Charismaticism (IV): Speaking in Tongues

Having considered the three waves of Charismatic Christianity, the precursors of modern Charismatic Christianity and the baptism with the Holy Spirit, we come to tongue speaking. Let us be clear, first of all, that tongues in the Bible are not gibberish—my deliberately pejorative term for the gobbledegook of Pentecostalism, Charismaticism and Neo-Charistmaticism, also known collectively as renewalism. The tongues in Acts and I Corinthians are real human languages.


Let us prove this from Acts 2, by looking, first, at the words used. Verse 4 says that those in the upper room “began to speak with other tongues”. The Greek for “tongues” here is glossa, which is, first, that organ in the mouth by which we speak and, second, the language which is spoken by it. In verse 6, we read that “every man heard them speak in his own language”, with “language” being the Greek dialektos, from which we get the English word “dialect”. “Tongue” and “dialect” are used interchangeably for the “tongues” (glossa) that were spoken by those in the upper room and were heard by the people in their own “languages” (dialektos) (vv. 4, 6). Verse 8 contains the question: “How hear we every man in our own tongue [dialektos]?” Verse 11 states, “we do hear them speak in our tongues [glossa] the wonderful works of God.” Clearly, “tongues” (glossa) and “dialects” (dialektos) are used interchangeably in Acts 2:4, 6, 8 and 11.

Second, we know that these are real human languages, along the lines of French or Javanese or Swahili, etc., because this is the explanation given in the passage:

And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue [dialektos], wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia … (Acts 2:7-9).

Third, verse 11 states that the people heard in their own “tongues” (glossa) or languages “the wonderful works of God.” However, this is not what we do hear from renewalists. We do not hear the wonderful works of God when they talk gibberish; we do not hear the wonderful works of God for most of their churches side-line preaching; we do not hear the wonderful works of God in their customarily shallow, non- exegetical, Arminian sermons. Their false doctrine and practice regarding the Holy Spirit (including their view of “tongue speaking”) grieves the Spirit, who is the only one who enables pastors faithfully to preach, explain and apply the Word of God (Nehemiah 8:7-8).

With the tongues in Acts 2 being real human languages, we are in a position to understand the tongue speaking mentioned in Acts 10 and 19, and inferred in Acts 8. The tongues there are the same as the foreign human languages in Acts 2. This is precisely the point of the book of Acts. Those in Acts 2 speak in foreign tongues as a sign that the ascended Christ has now poured out His Holy Spirit on His church and that the church is catholic or universal, embracing all the nations. Later, the Samaritans (Acts 8), the Gentiles (Acts 10) and the disciples of John the Baptist who had not received the full New Testament blessings (Acts 19) also speak in foreign languages or tongues, as a sign that all believers, Jews and Gentiles, are embraced in the New Testament church of Jesus Christ. This confounds the notion of tongue speaking as gibberish in the book of Acts, along with the idea that speaking gobbledegook is evidence of the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 14

The tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 are also real human languages and not gibberish. Isaiah 28:11-12 is quoted in 1 Corinthians 14:21: “With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.” The argument here is that Israel was so wicked that the prophets who came to speak to them in Hebrew were despised and their message was rejected. Therefore, God said, in effect, “You will not hearken to Me speaking My Word through My messengers in Hebrew, so I will make you sit up and listen. I will send the Assyrians and when you find yourself carted away to a strange country and surrounded by enemy soldiers, speaking a language that you do not understand, then you will know that I have punished you for your sins, as My prophets predicted.” 1 Corinthians 14:22 points out that this is a “sign,” a sign of judgment upon Israel. Now, in the New Testament, tongue speaking is God’s judgment upon unbelieving Judaism and a sign of the catholicity of Christ’s church. Thus, 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 identifies the nature of the tongues spoken of in this chapter as real human languages.

1 Corinthians 14:7 refers to a sort of language that is played with a musical instrument. We call it a tune and it is noticeably different from the banging of little children on a piano. Verse 8 talks about a trumpet, which must give a definite sound to be recognised as a summons to battle. Verse 9 makes a comparison: as with musical instruments, such as a harp or a trumpet, so with the human voice for unless you speak words that people can understand, a real human language, you may as well be speaking into the air.

The same thing is taught in 1 Corinthians 14:10-11. There are many sorts of voices in the world and none without signification or meaning (v.10). If someone came to a Greek man speaking a foreign language that he did not know, he would think of him as a barbarian, i.e., someone who is saying, “Bar, bar, bar,” the origin of the word “barbarian” (v. 11). The Greek heard sounds but he did not know what the other was saying. Yet an ancient Greek would have recognised that the barbarian was at least uttering a real language, unlike the crazy sounds uttered by the modern renewalists!

Charismatics appeal to the word “mysteries” in 1 Corinthians 14:2, which are uttered by the person speaking in tongues. But “mystery” in the Bible never means gobbledegook. The word “mystery” in Scripture refers to the great truths of the redemption centred in the cross of Jesus Christ, which were formerly hidden in God and which are now revealed by the Spirit through His prophets to the catholic church of both Jews and Gentiles (e.g., Matthew 13:11; Romans 11:25; 16:25-26; 1 Corinthians 2:7-10; Ephesians 1:9-10; 3:3-9; Colossians 1:26-27; 1 Timothy 3:16).


What is called tongue speaking in Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Neo- Charismatic circles is one of the biggest shams and greatest follies in the 2,000 years of the history of apostasy in the Christian church—and that is saying something! For renewalists, gibberish is the height of piety. It is viewed as the special prayer language that even the devil cannot stop as it ascends up to God. It is seen as a wonderful divine gift to be desired and earnestly sought.

Renewalist tongue speaking, consisting of the sort of sounds that people make to babies, is the folly to which God in His holy justice has reduced that apostate movement. We train our children to speak a language properly but the Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Neo-Charismatics train adults to speak gibberish like infants. Their tongue speaking is not a divine gift; it is a learned or imitated behaviour. People are taught by renewalists, “Do not analyse this with your proud mind. Let go of your tongue, let it rattle around your mouth and let sounds pop out. Isn’t that a wonderful gift; God is so good!” Yet tongue speaking (gibberish) is also found among non-Christians around the world. There are Mormons who speak in tongues, as well as Tibetan monks, Roman Catholics and Islamic whirling dervishes—there are even unbelieving Eskimos who speak gobbledegook in tongues!

There is no spiritual growth through tongue speaking because, as 1 Corinthians 14 underscores repeatedly, edification requires understanding (vv. 2-6, 12-19, 26-28). Christ prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17), yet tongue speakers deliberately bypass the mind. These powerful words are in the last canonical verse penned by the apostle Peter: “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The “and” in this passage is a hendiadys having the force of “through:” “But grow in grace, through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” If Satan can get a group of professing Christians to come together to jabber like idiots, then he has achieved his purpose.

The Holy Spirit declares, “If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues [i.e., other languages, as we have shown], and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?” (1 Corinthians 14:23). It is even worse if a body of professing Christians, instead of uttering real foreign languages, babbles like babies. Thus, renewalist tongue speaking is a terrible witness to non-Christians, making them think that followers of Jesus Christ are crazy!

On the other hand, the ability to speak more than one language is of great value in the service of the catholicity of Christ’s church. Today, the means of acquiring such tongues is not a miraculous one, as it was in Acts 2. It is by hard work and study, just like any other intellectual endeavour, as Solomon said, “All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it” (Ecclesiastes 1:8). With the use of more than one language, people can translate Reformed creeds, books and pamphlets into other tongues. These can be published on the printed page and on the internet—a subject dear to my own heart (see languages.htm). Work such as this is of far more value for the kingdom of heaven than all the gibberish spoken by all the renewalists all around the world for a hundred years.

Foreign languages are also crucial in missions. There are some 6,700 languages in the world. The Gospel cannot reach and save people from all the languages of the world without missionaries learning their tongues and bringing them God’s truth. Christ will not return until people of every kindred and nation and tongue have been saved. That is the significance of tongues for us today: the church must pray for, and labour in, the spread of the gospel of Christ in every language of the world.

Written by: Pastor Angus Stewart  | Issue 37