What is Speaking in Tongues? Is it Biblical and Still Relevant Today?

Bethany Verrett

speaking in tongues bible Monday, September 28, 2020

The question of spiritual gifts is one that sparks excitement, debate, and questions. Being invited to use unique gifts in building God’s kingdom is an exciting prospect. Certain gifts seem easy to understand: teaching, encouragement, and hospitality are accessible. Others seem foreign, maybe even scary to some people because they seem supernatural.

Speaking in tongues is such a gift. It causes controversy among believers, with different groups seeming to make different claims about the ability. What is the goal and the purpose of it? Can people still speak in tongues today? Speaking in tongues, or glossolalia, is Biblical, but needs to be understood.

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What Is Speaking in Tongues?

Depending on who is asked, and what that person’s denomination is, the definition of speaking in tongues changes. There is debate as to the nature of the languages spoken. There are earthly languages, natural languages that people of nations and tribes speak. Some believe there are also heavenly languages, not from earth, directly from the Holy Spirit. There are generally three categories of thought on the gift of speaking in tongues.

Glossolalists believe that speaking in tongues is a charismatic gift of the Holy Spirit that is either as an earthly language - previously learned or not - or an unknown, heavenly language. Some people, especially in apostolic and Pentecostal churches, believe in a personal prayer language. Typically, if someone receives a message in church in tongues, there will be an interpreter. Some denominations hold it is primarily for spreading the Gospel, but others believe it can be used for prayer and for prophecy as well.

Cessationists take a more dispensational view, meaning they believe that speaking in tongues was a gift for an allotted period of church history, and is no longer given. They believe the gift was only for the age of the Apostles in the early church where the Holy Spirit empowered select individuals to speak in an earthly language they did not know previously in order to spread the Gospel. Generally, cessationists do not believe in heavenly languages. They explain any contemporary claim of speaking in tongues as self-induced, a learned behavior, or fraud.

Another theory is that the gift of speaking in tongues is real, and still exists, but it is to share the Gospel exclusively with a Jewish audience who speak another earthly language. In this scenario, the Holy Spirit would temporarily empower someone to speak in a language unknown to them in response to the presence of a group of Jews who speak that specific language. An interpreter would be empowered as well to be available for others present. 

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