The True Meaning of the Gift of Tongues in the Bible

The purpose of this study is because it is important that we investigate and study the scriptures to find out if the experience that Pentecostal Christian are having in their church service of supposedly speaking in tongues is Biblical or unbiblical.

In these end times of so much deception we need to find out if the Pentecostal church experience of speaking in tongues can be identified with the speaking in tongues described in the Bible in Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14.
Speaking in tongues has been the traditional hallmark of Pentecostalism–the fastest growing religious movement on earth.

But the problem with the Pentecostal church is that they claim that their experience of spontaneously uttering unintelligible (impossible to understand) sounds as the gift of the Holy Spirit and the same experience as the disciples recorded in the book of Acts chapter 2.

The Pentecostal’s understanding and teaching on speaking in tongues is a false and misleading understanding they have of that topic and their doctrine has spread to nearly every Christian denomination in recent years.
But what is so shocking and interesting is that recent studies have shown that the phenomenon of the Pentecostal denomination in their practice of spontaneously uttering unintelligible sounds is not a uniquely Christian practice.
For a example in Japan the phenomenon of spontaneously uttering unintelligible (impossible to understand) sounds is known to occur in small cultic groups,during sorcerous seances in Hokkaido and northern Honshu. (See L. Carlyle, May A Survey of Glossolalia and Related phenomenon in Non-Christian Religions page 65).

Felicitas D. Goodman was an American linguist and anthropologist. She was a highly regarded expert in linguistics and anthropology and researched and explored ritual body postures for many years.

Possession is one of the most frequent ritual occasions for spontaneously uttering these unintelligible sounds that the Pentecostals believe is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. (See Spittler in Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movement page 336).

These are but a few of the many known examples of the phenomenon of spontaneously uttering unintelligible sounds from modern non-Christian religions.

Now with those facts in mind, what Christian would dare to argue that the Holy Spirit would manifest himself within a pagan ritual?

Modern linguistic scholars and researchers that are experts in the study of what is and makes a language have for over a period of many years studied the phenomenon of spontaneously uttering unintelligible sounds that the Pentecostals have called “speaking in tongues.”

Professor William J. Samarin of the university of Toronto’s Department of Linguistics published a massive research study on the so called “speaking in tongues” of the Pentecostals and he rejected the view that these spontaneous utterings of unintelligible sounds that the Pentecostals call speaking in tongues is not a language at all.

He concluded that it is meaningless babbling speech that has no consistent syntagmatic structure and is not systematically derived from or related to any known language. (See William J. Samarin language in society, Cambridge University Press 1972 pages 121-30, Tongues of men and Angles page 127).

The First Time Speaking In Tongues Is Mentioned In The New Testament

The first person to speak about the gift of tongues was Jesus himself. Jesus spoke concerning this matter only once found in the gospel of Mark 16:17 and we get to understand why He spoke on this matter in verse 15.

Jesus spoke on the gift of tongues in verse 16 because He was informing the disciples that the gift of tongues would be one of the accompanying miraculous gifts that he would bestow upon them so that they would be able to accomplish the great commission of evangelizing the world with the truth of the gospel.

So the first thing we must understand is that the nature of the gift of tongues was for the proclamation of the gospel truth. The Greek words for “new tongues” are glossais kainais. The noun glossa is used with two major meanings. First, it is used to describe the “tongue” as an organ of speech. (See Mark 7:33; see also Luke 1:64; Rom 3:13; 14:11; 1 John 3:18; 1 Peter 3:10).

Second, the word tongue–glossa is commonly used with the meaning of “language” (Phil 2:11; Rev 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; Acts 26, 11)

The correct context and proper understanding of Mark 16:17 is to equip the unlettered disciples to preach among other nations beyond the borders of Palestine; Christ promised them the power to speak other languages.

The fulfillment of this promise by Jesus to the disciples occurred a few weeks later on the Day of Pentecost when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit equipped the disciples to speak foreign languages. The bible tells us each person heard them speaking in his own language (Acts 2:6).

This is a major contrast to the practice of the Pentecostal Church that have long hour meetings organized to teach people how to expand their consciousness in order to bypass the intellect, so that they can be able to engage in glossolalia of unintelligible (impossible to understand) sounds.

The Bible makes it abundantly clear in Acts 2:6 that the people: “Each one heard them (the disciples) speaking in his own language.” The Greek word used in this verse here in Acts 2:6 is the Greek word dialektos which means the “language of a nation or region.”

The miraculous experience of the disciples here in Acts 2 at Pentecost was not a kind of tongues-speaking when believers spoke in an inarticulate, unintelligible speech that no one knows; but instead, it was the ability to speak articulate, intelligible (able to be understood) foreign languages which had not been learned by the disciples.

The Purpose of the gift of Speaking in Tongues in the Book of Acts

The purpose why Jesus gave the disciples the gift of speaking in tongues in the book of Acts was to lift the linguistic barriers so that the disciples could proclaim the truth about the Gospel.

The gift of tongues at Pentecost served two purposes—first, to enable the apostles to communicate in various dialects, and second, to grab the attention of the crowds and thereby add credence and credibility to the words of the apostles.

Speaking in Tongues in Acts Chapter 10

In Acts Chapter 10 we are told about the story of the conversion of Cornelius. While Peter was teaching Cornelius and his household, Peter and his Jewish brethren “were amazed, because, the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God” (Acts 10:45-46).

The speaking in tongues by Cornelius and his household was the same experienced by the disciples on the Day of Pentecost when they began speaking in other languages. How do we know this? We know this because Peter makes the connection between the two events, when he reports to the Jerusalem brethren:

“The Holy Spirit fell on them [in Caesarea] just as on us in the beginning. . . . God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us [at Pentecost] when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 11:15, 17).

Now the purpose of the gift of speaking in tongues in a another language in Acts 10 was totally different from the purpose in Acts 2.

In Acts 2 the disciples were equipt with the ability to speak foreign languages to fulfill the commission to proclaim the Gospel truth to every nation.

But in Acts 10 the purpose was to break down the existing racial barriers between Jewish and Gentiles, created by Jewish traditions.

The need for Cornelius and his family to speak in foreign languages was minimal, but the need for Peter and the Jews to break down racial barriers was great.

The Speaking in Tongues in Acts chapter 19

The Bible here tells us about Paul who arrived in Ephesus about A. D. 54, after visiting the churches in Galatia. There he met some Christian brethren who had no knowledge of the existence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:3).

After Paul leads these brethren into a fuller understanding of the Christian faith, they were willing to be baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5). Following baptism, Paul “laid his hands upon them, [and] the Holy Spirit came on them; they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).

It’s important to understand that here in Acts 19 the gift of tongues is given together with the gift of prophesying, because they served a very important function, namely, to equip believers not only to speak in foreign languages, but also to communicate a prophetic message of exhortation and edifying truth. Sadly, we don’t hear much edifying truth in the charismatic churches when they claim to be speaking in tongues.

Speaking in Tongues in 1 CORINTHIANS Chapters 12 through 14

The Apostle Paul discusses tongue-speaking with the church in Corinthians only in his epistle to the Corinthians. We know that tongues speaking in a another language is part of the spiritual gifts given to the church; but what is interesting is that Paul does not mention at all the gift of tongues-speaking in his two other lists of spiritual gifts found in Ephesians 4:11-12 and Romans 12:6-8.

We find that In Romans 12:6-8 Paul specifically mentions the gifts of prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, liberality in giving and acts of mercy; but he leaves out tongues-speaking.

Now this is surprising because if the gift of tongue speaking and the anointing of the Holy Spirit is so important and should be the main experience of the Christian in church service and in prayer meetings like the Pentecostal church teaches then surely the apostle Paul would have included it in this list.
The gift of speaking in tongues other languages is not the main gift we as Christians should be seeking it is not the primary gift of importance like the Pentecostal church tries to make it.

It is informative to know that in the two listings of spiritual gifts given in 1 Corinthians 12 (vv. 8-10 and 28), by Paul tongues and interpretation of tongues are mentioned last. Paul exhortation that the Christians should “earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Cor 12:31).


Paul viewed the gift of tongues differently than the charismatic Pentecostal churches of today. Who are inclined to place the gift of tongues first, but the apostle Paul places it last, because for him it was not one of the greater gifts.


That’s why he teaches in 1 Corinthians 14:5, saying: “He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in tongues.”
The implication is that there are gifts of greater value. He makes this point by placing tongues and their interpretation last in his two listing of spiritual gifts.

To understand more clearly the truth that the gift of tongues is not the primary gift we should be looking for. Paul takes time in 1 Corinthians 13 to teach that love is more primary then the gift of tongues.

There many Pentecostal Christian’s who interpret and teach that this passage in first Corinthians 13:1 the apostle Paul is actually teaching that Christians can engage in the speech of angels in which secrets of heaven are revealed.
Paul says “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1)

This text should be understood as a hypothetical sentence, because no one can speak with the tongues of angels. We have to recognize that Paul spoke hypothetically here in (1 Cor 13:1) because as the Greek conditional clause Paul uses the conditional particle ean “if” followed by the subjunctive lalo.


It’s important to understand that this type of conditional clause in the Greek language because it is one that dose not speak about reality because what Paul is communicating is if all linguistic possibilities including angelic speech, were at my disposal and yet I lack love, it would mean nothing.


Another misunderstood passage in the same book of 1 Corinthians chapter 14:2

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.


Pentecostal Christians try to use this text to teach that the Christian that speaks in an unknown tongue has the gift to speak to God privately in an unknown language and the ability to speak unknown mysteries.


First we have to understand that Paul is not suggesting in this text that the Christian that have the gift of speaking in tongues (in another language) has the gift to speak to God privately and this is the purpose of speaking in tongues as the Pentecostal’s teach.

Paul dose not say what is spoken is secrets of nonsense syllables and babblings what Pentecostal Christians seem to believe wen they engage in unintelligible (impossible to understand) sounds in their church services.

Now we want to understand the meaning of what the apostle Paul meant by speaking mysteries .
But a passage of Scripture that is not clearly understood should always be interpreted by other passages of scripture that deal with a similar topic in other words let the Scriptures interpret themselves.


The first time Paul uses the word mysteries plural in the book of Corinthians is in (1 Corinthians 4:1) in this text Paul insists that he and his coworkers be recognized as stewards of God’s mysteries.
Another passage from the New Testament by the apostle Paul  that deals with the word mysteries is found in the book of Colossians 1:26-27


26 Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27 To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.


So the text in 1 Corinthians 14:2 wen Paul speaks of mysteries it should be understood in the context of speaking by the Holy Spirit the truths of God (the gospel) that were once hidden (not understood) but are now revealed or made known.


But if no one understands the language of the one speaking the revealed truths of God in the gospel then it will not be useful. The key point that Paul is making in 1 Corinthians 14:2 is that people, the hearers must understand and benefit from the mysteries of truth or it will be useless.

In 1 Corinthians 14:6-13 we get the analogy between tongue-speaking and musical instruments In verses 6 to 13 Paul continues to show that prophecy is superior to tongue-speaking, by comparing the latter to the off-key or indistinct notes of a flute, a harp, or a trumpet.

7 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?

8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?

He then makes the analogy explicit by saying explicitly:

“So it is with you. Unless you speak tongues (intelligible words) with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just speaking to the air” (v. 9

The reference to the sound–the Greek word phonai of musical instruments, suggested to Paul another analogy, namely, that of a conversation between two persons who utter meaningless sounds–phonai. “There are so many kinds of voice (phonai–sounds) in the world, and none of them without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice (sound), I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian (foreigner) unto me” (vv. 10-11; KJV).



It is noteworthy also that Paul nowhere tells his readers that they must seek the gift of tongues. We do not find the slightest hint that tongues-speaking (foreign language) was the hallmark of spirituality or a litmus test of spiritual growth. If anything, Paul emphasizes the opposite. He urges the Corinthians to seek the gift of prophecy: “So, my brethren, earnestly desire to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues, but all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:39-40).


Throughout 1 Corinthians 14 Paul clearly favors the truth of prophecy over tongues, because prophetic messages of truth benefited the church at large, not just the individual. “He who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor 14:3). Repeatedly Paul emphasizes that participation in church worship must benefit the entire congregation

If any one claims to have the gift to speak in tongues (foreign languages) there should be an interpreter/translator present so that the matter spoken can bless all and edify the church.

1 Corinthians 14:28,33

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

33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

The phenomenon of Glossolalia unintelligible (impossible to understand) sounds practiced in the Pentecostal denomination is a deception and is confusion (Babylon) and is not of God let us search the Scriptures for the truth and understand.

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