Meg Franklin

Religion 195




Keywords: speaking in tongues, Spirit-baptism, charismatic movement, Pentecostalism, unknown language, foreign language, glossolalia. 


I Abstract: Glossolalia, or the act of speaking in tongues, has appeared in Christian religious worship since Old Testament times. The speech is largely characterized by spontaneity and nonsensical speech patterns. When one speaks in tongues, he or she is believed to receive baptism through the Holy Spirit. A period of personal well-being typically follows an incidence of glossolalia. The practice finds validity in biblical references (primarily those in Acts and I Corinthians) and the testimonies of those who have spoken in tongues. Some psychological studies also investigate the worth of the practice. An outburst of interest in glossolalia occurred in the mid-1960s, and it is still practiced today. The Pentecostal church, which boasts over 2.6 million members worldwide, has held the practice of glossolalia as a primary element of its doctrine since the church was founded at the turn of the 20th century (


II Scope and Purpose of the System:

            Glossolalia is a system of speech, religious in nature, which its practitioners define as the spontaneous uttering of the words of the Holy Spirit.  Those who either do not practice glossolalia or do not consider it divinely inspired define it as an instance of spontaneously uttering largely incomprehensible and random speech-like sounds (Kelsey 1).  Instances of glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, are found in the New Testament, in scattered Christian contexts throughout history, and contemporarily in Christian worship services, primarily in those of the Pentecostal church and other charismatic religious groups. Glossolaliacs claim that in moments of tongue speaking, the Holy Spirit visits them, providing them with “the baptism of the Spirit.” E. Glenn Hinson, says that this Spirit-baptism has “reportedly resulted in the improved morality, in the cessation of alcoholism, in the integration of disturbed personalities, in the curing of various psychological or even physiological disorders, in the restoration of marital harmony, and in the revitalizing of Christian fellowship within the churches (16). Because most current practitioners of glossolalia are Evangelists and seek to spread the word of their faith, nearly all people who are willing are encouraged to try receiving the gift of tongues.


III Authority Structure:

A:        Explicit references to speaking in tongues appear in three books of the New Testament – Acts, I Corinthians, and the Gospel of Mark. The references to glossolalia in the Gospel of Mark are often overlooked, however, since text-critical biblical scholars think that the section in which the references appear (16:17) was a late addition to the book (Stagg 21). Acts 2 tells the story of Jesus’ disciples receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak in tongues, a gift which enabled visiting Jews from many nations to understand the disciples’ speech (Kelsey 18). Though glossolaliacs often site Acts 2 when explaining their practice, most do not maintain that they have the ability to understand the tongue speech of other glossolaliacs. In I Corinthians, Paul treats glossolalia as a problem. He stresses the unintelligibility of tongue speaking as practiced in Corinth and lists troubles glossolalia presents for the church community (Stagg 35-41). Nevertheless, Paul does not advocate the complete outlawing of tongue speaking. Biblical scholar, Frank Stagg says of Paul’s restraint, “He recognized that in some cases a genuine experience with the Spirit would be outwardly expressed in emotional, ecstatic, and unintelligible utterance” (37). In this way, when glossolaliacs cite I Corinthians as a basis for their practice, they largely ignore Paul’s objections to glossolalia, and focus on his restrained condemnation as evidence that he saw some virtue in the practice. 

      One may see evidence that tongue speaking exists simply by seeing one engaged in it; however, it is much more difficult, even impossible, (except in subjective terms) to prove empirically that the experience of the Holy Spirit is part of the act. It is possible, however, to prove through experimentation that one receives benefits from an instance of tongue speaking. After citing several clinical studies of the practice, Psychologist Wayne E. Oates says of glossolalia, “There is certainly a build up of tension, there is a hypnotic impact of a mass or a group, and there is the ecstatic release of tension” (95).  The tension Oates mentions is, in his opinion, the result of a repressed spiritual vocabulary.  Though Oates believes that the tension should be treated at its root rather than with glossolalia, he admits that the practice does provide the sense of calmness that any mode of releasing tension provides.

Though most people hold that modern-day glossolalia does not usually enable one to speak in a foreign language previously unknown to the speaker as it does in Acts, glossolaliacs hold that the appearance of real language in an incident of tongue speaking proves an even greater connection with the Holy Spirit than that experienced through normal glossolalia. Therefore, people have tested glossolalia empirically for evidence of real language or real language fragments. The results of such testing differ depending on if the account is by one who endorses glossolalia or one who is indifferent to its practice. For example, in “A Handbook on Tongues Interpretation and Prophecy”, a book that one can infer from its title endorses glossolalia, Don Basham gives examples of four instances in which hearers understood the uttering of one who spoke in tongues. He mentions a man, who unknowingly appeared to speak the words “My God knows me” in a Cherokee dialect during an instance of tongue speaking. His articulation of the words was reported to be exact. (63-64). E. Glenn Hinson, who studies glossolalia from an objective standpoint, also found evidence in regards to real language’s presence in glossolalia. In accordance with Basham’s example, he says that when citing evidence of real language in glossolalia, tongue-speakers, “seldom give evidence of more than an occasional word or brief phrases” (15).  Hinson also states that scientists who have examined longer tape-recorded speeches have found “no more than a genuine foreign word thrown in here or there” (15). Therefore, in a modern-day scientific sense, there is little evidence to support this type of “more miraculous” glossolalia.


B:         Some sources for knowledge of glossolalia are based on what glossolaliacs deem pure reason or “common sense” (others may see a large portion of faith involved). For instance, the United Pentecostal Church believes that God tames a person’s tongue during an episode of glossolalia. In reference to the tongue, the United Pentecostal Church states, “It is the most unruly member of the bodywhoever controls the tongue of a person controls him… When God tames a person's tongue, that person comes under God's full control” (  By this reasoning, Pentecostals come to the conclusion that glossolalia enables a participant complete surrender to God, or the Holy Spirit.

In order to acquire knowledge on glossolalia, interested parties study Acts and I Corinthians. Many tongue speakers publish pamphlets and small books on their textual interpretations. For instance, in the mid-1960s when charismatic religions boomed, four periodicals on tongue speaking – Trinity, Voice, View, and Vision – were in wide circulation (Hinson 9). The published doctrines of churches like the United Pentecostal Church, mentioned above, are also areas in which people may acquire knowledge of Biblical interpretations.

One not well acquainted with tongue speaking may acquire knowledge of glossolalia in hopes of receiving the gift of tongues. Tongue speaking does not come naturally in most cases. One must usually participate in extensive prayer before the gift presents itself. For instance, one of the earliest leaders of the Pentecostal movement, Frank Bartleman was unable to receive the gift of tongues without “a time of testimony and praise” (Lang 396). Here, Bartleman indicates that not only prayer, but also testimonies such as the ones printed in pamphlets on glossolalia actually help one experience tongue speaking. As with Barlteman, in most cases, a real-life experience with glossolalia provides proof of glossolalia’s power for those who are interested in the practice.  Further proof may come from the accounts of others who have the gift of tongues or those who support the practice. For instance, in 1961 the validity of glossolalia received a boost when small groups in esteemed universities like Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth adopted the practice (Hinson 13).

Though the Quakers of early America practiced religion charismatically as glossolaliacs do, the Quakers provided “proof” for the validity of their system in a manner unlike that of the glossolaliacs. The Quakers got their name for the physical symptoms they displayed during worship services. They believed that the Spirit was a nearly tangible reality, which could be expressed in this “quaking” manner. Unlike the glossolaliacs, Quakers thought that one did not need to validate the experience of the Holy Spirit in the Bible (Lang 385). Therefore, the Quakers, a group otherwise similar to Pentecostals and other tongue speakers, did not publish similar pamphlets relating their charismatic behavior back to the Bible. Though the Quakers did not turn to science as a means of proving their practice, they could make some of the same scientific claims glossolaliacs make as proof for the validity of their practice. For instance, as mentioned above, modern psychological studies oftentimes show that the letting-loose of emotions, as practiced by glossolaliacs, and similarly by Shakers and Quakers, may provide some of the emotional, psychological, and spiritual benefits glossolaliacs claim.


C:        The most organized grouping of glossolaliacs is found within the Pentecostal church. Members of a Pentecostal church turn largely to their pastors for knowledge on glossolalia. In the 1960s when Pentecostalism was more widespread in Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches, Non-Pentecostal male glossolaliacs were able find some organization in the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship, which was formed by Pentecostals (Hinson 12).  The group, which is headed by laymen (Kelsey 89), still exists. In fact, it has added the word “International” to the end of its title, and has become a global organization, offering organization for Christian glossolaliacs everywhere (Gifford 72).


IV History: 

         The existence of glossolalia spans from before the New Testament to today. After the New Testament occurrences of glossolalia, the practice died off to a certain degree, only to reappear with intensity in the mid-Seventeenth and mid-Twentieth centuries (Hinson 46). Before glossolalia appeared in the New Testament, it appeared in Job. One of Job’s daughters experiences something akin to a Spirit-baptism and begins to speak in the language of angels (Lang 365). Additionally, some early Hebrew prophets called nabi’ may have practiced glossolalia as well (Stagg 42). 

Just after the New Testament occurrences, glossolalia appears infrequently in historical records. Two groups, the Montanists and the Gnostics, who practiced glossolalia before the year 250 A.D., were accused of speaking in tongues under the influence of a demonic power, rather than under the influence of God (Hinson 55).  Chrysostom and Augustine, religious thinkers of the late 4th and early 5th centuries both mention glossolalia in their writings as if it occurred only in times much earlier than their own (Hinson 53).  From the 5th century all the way through medieval times, appearances of glossolalia were very infrequent in both Western and Eastern cultures (Hinson 58).  In fact, Thomas Aquinas determined that glossolalia had once existed, but no longer did (Kelsey 48).

In the 17th through 19th Centuries glossolalia appeared with intensity in two movements, that of the Cevenols in France and that of the Irvingites in England (Hinson 59).  In the midst of heavy religious persecution peasants from the Cevennes Mountains, began to speak in tongues. The majority of the tongue speakers were young children. In moments of tongue speaking, they reportedly spoke perfect French instead of their native peasant language. In the course of the affair, over three hundred children were put into jail where they were subjected to medical examination (Kelsey 53). 

In 1830, the Irvingite movement, led by Edward Irving began in London (Kelsey 56).  The movement began when Irving heard the story of an ill girl named Mary Campbell who, just as she was about to die, became well and spoke in tongues. Irving traveled to Scotland to investigate the girl’s situation, and from his account of the event, a tongue speaking movement spread in his London church. Soon after the movement began, it ended. Irving was charged of heresy for endorsing glossolalia and was subsequently defrocked and excommunicated (Hinson 62).

The modern-day glossolalia movement began with the early Pentecostal movement, which began around 1901 in Topeka, Kansas. According to Hinson, “In essence, the Pentecostal movement developed as a partial reaction to the increase of secularism and the subsequent waning of revivalism following the Civil War” (67). In Topeka at Bethel Bible College, students were spurred to evangelize throughout Kansas after one of their fellow students, Agnes N. Ozman, spoke in tongues. The movement soon spread so rapidly, that by 1906 there were Pentecostal movements throughout the United States and in India, Norway, and Sweden (Hinson 69). Probably influenced by the Pentecostals, those in Protestant and Catholic churches began to practice glossolalia around 1960. The first non-Pentecostal instance of glossolalia occurred in California at an Episcopal Church (Hinson 12).  Glossolalia continues today, though infrequent discussion of its practice in churches outside of the Pentecostal Church (both in recently published books and on the Internet) indicates that glossolalia is not as widespread through Christian denominations as it was in the 1960s.


V Representative Examples of Argumentation:

        In defending their beliefs on tongue speaking, glossolaliacs most often turn to the New Testament. In the presence of a skeptic, they may quote Acts in order to validate their beliefs –  “For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God” (Acts 10:46 RSV).  Or, they may quote I Corinthians –  “Now I want you all to speak in tongues”(1st Cor. 14:5 RSV). In the presence of specific criticism such as accusations of involvement with the devil rather than God, glossolaliacs typically will respond by saying that no Christian who seeks God through tongues will be answered by the devil (Basham 51). Again, if a critic of glossolalia brings up Paul’s general distaste for tongue speaking, a glossolaliac will mention that Paul did not outlaw glossolalia at Corinth. 


VI Suggested Position in Comparative Scales:

            These numbers are based on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being closest to the first of the two options in each lettered category.

a.       Relative emphasis on traditional authority ---- or the testimony of experience: 5

The Bible is the main traditional authority in the glossolalia movement, while the other half of the knowledge of the practice is based on the testimony of experience.

b.      Relative centralization of authority ---- or decentralization: 2

Within the Pentecostal movement there is some centralization of authority; however, the entire glossolalia movement has only the layperson led FGBMFI as a structured authority.

c.       Relative emphasis on invisible realities ---- or material, earthly ones: 8

Speaking in tongues is the only proof that the Holy Spirit has baptized one. Perhaps, the speaking may be called a material reality, but the presence of the Spirit is an invisible reality.

d.      Mainly spiritual or moral objectives ---- or pragmatic aims: 5

An experience with glossolalia brings the participant closer to God and provides him or her with healing.

e.       Most power or agency reserved for divine being ---- or realizable in individuals: 5

The closeness with which glossolalia provides the participant benefits both God and the individual.


Annotated Bibliography:

Primary Sources:


Basham, Don.  A Handbook on Tongues Interpretation and Prophecy.  Pennsylvania: Whitaker,  1971.

From this book, I found ways in which glossolaliacs defend themselves against skeptisism. I used it only when I thought a primary source was in line.

Corten, Andre, Ruth Marshall-Fratani, eds.  Between Babel and Pentecost. Gifford, Paul. “The Complex Provenance of African Pentecostal Theology.” Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana UP, 2001.

From this book, I found information on the current status of the FGBMFI. I only cited this book once.

The Bible - Revised Standard Version. 30. Mar. 2003.  <Online:>.

This web site allowed me to search for specific Bible passages. I looked up passages that Basham cited.

The Official Site of the United Pentecostal Church International. Communicating the Vision.  30. Mar. 2003. <>.

I used this site for the current membership numbers of the Pentecostal church. Here, I also found an example of Pentecostals expressing the belief that glossolalia is a “common sense” practice.


Secondary Sources:


Kelsey, Morton T. Tongue Speaking.  New York: Doubleday,  1964.

Here I found general info on glossolalia. The book was especially helpful for information on the history of glossolalia. I used this book extensively.

Lang, Bernhard.  Sacred Games: A History of Christian Worship.  New Haven: Yale,  1997.

I used this book to find information on religions with practices similar to glossolalia. I also used the book for general info. I used the book fairly extensively.

Stagg, Frank, E. Glenn Hinson, Wayne E. Oates.  Glossolalia.  Nashville: Abingdon, 1967.

I referred frequently to this book for general information on glossolalia. It is divided into sections on glossolalia and the New Testament, history, and psychology. It was my primary source.