Evangelical Culture Myths: #1 Speaking in Tongues is from the Devil, Unless Interpreted

© 2008 | Joe Shlabotnik | Flickr | http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Today I begin a long term series called “Evangelical Culture Myths.”  I invite you to submit various sorts of cultural myths that we evangelicals tell.  Aside from the one I’m covering today, another obvious one (if you read this blog regularly) could be: “The earth will be destroyed eventually so who cares about being ‘green.'”  I’d love to cover some myths that you are interested in: either theological or practical in nature.  Send them to me via email, FB, or Twitter (to tweet ideas, use this #EvangelicalMyths and “@kurtwillems”)!


TonguesThe greatest of all gifts to be known for – especially if you’re a junior high boy.  Like tying a knot in a cherry stem, this gift means you must be good at, well, ummm…

Sorry, wrong topic.  Well, sort of.

A guy known for smooth kissing skills walks around campus proud.  Chest out.  Shirt one-size-too-small to give the appearance of bulging biceps.  And of course, the cute girl that every 13 year old boy dreams of, on his arm as they walk together from the lockers to Geometry class.  This guy’s rep as a good kisser is the envy of the other less-developed 12 to 14 year olds.  The gift of tongues, in this case, is the greatest of gifts.  It’s the thing that makes you too cool for school.

The same sort of thing went down in Corinth during the days of Paul.  Tongues meant that you had a rep.  Just like an early pubescent boy in the eighth grade, to possess the gift of tongues determined you were the “big (wo)man on campus.”  Perhaps the word “popular” might even fit.  The elite.  The spiritual guru.  The better than.  The angelical language poet.

Paul apparently was the best at this speaking in tongues thing.  He wrote: “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (1 Cor. 14.18).  So anyone claiming to be a tongue-slingin’-pro better recognize that big Paul can spit him some angel language better than the rest.

But Paul’s concern differed from the Corinthians.  They thought that speaking in tongues is the best measure of transcendent connection… but then Paul one-ups them.  Apparently prophecy is best.  Both gifts must not lead to adolescent-like pride, but rather, to build up others around them.  Pride was the core issue at stake and the call of Christ is to forsake our pride for the good of others.

So tonguesWhat is it?

#1 For many of us evangelicals who grew up in the church, but not one that emphasized the so-called “charismatic” gifts, have a cloud of mystery surrounding this topic.  We non-Pentecostal evangelicals have a common problem – we don’t really know what “speaking in tongues” actually is or if it ever actually happens.  Consider the following definition:

‘Tongues’ refers to the gift of speech which, through making sounds, and using apparent or even actual languages, somehow bypasses the speaker’s conscious mind.  Such speech is experienced as a stream of praise in which, though the speaker may not be able to articulate what precisely is being said, a sense of love for God, of adoration and gratitude, wells up and overflows.  It is like a private language of love.[1]

#2 We also have a common assumption – “speaking in tongues” is only valid if it is interpreted (and yes, a few would add that all tongues come from the devil, as the title suggests).  I wish that I could count the number of times I’ve heard this evangelical culture myth – even believing it as a teenager.  This is based on the following verses found in 1 Corinthians 14:

5,b The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified…. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church…

The problem with this assumption is that it takes a couple of the statements that Paul makes in a much broader argument and creates a rule.  No such rule actually exists.  Think about it.  Paul has been talking about unity in the church and hospitality in the gathered worshiping community.  The whole point of why “tongues” must be interpreted is because, as Richard Hays says, “…love (chapter 13) requires the gifts be used to build up the community (14.12, 26)…  intelligible speech is necessary in the assembly for the common good; unintelligible tongues must be either interpreted or reserved for private prayer.”[2]

© 2009 | Leland Francisco | Flickr | http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

So, it’s not that “speaking in tongues” is only valid if the interpretation is given, but that “tongues” is only useful in the context of community if interpreted.  If a tongue doesn’t build up others, it’s better kept for the primary function of private worship.  To speak in “tongues” (in the context of worship) and then give an interpretation, becomes at that point, the functional equivalent to prophecy.

At this point, we can adequately say that this myth has been exposed.  But my hope is to move beyond the culture myth and into building an understanding of this mysterious charismatic gift.[3] To do this, I’ll list some key points.

The gift of tongues…

  • Is an unintelligible love language mysteriously given to some Christians by the Spirit (v. 2)
  • Functions as form of prayer that opens the individual up to experience intimacy with God (v. 4)
  • Is something Paul would be glad to have every Christ-follower experience (v. 5)
  • Can play a role in corporate worship with certain guidelines[4] (vv. 26-28)
  • Can point unbelievers to God (v. 22)
  • Must not be prohibited (v. 39)
  • Will cease only when “the perfect” Christ returns to consummate the reign of God on the earth (13.8-12)

Finally, I want to come back to where we started.  Two people: the junior high boy with a rep or the person who gets nearly elevated as the fourth person of the Triune Godhead – both whose gifts for tongues relinquishes pride.  Such people would do well to heed Michael Green’s advice: “…the gift of tongues, like other gifts, is not seen by Paul as a badge of spiritual maturity…Millions of spiritually mature Christians have never spoken in tongues, and millions who have are not spiritually mature.”[5]

Tongues is real.  Tongues is available to those for whom the Spirit decides.  Tongues builds a person up.  Tongues is not the greatest – for as Paul reminds us a chapter earlier – “the greatest of these is love.”

© 2009 | Carmen Zuniga | Flickr | http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/


[1] N.T. Wright, Paul For Everyone: 1 Corinthians, 181-182.

[2] Richard B. Hays, Interpretation: 1 Corinthians, 234.

[3] I realize that all of the gifts of the Spirit listed are in fact “charismata” but I use the language of “charismatic” in the popular sense, as a designation of the oft called “power gifts” (i.e tongues, prophecy, healing, miracles, words of knowledge, etc.).

[4] I do not see in this passage a “timeless” law for how tongues must be used in church, but rather Paul contextualizes the gift for the situation of the Corinthians.  This sort of contextualization gives us a paradigm for reflecting on how gifts could function in local churches in our own setting.

"Hi, I don't know how relevant anyone will find this, but I hate to see ..."

What happens to people who never ..."
"But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, ..."

Cosmic Signs Don’t Signal a Rapture ..."
"All I have to say is this: You are absolutely right, & your article makes ..."

Sometimes Reading the Bible Literally is ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Waldir Martins Machado

    Good day, peace! I am a Pentecostal pastor. But I think it is a Pentecostal moderate and try to look at the Scriptures with great caution. I liked your 

    • Thanks @google-359f4e79724f0f7642e87be0a8bdc4fd:disqus ! Please come back again!

  • Interesting article. However, I am convinced that when the writers of the New Testament refer to ‘tongues’ they are talking about other languages. 
    In Acts 2 we see the Holy Spirit coming upon the 120 and they spoke in ‘tongues’. Yet it is clear from the context that they were simply talking in other languages that they themselves did not know. 
    So if I am in an assembly with you and I begin to talk in Russian (I assume you don’t know Russian), then what I am saying does not build you up. It is a mystery to you. It is only helpful to me, unless I translate what I’m saying. If I can’t translate it, then I should shut my mouth and say those things in a more appropriate setting. 
    Now I have studied Russian, so I don’t believe it is a gift of the Spirit. I do believe that the Spirit gave (not sure about in our present day) the gift of speaking in other languages without the person having to actually learn the language. 
    Whatever the case, let’s strive for the gift of love. 

    • A few things:

      If the Acts record is referring to other earthly languages that the hearers understood, where is the need for interpretation? Why do some people think the speakers are merely drunk? If you are speaking in an earthly language that your audience understands but you do not, how is it a mystery to *them*? Further, how are *you* built up by speaking an earthly language you do not know?

      Perhaps, in the NT, there is more than one “kind” or “type” of this gift. Perhaps sometimes tongues can be a sign to unbelievers (e.g. Acts 2, and see 1 Cor. 13:22). Other times it may a heavenly language that needs interpretation (see 1 Cor. 14:5). Sometimes intercession could be the purpose. And yet other times personal edification could be (1 Cor. 14:4; Jude 20).

      • Zach, to be honest I don’t know much about ‘speaking in tongues’ other than myself speaking in another language. I have been to a congregation once that ‘spoke in tongues’. What I experienced was that the whole congregation (maybe 30 in attendance) began speaking nonsense; I had no clue what they were speaking and they themselves could not understand one another. Certainly, nobody was interpreting anything to anyone.  
        From what I understand from scripture, speaking in tongues was a gift of the Spirit, just like prophesy or miracles. Paul says that not everyone has each of these gifts. So how is it that in a congregation of 30 everyone had that gift? That doesn’t make sense to me. 
        Also, in 1 Corinthians 14:10-11 Paul seems to be saying that these are just different languages. 
        Finally, where does the idea of a ‘heavenly language’ come from? I know Paul talks about the language of angels in chapter 13. But that is the language of angels, not of humans. Paul does not say that he can speak in this language. He just says that if he could, it would be pointless if he did not have love. Is there another place that talks about a heavenly or angelic language? 

  • Thanks, Kurt, for the well-balanced article on tongues-speech.

    My primary concern, however, rests in the omission of tongues in the context of the Acts record, specifically 2:4. Here, tongues is seen as a means of witness to the ‘wonders of God’ as each of the spectators heard the 120 speak in their own languages. The Spirit empowered and enabled Christ-followers to effectively witness to Him in a way they would not be able to do prior to the event – the finite were enabled to witness to the infinite through the infinite’s grace and power.

    While you seemed to touch on the other elements related to tongues-speech very well, the omission of witness (which, by the way, is central to many Pentecostals – especially Classical Pentecostals), is something you should research more and discuss in another post.

    Keep up the good work!

    • @c6755633cdddd1edea65bc58773cd6cb:disqus … I added a bullet point because of your concern.  I would point out, however that I don’t think that tongues functions as “witness” to our pagan post-christendom West.  Ancient Jews in first century palestine were persuaded… and if affirmed that the gentiles had the Spirit… but I’m not sure that in our day (again, in the West) that this is an effective form of evangelism.  Too much cultural baggage around charismatic gifts and evangelical Christianity in general.  Now, in Africa or Asia… probably a totally different story.

      • Thanks, Kurt. My concern centered less on tongues as a form of evangelism (which I would deny), and more on the Pentecostal event itself as a testimony to the coming of the Spirit and the focus on witness the Spirit inaugurated through Christ’s followers. Tongues was a manifestation of the Spirit’s presence and the variety of languages spoke to the cosmic nature of that witness – for all people, both Jews and Gentiles. Your piece seemed to bypass this important element.

        • @c6755633cdddd1edea65bc58773cd6cb:disqus … I gotcha… Ok. I had a couple of issues at work here. 

          1) I chose to confine my study to the immediate context of the myth: 1 Corinthians.  To go beyond that would have been a blog trainwreach and well… it would be too long of a post.

          2) I agree with what you are saying, just wasn’t the angle I was approaching this at.  I actually see Pentecost in two ways… as a fresh Moses event where God’s Law for the heart, the Spirit, descends as Moses did.  And also as the undoing of the problem that took place at the Tower of Babel.  Languages scattered peoples and led to conflict, the Spirit unites people under God’s language. 

          Yes… cosmic witness of jew and gentile coming together. But this would have diverted from the parameters of this particular article’s purpose.  I thank you for pointing it out, however, becasue certainly that is an important biblical function of tongues/languages…

  • Thank you for this. As a Mennonite who married a Pentecostal(I know, what a FUN time!) I have to say that we have had MANY talks on this issue over the past 20 years. My husband was TAUGHT HOW TO speak in tongues as are many Pentecostal youth (and yes, I would say there is a lack of maturity on the part of church leaders in this area). To be honest, it freaked me out.  But I wasn’t opposed to it, just cautious. I have been in services where there has been interpretation and I have been in services where there hasn’t been but there HAS been an expectation that if you don’t speak in your “heavenly language” then you are not yielding to the Holy Spirit which I find absolutely ridiculous teaching. Definitely there was a surge of tongue-speaking in the 70s and 80s and that has subsided to a certain extent. The jury is still out for me as to whether tongues is the go-to evidence  of the Holy Spirit baptism. 

  • Nice job, Kurt.

    I second Jeff Clarke’s comment about tongues as witness. Also, I would push back on one point, but this is mostly because I think there is more than one “function” or “kind” of tongues in the NT. I’m of the opinion that tongues for personal edification is readily available to all believers.

    • @zackallen:disqus … you will see that i added a bullet point to balance this concern.  Notice also that I stuck to 1 Corinthians rather intentionally…

  • Jason Ropp

    “Such people would do well to heed Michael Green’s advice: ‘…the gift of tongues, like other gifts, is not seen by Paul as a badge of spiritual maturity…Millions of spiritually mature Christians have never spoken in tongues, and millions who have are not spiritually mature.'” 
    Thank you. I’m a cultural Mennonite (e.g. can play the Mennonite game), theological Anabaptist with all sorts of philosophical abscess. The above line was comforting. The last ten or so years have been a process of prying open my heart to all that God wants for me, which has also been a battle of spiritual paranoia in relation to the charismatic gifts. Sometimes we just need someone to say, “Calm down, don’t freak out, let God do his thing.”

    • I was raised in Church of Christ and Southern Baptist environments up to age 13 and cannot remember ever hearing anything about charismatic gifts. I left the Church at 13 and returned when I was 17 in a church that was open with the charismatic gifts (specifically, speaking in tongues was prevalent). Looking back,  one of the most interesting things to me about that time was that I was *never* weirded out by or questioned the legitimacy of it. It was done with such compassion and order that I’m not even sure I really even noticed it until someone brought it up to me explicitly. Now, I’d venture to say that a good 90% of my private prayer time is in tongues.

  • Ah…well. Actually, I don’t think speaking in other human languages by the leading of the Spirit without an interpreter is of the devil. The “rule” is to shut up if one isn’t available.

  • Mike Ward

    How is this a “myth”?

    How would you define “evangelical cultural myth” so as to include this but not include every single thing that some evangelicals believe that you disagree with?

    • @671e3eae3e90ae08c3a2f1bd39e8dc7d:disqus … EVERYTHING I write is laced full of my bias.  That should be obvious although I was told that this article felt quite balanced by a reader.  You sure like challenging me… fine.  So yes, myths as I define them…. just like if you were writing this series you’d define them in your own way.  And these are areas that “some” evangelicals believe… not all… myths in this series being things that are talked about or believed but not well researched or reasoned or experienced

      • Mike Ward

        Kurt, I do agree that it is obvious that everything you write is full of your bias, and I think that that is completely proper.

        However, I do think your title is uneccessarily provocative. Maybe I should have simply said so rather than ask you the question I did.

        I thought this for two reasons:

        1) I have no objection with calling someone elses beliefs a myth, but if your definition of “myth” includes essentially everything you disagree with it becomes condesending in my opinion. We all feel strongly about some things, and I’m all for being frank or even blunt, but being dismissive of everything is kind of jerky. I wasn’t sure this was you intention so I asked.

        2) Using the phrase “of the devil”. Yes a few may have that opinion, but very few and your article isn’t even about that opinion. You barely mention that aspect.

        As for the article, I thought it was on the whole very fair.

        I kind of disagree, but maybe not entirely. I think it’s a rather vague issue. I might comment on the actual issue, but I’m still turning it over in my mind.

        Anyway, I like your blog. Sorry if I seem to be “challenging” you.

        • @671e3eae3e90ae08c3a2f1bd39e8dc7d:disqus … I think the previous Kurt who commented may have woken up on the wrong side of the bed.  Sorry if I came across as rude.  Nevertheless, I stand by the title my friend.  I’ve been told that my writing voice is provocative, prophetic, and kind… I hope to continue to hold those three areas in dynamic tension.  If I don’t, then I wont be who God made me to be. 

          • Mike Ward

            No, not rude, just a touch offended perhaps, but that may have been be fault.
            I have also seen your writing to be provocative (hence some of my replies) as well as kind.
            I will clarify that when I say this title is unnecessarily provocative, I mean that it is provocative in a way that goes too far. Anyway, I’m sure you will still disagree, I just wanted to point at that I do not see being provocative as inherently bad.

          • @671e3eae3e90ae08c3a2f1bd39e8dc7d:disqus … thanks!

  • Dyfed

    Great post. I once heard someone say that when in her pre-Christian days she had heard tongues being spoken in a pagan ritual of some kind. Taken at face value this would suggest that it is not necessarily a God-thing.

  • Chuck McKnight

    I don’t entirely agree, but it is a well thought out article and a good read none-the-less. While you’re about dispelling myths, however, why not cover the ones on the charismatic side, such as, “You’re not really saved if you’ve never spoken in tongues.” I can’t tell you how many discouraged believers I’ve talked to who are scared for their salvation because they can’t produce these sounds.

  • I enjoyed the read. I do believe that speaking in tongues (and praying in tongues) is biblical and still an active part of the faith today. I wish with Paul that “all would speak in tongues” but I realize with Paul that “not all will.” And not everyone will come to the same conclusion as me, and that’s cool too.

  • Mike Ward

    Has anyone seen the documentary Marjoe?


    I was reading about speaking in tongues on the internet because of Kurt’s article. I was looking at tongues more from the perspective of how is it done rather than what does the bible say about it. And I came across this movie. It sounds very interesting. I’d like to find it.

      • Mike Ward

        Thanks! Looks like the whole thing. Hopefully I can watch it this weekend.

    • David Reed

      Marjoe was a Pentecostal boy preacher who went sour as an adult, caught up in the movements of the sixties. In his movie he tried to discredit the Pentecostal Revival movement as a sham, but in reality only revealed that he was the sham, though a broken and wounded one. There were innuendos  in the movie, like the camera zooming in on the white female founding pastor of a largely black congregation in Detroit (or Chicago?). Camera went straight to her big glittery broach (message: she is making herself wealthy off these poor followers). Turns out it cost all of $5. Beware the wounded but angry and vengeful! Some cynical scholars regarded this ‘documentary’ as the one that would finally expose Revivalism for the fake it was. Never happened (though there have been many cases of exposed leaders since that time).  There is certainly plenty of material about shoddy evangelists. I think his own journey is a sad one, and one in which he implies that all evangelists are as deceptive as he was. I think a more accurate account of Revivalism is in Robert Duvall’s The Apostle…more subtle and shows the complicated character of some of these flawed revivalists.

  • Good start Kurt. Looking forward to more in the series. Maybe I’ll have a suggestion or two for you!

    • @dwmtractor:disqus … Maybe, after the series gets going… I’ll have ya write a guest piece on something you are passionate about!

  • Marcus Curnow

    I’d say Acts 2 is an affirmation of the ‘liberation’ of Babel rather than an undoing of it. An affirmation of cultural diversity within unity.

    • @41feb8ccc98fef1b8b91948c858ee258:disqus … I could see that approach as equally valid.  I think we are saying essentially the same thing.  The scattered are now the gathered, united and diverse (since all people heard the tongues in their own language).

  • Evangelical culture myth: that speaking in tongues is an unintelligible love language mysteriously given to some Christians by the Spirit.

    On the contrary, the tongues to which St. Paul refers in the Corinthian context are human languages (regional dialects) not understood by the community. 

    There, I hope that dispels this ridiculous myth once and for all.

    • @ChrisDonato:disqus … I fully disagree and so do my scholarly sources… but I’m sure other sources would disagree with me.  For instance… in Acts 2 the tongues are being spoken and some are hearing one language while others hear another.  This is a heavenly language that is interpreted for the hearers benefit.  I think that is pretty clear.  And, its hard to argue your point with the logic of 1 Corinthians 12-14… 

      • Yeah. Plenty disagree with you. But there are almost as many scholarly opinions on this subject as there are scholars.

        That said, with respect to both the Acts event and Corinthians, it makes perfect sense, to my mind: 

        1. During the feast of Pentecost, the Acts 2 event (which took place in or around the temple), languages other than Hebrew (the worship language of Israel used during ceremonies—remember, for most Jews at that time Aramaic was the lingua franca) were being heard and, amazingly, were worshipping the one, true God of Israel. Also, let’s not forget how radical it was during that time for Gentiles to be praising YHWH.

        2. In the Corinthian context (we make much ado about nothing), St. Paul is simply exhorting his readers to keep the use of various regional dialects during the gathering in check—if no one gifted with bi-lingual abilities was present to interpret, then such a person should keep silent. The words are no more edifying than a clanging cymbal. In this instance, obviously, Greek was the language of the marketplace.

        • @ChrisDonato:disqus … what scholars / commentaries would you point to that hold to your unique viewpoint?

          • As you know, many hold that the tongues in question are earthly languages—and most of them think that the miracle in question was one of languages—that the speaker started speaking a language with which he/she was unfamiliar.

            Just as many, of course, say that the text gives us no definitive answer as to whether or not the languages in question are of earthly or heavenly origin. 

            The exact viewpoint that I discussed briefly above is sometimes discussed in the literature (that I read—Hermeneia, NICNT, NIB, NIGTC, NT Library, etc.), but it’s given express treatment here and here.

            If this is right, then you’re dispelling a myth (however right your logic may be) with a myth . . .

            As always, despite my curtness, I do hold to issues like this loosely. Being wrong doesn’t worry me much.

  • Thanks, Kurt! As an gradually evolving postcharismatic, the gift of tongues is one aspect of my pentecostal upbringing i will cherish forever and never “outgrow.” Thank you for confirming that one can indeed reconcile a 21st-century passion for authentic religion with a 1st-century baptism of fire. Enlightenment need not mean the end of real, inexplicable mystery in our walk with Christ.

  • Mike Ward

    There does not seem to be much mention of speaking in tongues among the Church fathers.

    Irenaeus mentions this gift in Book V, Chapter VI, verse 29, “In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the
    Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds
    of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of
    men, and declare the mysteries of God….” http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/irenaeus-book5.html

    In this instance it sounds like the gift was the speaking of various eeartly languages, and the purpose was for speaking to men not to God, but it is not entirely clear.

    Also, Tertullian discusses it a little in Against Marcion, Book V, Chapter VIII, but it doesn’t really shed too much light on the matter. It’s longer than I want to quote here, but the text is at this link (look in the second half of chapter 8):

    And that appears to be about it.

    Other references would be appreciated.

    • Mike,

      Check out Ron Kydd’s book “Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church:

      An Exploration into the Gifts of the Spirit During the First Three Centuries of the Christian Church.”

      Here is a brief description – “The emergence and widespread acceptance of the validity of the
      charismatic experience has generated many questions. One of the foremost
      is, “What happened to the gifts of the Spirit after the New Testament
      period?” Dr. Ronald Kydd’s careful probe seeks to answer that question.

      a thorough and careful study of the writings of the early church
      fathers, Dr. Kydd provides an objective, informative analysis, and
      reaches thought-provoking conclusions. He concludes “that what emerges
      from a study of the sources is the picture of a Church which is strongly
      charismatic up until around AD 200.”

      Dr. Kydd was a professor of mine during my undergrad studies and this book proved helpful.

      All the best…

      • @c6755633cdddd1edea65bc58773cd6cb:disqus … thanks for the resource. I knew info was out there but didn’t know where! Super helpful!

      • Mike Ward


    • Justin Martyr:

      “For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to this present time.” (Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 82).
      “Now, it is possible to see amongst us women and men who possess gifts of the Spirit of God;” Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 88

       “Wherefore, also, those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ] and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ,” Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book II, Chapter 32, section 4.

      “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect, terming those persons “perfect” who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as he used Himself also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God,” –Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book V. Chapter 6. section 1.


        “Let Marcion then exhibit, as gifts of his god, some prophets, such as have not spoken by human sense, but with the Spirit of God, such as have both predicted things to come, and have made manifest the secrets of the heart; let him produce a psalm, a vision, a prayer–only let it be by the Spirit, in an ecstasy, that is, in a rapture, whenever an interpretation of tongues has occurred to him;… Now all these signs (of spiritual gifts) are forthcoming from my side without any difficulty…”–Tertullian Against Marcion, Book 5 Chapter 8.

      Asterius Urbanus:

        “For the Apostle [Paul] deems that the gift of prophecy should abide in all the church up to the time of the final advent.”–The Extant Writings of Asterius Urbanus Chapter X.


      “This is He who places prophets in the Church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does wonderful works, often discrimination of spirits, affords powers of government, suggests counsels, and orders and arranges whatever other gifts there are of charismata; and thus make the Lord’s Church everywhere, and in all, perfected and completed.”–Treatise Concerning the Trinity Chapter 29. 


      “For God hath set same in the Church, first apostles…secondly prophets…thirdly teachers…next mighty works, among which are the healing of diseases…and gifts of either speaking or interpreting divers kinds of tongues. Clearly these are [not were] the Church’s agents of ministry and work of whom the body of Christ consists; and God has ordained them.”–On the Trinity, Book 8 Chapter 33.


      “As also the teacher of the Gentiles [Paul] tells us, when he says: “God hath set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers; then miracles, the gift of healings, helps, governments, divers kinds of tongues.

       See, God set apostles, and set prophets and teachers, gave the gift of healings, which you find above to be given by the Holy Spirit; gave divers kinds of tongues….Not all, says he, have the gift of healings, nor do all, says he, speak with tongues…as the Father gives the gift of tongues, so, too, has the Son also granted it.”–Of the Holy Spirit 8, 149-151.

      • @zackallen:disqus … awesome!  Thanks for all the references too!

      • Mike Ward

        I didn’t mean to suggest their wasn’t many mentions of spiritual gifts. I was commenting specifically on speaking in tongues which seems to be rarely mentioned by the Church fathers.

        I’m not sure of the significance since speaking in tongues is clearly referenced in scriptures, but I suspect that the popularity of speaking in tongues faded fairly quickly after the first century.

  • Brilliant, Kurt. As a spirit-filled Anabaptist, this resonates with me. Thanks for writing this!

    • @facebook-587362462:disqus … thanks bro! Keep coming’ back… I love charismatic anabaptist types… thats a dangerous combination!

  • Unlike many of your readers, Kurt, I actually remember the Charismatic movement of the 70s…as it was the time I was a young pre-teen and teenager trying to tie together what I was seeing and hearing of the faith, with my own experience and observations.  It was a tough time to be my kind of me, in some respects.  I don’t know how many times I responded to invitations in various Charismatic meetings, asking for the “baptism of the Spirit.”  I truly believed it was a possibility, genuinely wanted it, deeply and often tearfully prayed for it.  But I also knew one other thing, which was that if the Creator of the Universe bestowed his Spirit on me, I wouldn’t have to convince myself of the fact, and I wouldn’t have to psyche myself into it.

    In particular, I remember a number of leaders at different times, trying to coax me to speak in tongues.  They said things like “Open your mouth, and let whatever sounds come, come.”  I knew that if I did that I’d just be babbling.  I believed then, and I stand by it to this day:  I was completely open to the real movement of the Spirit, but was absolutely unwilling to counterfeit it and let them claim it was genuine.  I didn’t know then, and don’t know now, what the genuine article would have looked like, but I know with every fiber of my being that God wasn’t waiting for me to fake it so he could imbue my fakery with his truth.

    Too many such experiences left me with a powerful suspicion of anyone who claims to be manifesting the movement of the Holy Spirit.  I may well have discounted some of the genuine article in my reluctance…I do not and probably cannot know.  But I know without the shadow of a doubt, that the inclination of some to be willing (even eager) to counterfeit the Spirit has compromised my ability to accept claims of the real thing.

    I still believe that if God wishes, he can do very Acts-2-like stuff in the church today.  I also am pretty well convinced I haven’t seen it yet on any of the four continents and countless churches I have visited or been part of.

    Why am I saying this here?  For two reasons.  First, for anyone else reading this thread, who feels like you’re on the outside looking in, know that you’re not alone.  That’s been my experience for over 40 years.  And for those who have experienced the personal movement of God’s spirit, to you I admonish both caution and sympathy to those of us who have been burned, spurned, or just marginalized by the Charismatic crowd.

    • Mike Ward

      I wanted to say something like this, but hadn’t formulated the right words. Thanks for beating me to it. I agree with all of it including, “I still believe that if God wishes, he can do very Acts-2-like stuff in the church today.” However, like you I cannot say that I’ve ever seen it.

    • @dwmtractor:disqus … This really bums me out.  You were the victim of Spiritual Abuse and I suspect that the scars have created an added suspicion that carries itself with you today.  Seriously… those types of situations make me sick.

      On the other hand, I want to say that I never have been part of any such movement.  I’ve been Mennonite or (briefly) Baptist my whole life.  Any encounter I’ve had with the Spirit (in “charismatic” sorts of ways) has been by “accident.”  I am charismatic (in my own way) but don’t associate with the mainstream pentecostal movement… just by default more than anything.

      My prayer for you Dan, and anyone like you who reads this thread, is that God would continue to shape you into the image of Christ in God’s own unique way for you.  I also pray that pleasant surprisees of the presense of the Holy Spirit would be stumbled upon in your journey… not necesarily any of these “power gifts” of the Spirit, but a renewed sense that the one we call Abba, loves you and wants to empower you in fresh ways as you partner with God to build for the kingdom!

      Thanks for sharing…

    • Hey Dan….  I too am old enough to remember the charismatic movement of the 70’s/80’s, but I didn’t grow up in a charismatic environment (raised Catholic) and wasn’t exposed until I came back to the faith while in college.  The things I’ve seen have me saying a big “Amen” to your last paragraph: it’s ok to be on the outside looking in on this issue, and those that have seen much should be careful how they treat those that haven’t.

      I’ve never seen anyone actually recommend faking tongues, but I’ve heard enough stories to know it happens.  My pet peeve when I was around when people were praying for the baptism of the Spirit (my wife and I were lay leaders working with youth group) was the presumption that if a person didn’t speak in tongues, that they hadn’t received the baptism of the Spirit.  This to me was a “tradition of men”, not a mandate of the Bible, and it didn’t jive with my personal experience. The thing that bugged me most was that kids that were seeking and didn’t end up speaking in tongues would come away feeling like they weren’t good enough, that there must be something wrong with them.  I would always encourage them that the Spirit gives gifts as HE sees fit, and that they shouldn’t assume that God wasn’t going to use them because they didn’t get this one gift.

      As far as Acts 2 stuff in the church, I also believe God could do it, but in general I don’t think many are seeking it.  As for my personal experience, I’ve seen enough “Acts 2” stuff in the way of prophecy/dreams/visions that applied specifically (extremely so) to my life that I can’t doubt that it was “of God”.  (Long stories that I’d be happy to share in an e-mail if it would be beneficial, but not that I want to post here.)

      Good post and discussion, Kurt…..  wish I’d seen it earlier, might’ve left additional comments…..

    • Gwyn

      I know it has been two years since this comment was posted, but I wanted to answer it in case anyone else happened upon it.

      I feel as though you were over thinking tounges. From my understanding, tounges is an opportunity to pray in a heavenly language. I believe that if you are focusing on God and thinking about the things you need to change in your life, or you are thinking about the person you are praying for, then the words that are coming out of your mouth are not random. They can be anything, the sounds are not what matters.

      Here is my point: Prayer can be hard sometimes, sometimes you might feel like you don’t have the right words or you can’t get your point across, or you get off track because you spend time trying to explain what you mean to God. Prayer in tounges is an oppotunity to focus on what you need from God, and God interprets them into what YOU need. I often feel like God can get frustrated that He has all these blessings he can bestow on us, but because we haven’t asked we don’t get them. Tounges allows God to bless us and move in ways we are not able to ask him to, because we don’t understand.

      So it doesn’t matter that it feels ‘fake’ to you, because you aren’t supposed to be thinking of the sounds, you are meant to focus on what you’re praying for. It is a blessing at the end of the day, I hope that one day you can experience it. The bible says you shouldn’t fear it 🙂

      • I have an open Disqus subscription Gwyn, so I got the notice of your comment. I think you’ve missed the point…which is that God’s work does not require us to attempt to counterfeit it first. You’re right that prayer is hard (which is a whole different discussion); you’re wrong if in any way you think I did then, or do now, “fear” praying in tongues. Not only did I not fear it, I *wanted* it; I just knew that there was a difference between receiving the gift of God and pretending to have it.

  • Only God knows the truth!!! Whatever we say really doesn’t matter!

    • Does that apply to this statement as well?

  • Anonymous



  • I’ve got an idea for a cultural myth you could cover.

    There’s this idea going around that many children raised by Christian parents are just rampantly running to atheism/agnosticism.  The idea being that no matter how well we raise our children there’s still a strong chance they’ll drop the faith.  I read an article in a pastoral magazine that talked about this and said that the exact opposite was true; that a majority of children raised in Christian homes will keep with the faith through college. 

    Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of the magazine or the statistics they shared, but that was the general idea put forth.

  • Another version of this is “If you don’t speak in tongues you aren’t really saved.” or “If you don’t speak in tongues, you can’t be (aren’t) filled with the Spirit – because, of course, they’re the same thing.”

    • I’ve been in heavily charismatic (but not charismaniac) churches for 8 years now and I’ve never heard anyone say anything like that. I guess I got lucky.

  • jonathan manafo

    Great job Kurt. Coming from a Pentecostal background I though you summed up the gift very well. The abuse or overuse of this topic is part of what has drawn me away from being a ‘card-carrying’ Pentecostal. That being said, I’m comfortable being a ‘biblical’ pentecostal (as Bruxy Cavey once referred to himself as) with this kind of description. 

  • David Reed

    Every tradition has restrictions, not just tongue-speaking Pentecostals. Your comments, in my mind, skew the whole history and development of the importance of tongues for Pentecostals. As a non-Pentecostal, it is certainly fair to disagree. But it doesn’t seem fair to cast the whole issue in terms of spiritual superiority. They genuinely believe that tongues is for today and to be earnestly sought by sincere believers (btw, I disagree with the exegesis and doctrine of tongues as taught by Pentecostals… was reared Pentecostal, now an Anglican who still occasionally prays in tongues!).
      It seems to some that Anabaptist fencing of the Lord’s Table is unnecessarily exclusionary of other Christians. But I doubt that devout Anabaptists would see it that way.

  • Brian

    i’m a southern baptist who has a “prayer language” (which is something i wasn’t seeking when “it” happened… only for God to take more of my life.)  Because of ‘recent’ SBC decisions if you are a person, like me, who has spoken in “glossolalia” or has a prayer language then you are automatically not employable as a missionary abroad or in the States.  I know this from experience.  I know there are a lot of people who have been hurt because they were made to feel ‘less than spiritual’ because they didn’t speak in tongues.  I am one who has felt the opposite.  I hope we can love each other… and humbly accept that while scripture is inspired our own interpretation of it might not share the same inspiration.