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Salvation, Holy Spirit Baptism, & Speaking in Tongues:


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Definitions of "speaking in tongues":

The term "speaking in tongues" has been used to describe two very different phenomena:

bulletGlossolalia: This is the most commonly meaning of "speaking in tongues." This term is derived from two Greek words: glőssai, which means "tongues" or "languages," and lalien which means "to speak." It is observed in some tribal religions and within some Christian denominations, notably Charismatics, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often called Mormons) in the past, 1 and Pentecostals.

bullet One source claims that Atheists and Agnostics have also spoken in tongues. 2

bullet Another source defines it as "a phenomenon of intense religious experience expressing itself in ecstatic speech." 3

bullet Still another source comments: "To the outsider, hearing someone speaking in 'tongues' is like hearing so much gibberish. ..Glossolalia is the common prayer speech heard at Pentecostal churches." 4

bullet The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible defines glossolalia as: "the ecstatic utterance of emotionally agitated religious persons, consisting of a jumble of disjointed and largely unintelligible sounds. Those who speak in this way believe that they are moved directly by a divine spirit and their utterance is therefore quite spontaneous and unpremeditated." 5

A person speaking in tongues is typically in a state of religious ecstasy and is often unable to understand the words that she/he is saying.

Most Christians who speak in tongues believe that they are speaking in an existing language. However, it is not similar to any known human tongue. Many speculate that it is a heavenly tongue. i.e. a language spoken by angels or by God, and does not correspond to any human language. It was seen frequently in the church at Corinth in the 1st century CE. It was experienced rarely during the history of Christianity until the 20th century when it became quite common.

bulletXenoglossia: (a.k.a. Zenolalia, Xenoglossia) This is the ability to spontaneously speak a foreign language without first having learned it, or even been exposed to it. This term is also derived from two Greek words: Xenos, which means "foreign" or "foreigner", and glőssai, which means "tongues" or "languages." An event in which an individual who knows only English, has never been exposed to any other language, and who suddenly starts to speak in fluent Swahili would be an example of Xenoglossia. Stories of xenoglossia are well known, particularly within the Pentecostal movement and psychic research.

bullet E. D. O'Connor describes some cases.

bullet Another source claims that "no scientifically attested case of zenolalia has come to light." 6

bullet Still another writer states that essentially all claims of xenoglossia are hoaxes. He claims that only one credible case has ever surfaced: that of a "Jewish woman who slipped into another personality" during hypnosis who was able to speak in Swedish. 7

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Comparison of Pentecostals with other born-again Christians:

Conservative Protestant groups generally teach that believers are "saved" or "born again" when they trust Jesus as Lord and Savior. Some teach that a believer must first repent of their sins before being saved. Others believe that the act of repentance is a "good work" and thus not needed for salvation.

The phenomenon of speaking in tongues differs greatly among conservative Christian faith groups:

bullet Most Pentecostal denominations teach that, at the time that a person is saved, or slightly later, the believer will be "baptized of the Holy Spirit." One automatic manifestation of this baptism is the gift of speaking in tongues (a.k.a. glossolalia). Essentially all of their members do exhibit this gift when or after they are saved.

bullet Other conservative Protestant denominations, such as Fundamentalist and other Evangelical groups, also teach the vital importance of personal salvation. Most of their members are saved. But these denominations do not associate salvation with speaking in tongues. Essentially none of their saved members speak in tongues.

We have only been able to come up with two possible explanations for this major difference among denominations:

bullet It might be that the Pentecostals are right and that all, or essentially all, saved persons will speak in tongues. This would imply that essentially all non-Pentecostal conservative Christians are not really saved, even though they feel that they have sincerely repented of their sins and have trusted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. 10 This would mean that essentially all of the 16 million members of the Southern Baptist Convention, 11 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church) and many millions of members of other denominations are not actually saved.

bullet It might be that the Pentecostals are wrong. Speaking in tongues is not a normal result of having been saved. Rather, Pentecostals are motivated to speak in this way because of the expectations of their religious culture. They are expected to speak in tongues; this expectation is internalized; they end up speaking in tongues.

Neither of these explanations will probably be widely accepted among Christians.

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History of Speaking in Tongues

The various gifts of the Holy Spirit disappeared from view after the death of the apostles.

"Tongues" have reappeared since the Renaissance:

bulletLate 17th century: in southern France during the attempted extermination of Protestants by the Roman Catholic church. Many of the victims who exhibited the gift were French Calvinists, called Huguenots.

bullet 18th century: among some British Quakers and American Methodists.

bullet19th century: in England among members of the Catholic Apostolic Church, and in the US among members of Mormon churches. Later in the 19th century, it became common within the Holiness churches.


Early 20th century: it was an important factor -- perhaps the defining characteristic -- at the founding of the Pentecostal movement. In 1900, Charles Parham and a small Bible study group in Kansas began to study Bible passages about the gift of tongues. They began to speak in tongues. In 1906, one of Parham's students -- William J. Seymour, an African American preacher, -- held a Pentecostal revival meeting in Los Angeles that developed into the Azusa Street Mission Revival. The movement quickly expanded from there. It started out as a mixed-race movement, but later de-integrated. 8 Attendees were often described as "Holy Rollers", "Holy Jumpers", "Tangled Tonguers" and "Holy Ghosters." 9

bullet1960s: Believers who spoke in tongues began to form Charismatic groups with existing denominations, both Protestant and Catholic.

bulletRecent events: At the Toronto Blessing in Toronto, ON, Canada and the Pensacola Blessing in Penscaola, FL, many unusual activities have been observed. Thee include:
bullet Being slain in the Spirit -- fainting and remaining motionless for several hours,

bullet Laughing in the Spirit -- exhibiting uncontrollable waves of laughter,

bullet Getting drunk in the spirit,

bullet Weeping in the Spirit,

bullet Barking like a dog, and

bullet other unusual activities.

Although the Pentecostal movement has enjoyed a rapid increase in membership in many countries around the world, the movement in Canada has been shrinking. It lost about 15% in membership between 1991 and 2001, according to the Canadian government's census office.

bulletWikipedia entries about speaking in tongues: Wikipedia has a project called "WikiProject Charismatic Christianity" which attempts to build a comprehensive and detailed guide to Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement. It includes:

bullet "Talk: Glossolilia" at: It includes an actual recording of a man speaking in tongues.

Also see a personal entry:
bullet "TongueSpeaker" at:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. John Farkas, "Speaking in Tongues and the Mormon Church," Berean Christian Ministries, at:
  2. Jeff Wehr, "Speaking in Tongues, "Our Firm Foundation, Vol. 11, #11, 1996-NOV-11. Available at:
  3. J.F. Jansen, "Glossolalia". One section in B.M. Metzger & M.D. Coogan, "The Oxford Companion to the Bible," Oxford University Press, New York, NY, (1993), Page 255
  4. J.G. Melton, Ed., "The Encyclopedia of American Religions," Volume 1, Triumph Books, Tarrytown, NY, (1991), Page 41 to 47.
  5. C.M. Laymon, Ed., "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, (1971), Page 807.
  6. R. Goring, Ed., "The Wordsworth Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions," Wordsworth Editions, Hertfordshire UK, (1995), Page 192
  7. D. J. Janes, "Glossolalia: The Gift of Gibberish," available at the Institute for First Amendment Studies, at:
  8. "Use and Misuse of Spiritual Gifts," Worldwide Church of God, at:
  9. "Azusa Street Revival," Wikipedia, 2010-SEP-23, at:
  10. John David Clark, Sr., "Speaking in Tongues at Spirit Baptism," Going to Jesus, 2008, at:

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Copyright © 1998 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-NOV-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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