Thursday, January 27, 2011

Is speaking in tongues real?

Every Christian who does it knows in their heart that speaking in tongues is a learned behaviour. In the desperation to fit in people are encouraged to produce sounds which the brain can take hold of in an unconscious way and create strings of syllables from. That does not make it a real language and it it does not make it supernatural. I have personally seen people during "ministry" at a Businessmen's Fellowship meeting encouraged to make noises in the belief that this will get the process going. Andrew Wommack offers a CD or tape which includes instructions for speaking in tongues:
On this tape, Andrew not only establishes the validity of speaking in tongues, but he shares from scripture some of the little-known benefits that accompany this gift. He also gives instruction on how to speak in tongues, which has made the difference for many people to be able to operate in this gift.
Analysis by linguists have shown that the majority of word forms uttered are open (that is that they end with a vowel). Most words of most known languages end with a consonant so a string of apparent words all ending in vowels are unlikely to be any real language. Further information in this wikipedia article:

Brain scan analysis has also shown that certain parts of the brain are in use when people are speaking in tongues that indicate it is controlled by the subconscious.

There is also a tendency for obvious improvisation to be heard where a riff is played out on one string of syllables with variations each time it is repeated. This makes no sense linguistically. You can see what I mean if I take the previous sentence and do variations on it. It is unlikely in the extreme that variations of the components of a sentence can make sense alongside the original sentence - in English or in any language.
This makes sense.
This makes no sense.
This makes sense linguistically.
This makes linguistically.
This is why speaking in tongues is sometimes parodied as:
She bought a tie,
She bought a bow tie,
She bought a Hyundai.
Although in a strange twist of fate some Christians are reported to have used those very phrases to   train people to "receive" tongues.

Is speaking in tongues biblical?
That’s a hard question, but the evidence from the book of Acts suggests that the tongues described there were known languages intelligible to the hearers:
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:5-11)
Although there is here say evidence of this happening today there are no known recordings of a known language being spoken in tongues.

What about interpretation?
When I was an undergraduate a professor in another Scottish university attended a conference where people were speaking in tongues. He decided to recite the Lords’ prayer in Greek so as not to feel out of place. Immediately someone did an apparently supernatural interpretation of it which bore no relation to the content of the Lord’s prayer.

Are tongues a special "love language"?
This seems to be a modern way of diverting attention from the problem that it is demonstrably not a real language. Its not an idea that can be found in the bible and it seems quite a recent suggestion.

Are tongues specifically Christian?
The answer to that has to be no as the same phenomenon exists in kundalini yoga and certain other religions. In addition to this former Christians from Pentecostal backgrounds can still do it even though they no longer believe. This further backs up the suggestion that it is  a learned behaviour.

What about false tongues?
One of the get out clauses used by charismatics is to say that any tongue which is falsely interpreted or uttered by a non christian is false. This means that there is no way of evaluating a tongue as genuine without additional information such as the status of the person saying it, which is actually the key to understanding the purpose of speaking in tongues.

The true purpose of tongues?
Speaking in tongues acts as a credential within certain types of Christianity to establish credibility without requiring the time necessary to build relationships and be trusted by the group. It is evidence that the person is of the “same substance” of the group they are with and allows them to be accepted almost instantly.

Why is this important?
According to research published by the Evangelical Alliance 90% of British evangelicals now believe in the continuing, miraculous gifts of the holy spirit. This means that charismatic thinking is now mainstream and speaking in tongues is central to this.

Alternative views
Here is a link to a talk by Peter Anderson of Destiny Church in Edinburgh which covers the supernatural aspects of Christianity in general from a charismatic position:
Naturally Supernatural

To be fair, though, although I am sceptical about miracles I don't dismiss them out of hand as utterly impossible. Speaking in tongues is a slightly different issue, separate because Jesus is not recorded as having done it yet he worked miracles.


  1. Hello Gordon,

    I have been a believer for about ten years and have found this subject to be a cause of great division within the believing Christian church.

    Put simply 'tongues' is a manifestation that is very easy to feign. I first became aware of it in about 2003 when (unwittingly) I joined a Charismatic church, and became aware of strange unintelligible utterings from various directions. However after fellowshipping there for a further two years or so I became distinctly uncomfortable with the leadership and other associated issues. There were 'prophecies' that were given that never came to pass and also there were people that were not 'delivered' from various ailments.

    However the 'tongues' continued unabated every sunday morning and wednesday evenings. I felt tremendous peer pressure to 'join in' but refrained from doing so because I knew in my heart it would be my own nonsensical utterings.

    To try and understand I began to study the Word of God and give myself peace in this matter. To cut a long story short, tongues was a biblical phenomona on the day of pentecost. The bible says that cloven tongues of fire accompanied this manifestation;try reproducing that!
    Ater tongues was first manifested in Acts 2.3 you will read in the very next verse; 'And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,and began to speak with other tongues,as the Spirit gave them utterance.' Note what is said;'The Spirit gave them UTTERANCE', this was NOT a learned language but the Spirit 'gave them utterance.'

    Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14.22 KJV that 'tongues are a sign for them that believe not'. (A sign for unbelievers)

    At the time of Pentecost, Jerusalem was (and still is) a very cosmopolitan place,being in the crossroads of the world there were Jews that spoke I believe in 15 different languages (Acts 2.10-11);and they could hear the Word of God in his own tongue. Some mocked and thought they were drunk (Acts 2.13). However further on in the same chapter the Holy Spirit tells us in the 41st verse that 3000 souls believed! Praise God! These souls heard a real language,that spoke God's word;to convict them of the truth of the gospel.

    I came to learn that when people talked in tongues they seemed to do it together and there was never at any time in my experience an interpreter present in order that the believers would be edified (1 Corinthians 14.5)

    My wife a few years back used to buy some of Mr Wommacks teachings, and I remember him saying that 'you get to learn tongues.' Many other Charismatic teachers agree with him.

    Sir Robert Anderson has done a lengthy exposition on tongues,from memory,I believe he says its source is NOT from above.

    The charismatic movement is reliant on emotions and experiences and they are very loose in my opinion with the scriptures.

  2. Hello Colin
    I agree with what a lot of what you are saying (from an academic theological perspective), but I do think that if there is a God and he really does love us unconditionally this demands an emotional response. In fact a response to this without emotion would be quite unnatural. That's not to say that I think "emotionalism" is appropriate, but an emotional response would seem to be normal to forgiveness, confession and the revelation of God's love.

  3. Hello Gordon,

    Regarding 'experiences' and 'emotions' I should have qualified myself better; I meant we cannot trust these 'feelings',we must be anchored well and truly in the Word. Our emotions can and do let us down. As Isaiah well said; 'To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.' Isaiah 8. 20.
    As mentioned, Sir Robert Anderson a former head of the CID and of 'Jack the Ripper' fame, wrote an exposition on tongues called 'Spirit manifestations and the gift of tongues' which gives from my memory, an insight into the start of the modern day tongues movement.

    Regarding your comment on 'unconditional love'; this is a very common error which is prevalent within modern day Christendom. God does not love us 'unconditionally'. This comes from the oft abused use of John 3. 16. God loves the 'repentant' sinner who believes in the virgin birth,death and ressurection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and obeys the gospel. As it says in Matthew 1. 21; 'He shall save His people from their sins'; not in their sins! I am sure you have heard the saying; 'God loves the sinner,but hates the sin'. This is NOT in the bible anywhere.

    God only loves the repentant sinner, the Lord Jesus Christ says in Matthew 9. 13, Mark 2. 17 and Luke 5. 32 that He called 'sinners to repentance'. If He 'loved them anyway' why call them to repentance?

    Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. Isaiah 55. 6.

  4. Not sure about that. The implication of many parts of the New Testament is that God's love is without any condition of merit for the Christian. In the case of people who do not believe, well Jesus does appear to have died for the sins of all people and that sacrifice was not conditional on faith. If God's love was conditional on human action then there would be nothing revolutionary about Christianity. It would be just like Judaism with the need for constant restitution by sacrifice or other cleansing ceremony.

    Here is a link to a PDF file of the Robert Anderson book you mentioned:,%20Robert%20-%20Spirit%20Manifestations%20and%20the%20Gift%20of%20Tongues%20(a).pdf

  5. Speaking in Tongues is a very misunderstood phenomenon.

    I write about some of my experiences here:

  6. Hello again Gordon,

    We are all saved by grace. God's grace is amazing as the song truly says.

    'For by grace are ye saved through faith;and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works,lest any man should boast.' Ephesians 2. 8-9. But note what Paul said; 'through faith'. As the apostle says in Romans 10. 17 'So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God'.
    So then what is faith? Faith calls for a response: As the Lord Jesus Christ says in Matthew 4. 17 and 9. 13 'REPENT'. This is a clarion call from God Himself!
    I hope that two examples will suffice here: John 5. 14 and 8. 11 The Lord said 'Sin no more'. After convicting,and delivering people from their sins,He said 'SIN NO MORE'. The bible clearly teaches that the wages of sin is death; Romans 6. 23. What is death?: Eternal damnation in the lake of fire which is the second death where unbelievers amongst others will have their part; Revelation 21. 8. The Lord spoke a lot more about hell than heaven I believe,because He said in Matthew 7. 13 'Enter ye in at the strait gate:for wide is the gate,and broad is the way,that leadeth to destruction,and many there be that go in thereat.'

    Modern Christendom is a sad and very weak reflection of what it once was; primarily because of Darwinism and theistic evolution.

    Regarding your comment on the Jewish sacrificial system please turn your bible to Hebrews 10. 4; 'For it is not possible that the blood of goats should take away sins'. The temple and all its sacrificial system pointed to the CROSS: The Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He said in Matthew 5. 17 (a very Jewish book) 'Think not that I came to destroy the law, or the prophets:I am not come to destroy but to fulfil', What did He mean? He meant that He was and is and will always be the fulfillment of the temple sacrificial system.
    The Lord Jesus Christ is NOT a 'New improved' God, He is the 'Same Yesterday, and today, and forever': Hebrews 13. 8.
    Remember the passover? In order to be saved the Israelites had to believe that the blood of the passover lamb would, when applied to the doorposts save them from death; again this pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ! Remember the bronze serpent? Numbers 21. 9. I could go on. Truly do I believe the Lord when He said in Luke 24. 44: 'All things must be fulfilled,which were written in the law of Moses,and in the prophets,and in the psalms,concerning me.

    Do you think any urepentant believer would own Him as Lord? 'And why call ye me,Lord,Lord,and not do the things that I say?' Luke 6. 46 . What did the Lord Jesus Christ mean in Matthew 7. 21?:'Not everyone that saith unto me,Lord,Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; BUT HE THAT DOETH THE WILL OF MY FATHER WHICH IS IN HEAVEN' (emphasis mine) What is His will? The Lord Jesus Christ clarifies it in John 14. 24; He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings; and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.' This word is the commandment contained in the Old Testament. Of course the ceremonial laws cannot be kept anymore because there is no temple. He is talking about the moral law/ten commandments. The first commandment is; 'You shall love the Lord your God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.' Paraphrased, these two commandments are the decologue given on Mt Sinai to Moses ( Exodus 20 )rolled into two commandments: the first four are between God and man and the second six are for man and his fellow man! The Lord Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins on that cross. He purchased us that believe on Him with His precious blood. He is the propitiation for our sins-the perfect sinless lamb of God. He is the ONLY way that we can be reconciled with our God-the only payment God will accept.

  7. Gordon please accept my apologies for not keeping to the subject matter of tongues.