Category Archives: Baptist

Gift of tongues is gibberish?


Baptist Church (courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

How would you respond to somebody who called the New Testament spiritual gift of tongues ‘gibberish’ and ‘foolish’?

Baptists and speaking in tongues

A fellow asked in a Baptist directory online, ‘I know that there is considerable diversity within the Baptist movement, but I’m not sure whether this extends to multiple positions on glossolalia [speaking in tongues]’.[1]

I responded:[2]

Near where I live in the outer suburbs of Brisbane Qld, at Burpengary, there is a Baptist Church called ‘Access Church‘, that is as full-on Pentecostal-charismatic as many such churches I’ve visited.

This topic of Baptists and tongue speaking had been addressed previously (in 2012) in the Baptist directory on this forum, in the thread, ‘What do Baptists believe about speaking in tongues?

However, to pick up this theme (only briefly), here are some biblical basics:

a. First Corinthians 14:2, 4 refers to tongues for personal edification and not requiring interpretation — therefore it is not for use in the church. This seems to be what Paul is referring to when he says, “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all” (I Cor. 14:18). In the church, he prefers intelligibility: “I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue” (14:19).

b. First Corinthians 14:14-18 contrasts speaking and singing “with the spirit” (tongues on the basis of v. 14) and praying with the mind. Therefore, throughout I Cor. 12-14, there seems to be an interchange of tongues (spiritual language or ecstatic utterance) as a language spoken to God for personal edification and tongues requiring interpretation for the edification of the church.

Therefore, my conclusion is that I Cor. 12:28, 30 are referring to both kinds of tongues, which are not given to all believers. Why? It is because ‘one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills’ (I Cor. 12:11 NASB). First Corinthians 12:14 emphasises: ‘For the body is not one member, but many’. Therefore, I do not find it surprising that tongues is restricted to some believers by the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.

This has led charismatic leader and pastor of a Vineyard church (USA), George Mallone, to state quite a few years ago: “Beyond doubt, one of the greatest theological tragedies to befall the church is the suggestion that tongues is a visible sign of having been baptized or filled with the Spirit” (Mallone 1983:90).[3]

How would you expect a sceptical Baptist about the gift of tongues to respond to the information provided above?

The gibberish encounter

One person replied:

Most of us believe it is a true gift from God. But we do not believe gibbering away is speaking in tongues we believe it is when you start speaking a real language go Earth in order to minister to others. So speaking gibberish here at a church in the middle of the United States is not speaking in tongues. So many of us believe it is a real gift from God just one that is very misused here in the US.[4]

How does one reply to such a negative assessment, even though there is some truth in what this female said? I replied:[5]

(a) Why the negative assessment?

Why are you speaking pejoratively – calling it ‘gibbering’ and ‘gibberish’ – when God speaks of the genuine gift of tongues that is for the purpose of

  • speaking to God (1 Cor 14:2);
  • for personal edification (1 Cor 14:4);
  • revelation, knowledge, prophecy and teaching when it is accompanied with interpretation when the church gathers (1 Cor 14:6, 12-13)?

So the Scriptures teach that there are two purposes for tongues for the believer when not in a church gathering: speaking to God and personal edification. Sadly much of this personal gift of tongues (without interpretation) makes its way into the public gathering of the church. My understanding is that this is in error, based on 1 Corinthians 14.

However, when in the midst of other people there must be the gift of interpretation of tongues for there to be a communication of revelation, knowledge, prophecy and teaching.

There are extremes and errors in many dimensions of theology. That does not nullify the genuine. What applies to theology such as soteriology (doctrine of salvation) also applies to glossolalia. Extremes and error do not negate the authentic.

Why tongues and not in English?

A fellow took me on with some provocative and legitimate questions:

OK. Why must you speak in tongues to speak to God? Is speaking in tongues more efficacious than speaking to God in English?

How does tongues personally edify you?
Also, when you speak in tongues for “personal edification”, who interprets that for you?…

The way it is practiced today is gibbering and gibberish. I would go further and say that it’s foolish.[6]

This does raise some important points about an unknown language and edification; there are times when tongues’ speaking sounds like human ‘gibberish’ and foolishness. But does disorder negate the orderly?
Some out-of-order practices

Here is some of my reply:[7]

Let me make it very clear. I never said and I do not support how you put it by asking why I ‘MUST … speak in tongues’. Nobody MUST speak in tongues. Of all of the gifts, the Scriptures state, ‘earnestly desire’ spiritual gifts. I desire God’s best for me – and I’ll thank him for the gifts He gives me.

How does tongues personally edify you?

God has stated that the gift of tongues does edify personally and that has been my experience. I take him at his word and that is how it happens. It enhances my relationship with the Lord for which I’m grateful.
If you read the Scriptures I gave carefully, esp. 1 Cor 14:2, 4, you would not ask this second question about the need to interpret for personal edification. The Scriptures do not state that interpretation is necessary for personal edification. I agree with what the Scriptures state.

It might sound like ‘gibbering and gibberish’ and ‘foolish’ to you, but by the kinds of comments you have made in this response to me, you seem to want to denigrate the gift of tongues. I have never experienced the gift of tongues as gibberish for personal edification but as one of God’s special gifts for my relationship with God. If God gives the gift of tongues in the church gathering, tongues must be accompanied by the gift of interpretation. That’s Bible.

I encourage you not to disparage the spiritual gifts that God has taught us about: ‘Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy’ (I Cor 14:1 ESV).
May God encourage all of us to ‘earnestly desire’ the spiritual gifts. These are gifts of the Spirit of the Trinitarian Lord God almighty.

Further penetrating questions

Question by pranav - Question Join facebook page Art & Photography By Pranav Waghmare Question by pranav - Question Join facebook page Art & Photography By Pranav Waghmare Question by pranav - Question Join facebook page Art & Photography By Pranav Waghmare

This person who has been challenging me said, ‘I disparage the unbiblical use of those gifts’ and he said that I left unanswered three questions:

1. Are tongues more efficacious than English?

2. How does tongues edify you?

3. How are you edified by a language you don’t understand?

I join with you in offering a biblical correction for the unbiblical use of the gifts (incl. tongues) that can be evident in some churches.[8]

Answers to those questions

Let’s turn to the Scripture so answer this fellow’s legitimate questions:

1. Are tongues more efficacious than English?

A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer is not helpful without an explanation of the nature of the gift of tongues and the issue that Paul was attempting to correct:

(a)  Ch 14:11-13 tells us some of the problem Paul was trying to correct. There were tongues without interpretation at Corinth in the church gathering and this was not on. One would be a ‘foreigner’ in such an atmosphere without interpretation. So Paul’s message to the 21st century Pentecostal, charismatic, and other churches allowing expression of these gifts, would be the same as for Corinth: ‘One who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret’ (14:13 ESV).

(b) ‘If I pray in a tongue my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful’ (14:14). So tongues are more efficacious when I’m praying with my spirit to God. God gives a place to the spirit of the human being in communication with God.

2. How does tongues edify you?

Paul tells us things that are critical when speaking about tongues:

(a) The tongues’ speaker ‘speaks not to men but to God’ (14:2). So tongues is a means of communing with God by the Holy Spirit. We know from 14:13-14, 28 that those who speak in tongues are ‘communing with God by the Spirit…. Paul understands the phenomenon basically to be prayer and praise’ (Gordon Fee’s language 1987:656).

(b) My experience in God’s prayer and praise language in the spirit/Spirit is just that. It’s a special way of communing with God that I’ve never experienced while praying in my Aussie English.

(c) So tongues edifies me in by my spirit communing with the Spirit of God in a language He has given me. I would never want to crush that understanding through Enlightenment thinking.

3. How are you edified by a language you don’t understand?

That is partly answered by #2, but there is additional communication in 1 Cor 12-14. It is important not to minimise and underestimate what Paul states in 14:5, ‘Now I want you all to speak in tongues’, but even more to prophecy’. The first half of that sentence is often diminished, ignored, minimised or excised by some Christians.
The one who speaks in tongues ‘utters mysteries in the Spirit’ (14:2 ESV). That is not possible in English. These ‘mysteries’ spoken by the Holy Spirit could mean what is stated in 1 Cor 13:2, but my experience is that the gift of tongues for personal edification (thus not needing interpretation) involves an encounter with the Spirit of God that is outside my rational understanding as a speaker. It would be the same for the hearer, so there is no place for the gift of tongues in a public gathering without a God-given gift of interpretation.

How is it possible for language given by the Holy Spirit (tongues) and not understood in English to be edifying for the speaker, to be self-edifying? This is not egotistic, self-centred spiritual elitism. My experience is that this is through prayer and praise with the gift of glossolalia (tongues) as I Cor 14:14-15 indicates.
However, 1 Cor 14:14-15 tells us how we can be edified by a language we cannot understand through the gift of tongues:

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also (ESV).

The Spirit of God, through the Scriptures, here tells us that there is a way to be spiritually edified without using the cortex of the brain – through the gift of tongues where the spirit prays and the mind is not playing a pivotal part – thus being ‘unfruitful’.

So the Scripture exhorts us to use both – pray and sing with the spirit/Spirit through the gift of tongues and pray and sing with the mind. Paul taught us that there are favourable things that can happen in private devotions through the gift of tongues without interpretation, but his concern in the Corinthian church (and by application to the contemporary church) is that there should be no gift of tongues in a public, group church gathering without the gift of interpretation (see 14:5, 13, 27).

First Corinthians and the contemporary church

By application, Paul’s message to the contemporary church is, ‘I want you all to speak in tongues’ (14:5) but in the public gathering, ‘one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret’ (14:13).

But what do I find when I visit many services of Pentecostal-charismatic churches or charismatic churches in other denominations? I hear group tongues allegedly associated with ‘singing in the Spirit’, ‘speaking in tongues’ and no interpretation. This is totally out of order and is contrary to Paul’s instruction ‘all things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor 1 4:40). Many Pentecostal-charismatics are violating the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12-14. My experience is that this is often because there is too little biblical teaching on the gifts of the Spirit in these churches.

Many people absorb the atmosphere by osmosis and are not exposed to biblical correction concerning the gifts of the Spirit.

See these samples of Pentecostal-charismatic issues:

Congreso Nacional Juvenil3.jpg

Pentecostalism (Wikipedia)

Works consulted

Fee, G D 1987. The first epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), F F Bruce (gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Mallone, G. 1983, Those controversial gifts. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘What is the Baptist view on Speaking/Praying in Tongues?’ ’Colfax #1, available at: (Accessed 24 February 2014).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #24,

[3] I have provided more details at OzSpen #151 at: (accessed 24 February 2014).

[4] Vella Vista #18, ibid., available at: (Accessed 24 February 2014).

[5] Ibid., OzSpen #26, (Accessed 24 February 2014).

[6] Ibid., South Bound #28,

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#29.

[8] Ibid., South Bound #30.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.