[This is an edited version of a post from Monday 2nd July 2007. I wanted to post up the YouTube clip, which I stumbled across by accident today, but needed some context to put it in. The video is at the bottom of this post.]
“See my tie, see my tie shin up a drainpipe. I’ll have a double Bacardi and a Kaliber shandy. A lass with a Calor gas heater can seek a man’s coriander, but she came on a Honda.”
Does that sound familiar? If you’ve spent any amount of time in a Pentecostal or charismatic church, it probably does. This post is all about speaking in tongues, or glossolalia to use its technical name.
If you listen to most “speaking in tongues” as practised in Pentecostal and charismatic churches, it is usually an unintelligible babbling made up of pseudo-words or even disjointed sounds with a lot of repetition. This is regarded by Pentecostals (of which I used to be one) as the initial evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately for that point of view, speaking in tongues has been recorded in other religions as well, including some shamanistic religions and voodoo. Is it evidence of the Holy Spirit in those cases? I would think not.
As I understand it, the word “tongue” in the New Testament generally refers to a language. A real language, not an ecstatic babbling. That is why there is so much emphasis in the Bible on interpreting what is said “in tongues”. The gift of tongues, to me, is an ability to speak languages other than one’s own by the power of God. Certainly in the most famous incident of speaking in tongues, when the Holy Spirit was first given in Acts chapter 2, the people from all over the known world who were present each heard the believers speaking in their own language.
In the early years after I first began to follow Christ, I was part of a Pentecostal church. A lot of people kept telling me about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, this amazing “second blessing” in which I would be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. I was not so much encouraged to seek for this as pressured into it, but either way it was something I desperately wanted, as I was told that it would take me to a higher level and enable me to live a more godly life. I wanted it so much, I regularly prayed and prayed for hours to receive this wonderful gift that I had been told was mine by right, and eventually one day I began to speak in tongues. Years later I gradually began to realise that what I was doing was more the result of wishful thinking, self-delusion and pressure from others in the church than real spiritual inspiration. At that point I stopped, but it took me a long time to reach that point. At first, for many years, I was convinced that I was speaking in other tongues by the power of the Holy Spirit and I am certain that many other Pentecostals and charismatics are similarly self-deluded, thinking that their speaking in tongues is the result of a miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit when really it may be just a product of their own desperate desire to do so.
I have met several Christians who spoke in tongues and were convinced that they were speaking Hebrew. Well, I studied biblical Hebrew for two years and have a basic knowledge of modern Hebrew and I can honestly say that although I have heard a great many people speaking in tongues, I have never yet heard anyone speaking Hebrew while doing so. I have heard monoglot English-speaking Christians speaking in tongues who included half-remembered snatches of the Welsh prayers their parents knew (as a Welsh-speaker, these things stand out to me). I have heard people speaking in tongues whose utterance consisted of one or two syllables repeated endlessly, such as “oolalalalalalalalalababala, oolalalalalalalalalalalababababalala.” I regard all these as suspect, though in my experience all these people have been totally sincere in their belief that they are “speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gives them utterance.”
To me, the touchstone that proves whether or not the gift of tongues is genuine is this: does the “tongue” have the characteristics of a real language, or is it perhaps recognisable as such by someone present who understands the language being spoken? If not, I would suggest that it is not genuine, in which case the real gift of tongues is rather rare these days. However, it is often counterfeited unknowingly by people who desperately desire this gift as proof that they have been filled with the Holy Spirit.
[The views expressed in the following video clip aren't necessarily my own, but I found it interesting enough to share on here.]