What is speaking in tongues?
Speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift given by the Holy Spirit that enables a believer in Christ to speak in an unknown language directly to God.
It is a language that no one can understand except God alone (1 Corinthians 14:2). Therefore the Bible says that when we speak in tongues we speak mysteries directly to God.
And the only way for anyone to understand what the speaker is saying would need a gift of interpretation received from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:13 & 27-28).
Speaking in tongues is not a known, natural language that is from this earth. If it was, you would not need a Spirit-filled believer to receive a gift of divine interpretation to understand what is being spoken. Instead, all you would need to do is find an unbeliever who knows multiple languages.
The Bible does not say, “Find someone who speaks that language to interpret.” Instead, we find it saying, “Pray that you may interpret” (v.13).
Because it is not a language from this earth. It is mystical language given by God to the individual believer who speaks by faith in Him.
[Related article: Is Speaking in Tongues a Real Language? Or is it Gibberish?].
What is the Biblical purpose of speaking in Tongues?
There are 7 biblical purposes for speaking in tongues that are found in scripture.
Speaking mysteries directly to God
“For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.” (1 Corinthians 14:2)
Edification for the speaker
“He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:4)
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. (Jude v.20-21)
Helps us to enter into rest
“In the law it is written: “With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 14:21).
Paul is quoting this scripture from Isaiah 28:11-12, and he’s using this verse to explain speaking in tongues. Let’s read Isaiah 28:11-12 to better understand this gift.
“For with stammering lips and another tongue. He will speak to this people, To whom He said, “This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest, ”And, “This is the refreshing”; Yet they would not hear.”
Did you catch that? Speaking in tongues is the rest and refreshing by which God causes us to rest. The Bible tells us there is a rest for God’s people in Hebrews chapters 3-4 and that we are to be diligent to enter that rest. Speaking in tongues is a tool God has provided to enter into that rest.
Equal to prophecy when interpreted
“I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.” (1 Corinthians 14:5).
Way to receive personal revelation
Just like tongues is equal to prophesy when it is interpreted because it can offer the same amount of revelation as a prophecy, and we can speak in tongues whenever we want, this means, by deductive reasoning, that we can receive “prophetic revelation” through interpreting our own tongues.
This is why the apostle Paul said,
“Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” (1 Corinthians 14:13-15)
Paul is saying here that when he prays or sings, he switches back and forth between tongues and the interpretation of his tongue. He is basically saying that because he does not understand his tongue he chooses to ask God for the interpretation while he prays and sings and then interprets what he spoke.
It is no coincidence that the apostle Paul who had the most revelation than any other early church believer said, “I thank my God I speak in tongues more than you all” (1 Corinthians 14:18) It would be foolish to assume that there is no correlation between his amount of speaking in tongues and his amount of revelation.
Tongues is praise and thanksgiving
“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.
“Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.” (1 Corinthians 14:14-17).
Can be the initial sign of receiving Holy Spirit
“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)
Is speaking in tongues for everyone?
Speaking in tongues is for every single follower of Jesus who has received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The gift of tongues is not just for the “special man of God.” God intended it to be for everyone who puts their faith in Him.
Below are several scriptures that clearly reveal that tongues is for all believers.
“And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-18)
Notice, all of these signs will follow all of those who believe, tongues is included.
“Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” (1 Corinthians 14:23)
Notice Paul gave a scenario while teaching (so this isn’t a fake scenario) of the whole church coming together and all speaking in tongues.
“I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all” (1 Corinthians 14:18)
This statement wouldn’t be a big deal if only some could speak in tongues. Paul would never say “all” here if only “some” could.
“And they (120 believers) were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4)
…The Holy Spirit fell upon all those (Cornelius’s entire household) who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. (Acts 10:44-46)
“And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all.” (Acts 19:6-7)
Notice, 120 out 120 spoke in tongues. All of Cornelius’s household out of his whole household spoke in tongues. And 12 out of 12 spoke in tongues.
Speaking in tongues is not for some but for all. This is beyond clear in scripture!
[Related article: Is Speaking in Tongues for Everyone? (Biblical Answer)].
How to start speaking in tongues
There are three steps to speaking in tongues that everyone must do in order to practice the gift of tongues.
Be a follower of Jesus
The spiritual gift of speaking in tongues is gift reserved for those who are followers of Jesus. You cannot receive a gift of the Holy Spirit if you have not accepted the Lord Jesus first.
This is obvious, but it must be stated.
Receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit
The second step is to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Speaking in tongues is one of nine gifts of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, and all of them are called manifestations of the Spirit (v.7). Therefore, tongues is nothing more than a manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence, along with healing, miracles, prophecy, etc.
When He is present miraculous things take place.
So how do we get the Holy Spirit to be present with us so that His manifestations take place in our lives?
Well, you need to receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Jesus referred to it in Acts 1 as this,
“John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now…But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:5 & 8)
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit coming upon us so that we can have supernatural power to be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus.
This power is described as nine manifestations of the Spirit of God found in 1 Corinthians 12. When we receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit, we receive all of Him including His manifestations.
This means we receive speaking in tongues as well. It may have not manifested itself yet but it is there nonetheless, waiting to be practiced.
So how do we receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit?
Simple right? Jesus said this in regard to receiving Holy Spirit;
“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13)
Also, if you know someone who has received the Holy Spirit you can ask them to lay hands on you and pray with you. This is the most common way to receive the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts – through the laying on of hands. We see this practice in Acts 8, 9, 19, and 2 Timothy 1:6-7.
How do you know when you received the Holy Spirit?
You will know because the Holy Spirit will come upon you or you’ll experience Him filling you.
Every time the book of Acts describes the baptism in the Holy Spirit taking place, it always refers to it as an experience of the Holy Spirit resting upon someone or filling someone, or both. In fact, this terminology is used interchangeably in Acts 1:8 & Acts 2:4.
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you“ (Acts 1:8).
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4)
“…who (Peter & John), when they had come down, prayed for them (the Samaritans) that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:15-17)
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.” (Acts 10:44)
“And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:6)
So ask the Father in Jesus’ name until you have an experience with Holy Spirit that you can describe as “the Holy Spirit came upon me” or “the Holy Spirit filled me” just like the writer of the Book of Acts did.
Begin to speak in tongues by faith
Now that you have received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, you have all of the Gifts of the Spirit within you, including speaking in tongues.
Now everything we do in the Christian life has to be of faith. For “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). So that means that when we exercise these gifts we have to step out in faith, trusting that God will guide us or answer us with His power.
The same is true with tongues as it is with all of the gifts.
So how can we trust God and step out in faith in regard to tongues?
By speaking! And trusting that Holy Spirit will guide our syllables as we speak.
So right now by faith begin to speak in tongues. Just say, “Holy Spirit I have received Your supernatural ability to speak in tongues because I have received You and right now I am going to speak in tongues knowing that You will guide my syllables” and then just begin to speak out something that you have never heard before.
If you just open your mouth and don’t speak any syllables, no utterance will be given because “faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26). You must step out and act in faith and I promise you Holy Spirit will guide your words.
[Related article: How to Start Speaking in Tongues (Step-by-Step)].
Where in the Bible does it say Speaking in tongues is wrong?
Nowhere. The Bible never tells us that speaking in tongues is wrong, or is a sin. The Bible consistently encourages believers to continue to speak in tongues and “not to forbid to speak in tongues.” However, there are limitations to the gift of tongues within a gathering of believers.
Because tongues is a gift no one can understand without divine interpretation of what is being spoken (1 Corinthians 14:2 & 27-28), the apostle Paul put some limitations on it within a gathering of believers. He did this not because tongues were wrong but because he saw that without certain guidance in place, the meeting would not bring edification to those attending.
So, instead of allowing anyone to speak in tongues whenever they wanted to without any interpretation, Paul said,
“Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.” (1 Corinthians 14:26-28)
These three verses are the only limitations on tongues throughout the entire New Testament!
Here are the limitations clearly stated numerically:
1.) Two or three at the most doing the speaking in tongues.
2.) Each are supposed to take turns.
3.) There should be one interpreter. This is either a separate individual or the same person doing the speaking (1 Corinthians 14:13).
4.) If there is no interpreter the individual should speak in tongues under their breath to God.
This is the only limitation on tongues in the entire New Testament. Tongues are consistently encouraged by the scriptures all throughout the New Testament. We should not “forbid to speak in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39) instead we should speak in tongues “at all times” (Ephesians 6:18). But we need to do it in a way that is considerate of those around us and edifying.
I hope you enjoyed this artice and that it assisted you in your walk with God.
If you want to read more on the subject of speaking in tongues, below are some more articles that I wrote.
God bless you all and enjoy!