Months ago, I wrote and posted at my website an article entitled, Biblical Teachings Regarding the Gift of Tongues and Glossolalia. If you have not read that article, I suggest that it may be advisable to do so in conjunction with reading this post. The article contains more in-depth examination of this topic, and the post which follows is intended as a supplement to that article.
My aforementioned article acknowledges that the gift of speaking in a previously-unknown tongue/language is a real one which is validated in the scriptures, but it also warns that glossolalia can be a phony manifestation and even a danger. The author of the article in the first link (which appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review) is Ben Witherington III, who clearly has a Doctorate in the field. He examines the Greek words underlying the New Testament accounts that are assumed to be accounts of glossolalia/angelic tongues by some Christians. Specifically addressing the Acts 2 account, he concludes that “the Greek text of Acts 2 doesn’t support such a view.” He points out, quite accurately in my view, that the Acts 2 account shows that the miracle of tongues/languages was in the speaking of them by the Apostles, not the hearing of them by people in that audience. His short article is well-worth reading for anyone who wants a scholarly discussion of the subject of speaking in tongues in the New Testament. He notes that while God gave new languages to mankind’s nascent nations at the Tower of Babel, God made it possible for the Gospel to go to the nations of the world by giving the Apostles the ability to speak the languages of many nations.
It should be observed that all the attendees in the Acts 2 audience who heard the Apostles speaking in their own native languages had to be devout followers of God and his laws as they had traveled all the way to Jerusalem for a Holy Day pilgrimage. In giving the Apostles the ability to speak new languages, I believe God was directing the Apostles to go to the native lands of the people whose language they could now suddenly speak. Support for this viewpoint is found in the fact that the vast majority of the Apostles are never mentioned again in the New Testament. They were no longer present in the region. They doubtlessly journeyed to the lands that spoke the language they had just been Divinely given. In giving the Apostles the ability to speak in new languages, he created a mechanism for them to bring the Gospel to all nations, something he had told them to do in Matthew 28:19. My books, The “Lost” Ten tribes of Israel…Found! and Parthia–The Forgotten Ancient Superpower, examine the historical/secular accounts about the locations on the earth to which the various Apostles traveled.
In my previous article, I cited an example where a person I personally knew told me he had a friend who attended a Christian church which included having members speak in glossolalia as part of the services. This person’s friend became very agitated during the service because, unlike the person doing the speaking in this unknown tongue, he could understand what was actually being said. The person doing the glossolalia speaking was giving herself over to a spirit which moved her to say things in what she thought was a “prayer language,” but it was actually the language of Samoa. The glossolalia speaker was actually cursing God in her unknown (to her) language instead of praising God. Another friend has since contacted me to inform me that he had a similar report given to him. He had a friend who visited a “tongues-speaking” church and during the glossolalia portion of the service, a congregant spoke to the group in a “prayer language” of unknown glossolalia. In this case, the person was cursing God in fluent Ukrainian (which my friend’s friend understood) although the speaker had no idea that this was actually coming forth from his/her mouth. I understand these accounts are “second-hand” testimonies, but I consider both sources to be totally reliable in what they said.
I pass this on as a necessary warning to those who desire to speak in some kind of prayer language or glossolalia. The Apostle Paul expressly forbid anyone to speak in an unfamiliar language in a Christian church service unless there was some other person who could understand the words being spoken and could interpret them for the benefit of the congregation (I Corinthians 14:27-28). I think Paul had encountered situations like those I described in the preceding paragraph, and he was warning the Corinthian believers on how to discern if a speaking gift was from God or not. Paul added in his epistle to the Corinthians that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (verse 32). I believe Paul was clearly saying that anyone speaking in a new tongue/language had to be firmly in control of themselves if the gift was truly from God. Paul added in I Corinthians 14:8-9 that it was pointless to speak in words that could not be understood, and also stated that any group of believers will seem “mad” (KJV) to someone who beholds them talking in words that cannot be understood by anyone present.
In conclusion, I reaffirm that the gift of suddenly being able to speak in a new language is a valid gift of the Holy Spirit, but there is no evidence that “glossolalia” is automatically such a gift as well. Indeed, it can be dangerous. One can be “giving themselves over” to an evil spirit by uttering things in words unknown to the speaker or the hearers. Acts 2 neither addresses the topic of glossolalia nor approves of it. As the author of the first link’s article notes, Acts 2 relates God’s Holy Spirit gave the Apostles an ability to speak fluently in a foreign language that could be understood by a group of people in that audience. Since God made all languages (Genesis 11:7-9), he can easily give anyone the gift to speak a new language. However, I see no evidence in the Bible where God dispensed such gifts to amuse people or “put on a religious show.” God gave all such gifts purposefully to edify those who could understand the language or to edify people via an interpreter who could fluently understand what a gifted person was speaking. Based on the Apostle Paul’s instructions, I think a good rule of thumb is: If you find yourself in a situation where people are speaking in languages that neither you nor anyone present can understand, it is time to leave.