Biblical vs. Modern Tongue Speaking


Introduction.  (Mark 16:15-20)  In this text we have the charge that the Lord gave to His apostles to teach the gospel.  In vs. 17 we note that those who would go out to teach would possess (along with other gifts) “new tongues.”  Many in our world today believe that this gift continues today.  In this lesson we will consider this claim in light of what the New Testament teaches about speaking in tongues.


I.  “New Tongues.”

A.  Tongue = Gr. glossa. Thayer - “1. the tongue, a member of the body, an organ of speech.  2. a tongue. a. the language or dialect used by a particular people distinct from that of other nations” (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. pp. 118,119).

1.  Organ of speech.  (Mark 7:33-35).

2.  A tongue (speech in general). (Romans 3:12,13).

3.  Distinct language.  (Revelation 5:9).

B.  “New Tongue” doesn’t mean new (to existence) but new to the speaker.  Coptic trans. “they will speak in the languages” Cop. enaspe “the languages.”


II.  The Day of Pentecost.  (Acts 2:1-13).

A.  “Speak with other tongues.” (vs. 4).  What were these “other tongues”? 

1.  Devout men, from every nation under heaven. (vs. 5).

2.  Nations mentioned (vss. 9-11).  I.e. human languages.

B.  They were amazed because...

1.  “Everyone heard them speak in his own language.” (vs. 6).

2.  “We hear, each in our own language in which we were born” (vs. 8).

3.  “We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” (vs. 11).

C.  Analysis.

1. Why were they amazed?  It wasn’t just because they heard them speak in their own language [Note: if you hear everyone in English you just assume they are English speakers]: 1.they realized this wasn’t their native language (vs. 7 “Galileans”), 2. they realized that each person could understand the one who spoke in their own language - “speaking in our own tongues(pl.)” [Note: They must have been able to realize that they spoke to one person in one language and and to you in your language - thus the charge of “new wine” vs. 13].

2.  This gift of tongues allowed the gospel to be taught to those who could not otherwise communicate.


III. Other Occurances in the Book of Acts.

A.  Cornelius’ household.  (Acts 10:44-48)

1.  Just like Pentecost (Acts 11:15)

2.  No reason to think these were not human languages.

B.  John’s disciples. (Acts 19:1-6)

1.  Just like Pentecost.

2.  No reason to think these were not human languages.


IV.  Tongues in the Church in Corinth.

A. The Corinthians were given miraculous spiritual gifts.  (I Corinthians 1:4-9; 12:7-11)  Note:

1. “[Different] kinds of tongues”

2. “Interpretation of tongues”   Early translations serve as an early commentary on how this was understood. 

a.  Lat. 1st linguarum < “linguistics,”, 2nd sermonum - “a speaking or talking with anyone; talk, conversation, discourse...2. ordinary speech, speaking, talking, the language of conversation...II. b. a language, the speech of a nation” (Latin Dictionary, Lewis & Short, pp. 1679-1680). 

b.  Goth. razdo “the specific manner of linguistic expression characteristic of an individual, an ethnic group or a nation: voicing, manner of utterance, dialectical accent; dialect; language; tongue” (Dictionary of Biblical Gothic, Brian T. Regan, pp. 97-98) [Note: in Mark 7:33 uses tuggon < tongue].

      If this is the gift of human languages in order to teach those in another language why would one need the gift of “interpretation” of tongues?  Remember Pentecost.

1.  The apostles could speak in different human languages.

2.  It was evident to the hearers that different languages were used.

3.  “Interpretation” of tongues would allow a person not only to speak another language but understand it if it was spoken to you.

B.  Tongues and prophesy.  The Corinthians seem to have misunderstood the value of speaking in tongues.  Context: 1. Opening statement about when they had been “carried away” by idols (12:2).  [Note: It is clear that in ancient pagan worship it was not uncommon for a priest or a worshipper to babble unintelligible words which were then “interpreted.”]  2. Paul lists different gifts (12:4-11).  3. Paul show the need the body had for diversities of gifts (12:12-30).  4.  Paul shows the superiority of love to spiritual gifts (12:31-13:6).   5.  Paul shows that spiritual gifts (e.g. tongues and prophesy) will cease (13:8-13).  6.  Paul show the superiority of prophesy to tongues and how both should be used (14:1-40).

C.  Tongues in I Corinthians Chapeter Fourteen. 

1.  “He who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.” (14:2).  Let's say I have been given the gift to speak in Greek and I begin to teach John 1:1 (quote in Greek).  If no one in the congregation can speak Greek, God understands the sounds of my mouth but no one else does (even though I am speaking a mystery of God). 

2.  “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.” (14:4).  If I speak in Greek, knowing that I didn’t study to learn this language, this is a miracle!  I may be edified but no one else is.  If on the other hand I reveal to the hearers what God has reveled to me in their own language all are edified (quote in English).

3.  Tongues must be applied for teaching (14:6-12).

4.  “Let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.” (14:13).  If I encounter a situation where my gift of tongues does not allow free communication, I must ask God that He allow me to be able to interpret so that edification can take place.

5.  “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.” (14:14).  Is this teaching that there is some unknown language that a Christian may use that they themselves will not understand?  Some languages have different forms of verbs referred to as mood (no emotion but manner of expression).  Greek has four moods indicative (a statement for fact), imperative (a command) and two forms which express possibility: subjunctive and optative (more remote possibility).  This verse is in the subjunctive, i.e. “if I should possibly pray in a tongue.”  Not necessarily describing something that actually happens. [Note: emphasis is made in the next verses that other acts of worship should be with understanding.]  The point is that if it were to happen, just as a visitor in the assembly would not understand me if I speak in a tongue - I would not understand myself if I prayed in a tongue.  

6.  5 understandable words are better than 10,000 in a tongue. (14:19).  Understanding must be the emphasis.  This is Hyperbole (i.e. an exageration to make a point).  Compare: I Corinthians 13:1  Note: This is also subjunctive “If I should possibly speak” and Hyperbole “in the tongues of men and of angels.”  As if to say “if I could speak every language on earth and Martian” but don’t have love its worth nothing. 

7.  Tongues are a sign for unbelievers. (14:22).  Remember on Pentecost - the gift amazed the non-believers because they could tell that different languages were being spoken, yet they could understand the speaker in their language.

8.  If all speak with tongues a visitor will think the church out of their minds (14:23).  If tongues are used so that people do not hear the teacher in their own language - all the vistor will hear is that different languages are being spoken.

9.  Tongues must only be used if there is an interpretor (14:27,28).

10.  Do not forbid to speak with tongues (14:39).  i.e. He is not writing to forbid a gift that God has given, but to urge them to use it properly.

D.  Synopsis of Paul’s teaching on tongues.  Some were either pretending to have the gift of tongues (in imitation of pagan tongues) or using the actual gift to display it rather than to utilize it for teaching.  In Paul’s instruction he lays down the way in which: 1. Those imitating the Pagan model will be forced to see it as invalid, 2.  Those misapplying the actual gifts will understand its signifiance.


Conclusion.  Tongues as used and described in the Bible were the ability to speak and interpret human languages which they had not studied in order to teach those who speak a foreign language.  In our day when people claim that they have the gift of tongues very seldom will it approximate the Biblical method (i.e. not and actual human language, not for the edification of others).  When a claim is made that an actual language is used the interpretation may involve something so basic in nature that it is unnecessary (i.e. “praise God” or “I love Jesus”).  This is not what the Bible taught. (I Corinthians 13:8-10)  Tongues were one of a number of miraculous spiritual gifts that were partial in nature until the complete revelation of God’s word was completed.  Now that which was “in part” has been “done away.”