Hi Barbara,

I can understand why you have asked this question. In many churches there is an emphasis on spiritual gifts and in particular prophecy and talking in tongues. Talking in tongues is intriguing. It gives the impression of some mystical connection between the person and God and many who witness it can be left with a sense of missing out on something. There are many opinions as to what it is but we need to be very careful at this point because not everything that is described as “talking in tongues” is what the bible calls “talking in tongues”.

In fact when we turn to the bible, very little is said about what talking in tongues actually is. There seems to be an implicit understaning that the riginl readers know what it is, so it is not described in detail.

In Acts 2, Jews from every nation have gathered in Jerusalem for a festival. When the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples they start “to speak in other tongues” (verse 4). The visitors are amazed because the unschooled disciples are speaking in their own languages. So here talking in tongues is decribed as the ability given by the Holy Spirit to speak in languages that they didn’t previously speak.

In 1 Corinthians 12, talking in tongues is described as one of the gifts given to Christians by God for the benefit of others. Associated with it is the gift of interpretation or the translating from one language to another. In Corinthians 14 we are told that someone who speaks in a tongue only benefits themselves, but if they prophesy (declare the word of God) they benefit all who hear (1 Corinthians 14:1-4). In verse 5, interpreted tongues seems to be equivalent to prophecy. So speaking in tongues seems to mean prophesying (declaring the word of God) in a language that the hearers don’t understand and need translation. This seems to be what is meant in verses 6-12.

So speaking in tongues isn’t something mystical. It’s one of the spiritual gifts (abilities given to Christians by the Holy Spirit) like wisdom, knowledge and faith (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). And speaking in tongues doesn’t bring new knowledge of God. The Bible contains everything we need to bring us salvation through faith in Christ and for growth in godliness (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Anything spoken in a tongue must agree with what the Bible teaches.

I have had this experience of speaking in tongues. I preached in English at an Arabic-speaking Sudanese church. My tongue would have been of no benefit to the listeners without an interpreter who could translate my words into Arabic. After all, when Christians meet together all things should be done for building each other up in our knowledge and trust in Jesus. 

I hope this helps.