Did U Know...? ...Why Various Denominations Speak in Tongues?

By Lee Warren, B.A., D.D.

(c) Jan.-Feb. 1995 PLIM REPORT

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Many Christian sects and denominations claim to speak in tongues. In reality, they are uttering gibberish or an unintelligible speech at the height of religious fervor or as they go into a trance. This phenomena is often referred to as glossolalia or the gift of tongues. According to James Hastings in the Dictionary of the Bible: "Possession of the gift enabled the believer to give voice to ecstatic utterances in moments of high religious excitement (p. 1008)." These congregations believe and teach that speaking an incomprehensible language, which they label speaking in tongues, is a sign that they have the Holy Spirit. They ridicule those that can’t and don’t speak in these so-called tongues.

In reality, speaking in tongues is a sign of the Holy Spirit. The Messiah said: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; (Mk. 16:17).” The Apostle Paul also stated that speaking in tongues is a gift of the Holy Spirit. “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; ... to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: (1 Cor. 12:8-11).”

What needs to be clarified is the word ‘tongue’, for some obvious questions arise in light of the assertion that speaking babble is speaking in tongues.

Is speaking gibberish considered speaking in tongues?

Paul said: “... I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue (I Cor. 14:19).” It is quite obvious that the Messiah didn’t send his disciples or Apostles out to speak nonsense or a language that people could not understand (Mt. 28:19). The disciples were messengers of truth and had to have the ability to convey the truth in a manner easily understood by common men. The intent of this article is to define tongues and explain the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of speaking in tongues according to the scriptures.

What is the definition of the word ‘tongue?’

The word ‘tongue’ in the context of communication is defined as: “...4. A spoken language or dialect (The American Heritage Dictionary of the Spoken Language, p. 1353).” Language is defined in the same source as: “... vocal sounds ... to form, express, and communicate thoughts and feelings (p. 736).” Thus, 'tongues' would be the plural which means the person is speaking more than one language simultaneously.

If the word 'tongue', in this sense, is an expression of thoughts, then someone speaking in tongues should be establishing a communication or dialogue between the speaker and the listener. If the listener can’t understand the thoughts, feelings, or ideas of the speaker, the language is of no value. In short, someone speaking many words in an unknown tongue should be quiet, unless, of course, there is an interpreter (I Cor. 14:27-28).

How is the word ‘tongue’ interpreted in the scriptures?

Now the word 'tongue' has many meanings. In the King James version of the Bible the word 'tongue' means: "babbler, bay, evil speaker, language, talker, tongue, wedge (p. 1008-1009)." The meaning depends on the context in which the word is being used. According to The Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible by James Strong: "... the tongue (of man or animals), used literally (as the instrument of licking, eating, or speech), and figuratively (speech, an ingot, a fork of flame, a cove of water):" depicts two different contexts. In Hebrew the word 'tongue' is 'lashown (law-shone'); or lashon (law-shone'); also (in plural) feminine leshonah (lesh-o-naw').

What is the significance of  Pentecost and the Tower of Babel?

What must be understood is that in A.D. 33 at 9:00 a.m. in Jerusalem this Present Kingdom Age of Grace began with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. Mankind would be hereafter saved by grace through faith under the New Covenant (Eph. 2:8-9). It was in the upper room that the Apostles began to speak under the influence of the Holy Spirit in another tongue. Luke the physician, who was not an Apostle, described the event. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).”

When the Apostles spoke in other tongues, were they understood?

Some Christians think the Apostles spoke in various tongues or languages of their day. This would have been impossible since the Apostles were unlearned men (Acts 4:13; Luke 5:1-11) who spoke no other language, except Hebrew. Upon closer inspection of the scriptures, it can be understood that those present HEARD the Apostles preaching the Gospel in their own languages within the confines of their minds. In other words, as the Apostles spoke Hebrew, the Holy Spirit translated their words into the various languages the people spoke. Luke wrote: “And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. 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, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of Elohim (God). And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this (Acts 2:10-15)?”

Further proof that the Apostles spoke in Hebrew on the day of Pentecost, but it was heard in the tongue or language of the listener, can be shown by understanding the Tower of Babel.

Why were the tongues confused at the Tower of Babel?

Prior to the building of the Tower of Babel, which was approximately 100 years after the flood, the people of the earth spoke one language (Gn. 11:1). When the men of the earth began to build the tower without divine specifications and also to make a name for themselves, Yahweh said: "Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech (Gn.11:7)."

They couldn’t finish building the tower because they couldn’t understand each other’s language. This is how mankind began to speak various languages or tongues. Thus, the day of Pentecost is, in reality, the reversal of tongues that previously were confused at the Tower of Babel. At Pentecost men once again began to understand one another form a spiritual sense.

Did the Messiah speak in tongues in His ministry?

During the three and a half years of the Messiah’s ministry He spoke parables which are a form of ‘tongue’ that weren’t understood by the people. He didn’t speak in another language. The Messiah was born a Hebrew or Israelite and He spoke Hebrew (See the "Did You Know?" section of the Complimentary Issue of the "PLIM REPORT," p. 13). His mission was to fulfill the scriptures (Mt. 5:17-18), which were also written in Hebrew.

Many of the prophets prophesied that the Messiah would speak to Israel in another tongue. Isaiah the prophet wrote under the influence of the Holy Spirit: “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people (Isa. 28:11).” The Apostle Paul wrote: “In the law it is written, 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 Yahweh (the Lord, 1 Cor. 14:21).” Now one may ask, if the Messiah’s native tongue were Hebrew, what did Isaiah mean when he wrote that the Messiah would speak in another tongue.

Are parables a form of speaking in tongues?

The answer to this mystery is yes, but not the way one might think. The Messiah spoke to Israel in parables (or another tongue) which they didn’t understand. Remember, parables are a symbolic, allegorical language or way of speaking, and like a foreign language, they need an interpreter. He might as well have been speaking to them in Russian or some other foreign language. For example, the Messiah told Israel the parable about the sower sowing seeds. Some fell by the wayside and the fowls came and devoured them. Some fell on stony ground and couldn’t take root or withstand the noon day sun. Some fell among thorns and were choked. And some fell on good ground and yielded fruit 30 fold, 60 fold, 100 fold.

When the Messiah told this parable to the people, His disciples became angry with him and said: “... Why speakest thou unto them in parables (Mt. 13:10)?” He told His disciples: “... Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given ... Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand (Matt. 13:11, 13).”

The Messiah spoke of a sower sowing seeds in a field as an allegory of the Messiah speaking words of truth into our minds (Mark 4:14). The Messiah gave different scenarios of what happens when the truth is spoken into men’s hearing.

• Some words are heard by the listener, but not believed (the seeds fall by the wayside). Negative forces take the words from him (the fowls of the air come and devour them) by placing doubt in his mind or by distracting him.

• Some words fall unto stony ears (stony ground), but because he does not focus on them and nurture them (the seeds don't have much depth of earth), they don’t take root. Consequently, he becomes depressed and hopeless (withers away) as adversities arise in life (the heat of the sun scorches the seeds).

• Some words fall upon those with their own doctrine firmly implanted in their minds or that are too caught up in the cares of this world to believe the truth (thorny ground). The hearer ignores the word totally (the thorns grow up, choking the seedling which yields no fruit).

• Some words (seeds), however, fall on listeners who are ready to receive them and reproduce fruits of the Spirit in abundance.

Can the analogy of being ‘born again’ be likened to a foreign tongue?

Another example of the Messiah speaking in tongues is when Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel, came to him by night. He said: “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from Elohim (God): for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except Elohim (God) be with him (John 3:2).” Yahshua said unto him: “... Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3).”

With his limited understanding Nicodemus interpreted being ‘born again’ from a literal, physical standpoint. Although the Messiah spoke of being ‘born again’, the only birth Nicodemus knew was a physical birth and therefore he missed the entire spiritual essence of the parable.

Nicodemus said unto the Messiah: “... How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born (Jn. 3:3)?” Clearly, we see that Nicodemus’ total misunderstanding of the Messiah’s parable was as if Yahshua had spoken Swahili.

In other words, Nicodemus heard the spoken literal words of the parable, but did not have the correct interpretation of those words. If one hears a foreign tongue, which one doesn't speak, an interpreter is needed in order to get some understanding.

The Messiah spoke of being born again in a spiritual sense. When you begin to perceive things in a new and different way (I Cor. 2:14) this is being born again spiritually and psychological.

The natural birth of a new born babe points to the spiritual birth of insightfulness into spiritual principles (Rm. 1:19-20). A man cannot see the Kingdom of Elohim unless he has been elevated in his consciousness and becomes aware of His creator dwelling within him (Lk. 17:20-21). A man firm in his old way of thinking can become as a new born babe when his understanding is transformed from carnal mindedness to a spiritual mind (Rom. 12:2).

What the disciples didn’t know at the time was that the Messiah was fulfilling the scriptures. Matthew wrote: “All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world (Matt 13:34-35).” So clearly the parables were the tongue the prophets said the Messiah would speak, when He came into the flesh.

Did Paul meet people who spoke gibberish?

The question that arises is: How do we speak in tongues under the New Covenant? It is quite obvious that speaking gibberish is not the answer. The listener would not be able to understand anything that was uttered. It appears that the Apostle Paul must have encountered those who spoke in tongues during his travels, for he wrote: “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto Elohim: for no man understandeth him; ... He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? ... except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air (1 Cor. 14:2-9).”

Can we speak in tongues under the New Covenant?

To speak in new tongues means to verbally convey how physical things point to spiritual principles (Rom. 1:19-20; John 3:12). To explain the spiritual significance of the Passover meal instituted in the land of Egypt, for example, would be speaking in a new tongue. Israel’s literal eating of lamb, bitter herbs and unleavened bread, is symbolic or allegorical to eating the words of the Messiah (Job 34:3). Unleaven bread typifies sincerity and truth (I Cor. 5:7-8) the leaven typifies malice and wickedness, and the killing of the paschal lamb points to the Messiah’s crucifixion (John 1:29; 6:63).

When various dogmas of Christianity teach that the Messiah instituted the Lord’s Supper and it must be physically eaten, with crackers and wine, in order to receive the Spirit of the Messiah, this shows that they don’t understand the tongue of the Old Testament nor the Messiah. In other words, they are teaching ‘works’ of merit as salvation instead of ‘grace’ by faith (Eph. 2:8-9). Those that have received an understanding of the scriptures by the Holy Spirit, speak a pure tongue or language that isn’t defiled by man’s dogma or traditions (Zeph. 3:9).

Is the symbolism in Revelation a 'new tongue'?

The panoramic vision of the Apostle John with all its symbolism is a tongue not understood by most of the world even though it is translated into many modern languages. In fact, to understand the gospel of Yahshua the Messiah you must know how Moses’ vision is confirmed by John’s vision. Only those that have the wisdom of the Holy Spirit can explain or interpret this tongue correctly.

The imagery of a harlot sitting on a scarlet beast that has fornicated with all the kings of the earth, should not be taken literally. The Apostle John is not describing “a lady of the night.” Instead, he is comparing a whore with a city (Rev. 17:18) dispensing erroneous doctrine to as many as will hear.

The etymology of the word 'intercourse' is communication, so John uses the analogy of a woman intercoursing with many men, to describe heads of a city deceiving men. A physical woman could not possibly sleep with all the kings of the earth. These same men, though, could all believe a lie. John says the woman’s name is Mystery Babylon or a city in unrecognizable confusion. He says this city will be burned and destroyed. This points to the erroneous doctrine in a man’s mind that must be totally consumed and burnt up.

Does expressing internal feelings of the mind demonstrate a form of speaking in tongues?

When we express our internal feelings, they are conveyed in terms of analogies to external objects. For example, to convey the intensity of my anger, it has to be done in comparison to something else. I might say, “I’m as angry as a blast furnace.” I am describing a state of mind with a physical analogy. Everyone knows a blast furnace doesn’t exist in my mind. By comparing the intensity of ‘a blast furnace’, which is a real object in the objective world, with my anger, you are supposed to form a mental picture of the intensity of the anger. Before concluding this article, a brief history on tongues in church history will be discuss.

How did 'tongues' develop in Church history?

According to the Dictionary of the Bible by James Hasting throughout church history this phenomena of speaking in tongues has occurred repeatedly. It is only in modern times, during the 1800s in London, England, that religious sects sprung up where speaking in tongues became fundamental doctrine. This began the Pentecostal churches which later came to American in the early 20 century.

In 1865 Louis XIV (14) began to persecute the French Protestant, who were also called Huguenots, for their religious beliefs. During their religious services which became very fervent, many of the worshipers would pass out and enter a trance like state where they would speak pure French instead of their normal everyday dialect. In the early 19th century similar occurrences happened in London. Edward Irving (1792-1834), began a religious movement called Irvingism, later called the Catholic Apostolic Church after he was kicked out of the Presbyterian Church for claiming Jesus was more man than God . His movement disbanned when his prophecy of the Second Coming of Christ in 1864 did not occur.

Irving has been called "the father of modern Pentecostalism" according to Dave MacPherson in his book The Incredible Cover-Up (p. 28). The charismatic movement began in J. B. Cardale's home whose family eventually joined Iving's church. Cardale was the leader of an Albury group of charismatics to Scotland. "The first known case of speaking in tongues in London was experienced by Cardale's wife on April 30, 1831, when she also uttered the following prophecy: 'The Lord will speak to His people--the Lord hasteneth His Coming--the Lord cometh.' A short time later the Cardales joined Irving's church (p. 28)."

Are metaphors and parables a type of tongue?

In conclusion, by using analogies to describe our internal feelings, we are speaking in tongues. This is the only way of communicating one’s internal feelings to another. In the Bible, Elohim uses metaphors and parables to convey spiritual principles which is also a form of speaking in tongues. So parables and analogies, etc. are a universal means of communicating the internal states of mind and spiritual principles. Uttering babble, on the other hand, is a trick of the adversary to deceive men into believing some profound wisdom is wrapped up in gibberish.

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