Is the gift of tongues real or fake?

Sinhala Translation > අන්‍ය භාෂාව සත්‍යද නැත්නම් අසත්‍යද

Hi Beloved, Is the gift of tongues real or fake? Are we speaking nonsense when we say we speak in tongues? What does the Bible say?

Scripture speaks of the gift of tongues as a gift from Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:10). As we study scripture, we see this gift having manifested in 2 ways through the men of God. Let us look at this gift in detail now.

1) The manifestation of the gift on the day of Pentecost

In Acts chapter 2 we see this gift in operation.


Acts 2:4-12

‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome  (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

What we do see in this event?

  • The Apostles were filled with Holy Spirit and they began to speak in other tongues. The Greek word used for tongues also means languages.
  • The Apostles began speaking in languages that they did not know to speak.
  • There were people gathered there who were from different nations which spoke different languages.
  • All the people who were gathered there, heard these uneducated men from Galilee speaking in the native language of all the nationalities who were present there. They were declaring the wonders of God in the native language of each nationality who was present there.
  • They were all amazed as to how this could happen.
  • When Holy Spirit comes upon a person, He can enable a person to speak in a language that he or she has never learnt to speak in.
  • I have heard of servants of God who testify to the working of this gift in this manner even today. When the need arose, they were given the ability to speak in a language they neither knew nor learnt.

2) The manifestation of the gift as a language no one understands.

Paul describes another manner in which the gift of tongues will operate in 1 Corinthians chapter 14.

1 Corinthians 14:2

For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit.

What we do see in this event?

  • A person speaks in a tongue (language) not to people but to God.
  • No one understand them.
  • They utter mysteries by the Spirit. The Greek Word used here for mystery means secrets, truths, revelations, and counsel.
  • In Acts chapter 2, the people around understood what was been said because it was in their native languages. However, in this instance no one understands as we speak to God only in a special language through Holy Spirit.

What else does Paul say about this gift?

  • Anyone who speaks in a tongue strengthens themselves (1 Corinthians 14:4).
  • Those who speak in tongues be it privately or in a public gathering should also pray for the interpretation of the tongues (1 Corinthians 14:5-17).
  • Speaking of tongues should not disturb the service. It should be done orderly. 2 or 3 may speak and someone must interpret. Everything must be done to encourage and build up the church. If there is no interpretation, then the speaker must keep quiet and speak to himself and God (1 Corinthians 14:26-28,40)
  • Paul says that he speaks in tongues too (1 Corinthians 14:18) and instructs the church saying ‘do not forbid speaking in tongues’ (1 Corinthians 14:39).
  • Tongues are a sign for the unbeliever of the power of Holy Spirit. However, if we really want to make an impact on them, the gift of prophecy is what is needed most. The gift of prophecy which convicts of sin, brings out the secrets of the hearts and brings people to repentance is what will cause the unbeliever to fall down and worship God and say ‘God is really among you (1 Corinthians 14:20-25).
  • Tongues are most beneficial for private times of prayer in my personal opinion. If Holy Spirit urges you to speak in tongues in public, then the interpretation must follow so that all will be blessed. Even in times of private prayer we must seek the Lord for the interpretation to be placed into our hearts (1 Corinthians 14:14-15).


Discerning the Spirit

Beloved, we must always speak in tongues by Holy Spirit. However as with everything we must test the spirit and discern whether it is from Holy Spirit. Please keep in mind the following always.

  • A person can speak in so called tongues with their own effort or through the influence of deceiving spirits. They may even give the interpretation also. Hence it important to first look at the person’s life and fruit to make a righteous judgement as to whether this person is actually speaking of God. If the tongue or interpretation causes confusion, chaos or is weird and eerie, reject it immediately.
  • A person who speaks in tongues should never be a disruption to the service, sermon or move of Holy Spirit. I remember one lady when everybody bows their head for the general prayer, she starts screaming out in tongues disturbing everyone including the preacher. This quite clearly was not Holy Spirit but this lady trying to show off that she was spiritual.
  • The gift of tongues is not nonsensical jabbering. It is a language with clear words. When you initially receive the gift and start off speaking in tongues, it might be a few words. However, as you progress in your spiritual journey, those who listen will hear clear words proceeding out of your mouth. Some claim to speak in tongues but have been saying the same set of sounds or words for as long as they can remember. Then for those same set of sounds or words which they repeat again and again for 5 minutes, they give an interpretation that lasts for 20 minutes. That is not correct. That cannot be. If Holy Spirit speaks, He will not utter the same words again and again like a chanting. He will speak a clear message with words from the language He gives, and the interpretation which is the message He is giving the church, will also be of a similar length and duration. When we interpret from one language to another language, the interpretation is usually almost of same length and duration isn’t it? Same principle applies for the gift of tongues too.


What do we do with people who do not believe in this gift?

There are people who believe that the gifts of Holy Spirit have ceased from operating. There is no bible verse that says it has ceased to operate. Instead the gifts have been promised to the church so that the church may be built up for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 12:4-31). So, the gifts of Holy Spirit are still in operation even today.

I have spoken with many and listened to many who say they do not believe in the gifts of Holy Spirit. None of them give me a bible verse. Instead they go on saying things which I feel is man-made philosophical conclusions rather than scripture-based justifications.

Best thing is do is not argue on things like this. If someone chooses not to believe, that is their personal choice. Remember salvation is not based on whether we speak in tongues or not. Salvation is by the Grace of God through faith in Jesus. We should all first and foremost seek a daily relationship with the Lord. In our relationship with Him, we can choose to seek Him for the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1). In seeking those gifts, we must also ask Holy Spirit to build up the character of love.

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul says, ‘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. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.’

We must have the character of Christ in order to be a blessing to others through the working of the gifts of Holy Spirit. I seek the gifts of Holy Spirit, but I seek Him more for His character. Without His character, the gifts will not be a blessing to people.

May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you safely in His Arms always.