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What About Tongues?

A listener asked some great questions about tongues and we wanted to address them.  Unfortunately we can’t seem to find them anywhere, so if he can perhaps find the conversation we had and send it to us we would appreciate it.

Regardless we plan to deal with the challenge that tongues and the Bible and in doing so hopefully we will answer them.

A few requests for the listener:

First, try to control your reactions and try to just listen.  This can be very emotional for people and then they stop listening.

Second, when we actually start dealing with the biblical text it would be good to listen to these podcasts with your bible open.  We can’t emphasize this enough.

Third, understand that experience does not equal divine revelation.  And if you disagree at this point then you might as well just not listen as you have a whole different point of authority.

Fourth, understand that all theology must be derived from the bible or it ultimately means nothing.  This is at the core of good theology but it is often missed.

Fifth, understand also that the issue of tongues is a multifaceted subject in the minds of many.  It deals with worship, prayer, the Holy Spirit, salvation, the gospel, judgment, prophecy, and others. This is why it becomes hard to discuss.

Sixth, there is a vagueness in how this is discussed within church history.  Common to refer to a charismatic as a pentecostal and the other way around but this is historically incorrect.  For a simple but helpful historical sketch go to and search for the history of the charismatic and pentecostal movements.  We DO NOT endorse a lot of what Dr. Storms teaches.

Some basic lexical points:

The term glossa is used in the bible in just a few simple ways.  

This is important because only because of how much ink and words are used to talk about this idea of speaking in tongues.

Listen to how this word is used and compare it to the way you hear it used in your own surroundings in the church.

---- It is used 161 times in both the Septuagint and the NT.

1.) In the OT it can be used to speak of a bar of some type of precious metal like gold.  They would use the term “tongue” for what we call a bar.

2.) It speaks of the actual tongue.

“And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly”. (Mk. 7:35)


Technically this is a figure of speech called a synecdoche.  We spoke about this when talking about women teachers in 1 Tim. 2. The knees and tongues are literal but used to refer to the person as a whole.

The next two examples are the predominant way this term is used in the NT and so it is important to hear.

1.) It is used in a figurative manner, many times.

“And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.” (Acts 2:3) [the only time in the NT and only once in the LXX]

"THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING," "THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS"; (Rom. 3:13)  Here it is used figuratively to refer to the speech of a person. This is rather common in the OT as well such as Psalm 50:19 which says, “You let your mouth loose in evil and your tongue frames deceit.”

2.) The normal usage is to refer to languages.

“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” (Acts 2:4)

Now, with the way this is translated you are left wondering a bit what is meant.  But in verse 6 it is actually interpreted for us... “And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language.” (Acts 2:6)  We get the word “dialect” from that term.

So this is not some strange, hidden language but merely a foreign language not known to the speaker.  Which is pretty cool in its own right.

“And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9)

This is  one of the ways the Bible breaks down people groups.

You belong to a tribe, a nation, a people or a you are defined through a common language.

Again in Rev 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15.

So in summary, we have a term that’s not hard to understand as to its meaning.  Depending on the context, the normal meaning is referencing a person’s speech or his language.

Tongues in the books of Acts:

To listen to some people talk or teach you might think that Acts is filled with instruction and explanation regarding the gift of tongues.  

The reality is far different. Only six occurrences of the actual term, tongues, are present (and four of them are in chapter 2). 

And only four of the six times is speaking of the idea of speaking in tongues.

Listen as we read the four passages and how simple they become when we translate the term glōssa like it should be, “language.”

"All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them."  (Acts 2:4 NET)

"both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs– we hear them speaking in our own languages about the great deeds God has done!" (Acts 2:10 NET)

"for they heard them speaking in [languages] and praising God." (Acts 10:46 NET)

"and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in [languages] and to prophesy." (Acts 19:6 NET)

Now often, but not always, what is understood by many of these passages is that the people began to speak in some angelic or ecstatic language that is unknown by man.  But nothing in the context would indicate that.

The setting of Acts 2 is the day of Pentecost. It is an annual feast time and people would come from all over to celebrate it.  The result is that you had Jews from within Israel and Jews from the many nations around Israel, as a result of the judgment of God in the OT---these would speak the language of their country, along with Greek.

The Spirit, then, comes upon the people who were waiting per Jesus’ direction. Two key events happen, one overtly stated, and one not, but indicated by the events.

They were filled with the Spirit.

The term here is pimplemi, which means a special empowerment.  Listen to our episode on the baptism and filling of the Spirit to learn more on this.

The result of this is that they spoke in these other languages.

It was not constant, but they apparently would spontaneously speak as the Spirit desired.

They were also baptized with the Spirit.

This was promised by Jesus in Acts 1:5.

This is not the same thing as being filled and yet it commonly is confused as being the same.

This is not overtly stated here in chapter 2, rather it is assumed because of the promise of Jesus.

So why the two terms and events?

First, it is setting up a string of events that will occur early in Acts with the birth of the Church.  This is a unique book that is showing the shift from one people and one covenant, Moses’, to a different people and covenant, New.

Second, how do you know if people are baptized with the Spirit? 

According to 1 Cor. 13 Jesus baptizes every believer into the Church with the Spirit.  

But this is not accompanied by anything external.  It is a positional change.

But here, at the beginning, the Spirit ALSO fills them and causes them to act and do things that are extraordinary (i.e., to speak in languages foreign to them).

So these two events are taking place simultaneously, one obvious, but not really important in the long run (tongues), and one not obvious, but most important (Spirit-filling).

In 2:6 they apparently now have spilled out into the Temple courtyard, and there, they are talking to the people in their various dialects and languages. This amazes the people because they recognize that these are Galileans, and therefore they would not speak other languages, they were a simple people.

But in verse 8 the languages heard are the listener’s native languages.

This is overtly stated in vss 9-11.

"Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them in our own tongues . . ."

But what is key is the last part of verse 11, but it is often missed because the focus is on tongues rather than the content of what is said.

“. . . speaking of the mighty deeds of God." (Acts 2:11b)

This is what is important.  The message was of God and His great deeds.

This led to the great sermon of Peter and the salvation of around 3,000 people.

What is noteworthy, is there is not another word about speaking in tongues/languages with these many who were saved.

---- The next occurrence is then all the way in chapter 10.

Here we find Gentiles who come to faith with the preaching of Peter.

This upsets the thinking of the Jews who still thought like Jews.  What do we do with these?

“All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days."

(Acts 10:45-48)

This again gets into the idea of baptism of the Holy Spirit.  That has happened to these people, but how can anyone know that?  And how do the Jewish companions get over their racism?

But they see the exact same thing happen to these Gentiles, speaking in languages unknown to them (I suspect they were speaking Hebrew or Aramaic) and now it can’t be denied.

---- The final place we find it is in Acts 19:6.

Paul is now the focus and he is traveling throughout Asia Minor evangelizing and planting churches.

He finds some people claiming to be Christians and he asks if they had received the Spirit to which they said they didn’t even know about the Spirit.

Gives us a sense of how rapidly the gospel was going out and also how simple it was.

These people were following Jesus and were trusting in Him, but they did not have a good grasp of theology as a whole.

They had been baptized with water in the way John the Baptist did it, one of repentance which was to have them believe in Jesus who was coming after John.

So now Paul baptized them again, in the name of Jesus.  Again this shows the uniqueness of Acts. You find people who are halfway followers who needed more instruction.

Then they are filled with Spirit apparently and they speak in other languages and prophesying.  Why? Likely to confirm again to Paul that they were now truly in the Church and following not John the Baptist but Jesus Christ.

And this is the totality of tongues in Acts.  Let that sink in and it will likely make you stop and think a bit.  Consider how much is talked and declared about tongues in Acts compared to what it really says.

It is a minor thing.

It shows up three times.

And it is never, ever emphasized or sought after by the Apostles or the other believers.  Ever. It just happened in three unique situations.


This is merely an introduction to the whole topic.  The next podcast we plan to actually look at the key section of the bible, 1 Corinthians, to think through the issue of tongues-speaking.

But we also want to be clear that it will not make any difference, at least in the short term, for most people.  You believe in it or you don’t.

For me (MH) it is a bit of a nuanced issue because I believe that the gift of tongues still can exist today.  But I do not believe that the vast, vast majority of what is called tongues is actually that gift. But because it is repeated over and over and over it must be true.  This makes discussing it very frustrating.

What may be a helpful exercise for people is over the next week simply look, listen and ask people about why they believe in “tongues.”  

Take note of how much of it is actually flowing from a biblical context versus an experience.  Really listen.  

Jot down the passages used and then look at those passages and ask yourself, what exactly is being said in the text.

You may be surprised to find that only a few passages are ever really used and that there is a very typical and common circular reasoning that goes on.


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