Lorraine Day, M.D.

The phenomenon of "speaking in tongues," technically designated as "glossolalia," has been manifested in nearly every Christian denomination in recent years. It is estimated that between 140 and 370 million Christians engage in glossolalia worldwide. These figures reveal that up to 20% of all Christians engage in glossolalia, and the number is growing dramatically every year.

The contemporary phenomenon of "speaking in tongues" is of recent origin in Christianity. It is part of the Pentecostalism of the twentieth century, beginning in modern times around 1900 and more recently, since the 1960's, involving the charismatic movement.

What is the origin of glossolalia? Is it from God or, as others claim, connected with the demonic? Is it a supernatural phenomenon or is it a trance-state, a form of hypnosis? Is glossolalia identical with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as described in Acts 2? Is it identical with Paul's descriptions of the spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12-14?

Why do people who "speak in tongues" now refer to it as the "language of angels" whereas they previously said that they spoke in known foreign languages?

Charismatics usually consider "speaking in tongues" as the fulfillment of the Latter Rain as promised in Joel 2:28-29. They believe that glossolalia is a final manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the end of time before the Second Coming of Christ. Many Christians believe that one is not fully "saved" until they have the "gift" of "spiritual language."

This study will analyze the five passages in the New Testament that deal directly and explicitly with "speaking in tongues": Mark 16:17; Acts 2:1-13, 10:44-48; 19:1-7; and 1 Cor 12-14 and will evaluate the published scientific studies regarding the origin of the "languages" spoken by those participating in glossolalia (speaking in tongues).

In Mark 16:17: Jesus predicts the following:

"And these signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name; they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues."

This is the only reference to speaking in tongues in the Gospels. This statement by Jesus in Mark on the gift of tongues is in the context of the Lord's commission to His disciples to preach the gospel to the whole world, to every creature. Jesus' disciples were to receive the power of the gift of the Holy Spirit and they were to proclaim the Good News of what Jesus had achieved for all mankind, first in Israel, and then to all nations, tongues (languages) and peoples.

During their previous ministry the disciples had been restricted to Israel, but now their ministry was to go far beyond the borders of Palestine into countries where other languages were spoken.

The most explicit and significant passage on the gift of speaking in tongues is presented in Acts 2:1-13.

"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:4)

The word "gave" denotes a gift of the Holy Spirit. The gift of speaking in tongues is not a learned experience. This is in contrast to the practice in Pentecostalism and among the charismatics with their meetings of groups of people where they are taught how to expand their consciousness and bypass the intellect in order to engage in glossolalia, speaking in tongues.

The word translated "utterance" in Acts 2:4 actually means "to speak out loudly and clearly" or "to speak with emphasis."

Acts 2:5-12:

"And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men out of every nation under heaven. Now when this sound occurred, the multitude came together and were confused, because every man heard them speak in his own language (vernacular).

"And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own language (or dialect) wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia and in Judea and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and visitors of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues (languages), the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were perplexed, saying one to another, What meaneth this?"

It is obvious that all these people from many different countries were hearing in their own language, the specific language of their nation. The languages in which the disciples were speaking were known foreign languages and dialects, not unintelligible mutterings. And the people were amazed that these Galileans, uneducated in the "proper" schools, and all from a lower class of society, could speak these foreign languages.

Luke is communicating to us that the miraculous gift of speaking in other languages at Pentecost was the ability to speak articulate, intelligible, foreign languages which had not been learned by the speakers previously and which were not learned at that time. The gift of languages was instant and spontaneous. It was not "learned."

The term "tongues" in vs. 4 is clearly defined by Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, in Acts 2. In vss. 6 and 8 he equates this term with "languages." In the latter two verses we do not find the Greek word glossa but the Greek term dialektos which means dialect, or "language of a nation or region." In Acts 1:19 the term dialektos means the vernacular language of a country. It has the same meaning in Acts 2:6,8.

There is much support for the conclusion that the "tongues" are indeed specific known "languages." First, notice that the hearers, who are not necessarily believers, understand in their own individual language, without interpretation or translation. Second, the people are amazed and bewildered (Acts 2:7). "The crowd detects that the speakers are not foreigners but Galileans who could not have learned these foreign languages in any natural way. Their utter amazement was caused by the fact that these unlearned Galileans suddenly spoke in the native mother tongues of the various listeners." (Speaking in Tongues by Gerhard Hasel)

Acts 10:44-48

"While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles was also poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.

For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord."

The two manifestations of speaking in other languages (tongues) recorded in Acts 2 and Acts 10 is further stressed by Peter, the eyewitness in Acts 11:15: "The Holy Spirit fell on them (in Caesarea) just as on us in the beginning." He affirmed that "God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us (at Pentecost) when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ." (vs 17). Peter was convinced that the gift of speaking in tongues (languages) by the believers in Caesarea was "the same gift" of miraculously speaking foreign languages as the gift which he and the other followers of Jesus received on the day of Pentecost. (Munck, Acts of the Apostles).

Acts 19:2,3,6

Paul said unto them "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since you believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.

And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism...and when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came on them and they spake with tongues and prophesied."

1 Corinthians Chapter 14 (Concordant translation)

vs 2-4 "Yet be zealous for spiritual endowments, yet rather that you may be prophesying. For he who is speaking in a language is not speaking to men, but to God, for no one is hearing, yet in spirit he is speaking secrets...He who is speaking in a language is edifying himself, yet he who is prophesying is edifying the ecclesia."

vss 12 and 27 say that ALL should be done for the edification of the ecclesia (church). In other words, if edification does not take place as a result of speaking in languages (tongues), the whole process is useless. The "speaking in tongues" that is occurring in Christian churches today edifies no one.



History of Glossolalia

Glossolalia is defined in the recent authoritative Encyclopedia of Religion as a practice of "nonordinary speech behavior that is institutionalized as a religious ritual in numerous Western and non-Western religious communities." The Greek term glossa means "tongue, language," and the verb laleo means "to speak", thus the word glossolalia.

A renowned linguist who has studied Christian glossolalia extensively gave a similar definition, describing it as "a meaningless but phonetically structured human utterance believed by the speaker to be a real language but bearing no systematic resemblance to any natural language, living or dead." (William J. Samarin, Tongues of Men and Angels. The Religious Language of Pentecostalism (New York, 1972).

Glossolalia is a fairly recent phenomenon in the Christian world: "First wave", 1900: "speaking in tongues" was manifested in the traditional Pentecostal churches. "Second wave", 1960: neo-Pentecostalism or the charismatic renewal movement, "speaking in tongues" entered most traditional churches of Christianity including the Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Roman Catholics and so on. "Third wave": the recent celebration church movement.

Speaking in tongues did not come about as a result of studying this subject in the Bible. Speaking in tongues just happened, then students subsequently studied the Bible to find support for this new phenomenon that took place in the meetings of Charles Parham of Bethel College in Topeka, Kansas in 1900.

Recent studies have indicated that glossolalia is not a uniquely Christian practice. Glossolalia is practiced by a large number of native non-Christian living religions around the world. Glossolalia is found amoung the "Inuit (Eskimos), The Saami (Lapps), in Japanese seances in Hokkaido, in a small cult led by Genji Yanagide of Moji City, the shamans in Ethiopia in the zar cult and various spirits in Haitian Voodoo. L. Carlyle May shows that glossolalia in non-Christian religions is present in Malaysia, Indonesia, Siberia, Arctic regions, China, Japan, Korea, Arabia, and Burma, among other places. It is also present extensively in African tribal religions.

Glossolalia in Contemporary Linguistic Study

The highly respected 1972 study of John P. Kildahl (The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues) concludes that "from a linguistic point of view, religiously inspired glossolalic utterances have the same general characteristics as those that are not religiously inspired." In fact, glossolalia is a "human phenomenon, not limited to Christianity nor even to religious behavior." (Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements by Spittler, P. 340).

Experts in the field of linguistics have diligently studied the phenomenon of glossolalia over a period of many years. One of the early investigations was made in the early 1960's by Eugene A. Nida. He provided a detailed list of reasons why glossolalia cannot be human language. Another early study, that of W.A. Wolfram in the year 1966, also concluded that glossolalia lacks the basic elements of human language as a system of coherent communication.

In a massive study of glossolalia from a linguistic perspective by Professor William J. Samarin of the University of Toronto's Department of Linguistics published after more than a decade of careful research, he rejected the view that glossolalia is xenoglossia, i.e. some foreign language that could be understood by another person who knew that language. Samarin concluded that glossolalia is a "pseudo-language." He defined glossolalia as "unintelligible babbling speech that exhibits superficial phonological similarity to language, without having consistent syntagmatic structure and that is not systematically derived from or related to known language." (William J. Samarin, "Variation and Variables in Religious Glossolalia," Language in Society, ed. Dell Haymes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972 pgs. 121-130)

Felicitas D. Goodman, a psychological anthropologist and linguist, engaged in a study of various English - Spanish - and Mayan-speaking Pentecostal communities in the United States and Mexico. She compared tape recordings of non-Christian rituals from Africa, Borneo, Indonesia and Japan as well. She published her results in 1972 in an extensive monograph (Speaking in Tongues: A Cross-Cultural Study in Glossolalia by Felecitas D. Goodman, University of Chicago Press, 1972).

Goodman concludes that "when all features of glossolalia were taken into consideration--that is, the segmental structure (such as sounds, syllables, phrases) and its suprasegmental elements (namely, rhythm, accent, and especially overall intonation)-- she concluded that there is no distinction in glossolalia between Christians and the followers of non-Christian (pagan) religions. The "association between trance and glossolalia is now accepted by many researchers as a correct assumption," writes Goodman in the prestigious Encyclopedia of Religion (1987).

Goodman also concludes that glossolalia "is, actually, a learned behavior, learned either unawarely or, sometimes consciously." Others have previously pointed out that direct instruction is given on how to "speak in tongues," ie. how to engage in glossolalia.

In fact, it has been found that the "speaking in tongues" practiced in Christian churches and by individual Christians is identical to the chanting language of those who practice voodoo on the darkest continents of this world.

Those who speak in tongues are also becoming involved in "holy laughter" - laughing uncontrollably, falling down on the ground, rolling around, having seizure-like activity, being struck dumb, or being "slain in the spirit."

Jesus NEVER behaved that way, nor did He heal that way. In fact, He came to DELIVER us from those activities. The demoniacs He delivered were out of control, writhing on the ground. When Jesus cast out the demons and delivered them, they sat quietly with dignity.

One of the fruits of the spirit of God is SELF CONTROL (Gal. 5;22,23).


An excellent resource for this topic is: Speaking in Tongues by Gerhard F. Hasel available from: Speaking in Tongues, 9984 Red Bud Trail, Berrien Springs, MI 49103, USA. Price is $11.95 which includes shipping.




1) Is this a supernatural phenomenon?

2) Is it an altered state of consciousness, a form of hypnosis or hysteria, or a process of learned behavior?

3) Is modern day glossolalia identical with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost?

4) Is it true that modern glossolalia is a spiritual and not a rational language?

5) Is glossolalia the "language of the angels?"

6) Is glossolalia a manifestation that one has received the Holy Spirit and a fulfillment of the Latter Rain promised in Joel 2:28-29?

7) Is glossolalia as practiced by Christians different from glossolalia practiced by non-Christians?

8) Is Christian usage of glossolalia from God or, as others hold, from Satan and connected with the demonic?

9) What are the results of the investigations done by linguists of various specialties concerning the similarities or differences between Christian glossolalia and pagan glossolalia?

10) Where does "speaking in tongues" originate from?

11) Do all Christians need to "speak in tongues"?

12) Who endorses "speaking in tongues"?

13) Does "speaking in tongues" lead to a closer walk with Christ?

14) Is "speaking in tongues" the future means to unite all Christians into one single church?

15) Are New Testament "speaking in tongues" and modern glossolalia identical or is there a radical difference between them?

© Lorraine Day, M.D. 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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