Speaking In Tongues
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. - 1 Corinthians 14:33
The modern practice of speaking in tongues, or Glossolalia as some call it, is a movement within the Pentecostal denomination of Christianity. The practice is commonly taken to be indicative of being "filled with the Holy Spirit" with some churches going so far as to say that one cannot be saved unless he speaks in tongues. It should be noted here that Pentecostalism is a relatively new movement that started in the late 19th century American Midwest. Named after the day of Pentecost, this movement emphasizes the receiving of gifts from the Holy Spirit as evidence of His indwelling presence and salvation within the believer.
I am going to argue in this post that the modern practice of speaking in tongues is not Biblical and is actually very harmful to authentic Christianity. Now to do this I will be examining verses commonly championed by Pentecostal followers and testing them to see if that is really what was being taught by the author, who was Paul in most cases. Obviously this will have some repercussions if you currently attend a church where speaking in tongues is supported. I ask only that you read this with an open mind and remember that I am not attacking you, your pastor or anyone else within the Pentecostal movement...rather I am attacking the practice itself.
Before we go further, though, we need to look at the big picture. The problem of the human condition is essentially two-fold. First, Adam's sin at The Fall infected man with the sin nature that we are all born with today. This act led to the second problem which was God withdrawing his Spirit from man and thus man being "dead in our sins". The sin problem was solved at the cross; the problem of life, however, was taken care of at Pentecost. This day marks the time when God "poured out" His Spirit and made man whole again, restoring the life that had been lost since Adam to all who believe. The forgiveness of sins is what allowed salvation to take place, it isn't salvation itself. As is His custom, God approved this event by enacting a miracle, this time enabling the Apostles to speak in tongues (or languages in some translations). This event is recorded in Acts 2, which just so happens to be the scriptural basis used to justify the modern-day practice of speaking in tongues.
If you read carefully, you may have noticed some differences here in the Scriptures from what we observe today in Pentecostal churches. In verse 6 of chapter 2 we see that every man heard the gospel being proclaimed in his own language, despite the fact that there were many different languages and cultures simultaneously present. In verse 7 it is clarified that each man completely understood what they were hearing...there was no confusion whatsoever. There were no human translators present either; the Apostles were speaking in their own language, the Holy Spirit was translating, and each man heard the translation in their own language. It was an extremely clear presentation of the Gospel to all. When Paul says that the men were confused (verse 8) he explains that they were confused at how they heard, not what they heard. So...after seeing Acts 2 in its proper light let's compare it to what we see today.
Anything seem off? Utter and complete confusion (and downright cultish behavior), this is clearly not what happened in Acts 2.
In Acts 10:44-48, we see that "some were amazed" because of the Holy Spirit being "poured out" on the gentiles. Some Pentecostals will use these verses to again justify the apparent confusion resulting from the modern practice of speaking in tongues...yet this is clearly not the point of the passage. Here we see the Jews ("circumcised among Peter") being surprised because the "gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even among the gentiles". This was affirming that Salvation was freely available to all, not just Jews.
Another chapter which is commonly used to support the practice of charismatic tongues is Acts 19. However if this section is read carefully, we see that it is in reference to God's approval of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as opposed to the basptism of repentence preached by John. There is no verse here indicating that there was any confusion or chaos present.
1 Corintians 13:1 is sometimes also used to support the idea of a "prayer language" or angelic tongue, but is this what Paul is really talking about here? I don't think so, and if you read the verse as part of the surrounding text you'll see why. Chapter 13 is presenting the subject of love and how important it is. By using a common technique called "literary editorial expression", Paul was saying that nothing really matters if you aren't loved. We can know this because in verse 3 Paul says "if I deliver up my body to be burned", yet we know that Paul clearly was not speaking of being physically burned here. This is the same context used in verse 1 when Paul says "if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels"...we can't pick and choose what we want the Bible to say.
1 Corinthians 14 is certainly the trickiest chapter to properly understand because it requires some background knowledge about the time and culture of when it was written and who it was written to. It can be very easy to misunderstand what Paul is saying if the wrong background is being used to understand it. If anything, this highlights the need for trained and schooled pastors to preach correctly and the duty of the believer to carefully choose who he opens his mind to.
We should start by refreshing our minds with the Biblical definition of speaking in tongues found in Acts 2, not the definition of the modern charismatic movement. With the correct frame of reference in mind, reading 1 Corinthians 14 makes it obvious that Paul seems to be speaking about something different here. Our first clue is given in chapter 14 verse 15, where Paul says that we can choose to "pray with my spirit, but pray with my mind also". In accordance with the preceding verses, we see that Paul is presenting a choice here: either we can pray with or without understanding. Now remember in Acts 2 that when the Holy Spirit fell on those present, every man was clearly understanding the gospel in his own language, there was absolutely no misunderstanding. So what is happening here? This is where the cultural background comes in. The city of Corinth was full of synagogues which were in turn full of Jews, who, back then, spoke Aramaic. Jewish tradition teaches that when praying or singing to God in synagogues, one should always do so in Hebrew for this is the language that God used to speak to man. However, the Pharisee tradition was to teach new converts how to pray in Hebrew even though the convert himself may not know exactly what he was saying, this would ensure that God understood his prayers and praise. When the Jews were told by Paul to build churches, they took that Jewish tradition with them and held services in Hebrew...which is exactly what Paul is referring to when he says that "there are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me." He goes on to say that he would "rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue". Is this making better sense now?
Paul is saying that we can either build ourselves up by praying to God in Hebrew, which no one else but God would understand, or we can pray in a language everyone knows so that all may be built up. In the end we can see that this entire chapter is focused on a completely different subject than what modern Pentecostals take it to be.
So if the modern practice of speaking in tongues isn't Biblical then you may be asking yourself "what is it?", and that is a very good question. When comparing modern tongues with Biblical tongues we clearly see that they are absolutely not the same thing, and this leaves us only a few options to account for what is happening. In my opinion, I believe that it all stems from self-produced emotion...nothing more. I've personally experienced many instances where, during a "worship service", entire groups of people have had very ostensible reactions to "experiencing God's presence"...only to find out later that they were simply following suit with what everyone else was doing at the time. This isn't to say that everyone out there is faking it, some may sincerely believe that they are "feeling God" even though it's simply their own emotions. This isn't the place for me to go into detail about my thoughts concerning the Christian youth today mixing emotion into religion, so I'll move on.
Another potential explanation for the modern interpretation of speaking in tongues is that it is fueled by demonic or Satanic influences. Remember, Satan is called "The Great Deceiver" and the "King of Liars". It is entirely possible that this would be an attempt of slipping himself into God's place and corrupting a Biblical event so that he may be worshipped "like the Most High".
Outside of the Bible, we can additionally use previous studies done on the subject of Pentecostal tongues to show that it really doesn't make sense. For example, one study found that the "language" was uttered based on rythmic and tonal qualities of the languages traditionally spoken by that person. This means that Pentecostal Korean Glossolalia would sound very different from American Pentecostal Glossolalia. It seems to me that "God's language" would be the same regardless of who spoke it, otherwise they would be different languages...right?
Regardless of what explanations we can come up with, the important thing here is to recognize that whatever it is, modern tongues is anything but Biblical.