Talking in “tongues” – My own experience
I was introduced to Christ in a Charismatic church, so I adopted the “talking in tongues” doctrine by default. But I wasn’t happy with what I heard in others, including my leaders, seeing that much of it was just a few repeated sounds / words over and over again. So I would spend hours by myself developing a vast range of sounds (or words). After 24 years my “tongues” vocabulary was larger than anyone else’s I had heard, and I have attended many Charismatic / Pentecostal / Apostolic – based churches. However, after nearly a quarter of a century of “tongue-talking” I put my doubts about the truth of it to the test. Here are my findings based on the Three Principles of Discerning Truth.
1) Is talking in “tongues” true according to scripture?
We know about tongues from biblical accounts only through a few portions of scripture; yet many have made it one of the defining characteristics of Christianity. This, God never intended. Some even go as far as the say that without the “evidence” of speaking in “tongues”, one is not baptized by the Holy Spirit. And being baptized by the Holy Spirit is the initiation of our sanctification, without which no one will see the Lord in peace (Heb. 12:14). The result therefore would mean that without tongues there is no salvation, which is just bad doctrine.
The signal purpose for speaking in tongues was to be a demonstration of power from God. But, so too were miracles, casting out demons, prophesy, healings, and the word of knowledge, etc. They all testified to the fact that God was certainly with the early Christians, His people, glorifying the name of Jesus as the key to redemption and God’s purpose for mankind.
What did talking in tongues sound like?
But what did biblical tongues sound like? Did it sound anything like what we hear in churches today?
Scripture expressly says that the tongues heard as recorded in Acts in the account of the day of Pentecost, was different languages of men. Fifteen languages to be exact! But the amazing thing was not so much that so many languages were heard, but that they were being spoken by local people who didn’t know the languages. (Expositors’ commentaries are still in conflict: some say that the languages were actually spoken, while others say that those gathered in the Lord spoke their own language but that the visitors of the various nations heard their own language spoken).
The other major accounts in Acts were Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:46); and at Ephesus where about twelve men received the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:6) demonstrated by talking in tongues. Neither account says that the tongues spoken were languages of men; but Peter stated that the Holy Spirit demonstrated His anointing / baptism just as they experienced it on the day of Pentecost (Acts 10: 47; 11: 15). So, one can presume that the tongues spoken were of existing human language.
Who received tongues in the Biblical times?
Many seemed to have spoken in tongues in the first churches. However, other than Paul, the New Testament makes no mention of any other apostle actually speaking in tongues. They were there on the day of Pentecost. And I will not argue that they did not speak in tongues. I am merely saying that nowhere in scripture does it mention any of the twelve speaking it. Even on the day of Pentecost Peter says:
“For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; (Act 2:15)
- He does not mention women; he did not say: ” For these people…”
- nor does he include himself with those that spoke in tongues. Otherwise he would have said something like: ” For WE are not drunk, as you suppose…”
Many say that all those gathered spoke in tongues. But read the portion carefully, and with unbiased eyes. Even verse 4 does not say all spoke in tongues. It says:
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (Act 2:4)
Acts 2:3 says that each one of the disciples gathered had the appearance of tongues resting on them. However, it does not say that they all began to speak, but that those gathered began to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance. According to scripture, this would have been in order.
Paul’s teaching on tongues
Remember Paul said to the Corinthians that they are not to speak all together but to speak one at a time. He said that God is not a God of confusion. The fifteen languages that were spoken (or heard) was over a period of time on that day. So, to say that all fifteen languages were spoken at the same time by everyone present, would have made none of them audible in the chaos.
Paul also said that not all would receive the gift of tongues (1Cor. 12:30). But it would be distributed to those as the Holy Spirit saw fit.
2) Is talking in “tongues” true according to reason?
Paul counsels us to be mature in our thinking! (1Cor.14:20)
God’s reasonings of righteousness are a common, universal standard to man and the angels. And He made man to be able to comprehend those reasonings. Therefore, if something does not seem reasonable according to the universal understanding of righteousness then it is not true.
When one asks “tongue-talkers” what language they speak they will tell you that “tongues” are of men and angels (1Cor. 13:1). So let’s pursue this course of thinking:
1) If they are of man, then what earthly language?
2) If of angels, then why the diversity in those who possess the ” gift”?
Is my tongues of men?
Test it and see! It is easy these days to test the authenticity of any language of men through the internet.
But in earlier days, before the advent of the internet, there have been those so enthusiastic in their belief that they have a new tongue, that they have travelled to various countries around the world looking for the language that they could “speak”, and that, without having gone through the pains of study. This is something God would never do.
Firstly; if they could not understand what they were saying (because they were supposedly “speaking mysteries to God” taken from 1Cor. 14:2), then how could they possibly think they could understand the tribe of the tongue they thought they possessed when spoken to?
Secondly; God expects us to work for what we receive. Paul knew various languages and dialects, but he was a man of great learning (Acts 26:24). Nothing is for free in this world or the next. Even salvation is not for free. It cost Christ His life. And it costs us the same (Matt 10:39; 16:25).
The purpose of tongues
God did not give tongues as a ministering tool. Talking in tongues in Acts was for the demonstration of power by the Holy Spirit, and as a witness to the truth of what the apostles were teaching. And the tongues Paul speaks of in Corinthians were for self-edification, and to glorify and have spiritual communion with God, unless coupled with interpretation if spoken in public.
The sophistication of the languages of men is great. And the tongue of angels is far greater. If the “tongues” that we hear in church are indeed from either origin, then why do we hear such limited and unclear sounds; and especially from those who the Holy Spirit has professedly baptised, and who have been “talking in tongues” for years? One would reasonably think that if it is the Holy Spirit, then surely they would have a larger vocabulary.
But if my tongues is not of men then isn’t it of angels?
I have heard that tongues is the language of men and angels. Many state that those who talk in “tongues,” which are not identified as a human language, talk with tongues of angels. As evidence, they will jump to the only scripture that mentions tongues being of men AND (or) angels (1Co 13:1).
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1Co 13:1)
However, they fail to read it in context of what Paul was saying. From verse 1 to 3, Paul was demonstrating a comparison of the extreme against true love. He states that if he speaks with tongues of men (human languages) AND angels (the spiritual language that God speaks to the angels – the universal pure language of heaven), and if he knew ALL mysteries, ALL knowledge, ALL faith, and gave away ALL his possessions etc. and did not have love, he would have nothing of eternal worth. Nowhere in scripture does it mention that men speak the language of angels. That is reserved only for those who walk with God and who are eventually accepted into heaven. Man’s language was divided into many because of sin. But the angels in heaven have no sin.
So, if your tongues is discovered as not being of any earthly language; and reason and scripture demonstrate that it is not of angels, then what is its source? A hard question. But the honest mind will want the answer.
3) Is “talking in tongues” true according to the testimony of life?
Where is talking in tongues found in church history?
None of the evangelical greats of the eras prior to the 1900’s spoke in tongues. These include such men as John and Charles Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, Charles Finney, etc. Neither did our Protestant Fathers speak in so-called “tongues”. Zwigly, Calvin, Hus, and Luther never did. Going further back we see than none of the early Fathers of the church spoke in “tongues” either.
Irenaeus and Tertullian both mention tongues and interpretation in their day, but it is unclear if the tongues were languages of men or the incoherent sounds heard today. And neither spoke it themselves. Other than these two scant examples, none of the other church Fathers mention talking in tongues as a Christian practice. This includes Clement to Augustine, and those who came after.
Talking in tongues is a gift from God
Paul also clearly states that only some would receive the gift of tongues 91Cor. 12:10, 28, & 30). The “all” spoken of in 1Cor. 14:23 is a hypothetical case used to demonstrate a fact. However, the scenario of everyone speaking in tongues never existed, because, and as Paul stated, God gave only some the gift.
Those that teach that one who does not speak in “tongues” has not been baptised in the Holy Spirit teaches in gross error. It is anti-scriptural and against reason.
I have known wonderful Christians who never “spoke in tongues”. I have also known plenty who broke out in so-called “tongues” at the drop of a hat, and there lives were as the worst unbelievers I have met.
Tongues is a gift from God, Who gives it to those who are trustworthy of His gift. That is; they walked in loving obedience to the Spirit of God in holy conduct of life. How many do you know who “speak in tongues” and walk with purity of heart, mind, mouth and life?
So where did “tongues” of today come from?
It is not my intention to repeat the 19th /20th century history of the Charismatic / Pentecostal movement in this post. I am simply putting the “tongues” that we often witness today to the test by the Principles of Discerning Truth.
The Azusa Street “Revival” wasn’t the birth of the Pentecostal movement (which in turn came from the holiness movement), but it certainly crowned it and gave it momentum. For those who wish to pursue the history of this movement I suggest doing your own research. But if you do, do not follow the grave mistake of many by reading only that which backs your viewpoint. Reading with integrity and honesty to one’s self is the only way to get to the truth of a matter. (Preconceived ideas and doctrines of men should not interfere with the pursuit of truth – if one really wants it).
What does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit”?
This is the language of Luke only, and it appears in the gospel of Luke and Acts. It appears nowhere else.
Luke simply means that those who have completely yielded themselves to the workings of the Holy Spirit will be more conscious of Him and will therefore exhibit His presence and workings in greater strength.
“For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His…” 2Ch 16:9
God works greater in those who sanctify their hearts the more for Him. Those who receive this baptism of the Holy Spirit know it. They have the witness in their consciousness as the initiation of God’s Spirit quickened within them (Rom 8:16).
What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit?
Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? (Acts 19:2)
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the specific anointing God gives to believers who have purified / sanctified their hearts towards Him. (See 1Pet 3:15 & James 4:8). It is the consciousness of the new birth, or “being born again”.
As we are baptized into Christ (Rom 6:2), so too are we baptized by the Holy Spirit. In fact, they both happen at the same time. Some might say that the consciousness of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is separate from being born again, but it is not. Many believe in Christ for years but still have not given themselves over to Him in their hearts. Hence, their belief that sanctification is a process. (See Justification vs Sanctification for more details). These are believers only. But it was also believers who wanted to kill Jesus, according to His own words. Did you ever read the incident? (See John 8:30 – 40 in context).
Paul said to the Ephesian disciples: “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” (Acts 19:2). This was not a separate act in their salvation. They had been baptised into John’s baptism for repentance of sin; not for life in Christ yet (Acts 19:4). But they were obedient to Paul’s teaching and exercised faith in Christ; and received as an external witness of their conversion the gift of talking in tongues during their baptism by the Holy Spirit; i.e. being born again!
What is it to “pray in the Holy Spirit”?
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, (Jud 1:20)
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; (Rom 8:26)
and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom 8:27
Above are some scriptures often used by those who supposedly speak in tongues. But none of these are talking about speaking in tongues.
When we truly pray in the Spirit, we become totally absorbed by the consciousness of His presence. This is the state we are to always be in when in prayer.
Often, those who pray in the Spirit do not utter words, for words become limited for such close communication with God at these times. Our hearts are filled with wonder, love, and a knowing that we are in the humbling presence of Almighty God. And it is at this time that the quickened Holy Spirit within us takes over, interceding on behalf of the saints. This is not a mindless exercise of “tongue-talking”, but a sober meditation and communion with God.
“Intercessory Prayer Meeting” example
I have been in many “intercessory prayer” meetings where believers were “praying in the Spirit”. At one of these meetings a woman who was sitting in front of me was “tut-tutting” away while being totally absorbed in a magazine she was reading. My description of her “tongues” is not an exaggeration. Her total “tongues” vocabulary, after many years of “talking in tongues”, consisted of one double word – “tut-tut”. She was the wife of our intercessory leader, who was an elder of a large and established church I attended, and she was recognized as having been baptized by the Holy Spirit. Just because authority in the church accepts something as truth this does not necessarily make it so.
Conclusion of talking in tongues
After many years of “talking in tongues” I began asking lots of questions and conducted extensive research. I have discovered, that even though my “tongues” had more vocabulary than any I have heard, it was all my work. When I “spoke in tongues” I never had a consciousness of God’s presence. I still had sin in my life, yet I could go for hours “talking in tongues”. This just didn’t make sense to me. If I was so advanced in “praying in the Spirit”, then should I not surely be better than most in walking in the Spirit? I was not. This was a huge contradiction to me, and drove me to seek the truth of the matter.
For more on talking in tongues also see Dr. Thomas Schreiner’s video:
I look forward to any questions you may have on the above. Send me an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org