During my Bible study last week, we began studying the book of 1 Corinthians. As I read it, I grew more interested in both speaking and praying in tongues. I decided to research to learn more about tongues and the different views Christians have on them.
Is the gift of tongues a prayer language? The gift of speaking and praying in tongues is a prayer language. Speaking in tongues is first found in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak a language they did not know. Praying in tongues is spoken of in Ephesian 6:18, where it says to pray in the spirit. Both of these prayer languages are a gift from the Holy Spirit.
Table of Contents
- What is Christian Prayer Language?
- Christian Prayer Language – Speaking in Tongues
- Christian Prayer Language – Praying in Tongues
- Is Praying & Speaking in Tongues Meant For Christians Today?
- 3 Church Denominations Views on Speaking in Tongues
- Related Questions
Both speaking and praying in tongues is Biblical, but there is controversy surrounding if they are meant to be used today. Before we look at praying & speaking in tongues, let’s dig deeper into what exactly Christian prayer language is.
What is Christian Prayer Language?
Christian prayer language is a spiritual gift from God. This includes both speaking and praying in tongues. The reason it’s called a prayer language is that you are speaking in a language you do not know, only God knows what they are saying unless they have a translator. A translator is when someone is able to interpret what a person speaking in tongues in saying.
Tongues are a gift from the Holy Spirit. To better understand this prayer language, let’s dig deeper into speaking & praying in tongues.
Christian Prayer Language – Speaking in Tongues
Speaking in tongues is a prayer language from the Holy Spirit. Let’s start by looking at the Biblical origin.
Biblical Origin – Pentecost
Speaking in tongues first happens in Acts 2. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” After this, He left and ascended into heaven.
The day of Pentecost came and according to Acts: 2:3-4, after the disciples were gathered together, a mighty wind came which was the Holy Spirit. It says
And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
The disciples went out into Jerusalem and were able to speak to people in their different languages from around the world. The Holy Spirit was speaking through them and the disciples did not know the languages they were speaking in. The people they spoke to were amazed.
This day is remembered by Christians as Pentecost. It’s celebrated for being the day the Holy Spirit came to earth and filled the disciples.
An Outpouring of the Holy Spirit through Peter
In Acts 10, there is another outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Peter arrived in Caesarea and was at Cornelius’s house where there was a large group of people. Peter began to speak about how God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and healed people who were under the authority of the devil.
Acts 10:44-46 says
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
God used Peter’s words and the people who heard His message were filled with the Holy Spirit. Even Gentiles were filled with the Holy Spirit. This surprised the Jews because they considered the Gentiles to be lawless people and often looked down on them for not following the law from the Torah. But, God was showing the Jews he loved the Gentiles too and desired for them to be in a relationship with him and have the gifts of the spirit.
Paul Baptizes in the Holy Spirit
Later on in Acts 19, Paul is in Ephesus when he comes across two disciples. He asks them if they received the Holy Spirit since they believe in Jesus. They respond they don’t even know what the Holy Spirit is and they only received John’s baptism.
Acts 19:4-6 reads
‘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 in 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.
Paul imparts these men the gift of the Holy Spirit. Since Jesus had risen from the dead and conquered death, he left us the Holy Spirit. Here, Paul is showing other disciples how important it is for followers of Jesus to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Speaking in Tongues – Interpreter
Paul also writes about how followers of Jesus should use the gift of speaking in tongues. 1 Corinthians 14:27-28 says
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 God.
An interpreter is someone who is gifted a supernaturally understanding of what the speaker of tongues is saying, even though they don’t know the language. Paul gives general rules for speaking in tongues to avoid confusion. Imagine if 30 people in a church were all speaking in tongues at once, this would be chaotic and wouldn’t make sense to the rest of the congregation.
If you simply have one or two people with a message in tongues from the Holy Spirit, it gives an interpreter the chance to interpret and the rest of the congregation the ability to hear what God is speaking to them through speaking in tongues.
Christian Prayer Language – Praying in Tongues
Praying in tongues is different from speaking in tongues. Praying in tongues is still a gift from the Holy Spirit, but only used for you to speak to God, not to share with a group of people.
For if I pray in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don’t understand what I am saying.1 Corinthians 14:14
Paul is writing about praying in tongues. He tells us that when we pray in tongues, we don’t understand what we are saying. It is meant for you to use personally between you and the Lord.
When you pray in tongues you are allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through you and pray on your behalf. Praying in tongues is mostly used in private prayer times, although, some people do pray in tongues while praying for another person.
Romans 8:26 says
“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.”
This shows us that the Holy Spirit can pray and intercede through us when we don’t know how to pray. Whereas 1 Corinthians 14 reminds us when people pray in tongues, others around them don’t know what they are speaking.
Prophesy vs. Tongues
Paul speaks of the differences and uses for prophecy and tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. In verse 5 he says,
I wish you could all speak in tongues, but even more I wish you could all prophesy. For prophecy is greater than speaking in tongues, unless someone interprets what you are saying so that the whole church will be strengthened.
Paul is telling the church in Corinth that prophecy is greater than tongues because everyone can understand a prophecy. But, if you speak in tongues and don’t have an interpreter, then the whole church is not encouraged.
Paul goes on to say a prophecy is helpful to the church and how if you speak in a language no one knows it cannot be of use to them. He writes in verses 16-17
How can they join you in giving thanks when they don’t understand what you are saying? You will be giving thanks very well, but it won’t strengthen the people who hear you.
Paul brings up the issue of the people in the church not understand what someone is saying when they speak in tongues. If you are speaking in tongues and no one interprets what you say, the church cannot be expected to be strengthed. They will not know what the person who spoke in tongues is saying.
In verse 18 it says
But in a church meeting I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language.
The reason prophecy is greater than tongues is that anyone who speaks the same language as the messenger can understand.
A whole church can be strengthed and encouraged when they are given a prophecy from God. Whereas, when someone speaks in tongues, they need an interpreter in order for the church to understand the message.
Is Praying & Speaking in Tongues Meant For Christians Today?
We know God sent His Holy Spirit and gave the gift of praying and speaking in tongues to his disciples and others in the Bible, but is this gift meant for us today?
There are two sides to this question: one side believes they are meant for today if done Biblically and the other believes they were only for that specific time in the Bible with the disciples and then Paul.
The Argument for Tongues Not Being For Today
People who argue that speaking and praying for tongues not being for us today say it was only for the people during the disciple’s time. They primarily use 1 Corinthians 13:8 to support their stance which says
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
They point out that Paul only speaks of tongues in 1 Corinthians, but not in any of his later letters which shows tongues have ceased. They say the time for tongues was during the apostolic age and then it ceased.
They also point out that many people who claim to speak or pray in tongues do not follow the Biblical standard. They often just speak in tongues without a translator and fail to recognize the gift of tongues is no longer with us.
People who argue tongues were not meant for today stand firm on the fact that the Bible says tongues will cease and they believe they already have.
The Argument for Tongues Being For Today
People who argue tongues are meant for today say 1 Corinthians 18 is taken out of context by the other side because the Scripture goes on to say in verses 9-10
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
They believe the completeness this passage is speaking about is Jesus, so tongues will cease once Jesus has returned (the other side believes this verse is speaking about the Bible being completed).
They also say that people who speak in tongues need to do it Biblically and follow the standard set by Paul. What does it look like to pray in tongues Biblically today?
How to Pray in Tongues Biblically
For praying in tongues Biblically, most people agree this is to be done quietly. You can speak to God in tongues, but it is just meant for you and him. If you do pray in tongues in a large group, be respectful of people around you and as a general rule, don’t shout or scream while praying in tongues.
Remember what 1 Corinthians 14:2 & 4 says…
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…For if I pray in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don’t understand what I am saying.
When you pray in tongues, you are not doing it to look more “holy” or “righteous” then other people, they can’t even understand what you are saying! The reason you speak in tongues if so the Holy Spirit may intercede through you on your behalf.
How to Speak in Tongues Biblically
When you speak in tongues, you should have an interpreter. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:13…
So anyone who speaks in tongues should pray also for the ability to interpret what has been said.
If there is no interpreter, the church or believer around you gains nothing from what you speak. Therefore, pray for an interpreter if you feel impressed with a message in tongues from the Holy Spirit.
To speak in tongues Biblically, it is vital to have an interpreter. The interpreter is the one who informs the church of the message, without them your message is pointless because no one can understand what you are saying.
What’s Most Important: Love
If you agree with tongues being for today or not, there is something greater we need to talk about: love.
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.1 Corinthians 13:1
We can speak and pray in tongues, but without love, it means nothing. We are merely making noise. 1 Corinthians goes on to say in verses 8-10…
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
We know love will never cease. After prophesy, tongues, knowledge pass away: love will remain. We can live filled with love and wanting to share the love of Jesus with others around us.
1 Corinthians 16:4 says, “Do everything in love.” We are called to love. Let’s be an example to the world around us of people who love and serve one another.
3 Church Denominations Views on Speaking in Tongues
Here are 3 of church denominations view to help you understand what churches believe in on the topic of tongues.
The Pentecostal church believes after a person is saved and repentance of their sins, the Holy Spirit will dwell in them. Can they speak in tongues after the Holy Spirit dwells in them? The answer is, they would first need the Holy Spirit to “fill” or “baptize” them.
You have to ask the Holy Spirit to fall upon you. Pentecostal believe any Christian can be filled with the Holy Spirit. Once you are filled, you have the gifts of the Spirit and are able to speak & pray in tongues.
Pentecostals belief if you are filled with the Spirit, you have the ability to speak in tongues. They believe tongues are meant for today and are another gift of the spirit. They strongly believe in the gifts of the Spirit and say they bring praise to God.
The view among Baptists is split, southern baptists do not believe in tongues, but there are many Baptists who do believe in tongues. Most southern baptists believe tongues were only meant for the people in the people and the gift has ceased.
Believers do vary from pastor to pastor and Baptists admit there are differences among their churches as to the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Overall, most baptists would not believe in speaking in tongues being for today.
Among the pastors who do believe in the gift of tongues, most of them believe not all Christians can speak in tongues. Even though there are differing views among Baptists, most of the people and pastor within their churches long for them to come together as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Charismatic’s also believed like Pentecostal that the gift of tongues is meant for today. They believe after Salvation, you can be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Once the Holy Spirit has fallen on you, the gifts of the spirit are given to you.
Charismatic’s views differ from Pentecostals because they do not believe every believer who is filled with the Holy Spirit can speak in tongues. They do believe tongues are an important part of corporate worship times and that they can be used during personal prayer times as well. They see both as important.
While Charismatic’s do believe in the gifts on the spirit, they do not believe all Christians have the gift of tongues.
The Holy Spirit gives people the gift of speaking and praying in tongues in the New Testament. Paul wrote about the rules and guidelines for the gift of speaking in tongues. He stressed how much greater prophecy was verses tongues because the body of Christ can be encouraged by prophecy. They cannot be encouraged by tongues unless there is an interpreter.
Above speaking in tongues and prophesy, we know love will never pass away. So, if you agree with tongues being for today or not, you can still choose to love people around you. Without love, we merely make loud noises. We need to ask Jesus to give us his love and to fill us up. We need to do everything in love and we cannot do it without Jesus helping us.
I will leave you with a quote by Leonard Ravenhill to ponder…
What good does it do to speak in tongues on Sunday if you have been using your tongue during the week to curse and gossip?Leonard Ravenhill
What is Prayer?
Prayer is how Christians speak to God and one way they are able to hear him speak back to them. This is an essential part of a Christian’s life. During times of prayer, Christians are able to praise God, thank him, ask for forgiveness, ask him for their needs and intercede for people they know. When Christians pray, they are acknowledging God and admitting they need him to be with them and to guide them.
You can read this blog post to learn more about prayer.
How to Interpret Your Prayer Language?
The only way to interpret your prayer language (speaking or praying in tongues) is to ask God to give you the ability to interpret. I Corinthians 14:13-14, “Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.”
You cannot know what you are speaking when you pray in tongues. Ask God to reveal to you what you are speaking. Tell him your desire to know the words to the language you are speaking. There is no guarantee he will reveal what the language means, but he could! You could also ask for him to allow someone else to have the gift of interpreting and be able to tell you what the words you were speaking meant.
What Does Glossolalia Mean?
Glossolalia means speaking in a foreign language that the speaker themselves does not know. This expression in Greek appears in Acts & 1 Corinthians. This is practiced by Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians who believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit including speaking and praying in tongues.
What are the Differences Between Speaking and Praying in Tongues?
Praying in tongues: When you pray to God in tongues and only he understands what you are saying. Some people also pray in tongues over people during corporate prayer.
Speaking in tongues: When you speak in tongues and then someone is given the gift of interpreting and can tell you and the fellow believers with you what you said.
The main difference between the two is that you don’t have an interpreter when you are praying in tongues, its simply between you and God. When you speak in tongues, there should be an interpreter to understand what you are saying.
How to Increase Your Prayer Language?
The only way to increase your prayer language is to pray and ask God to give more. You can ask him to give you the gift of speaking and praying in tongues. You can also pray he would give you the gift of interpreting tongues.
There are no tricks or certain prays to make your prayer language increase, you simply have to ask God for an increase.