I'm aware of the existence of many Pentecostal and Charistmatic groups that believe in the gift of tongues and claim to be able to exercise it. In fact, one can very easily find lots of videos of people who claim to be able to speak in tongues on platforms such as YouTube and others. Of course, that's not my question. What I'm asking is if there are any examples in recent history of Xenoglossy (i.e. tongue speaking a la Acts 2:1-13), namely, someone suddenly speaks in a foreign language that they've never learned or studied and a native listener who does speak the language understands what they say (with both speaker and listener in shock because of what just happened). Are there any documented cases of tongue speaking a la Acts 2:1-13 in recent history (19th century on)? By documented case, I mean for example a missionary reporting this experience and then making it public via a missionary magazine or anything of that sort.

Below Acts 2:1-13 (ESV) for reference:

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Related: Have a message in tongues and its interpretation ever been verified by an outsider fluent in both languages?


6 Answers 6


One of the most impressive stories that I have heard, related to xenolalia, is the case of a 1976 lecture at Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield, Illinois. This is the same Lutheran Seminary that is now in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The testimonial evidence about that event meets the criteria of it being a documented case of xenolalia by a reputable third party.

According to the book "Welcome, Holy Spirit" - edited by Larry Christenson (Augsburg Press, 1987), Risto Santala was one of the associate professors at the Springfield Seminary. He was on leave from the Hebrew University in Israel. Professor Santala analyzed a tape of glossolalia utterances by Larry Christenson, that was played by researchers in a lecture related to the charismatic renewal movement. The tape was introduced as an example of how modern speaking in tongues should be understood, in essence, as a form of "heavenly gibberish."

Risto Santala was surprised to discover that it was not gibberish, but in fact it was a spoken mixture of old Hebrew and Aramaic. The footnote from the book by Christenson reads as follows:

Risto Santala, Armolahjista amon tasolta (Helsinki: Karas-Sana Oy, 1978), pp. 80-89. In this Finnish publication Santala reports linguistic analysis of a recording of several glossolalia utterances that Larry Christenson recorded one morning in 1963 during his private devotions, at the request of a research team from the American Lutheran Church that was visiting his congregation in San Pedro, California. Santala, a longtime missionary in Israel, heard the recording some years later during a lecture by psychiatrist Paul Qualben, a member of the research team that had visited Christenson's congregation. He determined that the utterances were a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. His transcription and translation of the utterances were a hymn of praise cast in Old Testament bridal imagery...

In a subsequent article by Larry Christenson called "Ride the River" he writes about subsequent scholars reviewing the recording, along with his experience in recording it:

The day before the ALC research team concluded its visit in our congregation, Dr. Qualben asked if I would record some speaking in tongues for him. The next morning I turned on a tape recorder during my private devotions and gave the tape to Dr. Qualben before he left. In time I simply forgot about the tape. About ten years later I received a telephone call from a man who identified himself as Risto Santala, a longtime missionary to Israel from Finland... he heard a report on the charismatic movement from a Dr. Paul Qualben. In the course of his lecture, Dr. Qualben played the tape I had given him some years earlier. Santala perked up his ears because he recognized some Hebrew words. He asked Dr. Qualben if he could study the tape back in his room. He played the tape over many times. There were eight separate prayers in tongues. He recognized them as Hebrew, with some admixture of Aramaic. The subject matter was a hymn of praise cast in Old Testament bridal imagery. Santala subsequently published a book in Finland reporting his research on this tape... Risto Santala, Armolahjoista armon tasolta (Helsinki: Karas-Sana Oy, 1978). For a detailed summary of Santala’s study, see Welcome, Holy Spirit (pp. 409-411), and Ride the River, p. 97.

  • Is there any reason given in the book to believe that Christenson didn't have some familiarity with these languages? Lots of people have spoken those languages, and could do so in prayer. Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 19:12
  • 1
    👍 Christenson would have studied Hebrew at Seminary. However, the composition was partly in ancient Aramaic. It's not something that he claimed to be familiar with. The recording was done in 1963. The reference to subsequent multiple attestations, besides Rista Santala and his wife (also a scholar) is covered in Christenson's book, "Ride the River." It's not a knock down argument for Christianity, as a secularist could claim that there may be a natural explanation - e.g. the brain may have some latent ability to access a genetic history of certain languages & songs spoken by one's ancestors.
    – Jess
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 0:18
  • @Jess - I'm not sure if that explanation would apply to the case of an Irish woman speaking Mooré, the African language people speak in Burkina Faso (see this answer)
    – user50422
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 0:35
  • 1
    An online link (free to access) containing excerpts related to what transpired in regards to the recording can be found at: lutheranrenewal.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/… It's worth the read.
    – Jess
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 0:49
  • I don't know what secularists might come up with as an explanation of the Irish woman speaking in an African language. Maybe they would argue for some sort of collective mind behind the universe that one taps into? Like that of Henry Bergson, Samuel Alexander & C.D. Broad of Cambridge who had an idea that brain functions are mainly eliminative & not productive.
    – Jess
    Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 1:02

Are there any documented cases of “Acts 2 type” tongue speaking (i.e. understood by a foreigner) in recent history (19th century on)?

I have not heard of this being done in modern times, say from the 19th century on, but that does not mean that it has not been done. I am simply not aware of any modern cases of it.

The closest example of it, can be seen in my last example in my list below of those who may have had this gift: German Stigmatic Therese Neumann of Germany (1898-1962).

This seems to be a gift from God that is truly rare.

First of all, it is interesting to note that the Church Fathers only associated this real languages.

Dr. Nathan Busenitz wrote a very detailed paper comparing what the Church Fathers believed and wrote regarding glossolalia with contemporary Pentecostal beliefs. His conclusion was that there was no evidence that any Church Fathers ever held that glossolalia involved anything other than real human language.

One of the key "proof texts" that has been cited for use of unintelligible languages while speaking in tongues is 1 Corinthians 14:14-15:

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.What am I to do? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.

Church Father John Chrysostom (4th cent.) clearly understood that even here, Paul was speaking of real language:

Ask accordingly not to have the gift of tongues only, but also of interpretation, that thou mayest become useful unto all, and not shut up thy gift in thyself alone. “For if I pray in a tongue,” saith he, “my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.” Seest thou how by degrees bringing his argument to a point, he signifies that not to others only is such an one useless, but also to himself; if at least “his understanding is unfruitful?” For if a man should speak only in the Persian, or any other foreign tongue, and not understand what he saith, then of course to himself also will he be thenceforth a barbarian, not to another only, from not knowing the meaning of the sound. For there were of old many who had also a gift of prayer, together with a tongue; and they prayed, and the tongue spake, praying either in the Persian or Latin language, but their understanding knew not what was spoken. Wherefore also he said, “I’ll pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth,” i.e., the gift which is given me and which moves my tongue, “but my understanding is unfruitful.”

What then may that be which is best in itself, and doth good? And how ought one to act, or what request of God? To pray, “both with the spirit,” i.e., the gift, and “with the understanding.” Wherefore also he said, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” He signifieth the same thing here also, that both the tongue may speak, and the understanding may not be ignorant of the things spoken (Homilies on First Corinthians, XXXV) - Do any church fathers directly connect “speaking in tongues” with anything other than existing human languages?

Has anyone been known to speak in an unknown language in missionary activities? Yes

Of coarse there are.

Here are a few that may fit the bill:

St. Vincent Ferrer

St. Vincent Ferrer was a Dominican missionary in the 14th century (1350 to 1419 AD). Legend has it that his native tongue was Valencian, a dialect of Catalan spoken in Spain. He didn’t know any other language. This did not stop his audience from miraculously hearing him in their language.

This is a historic variant of the miracle of speaking in tongues.

As an itinerant missionary whose travels brought him throughout western Europe, the lack of language preparation would have been a severe hindrance. To make matters worse, he knew only Valencian, which was a localized language. Very few within Europe had the ability to understand his native tongue. According to the account found in Acta Sanctorum this was overcome by the miracle of those hearing. He spoke in Valencian and the people understood his words perfectly in their own language.

Valencian was part of the Catalan group of languages distinct from Spanish, French, or German.

“Catalan is not, as some believe, a dialect of Spanish, but a language that developed independently out of the vulgar Latin spoken by the Romans who colonised the Tarragona area. It is spoken by 9 million people in Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Isles, Andorra and the town of Alghero in Sardinia. - Vincent Ferrer and the Gift of Tongues

St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony and the Gift of Tongues

The book “The Little Flowers of St Francis” was written by Brother Ugolino about 100 years after the life of St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua, the details of which are based on original documents of the Franciscan Order. In Chapter 39 of this book we read:

"St Anthony of Padua, one of the chosen disciples and companions of St Francis, whom the latter called his Vicar, was preaching one day before the Pope and the Cardinals in Consistory, there were therefore present at that moment men of different countries- Greeks and Latins, French and Germans, Slavs and English and men of many other different languages and dialects.

"And being inflamed by the Holy Spirit and inspired with apostolic eloquence, he preached and explained the word of God so effectively, devoutly, subtly, clearly and understandably that all who were assembled at that Consistory, although they spoke different languages, clearly and distinctly heard and understood everyone of his words as if he had spoken in each of their languages. Therefore they were all astounded and filled with devotion, for it seemed to them that the former miracle of the Apostles at the time of Pentecost had been renewed, when by the power of the Holy Spirit they spoke in different languages.

"And in amazement, just like in the Acts of the Apostles they said to one another: "Is he not a Spaniard?' How then are we all hearing him in the language of the country where we were born-we Greeks and Latins, French and Germans, Slavs and English, Lombards and foreigners?"

It was not only at this consistory that St. Anthony's gift of tongues was utilized. It is written that while preaching in Italy he spoke in perfect Italian, and while in France he preached in French, although he had never studied these languages. Also remarkable is the fact that "the simple-minded and the most ignorant listeners were capable of fully comprehending all he said; and his voice, though gentle and sweet, was distinctly heard at a very extraordinary distance from the speaker."

St. Paul of the Cross (1694-1775)

The gift of Tongues in the preaching of St Paul of the Cross

The grace of being heard at great distances was also documented on at least three occasions in the life of St. Paul of the Cross (1694-1775), the holy founder of the Passionist Order. Because of his extraordinary reputation for holiness, people would come from great distances to hear the man of God preach his missions, and to witness the remarkable miracles and cures that often accompanied his preaching. Therfore the crowds that gathered during his missions were often immense. On at least three documented occasions, his voice could be heard by all those present, even amdst the usual noises of such a great crowd, extending even those who were literally several miles away. This extraordinary grace took place in the three locations of La Tolfa, at Civitacastellana, and on the Isle of Elba, where he was heard a full five miles away.

Also, as stated above with the Apostles and also St Anthony, it was also documented on several occasions that his Italian language was understood by members of different foreign nationalities and languages who had come to listen to him.

St. Dominic (1170-1221)

The gift of speaking in Tongues in the life of St Dominic

And then there is also another holy Founder, St. Dominic (1170-1221), the founder of the Dominican Order and the great promoter of the Holy Rosary, who was given the gift of tongues when he was one day on a journey to Paris with his companion, Bertrand of Garrega, and a number of other friends and disciples.

While on the road they visited the sanctuary of Rocamadour, where they spent the night praying before a miraculous image of Our Lady. The next day, as they journeyed along, they sang litanies and recited psalms and the divine office, which attracted the attention of two German pilgrims, who began to follow them. When they came to the next village the two German pilgrims, being greatly attracted by the devotion of the little band, made motions to them indicating that they should sit down and dine with them. It was somewhat of an awkward situation since the Germans could not understand the Dominicans, nor could the Dominicans understand the Germans. This continued for four days, with the Germans sharing their food with the Dominicans.

On the fifth day St. Dominic addressed Bertrand in this manner: "Brother Bertrand, it grieves me to reap the temporal things of these pilgrims without sowing for them spiritual things: let us kneel down and ask God to grant us the understanding of their language, that we may speak to them of Christ." Accordingly, they knelt down and prayed. When they rose up, they were able to converse with the Germans in their own language and did so without difficulty for the rest of the journey.

As they drew near Paris, the Germans, now filled with spiritual consolations, departed from them. The earthly food which the Germans had provided had been exchanged by Dominic for spiritual food which nourished their spirits and was beneficial to their eternal salvation. St. Dominic, for his part, charged Bertrand to keep silent about the matter and to keep it secret until his death, "lest the people should take us for Saints who are but sinners.'"

St. Pachomius the Great

Among many miracles wrought by him, the author of his life assures us, that though he had never learned the Greek or Latin tongues, he sometimes miraculously spoke them; he cured the sick and persons possessed by devils with blessed oil. - St. Pachomius, Abbot (292-348)

The closest account in modern times that I can find is the opposite of what you seem to be asking. Therese Neumann of Germany did not speak in foreign languages, but she did have the gift of understanding them.

The German Stigmatic Therese Neumann of Germany (1898-1962) was gifted with gift of understanding foreign and ancient languages.

The extraordinary gift of understanding* foreign languages, especially ancient Biblical languages has been given to numerous Saints, especially the Mystics. Most notably in recent times this gift was given to a remarkable 20th century mystic and stigmatic named Therese Neumann of Germany (1898-1962).

During the ecstasies of the Passion in which Therese not only saw, but physically participated in in a mystical way, she heard the four languages which were in common use during the time of Christ: Latin, Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic; the Aramaic was spoken in a dialect mixed with Greek words. Therese recognized and repeated them after she returned to normal life. The fact that this humble country girl could master such languages is a miracle in itself. Therese had a seventh grade education and did not speak or understand any other language but German; to her personal friends she spoke in the dialect of the Oberpfalz, the particular region of Bavaria in which Konnersreuth is located.

Many eminent scholars of Oriental languages and of the Old Testament visited Therese in order to check the authenticity of Therese's knowledge of languages. Nevertheless, it was indeed difficult to find scholars who were qualified to interview Therese. It is not an exaggeration to say that in many instances she knew more about these ancient languages and many other details than the scholars did! Some of the noted men who helped extensively in the verifi¬cation and clarification of the 2,OOO-year-old practices were: Rev. Prof. Dr. Wutz (a priest), professor of Oriental languages and the Old Testament at Catholic College, Eichstatt, Bavaria; Prof. Bauer, of Halle, a non-Catholic expert in Oriental lan¬guages; and Prof. Wessely, of Vienna, a non-Christian, who was also a scholar of these languages. All of the results of their investigations were made public. - Gift of understanding foreign and ancient languages

There are some who believe that in the last days of time God was restoring to his church the same power and glory it had at the beginning. He was doing this in order to enable the church to evangelize the nations before the soon coming of Christ.


I am baffled by the nature of these answers and don't see how any of them answer the question.

There are two things that I am accustomed to call glossolalia and xenoglossolalia; the first is so well documented in number that I would not be surprised to find well-documented cases. That is where someone speaks a language they ought to not know and another understands. If I searched my records I might find some, but like others it is of questionable repute. This is not an answer to the question though.

However what took place in Acts 2 is what I am accustomed to call xenoglossolalia; it says "And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?" (NASB) This is something else, something far more powerful, and completely unfakeable. But I have heard of no incident nor record since. Believe me if I had something I would post it, but not so much as a rumor. I have only that when the two witnesses stand in Jerusalem and oppose the anti-Christ we should listen for it again and it should be unmistakable.

  • Do you mean this was a miracle of hearing rather than a miracle of speaking? See this question to understand what I mean: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/45222/38524
    – user50422
    Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 2:12
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator: It may well be; or it may not be. I would need to be there myself or have an audio recording to tell the difference. But the question is insightful.
    – Joshua
    Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 2:16

Millions have been documented, including myself, as having the Acts 2 experience.

Most of the time though, God does not need the gift of diverse kinds of tongues (various known languages) because He fills the locals en masse with His Spirit.

It would not be wise for God to send His Spirit with the Chinese dialect in a Mississippi congregation (obviously).

  • Did you, personally, speak in a foreign language and were you understood by a native speaker of said language?
    – user50422
    Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 23:22
  • If I did, I would not know. I speak only English.(and unknown tongues to edify myself).
    – Truther
    Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 23:25
  • 3
    But you just said (quote) "Millions have been documented, including myself, as having the Acts 2 experience". For it to have been a Acts 2 experience, a native speaker has to have understood what you said in tongues. How do you know you had an Acts 2 experience? Did a foreigner approach you and tell you what you said in tongues?
    – user50422
    Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 23:27
  • 1
    It is all good that you had those experiences, but the question is specifically about Acts 2:1-13.
    – user50422
    Commented Jul 10, 2021 at 23:33
  • 2
    ”Millions have been documented, including myself.” If they are documented, can you please link a few sources into your post?
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jul 21, 2021 at 16:00

I have heard of a modern occurrenced where a word was spoken (in English) at a multinational meeting and afterward a friend went to talk to the one that gave it. He was surprised to find that the speaker didn't speak English and was indeed speaking through the Spirit. This would haven't happened somewhere in the 1980-90s. However, this was not documented anywhere I'm aware of.

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    – agarza
    Commented Jul 25, 2021 at 22:24

This will probably qualify as anecdotal hearsay, but I'm sharing it so that it can at least serve as material for discussion.

I just found a blog post from 2006 discussing a neuroimaging study performed on 5 religious women during the act of glossolalia. In the comment section, a commenter shared the following (emphasis mine):

At December 21, 2007 10:18 AM, Blogger Leslie said...

I have been speaking in tongues since 1971 and my experience is generally the same as Cara, Nick and Anonymous but may I add that I can always listen to myself, and it seems as though I am able to speak in one language that may sound very French, or I my "flow" into a langauge that is very sing-songie like Chinese. Then I may speak in a language that sounds Russian or Native American. (complete with sounds that I have NEVER made in my native English). I was told by a Frenchman once that I was speaking in a very old French dialect that he recognized from childhood, spoken by his grandparents in the south of France. At the time, I was praying for a woman with stomach problems. She was healed as we prayed. Later, "Laurent", the French electronics engineer, recounted to me, to his amazement, that he even recognized some of the words, which sounded like medical terms and parts of the body. He was so moved by the experience that he was in tears. I have had other experiences like this. I beleive that there are believers who never mature in the free-flow of this supernatural gift, who really believe they have the gift when they repeat syllables they have heard in prayer meetings. They desire the gift so badly that they subconsciously repeat what they have heard. Sadly, this is probably true of the candidates used in the linguistics study from the 1970's. I would love to see a study done using candidates who find themselves speaking what appear to be mature languages with myriads of differing syllables. There are many out here like myself who experience this phenomenon.

Another source of similar kinds of anecdotes is found in the arena of exorcisms. In the preface of his book Demonic Foes: My Twenty-Five Years as a Psychiatrist Investigating Possessions, Diabolic Attacks, and the Paranormal, Dr. Richard Gallagher shares the following:

The world’s leading psychiatric authority on demonic possession delves into the hidden world of exorcisms and his own transformation from cynic to believer over the course of his twenty-five-year career.

Successful New York psychiatrist Richard Gallagher was skeptical yet intrigued when a hard-nosed, no-nonsense Catholic priest asked him to examine a woman for a possible exorcism. Meeting her, Gallagher was astonished. The woman’s behavior defied logic. In an instant, she could pinpoint a person’s secret weaknesses. She knew how individuals she’d never known had died, including Gallagher’s own mother, who passed away after a lengthy battle with ovarian cancer. She spoke fluently in multiple languages, including Latin—but only when she was in a trance.

This was not psychosis, Gallagher concluded. It was, in his scientific estimation, what could only be describe as paranormal ability. The woman wasn’t mentally disturbed—she was possessed. This remarkable case was the first of many that Gallagher would encounter. Sought after today by leaders of all faiths—ministers, priests, rabbis and imams, Gallagher has spent a quarter-century studying demonic activity and exorcisms throughout history and has witnessed more cases than any other psychiatrist in the world today.

In this eerie and enthralling book, Gallagher chronicles his most famous cases for the first time, including:

A professional who claimed her spiritualist mother had “assigned” her a spirit who “turned on her.” A petite woman—”90 pounds soaking wet”—who threw a 200-pound Lutheran deacon across the room to the horror of onlookers in a church hall; And “Julia,” the so-called Satanic queen and self-described witch, who exhibited “the most harrowing” case, a “once-in-a-century” possession. Going beyond horror movies and novels, Demonic Foes takes you deep into this hidden world, sharing in full details of these true-life tales of demonic possession.

In an article titled "Psychiatrist believes demonic possession and exorcism is real" (link), Dr. Richard Gallagher is reported to have said the following as well:

He's heard the voices speak in ancient Greek. He's heard them speak in Latin. Dr Richard Gallagher says they converse in Chinese, Spanish, French; that they're wildly smart and manipulative.

The voices and the languages come out of people, he says, but they're not actually human.

They're demons. They're real, and so is evil, he says. Demonic possession exists, and he has seen it firsthand.

One could argue that, if demons are causing people to do xenoglossy today, the Holy Spirit should be more than capable as well.

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