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The Powerful Gift of Tongues

A study of the gift of speaking in tongues in the Bible. We will look at what glossolalia means and how the gift of tongues works.

speaking in tongues in the Bible

When it comes to the gifts of the Holy Ghost, speaking in tongues is one of most well known and probably misunderstood. So, today we are going to do a little overview on tongues.

We will look at talking in tongues and praying in tongues. I hope this post answers your questions and draws you closer to the Lord.

Curious about the other gifts? Don’t forget to check out the other posts below:

To make things easier you can use the table of contents below to jump to certain topics or you can scroll through like usual. If you are new the gifts I encourage you to read through it. 

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues

7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. – 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 NKJV (emphasis added in bold)

When writing on the gifts I thought it might be easier to break up information by answering the 5 W’s. If you are not familiar with the 5 W’s it basically means, who, what, when, where, and why. (Not in any specific order)

Just a note for now I have skipped out on “when.” If in the future I come up for a when question or a helpful reading has some suggestions…I’ll add it to the post. But I sure hope this structure helps to make things clear and easy to digest.

What Is the Gift of Speaking in Tongues?

Before we answer that question I wanted to clear up something. The gift of speaking tongues is also known as  the gift of diverse tongues, and the gift of different kinds of tongues. These different name variations of the same gift is because of different Bible translations. 

Speaking in tongues is the supernatural ability to speak in other languages or tongues through the utterance of the Holy Spirit. It is a vocal gift. 

I like how David Pytches defines tongues…

“This is spontaneous inspired utterance by the Holy Spirit where the normal voice organs are used, but the conscious mind plays no part. The language spoken are entirely unlearned by the speaker.”

What is Glossolalia?

Now, the word glossolalia comes up at times when talking about the gift of tongues. This is a transliteration of the Greek word glōssa meaning tongue or a language and laleō meaning to speak.

γλῶσσα glōssa, gloce-sah’; of uncertain affinity; the tongue; by implication, a language (specially, one naturally unacquired):—tongue.

λαλέω laléō, lal-eh’-o; a prolonged form of an otherwise obsolete verb; to talk, i.e. utter words:—preach, say, speak (after), talk, tell, utter. Compare G3004.

What the Gift of Tongues Is NOT?

The Ability to Learn to New Languages

Some people can pick up a language super quick and have no problem knowing multiple languages. These people are also known as polyglots.

And there are testimonies are missionaries picking up a language super fast. And as cool as that may be (and most likely an answer to prayer!) it’s not the gift of speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is a supernatural utterance and the one speaking it is unaware of the language they are speaking.

What Is the Purpose of the Gift of Speaking of Tongues?

All the gifts in the Bible play an important role building up the church and furthering the gospel of Jesus Christ. As for the speaking in tongues this gift plays a very important role. Here are some of the purposes of the gift:

  • To Give God Praise (praise, worship and singing in tongues – Acts 2:5-12, I cor 14:15
  • Praying to God Supernaturally (known as praying in tongues) – 1 Corinthians 14:28, Romans 8:26-27
  • To Edify Yourself – 1 Corinthians 14:4, 15-16
  • Edification, Exhortation, Comfort – When the interpretation of tongues is combined the church is built up. It is equal to prophesy – 1 Corinthians 14:5
  • A sign to the unbeliever – 1 Corinthians 14:22-25

What Are Some Examples of Speaking in Tongues in the Bible?

Here are some Biblical examples of people speaking in tongues. 

1 Corinthians 14:18 Paul: “I speak in tongues more than you all”
Acts 2:1-4The Upper Room: The Holy Spirit fell on the 120 with tongues of fire
Acts 19:1-7Disciples of John

Who Is the Gift of Diverse Tongues For?

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. – 1 corinthians 14:1 

I mention this in all my posts on the gifts, but it’s important! Paul clearly states that we should first pursue love (super important) and desire spiritual gifts. That word desire actually means to be passionate or zealous. 

Paul is encouraging YOU, me and the body of Christ to speak, sing, and pray in tongues. Speaking in tongues is not just for ministers or pastors but for everyone who believes in Jesus. 

It’s a gift that the Holy Spirit bestows to He pleases. We see in scripture people being brand new converts and receiving the gift of tongues and others who were disciples and received the gift later on. 

Why Is This Gift of Necessary for Today?

I mention this in all the gifts. But if it was necessary for the church in the past it’s very much necessary for us today!

Tongues without any interpretation is a prayer language we share with God. Paul made it clear that it build us up spiritually. In this day in age we are constantly being bombarded with attacks on our faith and to conform to this world’s ideologies. 

Also, praying in tongues aids us in times when we don’t know what or how to pray for a situation. It’s wonderful! 

Praying in tongues is an important gift that we should function in and if we don’t have the gift we should ask the Lord to bless us with it. 

Where Can I Find It in the Bible?

Speaking in tongues is cited numerously throughout the New Testament, and the apostle Paul was a big fan of it, even though he considered prophecy to be more beneficial. 

Below are some key references on tongues. 1 Corinthians 14 is a large portion. I actually encourage you read the whole chapter as there is more about the gift of tongues in there then I was able to put here.

Speaking In Tongues Scripture

Mar 16:17 NKJV – 17 “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 

Act 2:4 NKJV – 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. 

1Co 12:10-11 NKJV – 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another [different] kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. 

Act 19:6 NKJV – 6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. 

1Co 12:28-30 NKJV – 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 [Are] all apostles? [Are] all prophets? [Are] all teachers? [Are] all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 

Act 10:46 NKJV – 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, 

Rom 8:26 NKJV – 26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 

1Co 14:13-27 NKJV – 13 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is [the conclusion] then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. 16 Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 

17 For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18 I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; 19 yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. 

20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. 21 In the law it is written: “With [men of] other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord. 22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. 

23 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in [those who are] uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. 25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on [his] face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. 

26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, [let there be] two or at the most three, [each] in turn, and let one interpret.

My Conclusion and Summarization about the Gift of Tongues

We have learned that tongues are a vocal gift meaning it is spoken. It’s a divine utterance that can be interpreted (through the gift of interpreting tongues) or used in prayer (prayer language). It builds you up and helps you pray when you don’t know what to pray or how to pray.

It’s a powerful gift that has a lot of power even though we can’t mentally understand it. There are many testimonies of individuals who the Holy Spirit has quickened to pray in tongues and accidents or harmful situations have been averted. Sometimes we don’t know what to pray for…but HE DOES!

I want to end with this neat note…Benedict Carey of The New York Times wrote the article, A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues. He says this about mental health of those who practice speaking in tongues…

“Contrary to what may be a common perception, studies suggest that people who speak in tongues rarely suffer from mental problems. A recent study of nearly 1,000 evangelical Christians in England found that those who engaged in the practice were more emotionally stable than those who did not. Researchers have identified at least two forms of the practice, one ecstatic and frenzied, the other subdued and nearly silent.”

Benedict Carey

Well, I hope this overview of this gift has brought you some clarity and stirred up a hunger to ask God for it! And if you have the gift I hope it encourages you to use it! And always remember what Paul says first pursue…Love.

Feel free to leave me a comment below! I would love to hear from you and what God is doing in your life.

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Monday 1st of February 2021

Hey! Thanks for the information. There are so many contradictory ideas out there about speaking in tongues so I am really trying to seek clarity here. I am a little confused in your post. You say it is NOT the supernatural ability to speak another language but then you reference Acts 2:1-4. The following verses 5-13 describe exactly that referencing what happened in Acts 2:1-4 Here is some of it: “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” ‭‭Acts‬ ‭2:5-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Any way or version I read this in it’s saying the many different languages of the Jewish men from every nation. Can you elaborate as to why you are saying the opposite? Thanks for your help and blessings!

Melissa Tumino

Monday 1st of February 2021

Dana, that is a great question and sorry it wasn't clearer in the post. I will adjust it soon. What I said in the post was "it's not a supernatural ability to learn to new languages". People can learn languages from a class, submerging themselves in a culture, and more. These are natural ways we can learn and pick up a language. Being taught a language and using it is not the gift of tongues. If you spontaneously start speaking in a language not knowing or being taught that language prior then that is the gift in action. This is what we see in Acts 2:1-4. The Galileans were speaking language which were not taught to them. It was 100% inspired by the Holy Spirit. Does that make sense? I hope so :)