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Gift of Tongues – Earthly languages or Heavenly?

In the Pentecostal Movement which has spread throughout the world, Preachers teach that the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit to be the ability to speak in tongues. But what are tongues? Are they earthly languages spoken by a person alien to that language or an unrecognizable language which is not of this earth? Most of the “Tongues” spoken in the Pentecostal Churches are thought to be a Heavenly language which cannot be understood by anyone but people who have the gift of interpretation. But what does the Bible have to say about the matter? Do we have sufficient evidence to conclude that the Gift of Tongues is a Heavenly Language? This will be our task today.

This study is broken in to the following sections:
Section I – The History of the Pentecostal Movement
Section II – “Tongues” in the New Testament Writings
Section III – Gift of Tongues in Acts 2 – Earthly Language or Heavenly?
Section IV – Gift of Tongues in 1Cor Chapter 12 – Earthly Language or Heavenly?
Section V – Kinds/Diversities(G1085-Genos) of Tongues(G1100-Glossa)
Section VI – Gift of Tongues in 1Cor Chapter 13 – Earthly Language or Heavenly?
Section VII – Gift of Tongues in 1Cor Chapter 14 – Earthly Language or Heavenly?

Section I – The History of the Pentecostal Movement
A main part of modern Christianity can be identified as the “Charismatic Movement” which puts special emphasis on “Gifts” (Charisma in Greek) and was a off-shoot of the “Pentecostal Movement” which began in the early 1900s with the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, helmed by William J Seymour. Seymour was a student of Charles F Parham, the American preacher regarded as the first to associate “Glossolalia” (Speaking in Tongues) as the evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Even though many other sects in Christianity had previously approved “Speaking in Tongues”, the Azusa Street Revival would be the start of modern Pentecostalism as we know it.

Section II – “Tongues” in the New Testament Writings
There are four Greek Words used in connection with our study. The first “Dialektos” stands for a language, while “Glossa” stands for the tongue. The third “Heteroglossos” is a variation of the second and means other tongue, while the fourth “Apophtheggomai” stands for “Speaking clearly”.

A. G1258 – διάλεκτος – dialektos – From G1256; a (mode of) discourse, that is, “dialect”: – language, tongue. [Thayer Definition: 1) conversation, speech, discourse, language 2) the tongue or language peculiar to any people] – Only seen in 6 verses

Act 1:19 And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue(Dialektos-G1258), Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.
Act 2:6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language(Dialektos-G1258).
Act 2:8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue(Dialektos-G1258), wherein we were born?
Act 21:40 And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue(Dialektos-G1258), saying,
Act 22:2 (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue(Dialektos-G1258) to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,)
Act 26:14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue(Dialektos-G1258), Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

B. G1100 – γλῶσσα – glōssa – Of uncertain affinity; the tongue; by implication a language (specifically one naturally unacquired): – tongue. [ Thayer Definition: 1) the tongue, a member of the body, an organ of speech 2) a tongue 1a) the language or dialect used by a particular people distinct from that of other nations] – Seen in 47 verses

Act 2:3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues(Glossa-G1100) like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
Act 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues(Glossa-G1100), as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Act 2:11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues(Glossa-G1100) the wonderful works of God.
Act 10:46 For they heard them speak with tongues(Glossa-G1100), and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
Act 19:6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues(Glossa-G1100), and prophesied.
Jas 1:26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue(Glossa-G1100), but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
Jas 3:5 Even so the tongue(Glossa-G1100) is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
Jas 3:6 And the tongue(Glossa-G1100) is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
Jas 3:8 But the tongue(Glossa-G1100) can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
1Pe 3:10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue(Glossa-G1100) from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:
Rev 5:9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue(Glossa-G1100), and people, and nation;
Rev 7:9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues(Glossa-G1100), stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
Rev 10:11 And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues(Glossa-G1100), and kings.
Rev 11:9 And they of the people and kindreds and tongues(Glossa-G1100) and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.
Rev 13:7 And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues(Glossa-G1100), and nations.
Rev 14:6 And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue(Glossa-G1100), and people,

C. G2084 – ἑτερόγλωσσος – heteroglōssos – From G2087 and G1100; other tongued, that is, a foreigner: – man of other tongue. [Thayer Definition: 1) one who speaks a foreign language] – Only seen in 1 verse

1Co 14:21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues(Heteroglossos – G2084) and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.

D. G669 – ἀποφθέγγομαι – apophtheggomai – From G575 and G5350; to enunciate plainly, that is, declare: – say, speak forth, utterance. [Thayer Definition: 1) to speak out, speak forth, pronounce 1a) not a word of everyday speech but one “belonging to dignified and elevated discourse”] – Only seen in 3 verses

Act 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance(Apophtheggomai – G669).
Act 2:14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said(Apophtheggomai – G669) unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:
Act 26:25 But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth(Apophtheggomai – G669) the words of truth and soberness.

Section III – Gift of Tongues in Acts 2 – Earthly Language or Heavenly?
With the above definitions we can put together a clear picture of the “Pentecost” event in Acts 2 and the “tongues” spoken on that particular day.

Act 2:3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues(Glossa-G1100) like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
Act 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other(Heteros-G20187) tongues(Glossa-G1100), as the Spirit gave them utterance(Apophtheggomai – G669).
Act 2:6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language(Dialektos-G1258).
Act 2:8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue(Dialektos-G1258), wherein we were born?
Act 2:11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues(Glossa-G1100) the wonderful works of God.

Looking at the above we can clearly see that the “Other Tongues” mentioned in Acts 2:4 are the “different languages” which the variety of people spoke mentioned in Acts 2:6,8&11. The tongues mentioned in the Pentecost event are none other than recognizable languages of different nations. In fact all of the other verses we have seen above are recognizable earthly languages and do not seem to be any unintelligible language.

The two other instances where we see “the gift of tongues” (Acts 10:46 & 19:6) are also intelligible languages as the listeners could understand that the speakers were “magnifying God” in Acts 10:46 which was clear evidence that these gentiles were touched by the Holy Spirit, just as we see in Acts 19:6. The “Gift of Tongues” was evidence that God was using the gifted in a supernatural way. The gifted speaks to God and magnifies Him in intelligible languages in these instances, so that the audience that hears it, is convinced that God is doing something supernatural through these believers.

Section IV – Gift of Tongues in 1Cor Chapter 12 – Earthly Language or Heavenly?
Chapters 12 through 14 of the first letter to the Corinthians make much of the basis of the Spiritual Gifts including the subject of this study – The Gift of Tongues. Even though there may very well be many more, Paul lists 9 manifestations or gifts of the Spirit of God in 1Cor 12:7-10
1. Word of wisdom
2. Word of knowledge
3. Faith
4. Gifts of healing
5. Working of miracles
6. Prophecy
7. Discerning of spirits
8. Kinds of tongues
9. Interpretation of tongues

Then in 1Cor 12:28-30 Paul once again speaks of the ministries inside the congregation through manifestations of the Spirit
1. Apostles
2. Prophets
3. Teachers
4. Workers of Miracles
5. Believers with gifts of healing
6. Helpers
7. Leaders
8. Diversities of tongues
9. Interpreters of tongues

Taking a closer look at the Greek wording behind the Manifestation and Ministry Paul explains as “Kinds/Diversities of Tongues” in 1Cor 12:10&28, will help us to get a better idea of what exactly The Gift of Tongues is.

Section V – Kinds/Diversities(G1085-Genos) of Tongues(G1100-Glossa)
The word “Glossa” used in 1Cor 12:10 & 28 stand for the Tongue which is the physical member of the body as we have seen in Section II of this study. The Word “Genos” means “race/nation/ethnic group” as we see this word being a component of “Genocide”, which means “killing of a race/nation/ethnic group”. We also see the Greek Word Genos also translated in the same manner in the New Testament Writings, so that it means a “race, nation or ethnic group”.

G1085 – γένος – genos – From G1096; “kin” (abstractly or concretely, literally or figuratively, individually or collectively): – born, country (-man), diversity, generation, kind (-red), nation, offspring, stock. [Thayer Definition: 1) kindred 1a) offspring 1b) family 1c) stock, tribe, nation
1c1) i.e. nationality or descent from a particular people 1d) the aggregate of many individuals of the same nature, kind, sort]

Mar 7:26 The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation(Genos – G1085); and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.
Act 4:36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country(Genos – G1085) of Cyprus,
Act 7:19 The same dealt subtilly with our kindred(Genos – G1085), and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.
Act 18:2 And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born(Genos – G1085) in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them.
Act 18:24 And a certain Jew named Apollos, born(Genos – G1085) at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.
2Co 11:26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen(Genos – G1085), in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
Gal 1:14 And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation(Genos – G1085), being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.
Php 3:5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock(Genos – G1085) of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;

With the evidence above we can clearly see that The “Kinds/Diversities of Tongues” pertains to physical languages of races, nations or ethnic groups, and could be better explained to be “Tongues of Diverse nations, races and ethnic groups”. This in turn will make “Interpretation of Tongues” in to the Interpretation of Languages of diverse nations.

Section VI – Gift of Tongues in 1Cor Chapter 13 – Earthly Language or Heavenly?
In Chapter 13 of the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul shows the virtue of “Love” above all other Spiritual Gifts. Specifically in verse 1 of chapter 13, Paul makes an interesting argument which is used to say that the “Gift of Tongues” pertain to Heavenly Languages. But is this a viable explanation of the text? Let us review:

1Co 13:1-3 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

The above statement that Paul makes in favour of “Love” is an exaggerated claim which is not to be taken literally. In other words, Paul is not saying that he speaks in the tongues of Angels, or that he understands all mysteries and has all knowledge, or that he removes mountains with his faith, or that he gave all his belongings to the poor, or that he gave his body to be burned. This is clearly “hyperbole” so that he can make the point of “Love” superseding all. We see a similar instance of writing in Gal 1:8 when Paul writes “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you…” ; this does not mean that an angel from heaven has or will preach another gospel… but is a rhetorical way of helping explain the underlying theme. Therefore, this verse cannot be used as evidence of the “gift of Tongues” being a Heavenly/Angelic Language.

Section VII – Gift of Tongues in 1Cor Chapter 14 – Earthly Language or Heavenly?
It is important to note that Paul is speaking in the 14th chapter of gifts used inside the Corinthian Congregation. As we have seen in section III, the whole purpose of the Gift of Tongues was the spread of the Gospel, as unbelievers from foreign nations would come to see people who do not know their tongue glorifying God in those foreign languages. Inside the congregation, there was no need for the usage of the Gift of Tongues, as no one needed to be convinced to believe in God’s power. With this in mind, let’s read the chapter;

1Co 14:1-6 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an 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?

In the first portion of the 14th Chapter, Paul starts by comparing the Spiritual Gifts of Prophecy and Tongues. While 1Cor 14:2 is one of the main passages to promote the idea that “Tongues” are a heavenly language, further study using context helps us understand what Paul is trying to explain to the Corinthians. In this verse, Paul says that “Tongues” are used to speak to God and not man. This has already been substantiated in this study, as we have seen in Acts where people endowed with the gift using it to magnify God. Furthermore, Paul says that “Tongues” are used to speak mysteries and that no one can understand them. We must remember that Paul is speaking of the Corinthian congregation here. If the members of the congregation speaks in foreign tongues inside the congregation, no man would understand them, inclusive of the speaker. They would be speaking to God, but speaking mysteries when it comes to the congregation who cannot understand the language and thereby only edifying themselves. In comparison, the gift of Prophecy helps edify the church/congregation. As Paul explains further, “Tongues” would edify the church only if someone interprets what was said in the foreign language to begin with.

1Co 14:7-12 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, 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. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.

Paul writes that the people who speak with “Tongues” inside the congregation are speaking to the air, as no one understands them. He further explains that out of the many languages in the world none are without meaning. In other words every language can be interpreted, and if the language is not interpreted, the person speaking the foreign language will be counted as a “Barbarian” by the congregation. The word Barbarian (G915-Barbaros) means a foreigner and a non-Greek (Acts 28:2,4, Rom 1:14). So what Paul meant was that the person who speaks in the foreign tongue would be a foreigner to the rest of the congregation, and vice versa if the language is not interpreted. According to Paul, if someone is speaking in “Tongues” inside the Corinthian congregation they should aim to use it for the edification of the church.

1Co 14:13-19 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an tongue.

Because the speaker of “Tongues” should aim to edify the church with what he/she speaks, Paul advises the Corinthian congregation with the gift of tongues to pray that they can interpret what they say, as others should be able understand the uttered words and the gift should promote growth inside the congregation. Paul, who himself was endowed with the Gift of Tongues explains that “inside the congregation” he would prefer to say 5 intelligible words that teach others rather than speak a thousand which are unintelligible. Again, as we saw in chapter 13 verse 1, this is an exaggeration Paul uses to show what Corinthians should strive for.

1Co 14:20-25 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. 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 the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.

Paul explains that according to the words written by the Prophet Isaiah, The Gift of Tongues is a sign for unbelievers as we have already seen proven through the Book of Acts. It was not a sign for believers inside the congregation, which is not the purpose of the Gift. He writes that if the whole congregation speaks in foreign tongues, and a fellow Corinthian unbeliever comes into the congregation, they will think the whole church to be mad. And again he compares Prophecy as a more coveted gift which in such a case can bring the fellow Corinthian unbeliever towards God.

1Co 14:26-33 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. If any man speak in an tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

Paul’s final advise to the congregation is that anything including “Tongues” should be done for the edification of the church. He lays out a system which is orderly by asking two or three to speak with interpretation provided or to keep quiet if no interpretation can be given. He explains that there should be no confusion inside the congregation, when delivering messages of Tongues or Prophecy.

1Co 14:34-40 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.

In verse 34, Paul tackles another problem in the Corinthian Congregation which was some “Wives” superseding and ruling over their “Husbands” inside the congregation, leading to more confusion and derision. He ends his advise on the subject by asking the leaders not to forbid anyone from speaking in “Tongues” but for it to be done in an orderly manner and for the purpose of edification in the congregation.

Conclusion
The Gift of Tongues which has become one of the highlighted gifts in modern Christianity, especially in the Pentecostal & Charismatic movements, is thought of to be a Heavenly language through which the speaker speaks to God. The above study shows us that “The Gift of Tongues” was given as a sign for foreigners to see the power of God. The Greek wording used in regard with this Gift, all point towards intelligible languages and even the Pentecost event in Acts 2 show us that the Gift the disciples received was also the ability to speak intelligible foreign languages. 1Corinthians 12-14 which makes much of the basis of the doctrine of Tongues, also point us towards “Tongues of Diverse nations, races and ethnic groups”. 1Cor 13:1 is a use of hyperbole by Paul to show that Love supersedes such Gifts. 1Cor 14:2 is Paul’s attempt to show that there is no use of a foreign tongue spoken inside the congregation especially without an interpretation, as the point of this gift is to bring foreign believers towards God. People inside the congregation who believe in God are not edified through such a gift especially if they do not hear an interpretation. In this way the speaker utters a mystery that he himself does not understand, nor does the congregation; being spoken to God through the Spirit. Paul further explains in the rest of the chapter that there are no languages in the world which are unintelligible, and that a person speaking in a foreign tongue would become like a foreigner to the others who listen in the congregation. He advises the Corinthians not to forbid anyone from speaking in Tongues, but to use the gift for edification through interpreting what is uttered, and to use the gift in an orderly manner.