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 other tongue speakers in how to perform this action. In every case they are told that tongues speaking is a valid gift of the Holy Spirit today and should be sought. It should be clear to all that modern tongues speakers that to be biblical tongue must follow the New Testament example. If it does not then God's word establishes the phenomenon does not come from God.
Many people are drawn to the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement due to the care and love shown among its members. People like to feel they are cared for and that they are part of something unique. They want to feel that God is real and has personally touched them. Tongue speaking superficially fulfills these desires. In the modern tongues speaking churches, the audience actively and enthusiastically participates in the worship services of these churches. The services are very emotional and give the participant 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.
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 set 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 people present and in their native tongues.
Plainly, in the three accounts where biblical tongues is recorded in the New Testament, these supernatural phenomena always accompanied biblical tongues. However, they are not present today when modern tongues is practiced. Therefore what is happening today does not conform to the biblical example and it must be concluded are not biblical tongues. 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. The biblical gift of tongues in the New Testament was never sought or prayed for by the individual, but was given at the discretion of the Holy Spirit. 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, to uplift them spiritually. It was not given as a special prayer language and Paul rebukes this in 1 Corinthians 14:14.
The question is if modern tongues does not follow the biblical example, what is really happening when modern tongues is 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 Christians who love the Lord. So, if modern tongues does not follow the New Testament example, what is really happening? Is there a logical explanation? However, to find the answer all feelings, experiences, beliefs, and thoughts must be subject to the authority of God's 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 claiming 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 confront to the biblical example. God's 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 sign gift of tongues, really what the Bible teaches is the 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 14:14-15, 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 one did not understand what they were praying. Nowhere in God's word is there an example of one praying and not understanding what they praying. 1 Timothy 2:1 explains biblical prayer, "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 believe when they do not know what they are praying? Never in the Bible is prayer ever presented as being done without one's 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 prayers 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. Therefore the verses are not establishing praying in tongues, but reproving those that were doing it.
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 one. The biblical gift of language was a special gift given to Jews to in which Jews 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 but received the gift and also Jews 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 Paul's 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 in God's word is that nothing is done is secret nor is God's word mystical and in any way hidden. God inspired Peter to write, "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." (2 Peter 1:20) God's 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 heard plainly God's truth in their own language.
In 1 Corinthians 14:22 Paul plainly states what was biblical tongues. "So that tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy, not to unbelievers, but to those who 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 Charismatic 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 God's 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 that they had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. No gift was to be used for one's personal edification, but to be used to enlighten others. In 1 Corinthians 12:8f the passages shows each of the spiritual gifts given were to benefit others.
Modern anthropologists have for many years studied 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, churches and groups teaching false doctrine and many pagan religions. Dr. Shelia A. Womack, found similarities between that modern speaking in tongues, 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 studied extensively 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 researched heard and identified was simply vowels spoken without relation to an actual word. It is gibberish sounds similar to what children make before the learn to speak a language. Their conclusion is that it appears to be psychologically induced phenomena and quark of the mind.
Linguists 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 in his studies 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 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 suprasegmental 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 the New Testament, as with all miracles, tongues came instantly to the one's whom God had chosen to receive the gift. Today, most times the person who speaks in modern tongues have 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. However, Paul said all do not speak in tongues.(1 Cor. 12:29-31) There the Bible refutes this false idea. Every person when they are saved by God's grace is given the Baptism of the Holy Spirit which is the indwelling of Holy Spirit which gives the believer 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. (Romans 8:9) Everyone who speaks in modern tongues has been falsely taught that it is a valid gift of God today and that they can receive it. Some begin to practice the gift privately outside a church service, but they already believed in modern tongues before they experienced it.
Clearly, some people are more susceptible that others to having a what can be referred to as a psychological experience. For example some people are easily hypnotized and others are not susceptible to 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 effect 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 began 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 suggestion with stimulates a mental response. When the person is having 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 gives 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 the phenomena is coming from God. The tongues speaker could defend his or her conclusion 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 God's word.
For example, Dr. Ruer, an expert in the field says, "It's 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" states, she says, releases the flow of endorphins—"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 this neuro-transmitters in the brain and it makes us temporarily feel good. 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 were so worked up or 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 incite 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 gentile, 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 done.
Further God says "to be careful for nothing" meaning being anxious, but in prayer and supplication (seeking) let your request be know to the Lord. Then God says....we will experience true lasting peace that comes from God and is greater than our understanding. The emotional experience lasts only temporarily, but God's true peace is long lasting and sustaining. He then explains what we are to mediate and think on and concludes by saying these things are what bring the biblical peace of God.
Modern tongues speakers legitimately believe they have received a special gift from God. Most are very sincere and their tongues speaking is not feigned. The tongues experience is highly emotional and produces a pleasant feeling in the participant. This emotional feeling makes tongues speaking highly desirable. However, 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 pagan religions are doing. The conclusion must be that what people are experiencing is not from God, but some not fully understood 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 spirit 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.
For further information on biblical tongues, and the modern tongues movement please go to http://bible-truth.org/Charismatics.html 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 .