What's the deal with speaking in tongues?

I’ve been doing some idle research on speaking in tongues (also known as glossalalia) and I’m at a dead end of sorts. Most of what I’ve found is people saying “oh, it’s a gift from jesus and you should speak in tongues and here’s a verse in Corinthians!” I’m trying to find some different perspectives, and that is proving a bit difficult.

Teeming millions, what do you know about speaking in tongues? Have any of you ever experienced this phenomenon? Thoughts on it?

I thought that the gift of tongues was first given to the Apostles and Mary at Pentecost (it’s mentioned in Acts). After the Holy Spirit descends upon them, the apostles can suddenly talk to anybody.

The people today who say that they “are speaking in tongues” usually are muttering some sort of jibberish that they claim is the Holy Spirit speaking through them.

As I learned it in Catholic school, “speaking in tongues” has changed from sort of an ecclesiastical babel fish into a some sort of weird jibberish.

Where I say “different perspectives” I am not soliciting answers akin to “these people are very stupid, suck enormously, and should take their heartily thumped bibles and go away.”

Just so you know.

Hey, andygirl, read the book Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.

That’ll give you an alternative perspective all right. :slight_smile:

Actually, Snow Crash is what prompted this interest. Fine book that was.

BobT: I’ve heard it claim that those who speak in tongues are speaking “the language of Jesus” or something of that nature. Like it’s the pure language and all others are corruptions.

You want my perspective? OK, here ya go…

“Speaking in Tongues” has modern adherents who believe that the Holy Spirit imparts into you the ability to speak in a language that you have never studied or heard. Most such adherents would claim that the ability to speak in tongues is proof that one is truly a Christian; that is, if you can’t/don’t speak in tongues (or haven’t done so at least once in your life) then you aren’t truly a Christian.

Adherents point to a handful of verses in the New Testament, particularly in Acts 2, that mention this phenomenon as proof that one should speak in tongues.

Having heard people “speaking in tongues,” I’d have to say that it sounds like a lot of gibberish.

Detractors of the modern tongues-speaking movement point out that tongues-speaking in New Testament times happened at a specific time for a specific purpose. That purpose was to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ into foreign lands. If a disciple spoke only Greek and Hebrew, and he was trying to spread the Gospel to a people who only spoke, say, Esperanto, then it would be expedient for God to enable said disciple to speak Esperanto without the benefit of ever having studied it.

Detractors say that tongues-speaking, like a handful of other “gifts of the spirit,” (among them healing) were transitory in nature and not used today.

I’m a detractor. I’d say that if you see someone speaking in tongues today, chances are what you are hearing is gibberish, brought on by: a) peer pressure, b) an altered state of consciousness brought on by religious quasi-ecstasy, or c) faking it big-time.

FWIW, YMMV, and my $.02

nifty, I thought I was the only one who read that book…

I have no idea of an answer to your question though!

although if I had to guess, it’d be somewhere between self hypnosis (eventhough techincally all forms of hypnosis are self hypnosis) and somebody making things up.

Andygirl. I might be giving you a IMHO response to a GQ question, because my contribution is only anecdotal, and I highly doubt I could find something written to back it up. But for what it’s worth …

I have one (1) family member who belongs to a Pentecostal church, where there is apparently much speaking in tongues. She herself does this. I have asked her about this practice, and according to the beliefs of her church:

  1. Speaking in tongues is speaking in the “language of God.” In the Bible, there are times when God spoke directly to a person, and when this happened, God would not use any human language, but rather his own Godly language and the person to whom he was speaking would be temporarily given the divine ability to understand him. This is also the language God uses when communicating to the angelic choir. In addition, the apostles were able to speak in tongues in order to do the work of Jesus.

  2. When a person is sufficiently devout, and in a moment of great religious contemplation, they can be given the ability to speak in tongues. They are hearing the language of God, and they are repeating what they hear.

  3. It sounds like gibberish, and does not correspond to any human language, past or present.

So, a question I always had was “if two people are speaking in tongues, can they have a conversation with each other?” Also, “if you have spoken in tongues in the past, and you hear another person speak in tongues, can you understand him?” The answer to both of these was “no.” That ability was reserved for the apostles, and the people to whom they were preaching.

This isn’t exactly the same as some of the other ideas I have heard about speaking in tongues. Nor does this jive with what I was taught in CCD about the speaking in tongues mentioned in the NT (which is pretty much what BobT learned as well). I asked her why her church believed this while some other churches believed slightly different things. The answer was that her church was right and that other churches were wrong. I’ll save my personal opinions on that for another thread in another forum, perhaps.

No need. The Bible has already been translated into Esperanto. :slight_smile: By Zamenhof himself, no less.

I admit, though, the Snow Crash theory was a real eye-opener… Excellent book.

I love ‘Snow Crash’, but it really pissed me off when I read it.

I was working on a cyberpunk short story that involved a number that could infect people’s minds, that was discovered by a religious cult that was based on the Kabbalah. I thought it was my best work yet…then I read ‘Snow Crash’, and realized that anyone who read my story after reading Snow Crash would think I was ripping it off…grrr.

Thought you might like a professional linguist’s perspective, in the interests of fighting ignorance. In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language by David Crystal (Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 11, there is an example of glossolalia.

Crystal remarks: “Though many glossolalists believe they are speaking a real but unknown language, the utterance patterns are quite unlike ordinary language: the sounds are simpler and more repetitive; there are fewer predictable structural units; and there is no systematic word- or sentence-meaning.” He classed it as “functional pseudo-linguistic behaviour, such as jazz ‘scat’ singing.”

This might come as a bit of a let down. (warnign: spoiler}

When I was younger and in a little bit of trouble, I was taken in by a family of super devout, evangelical, rabid Christians. (and I use these terms with the utmost of fondness) I worked for and lived with this family for almost a year. Aside from church on Sunday, we had ‘bible study’ at least three times a week.

We did not ‘study’ the bible in any way that I recognize the word ‘study’. Mostly, we all got together and preached at each other and praised the lord (over and over). Often these meetings would include ‘slaying in the spirit’ and speaking in tongues. So I’ve experienced both, and here is my take on it - the straight dope, firsthand.

Now don’t take any of this as insulting or derogatory to these well meaning folk (who can be credited with saving my life) but in my experience, this speaking in tongues thing is not God speaking.

Slaying in the spirit was kinda neat, but hardly spiritual. As the dude’s hand hit my forehead, I went down like a sack of potatoes. I was aware in a sense, and kind of ‘observing myself’. I started ‘speaking in tongues’; babbling away a mile a minute while those surrounding me egged me on and praised the Lord. (they did a lot of that) I didn’t understand a single syllable of what I said. It was complete gibberish. I didn’t even get the feeling of

I took a hypnosis course in college that gave me a good understanding of my experience. In fact, during that course, when I was hypnotized, the experience was remarkably similar. The same exact feeling of ‘watching’ your own body do things. Anyone who has been hypnotized would know what I’m talking about.

Hell, even the methodology is the same. Here’s a typical example of the hypnotic procedure.

The hypnotist is coming to town. Word spreads and people start building expectations. The anticipation grows until the day of the show is finally nigh. By now, people are either sceptical or breathlessly waiting to witness the miracles that have been promised.

The hypnotist comes on stage and feeds the audience a bunch of hokey designed to get people ‘in the mood’ and prepare them to accept suggestion. He runs a few tests to determine the most succeptible subjects and calls them up and does his thing.

The subjects are run through a ritual hypnotizing and are ready to do what ever is suggested. Cluck like a chicken, believe you are naked, the list is long.

The ‘bible study’ followed the same basic format. Expectations are well set, the fuel being religious faith (far more effective than your average hypnotists advertising). An altered state of mind is acheived by the fervent praying and praising the lord and by the time someone smacks you on the forehead, you’re ripe for the suggestion. Boom, you fall down and start babbling.

BTW, it’s a lot easier to be slain in the spirit than to believe you are a chicken, but it feels exactly the same.

The caffeine has not taken a hold of my system yet this morn, so please exuse this jumble of a post.(heheheh- posting in toungues) I just couldn’t let this one go by.

Sorry. My train of thought was apparently derailed for a sec there.

… devine influence.

Okay I’m about to display some ignorance here.
My source is actually a Childrens Pictorial Bible I read when I was perhaps five.

The incident in which the gift was given to the aposotles and Mary happened shortly after the death of Jesus if I recall correctly.

I remeber the picture of the group sitting around with tounges of flame hovering above their heads. It was my understanding that this was an indication that the Holy Spirirt was amongst them.I dont think it had anything to do with languages.

That particular bible was responsible for many misconceptions I have hels firm to and was my introduction to porn , violence , adultery etc. etc. years before my parents decided it was time to leave the health board booklet “as you grow” lying around the house. :slight_smile:

Okay, andygirl, hope this helps.

Me: raised Assembly of God (pentacostal, speaking in tongues, etc).

Yes, I’ve done it. Yes, I still do it. I was taught the following:

  1. That it was a way for God’s spirit to communicate with your spirit.
  2. That it was a way for you to praise God in a manner beyond what you can understand.
  3. That it is a gift of God. It has nothing to do with how “spiritual” you are, how close to God you are, or anything. It’s a gift that can be asked for and received in faith.
  4. That it is not something that just comes and takes you over and that you cannot control. Surprisingly enough, the church I was raised in felt that all things were to be done in order and without chaos (see 1 Corinthians 14 for further reference). I say “surprisingly” because AofG churches aren’t usually known for their self-control.
  5. That it is a gift (used in conjunction with an interpretation of the tongues) as something to deliver a message from God to the body of believers. These messages were to be prayed upon. Not everyone who prayed in tongues and then interpreted was necessarily to be believed as God’s Word Right Then, but that people were to pray about it and ask for God to reveal any truth to them in the message.

Here’s some scripture verses

Actually, the whole of 1 Corinthians 14 is good. Basically, in this chapter, Paul explains the use of tongues. You will note in this chapter, that Paul expects someone to provide an interpretation of their speaking in tongues if they are using it as a message to the church (you may have heard of people “speaking out” in the middle of a worship time, etc).

I think there are two types of “tongues”: one is a vehicle God uses to get peoples attention during a service and is always accompanied by an interpretation of what they said; sometimes the interpretation will come through someone else, sometimes through the person who spoke in tongues.

Another type is the personal gift of tongues, where it is used as a way to communicate with God when we just don’t know how to pray for something, when we are overwhelmed spiritually, or when we want to praise God beyond what we can put into words. The main verse used as a reference for this type of tongues is:

Hope this helps. If you have any other questions, please feel free to email me and I’ll try to find more scripture references if you’d like or answer your questions to the best of my ability.

I’ll give you my experience with it. In high school I was on a retreat. After on Bible study, the speaker came around and prayed for all the students(about 8 of us). When he got to me and begin to pray I was flooded by a sense of love and of gratefulness. At first the feeling was so strong I was unable to concentrate on anything going on around me. It slowly receded and I noticed the speaker had moved on and was praying for someone else. At the same time I noticed that I was slowly rocking back and forth while speaking in a whisper. What I was speaking came out very quickly, it was very repititious and no made sense. I was literally speaking it as quickly as I could and had no idea of what I was going to say before I said it. I continued to rock back and forth and speak quickly for probably 15-30 minutes, though it seemed longer. Toward the end of that time I realized I was able to stop rocking and control the speed of what I was saying. Since that time I have been able to repeat the experience whenever I wanted to, but without the rocking and I can say the words much slower. The feelings while this happens is more of peace than the ecstasy that happened the first time.

My wife could speak in tongues when she was an on-fire believer in Jesus and member of a Pentecostal church. And, the kicker is, she still can. At will. And so can lots of nonreligious people who otherwise can attain altered states of consciousness–some schizophrenics, for example.

It’s simply a way, under certain circumstances, of getting directly into your brain’s language center and producing phoneme salad. It sounds sort of like language, but it isn’t.

See http://www.skepdic.com/glossol.html for more.

I went to a revival meeting at some small church in Arizona one time, just for the experience. I forget what their affiliation was—some Baptist group. I was pretty much an atheist at the time, but I was just agnostic enough to keep an open mind, just in case. (I would say that my mind is completely closed on the issue now, 20 years later.)

Periodically, the preacher would work up the crowd to a fever pitch, and the crowd would jump to their feet more or less on cue, raise their hands, palm up, and start “speaking in tongues.” I listened to those in my vicinity, and most of them were just saying things like “ba-ba-ba-ba-la-la-la-la-ga-ga-ga-ga.” It was kind of a rip-off for an outsider like me, because I was expecting something a little more sophisticated. Those people weren’t even trying to replicate anything like a language. It was just rapid-fire chatter of simple, repeated syllables or syllable chains (like “ba-de-kee, ba-de-kee, ba-de-kee, ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma”). After about 30 seconds or so they quit and sat back down, pretty much on cue.

All in all, I think this group used “speaking in tongues” more as a way to jump up and vent a little religious fervor at times, sort of like a crowd jumping up and roaring at a touchdown at a sporting event. The group just seemed to take it for granted that you jump up and do this every so often, and that you turn it on and turn it off with the rest of the group. From what I could see, it seemed roughly the equivalent of jumping up as a group and giving an occasional heartfelt “Hosannah” or “Amen, brother.” But I didn’t stick around after the service to ask anyone what they were experiencing when they did it.

That’s just a single experience in a single church, of course, but I thought I would provide it FWIW.

From Catholic school, I remember that “speaking in tongues” is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has several other gifts that he gives out from time to time. Joy, Patience, etc.

I also remember reading somewhere that early “researchers” had named the language of tongues “Enochian” and that it is supposedly the language employed by the Angels. The human speakers of this language were often thrown in to a state of ecstasy since they were speaking the language Angels used to speak to God.

Reminds me of a prophetic (pun intended) scene in **Stranger in a Strange Land ** in which Jubal Harshaw accompanies Mike to a Fosterite service. At one point a person begins flopping around down on the church floor and a preacher runs over to them with a mike and begins “translating” the tongues with things like “God loves you…kiss the person on your right.” etc. Those of us with a cynical bent find this probably oh-too-true…