What is Speaking in Tongues and why does God say to do it?

What is Speaking in Tongues and why does God say in 1 Corinthians 14:5 that He would like each Christian to do it?

No doubt that is a question that has been asked by millions of Christians throughout the centuries, and we believe that knowing the answer is vital for maximizing the quality of one’s life as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why? The primary reason, as a study of Scripture will clearly show, is: speaking in tongues is the only absolute proof a Christian has that he is born again and guaranteed a parking place in Paradise, i.e., everlasting life (2 Cor. 1:21, 22; Eph. 1:13, 14; 1 John 3:24). Speaking in tongues is the only valid external, tangible evidence in the senses realm that the internal, intangible gift of holy spirit was shed abroad in one’s heart at the moment of his new birth.

Please do not hear me saying that you must speak in tongues in order to be born again. No, anyone who adheres to Romans 10:9 is saved, permanently. Why? Because at that moment he is “born again of incorruptible seed” (1 Pet. 1:23). But, as we will see, speaking in tongues is the vitally important proof that you are forever a child of God.

The second most important thing about speaking in tongues is that it vividly illustrates to the believer the most basic principle of the Christian walk, which is trusting the Word of our heavenly Father.

Beyond that, speaking in tongues is a beautiful way to circumvent the limited vocabulary of our native tongue and tell our Father that we love Him. It is a way to perfectly worship (Phil. 3:3) and praise (1 Cor. 14:16) the Creator, to give thanks well (1 Cor. 14:17), to speak the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:11), to magnify Him (Acts 10:46), to edify yourself (1 Cor. 14:4) and to build yourself up in faith (Jude 20). And if you have never done it, I will help you do so via this article and the video at the end of this article.

In this relatively brief piece, I cannot set forth the biblical background for every statement I make about the new birth, the gift of holy spirit, speaking in tongues, but we do just that in a number of relevant books and teaching tapes. My goal is to arrest your attention (or at least skirmish with it) to the end that you choose to dig deeper into our work on this critical subject. Although the phrase is over used, this is one subject that just might “change your life.”

As with many important biblical issues, an understanding of speaking in tongues relates specifically to an understanding of the administrations in Scripture. Unless we understand what parts of God’s Word are written to Jews, what parts are written to Gentiles, and what parts are written to Christians, we can neither understand nor apply its truths in our daily lives. For an overview of which parts of the Bible are written to you, click here!

We are currently living in what the Bible calls the Administration of the Sacred Secret (Eph. 3:9), which began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1ff) and will conclude with the gathering together of the Church (all living and dead Christians) to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Unique to this administration is the salvation a person attains by adhering to Romans 10:9—confessing with his mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believing in his heart that God raised him from the dead. At that moment he is “born again of incorruptible seed” (1 Pet. 1:23) and baptized/filled with the gift of holy spirit (Acts 1:5; 2:38). As the Word says of each Christian, God has “anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:22). Amen!

And you may say: “Great! Uh, how do we know?”

Some would reply: “Well, because God says so.”

“Yes, but I didn’t feel anything happen when I got saved, and the next day I smoked, drank whiskey, cursed, and cheated at miniature golf. So how do I know for sure that the holy spirit of God is permanently within me? Are there any evidences in the senses realm, the realm where I’ve lived from birth and to which I am almost completely attuned?”

And I say: “Evidences? You mean like something you can see, hear, touch, taste or smell?”

“Yep.”

You’re in luck, because speaking in tongues is one of the nine “manifestations” (1 Cor. 12:7) of the gift of holy spirit. The word “manifestation” comes from two Latin words, manus, meaning “hand,” and festare, meaning “to touch.” It refers to something concrete and tangible. The gift of holy spirit each person receives when he gets born again is not tangible, because it is spirit, something not in the realm of the five senses. That’s why Scripture does not promise that one will feel anything when he gets born again. And that is why God has provided indisputable proof that something did happen, something so indescribably miraculous that there can be “no ifs, ands, or buts about it!”

This principle of tangible evidence in the senses realm is clearly illustrated in Matthew 9:1-8, which I will paraphrase: Some people brought to Jesus a paralyzed man, and Jesus said to him, “Cheer up, your sins are forgiven.”

Some grumpy Pharisees who were hanging around said to themselves, “Who does this guy think he is to forgive sins?”

It was risky to think things like that around Jesus, and he nailed them: “Now why do you have to rain on this guy’s parade? I’ve got a question: which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or, how about ‘Pick up your mat and take a walk’?”

“Well, uh, er…”

“To show you that I have the authority to forgive sins—watch this: Pick up your mat and go home.” And the paralyzed man was healed!

What’s the point? When Jesus told the man that his sins were forgiven, no one could see anything happen. The Pharisees saw no change in the man, so they said that Jesus’ words were bogus—the man’s sins were not forgiven. Jesus said, “Really? OK, let me try saying something else and see if that happens…Well, what d’ya know? Look at that.” He gave them indisputable proof in the senses realm that something had happened inside the man. Ditto for the new birth and speaking in tongues.

NOTE: Many Christians mistakenly refer to speaking in tongues, prophecy, etc., as “gifts” of the spirit, but Scripture never does (except in modern translations that add words to the Greek text but do not italicize them like the KJV does so the reader knows this). The (one) gift is holy spirit, the divine nature of God, who is called “the Holy Spirit,” the Giver. The gift He gives is holy spirit, His divine nature.

If someone gives you a Swiss Army knife or a Leatherman tool, you get one gift, but within that gift are many ways to use it—many “manifestations.” Likewise, anyone who is born again of God’s spirit has the ability to utilize all nine manifestations of the spirit. Most need only a little instruction. Every Christian can speak in tongues whenever he decides to do it. And if you do not speak in tongues, that includes you. Stay tuned for instructions on exactly how to do it.

Do you know that all but two of the nine manifestations of the gift of holy spirit were operational in the Old Testament and the Gospels? Only speaking in tongues and its companion manifestation, interpretation of tongues, are conspicuously absent prior to the Day of Pentecost. The question then becomes: What is so unique about speaking in tongues that God reserved it just for us who are born again of His spirit?

It is not what is unique about speaking in tongues, it is what is unique about salvation in the Church Administration that necessitated speaking in tongues as the indisputable proof of that unconditional salvation. In no other administration was salvation equated with seed, birth, and therefore permanent sonship. At no other time was salvation permanent, and no one ever dreamed it would be. Talk about “the world’s biggest deal?!” This is it! And God came up with a proof that to the ignorant may seem absurd, but which is actually very ingenious and practical.

Remember 2 Corinthians 1:22? God put His spirit in each Christian as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. The Greek word for “deposit” is arrabon, and it means a token, a downpayment, a guarantee. In the KJV it is translated “earnest,” as in “earnest money” that is put down on a house. 1 John 3:24b says, “And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”

But wait a minute—you can’t feel the holy spirit, so how is that spirit the guarantee? By the manifestation of the spirit known as speaking in tongues, which only Christians can do. Speaking in tongues is how “the spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:15) and, with the verse properly punctuated, it is what 1 John 5:11 refers to as “the witness that God has given us eternal life.” Hey, that fits perfectly with Acts 1:8, when Jesus told his disciples that when they received the holy spirit, they would be witnesses of him. Why? Because they would then have within them his witness to them that they were equipped with all they needed to go forth in his name!

To speak in tongues is to fluently speak a language of either men or angels, a language that does not come from your mind, but by way of God’s spirit within you. It is primarily designed for one’s internal use, but it is also to be utilized in a gathering of Christians by following it with its companion manifestation, interpretation of tongues, so that the Church is edified by one’s praise to God (1 Cor. 14:5b). “Tongues” is a language that God gives you, just as He first did on Pentecost when the Church was born. And that record in Acts 2:1-4 brings up the pattern God intended for every Christian, which is that each one speak in tongues right after he is born again.

Why? So that one immediately knows once and for all that (a) he has everlasting life, (b) the Word of God is true, (c) Jesus Christ is alive, (d) he is filled with the power of God and can utilize all the other manifestations. That is why God clearly says in 1 Corinthians 14:5 that He would like each Christian to speak in tongues. I think that for our Father, hearing a newborn Christian speak in tongues parallels how a mother feels when she hears her newborn baby make its first cry—it’s alive! The difference is that when God hears a child of His speak in tongues, He knows that life will be forever.

How tragic that countless Christians never take advantage of this marvelous ability. They don’t because they can’t—if they are taught that speaking in tongues ended with the first-century apostles, or that it is devilish, or that it is a gift for only some people, or if they are taught nothing at all about it. In the past 35 years, I have had the awesome privilege of helping to lead thousands of dear saints into speaking in tongues, some of whom were 60-80 years old and had longed for it for decades. With a few minutes of instruction, they easily did it, and many cried tears of great joy.

“OK, you said a few paragraphs ago that speaking in tongues is very practical. How so?”

Good question. The second vital truth about speaking in tongues, and also why God wants every Christian to start doing it immediately, is because it perfectly illustrates the “bottom line” principle of the Christian walk, which is trusting God and His Word.

How so? Think about it—God goes first, if you will, and gives His Son for us. Jesus takes his turn and goes to the Cross. God raises him and promises us salvation. Now it’s our turn. If we believe Romans 10:9, it’s God’s turn, and the Lord Jesus fills us with holy spirit (Acts 2:33).

God says, “I would like everyone of you to speak in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:5).

Our turn again: “Huh? You want me to fluently speak a language I’ve never learned?” The Lord Jesus Christ’s turn: “That’s right.”

You: “Seriously?”

The Lord: “Yes.”

You: “How?”

The Lord: “Good question. Remember Pentecost? What happened? They spoke in tongues as I gave them the words. So all you have to do is speak, but don’t speak a language you know.”

“Let me get this straight. You want me to open my mouth and employ the mechanics of speech, and you’re telling me I’ll be speaking a real language?”

“Absolutely.”

Does that require any faith, any trust in God, Jesus Christ, and the Word? It sure does, and isn’t that what being a Christian is all about? It always comes down to whether or not we really believe what God says.

Want a biblical record that vividly illustrates exactly the same principle involved in speaking in tongues? Matthew 14:25 and following. The disciples are in their fishing boat amidst a great storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus strolls by—on the water. They freak out.

Jesus says, “Chill, it’s I.”

Peter piped up: “Yeah, well, if it’s really you, let me walk on the water too.”

“Come on.”

Now put yourself in Peter’s potentially soggy shoes. Does he have a promise? Yes. What is it? That he can walk on the water—Jesus wouldn’t ask him (or you) to do anything he couldn’t do. And with the promise comes a provision—“If you step out, I’ll help you.” Now it’s Peter’s turn. How will he find out if the promise is true? There’s only one way—step out of the boat! And he did! But it was not until the split second his foot touched the water that God “took His turn” and made it firm under his feet. Had Peter put his foot one inch from the water and said, “Oh, this won’t work,” he never would have experienced the power of God.

See the principle? It is exactly the same in regard to speaking in tongues. If you are born again (if you’re not sure, see Romans 10:9 for instructions), you can speak in tongues. How do you know? Because God would not ask you to do something you cannot do. And He clearly says, “I would like for you [each Christian] to speak in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:5). And, as we have set forth, He gives you plenty of incentive and motivation by laying out its benefits.

So whose turn is it now? Right—yours. What do you have to lose to give it a shot? OK, if you’re online during a break at work amidst a gaggle of co-workers, you better wait ‘til you get home.

Good, you’re home. So, how do you do it?

Simple — you just open your mouth and utilize the mechanics of speech, but do not speak English or any other language you know. What you will be speaking is whatever language God chooses to give you. If it is a language of men, someone somewhere on the earth (among the approximately 6000 or so dialects) could understand it. If it’s a language of angels, no one on earth would understand it.

Now hear this! When it comes to speaking in tongues, there is only one way to fail—and that is not to speak. Please hear me. If you open your mouth and speak (not a language you know), it cannot fail—you will speak in tongues. Now then, if you do move your lips, your throat, your tongue and formulate different words, and you fail to speak in tongues, do not call me—call the Guinness Book of Records, because you will be the first human being since the Day of Pentecost for whom it didn’t work. If it does work, I’d love to hear from you.

Through the years, I have shared these same truths with many people. Some have come back to me and said, “I tried it and it didn’t work.”

I always ask: “Did you open your mouth and project sounds? Did you speak?”

And they say, “Well, no.”

And I say, “Then you did not try.”

Just as with Peter’s foot touching the water, so God cannot give you the words until you speak. Do you see how this perfectly illustrates what the Christian life is all about? God makes many promises to us, but the only way they come to pass is when we act on them. Our heavenly Father makes wonderful promises to us because He adores us, and oh, how He longs to fulfill them to us for our benefit.

So why not relax, take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and focus your mind on the God and the Lord who love you immeasurably. Thank them for having filled you with the holy spirit, take another breath, and let it rip—speak forth words of praise, thanksgiving, and worship. And that is exactly what you will be speaking. And be BOLD—the words you are hearing are the proof that Jesus is alive and well—and that so will you be—forever! It cost him his life for you to be able to praise and worship God in this wonderful way, so get into it!

One more thing—not only will you hear the words you are speaking, like when you speak in your native tongue, but because you are not using your mind to speak in tongues, you can also listen to what you are saying—and that is why it may sound really strange at first. But so would any language you’ve never heard before.

If you decide to speak in tongues now, and it is your first time, keep doing it for a while so that you become convinced that it is real. The junk part of your mind may tell you: “That’s ridiculous, you’re just making it up.” Here are some appropriate replies (that are printable): “No way—I couldn’t make that up.” “Take a hike.” “Get lost.” “Put a sock in it.” “SHUT UP!” Just keep speaking in tongues, and eventually that part of your mind will get tired of telling that lie to you.

In closing, let me say how moved I am at the amazing privilege of sitting here at my computer (first at the Spirit & Truth Fellowship International office and now at the Ford dealer who is fixing my car) and writing something that dear people like you (from Alabama to Afghanistan, Bakersfield to Borneo, Cleveland to Calcutta, etc.) will read and then speak in tongues for the first time. My heart is with you. Go for it!

15 comments

  1. Hi and good day! My name Ivy and I’m from California. I was just browsing on some videos on youtube and came across one of your videos about speaking in tongues. I guess God really knows that this is what I needed at this moment because who would know that by just watching on youtube, God actually led me to find this article of yours. I have been very anxious lately about a lot of things and sometimes I feel like it’s overwhelming to be thinking about stuff you can’t control. I’m just glad that I’ve been taught how to speak in tongues by one of my best Christians friends a few years back. I was a little apprehensive to do it before. I felt awkward. So I stopped doing it. But now I feel like I’m a better believer and my faith is stronger so tonight before I sleep I plan on speaking in tongues. I just want to thank you for posting this very encouraging article. May this reach many more Christians. Praise God and God bless!

    1. Ivy, God bless you and congratulations for speaking in tongues. You now have undeniable proof that you have everlasting life.

  2. The best explanation and easiest to understand so far. I have restart for one hour today. Pray as you lift others God will lift you highest!

  3. Hi my names tomika and about 2 years ago I started speaking in tongues by way of telling Jesus that I wouldn’t leave my bathroom until he revealed him self to me because i was going threw such a hard time in my life to my surprise he sure showed up and I was totally over came freaking out and my hole family thought I was crazy even had my pastor to tell me that it was a spirit of demons witch craft and all sort of things and I’ve been so discourage because I don’t understand what I’m saying and niter does any one on earth it seems that way at lease and I’ve recently stop doing it because I just feel confused and lonely scared and even depressed and on top of that my fifteen year old now speaks the same tongue… But with just reading your article It made me feel good to see someone understands thanks so much…

  4. Just a question if I can show you in scripture that tongues have ceased as per 1 Corinthians 13:8, would that NOT negate all the above?

    If it was common to everyone speaking in tongues why Peter say not all speak in tongues and there were only three occasions that it happened? Why only three occasions if all can speak in tongues?

    NOW lets see we have 9 gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, Tongues, interpretation of tongues, knowledge, Prophecy, Faith, Healing, Miracles, wisdom, and discerning of spirits.

    Lets look at 1 Corinthians 13:8, Love never fails, prophecies will fail, knowledge vanish and tongues will cease. Now look at verse 9, for we know in part (knowledge) and prophecy in part (prophecy) PLEASE NOTE TONGUES ARE NOT MENTIONED IN THIS VERSE!!! they have ceased before knowledge and prophecy.

    NOW the above gifts cease and what remains, VERSE 13 clears this up ” Now WHAT REMAINS, FAITH , HOPE AND LOVE BUT GREATEST IS LOVE.”

    We today have Faith, Hope and Love. But when Jesus comes FAITH and HOPE are then done away with BUT LOVE will continue for ever.

    55AD>>>1Corinthians was written, here tongues, prophecy, knowledge, Faith Love and Hope all existed:-
    Now tongues cease around 70 AD(temple Destroyed) before knowledge and prohecy, bible completed around 96AD therefore knowledge and prophecy ceased, NOW present time Faith, Hope and Love remain, WHEN Jesus returns HOPE and Faith done away (we do not need it as he was our Hope and Faith), then only Love will remain forever.

    1. Mario, 1 Corinthians does say that one day tongues will cease but you are making a flawed conclusion that “that day” has come. You are reading into the text your biased belief that it has ceased. I have undeniable proof that it has not ceased, and the proof is that I and thousands, if not even millions, of others speak in tongues.

      1. I agree with Dan, There is a pastors wife I have known for years who told me she expereanced someone she has known for years start speaking in Chinese when holy spirit was manifested and that person never has been around or taught Chinese and it was directed to 3 Chinese prostitutes that happen to need the good news of Christ.

  5. this article stated that there was a video on tongues at the end of it which i was very interested in,but was not there. Do all prayer tongues sound different? mine sound different that what iv hear but they are not me it is happening naturally . the words almost sound hebrew at times and even eli and allah are used. im wondering how you know your prayer language is real
    thanks

    1. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of languages of mankind, plus the tongues of angels, so yes, many tongues do sound different. Keep speaking and you will increase in fluency as the spirit leads. You will know the tit is real, especially when you manifest it and then interpret.

  6. i love it i was told speaking in toungs was a lesser gift but now i learnd it isn’t.non of gods gifts arelittle it is another way to get closer to god and to build us up and be more confindent …do you know where it says god wants us to pray to him in the toungs only i read it some wher and forgot to show people this is the corect way thank you god bless

  7. Hello! I came across your site today while preparing to teach a Bible study on tongues. Having not spoken in tongues, but being part of a congregation where many do speak in tongues, I am trying to be like the Bereans and “search the scriptures daily”.

    One thing I notice is you use 1 Cor 14:5 almost as a soft command. The greek “thelo de pantas”, which is translated “moreover, I wise/desire all” is also found in 1 Cor 7:7 when Paul basically says “I wish you would all be like me – a single man”. It seems he’s not using either of these as a command, but truly in this manner: “It would be great if you could live single like me – solely devoted to the Lord”, and in the other verse “I wish you all could speak in tongues”, rather than “you all need to be speaking in tongues.”

    Again, I am searching within this topic because in my preparation I am finding things that seem to suggest tongues is a gift some have and some do not. For instance, 1 Cor 12:30 is asking a rhetorical question that seems to indicate a negative response: “Do all speak in tongues?” that indicates to me that some do and some do not, especially in the context of the other gifts.

    We don’t seem to question people not having other gifts, such as interpretation of tongues. We just assume most people don’t have that gift. Same goes for the gift of miracles, for instance.

    I certainly believe God can use any believer at any time to do anything He wants that person to do – miracles, heal, speak in tongues, etc.

    But, 1 Cor 12:8 seems to indicate one person will have a specific gift while another will have a different gift, and while Paul concludes that ” the Lord distributes gifts to each one as He wills”, it reads more as “see, some of you have this gift, others that gift, because the Lord hands them out to each person as he wills.”

    Conservative cessationists will claim the gifts died out after the canon of scripture was complete – which I completely disagree with because I have actually seen the baptism of the Holy Spirit occur at a time when I had never even heard that term before. I spent months trying to read and learn what had happened in that moment, and my research led me to the understanding of what it actually was.

    On the other hand, charismatics seem to have taken it so far as to believe every believer has every gift, or at least that they should all be speaking in tongues, and whatever else happens is simply a bonus. The experience is almost more important the scripture to them, and since the gifts can be counterfeited by the enemy, the experience should always be weighed against scripture in every case.

    I’m just trying to gain an understanding. While Paul wishes that I spoke in tongues, or had the self-control to remain single, I can’t seem to find the scriptural backing that we SHOULD be speaking in tongues.

    Additionally, charismatics that I’ve been around all seem to have what they call a “prayer language” – which I cannot dispute. But, it seems as if at some point, over time, we’d get at least ONE – just one – instance of an actual earthly language being spoken and interpreted by someone in the congregation who would recognize it as their native language. After all, in Acts 2, at least 15 of the languages being spoken were recognized by the foreign Jews in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

    As I’m trying to search the scriptures, my conservative upbringing is constantly on guard for authenticity. I also never want to put the Holy Spirit in a box. He can do all things, yet I think our unbelief and willingness to write off the legitimate manifestations of spiritual gifts because of a few on the fringe who might want the experience bad enough to fake it, (albeit with the best intentions) is also displeasing to the Lord.

    Can you shed some scriptural light on my thought process? I appreciate your time and willingness to respond to a post made a few years ago!

    1. Hi Bradley, Thank you for your well thought out reply and question. We believe a the time of the new birth we receive one gift, the gif too holy spirit. this gift can be energized to manifest in different ways. some times the manifestation occurs by God (i.e. A message of Knowledge, A message of Wisdom, etc) and other times we can manifest (i.e. speaking in tongues, etc.) there are other aspects of the gifting that are unique to the individual and not something that every one gets, such as the ministry of being an apostle, evangelist, etc.

      Concerning speaking in tongues being understood in a meeting because it is a language of men, we have heard of reports when this has happened. After all, you must consider that throughout history there have been thousands of languages, many of which are no long er known or spoken. It is reported that there are over 6,500 languages spoken in the world today, so it makes sense that in any given meeting of a few hundred that no one would understand the language being spoken.

      I have spoken in tongues for over 4 decades and first did so when some one encouraged me to simply speak the words as God gave them to me.

      Here is link to our video series on the topic.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEJCpOEuw-g

  8. Yes, its true my friend, speaking in tounges is amazing, when i was in college im attending already in christian churches for 1 year but i did not feel, experience these gifts, after 5 yrs i was invited again to a church by a friend, in my second attendance in that church that is the time that i experience an awesome power of God, and that is the time that i also experience the speaking in tounges, until now i can speak many languages and some were given interpretation while praying to God these speaking in tounges. And in fact, i had laid hands a woman, 2 boys and a man, eventhough im not a pastor, they were also touched by the power of God and they also speak in tounges, and one thing is it did not happened at the church, it happened at our house while we arw prayimg and praising God.

  9. Hi, my name is Abbie. I have a question. I am saved. I believe in Jesus and I love him. I had a prophecy to speak in tongues when I was 11. I’m 16 now. So i have been asking the lord to fill me with the Holy Spirit. At night I have prayed and asked. I have tried to speak. I’ve spoken gibberish but the flow and utterance of holt spirit does not come. Why can’t I speak in tongues?

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