Speaking in other tongues is a doctrine at the centre of Pentecostal spirituality and there are divergent views around it. Some believe it is not possible to be a Pentecostal––that is being baptized in the Holy Spirit––without speaking in other tongues. But another group holds a view which emphasizes the manifestation of Spiritual gifts without speaking in other tongues. Other people question the nature of speaking in other tongues––are these tongues only human or heavenly languages, they ask. This short reflection will try to respond to all these questions.
- Schools of thoughts about speaking in other tongues
There are two schools of thoughts or positions when it comes to speaking in other tongues. The classical Pentecostal school and the charismatic position. Pentecostals who emerged from the Azusa Street revival of 1900’s believe in the baptism of the Spirit after regeneration with speaking in other tongues (Anderson and Hollenweger 1999, 167–172; Kipimo 2014, 169–170). This view is also known as the Lukan Pneumatological position (Menzies 2000). The charismatic school has a different understanding about speaking in other tongues. It became very strong in the 1970’s in major traditional mainline churches. For charismatics the Spirit is received at regeneration and no need for a subsequent experience. And for this position, there is nothing like speaking in other tongues when we receive the Spirit. The emphasis is not put on the baptism of the Spirit but on the use of the charismata. This understanding of the Spirit and his reception is related to the Pauline pneumatology which is more soteriological than Lukan’s prophetic pneumatology (Menzies 2002, 130). In short, the emphasis of speaking in other tongues is well understood within the classical Pentecostal circles where I belong as a researcher.
- Types of tongues from a biblical perspective
The account in Acts 2:4–11 and 1 Corinthians 14:2 present two different understandings of speaking in other tongues. In Acts, disciples spoke human languages while in the Corinthian’s church believers were speaking angelic languages. This means that one who is baptized in the Spirit can speak either human tongues that they have never learnt or spoken, or they can speak heavenly languages that are spoken by angels. It is the Holy Spirit who gives to each one as he desires (1 Cor 12:11). It happens that when people speak human languages under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they get surprised afterward when they are told that they were speaking in this or that language. I have been privileged during my Christian walk to have experienced these two types of speaking in tongues. In several instances when I teach about Spirit baptism and pray with or for people, they get baptised in the Spirit and speak in other tongues both angelic and human.
While doing ministry Lwapula province in Zambia, in the town of Mansa in the 1990’s we had an overnight meeting with intensive prayers. A Zambian sister who has never been to any Kiswahili speaking region spoke in other tongues, she spoke in Kiswahili to be specific. In the room none could hear Kiswahili except me because that is the language I have been speaking from childhood. And what she spoke in human tongues was all about me. God was commissioning me for ministry to the world and confirmed that my name was written in the book of life––this was a unique encounter I had with the Lord early in my ministry.
- The purpose of speaking in other tongues
From my experience as a Pentecostal minister in the local church and as a scholar, I have learnt the following: One can speak in tongues especially angelic languages for personal edification. And this is the teaching of Paul to the Corinthian church, 1 Cor 14:4. “Paul affirms that every Christian may and indeed should be edified through the private manifestation of tongues” (Menzies 2000, 125). Speaking in tongues (angelic languages) in the congregation of believers has a collective edification purpose. And here tongues must be interpreted in order for people to hear what God is saying to his church (1 Cor 14:2, 5). Speaking in tongues (human languages) in the worship service implies that God wants to speak to people gathered in the meeting into their heart language (Acts 2:7–8). People also speak in other tongues as the initial evidence of the baptism of the Spirit. This was the case in Acts 2:4–5, 17–20, and 10:45–46. For the apostle Paul, the Pentecostal gift of tongues possesses an evidential character (Menzies 2000, 130). There are also people who speak in tongues because they have received the gift of tongues for the edification of the church whenever people meet. And when this gift is accompanied with interpretation it is equal to the prophetic gift (1 Cor 12:10; Menzies 2000, 127).
From my Pentecostal experience in Africa, I have come to learn various ways through which people receive the gift of interpretation of tongues (1 Cor 12:10). First, interpretation of tongues is received through a vision. As people pray and others speak in tongues at the same time God will be giving a vision of something that contains the meaning for the tongues being spoken. Second, the Holy Spirit lays a burden upon one’s heart with a strong message to be given to people. This burden comes as we pray and hear others who speak in other tongues simultaneously. Third, there is also a level of tongues interpretation that comes through an audible voice to the ear of a person who is connected to the throne of God in prayer. Fourth, interpretation also comes in a form of a biblical passage. As you hear others speak in other tongues, God’s Spirit gives you a specific scriptural passage with wordings that interpret the tongues being spoken in the worship service.
This short reflection was an attempt to respond to a very important question I received: “is speaking in other tongues human or heavenly?” Throughout this paper, I tried to describe what speaking in other tongues means and which types of tongues are recorded in Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14. The paper also included the purposes for speaking in other tongues as taught in Scriptures and how people could continue developing their Pentecostal spirituality of speaking other tongues.
Works cited list.
Anderson, H, Allan & Hollenweger J, Water. 1999. Pentecostals after a century: Global perspectives on a movement in transition. Bloomsbury academic, Selly Oak.
Kipimo, J, F. 2014. Studying Pentecostalism missiologically – the Congo Evangelistic Mission in Katanga Province, DRC. Unisa DTh Thesis, Pretoria
William W, M & Robert P Menzies. 2000. Spirit and power: foundations of Pentecostal experience. Zondervan publishing house, Grand Rapids.
Jesse earned his D. Th in Missiology from UNISA and has been in full-time ministry for more than 20 years. Jesse is passionate about Pentecostal missions and ministry and has published three books. Jesse is the SATS BTh Honours coordinator, MTh & PhD supervisor, Lecturer, and Senior pastor Liberating Truth Mission church international, Lubumbashi, DRC.