If a person completely new to the ‘church scene’ should walk into a ‘church’ on a Sunday, what would he encounter? Among many things new and strange to him, one of the most sensational must be the phenomenon of ‘speaking in tongues’.
He would be astounded, surprised, shocked, amused, confused and perhaps even disturbed to watch and hear as numbers of people in the assembly utter strange, meaningless sounds in ecstatic fashion.
What is the meaning of this, he might wonder. He might be told by helpful congregants that they were ‘speaking in tongues’. Some might offer the explanation that they were speaking in a heavenly or angelic language.
If one were to use a word to describe this ‘speaking in tongues’, the word would very well be ‘gibberish’. Gibberish means “meaningless or unintelligible talk or writing”, for that certainly does describe aptly what one hears of this ‘speaking in tongues’.
The first time we read of speaking in tongues in the New Testament is in the second chapter of Acts. The Lord had commanded His apostles to remain in the city of Jerusalem, until they were endued with power from on high (Lu 24:49; cf. John 14:16-17, 26; Acts 1:2-5).
The promise was fulfilled (cf. Acts 2:1-4). The Holy Spirit fell on the apostles on the day of Pentecost. “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4).”
When did the apostles begin to speak with other tongues? When they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. How were they able to speak with other tongues? The Holy Spirit gave them utterance.
Clearly, the ability to speak in tongues was supernatural and stemmed from the power of the Holy Spirit. Not even the apostles could speak in tongues without the Holy Spirit’s empowerment.
Now we must consider another important point. Were the apostles speaking gibberish on that day when the promise was fulfilled? After all, that is usually what we hear from religious groups professing the ability to speak in tongues, just as the apostles did.
They claim the same power as the apostles had. Therefore it was only right and responsible for us to search the scriptures daily, whether those things were so (cf. Acts 17:11). We pick up the narrative from Acts 2:5.
“And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born (Acts 2:5-8)?”
“…every man heard them speak in his own language.” What the apostles spoke were not gibberish but actual languages of the devout men, out of every nation under heaven. To further verify this fact, these men themselves said, “And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?”
We can also infer that the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the miraculous ability to speak in languages foreign to their own so that they could preach to the diverse nationalities gathered in Jerusalem.
They were also told to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15).” How could they unless they could speak the languages?
When we objectively put what is claimed today as the ‘speaking in tongues’ under the scrutiny of the New Testament, we see an obvious and massive discrepancy.
Furthermore, as we have studied over the last two weeks, the promise of being baptised with the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles, not to Christians in general. To claim to be able to speak in a foreign language without having been trained in it is to claim miraculous power.
Of course, the fact that a person speaks gibberish instead of a foreign language is evident that he does not have miraculous power. In addition, no one (as best to my knowledge) who claims to ‘speak in tongues’ has made any assertion that the gibberish is indeed a foreign language known to the natives from whence it comes.
The attempt to explain away the discrepancy by claiming that such gibberish is speaking in a heavenly or angelic language falls short of having any scriptural evidence whatsoever.
As seekers of truth, it is vitally important that we lay aside our ego and face up to possible errors in our beliefs and practices, when we discover them by the light of God’s word. It is only doing the right thing.