Bible Trivia

What is the gift of speaking in tongues?


Your Bible trivia questions answered by Phil Logos...

What is the gift of speaking in tongues?

The gift of speaking in tongues is a fascinating and often misunderstood spiritual phenomenon mentioned in the New Testament. This brief answer will delve into the history, purpose, and meaning behind this enigmatic gift, exploring it through biblical accounts, theological interpretations, and real-life experiences. Join us as we unravel the mysteries of speaking in tongues and discover its significance in the lives of believers.

The Biblical Foundation of Speaking in Tongues

The gift of speaking in tongues, also known as glossolalia, first appears in the Bible in the book of Acts. On the day of Pentecost, the apostles and other followers of Jesus were gathered in Jerusalem when they experienced a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:1-4 (NIV) describes this event

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

This event marked the birth of the early Christian church, and the gift of tongues became a sign of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.

The Purpose of Speaking in Tongues

The gift of tongues serves several purposes in the life of a believer, as outlined in the New Testament:

A. A sign for unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22)

When the apostles spoke in tongues on the day of Pentecost, the diverse crowd in Jerusalem heard the message of Jesus Christ in their own languages. This miraculous event drew many people to faith in Jesus, fulfilling the purpose of tongues as a sign for unbelievers.

B. Edification of the individual believer (1 Corinthians 14:4)

When a believer speaks in tongues during personal prayer or worship, it can be a source of spiritual edification and encouragement. The apostle Paul wrote that “anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves” (1 Corinthians 14:4 NIV).

C. Edification of the church (1 Corinthians 14:26)

In the context of a worship service or gathering, speaking in tongues can contribute to the edification of the church when accompanied by interpretation. Paul wrote, “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (1 Corinthians 14:26 NIV).

The Gift of Interpretation

Closely related to the gift of speaking in tongues is the gift of interpretation. This gift enables a believer to understand and communicate the meaning of a message spoken in tongues. Paul emphasized the importance of interpretation in the context of a church gathering:

“If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God” (1 Corinthians 14:27-28 NIV).

The gift of interpretation ensures that the message delivered through tongues can be understood and applied by the entire congregation, contributing to the edification and growth of the church.

Controversies and Misunderstandings

Throughout history, the gift of speaking in tongues has been a subject of controversy and misunderstanding. Some of the key debates surrounding this spiritual gift include:

A. The nature of the languages spoken

Some argue that the gift of tongues involves speaking in known human languages, as evidenced by the day of Pentecost when people from various nations heard the message in their native languages. Others believe that speaking in tongues can also include an unknown heavenly language, as mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (NIV).

B. The necessity of the gift for all believers

Some Christian denominations teach that speaking in tongues is evidence of a believer’s baptism in the Holy Spirit and is, therefore, necessary for all Christians. Others believe that while the gift of tongues is a genuine manifestation of the Holy Spirit, it is not required for all believers. Paul addressed this issue in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31, emphasizing that not every believer will have the same spiritual gifts.

C. The cessationist view on the gift of tongues

Some Christians hold a cessationist view, believing that the gift of tongues, along with other miraculous gifts like prophecy and healing, has ceased to be available to believers. Cessationists argue that these gifts were unique to the apostolic era and served to authenticate the message and ministry of the early church. They often cite 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 as evidence for their position: “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears” (NIV). In this view, the gift of tongues no longer serves a purpose in the modern church and is no longer bestowed by the Holy Spirit. This cessationist perspective contributes to the ongoing debate about the role and significance of speaking in tongues in the contemporary Christian experience.

D. The role of tongues in the modern church

The practice of speaking in tongues remains a point of contention within the Christian community. Some churches encourage and practice the gift of tongues, while others discourage or forbid it, citing potential confusion or disorder in worship services.

Real-Life Experiences of Speaking in Tongues

Many believers throughout history have reported personal experiences of speaking in tongues during prayer, worship, or times of intense emotional or spiritual distress. These experiences often involve a sense of being filled with the Holy Spirit and an accompanying release of tension, fear, or anxiety. While the experiences of speaking in tongues can vary greatly, they often share common themes of spiritual renewal, empowerment, and a deeper connection with God.


The gift of speaking in tongues is a fascinating and mysterious aspect of the Christian faith. Throughout history, this spiritual phenomenon has intrigued believers and sceptics alike, inspiring awe, debate, and even controversy. As we have explored the biblical foundation, purpose, and real-life experiences of speaking in tongues, it is clear that this gift holds great significance for many believers.

While the gift of tongues may not be experienced or understood by all Christians, its presence in the lives of some believers serves as a powerful reminder of the diverse and wondrous ways in which the Holy Spirit can manifest itself in the lives of God’s people. As we continue to seek a deeper understanding of the spiritual gifts, may we always remain open to the many ways in which the Holy Spirit can guide, empower, and transform us as followers of Christ.