Sunday, 14 August 2011

Pentecostal 101: Speaking in Tongues

There is no surer sign that we pentecostals are crazy than the fact that we speak in tongues. Gibberish, madness, delusion, I've heard it all and been offended by none. After all, I can understand why one would feel a bit uncomfortable watching people making unintelligible sounds for hours on end. And the worst part is that most of the people speaking this 'language' don't even understand what they are saying. Odder and odder. Truth of the matter is even Christians are divided on the issue of tongue speaking. Some say its hokey pokey mumbo jumbo and others say, completely legitimate. As a casual bystander, if you're going to fall on any side of the argument, surely it would be with the sane Christians who only pray in languages that everyone else understands. Surely.

The first instance of speaking in tongues that the Bible records is in Acts. Jesus had died, been resurrected, ascended (a class for another day) and now his followers were hanging around, feeling a little lost. Before Jesus ascended he said, "Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift He promised, as I told you before. John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit." [Acts 1:4-5 (NLT) ] Now, no-one had ever been baptised with the Holy Spirit before this. It was a big deal and I'm assuming a scary deal. So while they are waiting for the gift, the disciples prepare for the Holy Spirit by meeting and praying in a language that they all understood: Aramaic. Then one fine day, the gift comes. 'Everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability." [Acts 2:4 (NLT)] Or speaking in 'other tongues' as the King James Version puts it, hence the phrase speaking in tongues was coined.

Now, let it be made clear that the languages they were speaking were not unintelligible to the other people around them. "At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages beings spoken by the believers. They were completely amazed. "How can this be?" the exclaimed. "These people are all from Galilee and yet we hear them speaking in our native languages!"[Acts 2:5-12 (NLT)]

The disciples didn't understand what they were saying but the foreigners around them could. So how come today when people say they are speaking in tongues, a lot of the time, no-one understands them, foreigner or not? Well, as I said, this was the first instance of people speaking in tongues. After this first time, Paul witnessed many instances and it seems that as more and more people spoke under the influence of the Spirit, increasingly no-one understood what they were saying . "For if you have the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking only to God, since people won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be mysterious." [1 Corinthians 14:2 (NLT)]

So what is the point of speaking a language that nobody but God understands, not even you? Well for one, it builds up your spirit man. As Paul puts it, 'A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally.' [1 Corinthians 14:4 (NLT)] But still you don't understand what you're saying. How do you cope with that? Well, the more you speak in tongues, the more you begin to wonder why understanding was so important in the first place. For example, there is a very popular 2face Idibia song called Implication. The only word I have ever understood in that song is implication. The chorus goes, (according to a lyrics website)

Olele, olele

Ole jelapooloo lele!
Ole wua olewua, ole jelu bu lewua


I have absolutely no idea what these words mean yet when I hear them sung, immediately I think Nigeria, party, dance, 2face. I don't understand them but I know they mean something and that means something to me. I may not understand but it means somethings. It may sound like gibberish but it means something. Yet, it's important not to forget: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." [1 Corinthians 13:1 (KJV)] Sometimes, we pentecostals can get hung up on this speaking in tongues things and begin thinking that if you don't do it, you're not a real Christian. The real test of a Christian is in how much they've grown in love. As Paul would have put it if he'd lived in our times, it's all about the love.


  1. Well written, as usual. I feel enlightened, as usual. :)

    Amara Uzoma

  2. AMEN! Personally, I am very skeptical of it. I do believe I have the gift, but to my regret (or not) I do not practice or use it as much. Whenever I'm praying, and it almost wants to come out, I stop. One thing I'm cautious of, and I've always wondered about is this: If every language on earth was represented where I am, and I start speaking in tongues, will one of them be able to say...WOW, he's speaking my language? (Just as what happened to the Apostles

  3. Chibundu...thanks for sharing this. This has clarified a lot of things to me regarding speaking in tongues. I think am better off focusing more on the greatest gift of all,love. At 15, I felt so unchristian when I was surrounded by people speaking in tongues and I couldnt. I resorted to faking it and I made my dad so proud when he found out I 'spoke in tongues'... lol I wasnt so proud of this achievement and I stopped after a while.
    I've heard some say its ok to fake it till you get it but am not very comfortable with that so am just going to relax about it. Its good to know that there are other gifts to be sought after other than speaking in tongues, am so unto them now :-)))
    its the Ewe girl, Efua!

  4. Maybe fellow writer. Who knows? Also, you should try to let it out one of these days. For years I used to speak in tongues 'in my mind' because it just felt too odd to be saying these things out loud.

    Also, efua, yeah don't feel inadequate about the speaking in tongues thing. Relax. When you feel ready for it, ask and the Holy Spirit will give it to you. It's a gift. The onus is on the giver to do the giving.

  5. I speak to God through the power of interpretive dance. I don't have a choreographed set piece, rather, I move my body in the way that the Holy Spirit compels. Whenever I attempt to speak in tongues my voice is different; I suddenly adopt a cockney accent and become cross-eyed, so I am too ashamed to do so among others.


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