The Gift of Speaking in Tongues (Part 1)

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Nearly two decades ago, I attended a conference hosted by a well-known evangelist, and I was stunned by what occurred only moments after the conference began. There was a pastor who traveled with the touring group and said he was happy to be there because he could feel the crowd’s spiritual energy. Shortly after, he began to speak in an unrecognizable dialect, so-called tongues, and the crowd erupted in cheer. Many people also began to utter obscure, meaningless words, and, at that point, I was ready to be like Elvis and leave the building.

That experience left me wondering, as a young Christian, if I lacked in my connectedness with God. It left me wondering how an arena full of people seemed so connected in the moment while I felt like someone standing on the outside looking in. It left me with this question in mind: What is the significance of speaking in tongues, and is it real? To answer my question, I focused on when such speaking first occurred in New Testament Scripture, the Day of Pentecost.

In Acts, the author, Luke, details the Holy Spirit’s arrival on the scene. An important point to make here is that the Holy Spirit is not an “it,” instead, the Holy Spirit is a “He,” and as the third member of the Holy Trinity, He is God. Luke uses the metaphors “rushing wind” and “tongues as of fire” to describe the Holy Spirit’s arrival. Notice that one symbol affects our sense of sight and the other our sense of sound. T. C. Smith explains that touching on those two senses at the same time made it hard for people to deny the reality of the supernatural event that took place.

Luke records, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” The people who saw this marvel heard what was said in their native tongue or, in other words, their native language. The divine gift of the Holy Spirit seen in this passage is not that of random mumblings of gibberish that no one can understand or gain enlightenment from hearing, such as the case with my experience at the Evangelist’s conference. Instead, it is the gift of speaking in other dialects that were not previously known or mastered by each speaker, which further shows the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

To answer my question that seeks to know if the gift of speaking in tongues real, the Bible says yes, it is real. The significance of this spiritual gift in the early church was to share the message of Jesus Christ with all nations and do so in a dialect that people would understand. Now, is the gift of speaking in tongues used in the modern era? That is an age-old debate where some theologians say yes, others say no, and it will likely remain that way until the Second Coming of our Lord. Nonetheless, in our attempt to answer that question, we must first explore the biblical intent and application of speaking in tongues in the early church.

Perhaps, at some point, everyone has heard the phrase, “Keeping up with the Joneses.” The phrase often describes people who will go to great lengths to obtain that new cell phone, the same new car, or have the same job or title, and the list goes on. It is a compulsion driven by one person’s envy of another who has those things and by a lack of self-worth and appreciation for the things he or she does possess. When we roll back the pages of Scripture, we see that Apostle Paul had to address the issue of speaking in tongues with the Corinthian church.

The early church viewed signs, such as casting out demons, laying hands on the sick, and speaking in tongues, which is to say speak in another language, as visible indicators of God’s work in the world and the believer. Those and other signs are in keeping with the words of Jesus, who said such signs would accompany those who have believed (Mark 16:17-18). The Corinthian church held speaking in tongues above all other spiritual gifts, and many members, if not the majority, all claimed to possess the gift of tongues. They were all “Keeping up with the Joneses,” one might say.

One reason why speaking in tongues became so prominent in the Corinthian church is because one’s claim to possess the gift could not be easily disproven. Those who did not claim to have the gift were likely looked down upon by those who did. However, anyone in the church could utter words of gibberish and claim to have the gift. That falls in line with my experience at the Evangelist’s conference, an arena full of people mumbling words of empty gibberish that served no useful purpose other than a feel-good moment for themselves.

How did Apostle Paul approach the Corinthian church to deal with the internal issues surrounding spiritual gifts? We will tackle that question and more in part two of this two-part devotion.


Smith, T. C. (1970). Acts. Clifton J. Allen (Ed.) The Broadman Bible Commentary. (pp. 1-152). Nashville, TN, Broadman Press.

4 thoughts on “The Gift of Speaking in Tongues (Part 1)

  1. Kim Cowan June 9, 2020 / 9:19 AM

    Darryl wow I always debated with friends and family on this topic. You help people understand I appreciate you doing this article can’t wait for part two. I was raised Strict southern baptist and always asked my grandma about speaking in tongues and her and her son a Rhema pastor hopefully could explain it to me . My grandma wasn’t a fan but my uncle helped me understand it was a gift and not all Christian people receive it. Of course I asked him if he had received the gift and he said yes . So then I began to ask grandma about Christian people that I knew with the gift seeming to be more spiritual and always seem to stay on track and not backsliding. She then talked about the Holy Spirit and how those with charismatic behavior basically the Pentecostals are so filled with the spirit that they stayed stronger against satans attacks.
    As she got old she said First Baptist of Norfolk would have a charismatic change! Then we visited the church with you and Lynn and I was wowed grandma was right! I’m still learning I’ve prayed for this gift but never received it but I’m still filled with the Holy Spirit even with no gift of tongues. Still learning and hopefully part two will explain further for me and if God wants me to I’m ready. Took my granddaughter to rock church for a concert and the ushers that worked the concert did speak in tongues and we’re praising and worshiping in the isles. This was a little intimidating and scary for a teenage girl . Afterwards she said not sure she ever wanted to go back to another concert there ! I had to explain to her what I learned when I was her age about tongues and Pentecostal charismatic people hopefully she’ll remember that conversation because it stuck with me into my adult life and I try to show my granddaughter a good example because of how much I learned from my grandma. She was not perfect she lacked a peace and always had worry in her life . I would say maybe you would not have the sin of worry if you were more of a charismatic christian grandma and she would just chuckle at me.

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    • Darryl Orrell June 10, 2020 / 3:51 PM

      Hi, Kim, Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to leave such a heartwarming, family-oriented message. In many ways, it seems that society has lost its perspective on the vital role that grandparents play in the lives of children. The experience you encountered with the ushers at Rock Church is not an unusual scene at charismatic churches. If I may, what spiritual benefit did you gain from the words uttered by those ushers who appeared to speak in tongues? Unless there was an interpreter present to translate their speech for the edification of all who were in attendance, I suggest their actions were more in line with the early Corinthian church and not the biblical use of speaking in tongues. I hope you enjoy part two of this massage and find it beneficial to your understanding of what it means to speak in tongues and why it is/is not a gift in use today.

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  2. Good Edification June 15, 2020 / 12:41 PM

    Praise the Lord!! Very interesting article! I wanted to leave comment because I speak in tongues. There are two distinct gifts of tongues. One is the evidence of being sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. This is a gift it can’t be earned or bought. Anyone can recieve the gift of speaking in tongues just as the Lord forgives all who ask for forgiveness. The other is (which I was also gifted with) which is diverse tongues Corinthians 12:27-31 . This is having not just one language gifted but many languages. It can be heavenly language, languages for different places etc. Not everyone receives the gift of diverse tongues. Also speaking in tongues edifys the spiritual man and your speaking directly to God 1 Corinthians 14:2. If someone is an interpetor then the church can recieve edification from the interpetors translation. I had previously been in a church were I was the only one who did not speak in tongues. I thought it was because I didnt need it or maybe it was not for me but I was wrong. Recieving the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking tongues is the seal of salvation. The Lord took the guessing work out he gave us proof so that we know we are his. Its unfortunate if some one pretend to recieve it that defeats the purpose God is all about truth. Also while you can fill the presence of of God it’s so much more than a feel good moment or babbling. I pray you all experience the joy of being filled with the Holy Ghost. There is nothing to loss only gain. So I encourage you ask for it in the name of Jesus be blessed😊

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    • Darryl Orrell June 16, 2020 / 9:51 AM

      I appreciate and thank you for sharing your experience, and what a blessing it must be for you to connect with God in such a way as you describe.

      Some have termed what you describe as a “private prayer language,” though I am not aware of such examples given in Scripture. The biblical use of tongues was intended for and occurred in public settings, not private, to allow unbelievers who were present to hear the gospel in their known native dialect. Paul’s intent in speaking to the Corinthians becomes clear when we replace the term “tongues” with the word “languages” in Scripture. The word tongue in the original Greek is “glossa,” and it refers to a dialect used by a nation that differs from other nations. Today, there are no longer any apostles who walk among us. There are no prophets needed to reveal God’s word to us, as we now have His written word. Therefore, the need for speaking in tongues has since diminished, as well. The need for tongues ceased in the apostolic age when God gave man His written word that is now translated in more than 700 languages. Now, can the Holy Spirit choose to impart the gift of tongues to someone? Of course, He is God, but so doing would be incongruent with His written word, which God would not contradict His word.

      You wrote, “Receiving the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking tongues is the seal of salvation.” That implies an absolute that people who are not so gifted are not sealed in their salvation. I must disagree because (1) I believe tongues ceased in the apostolic age, (2) Paul said it is the Holy Spirit who seals us for the day of our redemption (Eph 4:30). We are sealed by the presence of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, not by the works we work using the gifts we receive. That is the promise and assurance given to us in God’s word, or as John put it, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

      That said, I will say that how people privately commune with God is between them and God and no one else. Thank you once again for your commentary; it was a great dialogue! God bless.

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