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Speaking in Tongues

Lesson Seven

Victor M. Eskew




A.   When individuals think of the subject of tongues in relation to the Holy Spirit, there is usually one concept that comes to mind.

1.     It is a picture of the frenzied, unintelligible utterances of the Pentecostals or related charismatic group.

2.     Seldom do people picture the gift of tongues mentioned in the pages of God’s Word.


B.    The subject of tongues and speaking in tongues is found in the Bible.

1.     The subject is mentioned in three New Testament books:  Mark, Acts, and I Corinthians.

2.     The word “tongues” is used 27 times in 25 verses in the New Testament.

3.     The first time it is used is in Mark 16:17.


And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues.


C.   We will be examining two things in this lesson.

1.     Tongues as used in the New Testament.

2.     The false position that is held today concerning speaking in tongues.




A.   The Greek word

1.     The Greek word for “tongue” is glossa.”

2.     Tongue speaking is sometimes referred to as “glossolalia.”

3.     NOTE:  The fact that the focus is on the tongue shows that this involves the words of the one speaking and not the ear of the one hearing.


B.    The definitions of the word “tongue.”

1.     Strong (1100):  the tongue; by implication a language (specifically one naturally unacquired)

2.     Thayer:  a tongue, the language or dialect used by a particular people distinct from that of others.

3.     Vine

a.     The “tongues”…like as of fire

b.    The tongue as an organ of speech

c.    A language

d.    The supernatural gift of speaking in another language without its having been learnt


4.     New Testament uses:

a.     Tongue as an organ of the body (Rev. 16:10; see also I Cor. 14:9)

b.    Speech (Rom. 3:13)

c.    Languages of a particular  people of nation (Acts 2:11; I Cor. 13:1; Rev. 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 17:15).  See also Acts 21:40; 22:2; Rev. 9:11

d.    A language that has not been learned but can be spoken through supernatural means (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6; I Cor. 12:10, 28, 30; I Cor. 13:8; 14:5, 6, 18, 21, 22, 23, 39).  See also I Cor. 14:26

e.     Used figuratively to describe the shape of an object (Acts 2:3)

5.     Another definition of the word involves what some refer to as ecstatic utterances.

a.     Kittle’s Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words uses this concept to describe the pagan practice of tongues that existed in New Testament times.

b.    Thayer’s definition of “new” in Mark 16:17 could cause one to perhaps lean toward this definition.  He defines the word as “of a new kind, unprecedented, novel, uncommon, unheard of.”

c.    Some of the translations of the word of God promote this idea.

1)     The KJV refers to an “unknown tongue” (I Cor. 14:2, 4, 13, 14, 19, 27).

2)     The TEV refer to “strange tongues” (Mark 16:17).

3)     The NEB uses phrases such as “tongues of ecstasy” and “languages of ecstasy” to translate “glossa.”


C.   Terms used for tongues in the KJV

1.     Tongues (Acts 10:46)

2.     New tongues (Mark 16:17)

3.     Other tongues (Acts 2:4)

4.     Divers kinds of tongues (I Cor. 12:10)

5.     Diversities of tongues (I Cor. 12:28)

6.     Unknown tongue (I Cor. 14:2)

a.     The word “unknown” is in italics.  It is not in the Greek manuscripts.  It was supplied by the translators.

b.    The tongue was unknown to the one speaking it in that he had never been taught to speak this language.


D.   What we learn about tongues from the New Testament.

1.     They were one of the signs used to confirm the spoken message of truth (Mark 16:17).

2.     When the apostles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day, they spoke in tongues (Acts 2:4).

3.     The tongues involved speaking in languages of those who had come from the other nations to celebrate Pentecost (Acts 2:6, 8, 11).

4.     When the household of Cornelius received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they spoke in tongues (Acts 10:45-46).

5.     The men from Ephesus were baptized with the Lord’s baptism after being taught by Paul.  Then, Paul laid his hands on them and the Holy Ghost came upon them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied (Acts 19:6).

6.     Tongues were one of the nine miraculous gifts of the Spirit given to members of the first century church (I Cor. 12:7-11).

7.     Not everyone received the gift of tongues (I Cor. 12:28-30).

8.     A person could speak in tongues but not have love.  Such speaking was described as being sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal (I Cor. 13:1).

9.     Tongues were to cease (I Cor. 13:8).

10.  Those who spoke with tongues without a translator spoke not unto men, but unto God (I Cor. 14:2).

11.   A tongue was a foreign language that was not understandable to the members of the local congregation (I Cor. 14:2).

12.  Those who spoke in tongues spoke “mysteries” (I Cor. 14:2).

13.   Those who spoke in tongues edified themselves but not others in the church (I Cor. 14:4).

14.  It was better to prophesy than to speak with tongues (I Cor. 14:5, 19).

15.  Tongues were only beneficial if someone interpreted them (I Cor. 14:5).

16.  The one who spoke in tongues needed to pray that his message could be interpreted (I Cor. 14:13).

17.  Praying in an unknown tongue was unfruitful (I Cor. 14:14).

18.  Praying in a tongue would not allow those who heard the pray to say Amen, “seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest” (I Cor. 14:16).

19.  Tongues were for a sign to those that believe not (I Cor. 14:22).

20.  If unbelievers heard everyone in the church speaking in tongues in an assembly, “will they not say that ye are mad?” (I Cor. 14:23).

21.  If tongues were spoken only two or three should speak “and that by course, and let one interpret” (I Cor. 14:27).

22.  If one who speaks in tongues had no interpreter, he was to keep silent (I Cor. 14:28).

23.  When speaking in tongues, all things should be done decently and in order (I Cor. 14:40).


E.    The purpose of tongue speaking in the New Testament

1.     Tongues were evidence of the reception of the Holy Spirit.

a.     Pentecost Day (Acts 2:4)

b.    The household of Cornelius (Acts 10:46)

c.    The men of Ephesus (Acts 19:6)

2.     Tongues enabled Christians of the first century to proclaim the gospel of Christ to those of other nations without having to learn their languages (Acts 2:6, 8, 11).

3.     Tongues were one of the signs that could be used to confirm the spoken word of God (Mark 16:17-20).

4.     Tongues were given to members of the first century church to equip her for the work of God (I Cor. 12:7-11).  (NOTE:  For tongues to edify the church there had to be an interpreter, I Cor. 14:5).

5.     Tongues enabled the one who possessed them to praise God and edify himself (I Cor. 14:2, 4)

6.     Tongues were for a sign to those who believed not (I Cor. 14:22).





A.   The Bible nowhere indicates that speaking in tongues involves some type of ecstatic utterance.

1.     The first time we are introduced to tongue speaking, it involves speaking in languages one has not been taught. 

2.     There is no reason to believe that this definition changes anywhere the word “tongues” is used in the New Testament.


B.    Ecstatic utterances are practiced by several religious groups.

1.     Assemblies of God

2.     United Pentecostal Church International

3.     Church of God (Cleveland)

4.     The Salvation Army

5.     The Greek Orthodox Church

6.     There are others who also use ecstatic utterances.

a.     Abnormal psychological experiences

b.    Those said to be demon possessed


C.   “Those who practice glossolalia differ over the exact nature of the speech.  It is believed to be from God, but what language is it, if it be a language?” (Glossolalia, Jividen, 19).

1.     Angelic language (I Cor. 13:1):  “The language of heaven is unintelligible and unspeakable to ordinary men.  Only enlightened men may be fit to hear and reproduce it” (Maurice Bennett as quoted by Jividen, 20).

2.     The true language of Adam before the confusion of the tongues at the tower of Babel.  The Bible says that the earth was of one language (Gen. 11:1).

3.     Primitive languages, that is, languages that used to exist but no longer can be found on the earth.

4.     A spiritual language given by the Holy Spirit to express the deepest emotions of men which cannot be expressed in regular language.


D.   Characteristics of “speaking in tongues”:

1.     The speaker is in a state of emotional exaltation.

2.     The utterance is spontaneous.

3.     The speaker uses frenzied, inarticulate jargon.

4.     The speaker does not understand the utterance.

5.     The audience does not understand the utterance.

6.     The utterance has some semblance of language.


E.    A few points of discussion:

1.     “If the New Testament ‘tongues’ – glossa – were the same as the ecstatic utterance of the pagan cults, the supernatural nature of the gift would be denied.  There would be nothing miraculous in the apostles doing the same thing that all the pagan cults were doing.  The New Testament gift of tongues was to be a sign to follow the preaching of the gospel.  It showed that the message was from God.  The sign would not have meaning if it were no more than experiences common in the pagan cults” (Jividen, 26).

2.     Tongues were an inferior gift.

a.     Inferior to the abiding non-miraculous gifts of faith, hope, and love (I Cor. 13:13).

b.    Inferior to the gift of prophecy (I Cor. 14:5a, 19).

3.     A key verse:  I Corinthians 13:8a


Charity never faileth:  but whether there be prophesies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease…


a.     These words were addressed to the church at Corinth that was having problems over the gift of tongues.

b.    If tongues were not going to cease during the time that some of his readers were living, this message was useless to them.

c.    The miraculous ceased when the perfect came (I Cor. 13:10).

1)     The perfect is the complete, fully revealed Word of God.

2)     The “once for all time delivered” Word of God is here.  Thus, miracles have ended.  Tongues were a miracle, therefore, they have ceased.




A.   Speaking in tongues was a much needed gift of the Holy Spirit that was given to the church in the first century. 


B.    It ceased when all other miracles ceased.


C.   Those who claim to speak in tongues violate Biblical injunctions.

1.     They speak without an interpreter.

2.     They speak and no one who hears them can say Amen.

3.     They speak and no one is edified because no one can understand the words they are speaking.

4.     Their speech is not a language that exists on earth.  It is a fabrication in the mind of the person who speaks them.  Usually, many of the phrases they speak are used over and over and over.


D.   We have God’s will for our lives in the pages of the Bible.  We do not need some type of jargon that is incomprehensible.  If it cannot be understood, it does absolutely no one any good.