What does the word Tongues mean?

The term tongues when used in reference to speaking just simply means “language”. The Greek word is “glossa” and means “tongue, language,” and the verb “laleo” means “to speak”, producing the word “glossolalia”. Here is the definition from the Strong’s and Thayer dictionaries:

Strong’s Definition: “glossa”, pronounced “gloce'-sah” Of uncertain affinity; the tongue; by implication a language (specifically one naturally unacquired): - tongue.

Thayer Definition: “glossa”
1) The tongue, a member of the body, an organ of speech.
2) A tongue.
1a) the language or dialect used by a particular people distinct from that of other nations.

References to Glossolalia in the KJV Bible

The scriptures below are all references to the word tongues in the King James Bible. They have been grouped so one can clearly see all references to glossolalia and what they are referring to;

The only mention of glossolalia in the Gospels

Mark 16:17 “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;”

The fulfilment of Jesus words in Mark 16:17

Acts 2:3-4 “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Acts 2:8 “And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?”

Acts 2:11 “Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”

Peter’s confirmation that the Gentiles could be baptised

Acts 10:46 “For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,”

Paul finds disciples who had not received the Holy Spirit

Acts 19:6 “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spoke with tongues, and prophesied.”

Paul’s references to the gifts of the spirit

1 Corinthians 12:10 “To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:”

1 Corinthians 12:28 “And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.”

1 Corinthians 12:30 “Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?”

Paul’s emphasis on the value of love

1 Corinthians 13:1 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

1 Corinthians 13:8 “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”

Paul’s warning and rebuke to the Corinthians

1 Corinthians 14:2 “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.”

1 Corinthians 14:4-6 “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. 5 I would that you all spoke with tongues, but rather that you prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. 6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?”

1 Corinthians 14:9 “So likewise you, except you utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for you shall speak into the air.”

1 Corinthians 14:13-14 “Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.”

1 Corinthians 14:18-19 “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than you all: 19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.”

1 Corinthians 14:21-23 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. 22 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. 23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that you are mad?”

1 Corinthians 14:26-27 “How is it then, brethren? when you come together, every one of you has a psalm, has a doctrine, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.”

1 Corinthians 14:39 “Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.”

Speaking in Tongues in the Gospels

You will note from the previous scripture list that the only reference to tongues in the Gospels is recorded in Mark 16:17

“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;”

This statement made by Jesus to His Apostles on the gift of tongues is in the context of the Great Commission, to preach the gospel to the whole world, to every creature. Jesus' disciples were to receive the power of the gift of the Holy Spirit and they were to proclaim the Good News of what Jesus had achieved for all mankind, first in Israel, and then to all nations, tongues (foreign languages) and peoples. Note how the signs were to confirm the Gospel message.

Mark 16:20 “And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.”

During their previous ministry the disciples had been restricted to Israel, but now their ministry was to go far beyond the borders of Palestine into countries where other languages were spoken.

How did the Apostles preach the Gospel to all nations?

In Acts chapter two we have the first and most significant mention of tongues. How were the Apostles to preach the Gospel to every nation? It was by one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit – the gift of speaking in tongues. This is the entire purpose of the gifts of the Spirit – to benefit all for the advancement of God’s kingdom.

1 Corinthians 12:7 “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:”

Paul explains to the Corinthians that the gifts of the spirit are for the advancement of God’s kingdom on Earth and are not for personal edification. So was the gift of tongues used for the Church? This is how the passage in Acts chapter two reads from the NKJV Bible

Acts 2:1-11 “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to Speaking in tongues at Pentecostthem divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. 7 Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs--we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”

So was the gift of tongues for the benefit of the Church? Was it a sign to unbelievers as Paul said? Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:22

“Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not…”

What Paul is saying is that tongues are a sign to unbelievers who are moved when they hear the gospel spoken in their tongue by men who had never learned or understood it. This is exactly what happened at Pentecost. They were all amazed when they heard these unlearned Galileans speaking in their own native tongue. So did the gift benefit the Church? We find the answer revealed towards the end of chapter two.

Acts 2:41 “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”

Note the word “gave” in verse Acts 2:4 denotes a gift of the Holy Spirit. The gift of tongues is not a learned experience. This is in contrast to the common practice in Pentecostal and the Charismatic meetings where they are taught or instructed how to receive the gift of tongues. When the true gift of tongues is given, no prompting or teaching is required, it just happens naturally by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Many associate the word utterance with uttering, as in quiet mutterings as seen in much of the tongue speaking today. But the word translated “utterance” in Acts 2:4 actually means “to speak out loudly and clearly” or “to speak with emphasis.” Strong’s gives this definition: “apophtheggomai” pronounced “ap-of-theng'-om-ahee” From G575 and G5350; to enunciate plainly, that is, declare: - say, speak forth, utterance.

It is obvious from this passage in Acts chapter two, that all of these people from many different countries were hearing the Gospel in their own language for their nation. The languages in which the disciples were speaking were known foreign languages and dialects, not unintelligible mutterings. And they were amazed that these Galileans, uneducated in the “proper” schools, and all from a lower class of society, could speak these foreign languages. Luke is emphasizing to the reader that the miraculous gift of speaking in other languages at Pentecost was the ability to speak articulate, intelligible, foreign languages which had not been learned previously and were not learned at that time. The gift of tongues (languages) was instant and spontaneous and not “learned.” As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:7, the gifts of the spirit were for the benefit and growth of the whole Church and here we see no better demonstration on how speaking in tongues not only benefited the Church, but made it grow at a phenomenal rate and no assumptions are required.

In Acts chapter ten we have the second occurrence of speaking in tongues. Was this any different to the first occurrence? This is how the passage reads.

Acts 10:44-48 “While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.”

Peter who was prejudiced against the Gentiles was reluctant to baptise them but when they began speaking in tongues he knew it was God’s will for them to be baptised in water also. This second occurrence of tongues (other foreign languages) is further shown by Peter giving an eyewitness account that it was the same situation as in Acts chapter two.

Acts 11:15 “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.

He affirmed that God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us (at Pentecost) when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 11:17 “If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

Peter had no doubt that the gift of tongues (foreign languages) by the believers in Caesarea was “the same gift” of miraculously speaking foreign languages as the gift which he and the other followers of Jesus received on the day of Pentecost. In the very book we see the Church established, we also see the first use of speaking in tongues and being used for that very purpose. Every mention is a known language for the purpose of taking the Gospel to every nation. It is never introduced as a personal communication language with God.

Can Speaking in Tongues be the language of Angels?

Does Paul say that he speaks in the tongues of Angels? If this is what Paul is saying, then he is also saying that he understands all mysteries, has all knowledge (only God is omniscient) and has all faith that can remove mountains and that he is giving his body to be burned. That is just not possible and Paul did not give his body to be burned and so cannot be what he is teaching. This is the passage from the King James Version Bible.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”

The translators of the KJV Bible have actually failed us on this occasion in the translating of the word “though” which in Greek is “ean”, pronounced eh-an'. This is the Thayer Definition: 1) if, in case.

The Greek word “ean” should have been translated to the word “if” and not as “though”. In all other places in the KJV Bible, more than 90% of the time it was translated to the word “if” and it should have translated to “if” in these verses also. The Contemporary English Version translates 1 Corinthians 13:1 as follows,

“What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

And the VW-Edition Bible translates it as follows,

“If I were to speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.”

Almost all other Bible translations have also use the word “if” and not “though” and as you can see it makes a large difference as to how the verse reads. For those wondering, Paul was beheaded, not burned.

Paul is saying “If” I had all knowledge, “If” I could speak in the tongues of Angels, “If” I understood all mysteries, “If” I could remove mountains, “If” I were to give my body to be burned but had not love, I might as well be like a clanging symbol. Paul is using superlatives i.e. he is giving exaggerated examples to make his point on the importance of love and how without love it profits him nothing. Speaking of love and gifts;

Paul also says, 1 Corinthians 13:8 “Charity [love] never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be [gift of] knowledge, it shall vanish away.”

If tongues were angelic, how could they possibly cease? Is God going to take away the voices of all the angels? If tongues were angelic then surely we would be speaking in tongues all the more once we got to heaven.

Are you saved if you don’t speak in tongues?

The teaching and belief of some that you have not received the Holy Spirit if you do not speak in tongues comes from Mark 16:17-18 that we have previously discussed. It reads,

“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;”

Some say this verse proves the apostles would be speaking in new tongues that never existed before but it could just as easily mean to speak in tongues that were new to them. Speaking in new tongues was fulfilled at Pentecost as the apostles spoke in new tongues as they spread the Gospel to all the nations and commenced God’s Church. This is the purpose for all the gifts as Paul said “to the profit of all.” Further research found that there are in fact two Greek words for “new.” One means brand new never existed before and the other means to renew. Guess which one is used here? It is not brand new but the renew. Jesus is saying they would speak in tongues which were new to them but already known, that is, recognizable languages which is exactly what happened at Pentecost.

Mark 16:17 says “them that believe.” Nothing is said of salvation or the Holy Spirit. The question is whether Jesus meant that all these signs will follow every single person or whether Jesus was having a private conversation with His Apostles and was only telling them that these are various signs and miracles that you will see follow those who believe as you take the Gospel to the world. Remember this statement by Jesus was made to His Apostles as He instructed them in regards to the Great Commission. What Jesus was saying did not stop at verse 17 as He continues to say in verse 18. Mark 16:18 says,

“They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

If we choose to take Jesus words as meaning all these things will be done by he who believes and that the person is not saved unless he does, then in order to be saved we must be able to demonstrate the following; We must be able to demonstrate speaking in tongues, casting out more than one demon, being bitten by a snake and drink poison and not get sick or die, and we must be able to lay hands on any sick person at any time and always have them recover. Hands up those who have met these requirements! My hand is definitely down. There have been various cults over the years that decided foolishly to take every word Jesus said literally and tried to perform the deadly acts and many have died as a result.

If Jesus was referring to the things that the Apostles would see and do, did these things happen? Did they all receive the gift of tongues? A common and very much needed gift in taking the Gospel to the world back in the first century but Paul still tells us NO. But obviously most did due to the need. Did they cast out demons? Yes, the Apostles cast out many demons. Did any get bitten by snakes and not get sick or die? Yes, Paul did.

Acts 28:3-6 “And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. 4 And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. 5 And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. 6 Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.”

Did they lay hands on the sick and did they all recover? Yes, example Acts 19:11-12,

“And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: 12 So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.”

I am not too sure where poison enters the equation. Jesus was most likely pointing out that if they had it would not have hurt them. But I very strongly suggest not putting God to the test on that one today as the odds are you will most surely die.

To claim that speaking in tongues must be a sign of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is to say that men like Wycliffe, Huss, Jerome, Luther, Calvin and thousand of others were never baptised with the Holy Spirit and are not saved. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was for the select chosen few such as Prophets and Kings. What about the multitude of God’s other chosen people? There is not one mention of tongues by any of God’s anointed. The Bible says by their fruits you shall know them. (Matthew 7:16, 20) Not by if they speak in tongues! The Bible frequently speaks of people filled with the Holy Ghost and no tongues are given or spoken.

Luke 1:15 – John the Baptist “full of the Holy Ghost” no tongue speaking.
Luke 1:41 – Elizabeth “filled with the Holy Ghost” and no tongue speaking.
Luke 1:67 – Zacharias “filled with the Holy Ghost” and no tongue speaking.
Luke 3:22; 4:1,18 – Life of Jesus an example of being “full of the Holy Ghost” and no tongues ever evidenced.

Jesus is our example of all things and before He sealed the New Covenant with His blood that Friday afternoon He had given us an example in all things necessary to our salvation. Obedience, repentance, faith and Baptism are points. But He never gave us an example of speaking in tongues to indicate this was necessary.

Acts 4:31 – Believers “all filled with the Holy Ghost” no tongues.
Acts 7:55 – Stephen “full of the Holy Ghost” no tongues.
Acts 8:14-17 – Samaritan believers “received the Holy Ghost” and no tongues.

Now if tongues had been spoken in all of the above cases, surely there would have been mention of it as tongues was a new and miraculous thing. The Bible teaches that having made our surrender to God and having asked Him in faith for the Holy Spirit, we can believe by faith He will supply what He promised.

Galatians 3:14 – “receive the promise of the Spirit through FAITH.”
Galatians 3:2 – “received ye the spirit…by the hearing of FAITH.”
Galatians 3:5 – “ministereth to you the Spirit…by the hearing of FAITH.”
Ephesians 3:16,17 – “strengthened with might by his Spirit…that Christ may dwell in your hearts by FAITH.”

Here is one of the most important aspects of the Christian life, i.e. the acceptance of salvation, forgiveness of sins, and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit – by faith. Now faith is defined as “the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) But we think it is necessary to demand of a debtor some security or a signed I.O.U or something tangible we can see and if necessary produce in court. Here the element of complete faith is lacking. Like doubting Thomas, we will not believe unless we see and feel and have tangible evidence such as speaking in tongues. But faith toward God does not demand such things for we believe that God is and that He always speaks the truth and we require no proof from Him of the fulfilment of His word for we trust Him. It is so because He says so.

So having fulfilled the conditions of surrender to our Lord, fully and completely, and having asked Him for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, we then by faith believe that He has fulfilled His promise and it is so and there should be NO doubt. This is where so many people go astray. They demand of their God some tangible sign or evidence. But let us carefully note again the teachings of the Bible that “we receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14); and faith, as we have also noted is “the evidence of things not seen.”

We believe God has forgiven us our sins in keeping His promise of 1 John 1:9 – by FAITH.
We believe He has saved us and given us everlasting life according to John 3:16 – by FAITH.
We believe He will never leave us nor forsake us according to Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 28:20 – by FAITH.
And so we believe that having asked God in keeping with His promise of Luke 11:13, “how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” We believe we have received – by FAITH.

This element of faith is so important that the Bible says “without faith it is impossible to please him.” (Hebrews 11:6) Jesus said in Matthew 16:4 “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it…” and He also said in John 4:48 “…Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” If we are truly God’s children we do not need signs for when God has promised we should believe He fulfils His promises. Did Paul say tongues was a sign to those who believe? No. Paul said quite the opposite. 1 Corinthians 14:22 “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not…”

The only other issue of receiving the Holy Spirit is obedience. Acts 5:32 “…and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.” We do not have to practice glossolalia to be saved or prove we have the Holy Spirit and here is the final conclusive proof if you accept that the Bible never contradicts itself.

1 Corinthians 12:4-10 “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:”

As you can see, Paul tells us that we all receive different gifts from the Holy Spirit. Paul goes on to demonstrate how we all make up the body of Christ and how the body would not be complete if we all had the same gift. Note in the following passage how Paul shows we all make up a valuable part of the body of Christ no matter what gift we have been given. Every single gift from the Holy Spirit is just as valuable and important.

1 Corinthians 12:12-21 “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? 18 But now has God set the members every one of them in the body, as it has pleased him. 19 And if they were all one member, where were the body? 20 But now are they many members, yet but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of you: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.”

In many of the Churches practicing speaking in tongues today as it appeared in paganism and non-Christian cults, I think it would be fair to say that many of these Churches make up one giant tongue and the rest of the body is missing! Why is it when we receive Christ as Lord and Saviour that we don’t covet the best gifts as Paul said we should in verse 31 below? Why don’t we get told to ask for the best gift like to be an Apostle or a prophet or a teacher? Why do we always get told just to ask for the gift of tongues (languages) which Paul puts right at the bottom of the list? Where does the Bible say we should ask just and always for the gift of tongues? What good is the real gift of tongues anyway if we have nobody to witness to in that language as at Pentecost? Since the Church is established in all nations, it is by far the least important gift.

By now it should be very apparent that the teaching that you are not saved or do not have the Holy Spirit unless you have the gift of tongues is faulty and there is NO valid scriptural support for it at all. Paul informs us that we could have any one of the above gifts when the Holy Spirit indwells us. NOTE: Tongues is last, it is at the bottom of the list and should be the last gift we ask for, not the first as it is in many Churches today. If we continue to make tongues first and number one gift then we are NOT following the Word of God.

1 Corinthians 12:27-31 “…you are the body of Christ, and members in particular. 28 And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? 30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.”

Note what Paul is saying in the above verses. Do all speak in tongues? Paul’s obvious answer is No. He says to covet earnestly the best gifts.

Page Three - Is Speaking in Tongues Heavenly Languages?