
does not mean one is not a true believer if they
practice this form of tongues, but when someone
realizes they are doing something contrary to
Biblical Tongues, they should probably avoid such
practice. Some have stated that this form of
tongues is demonic. This is not the opinion of
this writer. Although pagan religions,
witchcraft, satanism and the such practice this form
of tongues, I believe those Christians who practice
such fall in the category of a "natural phenomenon
of free vocalization."
It is very unfortunate that the church today has
abandoned the God given order of His gifts.
Instead of accepting the plain and simple
understanding, which supports an orderly church
service, we have accepted an unorganized, illogical
replacement. With a more thorough study of the
relevant scriptures it becomes clear that every
example of tongues is that of a known language or
the physical tongue itself. The modern
babbling that we call tongues today is not from the
In fact, the Jewish community has always rejected
this form of tongues. I would like to finish
this article with a quote from a Jewish Rabbi.
In an article titled, "Jewish Gibberish?
Babble On!", Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman answered
the question, What do Jewish people think of
tongues? by saying, "While there seems to be
references to speaking in tongues in Christian
sources (although many are forced interpretations or
outright additions not found in the ancient Greek
version), there is no reference to speaking in
tongues anywhere in Tanach, the Jewish Bible.
There are only some remotely similar, but markedly
For one, recall the
well-known story of the Tower of Babel, where the
peopleís tongues were confused such that people
spoke languages that others didnít understand.
However, this is not comparable because each spoke
an actual language, not unintelligible sounds, where
it was the speaker who understood and the listeners
who did not. Also, far from expressing
spiritual enlightenment, their 'babel-ing' was a
punishment for brazenly challenging G-d, which
resulted in discord and dispersal.
So to answer the
question: Does Judaism accept gibberish? Babel