Speaking in Tongues
God’s Gift of Gibberish?
by Mike Daniels
In the following article, a secularist looks at the Pentecostal and Charismatic practice of 'speaking in tongues' both from an objective and a biblical point-of-view. Is it any wonder that atheists and sceptics find it hard to take Christians seriously?
For decades, “speaking in tongues” has been the butt of jokes. Now, a leading Evangelical asks Christians to take this nonsensical jibber-jabber seriously ... and a growing number already do.
The Christian Post gives us a look into the mind of Pastor Brady Boyd, Senior Pastor at the New Life Church, the Colorado Springs, CO megachurch founded by disgraced pastor Ted Haggard. As part of a sermon series on The Supernatural — wouldn’t that be pretty much any sermon involving gods and demons? — Boyd covered “speaking in tongues”.
Glossolalia, or “speaking in tongues”, is also known as “ecstatic speech”. Speakers believe that they are speaking in another language, and others believe they can interpret it. What do linguists think?
In his 1972 book, Tongues of Men and Angels: The Religious Language of Pentecostalism, University of Toronto linguist William Samarin described glossolalia as:
More explicitly, glossolalia:
"...meaningless but phonologically structured human utterance, believed by the speaker to be a real language but bearing no systematic resemblance to any natural language, living or dead".
Other researchers have come to the same conclusions, that the speech produced in an ecstatic state is a mishmash of sounds from the speaker’s native language — not new sounds or sounds from other languages not known to the speaker — with no perceivable organization or meaning.
"...consists of strings of syllables, made up of sounds taken from all those that the speaker knows, put together more or less haphazardly but emerging nevertheless as word-like and sentence-like units because of realistic, language-like rhythm and melody".
Believers, on the other hand, refer to it as a “heavenly language, God’s language”:
Boyd grew up in churches which treasured the “gift” of “speaking in tongues”, by which they mean a “private prayer language”. It was so normal in the cults he attended, that Boyd believed that everyone could jabber nonsensically nearly from birth.
"The truth is, speaking in tongues is the most intelligent, perfect language in the universe. It is God’s language."
Oh, wait. They can.
Like all of the subset of Christians who believe that spouting gibberish is a “gift from God”, Boyd has to distort Scripture to reach his conclusion that speaking in tongues is anything but nonsense. However, he goes out of his way to insist that he follows Scripture perfectly, with a straightforward, face-value approach to the Bible.
I agree. If Boyd’s congregation were speaking in tongues the way it is described in Acts 2, that’d be quite something! But it’s not. And Boyd can’t help but know it:
"Boyd asked the thousands in attendance to “let Scripture interpret Scripture” and approach the Bible as if they were reading it for the first time.
“I’m not going to stretch Scripture,” the New Life pastor emphasized.
Reading from Acts 2 in the New Testament, Boyd underscored the account that on the first day of the first church service, every one of the 120 people were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues.
“If I were reading the Bible for the very first time, as a young believer, and I was trying to make sense of this tongue thing, I think that would jump off the page at me and go ‘wow, if in the very first church service everyone there spoke in tongues when they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, it should be fairly common among us today,” said Boyd.
“I think that’s a safe assumption on all of our parts.”"
Boyd’s congregation doesn’t have Coloradans suddenly speaking fluent Swahili or Russian. That’s the recorded “miracle” of Acts 2; the apostles spoke fluently in existing, real languages they did not know:
"The senior pastor went on to point out the God-fearing Jews who recognized that their language was being spoken by people that didn’t know the Jews’ native language.
Speaking in tongues, Boyd said, could be used to communicate the Gospel to unbelievers. Thousands were born again that day when the Holy Spirit first came down upon believers. And Boyd said he knows tons of stories of such witnessing in tongues happening today."
Far from speaking and hearing in different languages, Boyd’s congregation has Coloradans blabbing in something a step below baby talk — which often has an attempt at meaning behind it, unlike Godly gibberish — and calling it “God’s language”, while others decide what is intended and “interpret”.
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 “Cretans and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”
Does that sound like the “miracle” from Acts 2 to you? Or any sort of a “gift”?
Practical? How is it practical, when outsiders regard it as nonsense, and nobody but the speaker can understand it (if indeed there is intent behind the blabber)?
"Sometimes we think tongues is just people getting in an emotional frenzy. But the spiritual gift is practical. It is intended to draw people to God.
I think that oftentimes we have made the spiritual gifts about us. ‘What does it do for me?’ Not every time are the spiritual gifts for you. Oftentimes gifts are there … to draw people to Christ".
Here, Boyd again diverts from Scripture.
The apostle Paul had other thoughts on the matter. In the first letter to the church at Corinth, which was apparently quite taken with ecstatic speaking, Paul warns against allowing the practice to get out of control:
Ecstatic speech, then, serves only the speaker; the opposite of Boyd’s contention.
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 14:21-23 “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?”
I thought he wouldn’t stretch Scripture. It sounds to me as though he’s twisted and pulled it until it fairly shrieks!
Reproduced with thanks from the Secular News Daily
Comments from Readers
 "For those who view praying in tongues as a prayer language between a believer and God (1 Corinthians 13:1) that a believer uses to edify himself (1 Corinthians 14:4) which seems to be a contradiction to scripture I ask the following:
(DH, USA, 23 November 2013)
• How could praying in tongues be a private prayer language if it is to be interpreted (1 Corinthians 14:13-17)?
• How could praying in tongues be for self-edification when Scripture says that the spiritual gifts are for the edification of the church, not the self (1 Corinthians 12:7)?
• How can praying in tongues be a private prayer language if the gift of tongues is a “sign to unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14:22)?
• The Bible makes it clear that not everyone possesses the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:11, 28-30) so how could tongues be a gift for self-edification if not every believer can possess it? Do we not all need to be edified?"
This page was created on 22 July 2011
Last updated on 24 November 2013
Copyright © 2010 Mike Daniels