Modern Tongues Speaking Explained
By Cooper Abrams
*All Rights Reserved
Many people have been caught up in the modern tongues movement and have had real experiences in which they vocalize speech-like sounds that are unintelligible to themselves and those around them. They identify this phenomenon as a special gift of God and believe that they are practicing biblical tongues. Most times they are coached by another tongue speakers in how receive this supposed gift from God. In every case they are told that tongues speaking is a valid gift of the Holy Spirit today and should be sough after.
It should be clear to all that modern tongues speakers that to be biblical, and from God, tongue speaking must follow the New Testament example. If it does not, then Godís word establishes that the phenomenon does not come from Him.
Many people are drawn to the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement due the excitement the feel in participating in the service. People like to feel they are that they are part of something unique. They want to feel that God is real and has personally touched them. They are not moved by traditional services that sing hymns and Gospel preaching. They are impressed by modern so called Gospel music that has a rock and roll beat.
These services and tongues speaking superficially fulfills these desires. In the modern tongues speaking churches, the audience actively and enthusiastically participates in the worship services. The services are very emotional and give the participants a sense of belonging and an enjoyable feeling. Many close their eyes, waving their hands in the air in a state of meditation. It is plain that the members of these churches are enjoying their experience.
Does the New Testament give examples of Modern Tongues Speaking?
However, it should be of concern to the modern tongues speakers that, on examination, what they are experiencing does not follow the New Testament example. In the three times the New Testament records that tongues occurred, each time the exact thing happened. There was a sound as of a rushing mighty wind that filled the house where the people were gathered. Further, there appeared visible cloven tongues as of fire, and it sat on them. (Acts 2:2-3, 10:44-48, 19:1-7) Those present were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke an unlearned language to the people present and in their native tongues. Plainly, in the three accounts where biblical tongues are recorded in the New Testament, this supernatural phenomena that always accompanied biblical tongues. However, they are not present today when modern tongues are practiced.
What is happening today does not conform to the biblical example and it must be concluded that this is not biblical tongues. Modern tongues is unintelligible ecstatic speech. The tongues speaker utters sound that no one understands, but he/she believes it is a foreign language. However, no one present knows the what supposed language is being spoken and it cannot be authenticated. It will be proven in the booklet the it is not biblical or a unlearned language, but rather a verbal phenomena practiced by unbiblical faiths, and many pagan religions.
What should be admitted is that there is no example in the New Testament of the use of tongues for any other purpose than to preach the Gospel and proclaim that Jesus was the Christ, the Redeemer. It was a valid sign gift given to Christian to validate that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. It was used of the Holy Spirit to present the Gospel to foreign speaking Jews. When then Jews saw the supernatural gift being practice it was a testimony that Jesus was the Christ and that they oneís practicing the gift were of God.
The biblical gift of tongues in the New Testament was never sought after, or prayed for by the individual, but was given at the discretion of the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in the New Testament is their any example or statement that Christians should seek to speak in tongues. In the First Century church no one was ever coached in how to speak in biblical tongues. God did not give the gift of tongues to anyone in the New Testament for their personal edification, or to uplift them spiritually. It was not given as a special prayer language and Paul rebukes this in 1 Corinthians 14:14.
What then is Going on in Modern Tongues?
The question is, if modern tongues does not follow the biblical example, what is really happening when modern tongues are practiced? What, then, is the source of modern tongues? Some would say it is the work of Satan to deceive and mislead. That is possible in many cases, but not for all. Many tongues speakers are sincere and devout professing Christians who love the Lord. So, if modern tongues do not follow the New Testament example, what is really happening? Is there a logical explanation? To find the answer, all feelings, experiences, beliefs and thoughts must be subject to the authority of Godís word.
Often tongues speakers have explained that they know their experience came from God and refuse to compare it with the New Testament. No matter how intensely someone feels about their experience, and claims that it came from God, it must be verifiable and authenticated by the Scriptures. It is not enough simply to accept a modern concept or definition of tongues or what is popularly thought to be tongues. Tongues, to be biblical, must conform to the biblical example. Godís word is the only standard. This means that every modern tongues speaker must ask the question, "Is what I am doing and believing to be the gift of tongues? It is really what the Bible teaches and is a gift from God?" The Bible will authenticate the experience as biblical or expose it as unbiblical and not of God.
Often, people misinterpreting 1 Corinthians 14:15-16, practice praying in tongues. The verses are actually an admonishment against such a practice. The passage says:
"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? " (1 Corinthians 14:15-16)
Evidently, in the Corinthian church people were praying in tongues. Paul points out that praying in tongues was fruitless because they did not understand what they were praying. Nowhere in Godís word is there an example of one praying and not understanding what they prayed. 1 Timothy 2:1 explains biblical prayer, saying, "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men. Jesus said, "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." (Matthew 21:22) The question is, how can one know for what they are praying when they do not know what they are saying? Never in the Bible is prayer ever presented as being done without oneís understanding. When Paul mentions praying in the "spirit," it is an admonishment against the practice. Note the word "spirit is not capitalized and refers to praying in our thoughts, not through the Holy Spirit.
Paul uses a double illustration, saying if he prays in the spirit he prays with his understanding and that in the same way he sings in the spirit it is with his understanding. Nothing in the verse is saying a person should pray and not understand what they are praying. When in modern tongues a person is uttering unintelligible ecstatic is not praying. Therefore, the verses are not establishing praying in tongues, but reproving those that who were doing it.
What is Biblical Tongues?
The word translated "unknown tongues ? in the New Testament is the one word "Glossa." It means a language. It would clear up a lot of misunderstanding if the Greek word was translated "language." In Elizabethan English the word "tongue was used for the word language. The italicized word "unknown is inserted in our English Bibles to clarify that the language was not a learned language. It does not mean it was some "spirit language," but means a language the speaker had not learned. The biblical gift of language was a special gift given to the Jews in which they spoke the Gospel and declared that Jesus was the Messiah to other Jews. The three legitimate times when the gift of speaking the Gospel in an unlearned language occurred, there were Jews who were present to hear the message. In the case of the Corinthians, we must understand that this was a mixed church of Jews and Gentiles. Further, the practice was being misused and Paulís discourse in 1 Corinthians 12-14 was an admonishment and instruction to correct their error.
God states "But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." (2 Corinthians 4:3-4) The foundational truth of Godís word is that nothing is done is secret nor is Godís word mystical or hidden in any way. God inspired Peter to write, "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." (2 Peter 1:20)
Godís word is His revelation to men and it is given to edify and build up the believer. Never is it presented as being hidden or given to anyone in an exclusive way. Those who were present on the day of Pentecost and in the two other accounts in the Book of Acts plainly heard Godís truth in their own language. Further, there were Jews present who spoke a different language. The interpreter was one who was given the gift of being bilingual, speaking both languages, so those who did not speak the language could understand what was being said. To interpret the language being spoken, they surely must have known the language.
Further is was not some special message from God given only to the one speaking in "Glossia" in which others could not understand and had to be interpreted by another person who understood the sounds made. Godís word and message is never given in such a way as this. The Bible is Godís message there for all to read and hear. God does not in modern times give secret revelation to anyone.
In 1 Corinthians 14:22 Paul plainly states what was biblical tongues. "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." (1 Corinthians 14:22) The statement cannot be clearer that the biblical sign gift of tongues was not given as a sign to believers, but to unbelievers. Tongues, therefore, was a sign gift to the lost Jews. If God intended tongues to be a prayer language, as the modern movement teaches, why did He not inspire Paul to include this in the definition?
Let us be very clear about this; God gave the sign gifts, one of which was the ability to speak the Gospel in an unlearned language, NOT to believers, BUT to UNBELIEVERS. If the modern tongues speaker is going to follow Godís word, then he or she must conclude that praying in tongues was not what God intended it to be. Nor should they accept that tongues was a sign gift to believers, indicating that they had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit or some special l prayer language. No gift was to be used for oneís personal edification, but to be used to enlighten others. In 1 Corinthians 12:8f the passage shows, that each of the spiritís gifts given were to benefit others.
So What then is Modern Tongues Speaking?
Modern anthropologists studied for many years the modern tongues phenomena and found it present in many different religions and cultures around the world. They found that not only do some Christians practice modern tongues, so do cults, false and doctrinally unsound churches, and groups teaching false doctrine and even many pagan religions. Dr. Shelia A. Womack found similarities between that modern speaking in tongues, and the Tourette Syndrome. The Trouette syndrome (TS) is an inherited disorder of the nervous system, characterized by a variable expression of unwanted movements and noises 1
These anthropologists and linguists have recorded and extensively studied modern tongue speaking. They report that not once have they found that what the tongues speaker was speaking was any language. They further have found the phenomena is the same in all the groups; Christians, and non Christians alike.
Certainly, a Christian would have to admit that God would not be giving the gift of tongues to unbelievers and pagans. What these researchers heard and identified were simply vowels spoken without relation to an actual word. It is gibberish sounds, similar to what children make before the they learn to speak a language. Their conclusion is that it appears to be psychologically induced phenomena and quirk of the mind.
Linguist Eugene A. Nida, in the 1960's in his studies, provided detailed reasons why modern glossolalia could not be a human language. Further, W. A. Wolfram, though his research concluded in 1966 that glossolalia did not have the basic elements of human language. 2
Felicitas D. Goodman, a psychological anthropologist and linguist, engaged in a study of various English, Spanish, and Mayan speaking in Pentecostal communities in the United States and Mexico, made the following observations:
"She compared tape recordings of non-Christian rituals from Africa, Borneo, Indonesia and Japan as well. She published her results in 1972 in an extensive monograph (Speaking in Tongues: A Cross-Cultural Study in Glossolalia by Felecitas D. Goodman, University of Chicago Press, 1972).
Goodman concludes that "when all features of glossolalia were taken into consideration -- that is, the segmental structure (such as sounds, syllables, phrases) and its supra segmental elements (namely, rhythm, accent, and especially overall intonation) -- she concluded that there is no distinction in glossolalia between Christians and the followers of non-Christian (pagan) religions. The "association between trance and glossolalia is now accepted by many researchers as a correct assumption," writes Goodman in the prestigious Encyclopedia of Religion (1987).
Goodman also concludes that glossolalia "is, actually, a learned behavior, learned either unawarely or, sometimes consciously. Others have previously pointed out that direct instruction is given on how to "speak in tongues," ie. how to engage in glossolalia. ? 3 In other words people are taught to practice glossia.
In the New Testament, as with all miracles, including tongues, it came instantly to the ones whom God had chosen to receive the gift. Today, most times the person who speaks in modern tongues has been coached or taught the phenomena. The congregation is told that they need to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and if they do, they will speak in tongues. Because the is given by preachers the people believe it and try to obtain the "gift" themselves.
However, Paul said all do not speak in tongues. "Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way." (1 Corinthians 12:29-31) Here the Bible refutes this false idea that tongues is a sign to the believer of having received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Every person, when they are saved by Godís grace, is given the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, that is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in which the believer receives the Spirit of Christ. 4
All believers receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit when they are saved and if a person does not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit God says they are not saved. Paul emphatically states "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." (Romans 8:9) This means the believer upon believing and being saved receives the Holy Spiritís indwelling.
Everyone who speaks in modern tongues has been falsely taught that it is a valid gift of God today. They have believed they can receive some special spiritual gift from God and so they seek what they believe will make them more spiritual or be closer to God. Some begin to practice the gift privately outside a church service believed in the modern tongues phenomena before they experienced it.
Clearly, some people are more susceptible that others to what can be referred to as a psychological experience. For example, some people are easily hypnotized and others are not susceptible to hypnotic suggestion. Some people are more emotional than others, which means that some control can their emotions in a greater way than others. A crowd of people can be stimulated or emotionally whipped up. It can be easily observed at rock music concerts, sports events and rallies of all sorts. Rhythmic music, singing, and/or chanting can have a great influence on people and strongly affect their emotions. Some preachers preach in a rhythmic style and can captivate their audience. All these common experiences show that people can be stimulated mentally to act in unusual ways.
This high emotional state is nearly always present when people begin to speak in modern tongues for the first time and afterward in their emotional "worship services and practice of modern tongues. People are susceptible to a suggestion which stimulates a mental response. When the person is having a stimulating emotional experience, whatever the source, it often produces a pleasant feeling. Scientists tell us that the body releases endorphins and other chemicals that are natural pain killers, and they give one a natural "high" or pleasant feeling. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took brain images of five women while they spoke in tongues. They reported the activity came from the frontal lobes of the brain,". . .and found the frontal lobes; the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do; were relatively quiet, as were the language centers. The regions involved in maintaining self-consciousness were active. 5
It is significant that what these women were doing was not speaking in an unlearned language. The language center of their brains was inactive, but the phenomena of modern tongues speaking was being produced by the emotional region of the brain.
Dr. James A. Coan, a psychologist at the University of Virginia stated,
"The scans also showed a dip in the activity of a region called the left caudate."The findings from the frontal lobes are very clear, and make sense, but the caudate is usually active when you have positive affect, pleasure, positive emotions, The caudate area is also involved in motor and emotional control, Dr. Newberg said, so it may be that practitioners, while mindful of their circumstances, nonetheless cede some control over their bodies and emotions." 6
For many, this pleasant feeling is interpreted as authenticating that what they are experiencing is something special from God. However, the research shows that it is simply and actually a natural phenomena. The tongues speaker could defend his or her conclusion, by saying that they are a Christian and thus the experience must be coming from God. However, the cult member or non Christian could offer the same argument. The only way to establish that something is from God is to compare it to Godís word. Godís written word establishes what is biblical and from God, not a subjective experience.
For example, Dr. Ruer, an expert in this field, says, "Itís the state of mind known as "flow." When musicians and drummers find themselves in flow, especially at a slower, steady beat, they can shift into a rhythm of deep relaxation and expanded awareness. These "altered" state, she says, release the flow of endorphins; the "feel-good" chemicals that can help improve, if even for a short time, your quality of life." There are articles on the internet which claim that deep meditation can actually cause a release of endorphins, depersonalization, and derealization among certain people. Crying, laughing and even tickling a person can release these neurotransmitters in the brain and it makes us temporarily feel good. What is revealing is that this feel good phenomena is present in the tongues speaker.
Here is the problem.... some churches, whether they are aware of this phenomena or not, know that rhythmic preaching and music causes a reaction in their audiences. Others who have had the tongues "experience were in a heightened emotional state. People respond to this internal or external stimuli and many have equated this with God's spirit working in the lives. Yet, in all the Bible you do not find any example that God's people had such experiences when the Lord was genuinely working. When people positively respond and believe God's word and they feel an "inward" peace and joy, but the Bible does not record any emotional experience such as happens in the tongues movement.
Philippians 4:4-9 can give us a true insight into what God says we are to experience:
"Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you."
The passage says we are to "rejoice in the Lord and immediately, as if anticipating this be misunderstood, God says "... let your moderation be known to all men." In simple terms it says to rejoice, but let your rejoicing be gentle, suitable, and seemingly. That is in sharp contrast to the practices of the tongues speaking churches in which there is little or no moderation, and plainly the opposite of what this passage says is being done.
Further, God says in Philippians 4:6, "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." (Philippians 4:6) The verse instructs us to not be anxious, but in prayer and supplication (making a petition or seeking) let your request be known to the Lord. Then God says we will experience true lasting peace that comes from Him and that is greater than our understanding. An emotional experience is only temporarily, but God's true peace is long lasting and sustaining. He then explains what we are to meditate and think on Godís word and promises, He concludes by saying these things are what bring the biblical peace of God.
What a tragedy it is that the modern tongues movement, promoted by the Pentecostal and Charismatics, is substituting emotional experiences for Godís true spiritual growth and edification.
Modern tongues speakers legitimately believe they have received a special gift from God. Most are very sincere and their tongues speaking is not feigned. Clearly, the tongues experience is highly emotional and produces a pleasant feeling in the participant. This emotional feeling makes tongues speaking highly desirable. However, the Bible is clear that modern tongues speaking is not from God and cannot be compared to the biblical example. Further, science has proven that modern tongues is not a language, but rather a learned psychological phenomena in which the brain produces random vocal sounds which is accompanied by a pleasant feeling. What the modern Christian tongues speaker does is the exactly what tongues speakers in the cults, false and pagan religions are doing. The conclusion must be that what people are experiencing is not from God, is in reality a physiological action of the brain.
An examination shows that what the modern tongues movement is doing does not, in any way, compare with the New Testament record. Further, there is no biblical support for tongues being a special prayer language and Paul rebuked the practice. Modern tongues speaking is a pleasurable experience that is falsely thought to be a spiritual gift from God. However, if a modern Christian who is tongues speaker wants to please God, they must believe the Bible and abandon their spurious practice and live according to God's word. That will please God and will give them true lasting peace and joy. Only Godís truth can truly be a spiritual blessing and advance the believer in his walk and relationship with the Lord.
For further information on biblical tongues, and the modern tongues movement please Click here for several articles on the subject.
2 Lorrine Day, MD, Speaking in Tongues, http://www.goodnewsaboutgod.com/studies/speakingtongues.htm .
4 For a detailed explanation of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit please go to http://bible-truth.org/bapt-hs.htm .
5 Bendict Carey, A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues, November 7, 2006 - http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/07/health/07brain.html?ex=1189656000&en=5c57ce42fedd9481&ei=5070 .