Is the gift of tongues for today? Is modern-day speaking in tongues just gibberish, or even demonic?
By Christopher Jethro
Last Updated: Dec 13, 2017
Last Updated: Dec 13, 2017
Due to misunderstandings and criticism, many Christians have become unsure about what to think of speaking in tongues. Others choose to ignore this topic altogether now and remain neutral, simply because of the strangely dogmatic persecution of it. I apologize if you have been misled or left uneducated about this subject. I hope you will find this page enlightening.
So let’s be straight to the point. Speaking in tongues is a real gift of the Spirit; it is the supernatural ability where the Holy Spirit enables you to speak another language which you beforehand were not able to. Hundreds of people spoke in tongues in the Bible, including Paul. While speaking in tongues is a common practice among many believers, there have been some small circles of anti-Pentecostal groups deeming it as weird religious activity, fake gibberish, or even “demonic.” These groups basically assert without proof that the gift of tongues, while a real gift, is no longer available to Christians today because it must have “died out” with the first apostles. As such, they claim that those who practice it in today’s time must be under the influence of demons or some form of psychological hysteria. Let’s be clear though: Christians can still operate in the gifts of the Spirit (such as speaking in tongues).
For starters, all genuine believers already have the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that the children of God are simply those who have His Spirit (Romans 8:14-16). You don’t belong to Jesus (and thus are not saved) if you don’t have the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9), nor can any person enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless they are born-again by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). We can’t even cast out demons without the Spirit of God (Matthew 12:28)!
In that case, wouldn't it seem odd that Christians could have the Holy Spirit but not His gifts? Doesn’t it seem like a stretch to say that a Christian can have God the Holy Spirit living inside of them but He will never empower them with gifts? You might also be surprised to know that the majority of Christians do believe in speaking in tongues; with some of the best known Christian teachers like Billy Graham all believing that this gift is still available to the Church.
Did the Holy Spirit disappear?
You automatically receive the Holy Spirit when you accept Christ in your heart. The Holy Spirit never disappeared, He is still all around us at work in the world convicting it of sin (John 16:7-8) and testifying of Jesus (John 15:26); touching people’s hearts so they are able to receive Christ as Savior in the first place. Without this work of the Holy Spirit, people could not even come to Christ. Most people who are against speaking in tongues greatly neglect teach on the Holy Spirit and usually portray Him as some distant Person of the Godhead that helped the early Church for a few years and then suddenly stopped interacting with the world.
The promise of the Holy Spirit
The promise of the Holy Spirit is an ancient promise of God (Joel 2:28-30) where God said He will pour out His Spirit on all flesh in the last days, and Jesus said that the Father will keep giving the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (Luke 11:13). This first began on the Day of Pentecost and has continued to this day. If people qualified as being in the “last days” 2,000 years ago to receive the Holy Spirit, then how much more are we in the last days now? Because we are still in the last days and the Word is true, this empowerment of the Holy Spirit should be ongoing (and indeed it is).
The Bible clearly says that Jesus came to baptize believers with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33). Paul referenced this when he saw that God poured out the Holy Spirit on Gentiles. “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord [Jesus], how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 11:15-16). This means when the Bible says that Jesus came to baptize with the Holy Spirit, it doesn't just refer to the people He encountered during His immediate ministry on earth, but rather this is an ongoing baptism of the Holy Spirit to believers everywhere which will include speaking in tongues like it always has in the Biblical examples.
Defending the Holy Spirit’s gift
While the gift of tongues is certainly a real gift (to speak another language) which is still available to Christians today, the arguments of the anti-Pentecostal groups have begun to worry other Christians and create confusion on the subject. You've probably read of various attacks against speaking in tongues on the internet and found few articles defending it. For this reason, the rest of this page will rebut those false accusations and show you the truth of the matter from a Scriptural standpoint.
Rebutting: Speaking in tongues is speaking gibberish
While many people have criticized Spirit-filled Christians by asserting that they are speaking gibberish, it should be noted that plenty of people who claim to have the gift of tongues have had their words identified as a real language by a professional linguist who translated their words.
There are many awesome testimonies of people recognizing their national language when a Christian began to speak in tongues around them. There have also been secular studies, by analyzing brain waves, proving that a Christian speaking in tongues uses far less brain activity when compared to a non-Christian who is purposely speaking gibberish. Other studies have shown that Christians who speak in tongues for 30 minutes a day have a 30% increased immune system.
I personally know of three people whose praying in tongues was identified as a real language by a translator. That’s not gibberish my friends, that’s a miracle! It can indeed sound weird when you hear someone speaking a completely different language for the first time. But just because something sounds weird doesn't mean that it’s not a real language, it just means it is very foreign to you.
Rebutting: Speaking in tongues is demonic
I don’t know about you, but I've heard this one a lot. Slowly a fear has arisen that speaking in tongues is “demonic”, which has caused some people to immensely persecute those who practice it. Others who have been taught this have become very disturbed or paranoid to hear that a person believes in speaking in tongues. The last thing they want to do is read where the Bible says “do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39)!
Only tongues in other religions is demonic
Basically, some people point out how in other religions like Hinduism, Paganism, and Satanism, a sort of ‘speaking in tongues’ seems to exist too where people may begin, during some demonic ritual, to enter a trance and experience a similar utterance. They rightly recognize that these utterances are demonic, but then they erroneously conclude therefore that all tongues are demonic. While praying in tongues in false religions or cults is certainly demonic, that doesn’t make praying in tongues in Christianity also demonic. Furthermore, some anti-Pentecostal groups are inconsistent in whether or not speaking in tongues is non-sense gibberish, or real but demonic, attempting to use both arguments at times to keep people from believing in tongues.
Let’s start by clarifying that false spirits (demons) only mimic the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit may grant visions, revelations, prophecies, or physical healing to a person – and false spirits can also grant [demonic] visions, revelations, prophecies, or physical healing to a person. Just like a person could be healed by God when their church pastor prays for them; similarly, some people can also get healed (in a demonic way) when they go to a witchdoctor – it happens all the time in East. (Of course, when people are healed by a witchdoctor these healings are often only temporary and they even experience greater pain later on.)
That’s why demons are called “false spirits” in the first place – because what they are granting is false. That is, they are simply bringing a demonic counterfeit to what the Holy Spirit can do. False spirit = counterfeit spirit (a demon that brings a counterfeit form of something that is a actually genuine gift of the Holy Spirit). This is why Paul wrote “test the spirits, to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). Paul wrote this because demons are indeed able to mimic the Holy Spirit in such a way that a person may mistake a false spirit for being the Holy Spirit, making testing them necessary. Therefore, since speaking in tongues is in the Bible and genuine spiritual gift in Christianity, we would expect a demonic form of tongues to exist in false religions and cults.
Furthermore, to accuse all Christians who speak in tongues of having demons is actually a pure assumption and thus a failure to actually test the spirits. Remember, we don’t just test (discern) the spirits to see if they are not from God, we are to test (discern) if they also are from God. One must not make the mistake of just assuming tongues is demonic, simply because they were told that it is by anti-Pentecostal pastor. Christians speaking in tongues is not demonic; it’s by the real-deal Holy Spirit. Only people speaking in tongues in false religions or cults are speaking in a demonic tongue.
The father won’t give you a demon
Last but not least, Jesus Himself said the Father will keep giving the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.
- What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father keep giving the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (Luke 11:11-13)
As you can see, the analogy that Jesus used clearly demonstrates that God will not give a person a demon when they ask for His Spirit, and therefore it is unreasonable to accuse Christians of having a demon when they asked God for the Holy Spirit just like Jesus taught them. If an earthly father wouldn't do that, then our perfect Heavenly Father most certainly wouldn't do that.
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: watch your words!
Jesus said blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin (Matt 12:31, Mark 3:29, Luke 12:10). In context, the Pharisees accused Jesus of using the power of Satan to perform miracles, when it was really the power of the Holy Spirit. Based on the context, true ‘blasphemy against the Spirit’ is not calling a demon the Holy Spirit, but calling the Holy Spirit a demon.
- And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebub, and by the prince of the demons casts he out demons.’” In response, Jesus said “Verily I say unto you, all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies whatever they shall blaspheme: But he that blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal judgment: because they said, He has an unclean spirit. (Mark 3: 28-30)
Mark clearly says “because they said he has an unclean spirit”. This means that those who say that a person has an unclean spirit (demon), who actually has the Holy Spirit, run a high risk of being guilty of the unforgivable sin. For this reason: please, watch your words carefully and don’t be quick to call Christian practices “demonic”.
Rebutting: The empowerment of the Holy Spirit was only available to the early Church to help establish it
A common argument you hear these days is that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was only available to the early Church to help establish it, and thus it is no longer available today. It’s true that the miracles and signs associated with the baptism of the Holy Spirit certainly did help to spread early Christianity, but nowhere does the Bible say that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was only for the early Church. Because there are no Scriptures that say it is no longer available today, there is no reason to believe this.
This argument formed because we understand that the early Church needed the baptism of the Holy Spirit in order to be established and share the Gospel. The early Church indeed needed the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to help spread Christianity, but the modern-day Church most certainly still needs the baptism of the Holy Spirit! Below, the Bible is clear that the gift of the Holy Spirit is available to all whom the Lord calls to Himself – not just for first century believers.
- Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)
We can also read in the Bible how God promised to pour out His Spirit in the last days (Joel 2:28-30). Now if it was the “last days” for people 2,000 years ago, then how much more are we in the last days now? Jesus said “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:13). Jesus didn't say “the Father will only give the Holy Spirit to some who were luckily born in this time period.” No, the Father will keep giving the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (anyone who asks Him, not limited to the first apostles). Therefore, the Scriptures would easily support modern-day outpourings of the Holy Spirit.
Rebutting: The Holy Spirit could only be received by the laying on of hands by the first apostles
Some say that baptisms and gifts of the Holy Spirit are no longer available because it could only be received by the laying on of hands of the first apostles. Since those apostles are now dead, they conclude that no Christian could possibly have the Holy Spirit in today's times. It’s true that the Holy Spirit can be imparted through the laying on of hands, but the laying on of hands is not the one-and-only way to receive this empowerment. This argument cannot stand against the multiple examples in the Bible of people receiving the Holy Spirit without the laying on of hands…
On the day of Pentecost, hundreds of people received the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues and no one laid hands on them (Acts 2:2-4)! Peter preached that people would receive the Holy Spirit so long as they believe in Jesus (Acts 2:38). We also see that people received the Holy Spirit when they simply heard Paul preach the Gospel to them, again without any laying on of hands (Acts 10: 44-46).
The apostles did not control the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit comes upon people as He wills; His empowerment is not controlled by a few special individuals whenever they so choose to “impart” Him. The truth is, the majority of people who received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues in the Bible never had anyone lay hands on them! Thus, this argument cannot be used against modern-day baptisms of the Holy Spirit.
Receiving the Spirit by believing the Gospel
Furthermore, it’s clear that Paul believed that people can receive the gifts of the Spirit apart from the laying on of hands…
- And he [Paul] asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19: 2-6)
Paul would not have asked “did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” if it was not actually possible to receive the Holy Spirit by yourself when you simply hear the Gospel for the first time (meaning the laying on of hands is not necessary – believing the Good News is the only requirement to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit). Furthermore, when Paul asked them “then what baptism did you receive?” the context of the question actually demonstrates that Paul was surprised, as it is bizarre for a Christian to be baptized into anything other than the Holy Spirit. Christians getting water baptized is moreover a symbolic act of their choice to live a holy [repented] life, but true baptism is to receive the Holy Spirit. And because they do need the Holy Spirit for their Christian walk, Paul laid hands on them (which is simply a way to receive the Holy Spirit). If Paul knew they were incapable of receiving the Holy Spirit without him laying hands on them, then he would not have asked if they received the Holy Spirit when they merely believed.
Jesus said Christians will speak in tongues
Additionally, Jesus Christ Himself said that people who believe the Gospel WILL speak in new tongues (Mark 16:15-19). So no one should act surprised when what Jesus said actually happens. He said those who believe [the Good News] will speak in tongues, not those who had the first apostles lay hands on them. Jesus did not say “only the believers of the first ten or so years of Christianity will speak in new tongues. After that, anyone else who speaks in tongues is speaking demonic gibberish!”
Because Jesus listed many signs that will accompany Christians (tongues, healings, exorcisms, etc.), critics must either say that all of those signs can follow Christians in today’s time, or they must say that none of these signs can follow Christians now in order to be consistent. Otherwise, it wouldn't make sense that only some signs will follow. So in order to oppose speaking in tongues, they say that none of these signs can follow Christians today. As a result, some churches have turned Christianity into a religion empty of signs to back its claims; likewise turning God into a distant figure who no longer talks to people, no longer heals people, and no longer pours out His Spirit. Unfortunately, there are countless pastors who really teach that God changed and no longer interacts with the world.
On the other hand, many teachers say that utterance gifts (tongues, prophecy) are not available, but the others, such as the gift of teaching or the gift of serving, still are. This is actually a big inconsistency among those who attack speaking in tongues. They basically believe that the only gifts not available are any gifts that they feel uncomfortable with.
God did not change
Contrary to these ideas, God is not the “I WAS” – He is the “I AM”. He’s not the God who once talked to people, once healed them, once gave them His Spirit. He does not change. He is the same personal intimate God who stills talks to people, still heals people, answers prayers, performs miracles, and who still pours out His Holy Spirit on Christians.
Our preaching is supposed to be accompanied with demonstrations of the Holy Spirit
We can’t expect for a person to just believe the Gospel based on how wise and persuasive our words are. Paul relied on demonstrations of the Spirit’s power and not on how clever his words were for winning souls (1 Corinthians 2:4). We can’t expect for people to be consistent in their Christian walk either if their only motivation is getting to go to Heaven one day. They will get burnt out on such tiresome, dry, powerless religion. After all, Galatians 5:16 tells us we need the Holy Spirit in order to not fulfill the desires of the flesh (otherwise, our struggle with sin will be too great).
Rebutting: Speaking in tongues must have an interpreter
Other critics claim that if a person is speaking in tongues and there is not an interpreter, then the person isn’t really speaking in tongues, for there must be an interpreter or else it is gibberish. They point out how in Acts, people recognized the languages being spoken. From this they conclude that if a person is speaking in tongues in a church and they aren't surrounded by crowds of dumbfounded people hearing their own language, then it must be gibberish.
Now it’s true that people recognized their home languages on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:6), but does that mean that it can’t be tongues if someone doesn't recognize your language? No, it doesn't. Suppose the person was speaking an ancient tribal language like Makua but nobody there knew Makua. It doesn't mean that it’s not a real language just because you don’t know that language; the Bible does not explicitly state that a person only has the gift of tongues if someone can recognize the language. In fact, Paul even said that “he that speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not unto men, but unto God: for no man understands him” suggesting that it is normal for a person to not be understood when praying in tongues.
On the day of Pentecost, everyone was speaking in tongues, there wasn’t interpreters running all over the place to try to keep it “under control” and neatly organized.
Is tongues for edifying oneself or the Church?
Furthermore, these people tend to say that speaking in tongues is only for edifying the Church, where someone must understand (or interpret) what you are saying. In proper context, Paul said that a person who speaks in tongues should have an interpreter when edifying the Church (1 Corinthians 14:5,27). Let’s read it all in context below:
- He that speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not unto men, but unto God: for no man understands him; but in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he that prophesies speaks unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself; but he that prophesies edifies the Church. I wish that you all spoke with tongues, but rather that you prophesied: for greater is he that prophesies than he that speaks with tongues, except he interpret, that the Church may receive edifying. (1 Corinthians 14:2-4)
As you can see, the gift of prophecy is always for edifying the Church, while the gift of tongues is for edifying oneself in private prayer, yet it can be used to edify the Church if there is an interpreter. In such a case, they wouldn’t be “speaking to God and not to men” (as is the general purpose of tongues), but ministering to a congregation with a message directly from the Holy Spirit.
Again, the Church only receives edification from tongues if there is an interpreter. But the immediate and overall purpose of the gift of tongues is for a person to edify themselves by speaking to God spirit-to-Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:2) and naturally “no man understands him”.
Prayer languages and ministering tongues
The use of tongues for a person’s private prayer life is what some Christians have referred to as a “prayer language”. Technically, the term ‘prayer language’ doesn’t exist in the Bible no more than the term ‘free will’ does. However, this term is only meant to refer to the use of a person’s gift of tongues for edifying himself in personal prayer, and not for the edification of a church which is sometimes referred to as a ‘ministering tongue’.
If we do not accept these two different uses of tongues then the Bible has contradicted itself (which is impossible in God’s Word). This is because some places of Scripture indicate that speaking in tongues is to edify oneself (1 Corinthians 14:4), but other places say it can be used for edifying others (1 Corinthians 14:5). In conclusion, tongues does not have to have an interpreter. Rather, speaking in tongues to a congregation is useless indeed for their edification unless someone there understands what is being spoken (1 Corinthians 14:6). However, the Bible is equally clear that people can have the gift of tongues and edify themselves by praying to God, regardless of whether or not they can even interpret their own tongue (1 Corinthians 14:13-14)!