Having been a Pentecostal and Charismatic Christian for most of my life, I know firsthand the difficulty in addressing this issue without inflaming controversy and anger, yet I will try to do my best. When I began, unwillingly and unknowingly, to make my transformation from an emotional Pentecostal preacher to a calmer seeker of truth, many around me were either angered or hurt. This was seen as a betrayal on my part, though I certainly did not intend to do so. Some wanted to know why; what caused me to leave the Pentecostal fold that offered me an identity, a place of belonging, and a respectable leadership position? Why did I commit social suicide? Why did I become a pariah with a name that perhaps still leaves a bitter distaste in the mouths of many who once held em in good esteem? The simplest answer is that my greatest desire became to know truth, whatever it was, rather than to simply inherit it unquestioned. I began to study the Bible with renewed vigor and my biblical study showed me something different than that which I learned through many years in the Pentecostal faith. You can read my thoughts on the Bible and Tongues here. I posted that nearly two years ago, and have not written on this issue again. Now, I’d like to cautiously discuss it, with the hope of instigating thinking, rather than proving everyone wrong or fighting.
First of, here are some definitions: the act of “speaking in tongues” is differentiated into two separate entities by scholars. The first is called glossolalia, which refers to speech in “an unknown tongue,” while the second is known as xenoglossy (or xenoglossia), speaking in real human languages that are previously unknown to the speaker. So if I find myself in a church, and see others around me “speaking in tongues” by repeating sounds like “ra-ba-sha-ba” this is glossolalia, whereas if there is a native English speaker who has never been to France, and he is praying “louange à Dieu” this is xenoglossy.
It is obvious that this phenomenon called glossolalia does exist (this I know firsthand, having experienced it, and being able to manifest it at will). It is also obvious that it’s neither evil nor psychotic, as there are many Christians who are mentally stable and morally upright, yet speak or pray in tongues. It is also noteworthy that glossolalia is a very profound and powerful experience, one that many practitioners report as beneficial and meaningful. These issues are not up for debate, however, there are multiple biblical, theological, historic, linguistic, experimental, and rational reasons why I (along with most academics) am not convinced it’s a supernatural language that is miraculously given by God. Thorough research and investigation of this phenomenon leads to a theory that glossolalia is a natural phenomenon of “free vocalization.” It is true that those who practice glossolalia experience a meaningful and emotional experience, however, this is not evidence of a supernatural language, because other forms of non-language vocalizations, such as crying or laughing, also produce powerful emotional and meaningful experiences, yet are still very natural..
Pentecostals and Charismatics, however, fervently argue that it is a supernatural impartation of a language from God, often as evidence that the speaker has been “baptized with the Spirit.” While I am open to this view, if evidenced by Scripture and reason, there are many hard questions that such a belief cannot effectively answer. This paper will attempt to parse some of these reasons. Though I certainly don’t expect or intend to “disprove speaking in tongues,” (for how can arguments of Scripture, science, or reason ever compare against the power of a meaningful experience?) but these questions certainly deserve to be dealt with in a cohesive way, which may require a reevaluation of current Pentecostal doctrine. Simple responses like “just because there are fake versions does not prove there is no real one” or “it’s a spiritual thing, you can’t study it with logic” are not consistent with an intellectually rigorous theology, something many Pentecostals claim to have. And so here are the challenging questions that I have not found compelling answers for (that may serve as clues to my humble skepticism towards this issue.)
The Ten Questions
1. Why do different charismatic groups have different vowels and accents of glossolalia?
Glossolalia does not sound like any of the well known languages many of us are familiar with. It doesn’t sound like French, Greek, German, or Japanese. In attempting to explain this some Pentecostals argue that glossolalia is likely a combination of real languages we are not personally aware of. However the worlds leading linguists have examined these claims and concluded that glossolalia is:
- “a 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.” (1)
In response to studies like these it is commonly argued by most Pentecostals that the reason most modern tongues do not seem to be like any known human language is because they are angelic languages, in reference to Paul brief mention of the phrase in 1 Cor 13:1. The Assembly of God official position paper states that “Spirit-inspired languages may not always be human, but may be spiritual, heavenly, or angelic.” (2) My question is then, why does every single nationality have a unique form of glossolalia? Growing up Ukrainian, my “angelic language” has always been strongly composed of many harsh Slavic phonemes. Yet when I began to interact with English speaking Pentecostals, some of their “angelic languages” didn’t have these sounds because they aren’t frequently used in the English language. A simple Youtube search can show many examples (a, b, c, d, e, f , g, h) of glossolalia coming from speakers of different ethnicities or groups, and each of these linguistic groups carries with it a somewhat unique version of glossolalia. Dr. Goodman, who conducted some of the most comprehensive studies of glossolalia ever undertaken, listened to innumerable samples, and eventually concluded that
- “the [speakers] utterance mirrors that of the person who guided the glossolalist into the behavior. There is little variation of sound patterns within the group arising around a particular guide.” (3)
Another academic book that summarizes much research on the topic also verifies this:
- “The importance of the leader was well illustrated by the fact that the style of glossolalia adapted by the group bore a close resemblance to the way in which the leader spoke. . . . It is not uncommon for linguists to be able to tell which prominent [traveling] glossolalist has introduced a congregation to tongue-speaking” (19)
According to this research, not only are the different variations of glossolalic speech dependent somewhat on the original language of the speaker, but they also differ based on the guide who “taught” glossolalia to his followers. This explains why each particular movement has their own brand or variety of glossolalia. This explains why there is such strong glossolalic uniformity withing the Slavic Pentecostal movement I grew up in (it all comes from the same “guide”), and why their form of glossolalia is distinct from the glossolalia of the Third Wave charismatic movement I later joined (because this comes from different “guides”). How do these local variations fit into the understanding that glossolalia is an angelic language? The Greek word glossa(is), interpreted in our English Bibles as tongue(s) is defined by Strongs Lexicon as “language/dialect as used by a particular people distinct from that of other nations.”
If there is a real “language of angels,” why does every group have their own version? Do angels speak many different dialects? Why are these angelic languages so profoundly linked to the human speakers primary language or distinct historic stream? Why can linguists trace the glossolalic “accents” of the speakers to human guides if the only guide is the Holy Spirit? If all glossolalists spoke in a unique language, that was unknown and unrelated to any earthly language, and that language was inexplicably uniform in accent, intonation, etc, in every part of the world, that might have been indicative of some sort of angelic language. However, does not the fact that in each case glossolalia is composed of mixed sounds taken from the speakers native language better suit a natural explanation?
2. Why did glossolalia exist before the birth of Christianity?
The story of glossolalia I learned as a Pentecostal begins at Pentecost, where the Apostles reportedly first began speaking in glossolalia. In fact, it should be obvious that the Pentecostal movement is named after the day of Pentecost (which was originally the Jewish holiday Shavuoth). The only issue is that this particular day does not even have one example of glossolalia, and if we don’t impose our ideas into the Bible, we can observe that there is no specific mention of glossolalia anywhere in the Acts of the Apostles. Rather, all of the tongues/languages that were spoken were plainly understood (Acts 2:4-11), meaning this was xenoglossy in the form of public preaching, not glossolalia as prayer. Yet, the act of glossolalia, speaking in unknown (or ecstatic) speech has many pre-Christian roots. In a lengthy journal article for the American Scientific Affiliation (an association of Christian scientists), Dr. Pattison summarizes the publications of numerous historians on this topic by saying
- “Glossolalia had been practiced for many years along with other ecstatic phenomena by the prophets of the ancient religions of the Near East. Prophets and mystics of Assyria, Egypt, and Greece reportedly spoke in foreign tongues during states of ecstasy and uttered unintelligible phrases said to be revelations from the gods…The practice was known in ancient India and China, and ethnographies describe glossolalia in almost every area of the world.(4)”
Patterson cites many references to back up these historic facts, then highlights an interesting fact from the work of anthropologist Erika Bourguignon, by saying that
- “Interestingly, in both Christian ‘and non-Western religions there is often an “interpreter” who volunteers from the audience to either translate the message into human language or verify that the strange tongue is actually some foreign language known to the interpreter.” (4)
In all, Pattison lists more than ten academic sources for these historical conclusions. Another great overview that has many more historic references of per-Christian glossolalia and is readily available online is A Survey of Glossolalia and Related Phenomena in Non-Christian Religions (5).
Now here is the hard question, why are there many examples of glossolalia before the Christian church? If glossolalia is strictly an angelic language, given by God at the birth of the church, why are there so many clearly documented cases of glossolalia in other religions, before Christianity? Does it not seem odd that God would give Christians a spiritual language that existed beforehand in pagan worship? However, if glossolalia is a natural phenomenon we would expect to see it throughout the ancient world, and indeed we do. Of course most charismatics, upon realizing they cannot dispute the historic data, simply say that these earlier forms of glossolalia were demonic counterfeits. Yet, if this is the case, they must answer two even harder questions, how can a counterfeit exist for thousands of years before the real thing appears, and why would God give Christianity a gift that was already incorporated in pagan practices?
3. Why did Jesus forbid prayer with babbling/long repetitions if he was going to give it as a special gift?
When I was much younger it always bothered me that the teachings of Jesus about prayer did not appear to be consistent with the teachings of the Pentecostal church. We tried to pray as as publicly as we could, loudly in church or any restaurant we entered, yet Jesus tells his followers not to pray “in the synagogues” where they can “be seen by men” (Mat 6:5) but privately and “in secret” (Mat 6:6). Early on I realized we were not simply taking Jesus literally but allegorizing his teachings on prayer, or making exceptions. What eventually began to bother me even more was the following verse and idea. Jesus is quoted saying:
- “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition (battalogeó/battalogēsēte) as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” (Mat 6:7)
The Greek word that was translated into “meaningless repetition” is translated by Strong’s Concordance and HELPS Word Study as “to blubber nonsensical repetitions; to chatter, using empty (vain) words.” and “to repeat the same things over and over, to use many idle words, to babble, prate.” There are two logical understandings of this statement by Jesus, either battalogeo refers to the length of prayer in a known language, or else babbling and repeating glossolalic sounds. If its literally referring to “nonsensical repetitions” this would mean Jesus specifically argued against the glossolalia of the pagans. That appears to be one of the only two possible interpretations, and is the case Dr. MacArthur posits in his book Charismatic Chaos. In my experience, Pentecostals usually argue that battalogeo actually refers to repetitions of knows words (such a praying by repeating the word “please” many times in a row). Firstly, we must note that Bible scholars have a general agreement for the translation of battalogeo as ecstatic speech, rather than known human language.
- “There is general agreement that the idea of babbling or stammering is meant in Matthew 6:7. We may conclude that Jesus spoke against prayer which consisted of unintelligible speech or babbling, similar to the pagan prayers.” (6)
If this is the case, then Jesus clearly taught against glossolalia. How could it be that Jesus taught against glossolalia, then later gave it as a gift? It makes no sense! Yet, for the sake of arguments, lets give this point of interpretation to the Pentecostals, and say battalogeo doesn’t specifically refer to glossolalia by name. Then we still have a great deal of unresolved tension. The whole point of Mat 6:7 is that prayers should not be long and repetitive, but very clear and intentional (Mat 6:8-13). Are not glossolalic prayers exactly the opposite? They last for prolonged periods of time and they include hundreds of repetitions of the same phrases. They are exactly the opposite of the Lord’s prayer that is explicitly taught in the Bible! Christ teaches a short prayer without any repetitions, Glossolalia is a long-winded prayer with hundreds of repetitions; Christ teaches known and intentional words (Mat 6:9-13), while Glossolalia includes absolutely no known words in the speaker. Why would Jesus teach a standard of prayer that is exactly the opposite of glossolalia and never mention glossolalia? (I will address the Mark 16:17 reference to “new tongues” later.)
4. Why do non Christian religions include glossolalia as part of their worship?
To make matters even worse or more confusing, not only are forms of glossolalia present before the advent of Christianity, but are even now practiced in the more ecstatic fringe elements of other religions. In a large scale survey of American Christianity, the Pew Forum found that not only did 24% of Orthodox and 18% of Catholic responders claim to have spoken in tongues, but also groups like Mormons and Jehovah’s witnesses have 11% and 8% of their adherents engaged in the practice of glossolalia. (7) In fact, even the founder of Mormonism spoke in tongues and encouraged others in his new religion, see the following recollection by an eyewitness:
- “Father Smith would call upon some illiterate brother to rise and speak in tongues in the name of Jesus Christ. The order was given… Arise upon your feet, speak or make some sound, continue to make sounds of some kind, and the Lord will make a tongue or language of it”. (8)
Another study of the Religious landscape in America asked the tongues question to groups not limited to Christians and found that while 11% of Protestants spoke in tongues, 2.1% of nonreligious people, as well as 1.1% of those who did not belong to a Christian religion spoke in tongues. (9) Another study published by the prestigious Journal of American Scientific Affiliation included a very thorough anthropological survey of numerous ethnic traditions and made the following conclusions:
- “Glossolalia is practiced among non-Christian religions: the Peyote cult among the North American Indians, the Haida Indians of the Pacific Northwest, Shamans in the Sudan, the Shango cult of the West Coast of Africa, the Shago cult in Trinidad, the Voodoo cult in Haiti, the Aborigines of South America and Australia, the Eskimos of the subarctic regions of North America and Asia, the Shamans in Greenland, the Dyaks of Borneo, the Zor cult of Ethiopia, the Siberian shamans, the Chaco Indians of South America, the Curanderos of the Andes, the Kinka in the African Sudan, the Thonga shamans of Africa, and the Tibetan monks” (10)
To this most Pentecostals will again reply that these are merely counterfeits of the real thing, and while that is a logical possibility, it does not come without strong criticisms. First, recall that it has been reliably documented that these counterfeits existed many years before the real thing (4) and second, there is the issue of localized linguistic uniformity (that the local version of Christian and pagan tongues are similar or identical). Felicitas D. Goodman, a world renowned psychological anthropologist and linguist, studied Pentecostal communities and compared these to non-Christian rituals. Goodman concludes when the different regional accents (“rhythm, accent, and especially overall intonation”) were accounted for, there was otherwise little difference between Christian and non Christian glossolalia.(3) How can we tell between a demonic/natural counterfeit and the real supernatural deal if they are identical in a local community? Furthermore, what is the purpose of God giving his people a sign-gift that is perfectly counterfeited by other sects? Will not unbelievers become confused if they see the exact same give practiced in Hindu Kundalini (11) and Christianity? Can we really use it as “evidence” of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit if many other religions, including some sects of Muslims (12) also produce this evidence?
5. If interpretation is the main purpose, why do we almost never see interpreted glossolalia?
In the Bible we do not have clear teaching about glossolalia. There are few narrative descriptions of xenoglossy in Acts, and the 14th chapter of 1st Corinthians that is devoted to “speaking in tongues” which could be either xenoglossy or glossolalia (biblical scholars disagree). There are a few other very brief mentions, one that was added later by scribes and isn’t in the original biblical text, and others that merely list the gift of tongues but offer no qualifying information. In the most comprehensive, but yet challenging and sometimes unclear passage on tongues, the Apostle Paul says the following
- “If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret: but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church.” (1 Cor 27:28)
In all of my time within Pentecostalism I have seen a few instances where something similar to the above happened. As was observed by Pattison in both Christian and non-Christian communities (4) one speaker produces ecstatic glossolalic speech, and another interprets in a known language. According to the Apostle Paul, this is the only allowable use of tongues (at least “in the church”), however, the overwhelming majority of glossolalia occurs without interpretation. Instead it is nearly always “free-for-all prayer” with each person shouting out their own glossolalic vocalizations at once. I have personally felt the compelling emotional vividness of glossolalia and I understand the meaningful emotional release that occurs, however, this experiential spiritual ecstasy is no excuse for what seems to be disobedience to the literal words of the Bible. Paul repeats this numerous times, elsewhere saying:
- “For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.” (1 Cor 14:8-11)
- “Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?” (1 Cor 14:23)
Why then is the Pentecostal experience primarily about spending the vast majority of ones time “speaking into the air” and appearing as though they are “mad”? The frenzied revivals in Pentecostal history are characterized by two things, people who are genuinely hungry to existentially connect to God, yet also constantly ignoring the clear teaching of Paul above. Why do most Pentecostals refuse to admit these teachings, neglect reading these passages literally, and continue to seek out ways to reinterpret this in light of personal experience? Why would God (through the hand of Paul) condemn all glossolalia spoken in church that is not followed by an interpretation? Why did he not even make even one exception in all of the Scriptures for uninterpreted community glossolalia? Especially if these types of loud community tongue-speaking revivals were his great desire? Why would God not even once clearly prescribe these loud revivals in the Bible? Why would the only chapter possibly mentioning glossolalia, be filled with mostly prohibitions and rules condemning the normative Pentecostal/Charismatic experience?
6. If modern tongues are the same as those in Acts, why is there no verifiable xenoglossy?
As previously mentioned, Pentecostals and Charismatics will most eagerly identify the writings in Acts 2 as the historic and theological roots of the modern charismatic movement. I have often heard expositions of Acts 2 that were directly linked to the modern practice of glossolalia. Something like “If the apostles spoke in tongues then, why ought we not today?!” These types of sermons are usually followed by prolonged communal glossolalic prayers. However, few, if any, of these preachers have ever mentioned the radical difference between the tongues of Acts 2 and those of the contemporary charismatic movement. There is not even one case of glossolalic prayer in the whole book of Acts! The very incident that Pentecostals point to as the foundation of their movement, Acts Chapter 2, is unmistakably a case of xenoglossy in the form of public speech. The gathering of “devout men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5) around the first tongue speakers clearly stated “we hear them in our own tongues” (Acts 2:11). It is very obvious that the miraculous tongues that were spoken in Acts 2 (and the rest of Acts) were real human languages that native listeners understood. (13)
If that is the case, where are the millions of cases of documented and verifiable xenoglossy? Where are the explosions of speech that are clearly real foreign tongues in Pentecostal or charismatic churches? If modern “speaking in tongues” is exactly the same in Acts 2, why has there never been a case even closely resembling Acts 2? Where are the crowds of people that hear Pentecostals/charismatics pray and reply with “we hear them in our own tongues“? There is not even one clearly documented case of xenoglossy where the speaker was not exposed to the language reportedly spoken. There are certainly fables and hearsay, often coming from remote regions of the world captivated by superstition, via the worlds longest game of telephone, however, those cases that are empirically tested, are shown to be untrue. William Samarin, a linguist who published a classic and foundational book on glossolalia (14) mentions cases that were reported to be xenoglossy, but proven to be glossolalia in no known language when investigated by expert native speakers (1). He concludes that:
- “most reports [of xenoglossoly] are made by uncritical people.. [who] have never been witnesses of a case of xenoglossia but have been told about it… In short we are given hearsay evidence, and we will always have as much difficulty in finding a bona fide witness as one does who tries to find a person who saw a sea monster.” (1)
There is very scarce evidence to prove him otherwise, the main source from the charismatic side is a book written in 1973 by an Assembly of God pastor that collects anecdotal stories and retellings of events that were said to be xenoglossy, however, this source is exactly what Samarin complained about, as it presents only “hearsay evidence.” If examining history, we are often forced to rely on anecdotes (though historians do not believe everything verbatum), however, since we are dealing with a continuing phenomenon, should there not be present verifiable cases? If everybody who spoke tongues in the book of Acts was clearly heard by native speakers, why do we not have such cases today? Why must we resort to hearsay about events that can be characterized as urban legends? Why can’t the charismatic movement produce thousands of persons who will turn to foreign investigators and speak in foreign tongues plainly and unavoidably?
- Why is the only “evidence” given for xenoglossia in the form of unverifiable stories which resemble other urban legends? Why is this “evidence” the exact same type of stories that are used to prove UFO’s, ghosts, vampires, bigfoot, telepathy, witchcraft, reincarnation, and astrology? Even the Roswell story, that aliens from a crash landing were experimented on by the US government, is incomparably better attested by many more eyewitnesses than any case of xenoglossy. Why is there not even one example of a tongue speaker who can repeatedly utter phrases in foreign languages while being videotaped?
It is not due to a lack of interest on the part of researchers by no means. For example, Dr. Ian Stevenson set out to prove that xenoglossy was a real and verifiable phenomenon, and unlike other researchers, he was admittedly biased and hopeful of proving his hypothesis. (15) However, after many decades he found only a few cases, and even those were very problematic and met with much academic skepticism from academic linguists. (16) There is also the intriguing fact that none of his cases were Christians. Many researchers would love nothing more than real verifiable cases to test, however, the linguists are not convinced, (17, 20) because the reality, according to willing and eager researchers, is that:
- “The investigations that have been carried on have never verified the claim of speaking in an actual foreign language unknown to the glossolalist.” (18)
7. If glossolalia is a real language, why are different interpretations given for the same phrase?
As I have shown previously, researchers have observed the act of “interpretation” of glossolalia in many cultures and in “both Christian ‘and non-Western religions” (4). This is often given as proof or evidence of the validity of a supernatural manifestation. However, few charismatics realize that numerous studies have been done on this phenomenon of “interpretation” and they have revealed irreparable discrepancies. One persons glossolalic speech is recorded, and this audio recording is given to numerous Pentecostals who claim to have the power or gift of interpretation. Then each of these interpreters proceeds to give a different interpretation. (1, 4, 21, 22, 23)
- “One individual’s ecstatic speech was tape recorded and played back separately to many individuals who believed that they had the gift of interpreting tongues. Their interpretations were quite inconsistent. Those particular interpreters were unable to extract significant meaning out of the glossolalia.” The differences were as wide as one being “a prayer for the health of someone’s children,” while another interpreted the speech as “praising God for a recent and successful church, fund-raising effort.” (22)
How could speaking in tongues be a real literal glossa, or language, if the interpretations of that very same language are contradictory? If I wrote a letter to ten literate acquaintances, and each one read something completely different in the text, is it not evidence that my scribbles fail as a language? This same criticism is directly leveled at glossolalia. Samarin and later Pattison say:
- “Interpretations do in fact take place, but they are usually pious exhortations in the language of the group where the glossic utterances are made. They are often strikingly longer or shorter than the glossic utterance.” (1)
- “I have heard the same glossolalic phrases repeated by the same glossolalist in different services, but each time the identical glossolalic utterances are given a different translation.“ (4)
Why do the same words give different interpretations? Why can interpreters not interpret the same phrase in the same way? If glossolalia is a real language, then it must be consistent, the same sounds must produce the same translations, for this is the very basis of human language. Imagine if the English phrase “People are great!” was translated into French as “Bread” and later as “God wants you to know that He loves you very much” This would be a complete breakdown of the human system of language and communication. Yet it is noted time and time again this is exactly what happens in translations of glossolalia. How can we trust that glossolalia is a real language when interpretations of it fail miserably? What is the charismatic response to yet another comparison study?
- “the interpreters gave different meanings to identical words in the same set of words. When confronted with this inconsistency, the interpreters simply said, ‘God gave different interpretations.'” (14, 23)
These types of responses completely eradicate the need for a language in the first place! A language, by definition has a syntax and contains meaning that is encoded into the words. That is the point of language, to contain meaning in the words! Glossolalia and its interpretation show there is absolutely no meaning in the words at all. So why would God give people this gift of languages (recall that the Greek glossa means ‘language’) if these languages in no way fit into the definition of a language? Why would I write out “tu-re-mi-ne-ka-ra-ba” in a letter and send it to ten friends, if I was going to give each of them a very different telepathic interpretation of that phrase? Why not just give them the telepathic interpretation and skip the meaningless and confusing middle step? What is the purpose of glossolalia as a language if it cannot be accurately interpreted (in “both Christian ‘and non-Western religions”) and the translation is mystically subjective and cannot be verified in any way? What is the point of God randomly giving multiple contradictory interpretations for the same exact phrase, would this not only serve to confuse genuine seekers? If the interpretation is a spiritual thing, that is in no way based on the actual sounds of glossolalia, what is the purpose of the sounds at all?
8. Why can people be trained to speak in tongues, apart from supernatural intervention?
Numerous studies and publications have shown that glossolalia is a learned human behavior that can be fully taught to others without supernatural intervention (24, 25, 26, 27) Take the following study, for example:
- 18–44 yr old undergraduates listened to a 60-sec sample of glossolalia… and then attempted to produce glossolalia… Afterward, half of the [subjects] received 2 training sessions that included audio- and videotaped samples of glossolalia interspersed with opportunities to practice glossolalia. Also, live modeling of glossolalia, direct instruction, and encouragement were provided by an experimenter. Both the trained [subjects] and untreated controls attempted to produce glossolalia on a 30-sec post test trial. About 20% of [subjects] exhibited fluent glossolalia on the baseline trial, and training significantly enhanced fluency. 70% of trained [subjects] spoke fluent glossolalia on the post test. Findings are more consistent with social learning than with altered state conceptions of glossolalia. (27)
If glossolalia is a supernatural gift why can it be perfectly recreated by careful non-believing observers? Growing up I heard that people only obtained the ability to speak in tongues by a supernatural miracle, and also that some people “lost their gift” and were never able to speak again. While it is perhaps be possible that a few individuals throughout history did indeed believe that they had lost this gift of tongues (probably because they were told they could lost it), the data does not fit with such a view. How can people gain or lose tongues only by a supernatural intervention if nonbelievers, or those of other religions, can be easily taught to speak in tongues?
In fact, some prominent atheists can still produce the full range of the glossolalic experience, see for example Dan Barkers (anti)testimony, in which he states that as a Pentecostal pastor he frequently spoke in tongues, and now as an atheist, still does it from time to time (28) Also see the testimony Marjoe Goertner, a famous charismatic healing evangelist, who later revealed that he was an atheist, even during his later healing crusades. He stated:
- “Tongues is something you learn. It is a releasing that you teach yourself. You are told by your peers, the church, and the Bible – if you accept it literally – that the Holy Ghost speaks in another tongue; you become convinced that it is the ultimate expression of the spirit flowing through you. The first time maybe you’ll just go dut-dut-dut-dut, and that’s about all that will get out. Then you’ll hear other people and next night you may go dut-dut-dut-UM-dut-DEET-dut-dut, and it gets a little better. The next thing you know, it’s ela-hando-satelay-eek-condele-mosandrey-aseya … and it’s a new language you’ve got down.” (29)
Why is speaking in tongues, the evidence for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, when it can clearly be learned and manifested by most people who attempt it? Why can an angelic supernatural language be copied and imitated by undergraduate students who have a few training sessions? Why do prominent Charismatics or Pentecostals who leave the faith retain the ability to speak in tongues, should they not lose their gift? And if they were merely fake from the beginning (though Barker certainly thought his was real, and Goertner’s audience never suspected a fake version) how can one even tell the difference between the real and the fake? It seems poor evidence of the Holy Spirit, if it’s so easily learned, and impossible to differentiate between real and fake versions.
9. If glossolalia is an essential part of Christian prayer, why didn’t Jesus mention it at all?
Christian Scriptures and theology declare that the hidden and mysterious nature of God and his desires for humanity are best revealed through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, who is God’s son and revelation of Himself (Heb 1:1-2). Yet, when it comes to the speaking of glossolalia, Jesus is absolutely and completely silent. He does not, even on one occasion mention speaking in unknown tongues (glossolalia). Even as Jesus devotes time to clear teachings about prayer (Mat 6:5-13; Luke 11:1-4), and mentions the future indwelling of the Holy Spirit with power (John 14:16,26; Luke 24:49), he is completely silent on the topic of glossolalia. And not only silent, but as we have mentioned, the teachings of Jesus on prayer, completely contradict the manifestations of glossolalia (Mat 6:5-13).
There is indeed one place where, reportedly, Jesus speaks of glossolalia, and that would be Mark 16:17-18, where Jesus is quoted saying “they will speak new tongues.” I have heard countless sermons that have used this passage as “direct, clear, evidence of Jesus teaching glossolalia!” This verse is often touted as a silver bullet by Pentecostals and charismatics, however, it is quite the opposite.
A cursory look at any contemporary Bible translation will find the whole section of Mark 16:9-20 in brackets with footnotes, if not altogether missing. Textual criticism and historic research has shown that this part of Mark is almost certainly an addition by scribes who copied the Bible, and it was not in the original text of Mark. Bible editions (ESV, NASB, NIV, HCSB, NRSV, NLT, and others), including those translated by committees of hundreds conservative evangelicals have a disclaimer before the ending of Mark, which says something like this: “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.” Here are the actual notes from a few Bibles, these are found as footnotes in the Gospel of Mark.
- Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9–20 immediately after verse 8. At least one manuscript inserts additional material after verse 14; some manuscripts include after verse 8 the following [text of the “short ending of Mark”] (ESV)
- “The most reliable early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end at verse 8. Other manuscripts include various endings to the Gospel. A few include both the “shorter ending” and the “longer ending.” (NLT)
- “This section is a later addition; the original ending of Mark appears to have been lost. The best and oldest manuscripts of Mark end with ch. 16:8. Two endings were added very early.” (Westminster Study Bible)
In essence all prominent biblical scholars and textual critics agree, the long ending of Mark we are familiar with, which is one of four endings found in numerous ancient fragments of Mark, was not in the original. (30, 31, 32, 33, 34) These words that are often given as concrete evidence of Jesus teaching glossolalia were not in the Bible. Yet, even if they were, a cursory glance at the context shows that these signs Jesus talks of (new tongues, drink poison, handle snakes) refer to events that are not normative. Paul was bitten by one snake on one occasion, surely this passage does not mean we must seek out snakes to handle? I concede that the snake handling churches in the Appalachian mountains might disagree with my rhetoric.
This brings us back to the original question, why was Jesus silent on glossolalia if it is one of the most important functions (and indeed evidence) of the Holy Spirit? Why did Jesus command a specific type of prayer, if he was planning to replace it with a glossolalia, a radical departure of his command, in two years? Why would he keep this all secret? Surely these are vital questions? It’s true that Jesus does not mention everything there is to know, yet, why would he neglect one of the most vital things? If Jesus is our primary teacher, and Christianity is all about Jesus, why is Jesus completely silent on the issue Pentecostals place at the core of the Christian experience? Even Paul, theologically speaking on Christ’s authority, only mentions tongues in the 1st letter to the Corinthians, in an unclear passage that is primarily a list of prohibitions of glossolalia or xenoglossy gone awry. None of the letters to the other churches contain even one brief mention of “speaking in tongues;” how can this be, if glossolalia is one of the most pivotal doctrines of the Bible? If you simply wanted to obey the words of Jesus, you could become a Christian, but could you ever become a glossolalist? Hardly. If a few chapters from 1st Corinthians were lost, you could still be a Christian but could you be a glossolalist? Why is this the case, if glossolalia is such a core doctrine of the Bible?
10. Why is Christian glossolalia almost unheard of before 1901 Topeka Kansas?
The historical case of glossolalia within the Christian world is one of the most intriguing ideas to tantalize the ears of man. Within the many writings of the early church there are only two first-hand references to “tongues.” These are found in the writings of Irenaeus and Tertullian, while the other patriarchs are nearly silent. (35) There are a couple of second-hand mentions of gifts of the Holy Spirit by writers like Hilary of Poitiers and Novatian. (36, 37) There is no clarification given whether these tongues are glossolali or xenoglossy. There was, however, a ecstatic cult led by Montanus who engaged in glossolalia (it should be noted that Tertullian, mentioned previously, was at one point a follower of Montanus). The early church historian Eusebius, writing probably around 339 CE, states the following about Montanus:
- “He became possessed of a spirit, and suddenly began to rave in a kind of ecstatic trance, and to babble in a jargon, prophesying in a manner contrary to the custom of the Church which had been handed down by tradition from the earliest times.” (38)
Later church fathers also allude to the absence of speaking in tongues, these include Chrystostom (344–407), who states that any mention of tongues is obscure and they “now no longer take place” (39) Also Augustine (354-430) who also discussed the Acts of the Apostles, and specifically mentions the act of speaking in tongues, saying “it passed away.” (40) Perhaps these events are open to debate and interpretation, the historical consensus is that glossolalia was not in any way a prominent part of the history of the early church.
In the middle ages there are a few brief and obscure references to something that could possibly be glossolalia, most notably in the small sect of Moravians, who were accused of speaking in “disconnected Jargon” which some Pentecostal historians, seeking to trace their roots, claim as their own. However, other historians, evaluating these claims have noted that:
- “There is little evidence of any form of glossolalia during the Middle Ages in either East or West.” (42)
- “All the medieval references are so problematic that it is probably best not to try to evaluate them either pro or con.” (43)
Other reported tongues speakers include the Zwickau Prophets of Martin Luther’s day, who were critics of Luther and taught that one must receive direct revelations and prophecies of the Spirit (44) The Zwickau Prophets also held to imminent apocalypticism, and were eagerly anticipating the end of the world in their lifespan (45) Also:
- “The next time any significant tongues-speaking movement arose within Christianity was in the late seventeenth century. A group of militant Protestants in the Cevennes region of southern France began to prophesy, experience visions, and speak in tongues. The group, sometimes called the Cevennol prophets, are remembered for their political and military activities, not their spiritual legacy. Most of their prophecies went unfulfilled. They were rabidly anti-Catholic, and advocated the use of armed force against the Catholic church. Many of them were consequently persecuted and killed by Rome.“(46)
In addition there are reports that a few of the followers of Edward Irving, a 19th century revivalist and leader of the “Catholic Apostolic Church, spoke in tongues. (47) Also there are few brief references that might be some form of ecstatic behavior, perhaps even glossolalia, that occurred during the frenzied revivals of the Great Awakening. As well as obvious glossolalia in the Mormon church, and the Quaker movement. (8, 48) However, these reports are are so few and so opaque, compared to the post-Asuza era that they are nothing more than a tiny statistical blip. Case in point, not even one of the historic Christian leaders or movements that we are familiar with spoke in tongues. Though it is hard to make a statement as to which of the early church fathers spoke in glossolalic tongues, however, we can reasonably state that it’s likely that Tertullian (because of his association with Montanus) was a glossolalist. Otherwise we can safely assume that all others, for example Athanasius, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Origen and did not because their writings either directly say “speaking in tongues” is ceased, or else they refer to it as a distant and abstract idea.
As far as more recent history, we can readily ascertain which historic Christian leaders spoke in tongues. The answer is close to none.
- This list of non-speakers includes all of the most important leaders within historic reformation movements (Calvinism and Arminanism), including John Huss, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, Jacobus Arminius, Hugo Grotius, Simon Episcopius, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, John Wesley, William Carey, and Charles Spurgeon. There were reports of unusual occurrences, though not glossolalia, in the frenzied revivalism of Charles Finney, as well as in the ministries of D.L. Moody, R.A. Torrey, and Billy Sunday, however, there is evidence contra based on intimate knowledge of these men and their writings. (49) Even without this attestation, its highly unlikely that most Holiness movement Christians in the early 20th century would be so shocked by glossolalia if indeed the leaders who started their movement were speaking in tongues for a long time. The facts run quite to the contrary, even R.A Torrey, stated about Pentecostalism that it is “emphatically not of God, and founded by a Sodomite.” (50)
So where do we see the advent of glossolalia? In a small “bible school” in Topeka, Kansas in 1901 which created leaders who initiated the Azusa Street Revival, from which every branch of the modern Charismatic movement hails. (50) Before this revival, the historic accounts of glossolalia were almost nonexistent, and the few that we can find were obscure references to sects outside mainstream Christianity. Before the Protestant Reformation, there is little recorded history, after (largely because of the printing press) we have three hundred well-documented years of “glossolalic silence” in almost every single branch, denomination, offshoot, and sect of Christianity. And this is not a historic argument that Pentecostal historians disagree with, in fact, its one they cherish, below are two official Pentecostal sources:
- “Throughout the latter half of the 19th century in the United States, Protestants from various backgrounds began to ask themselves why their churches did not seem to exhibit the same vibrant, faith-filled life as those in the New Testament [for they did not speak in tongues]. Many of these believers joined evangelical or Holiness churches, engaged in ardent prayer and personal sacrifice, and earnestly sought God. It was in this context that people began experiencing biblical spiritual gifts. One of the focal points of the emerging [but not previously existing] Pentecostal movement was known as the Azusa Street revival (1906-09). After students at his Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, began speaking in tongues at a prayer meeting on January 1, 1901, Parham, through his Apostolic Faith Movement, had some success in promoting the restoration of the gift of tongues.” (51)
- “One lasting and influential legacy of Azusa Street is the modern Pentecostal movement and its offspring, the charismatic movement. In many ways, the Azusa Street Mission was the prototype for modern Pentecostalism. For centuries, Western churches, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, had adopted the view that the gifts of the Spirit had ceased at the end of the Apostolic Age. Known as the cessation theory, this view became especially dominant among Fundamentalists and some Holiness groups that rejected Pentecostalism. Pentecostals were the first Christians since the Early Church to associate speaking in tongues with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Before 1901, thousands of people in Holiness and Keswick groups had claimed a baptism in the Holy Spirit with various evidences [but not tongues] to validate their experience. (52)
The early history of Pentecostalism was plagued by controversy, as many new movements are. Part of the reason was the radical departure from religion known as Christianity at the time. Another famous Holiness movement leader, A.B. Simpson, stated
- “There have been many instances where [seeking for] the gift of tongues led the subjects and the audiences in to the wildest excesses and were accompanied with voices and actions more closely resembling wild animals than rational beings, impressing the unprejudiced observers that it was the work of the devil.”
- The founding leader of Pentecostalism, Charles Parham, himself described, and is reported by other Pentecostals to have seen wild manifestations at Pentecostal revivals, including “barking like a dog, braying like a donkey, and crowing like a rooster, and contortions and fits.” (53, 54)
Perhaps some of this is a form of biased over-reporting by the Holiness movement from which early Pentecostalism broke away, though this is attested in Pentecostal sources. Yet, the main fact agreed upon by all sides of this story is that glossolalia was not a normative Christian experience, and was literally unheard by almost all Christians before the birth of Pentecostalism. This presents further cause for serious skepticism towards glossolalia.
Theologically, are we really to believe that virtually all Christians before the origin of Pentecostalism did not have the Holy Spirit? The great leaders of the reformation and three hundred years after were all without the Holy Spirit as well? In fact, why does the first real case of glossolalia appear after a group of students were first convinced of its existence and set out to prove it right? In the Bible no one was aware of the existence of “tongues” at all, but rather, tongues “came suddenly” and unexpectedly to new believers, who did not have any doctrine to prove (Acts 2:2-4; 10:44-46). Why does modern history show the exact opposite? In general, why would God hide this gift for more almost two thousand years and then reveal through students who later admitted they were partly wrong? (55) Why would these tongues at first mistaken as real languages given for a “for a brief and intense spurt of [missionary] activity they thought would usher Christ’s return”? (56) Why were most historical Christians ungifted? Why is glossolalia missing from the normative practice of historic Christianity?
There are a great many whys, but few compelling answers. Maybe glossolalia is a real spiritual language given by God, yet the evidence from Scripture, history, science, logic, and reason is hardly in favor of this conclusion. It seems more consistent that glossolalia is a very real and (to some) spiritually meaningful phenomenon of emotional release with non linguistic ‘free vocalizations.’
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- General Presbytery of AoG. “Baptism in the Holy Spirit .” Assembly Of God Official Site. http://ag.org/top/Beliefs/Position_Papers/pp_downloads/PP_Baptism_In_the_Holy_Spirit.pdf (accessed September 26, 2013).
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- One may posit that the miraculous tongues were actually glossolalia, and the real miracle was the fact that the listeners each understood the glossolalic speech in their own language; in essense a miracle of interpretation. However, such a proposed intepretation inadequately deals with the fact that the emphasis of Acts 2 is indeed on miraculous tongues, not on interpretation. This type of interpretation is not serious because it can be used to reinterpret any other biblical miracle: did Jesus really walk on water, or was it a miracle of divine seeing. Perhaps the disciples only saw him walking because the real miracle was their “seeing” something that wasnt there.
- Samarin, William J. (1972). Tongues of Men and Angels: The Religious Language of Pentecostalism. New York: Macmillan. p. 186
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