The Bible refers to people speaking in tongues--most notably at Pentecost. Is this something that legitimately happens today?

I've been in church services where speaking in tongues has happened, but it always seems weird and creepy, and those doing it seem like kooks. How can I know if this is legitimate, or if I'm right in thinking it's strange?

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    For what its worth Paul said that there should always be someone translating someone speaking in tongues. 1 Corinthians 14:26.
    – wax eagle
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 18:33
  • Thank you for this question! I'm sure I'll refer people to this at times. :)
    – a_hardin
    Commented Aug 24, 2011 at 19:44
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    Wikipedia: Cessationism vs. Continuationism. Commented Aug 29, 2011 at 15:49
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    it always seems weird and creepy, and those doing it seem like kooks I think this might be offensive to some people. Can you change the wording? Commented Sep 19, 2011 at 20:05
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    @dancek: It did seem weird and creepy. The point of the question is, in part, to determine if my feelings on the matter are ill-founded... I think it's clear that I was only expressing my feelings, and not stating that as some sort of objective judgement of their behavior.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Sep 19, 2011 at 20:21

5 Answers 5


Random babbling isn't "speaking in tongues" as the Apostles did on the Day of Pentecost. The Apostles preached, and everyone present heard the message in their native language. This is the purpose of speaking in tongues: to facilitate communication. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul warns very strongly about speaking in tongues simply for its own sake, since it doesn't accomplish any useful purpose.

As for modern occurrences, I've heard plenty of stories of missionaries and other preachers in situations where they did not possess sufficient language skills in the language of the people being taught gaining the temporary ability to express themselves clearly when it was necessary. I don't have any references to cite right at the moment, but yes, it does still happen today.

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    what you say about 1 Corinthians 14 doesn't make sense, as in 1 Cor 14:4 Paul writes: "One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself" (NASB). That's something quite contrary to it doesn't accomplish any useful purpose. Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 6:10
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    @dancek I totally agree with you that it is edifying. However, I agree that the purpose of speaking in tongues is for facilitating communication amoung humans as it was in the Bible. We don't need any special language to talk with God.
    – Richard
    Commented Aug 25, 2011 at 14:28
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    Can you provide references to stories of missionaries and preachers speaking in tongues in these situations?
    – Flimzy
    Commented Sep 18, 2011 at 6:05
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    There are 2 purposes for speaking in tongue, the first is to edify oneself and the second is in the corporate where there should be an interpreter so that the whole church can be edified.
    – Mr. Mr.
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 8:34
  • @Richard, "For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. -1 Corinthians 14:2
    – Daniel
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 4:25

The accounts of speaking in tongues in the Bible were always in the context of speaking in a language otherwise unknown to the speaker, but to which there are hearers who understand (on the Day of Pentecost, each member of the crowd heard Peter is his/her own language).

Likewise, when Paul instructs the church in Corinth (1 Cor 14:26), he says to make sure there is an interpreter if one is to speak in a tongue.

Can/does it happen today? I see no reason why it cannot/does not. However, absent the interpreter caveat above, it should have no place in a worship service.

For further note, I cannot find an instance of "tongues" being used in the bible, and not being used in the same way as on the Day of Pentecost.

See Mark 16:17, Acts 10:44-46, 1 Corinthians 12:10, 1 Corinthians 12:30, 1 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Corinthians 14:21-23 (itself referencing Isaiah 28:11).

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    +1 For "it should have no place in a worship service". I believe that the speaking in tongues was meant to be a sign to the people of the coming of God's kingdom. Note that the speaking in tongues only occurred in areas where there were new believers, that is, the Gospel was being preached for the first time there, and there were converts for the first time.
    – Cryst
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 10:31
  • <removed comments that were not related to the OP's post> If you have your own answers, add them as answers not comments.
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 12:33

Yes, the gift of speaking in tongues still exists today.

Paul speaks about gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, and in the next chapter writes the following:

1 Corinthians 13:8-10 (ESV) [emphases mine]
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

The gifts of prophesying and speaking in tongues and knowledge will eventually pass away. When does that happen? When the perfect comes (the gifts are an instance of the partial). I think this is referring to the second coming of Christ. We can be quite sure that the perfect has not yet come. Therefore, tongues have not yet ceased.

As for whether speaking in tongues that you hear is legitimate,

  1. As noted by others, Paul requires interpreting if someone speaks in tongues in a gathering (1 Corinthians 14:26-33). But this doesn't mean the speaking in tongues is fake; it might just be that the person is misusing the gift.
  2. Speaking in tongues, or glossolalia happens outside Christianity, too. A person can willfully speak with nonsense syllables. It's difficult for an outsider to know whether speaking in tongues is genuine, then. If the person speaks in a real language that they don't know, they obviously really have the gift.
  • Perfect could indicate "mature". It may help to reflect on this meaning.
    – Footwasher
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 14:23

There are two competing views. This is why "charismatic" denominations are seen as in contrast to "traditional" denominations (called "cessationist" by others).

The charismatic view has been described in other answers and refers to scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Corinthians 12 as directed at all believers and exhorting them to desire and exercise spritual gifts, one of which is tongues. One notable thing which was missed from other answers was that the "re-discovery" of the gift of tongues was during the event known as the "Azusa Street Revival" which is well documented, and considered by some to be the meaning of the phrase "latter rain" in James 5:7 (omitted in some translations).

The cessationist view is that tongues have now stopped and did not continue after the apostolic age. This is the view of most of the modern church. Many justify it via 1 Corinthians 13:8 which states that "tongues will cease". Charismatics view this verse in the context of a comparison of the eternal nature of love with the mortal nature of tongues, and not in a literal sense of tongues ending for good.

Personally I am a charismatic believer and often practice the gift of tongues, but I think it is useful to know both perspectives.

  • As someone who goes to a cessationist church, I do find it strange that if God does provide the gift of speaking in tongues today that such a high concentration of people with that gift go to chaismatic churches. I don't have a problem with saying it is a real gift but as others have pointed out it only has a place in the church service if done with a translator (a couple of churches where people speak in tongues that I've been to don't have a translator). Also a couple of people I know from those churches suggest that every Christian can speak in tongues which I disagree with.
    – Greg
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 2:44
  • In the spirit of trying to help, could I enquire why Paul would make a comparison between the eternal and the temporal?
    – Footwasher
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 14:26

Flimsy wrote:

The Bible refers to people speaking in tongues--most notably at Pentecost. Is this something that legitimately happens today?

Paul says when he was a child he spoke like a child. He was comparing tongues use to young church use.

1 Corinthians 13:9-10 NET For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.

Flimsy wrote:

I've been in church services where speaking in tongues has happened, but it always seems weird and creepy, and those doing it seem like kooks. How can I know if this is legitimate, or if I'm right in thinking it's strange?

Everyone is kind and nonjudgmental, and would not like to criticize a practice adopted in other churches. I believe that is about right. Those who follow Christ must search for truth. It's a requirement :

Luke 11:13 NET If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Young churches are ministered to by God:

Luke 22:35 NET Then Jesus said to them, “When I sent you out with no money bag, or traveler’s bag, or sandals, you didn’t lack anything, did you?” They replied, “Nothing.”

Jesus's faith provided teaching and supplies. The perfected church, the mature church will manifest it's own faith. To reach maturity, they must sell even their most precious possessions :

Luke 22:36 NET He said to them, “But now, the one who has a money bag must take it, and likewise a traveler’s bag too. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.

Much sacrifice is involved in transmitting the word of God :

2 Corinthians 4:12 NET As a result, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

John 15:13 NET No one has greater love than this – that one lays down his life for his friends.

1 Corinthians 13:11-13 NET But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways. For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

John 14:12 NET I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father.

Teaching mature doctrine requires great effort, risk and love, since there could be rejection, even when the text supports your view. Death in us, life for the objectors.

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    How does any of this relate to the question?
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 21:02
  • Did you post this on the wrong question? It doesn't appear to be even related here.
    – Caleb
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 12:16
  • Sorry, or edited my answer to be more assertive (and probably generate criticism ) This is a difficult topic, as evinced by the continuation of the debate. I tried not to be judgmental. However help should be given to those who wonder if a practise is acceptable as a permanent feature in churches.
    – Footwasher
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 14:19

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