There is much confusion among the Church today on the subject of the gifts of the Spirit, especially when it comes to the gift of speaking in tongues. The only reason this is – that I can think of – is it is the most unusual gift. It is a gift that makes people feel uncomfortable because it sounds like gibberish. It isn’t a gift that appears miraculous because unlike prophecy or gifts of healings anyone can speak gibberish if they wanted to.
This kind of hesitation towards the gift of speaking in tongues has caused a huge part of the Church to forbid tongues in their circles. But the Bible tells us specifically “not to forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39).
I have multiple other articles that cover the benefits, misconceptions, and purposes of speaking in tongues. Such as 5 Benefits of Speaking in Tongues and Speaking in Tongues: 5 Things to Know From the Bible.
But in this article we are going to be answering this question: Is speaking in tongues a real language? Or is it gibberish?
In short, speaking in tongues is a real language. It is not a known, natural language, but it is a supernatural language that is meant for direct communication with God. It is a language that cannot be understood without divine interpretation. The only thing that makes tongues real is faith. Believing that when I speak in tongues I’m speaking directly to God is what brings value to the practice of tongues.
Is speaking in tongues a real language?
Like I said before, speaking in tongues is a real language in the sense that it is divine, meaning it is inspired by God, but it is not a real language in regards to an earthly, natural language. If it were there would be no reason for speaking in tongues to need divine interpretation. (1 Corinthians 14:2,4-5)
The Bible teaches that speaking in tongues is not a natural language and that it cannot be understood without a divine interpretation.
“For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for NO ONE understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit…The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.” (1 Corinthians 14:5)
However, there are those who teach that speaking in tongues is a known, natural language. They get this concept from Acts 2:4-12.
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”
On the surface, this scripture appears that the 120 disciples that were speaking in tongues were speaking in the known language of the multitude. That interpretation is often how it is read and understood, but let’s take a closer look.
These 120 disciples who were in the upper room on the day of pentecost, were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in tongues. When they were filled, a whole multitude of people “from every nation under heaven” came to investigate. And what they heard confused them.
Because “everyone (the multitude) heard them (the 120) speak in HIS OWN language.”
How this is usually read is that the 120 disciples supernaturally learned a foreign language that they have never known before. But this can’t be the case. If that were true, why would the multitude, roughly 3000 people, be confused and amazed at this event?
It isn’t something to marvel at that someone can speak another language. However, it is something to marvel at if 120 people are speaking and 3000 people are each hearing them differently!
God was giving the people of Israel a divine interpretation to understand what the disciples were saying, which led to 3000 people gathering around the disciples ready to hear the Gospel.
What are the main purposes of speaking in tongues?
The gift of speaking in tongues has three main purposes:
- To speak mysteries directly to God.
- Build yourself up.
- Speak in tongues to the church with a divine interpretation.
There are many other purposes to the gift of tongues found in the Bible, but these are the main ones.
The primary purpose of speaking in tongues is meant for the individual believer. It is a divine language that we speak in faith to God. We don’t understand this language for the Bible says, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for NO ONE understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.”
When we speak in tongues we are uttering mysteries in the Spirit directly to God. It is our spirit communicating with God, for the apostle Paul says “Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful” (1 Corinthians 14:13-14).
How can I know my speaking in tongues is real?
You can know that your speaking in tongues is real by simply believing the word of God.
The only thing that separates the real speaking in tongues from gibberish is faith! If you have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit you have the gift of speaking in tongues. All you need to do now is believe the word of God and act on it. (Related article: Baptism in the Holy Spirit).
“For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:2).
Unbelief reads that scripture and says “so I’m speaking gibberish.” While faith says, “no, I’m speaking mysteries to God.”
[Related article: How to Know you are Truly Praying in the Spirit/Tongues].
The Bible lets us know that when we speak in tongues we will not understand what we are saying, but it promises us that when we speak in tongues we are speaking directly to God.
Faith in God’s word is the only thing that separates us from heaven and hell. It is that same faith that separates the true gift of tongues and gibberish. Let’s not be unbelieving, but believing.