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Fact from Fiction: Understanding Tongues


My first time speaking in heavenly language began as a small whisper. It was during a virtual worship service. The preached word filled my bedroom. I began to pray softly when gradually I noticed my words had changed.

It was beautiful, and sweet, and loving, and gentle. It felt like warmth. Peace. Absolute harmony. I never asked God for it. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians to prefer prophecy over tongues so that others might edified and the kingdom of God strengthened. I accepted my call to preach years before this moment, spent years teaching on spiritual gifts and languages yet never spoken one myself and was more than okay with that. I desired to understand the gifts even if they were not mine. First, answers. Then, anointing. Now, it is your turn. We cannot dig too deep in this space, but we can start with the basics. Let's get some answers.

Tongues and Languages

Not all divine communication is the same. Because the term tongues has been used so loosely in Christian circles it can be confusing, so we will begin with defining tongues.

Tongues is a divine oral expression disbursed and ignited by the Holy Spirit in a believer for one of three purposes:


Exposing God to the unbeliever through supernatural knowledge and speaking of known languages

Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (other known languages) as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” ~Acts 2:2-12, New International Version


Kingdom building through the speaking and interpretation of unknown language

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. ~1 Corinthians 14:26-28 NIV


Interaction with heavenly places through unknown, unintelligible communication (commonly called heavenly or prayer language)

For anyone who speaks in a tongue (unintelligible language) does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. ~1 Corinthians 14:2 NIV