The Gift of Tongues

by Alan Conner

A known Language or Unintelligible Utterances?




The charismatic movement has sparked many controversies within the church today. Their proponents have claimed that they have witnessed a revival of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, including the gift of tongues. Many have objected to this claim based on texts of Scripture which they believe argue that the so-called sign gifts were temporary in nature.

The purpose of this paper is not to engage in the debate of whether or not the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were in fact temporary or permanent. Rather, it is my goal to put forth some of the evidence concerning the actual nature of the language used in the gift of tongues. The tongues spoken within the charismatic movement today have been carefully examined by linguistic scholars and found not to be a real human language at all but rather unintelligible utterances (see Appendix below). But is there any solid evidence in the Bible for the gift of tongues utilizing unintelligible speech?

We are exhorted by the apostle John to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 Jn. 4:1). Taking heed to the apostle's words, this paper is an attempt to determine the true nature of the language used in the gift of tongues. It will be argued in this paper that the biblical gift of tongues was, in fact, a known human language, though unknown to the speaker. If this view is found to be accurate, then it presents a great obstacle to those who believe that the tongues spoken today are indeed the biblical gift of tongues.


This paper will begin with the account of Pentecost in the book of Acts and then progress through the major passages in the NT that discuss speaking in tongues, or the gift of tongues. We shall pay close attention to the actual nature of the speech that is associated with speaking in tongues to determine whether or not it was a known human language or something else.



A. The Tongues at Pentecost

Most scholars agree that the tongues spoken at Pentecost in Acts 2 refer to human languages which were unknown to the speaker. The evidence is indeed overwhelming for this view:

1) The meaning of "other tongues" in Acts 2:4. The expression in Acts 2:4, "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues ", is best understood as a reference to human languages.

a) The word "other" (heterais ) refers to another of a different kind, meaning that these tongues were different than their native tongue. Note also that when heteros ("other") is combined with glossa ("tongues") into the compound word heteroglossos , it is used only once in the NT (1 Cor. 14:21) where it occurs in a quotation from Isa. 28:11 and refers clearly to a human language, Assyrian, which was unknown to Israel.

b) The word "tongues" best refers to foreign languages for the following reason:

1) Acts 2:6 states that the multitude who heard the tongues being spoken were bewildered, "because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language ." Thus, this verse clearly states that the disciples were speaking the various languages of those who were gathered. This was not a miracle of hearing but of speaking.

Also, consider that these men who were listening were from many different countries (15 countries are listed in vv. 9-11) and yet they clearly heard the disciples "speaking of the mighty deeds of God" (v. 11). Here again we find a clear reference that the miracle at Pentecost was that the disciples were speaking in the people's native "tongues" and telling of the mighty deeds of God. Again, the evidence argues strongly that what occurred was a miracle of speaking and not of hearing.

2) The word for "language" (dialektos ) in Acts 2:6, 8 refers clearly to human languages but is also used interchangeably with the word "tongues" (Acts 2:11) indicating that they are synonymous terms in this context. Note the expression "our own tongues" in v. 11 which certainly refers to their native languages. Thus, the "tongues" of Acts 2:4 and 2:11 are the same as the "languages" of Acts 2:6 and 8, and all refer to human languages.

3) To hold that the "tongues" in Acts 2:4 was some kind of ecstatic speech would contradict its usage in Acts 2:11 where it clearly refers to human languages.

2) The meaning of "utterance" in Acts 2:4. In Acts 2:4, the phrase, "as the Spirit was giving them utterance ", also supports that their "tongues" were human languages because the word "utterance" (apophthengomai ) is only used 3 times in the NT (all by Luke in Acts 2:4, 14; 26:25) and clearly refers to communicating human language in the other two passages:

Acts 2:14 - Peter "raised his voice and declared to them, "Men of Judea, . . . " Clearly here we have Peter speaking to his kindred in their own language.

Acts 26:25 - Paul reasons with Festus saying, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. This is another clear example of this word used for human language.

Thus, the other uses of this word by Luke in Acts refer to human language and this gives support for the same meaning in Acts 2:4. This evidence helps to confirm that the "utterance" that the Spirit was giving to the disciples in Acts 2:4 was in the form of a human language and not in ecstatic, unintelligible speech .

3) The word glossa ("tongues") refers to human languages. We are now in a better position to evaluate the meaning of the word glossa translated "tongues" in its plural form in Acts 2:4, 11. All lexicons affirm that one of the common uses for this word is to refer to human languages (cf. Phil. 2:11; Rev. 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15; see also heteroglossos in 1 Cor. 14:21). There should be no doubt that the use of glossa in Acts 2:4 and 11 also refer to human languages. The context (see above) supports that the disciples were speaking in languages which were unknown to them personally, but which were the native tongues of many of the visitors gathered at the time of Pentecost.

Thus, the evidence supports the conclusion that the tongues at Pentecost were not ecstatic speech but known human languages.

B. The Tongues in Acts after Pentecost

The argument is made by some charismatics that once one leaves the unusual circumstances of Pentecost, we actually see a different kind of tongues being manifested, i.e., an ecstatic speech of unintelligible sounds which is unrelated to any human language. They refer to this gift of tongues as being a miraculous language which is used in heaven between God and the angels, or as the language of the Spirit which man may attain in prayer as he is seized by the Spirit and caught up into heaven. This, many believe, is the kind of tongues found in the remainder of Acts and in 1 Corinthians 12-14.

As we begin to examine this view, we will start with an evaluation of the other notable occurrences of tongues in the book of Acts.

1) Acts 10 - the house of Cornelius. The second clear instance of speaking in tongues occurs with Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:44-48. As Peter was preaching, the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon Cornelius and his household. Then, Peter and the Jewish believers "were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God" (v. 46).

Is there any evidence that these tongues were of a different kind or nature than what occurred at Pentecost in Acts 2? Were they speaking in a foreign language, or were they speaking in a jibberish? The evidence argues for continuity with Acts 2, not discontinuity:

a) Luke uses the same terminology here that he used in Acts 2. In acts 10:46 it states that they were "speaking in tongues" (lalounton glossais )which is the same expression used in Acts 2:4, 11. If Cornelius and his family were speaking in a different kind of tongue, say a jibberish, there is no indication from Luke that this was the case. He gives no hints or clues that something is different or unusual compared to what happened at Pentecost.

b) Both Luke and Peter acknowledge a continuity between what happened at Pentecost and what is happening with Cornelius.

(1) Luke says in Acts 10:45 that "the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also ." Luke says, in effect, that the same gift that came in Acts 2 came in Acts 10, that what happened at Jerusalem during Pentecost also happened at Caesarea in the house of Cornelius. There is no indication that the gift of the Holy Spirit which was being manifested through the speaking in tongues was any different here than in Acts 2.

(2) Peter also agrees. In v. 47 he says, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did , can he?" Peter believed that Cornelius received the Holy Spirit in the very same way that they did at Pentecost. This expression is designed to draw the closest parallel between Peter's experience at Pentecost and what happened to Cornelius.

This continuity of experience between Pentecost and Cornelius is confirmed by Peter a second time when he returned to Jerusalem and explained to the circumcised believers what happened to Cornelius (Acts 11:4-17). In his defense, Peter asserts,

"And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He did upon us at the beginning . . . If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I stand in God's way?" (vv. 15, 17).

Peter, again, argues that what happened at Pentecost to the circumcised believers also happened to uncircumcised Cornelius in exactly the same way. The Holy Spirit fell upon them both in the same way, "just as He did upon us at the beginning" (v. 15). Peter also states that God gave them the "same gift as He gave to us also" (v. 17). How did Peter know that they received the same gift as he did at Pentecost? Peter must have in view not just the gift of the Holy Spirit but also the Spirit's manifestation of His presence through speaking in tongues, otherwise what tangible evidence was there for Peter's confident assertion that God gave to Cornelius the same gift? Since the Holy Spirit is Himself invisible, the gift of the Holy Spirit can only be known through the way in which He manifests Himself. Since speaking in tongues were being manifested, this must have been the way in which Peter knew that the Gentiles had received the same gift as he had received. Thus, the "same gift" to which Peter refers must include a reference, not only to the Spirit Himself, but also to their speaking in the same kind of tongues which were manifested at Pentecost; namely, foreign languages.

All of this supports the view that the speaking in tongues in Acts 10 correlates exactly with what happened at Pentecost. There is no indication given by Luke or Peter that what was experienced by Cornelius was anything other than what occurred at Pentecost. If the manifestation of tongues at Pentecost consisted in speaking a foreign language, then the same must have occurred with Cornelius for there is no evidence of anything new taking place. Therefore, the description of the experience of Cornelius argues strongly for continuity with the same gift of tongues given at Pentecost.

c) Apparently the language of the tongues being spoken was understood by some of the Jewish believers for they recognized that Cornelius and his family were exalting God (v. 46). This would argue against a jibberish unless of course the gift of interpretation was being utilized, but again, there is no indication that this was the case. Although this is a lesser argument, it may also contribute to the case for continuity between Acts 2 and 10.

2) Acts 19 - the Ephesian disciples.

These disciples received the Holy Spirit as Paul laid his hands on them and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying (v. 6). As Luke records this event, he uses the same language that he used to describe tongues at Pentecost. There is no indication that the tongues here were different in nature than those which were manifested earlier.

In summary, the evidence found in the book of Acts argues that the gift of tongues at Pentecost and elsewhere was a known human language, not unintelligible ecstatic speech.




We now are drawn to the critical battleground of 1 Corinthians. Whoever wins the battle here, wins the war! The issue is whether or not Paul in 1 Corinthians is presenting a different kind of "tongues", a "gift of tongues", which is distinct from the tongues in Acts, or are they the same in nature.

To begin with, there should be a principle established to determine the shape of the playing field. The point I want to make is that the field is not absolutely level. By this I mean that since we already have clear support that the tongues in Acts are human languages (thus called xenoglossia ), we should assume that the tongues mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians are of the same nature. In other words, the burden of proof lies with those who believe that there are two different kinds of tongues. They must present clear and convincing evidence if they want to give support for the modern-day tongues phenomena which uses a form of jibberish, which is not a human language at all, but rather unintelligible sounds which are without interconnection or meaning .

Further support for this assumption that the tongues of 1 Corinthians are the same as in Acts is that Luke wrote Acts (A.D. 62) about 7+ years after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (A.D. 55). As a traveling companion of Paul, Luke would have been intimately aware of the kind of tongues being spoken at Corinth through the reports given him by Paul and others, as well as, by reading Paul's letter to the Corinthian church. This is important because we know that Luke used the very same terms (glossa and laleo ) to describe the tongues of foreign languages in Acts as did Paul when he described the tongues used at Corinth. If Luke knew that the two manifestations of tongues were different in nature, it seems odd that he chose to use the very same terminology that Paul used without giving any indication at all that there was a difference.

In addition to this, Paul probably knew the nature of the tongues at Pentecost and was aware that they were speaking in the known languages of the foreign visitors that were present in Jerusalem. If the tongues at Corinth were different in nature than those in Jerusalem, why did he not indicate so? Why did he clearly use terms that refer to known languages (see Acts) when he described the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians? (See 1 Cor. 14:21-22 and discussion below.) If there is a lack of any clear evidence that the tongues at Corinth differed from the tongues in Acts, then it is a compelling argument for their equality based upon the similar terminology used by both Paul and Luke.

With this in mind, let's examine the passages dealing with the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians and evaluate their contribution to the debate as to whether or not these tongues were a known human language, or the unintelligible ecstatic speech of an heavenly language.

A. Tongues in 1 Cor. 12


1) The specific references to the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians describes it as a gift of "various kinds of tongues" - 1 Cor. 12:10 (cf. v. 28).

2) "to another the interpretation of tongues" - 1 Cor. 12:10, 30. The word "interpretation" is a key word in determining the nature of the biblical gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians. In order for the gift of tongues to edify others, it must be interpreted by those who have the gift of "the interpretation of tongues". This spiritual gift gives us an important key to unlock the meaning of the gift of tongues. Consider the following:

a) The word "interpretation" is only found twice in the NT and both are used for the gift of "the interpretation of tongues" in 1 Cor. 12:10 and 14:26. Also see the similar form for "interpreter" in 1 Cor. 14:28.

b) The verbal form " to interpret" diermhneuw (diermeneuo ) is also used for this gift in 1 Cor. 12:30; 14:5, 13, 27.

A key to understanding the nature of the gift of tongues lies in the meaning of this word "to interpret". The NT evidence presents a clear and consistent meaning for this verb and its other similar forms; namely, that it always refers to interpreting a human language. For example, in the two other passages where this same verb occurs outside the references to the gift of interpretation, it clearly refers to the interpretation of a human language. In Lk. 24:47, it refers to the exposition of the OT Scripture and in Acts 9:36 it refers to the translation of Aramaic into Greek. Also, the root form of this verb is the word ermhneuw (hermeneuo ) and it is also consistently used in the NT of interpreting one human language into another (see John. 1:38, 42; 9:7; Heb. 7:2).

If tongues, therefore, require interpretation, then they must be a cognitive language. They must communicate intelligible meanings if an interpretation is necessary for understanding. Thus, whether the words "interpretation" or "interpret" refer to an exposition or a translation, this word group refers to making clear what is said in a known human language. This evidence supports the view that the gift of the "interpretation of tongues" refers to the supernatural ability to translate an unknown human language into the language of those listening. If tongues are a form of gibberish, or unintelligible ecstatic speech, then the need for a formal "interpretation" would be unnecessary. A non-language cannot be "interpreted" in the way this word is used in the NT.

One may also argue that the gift of tongues are the "tongues of angels" in 1 Cor. 13:1 which need interpretation since they are a real heavenly language. This option will be discussed next.

In conclusion, the gift of the interpretation of tongues does not support tongues as unintelligible ecstatic speech, but rather as a known human language.


B. The "tongues of angels" in 1 Cor. 13:1

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, . . ."

Some have taught that this reference to the "tongues of angels" refers to a language spoken by angels, but is unknown to man, and explains the kind of tongues found today. Is this likely? Consider the following:

1) The evidence is not clear that angels have a separate language different from human languages. In support of there being no difference between the tongues of men and of angels, other than a qualitative difference where the angelic tongue is characterized as more exalted, heavenly, and spiritual, the following evidence is offered.

First, one must admit that the Bible gives no support for an angelic language that is different than that for the human race. Every time an angel speaks in the Bible, whether to God or to men, it is always in a human language. There is no firm support in the Bible for angels speaking in any other kind of language that is uniquely their own.

Second, the Bible at times records the words of one language which is different from the language used in the writing of that particular document, and then follows it with a translation (cf. Mt. 1:23; Mk. 5:41; 15:22, 34; Jn. 1:38, 41, 42; Jn. 9:7; Acts 4:36; 9:36; 13:8 ), but this never occurs when angels are speaking in the Bible. There is no indication that their words, even those spoken in heaven (cf. Isa. 6:3; Rev. 5:11-12, etc.), are coming to us via a translation.

Third, since there are other areas that both angels and men share in common, why not also their language? If angelic measurements are the same as human measurements (cf. Rev. 21:17), then does this not suggest that an angelic "cubit" is also a human "cubit", which implies a common language with which to express such measurements?

However, the fact remains that Paul is making some kind of distinction between the tongues of men and of angels. Whether the distinction refers to an altogether different kind of language spoken by angels or that angelic speech is different because of its exalted nature is still open to debate.

2) One view of this passage is that Paul is speaking hypothetically when he says, "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels". The hypothetical aspect is attached to speaking in the tongues of angels since Paul definitely did speak in the tongues of men (Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, etc.). This view, then, could (not must) allow for a belief in a different kind of angelic tongue and this would, at least, be consistent with Jewish tradition. Assuming this view to be correct, it would also argue that Paul (and the Corinthians as well) did not actually speak in the tongues of angels because he is only speaking hypothetically of this. Furthermore, it would clearly indicate that Paul only spoke in the "tongues of men" and that all of his speech must be understood to be in this category. If this is the case, then his gift of tongues must also have been in the category of the tongues of men, or known human languages. There is support for this view.

First, there are other hypothetical phrases in 1 Cor. 3:1-4 which make this option a strong possibility. Compare "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels" with "if I know all mysteries and have all knowledge"; and "if I have all faith so as to remove mountains"; and "if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned" (vv. 2-3). It is clear that there are several hypothetical statements in this section. All five assertions are stated hypothetically in vv. 1-3 (they are all third class conditional phrases). Obviously, Paul did not have all knowledge (v. 9), and did not give his body to be burned, and did not have all faith or know all mysteries, etc. Paul did not literally have or do any of these things. They are hypothetical statements to show the superiority of love over all gifts, sacrifices, and abilities. Thus, it argues that when Paul said, "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels" (v. 1) that he was speaking hypothetically, just as he was speaking hypothetically in vv. 2-3.

Thus, the context argues against the likelihood that Paul actually did speak in both the languages of men and angels. That he spoke in the languages of men is obviously assumed to be true (his gift of tongues would fit in this category), but he did not speak in both the languages of men and angels, this is stated as hypothetical.

Second, this hypothetical view of speaking in the tongues of angels would basically render them inapplicable to the modern expression of the gift of tongues. After all, if Paul is referring to the tongues of angels as a language so lofty and glorious and beyond his ability to use, then it is unlikely that it would be the norm for the Corinthian believers. Thus, we are left with the only option of trying to explain the gift of tongues within the category of the "tongues of men".

Lenski also argues that Paul has angelic languages in view but they are quite beyond the experience of Paul and the Corinthians. Paul spoke in the languages of men, but not in the languages of angels. When he was caught up to Paradise (2 Cor. 12:4), he heard "inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak." Could these have been the "tongues of angels" as they speak in heaven, and different from human languages? If so, one thing is certain. They were of such a sacred character that it was not permitted for them to be spoken by man. This would seem to decrease, if not eliminate entirely, the possibility that the gift of tongues utilizes or is equal to the tongues of angels.

What Paul may be saying in 1 Cor. 13:1 is that even if he was able to speak in the highest degree and possessed the languages of all beings, both terrestrial and celestial (even though this was impermissible), even so, without love he would be as a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Thus, the superiority of love over all supernatural gifts is established.

3) Another argument against the view that the gift of tongues at Corinth were in fact the tongues of angels is this: if the gift of tongues at Corinth was the "tongues of angels" whereas the gift of tongues at Pentecost was the "tongues of men", then the gift at Corinth would have been raised above the gift in its original form at Pentecost. This might seem unusual due to the unique outpouring and powerful manifestation of the Spirit at Pentecost and its place in Scripture as the launching point of the New Covenant gift of the Spirit. Even throughout Acts, no other outpouring of the Spirit equals what occurred at Pentecost. Why should Corinth have a more exalted and heavenly manifestation of spiritual gifts than is recorded elsewhere?

In conclusion, the evidence for the gift of tongues at Corinth being the "tongues of angels", and thus an unintelligible, ecstatic speech, lacks convincing support from this passage.

C. Tongues in 1 Cor. 14

This crucial chapter will now be examined to see if there is any solid support for the gift of tongues being a form of unintelligible, ecstatic utterances (or gibberish) as opposed to a human language.

1) Some have thought that v. 2 is nonsensical if the tongues are thought of as a real language because it says that "one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God, for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries." They argue that if tongues were human languages then Paul could not say that one who speaks in a tongues "does not speak to men," or that "no one understands". Thus, they argue that Paul must be identifying the gift of tongues with the tongues of angels and not men. However, as D. A. Carson points out, all of these verses make sense if one remembers that the tongues-speaker does not know what he is saying unless there is an interpretation, which Paul presupposes when he exhorts the speaker to pray for the gift of interpretation in v. 13. This all makes perfectly good sense if they were speaking in a foreign language which no one present knew unless it was interpreted. The categorical sounding statements "does not speak to men," and "for no one understands," actually means that no one present at the meeting understood the language of the one speaking in tongues if it was not interpreted. Thus, the support for ecstatic language is not convincing.

2) The use of "mysteries" with tongues in v. 2 does not support that they were ecstatic speech of unintelligible utterances. Consider the following:

First, in 1 Cor. 13:2 mysteries are associated with the cognitive knowledge that comes from prophecy and not to any form of unintelligible speech, so the communication of "mysteries" does not require ecstatic speech. Also, Paul clearly taught and revealed mysteries to the Corinthians and others in the Greek language (see 1 Cor. 15:51-52 and Rom. 16:25-26; Col. 1:25-27; Eph. 3:4-7). "Mysteries" in the NT commonly means truth about God, once hidden, but now revealed. It does not refer to ecstatic speech in the NT.

It is helpful to keep in mind that the reason why these tongues are unintelligible to men is not because they are ecstatic speech, but because there is no interpreter present. This is the assumption behind Paul exhorting the one speaking in a tongue to pray for the ability to interpret (v. 13). Also, one must remember that the normal church meeting at Corinth would not have the numerous linguistic backgrounds as were present at Pentecost. Thus, the likelihood of a tongue being unknown would be great.

Second, another way to take the mysteries in 1 Cor. 14:2 is simply to make them refer to the fact that when there is no interpretation of a tongue, the message becomes a mystery to those who are listening. They cannot understand it because it is in a language that they do not know. The phrase, "but in his spirit he speaks mysteries," means he either speaks mysteries to himself, assuming he is not able to interpret, or he speaks mysteries to those present. This latter view seems preferable because Paul has already stated earlier in v. 2 that the primary focus is on the impact of uninterpreted tongues on others, "does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands." In other words, tongues are only understood by God if they are not interpreted because others do not understand what is being said. The uninterpreted tongues become mysteries to those who do not understand them. Thus, there is no requirement that the mention of "mysteries" must indicate the existence of ecstatic speech.

3) Some have argued that the use of the root lal- (lal- ), "to speak" with speaking in tongues (see v. 2, etc.) supports ecstatic utterance" because it is sometimes used for incoherent speech like animal sounds and the sounds of musical instruments. Gundry, however, contends that this argument is weak for the following reasons: 1) The root lal- did not ordinarily mean incoherent speech in Hellenistic times; 2) Not only does Paul use this root to describe tongues but also the word legw (lego ) in 14:16 and lego does not have incoherent speech as one of its connotations; 3) Paul also uses the lal- root in 14:19 of speaking "with the mind", which is in contrast with uninterpreted tongues, and in v. 29 in connection with prophesy, and in v. 34 of the speech of women, all of which clearly refer to intelligible speech and not to ecstatic utterance; 4) The root lal- probably is preferred by Paul due to its occurrence in Isa. 28:11f. which he quotes in 14:21. Since it clearly refers to a known human language there, we should assume this usage in the context of 1 Corinthians.

4) Does the illustration in vv. 10-11 argue in favor of or against tongues as a known language? Some have argued that the illustration of a "great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning" in v. 10 argues against tongues as a known language for this would then confuse the illustration with the thing being illustrated. They argue that there must be a difference between the illustration and that which is being illustrated, thus, biblical tongues must be different in nature than human languages. This view is unconvincing. First, the gift of tongues can still be a foreign language and fit with the illustration quite well. Paul's illustration in vv. 10-11 uses foreign languages as they occur naturally in the world. If, for example, an Egyptian who speaks only his language meets a Greek who only speaks his, they will be barbarians or foreigners to each other for they do not understand each other's language. This natural situation which would occur between men of different languages is designed by Paul to illustrate what would occur in the meeting of the church if a man who supernaturally has the gift of tongues speaks out in another foreign language that is not interpreted to the church. The result would be the same as the Egyptian meeting the Greek, neither would understand the other. Thus, Paul's illustration is similar in nature, but different. Paul's illustration refers to a normal use of foreign languages in the world where the Corinthian situation is a supernatural use of them in the church. The illustration does not set forth a difference between a real foreign language and the supposed ecstatic language of tongues, but rather it shows that the normal use of foreign languages produces the same result as the gift of tongues if neither is interpreted.

5) Do vv. 14-16 support that tongues are ecstatic speech, or the tongues of angels? Since praying in a tongue is equivalent to praying with the spirit and not with the mind, does this support that tongues are not a foreign language but rather ecstatic speech (vv. 14-16)? Several observation should be made in forming an answer to these questions. First, the word "spirit" should be understood as the human spirit and not the Holy Spirit since it would be inappropriate to refer to the Holy Spirit as "my Spirit", using the personal pronoun (v. 14). One should certainly not quarrel that it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to enable one to speak in tongues (1 Cor. 12:7-11), but this is not the emphasis in this context. Paul has in mind the spirit of the one praying in a tongue. Second, when Paul says that one who prays in a tongue prays with his spirit, he is not implying that the one praying must be using a language of the spirit which is different than a known cognitive language. Paul's point seems to be that if one prays in a tongue which is not interpreted, his spirit is involved in receiving the reception of the gracious effects of the Spirit, and in making the vocalizations, but the mind is unfruitful because it does not understand what is being said. This idea fits well with tongues being a known language. Ecstatic speech is not required here. The point that Paul is making is that when one prays or sings with the spirit and the mind is unfruitful due to a lack of interpretation, the effect is that those who are listening do not know what is being said (v. 16). Paul is not attempting to define the nature of tongues as a spiritual language that is different from a cognitive language. Instead, he is emphatically arguing for the importance of interpreting tongues so the mind can be stimulated with truth and thus be edified. Without understanding, there is no "Amen" or edification (vv. 16-17). Paul would rather speak "five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in an [uninterpreted] tongue" (v. 19). There is nothing here that requires that the speaking or singing with the spirit in tongues must be ecstatic speech rather than a foreign language.

6) How does the quotation of Isa. 28:11f. in 1 Cor. 14:21-22 affect this debate? Does this give support to the viewpoint that tongues are ecstatic speech or tongues of angels? In the context of Isa. 28, God is warning Israel of coming judgment. He is going to raise up the Assyrians, who speak a strange tongue, to judge His rebellious people. By the use of this foreign people, God will speak to His people, but they will not listen. The church at Corinth was to learn an important lesson from this event in OT history. Charles Hodge expresses it well:

"The Jews had refused to hear the prophets speaking their own language, and God threatened to bring upon them a people whose language they could not understand. This was a judgment; a mark of displeasure designed as a punishment and not for their conversion. From this the Corinthians might learn that it was no mark of the divine favour to have teachers whose language they could not understand. They were turning a blessing into a curse. The gift of tongues was designed, among other things, to facilitate the propagation of the gospel, by enabling Christians to address people of various nations each in his own language. Used for this purpose it was a blessing; but to employ it for the sake of display, in addressing those who could not understand the language employed, was to make it a curse."

This passage argues in favor of tongues being a foreign language.

a) The expression "strange tongues" in v. 21 is identical with Luke's description of the tongues at Pentecost in Acts 2:4, except here it is a compound word (eteroglwssoiv), whereas Luke breaks them apart into two separate words (eteraiv glwssaiv). Clearly a foreign language is meant in both places. But does this argue that tongues at Corinth were also a foreign language? The following verse argues in favor of this.

b) The beginning of v. 22 is important, "So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers." This word "tongues" is the same as the one in the phrase "strange tongues" in v. 21 and should normally be understood to refer to the same kind of speech unless stated otherwise. The use of the article of previous reference (hai ) and the inferential conjunction "so then" (hoste ) also support the linking of the two "tongues" together as being of the same nature. He is clearly using the same word in both verses to draw out the similarity. The tongues at Corinth, like the tongues in Isaiah's days, appear to share the same nature as foreign languages. If Paul believed that the Corinthian tongues were of a different nature than a foreign language, he gives no evidence of this in the terminology that he uses.

c) How are tongues a sign to unbelievers? Clearly in Isaiah's days, the tongue of the Assyrians were associated with their invasion of Israel. God's sinful people were being judged by a foreign nation who spoke in a foreign language. How does this relate to the church at Corinth? Israel could not understand the foreign tongue of their enemies, the Assyrians, who brought great destruction upon them, and yet even this form of judgment did not soften their heart to repentance, rather they still would not listen to the voice of God through the prophets. Speaking in uninterpreted tongues at Corinth was also a sign to unbelievers of their rebellious hearts for they, like Israel, would not repent at the sound of an unknown language spoken in church but rather mock, "you are mad" (v. 23). An uninterpreted tongue benefits no one. A believer is not edified, and an unbeliever does not repent (contrast prophesy in vv. 24-25).

7) Note that 14:23 does not support that the phenomenon at Corinth was some new, previously unspoken heavenly language. The comment in v. 23 ("will they not say that you are out of your mind?" NIV) cannot be appealed to, because it describes a reaction much like that of one part of the crowd at Pentecost (Acts 2:13, "They have had too much wine" cf. v. 15). Since a similar reaction was clearly linked with tongues in Acts 2 which we know were a known human language, one cannot argue that here such a reaction must mean they were a heavenly language.

8) As already argued above, the reference to the gift of interpretation in 14:26 and the other words relating to it ("interpret", "interpreter", vv. 27-28) best fits with tongues as a foreign language as opposed to unintelligible utterances.

9) In what sense does the one who has the gift of tongues "speak to himself and to God" when he must remain silent in the church due to a lack of an interpreter (v. 28)? Several answers that have been suggested are:

a) He speaks to himself and to God as he silently speaks in his tongue to himself during the service, assuming he is able to understand at least a little of what he is "thinking" in his tongue, otherwise his spirit prays but his mind is unfruitful (v. 14). The idea of "speaking to himself" seems to imply that there is an understanding of what is being said in the tongue, otherwise he would speak to God but not to himself in any rational way.

b) Robert Thomas says, " Speaking to oneself and to God was a proverbial expression for meditation."

c) He speaks to himself and to God as he privately and audibly exercises his gift outside the meeting. In support of the audible portion of this view, Robertson and Plummer argue that it cannot refer to silent meditation because the word "speak" means to make audible utterances. However, opponents of this view have argued that the private setting seems less likely to be correct due to the context which is devoted to public worship, especially see v. 28a which sets forth restrictions on tongues "in the church". If Paul meant a private use of tongues outside the meeting, a word clarifying this would seem appropriate. Also, any private use of tongues seems to contradict Paul's emphasis that the gifts of the Spirit are for the edification of others (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7; 14:4-6, 12, 26, 31). In v. 4 "the one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself" does not demand a private setting. The whole context suggests a public setting.

Which ever of the three views above is preferred, there is nothing here that requires us to believe that the one who speaks to himself and to God in an uninterpreted tongue is speaking in ecstatic speech or in tongues of angels. The view of tongues as foreign languages fits the context well and is to be preferred.

In conclusion, the evidence for the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 being ecstatic speech, unintelligible utterances, or tongues of angels, and, therefore, of a different nature than the tongues at Pentecost seems to lack convincing support.



After a survey of the passages dealing with tongues in Acts and 1 Corinthians, it seems more plausible to identify the tongues of Corinth with those in Acts and to hold that they both refer to known human languages and not to ecstatic and unintelligible speech or the tongues of angels.




Various views of tongues-speaking

1) Ecstatic speech - a few writers believe that every instance of the Biblical phenomenon of speaking in tongues was in the form of ecstatic speech in which the speaker was in control of his senses throughout.

2) Foreign languages - This view teaches that all Biblical tongues were in the form of a known human language. I think that this view is correct.

3) Ecstatic speech and foreign languages - the most dominant opinion among both tongue-speakers and non-tongue speakers. Usually, this view holds that foreign languages were spoken in Acts 2 (or in all of Acts), while ecstatic speech was used in the Corinthian church (cf. 1 Cor. 12-14). Charles Ryrie is an advocate of this view.

The work of Behm (TDNT, 1:719-27) and BAG which defend a use of "tongues" (glossa ) as ecstatic speech of unintelligible nature, has been called into question. Carson (Showing the Spirit , p. 80-81, and fn. 17) cites from more careful word studies of the texts cited by Behm and BAG and concludes that in none of their examples does glossa ever denote noncognitive utterance. Even the pagan religious parallels are discounted and no longer a reliable comparison with tongues in the Bible (Ibid, p. 81).

Modern linguistic analysis of tapes of tongues utterances have brought to light some important information on this issue of whether or not tongues is a real language . There appears to be universal agreement that modern day tongues is not a human language (see next appendix).

Not only is tongues speaking today not a cognitive language, the gift of interpretation, when practiced, is unreliable. Examples abound of this, for example a friend of Carson's recited John 1:1-18 in Greek during a charismatic meeting only to have it interpreted in such a way that did not resemble the text at all. Also two people with the gift of tongues have been asked to interpret the same recorded tongues message and came out with two entirely different interpretations. Carson admits that in his own experience of hearing interpretations they prove to be "stereotyped, vague, and uninformative as they are spontaneous, fluent, and confident" (Ibid, p. 87). Carson concludes that this does not condemn all tongues-speaking but he does say that the distortions of interpretations must, in some cases , call into question the gift of tongues (pp. 87-88).



Is there a private use of tongues?

Does 1 Cor. 14:4 offer any support for a private use of tongues? "But one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church." This is often argued to support a private use of tongues where only the speaker is edified. However, it should be clear that Paul does not have a private setting in mind but is talking about what happens during a worship service. This public setting argues strongly against any supposed "private use" of tongues in this passage.

D. A. Carson in his book, Showing the Spirit , p. 105, argues that 1 Cor. 14:18-19 is the strongest defense of the private use of tongues. It reads, "I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue." His argument is as follows:

"If Paul speaks in tongues more than all the Corinthians, yet in the church prefers to speak five intelligible words rather than ten thousand words in a tongue (which is a way of saying that under virtually no circumstance will he ever speak in tongues in church, without quite ruling out the possibility), then where does he speak them? It will not do to suppose Paul is counseling private, quiet use of tongues during the assembly when another is ministering. To adapt Paul's argument, where then would be the tongues-speaker's "Amen," if he or she was not paying attention? We have already seen that Paul envisages praying with the spirit as a form of valid prayer and praise; what he will not permit is unintelligibility in the church. The only possible conclusion is that Paul exercised his remarkable tongues gift in private ."

Dr. Carson's conclusion that Paul exercised his remarkable tongues gift in private is unconvincing for the following reasons:

1) In these verses, Paul is contrasting the use of tongues without interpretation to speaking with the mind words that instruct others. Tongues with interpretation would benefit the listeners just as prophesy would (v. 5, 39). Thus, Paul exhorts, "Let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret" (v. 13), and in vv. 26-28 he requires that if there are tongues in the assembly then there must also be interpretation. Tongues with interpretation edified, but tongues without interpretation were of no value.

With this in mind, it does not seem reasonable to assume that Paul never spoke in tongues in the assembly since he had the gift and claimed to use it more than others (v. 18). We could just as easily assume that Paul did speak in tongues during their meetings but always with interpretation. This would be a valid way for the believers to be instructed and edified (v. 5). To speak ten thousand words in an uninterpreted tongue would benefit or instruct no one.

This passage, therefore, seems merely to affirm that he would not speak in uninterpreted tongues for then there would be no edification; rather, he prefers to speak five words that can be understood than ten thousand words in a tongue without interpretation. These" five words" could be either by way of revelation, knowledge, prophecy, teaching, or interpretation of a tongue (vv. 5-6).

For Carson's view to be sustained, he has to assume that Paul spoke in tongues often (v. 18) but rarely, if ever, in the assembly because they were not being interpreted and therefore would not edify others. But, if there were gifted interpreters in the meeting, which seems certain (vv. 26-27), then either they or Paul himself, if he had the gift of interpretation (cf. v. 15), could interpret the tongue for edification.

Thus, Paul's aversion to speaking "ten thousand words in a tongue" refers only to uninterpreted tongues and not to those which have an interpretation. This opens a wide door for Paul to use his gift of tongues during the assembly assuming that an interpretation followed.

2) To assume that the only alternative to Paul using his gift of tongues in the assembly was for him to use it in private overlooks the fact that he clearly taught that tongues were for a sign to unbelievers (v. 22). This does not mean that it was only appropriate to speak in tongues in the presence of unbelievers, but it does argue again for a public use of this gift. To assert that the majority of Paul's speaking in tongues was in private means that he would rarely use his gift for its intended purpose, a sign to unbelievers, for obviously one does not use tongues for a sign to unbelievers if one is speaking in tongues in private.

It would seem more natural to assume that Paul's abundant use of tongues would be in keeping with its clearly revealed purpose, rather than in a private use that one must infer from verse 18.

Also, when Paul affirmed in v. 18 that "I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all," we must not forget the nature of Paul's apostolic ministry. He was a traveling evangelist. He visited numerous synagogues in his travels and preached the gospel throughout much of the Roman empire to both Jews and Gentiles. Often, some of the Jews rejected the gospel and Paul would have had many opportunities to use tongues for a sign to them as an indication that they were under the judgment of God, just as Israel was before the Assyrian invasion (v. 21). If this sign was also for Gentile unbelievers, who would have preached the gospel more to Gentile unbelievers than the "apostle to the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:13)? Surely, this would have also given Paul numerous opportunities to speak in tongues for a sign of divine judgment upon the unbelief of a Gentile audience.

Thus, the use of tongues as a sign to unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:22) would have given Paul countless opportunities to speak in tongues more than the Corinthian believers, especially if they were prohibited from doing so in their assembles due to the lack of an interpreter.

3) We must also challenge the use and value of any tongues spoken in private if there is no interpretation. Paul clearly affirms that, "if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful (v. 14)," and "For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries" (v. 2). If the one who speaks in tongues does not understand what he is saying due to his/her not having the gift of interpretation, then is there any edification? Paul no where in this chapter indicates that edification can occur through any other means than understanding truth with the mind (cf. vv. 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 13-14, 16-17, 19, 23-25, 26-28). This would seem to rule out any other form of edification that did not employ the mind.

One may argue that when Paul says in v. 4, "One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself," he is teaching that there is a self-edification that occurs when one speaks in tongues. But, again, we must ask how can there be edification without understanding? Is Paul assuming that this person does understand what he is saying when he speaks in tongues, which would fit with his exhortation in v. 13 "let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret"? Or is he talking about a different kind of edification not linked to understanding; for example, an emotional uplifting or spiritual presence of God without any cognitive substance?

To answer these questions, we must consider that the whole chapter is given to the theme that edification only comes through understanding. Again, Paul no where in this chapter indicates that edification can occur through any other means than understanding truth with the mind. Edification without the mind is not an option in this context. Edification comes through prophesy because the listeners can understand what is being said. Tongues without interpretation do not edify because no one knows what is being said. Thus, Paul is emphatic, "I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also; I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also (v. 15)". To do these without the mind, or without understanding, nullifies edification (v. 17). This argues that Paul in v. 4 is probably thinking of one who speaks in tongues with understanding (i.e., he interprets his own tongue as in vv. 13 and 15) and is then edified as opposed to a different kind of edification which is foreign to Paul's train of thought in this chapter.

Grosheide takes the view that the edification is in the fact that the one who speaks in a tongue can be assured that he possesses the Spirit who enables him to do so. This view is plausible, but it also suffers from a different view of edification than found in the context.

But isn't v. 15 an appropriate way to use tongues in private? "I shall pray with the spirit . . . I shall sing with the spirit . . ." Paul does not indicate that he has a private use of tongues in mind for in v. 16 he is clearly thinking of a public use for he says, "Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?" Paul is thinking of the uselessness of uninterpreted tongues in a public assembly, not in a private context. The gifts of the Spirit are for the edification of the body (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:12), not for private edification.

In conclusion, it appears to this reviewer that Dr. Carson has not sufficiently considered all of the options when he states that 1 Cor. 14:18-19 gives us "the only possible conclusion" that Paul exercised his gift of tongues in private. The evidence shows that Paul had numerous opportunities to speak in tongues as a sign to unbelievers, and that he was free to use his gift in their public meetings when an interpreter was available, either he or another interpreting. Given his apostolic authority, it would seem reasonable that he would also have been heavily involved in the public ministry when he was in Corinth and would have used his gifts abundantly.

Also the concept of a private use of tongues is not supported by the context of this chapter, nor the emphasis on edification through understanding.



Does the gift of tongues also include the gift of

interpretation of tongues?


The gift of the interpretation of tongues was a gift separate from the gift of various kinds of tongues (1 Cor. 12:10, 30; 14:26). However, there is some evidence that the who had the gift of tongues may have had the gift of interpretation too. Consider the following observations:

1) "One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself" (v. 4). As mentioned in Appendix D, there is no evidence in this chapter that Paul is thinking of any other kind of edification than that which comes through the understanding of truth as it is communicated during the church meeting (cf. vv. 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 13-14, 16-17, 19, 23-25, 26-28). If this is true, then the only way for the one speaking in tongues to edify himself is for him to have the ability to understand what he is saying in his tongue, i.e.. he must have the gift of interpretation, or at least a partial gift of it.

2) These two gifts seem to be found together in Paul's experience (if this is in fact his personal experience as opposed to a stylistic expression) in v. 15, "I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also," etc. It seems that this language could easily refer to one who can pray in a tongue ("pray with the spirit"), and also pray with the mind, that is, understand and pray the interpreted message.

3) In vv. 13-14, Paul exhorts the one who speaks in a tongue to pray that he (the one speaking in tongues) may interpret. He does not say that he should pray that another may interpret. The reason is stated in v. 14, "For if I in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful." This is a crucial point in the use of the gift of tongues. There is no edification unless the mind understands what is being said. Thus, it is the responsibility of the one who speaks in tongues to pray that he might be able to interpret his tongue so that his mind can be edified. Then, either he or another with the gift of interpretation can edify the rest of the assembly. This argues that the one with the gift of tongues could also receive the interpretation.

Also, in v. 5 Paul says, "greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he [that is, the one speaking in tongues] interprets". Again, Paul's language suggests that at least some of those who speak in tongues are also capable of giving the interpretation.

One must also note the application of this for those today who advocate the use of tongues for private worship. If they do not understand what they are saying then their mind is unfruitful (v. 14), and, according to Paul, they are not being properly edified (see #1 above). What then is the value of privately speaking in tongues when there is no edification from its message? To argue that there is an edification that comes when the spirit prays in a tongue and the mind is unfruitful is unfounded in this section of Scripture. Paul clearly identifies edification with the ministry of truth upon the hearts and minds of the hearers. So, according to Paul, when it comes to tongues, without interpretation there is no edification. This should cause many who use uninterpreted tongues in a private setting to reevaluate their practice.

4) 1 Cor. 14:28 says, "But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God." This verse teaches that when neither the one who speaks in a tongue nor anyone else can interpret what is being said, then he must keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God. "Speak to himself" would refer to either meditation or to him speaking in his tongue silently to himself so that others cannot hear. In doing so, he will be speaking only to himself (assuming he can understand some of what he is saying) and to God.



Linguistic evaluations concerning

the nature of modern tongues


D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit, p. 83, "What bearing does the discipline of linguistics have on the assessment of modern tongues? To my knowledge there is universal agreement among linguists who have taped and analyzed thousands of examples of modern tongues-speaking that the contemporary phenomenon is not any human language. The patterns and structures that all known human language requires are simply not there."

In a footnote, Carson refers the reader to the much cited works of W. J. Samarin, Tongues of Men and Angels: The Religious Language of Pentecostalism (New York: Macmillan, 1972); idem, Variation and Variables in Religious Glossolalia: Language in Society (London: Cambridge University Press, 1972).

Carson again concludes after mentioning the work of linguists who have studied the cultural aspects of tongues-speech, "In any case, modern tongues are lexically uncommunicative and the few instances of reported modern xenoglossia are so poorly attested that no weight can be laid on them" (Ibid, p. 84).

J. R. Jaquette, "Toward a Typology of Formal Communicative Behaviors: Glossolalia," Anthropological Linguistics 9 (1967):6, "we are dealing here not with language, but with verbalizations which superficially resemble language in certain of its structural aspects." In other words, he recognizes that statistically speaking, given the great magnitude of verbal sounds, there will be a recognizable word slip out at times, but that this does not qualify the speech as a true language.

Felicitas D. Goodman, Speaking in Tongues, A Cross-Cultural Study of Glossolalia, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1972, also rejects the notion that modern glossolalia is known human language. The author suggests reasons why many think that modern glossolalia is meaningful language: 1) glossolalia shares with human speech certain universal characteristics, such as speech related sounds; 2) glossolalia has an alternation of consonants and vowels, and it has accent, pauses, and intonation; 3) statistical probability also suggests that some consonant-vowel combinations occurring in a glossolalia utterance may also be a meaningful unit in some language, but these are accidental in nature; 4) psychologically speaking, people will normally try to fit the unknown into categories of the known, thus, the sounds of glossolalia would normally be placed into a familiar category, namely language, instead of acknowledging that they are unintelligible and without meaning.

Goodman believes that the oft-cited examples of xenoglossia (true foreign language) are without verifiable linguistic support and thus are not reliable.

Goodman concludes, "In summary, the answer to the xenoglossia belief is . . . that glossolalia is not the surface structure of a linguistic, symbolic code, of a linguistic deep structure, but rather, in terms of the present research, an artifact of hyperarousal dissociation." (pp. 148-152).

This not only is a powerful argument against modern day tongues being a known human language, but also argues against their being any kind of language, angelic or human. With the lack of any biblical evidence that emphatically supports that angels have a language of their own different from humans but which has its own linguistic characteristics, this argument presents a barrier against those who claim their ecstatic speech is the tongues of angels.



Greek word studies


eterov - Acts 2:4 "other tongues"

DNTT 2:739f, by F. Selter and C. Brown. Acts 2:4 - Was this a form of ecstatic utterance or was it a speaking in other languages which they did not know before. In favor of the former it is argued that v. 13 is supportive when the onlookers mistakenly presumed that they were "filled with new wine". However, if they were speaking a language unknown to the onlookers, could this not have caused the same response? Those supposedly filled with new wine would speak as a drunken man whose language would not support ecstatic speech but rather a known language no matter how badly it might be slurred or garbled. Also, v. 8, 11 clearly say that they were hearing them in their own languages.

[See above on interpretation of Acts 2.]

TDNT 2:702f. article on heteros , by Beyer. In discussing Acts 2:4, he discounts that it refers to ecstatic speech which he says does occur in 10:46; 19:6 and 1 Cor. 12:10, 30; 14:1ff. That it is a miracle of hearing is also unacceptable to him. The other view is to take it as speaking in various languages which were different from the mother tongue of the speakers and which were previously unknown to them. "This view does full justice to the later [verses about them hearing them speak in their own languages], and to the enumeration of the various tongues. On the other hand, it does not explain the contemptuous statement in v. 13, which would seem to be appropriate only to speaking in unintelligible tongues." [However, why could not v. 13 be the response to the unknown languages they were hearing but did not understand?]


DNTT 3:1078f. by H. Haarbeck. Glossa is found 53 times in the NT. "There is no reflection on OT parallels or similar religio-historical manifestations, although Paul, for example, is obviously aware of the existence of mystic and ecstatic manifestations in Hellenism (1 Cor. 12:2). (p. 1079)

"In the case of the interpretation of tongues, it would seem that Paul is not thinking of interpretation in the sense of translating one language into another, which would presume that "tongues" had a coherent scheme of grammar, syntax and vocabulary. Rather, interpretation here seems to be more akin to discerning what the Spirit is saying through the one who is speaking in tongues." (p. 1080)

"These manifestation were undoubtedly of different kinds, since for Jerusalem, Luke describes the speaking in tongues as a preaching of the gospel . . . directed to men in foreign languages or at least dialects: in Caesarea, Ephesus, and Corinth, however, it was probably a case of praise and worship addressed to God in inarticulate tones." (p. 1080)

His analysis is woefully weak.

TDNT 1:722f. article on glossa by Behm. He takes the view that that "speaking in tongues" in the NT refers exclusively to the what is describes in 1 Cor. 14. From this chapter he concludes that "tongues" were spiritually effected speech, not to men but to God, its value is for the individual not the community, where the mind is swallowed up and mysterious and obscure words are spoken in the void, it is an unarticulated sound as of an instrument played with no clear differentiation of notes, it is a miraculous language which is used in heaven between God and the angels, the language of the Spirit which man may attain in prayer as he is seized by the Spirit and caught up into heaven, it is unintelligible ecstatic utterance.

He concludes, "Any subsequent phenomena of glossolalia in Church history can only be hollow imitations of this first springtime of the Spirit." (p. 726)

Of interest in this article is that he shows the existence of such "tongues" in Gk. religions. One of the forms of these religious expressions is a muttering of words or sounds without interconnection or meaning which occurs in various enthusiastic cults. He also refers to various writings about "tongues of angels" in Jewish works which describe various tongues spoken by different groups of angels.

Behm acknowledges that in Acts 2, as distinct from Paul and Acts 10 and 19, that this event is depicted in terms of speaking in foreign tongues (vv. 11, 6, 8). This, he says, is the unique feature in this outpouring of the Spirit here in Acts. However, he excludes the idea of a multiplicity of languages being spoken and yet also rejects this as a mere miracle of hearing. Behm seems to hold the view that the Acts 2 description of tongues is a legendary development of the story by Luke to parallel the Jewish tradition, namely, that in the giving of the Law at Sinai the Word of God was distributed into 70 languages so that each nation receives the commandments in its own tongue. Thus the miracle of tongues by which the Gospel is transmitted to the nations at Pentecost corresponds to the miracle of the Law being published to the world at Mt. Sinai (p. 725).

His liberalism and faulty viewpoint is unfortunate indeed.

Survey of the lexical definitions of glossa


1) the organ of speech

2) a language

3) unintelligible sounds uttered in spiritual ecstasy


1) the member of the body, the organ of speech

2) a language used by a particular people in distinction from that used by other nations

3) the gift of men who, in ecstasy and no longer in control of their reason and consciousness, pour forth their glowing spiritual emotions in "strange utterances, rugged, dark, disconnected, quite unfitted to instruct or to influence the minds of others".


1) the organ of speech or figuratively of forked flames

2) foreign languages and as a synonym for tribe, people, nation

3) broken speech of persons in religious ecstasy


These lexicographers identify some of the biblical tongues with the ecstatic speech. I wonder how much of this is due to the influence of tongues in the pagan religions which they assume must be similar in nature to biblical tongues? However, there is legitimate question concerning the propriety of using extra-biblical uses of glossa when attempting to understand the NT use of this word. Gromacki, for example, argues that the NT use of glossa , when used for the concept of speaking in tongues, always refers to human languages (p. 58). Others challenge the lexicographers' results when they favor the use of glossa for ecstatic speech. D.A. Carson says, "More careful word studies have shown that in none of the texts adduced by Behm [TDNT] or the standard lexica [i.e., BAGD] does glwssa (glossa ) ever denote noncognitive utterance" (Showing the Spirit, p. 80-81, and n. 17).

eteroglwssov - 1 Cor. 14:21, "strange tongues"

DNTT 2:740, by F. Selter and C. Brown. "1 Cor. 14:21 uses the compound heteroglossos , speaking another tongue, speaking a foreign language.

The use of Isa. 28:11f. is to repeat a judgment like that in Isaiah's days when Israel would not listen to God so He sent them the Assyrians, who spoke another tongue, to punish them. This was a sign that God was dealing with them as unbelievers. The point being made by Paul is that to speak in an unknown foreign tongue without interpretation is to speak unintelligibly to the people for they do not understand it and thus they are not edified. "To speak in another tongue [without interpretation] is ineffective for building up the church and promoting faith. Indeed, it might even be regarded as a judgment on the community" (p. 741). Uninterpreted tongues is a sign of judgment to unbelievers for they too are in rebellion against God and when they hear an unknown tongue being spoken, it reflects the judgment of God in Isaiah's days through the Assyrians. The judgment now, however, is immediate hardening (v. 21, "you are mad!").

TDNT 1:726-27, by Behm. He says that in 1 Cor. 14:21 that it refers to speaking another language, being that of Assyria, whereas for Paul the parallel refers to men who speak the language of heavenly spirits. [However, does not the occurrence of glossa in the following verse make this view inconsistent?]

There is also debate concerning whether tongues should be ever be described as"ecstatic utterance". The issue is that normally one thinks of an experience of ecstasy as one in which the person has lost control of him/herself in a state of being beyond reason and self control. Most glossolalists make the assumption that Paul taught that those who speak in tongues are able to control his or her speech. This kind of glossolalia is called "cool tongues" where the speaker has perfect control of his utterance and remains mentally alert and cognizant of what is going on, even though they do not know what is coming out of their mouths.

Sola Scriptura,

Alan Conner
November, 1998

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