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Salvation-Holy Spirit Baptism-Speaking in Tongues:


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Bible passages which discuss "Tongues:"

Passages in the Bible describe "speaking in tongues" as two very different phenomenon:

bulletThe author of Luke-Acts describes Pentecost as an event where the listeners each heard the Apostles talk in the listeners' own language. This may have been an example of xenoglossia. 1 The author describes "speaking in tongues" as occurring at three major turning points in the early Christian movement: Pentecost, the first outreach to Gentiles, and the baptism of some followers of John the Baptist.
bulletSt. Paul, in 1 Corinthians, describes tongues as glossolalia. 2 The congregation is generally unable to understand what is being said. The person speaking in tongues is described as communicating with God. A person with the special gift of interpretation is needed to translate the words. Paul describes speaking in tongues as the least important of the possible gifts of the Holy Spirit, and implies that they are a routine occurrence in at least the church at Corinth.

The Bible contains 35 passages which mention speaking in tongues. 4 Some of the passages in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) which discuss speaking in tongues are:

bulletMark 16:17: This section, verses 15 to 18 include instructions by Jesus to the 11 remaining apostles to travel throughout the world and proclaim the gospel to everyone. Jesus describes that believers will speak in new tongues (sometimes translated as "languages") Unfortunately, the verses in Mark 16:9-20 were not written by the author of Mark; the passage is a later addition by an unknown forger. Their validity are thus questionable.
bulletActs 2:1 to 21 describes miraculous events during the Feast of Weeks (originally established in Leviticus 23:15-21). The holy day had become known as Pentecost, because it was observed 50 days after Passover. (The Greek word for 50'th day is "pentecoste.") The apostles and other followers were gathered in a house in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit descended upon each of them. They began to speak with other tongues. Devout men from "every nation" assembled and were amazed. "Every man heard them speaking in his own language." (ASV)  Among the people on that day were visitors from at least 15 various nations: "Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome...Cretans and Arabs..." etc. (NIV).

Unfortunately the precise meaning of the passage is obscure. The author of Acts does state that the visitors all heard the preaching in their own language. This contrasts with St. Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians where he mentions that people speaking in tongues cannot be understood by most observers, but have to be first interpreted. The Pentecost speaking can be interpreted in many ways:

bulletVerse 13 refers to some skeptics in the audience who stated that the men were drunk. Unfortunately, the passage is unclear as to who "the men" are. It could refer to an event in which the apostles spoke in glossolalia and the listeners were believed to be so drunk that they thought that the apostles were speaking in the listener's own language.
bulletSome Bible interpreters believe that the apostles spoke either in a language that they had always known, or perhaps using glossolalia. The Apostles were from Galilee where the predominant language was Aramaic, but where many people spoke Greek as a second language. A miracle is described in which each person in the audience heard the words as if they were spoken in that person's native tongue. In some miraculous way, the original language became translated before being sensed by each listener's brain. This would be a manifestation of neither conventional glossolalia nor xenoglossia. It would have been a unique phenomenon.
bulletOther Bible interpreters believe that the apostles exhibited xenoglossia. That is, they were given a gift by the Holy Spirit of being able to speak in a second or third language. One might have spoken in Latin; another in the language of the Medes; another in Egyptian etc. Under this interpretation, each apostle might have spoken to a separate group of visitors. Alternatively, the apostles might have spoken in sequence in a variety of languages.

In subsequent verses of this passage, Peter delivers a sermon about Jesus' death and resurrection. It is not clear whether:

bulletPeter spoke in Greek (or perhaps in glossolalia) and was heard by each visitor in the latter's language as a miracle
bulletPeter spoke in Greek and was understood by each visitor. (Knowledge of Greek as a second language was common in the Middle East at the time)
bulletPeter became capable of xenoglossia, and delivered a series of sermons, each in a different language to a portion of the audience. Eventually, all of the visitors would have had a chance to hear the message in their own tongue.
bulletActs 2:41: After the speaking in tongues during the Pentecost experience, 3,000 Christians were baptized.
bulletActs 10:44-47: Tongues appear again in Caesarea when Christianity is first taken to the Gentiles.
bulletActs 19:4-7: St. Paul is described as meeting about a dozen followers of John the Baptist in Ephesus. He baptized them in the name of Jesus. (Early Christian baptisms were apparently made only in Jesus' name, not in the names of the Trinity.) The Holy Spirit came upon them and they began to speak in tongues. The passage is not clear whether xenoglossia or glossolalia was involved. Acts 10:44-48 and Acts 19:4-7 describe similar events.
bullet1 Corinthians 12:4-12: St. Paul explains how the Holy Spirit gives to each new believer a gift. This gift may be wisdom, knowledge, faith, ability to heal others, ability to perform miracles, prophecy, discernings of spirits, speaking in tongues, or interpretation of the words of a person speaking in tongues. Some see this passage as implying that each believer receives only one gift - or at most a few gifts.
bullet1 Corinthians 12:27-31: St. Paul tells the Corinthians that God has given many types of gifts to the members of the church: being an Apostle, prophet, teacher, miracle worker, healer, helper, organizer or being able to speak in tongues. But no one person receives all of the possible gifts. And all members do not receive the gift of speaking in tongues or the gift of understanding and translating what others speak in tongues. He ranks the gifts in order of importance, with the gift of tongues of least value.
bullet1 Corinthians 13:1: St. Paul writes of the possibility of people speaking in the tongues of men (also translated as humans, men, mortals) and of angels. This might imply that some believers had the gift of glossolalia, which is the language used by angels, whereas some have the gift of xenoglossia and are able to speak in other human languages which they had never been previously fluent in. Again, the meaning is unclear.
bullet1 Corinthians 13:8: implies that at some time in the future (as viewed by Paul in the middle of the 1st century CE) people will no longer prophecy or speak in tongues.
bullet1 Corinthians 14:1-14: St. Paul explains that a person who speaks in tongues will be talking to God but not to the other Christians present. The speaker will themselves grow spiritually. Here, Paul differs from the writer of Acts. Paul states that the rest of the congregation will be unable to understand the words spoken. Other Christians will only be able to understand and grow spiritually if a person with the gift of interpretation is present who will translate the tongues into an understandable language. Paul suggests that a person who has received the gift of tongues pray for the ability to interpret his/her own words so that they can afterwards explain to the congregation what they have said.
bullet1 Corinthians 14:14-19: Paul downplays the importance of speaking in tongues. He said that he would rather speak 5 words that people can understand rather than 10,000 words in tongues.
bullet1 Corinthians 14:20-25: Paul discusses tongues in relation to missionary work. He suggests that a non-Christian would be repelled if they were to attend a meeting where many people were speaking in tongues. He cites prophecy as being influential in the conversion of non-believers.
bullet1 Corinthians 14:27: St. Paul instructs believers to restrict the number of people speaking in tongues during a religious meeting at one time to two or, at most, three individuals. He also instructs the church at Corinth to provide interpreters - people able to interpret the message to the congregation. If no interpreter is available then St. Paul instructs the believers to remain quiet during the meeting.
bullet1 Corinthians 14:27: St. Paul instructs the church at Corinth to allow people to speak in tongues.

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  1. Xenoglossia: (a.k.a. Zenolalia, Xenoglossia) This is the miraculous ability to spontaneously speak a foreign language without first having learned it, or even been exposed to it.
  2. Glossolalia: 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." 3
  3. C.M. Laymon, Ed., "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, (1971), Page 807.
  4. Tom Brown, "Speaking in Tongues," at: http://tbm.org/tongues.htm

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Copyright © 1998 to 2001 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2001-OCT-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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