Questions And Answers About Speaking In Tongues: Part Four

 By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

Question: Were there people in the ancient world who practiced the speaking of gibberish (such as practiced in modern day charismatic churches) as a religious experience to pagan gods and goddesses?  

Answer: Yes.  

 The speaking of ecstatic utterances was well known and documented in the ancient world.

Several sources of this abound. For example, Keener (in his scholarly four volume commentary on the Book of Acts) has this: 

“Ecstatic speech and behavior, by contrast, were a common element in ancient prophetism and many forms of worship. Prophets and other divinely possessed persons were thought to act in ways normally considered insane. [280] Certainly, the possession trance described for the Pythian priestess fits here (e.g., Lucan C.W. 5.97–101); this also applies to Sibylline prophecy (Virg. Aen . 6.77–102) and to (not usually prophetic) Bacchic frenzy (Eurip. Bacch . 298–99). In many ancient conceptions, inspiration displaced the mind. [281] (See further the excursus on prophecy at Acts 2:17.)”. (Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary-Volume One-introduction And 1:1-2:47, 36952-36961 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Academic)

 James D. Bales provides much information about this topic: 

“Tongues of a sort have been manifested in pagan cults which existed before Christ came to earth, and in others which have not been influenced by Christianity. Virgil (70-19 B.C.) tells of one who inquired of the Priestess of Phoebus, at the cavern of the oracle of Sibyl.’ ‘They had gained the threshold, when the maid exclaims: Tis time to ask the oracles; lo! The god, the god! Before the doors thus speaking, suddenly nor countenance, nor hue, nor braided locks Stayed in one fashion; but her bosom heaves, her heart swells wild with frenzy; and more vast she seems, nor mortal rings her voice, when now touched by the nearer breath of deity. He made an end of speaking. But the seer, not yet patient of Phoebus, I the cavern storms Immeasurably, if haply from her breast she make shake off the mighty God; but he so much the rather plies her raving mouth, tames her wild heart, and moulds her to his might. In such words from the shrine doth Cumae’s Sibyl chant her awful riddles, and echo through the cave, in darkness shrouding truth; so shakes the reins Apollo in her raving mouth, and plies deep in her breast the goad. Soon as had ebbed her frenzy, and the frantic lips were still.’ ‘Oracular possession of the kind above described is also common among savages and people of lower culture; and Dr. Tylor, in his Primitive Culture, ii. 14 gives examples of ecstatic utterance interpreted by the sane. Thus in the Sandwich Islands the god Oro gave his oracles through a priest who ‘ceased to act or speak as a voluntary agent, but with his limbs convulsed, his features distorted and terrific, his eyes wild and strained, he would roll on the ground foaming at the mouth, and reveal the will of the God in shrill cries sounds violent and in distinct, which the attending priests duly interpreted to the people’ (Encyclopedia Britannica). L.C. May wrote: ‘As a rule, speaking-in-tongues and kindred phenomena are confined to those areas where there is spirit possession and where inspirational shamans hold forth. Glossolalia can be and often is the result of spirit-induced ecstasy making it possible for the inspirational shaman to cure, exorcise, and prophesy…speaking-in-tongues is widespread and very ancient. Indeed, it is probable that as long as man has had divination, curing sorcery, and propitiation of spirits, he has had glossolalia.’ (As quoted by Pattinson, 74). These were manifestations of what these people called ‘spirit-possession,’ and these spirits which possessed them were not viewed as the Holy Spirit, for of the Holy Spirit they either knew nothing; or if they had heard anything about the Spirit they had not accepted Him. Concerning the Shango cult in Trinidad, George J. Jennings pointed out that ‘The induction of possession is at religious feasts or sacrifices where the combination of crowd excitement, singing, darkness, candles, circular rhythmic dancing, and other ceremonial phases are intensified by incessant drumming. The expected and common result is possession by the spirit or ‘Powers’ with a dramatic physical transformation including body vibrations, rhythmic bending of the body forward and backward, dilation of the eyes, and a fixed stare…The spirit then speaks through the he possessed individual in a mixture of genuine language and nonsense syllables-in short, a form of glossolalia.’ (10). This certainly reminds one of some of the meetings in which people get the gift of ‘tongues.’ There are others, of course, that are not so visible in their display of emotional involvement, but even in these cases we find the testimonies, prayers, and the repetition of certain words such as the name of Jesus. Other examples of tongues in pagan religion can be found in the worship of Amon around 1100 B.C., the writings of Plato who died around 347, Pythoness of Delphi, in some of the mystery religions, in Islam, and among Eskimos in Greenland. (Gromacki, 6-9).” (Dr. James D. Bales, Pat Boone And The Gift Of Tongues, 61-63 (Searcy, Arkansas). 

 While many will no doubt be bothered by these facts, the truth is undeniable: what is often practiced in modern day charismatic churches and identified as the gift of tongues has its’ parallel-not with the church that Jesus Christ built and the miraculous ability gifts given to some to speak fluently in foreign languages-but in the pagan religions of the false gods and goddesses of the ancient world.  

 In fact, some modern day Pentecostals have noticed this and have been very disturbed by it.

One Pentecostal newspaper article writer tells us: 

“One sees the man’s body forcibly shaking in spasms, with the hands trembling, the voice quivering in such staccato mumblings as: Je- Je- Je- Jee- sus . . . Jeee- sus . . . Je- Je- Je- Jee- sus . . . aassh . . . aassh . . . ah . . . aassh Jee- sus. Then follows some stuttering tongues- speaking: shlababababa— Jah- Jeey- balika— a syndrome which an American psychologist Peter Brent calls “a born- again fixation,” and an observer brands as “a Pentecostal anthem.” Only recently a reverend minister of an orthodox church queried, “If the possessed voodoo priest says: ‘shiri- bo- bo- bo- boh’ in a staccato stammer over his black whisk he holds, and the possessed born- again Christian rattles: ‘shlaba- ba- bah- shlabalika’ over his Bible, what can be the difference?” (Apostle Kwamena Ahinful, “Modern- Day Pentecostalism: Some Funny Oddities Which Must Be Stopped,” Modern Ghana , September 3, 2011,; ellipses in original)  

 Yet should it really surprise us that this gibberish speaking characteristic in pagan religion is found and practiced in places where the authority of Holy Scripture has been set aside and people are thereby made vulnerable to the seduction of the devil?

Satan, after all, transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). He works mainly through deception in the world (Ephesians 6:10-12). 

Question: Does the Bible teach that the Holy Spirit will so overwhelm a person that he loses his free will and is “slain in the Spirit?”  

Answer: No. Indeed, the exact opposite is clearly taught from God’s Word.  
 Many people in our country identify what they refer to as being “slain in the Spirit.” What is meant by this phraseology?  

“We asked the Holy Spirit to come and fill him up again. Suddenly, it happened. James fell back down to the floor, rolling and crying and clasping his hands over his face. The Holy Spirit had come in a mighty deluge of power, rushing into the wounded places, and filling him with His glory. James laughed. He cried. . . . His face flushed with glory and his body shook under the power of God. And when he finally got off the floor, like on the day of Pentecost, he was drunk with the Holy Spirit.” (Sandy Davis Kirk, The Pierced Generation (Chambersburg, PA: eGen, 2013), 63) 

“Today thousands of people are being “slain in the spirit” in the name of a fashionable and palpable demonstration of Holy Ghost power. Vineyard founder John Wimber, for one, claims to have found ample validation for this phenomenon in Scripture,, church history, and his own experiences. After years of observation, he has determined that while followers fall backward, ward, leaders invariably fall forward. He even claims to have seen a man converted after he was “lifted and flung thirty feet across the floor and slammed against a wall.”; While Counterfeit Revival leaders like Wimber attribute the “slain in the spirit” phenomenon to the Holy Ghost, in reality it has much more in common with Hindu gurus, hucksters, and hypnotists.. Counterfeit Revival leaders use sociopsychological manipulation as well as a variety of Scripture-twisting tactics to dupe their devotees. Even the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements candidly notes that “an entire battalion talion of Scripture proof texts is enlisted to support the legitimacy of the phenomenon, although Scripture plainly offers no support for the phenomenon as something to be expected in the normal Christian life.”4 Despite the pious attribution of this phenomenon to the Holy Spirit as well as the pragmatic addition of “catchers,” multitudes continue to suffer spiritual, emotional, and physical damage from this practice. Some have even died. While the Counterfeit Revival is fixated on sensational manifestations like being “slain in the spirit,” genuine revival is focused on salvation and sanctification in the Spirit.” (Hank Hanegraaff, Counterfeit Revival: Looking For God in All The Wrong Places, 359-367 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Word Publishing). 

 The Scriptures teach very clearly that this phenomenon is not of God.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church of God at Corinth, he addressed those in the assembly who truly had the miraculous gifts. What light does he shed on these matters?

 When speaking of those in the assembly who had the gift of tongues, he addressed the circumstance of their use of their miraculous gifts if there were no interpreters present. He says: 

1 Corinthians 14:28-But if there is no interpreter, LET HIM KEEP SILENT IN CHURCH, and let him speak to himself and to God.

1 Corinthians 14:30-But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, LET THE FIRST KEEP SILENT.  

If the Spirit took control of the individual and took away their free will, why would Paul need to command the members of the congregation to keep silent in certain circumstances? Obviously, this shows that the “slaying of the Spirit” doctrine simply is not found in the Word of God.  

 To make his point more clear, Paul writes: 

1 Corinthians 14:32-And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

Question: Does the Bible teach that the miraculous gifts would cease?  

Answer: Yes.  

 The Apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians that the miraculous gifts were temporary. At the end of 1 Corinthians 12:31, Paul encourages the Christians to seek a “more excellent way,” (literally, the way beyond all comparison). He then launches into a discussion regarding the superiority of love over the miraculous gifts. One of the reasons the miraculous gifts would pale in comparison to the way of love is because love is eternal, whereas the miraculous gifts would cease. He writes: 

1 Corinthians 13:8-10-Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

 Speaking of some of the verbs of this passage, MacArthur writes: 

“Fails (from piptō) has the basic meaning of falling, especially the idea of final falling, and was used of a flower or leaf that falls to the ground, withers, and decays. Never refers to time, not to frequency, and the idea is that at no time will divine love ever fall, wither, and decay. By nature it is permanent. It is never abolished. Love cannot fail because it shares God’s nature and God’s eternity….Done away is from katargeō, which means “to reduce to inactivity,” or “to abolish.” The gifts of prophecy and knowledge one day will be made inoperative. Both forms of this verb in verse 8, as well as its form in verse 10, are passive; that is, something or someone will cause them to stop. As will be discussed below, that something is the coming of “the perfect” (v. 10). Cease is from pauō, which means “to stop, to come to an end.” Unlike katargeō, this verb is here used in the Greek middle voice, which, when used of persons, indicates intentional, voluntary action upon oneself. Used of inanimate objects it indicates reflexive, self-causing action. The cause comes from within; it is built in. God gave the gift of tongues a built-in stopping place. “That gift will stop by itself,” Paul says. Like a battery, it had a limited energy supply and a limited lifespan. When its limits were reached, its activity automatically ended. Prophecy and knowledge will be stopped by something outside themselves, but the gift of tongues will stop by itself. This distinction in terms is unarguable.” (John MacArthur, First Corinthians, 7749-7795 (Kindle Edition); Chicago;; Moody Press)  

 The text here teaches that the miraculous gifts of the first century church would cease when that which is “perfect” had come.

What is that which is “perfect?”

Some have suggested it is talking about the Person of Jesus Christ when He returns at the Second Coming, yet the text clearly shows that is not the case. The word “perfect” is in the neuter gender and therefore does not refer to a person. Instead, it refers to a “thing.” So, what is the “perfect?”  

 To answer that question, notice that the “perfect” (I.e., the complete) is set in contrast to that which is “in part.” That which was “in part” had reference to that which the early Christians knew of God’s Word (I.e., Paul says, “for we know in part, and we prophesy in part”). What was the “knowledge” in context? It had reference to the revealed Word of God (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). When the Word of God would be completely given (I.e., when the New Testament Scriptures had been fully revealed), then that which was “in part” (the miraculous gifts) would be done away with. Since the Word of God has been fully revealed to mankind (2 Timothy 3:16-17), there no longer remains a need for miraculous gifts.  

 This position is also strengthened when we consider that the means by which the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were delivered show that these gifts were designed to be temporary. The only two means through which the miraculous gifts were bestowed were through Holy Spirit baptism (Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-46) and through the laying on of the Apostles’ hands (Acts 8:14-19). Yet Holy Spirit baptism only occurred on two occasions (Acts 2 & 10), and by the time Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, it had ceased altogether (Ephesians 4:4-6). Further, the office of Apostle was limited to the first century since an Apostle had to be an eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus Christ (Acts 1:21-23) and He was seen last of all by the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15:8). Since only Apostles could pass on the miraculous gifts, therefore (Acts 8:12-19), it follows that the ability to pass on those miraculous gifts ceased with the death of the last Apostle. They would continue on into the second century in a limited fashion, until the last ones upon whom the Apostles laid their hands died. We see in the writings of the early church fathers that these miraculous gifts did diminish, and then they faded away: 

Chrysostom-“[Commenting on 1 Corinthians 12:] “This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place.” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians ,
36.7. Chrysostom is commenting on 1 Corinthians 12:1–2 and introducing the entire chapter. Cited from Gerald Bray, ed., 1–2 Corinthians , Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999)

, 146)

Theodoret of Cyril-“In former times those who accepted the divine preaching and who were baptized for their salvation were given visible signs of the grace of the Holy Spirit at work in them. Some spoke in tongues which they did not know and which nobody had taught them, while others performed miracles or prophesied. The Corinthians also did these things, but they did not use the gifts as they should have done. They were more interested in showing off than in using them for the edification of the church.” (Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians 240. [PG 82:319])

Augustine-““In the earliest times, the Holy Spirit fell upon them that believe and they spoke with tongues, which they had not learned, as the Spirit gave them utterance. These were signs adapted to the time. For there was this betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues to show that the gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a sign, and it passed away.” (Augustine, Homilies on the First Epistle of John , 6.10. Cited from Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post- Nicene Fathers , 1st series (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2012), 7:497–98)  

Gregory the Great-“Is it, my brethren, because we do not have these signs that you do not believe? These were needed at the church’s beginning. The new faith needed to be nourished by miracles to grow. When we plant a vineyard, we must water the plants till we see they have begun to grow in the earth, and when they have once taken root we cease to water them constantly.… But true life cannot be obtained by means of these outward signs by those who perform them. For although corporeal works of this kind sometimes do proclaim an inner holiness of life, they do not bring it about.” (Homilies on the Gospels 29. [Cetedoc 1711, 2.29.4, 5, 4.39; SSGF 2:428*; PL 76.])

Question: Does the fact that the miraculous gifts have ceased mean that God cannot answer the prayers of His children in supernatural ways?  

Answer: No, this does not follow.
 The miraculous gifts were given to reveal and confirm the Word of God (John 14:26; 16:13; Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-46; Hebrews 2:3-4; Mark 16:17-20; John 20:30-31). Since the Word of God has been fully revealed (2 Timothy 3:16-17), these miraculous gifts have ceased (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).  

 This is different, however, from the answer of God to prayer.

Christians believe that God can answer prayers in many ways different (Colossians 4:2), and that He is able to work in ways far beyond what we can think or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21). Like the Apostle John, we know that our prayers are able to produce global repercussions (Revelation 8:1-4) and can even empower the Angels of God to carry out their work (Revelation 8:5-7).

There have been several occasions where I have personally seen God work in absolutely incredible ways, beyond that which modern science can explain. What is important to realize in this context, however, is that the miraculous gifts have themselves ceased.  


 This now brings us to the close of our four part study of “Questions And Answers About Speaking In Tongues.” Much more could be said, and indeed, future studies may delve further into this matter. For now, I would like to leave you with the following observations.  

 First, that the Bible teaching that the gift of speaking in tongues was the miraculous ability for a speaker to speak fluently in a foreign language which he had not previously studied is clear from both Scripture and secular history. This was definitely in contrast to the gibberish speaking of the pagans of ancient civilization, and the pagans themselves were clearly able to see the difference between the two.  

 Second, the teaching of the New Testament is clear that speaking in tongues was for the primary purpose of being a sign to unbelievers and had a secondary effect of edifying the local church assembly. Speaking in tongues was not a gift given to edify the individual Christian, and the Scriptures are clear that not every Christian person was endowed with the gift of speaking in tongues. Therefore, those who have been taught that speaking in tongues is a necessary sign of salvation may be assured that this is not true.  

 Third, the Word of God clearly establishes that the Spirit does not work on an inspired Prophet or Apostle in such a way that the individual’s free will is taken away. Indeed, the New Testament is clear that the spirits of the Prophets are subject to the Prophets. The notion of being “slain in the Spirit” is foreign to the Holy Scriptures.  

 Fourth, there is a clear connection between the gibberish speaking of ancient and modern paganism and what takes place in many contemporary charismatic churches. This should give every person involved in these religions pause to consider.  

 Fifth, the Bible teaches that the miraculous gifts ceased. Therefore, those religious groups today which claim to possess the miraculous gifts are in conflict with the Word of God.  

 Finally, we make this plea: we need to return to the Word of God.

Beloved, if you are part of a man-made denomination which does not abide by the teaching of Scripture, will you not please renounce such today? The churches of Christ encourage everyone to return to the Word of God.

It has the perfect pattern for the church (1 Timothy 3:14-15). If we will allow the Word of God to lead us, we will not have Catholic, Protestant, or Pentecostal churches; we will have Christians, members of the church which Jesus built (Matthew 16:18) and to which He adds the saved (Acts 2:47). This church is built on the Good News that it proclaims: that the Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself, died for the sins of all mankind (1 John 2:1-2). He died to pay the price of our sins (Romans 5:8), was buried, and three days later, He arose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

Why not today, as a believer (John 8:24), repent of your sins (Luke 13:3), confess Him before men (Acts 8:37), and be baptized to have your sins washed away (Acts 22:16)?

Determine thus to live for Him an to be faithful even unto death (Revelation 2:10), you can have the assurance that when you stumble and sin in the future (1 John 1:8) the blood of Christ will cleanse you continually as you walk in the light (1 John 1:7) by repenting of sin and confessing them to Him (1 John 1:9).  

 If the churches of Christ can assist you in any way, please call upon us!  

 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.  

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