A Believer's Guide to the Gift of Speaking in Tongues

The gift of speaking in tongues is one of the nine Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and it's available to every follower of Christ who has been baptized with the Holy Spirit. This unique gift has played a significant role in the life of believers since its dramatic release on the Day of Pentecost.

We'll explore the concept of the Gift of Tongues as taught by the Apostle Paul. We will clarify that when Paul spoke of "tongues," also known as glossolalia, he was referring to supernatural languages given by the Holy Spirit, not to the natural languages he had learned. We'll also discuss the basic features of speaking in tongues and its importance to the believer.

Exploring the Gift of Speaking in Tongues

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues Artistic RepresentationThe Gift of Speaking in Unknown Tongues
(Source: ©Depositphotos.com)

By Don Bell | Reading Time: 7 minutes.

What is the gift of tongues? Here's my definition: The gift of speaking in unknown tongues is the God-given ability to speak at will in heavenly languages without having studied them and without having a natural understanding of the words being spoken.

It's important to note that whenever The New Testament makes a reference to speaking or praying in "tongues," it refers to speaking in different languages. These languages are structured, fluent, supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

When Paul says, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels …" (1 Corinthians 13:1), it indicates that speaking in tongues involves heavenly languages that he had not learned through conventional means. The Greek word γλῶσσα (glōssa) translated as tongues means by implication, languages or glossolalia.

Misconceptions About Tongues

It's important to make clear what the gift of tongues isn't.

  • It is NOT a natural ability to speak and understand learned languages.
  • It is NOT speaking gibberish or making strange, repetitive noises.
  • It is NOT the product of our human intellect or emotionalism.
  • It is NOT a forced demonic counterfeit tongue.
  • It is NOT a separate gift from praying in tongues.
  • It is NOT speaking in one inspired tongue; it's speaking in multiple tongues.
  • It is NOT a lesser gift by any means or definition.
  • It is NOT the only evidence of the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Clearing up misconceptions and gaining a good understanding of the gift of tongues helps you to use the gift effectively. You'll be able to edify yourself by communicating with God in your heavenly languages at any time.

You'll also be able to edify other believers by confidently delivering an inspired message in an unknown tongue that you can then interpret using the companion gift of interpretation of Tongues.

The Gift of Tongues Explained

Paul the Apostle was known to be fluent in several languages. He was raised speaking Koine Greek in Tarsus where Greek Culture and learning were prominent. He later studied the Hebrew Scriptures in Jerusalem under Gamaliel the Elder, and he would have spoken Aramaic while in Palestine and regions to the east.

Therefore, whenever Paul had spoken in tongues, he was not speaking in the languages he had learned, but in supernatural tongues inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Paul explains, "For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries" (1 Corinthians 14:2); also, "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful" (1 Corinthians 14:14).

When you speak in tongues, your mind cannot grasp the meaning of the sounds, syllables, and words that are said. You can have no understanding of a language that you've never learned or heard spoken before.

Speaking in tongues requires an act of faith, and it cannot be compared to learning a natural language. Tongues bypass the understanding of the mind and to the uninitiated ear can sound similar to foreign languages.

During mission trips to St. Petersburg, Russia, my wife and I had to rely on our translator Irina during the day, but in the evenings we were on our own at the Hotel Oktiabrskaya and while enjoying Russian food along Nevsky Prospekt.

We had learned a few Russian phrases beforehand, but we were noway fluent and struggled to understand the Russian spoken by hotel and restaurant staff. They effortlessly understood their language because of their familiarity with it, but to us, it sounded like gibberish.

That's why some well-meaning people have dismissed speaking in tongues as gibberish, saying it's simply made-up sounds. However, they fail to realize that any natural language can also sound like gibberish if you're totally unfamiliar with it.

What's more, we're not just given one tongue but many tongues. Paul says, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels … (1 Corinthians 13:1). With an estimated 7,168 human tongues being spoken on Earth,1 you can only imagine the multitude of angelic tongues spoken in the Kingdom of Heaven!

The Process of Speaking in Tongues

The following drawing illustrates what happens when you step out in faith and supernaturally speak in an unknown tongue.

Speaking in Tongues IllustrationThe Process of Speaking in Tongues
© 2023 KingdomAnointing.com

When a believer speaks in tongues, the Holy Spirit communicates with their spirit, which in turn instructs their brain to speak words of an unknown spiritual language, as the Holy Spirit supplies them.

This spiritual language is one the person has never heard before, so their mind has no understanding of the words being formed on their tongue. Similarly, listeners also have no understanding of the words being spoken because it's a spiritual language they have not heard before either.

The words spoken in tongues are intended for God's understanding alone. They are called "mysteries" by Paul. The one speaking in tongues is not meant to understand the words being spoken, just as no one else is meant to understand them. Speaking in tongues is a form of private communication between the individual and God.

Evidence of Baptism With the Spirit

While speaking in tongues offers immediate evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it should NOT be considered the ONLY evidence.

My Christian friend received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and served as the president of our local chapter of the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International (FGBMFI) for many years. Although he did not manifest the gift of tongues, he clearly displayed a deep love for his Saviour, and he became proficient in other gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly the gift of a word of knowledge.

Being a mechanic by trade, he gained a reputation for being successful at repairing broken-down trucks that other mechanics had given up on. It wasn't that he was a superior mechanic, though he excelled at his job.

His secret was that he prayed over the vehicles, and the Holy Spirit gave him insights through words of knowledge. He could envision exactly where the problem lay and the best way to repair it. And, surprisingly, he never spoke in tongues.

There are other "evidences" of being filled with the Holy Spirit, such as manifesting other gifts of the Spirit, manifesting the fruits of the Spirit, increased boldness in declaring God's Word, a greater love for the things of God, and so on. However, speaking in tongues offers a clear and unmistakable evidence that should not be disregarded or downplayed.

The Importance of the Gift of Tongues

Paul says, "I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all" (1 Corinthians 14:18). What a bold statement! It reveals Paul's reliance on the gift of tongues to build up his faith and sustain himself in body, soul, and spirit amid the sufferings he endures for the sake of the gospel.

He acknowledges that "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God" (Romans 8:18-19).

Elsewhere, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17, Paul encourages believers to rejoice always and "pray without ceasing." Satan has worked overtime to create divisions among believers and sow unbelief and apathy concerning speaking in tongues.

Why? Because Satan fully understands the significance tongues has to build up the faith of believers and release God's power within the church.

God is waiting for the body of Christ to mature in Christ, "from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:16).

Edified, mature believers walking confidently in the power of God's Spirit carry the potential to dismantle Satan's earthly kingdom, paving the way for the Kingdom of God.

An alive church strong in faith could fulfill Jesus' prophecy that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come (Ephesians 4:16; Mark 24:14).

Additional Must-Read Articles

Additional articles will explore the Holy Spirit's faith-building purpose of tongues, and its three manifestations: edification of the believer, edification of the church, and a sign to unbelievers.

We'll also consider the question everybody asks: "Did Jesus speak in tongues?" Plus, we'll unpack how to speak in tongues.

Enjoy the life-changing journey.


1 "Languages of the World." Ethnologue.com. SIL International, n.d., Web. 8 Feb. 2024.

Don Bell of Kingdom Anointing

By Don Bell, follower of the Christ.

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