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Glossolalia or No Glosssolalia

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INTRODUCTION Church history has been filled with heated debates about speaking in tongues. This modern movement has been one of the most intriguing and apprehensive trends of the contemporary charismatic movement. Glossolalia (speaking in tongues) has been responsible for numerous divisions among Christians because advocates who observe and practice speaking in tongues take the matter seriously. The gap in this division is wide, ranging from accusations of mental instability and personal impairment to direct and holy communication with God. It is the purpose of this paper to show that biblical evidence demonstrates that glossolalia is irrelevant for today. We will first introduce a working definition of glossolalia, then look at some important historical facts revealed in Acts, the gospel of Mark, and 1 Corinthians, consider supporting arguments from each side of the debate, and finally conclude with a position that is supported by thoughts from informed theologians and more importantly, the Holy Bible (God’s word).
Glossolalia is derived from the Greek noun glossa which is interpreted as “the tongue, a language,” and the verb laleo which is interpreted as “to speak”. Therefore, glossolalia is a literal translation of the Greek words “glosso” and “laleo” meaning “speaking in tongues”. Oxford Dictionary defines glossolalia as a phenomenon of (apparently) speaking in an unknown language, especially in religious worship. The most common usage for the phenomenon is the phrase “speaking in tongues”. There are two types of tongues: glossolalia and xenolalia. The kind of tongues spoken at Pentecost were xenolalia (Speaking in a “known” language other than one’s own), and not to be confused with glossolalia (speaking in a so-called “Heavenly language”). Acts 2:4 reads, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4, NIV). Verse 6 of Acts Chapter One says, “Each one hearing in his own language” (Acts 2:6). If everyone present was hearing the message “in his own Language”, then it could not possibly be a heavenly language. Bock supports this argument when he said, “They hear the message ‘in their own language’ as the disciples speak to them in tongues”. Glossolalia is speaking in a language that is known by humans somewhere on the planet but is unknown to the presenter as is made clear in Acts 2:6. On the day of Pentecost, the apostles spoke what each one was anointed to speak by the Holy Spirit.
Today, glossolalia is practiced mainly by Pentecostal and charismatic Christians. But, glossolalia has recently resurfaced in Christianity since early in the church age. According to Acts 2:4, glossolalia occurred initially with the believers at Pentecost. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). In chapters 12-14 of Acts, Paul saw it as a “spiritual gift” (1 Corinthians 12-14). And also declared that he possessed the gift: “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (1 Corinthians 14:18). 1 Corinthians also leads one to believe that glossolalia transpired each time someone submitted to Christianity. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message…they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” (1 Corinthians 10: 44-47). Later, during the 19th and 20th centuries, glossolalia resurfaced as a charismatic movement. Pentecostal revivals enhanced the movement until glossolalia activity spread throughout the United States near the beginning of the 21st century, the misdirected modern charismatic era. Most theologians recognize the 1906 Asuza Street Revival as the start of the familiar contemporary charismatic movement. Although many are authentic in their beliefs and in need of truthful instruction, the Pentecostal movement has a reputation of tongue speaking, snake handling, poison drinking, misguided souls challenging the truthfulness of the Bible. Lewis Johnson has this to say: “The so-called ‘Tongues Movement’, which purports to represent a recovery of the historic manifestation, is a comparatively recent phenomenon. It has been associated generally with small denominations of a so-called ‘Pentecostal’ character, among whom there are, no doubt, many genuine, if misguided, Christians”. There are several areas of contention between charismatics and non-charismatics when it comes to the subject of glossolalia. In the following pages we will look at some arguments non-charismatics use to support the irrelevance of modern glossolalia, as well as the opposite side of the disagreement.
One Scripture charismatics use to argue their position that glossolalia is relevant for today is “These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18). They contend that all these gifts, including glossolalia, are supernatural and that Jesus says that these signs will follow those who believe. Charismatics also hold that while baptism in the Holy Spirit and glossolalia are different, glossolalia is evidence that the baptism has taken place. They rely on a couple of Scripture to support this idea: “Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now,” (Acts 1:4-5) as well as “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 11:16). Charismatics believe that speaking in tongues assures they have been baptized in the Holy Ghost. Charismatics and non-charismatics agree that all believing Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit at conversion but are separated on the idea that the baptism with the Holy Ghost happens later and ensures salvation.
Adequate exposure to the subject reveals that charismatics are more sensitive to the subject of glossolalia that non-charismatics. Nevertheless, they are also adamant and forceful in their arguments they use to support glossolalia. William McDonald illustrates this attitude with this statement: “Glossolalia, signifying the international and supernatural character of the Gospel, can be ignored only at the peril of misunderstanding an important factor in the history of the church of the New Testament.” This being said, charismatics and non-charismatics have much they can learn from each other if the walls of contention can be broken down. I like the way Vern Poythress puts it: “The easy, blunt, self-confident answer ‘The movement is all of God’ is unbiblical, just as is its reverse, ‘It is all a delusion”. We have considered some arguments that charismatics use to support the non-relevance of modern glossolalia. Now we will look at some rationales charismatics use to propose the irrelevance of contemporary glossolalia. As we will see, most are in direct opposition to the ideas of non-charismatics.
ARGUMENTS SUPPORTING NON-RELEVANCE OF MODERN GLOSSOLALIA For the purpose of this paper, I will introduce six positions held by non –charismatics. There are two that are evangelistic in nature and four that are errors about speaking in tongues. The former are to initially communicate and substantiate the Gospel message. The latter are errors non-charismatics find in glossolalia: The assumption that glossolalia is synonymous with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that it is evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit, that it is an evidence of one’s faith, and that it is given to believers today. Non-charismatics like to refer to 1 Corinthians to support opinion that glossolalia was originally initiated to communicate the Gospel. The Apostle Paul states “So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers…” (1 Corinthians 14:22a). They argue further that it is to substantiate the Gospel message. Their position here is that the apostles used the gift of tongues to confirm the Gospel since they did not have God’s written word at their disposal. 2 Corinthians 12:12 is used to support this idea: “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” (2 Corinthians 12:12). Non-supporters of glossolalia also attend to some errors on the part of those who support glossolalia. First they reveal that it is an error to presume that glossolalia is synonymous with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. To correct the charismatics on this matter they use 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). They also believe that it is an error to think that glossolalia is evidence of being filled with the Spirit. They look to Ephesians 5:18 for support. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit”. They communicate that we are commanded to be controlled by the Spirit but are in no way commanded to speak in tongues. They sometimes introduce Acts 4:31 to illustrate that Jesus’ disciples were filled with the Spirit but did not speak in tongues. “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). Non-proponents of glossolalia also hold to the idea that glossolalia is not evidence of faith. They contend that charismatics are backward in their thinking and those who look for signs exhibit a lack of faith. They use 1 Corinthians 14:22 to illustrate this point: “So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers…” (1 Corinthians 14:22a). This is a serious assumption on the part of the charismatic since it indicates one is not saved unless they speak in tongues. Non-charismatics consider it an error to suppose that glossolalia is given to believers today. They use one simple Scripture to show this: “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8). Non-charismatics are adamant that this verse indicates speaking in tongues has ceased. Mark Snoberger states “…apostles are described in 2 Corinthians 12:12 as arbiters of the miraculous gifts (viz, signs, wonders, miracles) such that these are denominated ‘signs of a true apostle’. If this description is to have any meaning at all, it follows that we should not regard miraculous gifts (including tongues) as the property of all believers or believers in any era.”
Biblical evidence demonstrates that glossolalia is irrelevant for today. I concur that glossolalia was practiced in ancient biblical times, but that does not make it biblical. The accounts of glossolalia need to be kept in historical context which demands us to accept the fact that special actions in Scripture are meant for specific people at specific times. God did not plan for glossolalia to continue. Paul informed us in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that tongues would cease. The apostle were commanded to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” With this command the apostles were sent out to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The message they received and shared was penned and became the New Testament we use today. It was during this time alone that the gifts were used to lay the groundwork for the establishment of the church today, and then ceased when the ground work was finished. William Bellshaw has this to say: “The position has been that this gift was sovereignly bestowed upon the early church for the purpose of authenticating their messengers and messages. However, with the completion of the New Testament such a sign gift is no longer needed.” Ephesians 2:20 makes it clear: “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone…” (Ephesians 2:20).


Bellshaw, William G. “The Confusion of Tongues.” Bibliotheca Sacra 120:478 (Apr 1963): 146–53.
Bock, Darell L. ACTS: BAKER EXEGETICAL COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 207.
Johnson, Jr., S. Lewis. “A Symposium on the Tongues Movement Part I: Introduction.” Bibliotheca Sacra 120:479 (Jul 1963): 225–26.
MacDonald, William G. “Glossolalia in the New Testament.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 7:2 (Spring 1964): 60–68.
Poythress, Vern S. “Linguistic and Sociological Analyses of Modern Tongues-speaking: Their Contributions and Limitations.” Westminster Theological Journal 42, no. 2 (Spr 1980): 367–388.
Snoeberger, Mark A. “Tongues—Are They for Today?” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 14 (2009): 4-21 OUTLINE

Glossolalia or no Glossolalia
Thesis: Biblical evidence clearly demonstrates that glossolalia (Speaking in tongues) is not relevant today. I. Introduction and Statement of Problem
(Determine if contemporary glossolalia conforms to the historical information revealed in the Acts 2, 10, 19; Gospel of Mark 16:17; and 1 Corinthians12-14)

Cite (1): Bock, Darell L.

II. Definition A. Glossolalia B. Word study (The STRONGEST NASB EXHAUSTIVE CONCORDANCE)

III. History of Glossolalia– Cite (2): Johnson, Jr., S. Lewis. A. Acts 2, 10, B. 1 Corinthians 12-14

IV. First Argument (charismatic)
Argument supporting relevance of contemporary glossolalia Cite (3): McDonald, William G.

V. Second Argument (non-charismatic)
Argument supporting irrelevance of contemporary glossolalia
Cite (4): Snoberger, Mark A.


VI. Conclusion
Cite (5): Bradshaw, William G.
Cite(6): Poytress, Vern S.

[ 1 ]. Darrel L. Bock, ACTS: BAKER EXEGETICAL COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: 2007) 100
[ 2 ]. Lewis S. Johnson Jr., “A Symposium on the Tongues Movement Part 1: Introduction,” Bibliotheca Sacra 120:479 (July 1963):225
[ 3 ]. William G. Mcdonald, “Glossolalia in the New Testament,” Journal of Evangelical Theology 7:2 (July 1963) 67
[ 4 ]. Vern S. Poythress, “Linguistic and Sociological Analysis of Modern Tongues-speaking: Their Contributions and Limitations, “ Westminster Theological Journal 42 (spr 1980):388
[ 5 ]. Mark A. Snoberger, “Tongues – Are They for Today?,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 14(2009):10
[ 6 ]. William G. Belshaw, “The Confusion of Tongues,” Bibliotheca Sacra 120-478 (April 1963) 153.

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