Let's say someone speaks a message in tongues (in language X) to a whole congregation at a church service, and then someone else stands up and speaks the interpretation (in language Y, understood by most people in the congregation). Assuming that language X is a real human language but unknown to the person who spoke in tongues and unknown to the person who interpreted, one way to validate the message and the interpretation would be to have a third person fluent in both X and Y confirm that the message in X was meaningful and the interpretation in Y was accurate.

Has this ever happened (or at least, claimed or documented to have happened)?

  • One of the more difficult aspects of this investigation would be demonstrating that the person speaking in tongues didn't know the language they were speaking. Of course in your answer below, it's pretty unlikely that some random Irish woman would know an obscure African language, but then again in the answer below I don't think there's actual video evidence of the woman actually speaking that language either.
    – TKoL
    Jul 31, 2021 at 7:22
  • @TKoL - Right. But even if the random Irish woman knew Mooré somehow, that would only account for half of the story, because the interpretation was accurate also. And the person telling the story (who is the one that did the interpretation) affirms that he didn't even know Mooré existed. So the options are: (1) he was extremely lucky, (2) he made the story up, (3) the student lied to him or (4) something extraordinary happened.
    – user50422
    Jul 31, 2021 at 14:27
  • The astounding lack of these kinds of things being demonstrated in controlled trials is gonna leave me assuming 2 (but perhaps some less malicious form of it) for the time being.
    – TKoL
    Jul 31, 2021 at 18:43
  • What's interesting though is that if Dr. Petts IS able to interpret langauges he doesn't know via some sort of powers from the holy ghost, that specific claim is very testable. If he can interpret any language in general, or only when people are speaking in tongues... in either case, it should be possible to test the claim that he can do it. I wonder if he's considered getting his abilities verified.
    – TKoL
    Jul 31, 2021 at 18:47

1 Answer 1


I'm only aware of a single case where this has been claimed to have happened. This is a first-hand account by Dr. David Petts, whose personal website can be found here. In short, an Irish woman spoke in tongues, Dr. Petts gave the interpretation and a student from Burkina Faso confirmed that the woman spoke in Mooré and that Dr. Petts's interpretation was accurate.

Below a transcript of the relevant part of the video:

I'll tell you a quick story at this stage. In my first year as principal at Mattis(?) in 1977, we took 50 students on a bus to the Bethshan Manchester Church. It was quite a big building, about a thousand seater, and there was a big this kind of rallies in those days -- people from all over came and so on. Some of the students sang and testified, I preached. At the end of my preaching, somebody spoke in tongues from the back of the meeting. Because I was at the microphone and it was a big meeting, I felt it was best if I interpreted so everybody could hear the interpretation -- it's all about this in 1 Corinthians 14, if you don't understand those terms. Anyway. So I gave what I felt God was giving me as the interpretation for this language this woman was speaking. I found out later that she was an Irish lady. And then the pastor closed in prayer. The moment the meeting ended, one of our students from Burkina Faso came up to me: "Monsieur Petts, Monsieur Petts, Monsieur Petts!" (they speak French in Burkina Faso, so in the case that you don't know, that means Mr. Petts, Mr. Petts, Mr. Petts, alright [laughs]). And then he said: "the woman who spoke in tongues, she was speaking my language!". My language. Now I told you yesterday I speak French and I knew that that Irish lady had not been speaking French. And I thought "What's he on about?" So this guy's name was get-a-wendell-amber(??), so we called him Terry [laughs]. I said what is it Terry? What do you mean? He said "No, I don't mean she was speaking French, in Burkina we speak Mooré". Now, before that day I had never heard of a language called Mooré, but that's the African language they speak in Burkina Faso. And I said "she was speaking Mooré?" He said yes. I usually tell this story when we are not sure about spiritual gifts. But the thing is this: I'd given the interpretation! And one of my students had understood the Mooré and he'd understood my interpretation. And somebody was asking me last night do you have a doubt? Oh yes [nervous laugh]. You see, where there is no doubt, where there is no room for doubt, there is no need for faith. If I said to you two plus two equals four, you need no faith to believe that because there is no room for doubt. Okay? So the only way there's room for doubt that you need faith. So we all get doubts about things, and you know, whether intellectual or not intellectual, you have doubts, everybody does. And I was like "Oh no! Oh, I've given this interpretation, If I got it wrong soon all the students will know, all the Bible College will know, the whole of Assemblies of God will know, I will lose my job as a principal of the Bible College!" [laughs] Not quite that, but all those sorts of thoughts were going through my mind. "Terry, Terry, that's wonderful! What about the interpretation?" [laughs] He looked at me amazed that the principal of the Bible College could doubt. Oh yes, he can. It was accurate, of course. God doesn't let us down [...]

Note: in light of the objections to this testimony's credibility (see the comment section below), I'd like to invite the reader to take a look at this question: Is there anything close to a consensus on how to assess eyewitness accounts as supportive evidence for supernatural beliefs?

  • 3
    I watched the video and the person who 'gave the interpretation' is the only witness to the occurrence. We don't have the woman who spoke, nor the party from Burkina Faso. We have just have a single witness - Dr Petts himself. Thus this is anecdotal hearsay, not substantial evidence.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 31, 2021 at 21:25
  • 2
    The correlation between the four gospels is quite extensive. And, at the time, there was multiple testimony and room for any objections to be satisfied. In the present day, there is no excuse for not properly documenting an event with 'two or three witnesses'. (And it would help if the only witness would take the task more seriously and stop making feeble jokes every few minutes, to be honest. By his vanity, he makes himself look like less than a 'credible witness' - in Court terms.) This is a problem with modern 'gifts' - the appalling lack of properly documented occurrences.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 31, 2021 at 23:12
  • 1
    @NigelJ - Fair points. Your objections have inspired me to ask this question: Is there any extra-biblical evidence for miracles and the supernatural gifts of the Spirit during the apostolic age?
    – user50422
    Jul 31, 2021 at 23:35
  • 1
    I choose not to comment on that whole subject.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 1, 2021 at 5:59
  • 1
    One of the 3 witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, was later accused by Joseph Smith of counterfeiting money. And all 3 were later condemned by Smith. See p232 of the Mormon 'Doctrine & Covenants' Vol 3. And there's evidence that the BofM was originally written by Solomon Spaulding about 1810. He called it 'Manuscript Found' but it may have been stolen by Sidney Rigdon. 8 witnesses who read Spaulding's work testified to it and the later BofM being the same. Spaulding was dead when the BofM was supposedly translated. So much for the 3 & 8 witnesses.
    – Anne
    Aug 18, 2021 at 14:58

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