Glossolalia (Tongues) and 1 Corinthians 14



Bruno D. Granger


Class taught on Sunday Feb. 15, 1998
at Eglise Baptiste de Cahors.
(Église Baptiste de Pradines, rue Arnaud Béraldi, Labéraudie, F-46090 Pradines, France;
Sunday class at 10 AM., service at 11 AM.)

Translation by Bruno D. Granger.

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© Bruno D. Granger, The Hague, the Netherlands, March 1998.



Glossolalia in Pagan Religions
Glossolalia within Christendom
The Importance of the Matter
The Charismatic Argument based on the First Letter to the Corinthians
Why the Conclusion of this Argument cannot be Correct
Why this Argument is not Correct
Bibliography - Selection of Works

Remark concerning the transliteration of ancient Greek:

Because the prononciation of ancient Greek dialects (and especially of Koine) is close to modern Greek prononciation and because it is remote from the artifical prononciation invented by Erasmus, I have used the modern prononciation.


Speaking in Tongues, Glossolalia (and "oracle", "omen" in certain cases):

Phenomenon where a human being utters some sounds without understanding them, and such that these sound would be inspired by a spirit other than the spirit of this human being

This utterance may sound like "bababababa" or "talaka valatakapa kalamalakadabra". "Glossolalia" is a recent word; it was built with two Greek roots which are present in the chapter fourteen of the first letter to the Corinthians, "glossa" (glwssa) which means: "language" or "tongue" and "laleo" (lalew) which means "to speak". Because the other ways for naming this phenomenon are less precise ("oracle", "omen") or cumbersome ("ecstatic utterance", "unintelligible utterance"), we will use the word "glossolalia."

Mystical or Occult Experience:

Spiritual experience which is inacessible to the understanding of the one who practices it. Such an experience is beyond human comprehension, apprehension. It cannot be understood nor described and therefore is "hidden". "Mystical" and "occult" are words coming from a root meaning "hidden, secret" ("mystical" stems from a Greek root, "occult" from a latin one.) Glossolalic experiences fit in this category.


Glossolalia in Pagan Religions

Although Glossolalia is a very ancient practice it is still practiced nowadays in many religions, especially those where one seeks contact with the spirit world (witchcraft/shamanism, voodoo) or a mystical union with the "All". Mohamed, the founder of Islam, is probably the most famous of those who have practiced glossolalia. The phenomenon often occurs during a state of trance. Another person may receive the "interpretation" of the sounds uttered by the first person.

Given the importance of the hellenestic (issued from the kingdom of Alexander the Great) world for the study of Christianity we will focus on the Greek language and culture. Three Greek roots can be used to describe the phenomenon: "mantia" (manteia) which is the most commonly used for describing glossolalia, "chresteria" (crhsthria) and "chrao" (craw).

Glossolalie and its interpretation are mentionned in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 18:10) as part of pagan religious practices (deu 18:9). The words used in the Septuaginta, the Greek version of the Old Testament are:

It is noteworthy that in this verse (deu 18:10) glossolalia is listed along with practices such as divination and witchcraft (oiwnizomenoV et farmakoV) and is strictly prohibited.

The phenomenon was very well known during the hellenistic antiquity. It was often used to know the thoughts of a god, or "daimonon" (daimonion, which gave the word "demon".) One would consult the oracles given by some mediums; the Greek for "medium" was "prophitis" (profhthV which gave the word "prophet".) A first medium would receive the oracle as an utterance of glossolalia, and other mediums would receive the interpretation of this oracle. The most famous mediums were probably the Pythia at Delphi and the Sibyls; these would practice glossolalia and were then interpreted by other mediums, as was the case of the many other mediums mentionned by the authors of the antiquity.

Glossolalia within Christendom

During the second half of the second century AD, in Phrygia, the region of the city Laodicea, Montanus, a former pagan priest, founded a charismatic movement, montanism. Many montanist practices (glossolalia, prophecy, fasting, convulsions, etc.) were reintroduced by the different charismatic waves during the twentieth century. Indeed, like many modern charismatics, the montanists held to many of the major Christian doctrines, but diverged by the experiences and by their belief that the special revelation of God was not completed with the writings of the apostles. Their movement had a great impact in Asia minor and spread throughout the whole church, to the point of the conversion of the Christian thinker Tertullian who was influenced by stoic ideas. Stoicism was a movement comparable to the "New Age" movement of the twentieth century, and increased much during the second century because of the support of the emperor Marcus Aurelius.

The extent of montanism necessited the reaction of Christian apologists (Apollinaris, Apollonius, Miltiades, Melito, Hippolytus, etc.) These would object for example that true prophets are infallible, do not practice ecstasy and glossolalia, and do not use their gifts to make money, all of which was not the case of the montanists prophets (Eus. E. H. V:16:7-8; V:17:1-4; V:17:18-19; V:18:1-11). It was only after the bisshops officially condemned, even denounced as demonic (Eus. V:19), and excommunicated the charismatics that their heretical movement came slowly to an end (Eus. V:16:10.)

Afterwards some sporadic traces of glossolalia can be found throughout church history. So, within jansenism (a heretical movement of Catholics who used to believe in predestination), a few persons did practice glossolalia and prophecy, they were however rejected and considered heretic by the jansenists themselves.

It is only in the twentieth century that a charismatic movement appears again, more than seventeen centuries after montanism. At the beginning of the century the first charismatic wave ("Pentacostal renewal") spread the doctrine that only those who receive the gift of glossolalia are saved ("baptized in the Holy Spirit"). This doctrine was based on a generalization of three cases of foreign languages miraculously spoken at Pentacost, at the conversion of the first pagans and at the conversion of the disciples of John the Baptist, as recorded in the book of Acts.

In the sixties the second wave, usually called "charismatic", introduced glossolalia not as the sign, confirmation of salvation, but as the feature of the "fullnes of the spirit", which would be the top Christian spirituality. This second wave was based on an interpretation of the fourteenth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians. Other charismatic waves have since then unfurled on the church, yet without major changes concerning glossolalia.


The Importance of the Matter

I am asking you this question: "What was the percentage of charismatics in 1993 within Catholic and Protestant Christianity (evangelicals included) worldwide?


According to David Barett (Status of Global Mission, 1993), this percentage was 20 % in 1980, 25% in 1993 and should reach 30% in 2000. But, according to Patrick Johnstone (Operation World, 1993), this percentage was only 10% in 1993. However, when considering the the percentage of charismatics among evangelicals only, Johnstone has a figure of 30% for 1993 and 50% for 2000.

Traditional Pentacostists think that those who do not practice glossolalia have not received the Holy Spirit (and thus are not saved). Charismatics (second wave) think that those who do not practice glossolalia are not "spirit-filled". Besides, according to charismatic theology (dominion/restoration doctrine), Jesus will come back to rule on earth when all practice glossolalia. These beliefs explain the strong charismatic proselytism, their infiltration in the churches and the many church divisions they cause.

Besides, many Christians have very much neglected their intellectual faculties and are quite unable to refute the charismatic arguments. Others ignore the existence of classical apologetics and seek support for their faith in spiritual experiences. These reasons foster conversions to modern charismatism, which has probably a greater impact than montanism had.

The extent of the charismatic movement and the high chance of being exposed to its proselytism have made glossolalia an important subject that all Christians should study. Moreover, many New Testament places prophibit associating with Christians practicing occultism, and thus sharing membership with them in the same church or Christian group. And the church fathers severely condemned and excommunicated the second century charismatics. So, at the end of the twentieth century, glossolalia and other charismatic practices have become again very important matters for Christians.


The Charismatic Argument based on the First Letter to the Corinthians

It is mainly this argument which convinces Christians, so we will not deal with the other charismatic arguments for the practice of glossolalia [1]. This argument is based on the interpretation of the fourteenth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians. I therefore ask you to read 1Co 14:1-25.

Here are the majors points of the argument:

  1. This chapter deals with spiritual utterance (1Co 12:30 14:1) praticed without understanding the words one utters (1Co 14:2, 14-15), thus glossolalia.
  2. This utterance edifies the one who practices it (1Co 14:4) and is recommendable for all Christians (1Co 14:5, 18).
  3. Therefore glossalalia is a gift from the Holy Spirit; all should pray to receive and practice it.


Why the Conclusion of this Argument cannot be Correct

Can you answer this question?


The conclusion of this argument cannot be correct for many reasons, either philosophical, biblical or psychological. I will briefly name a few:

Biblical Arguments

  1. The Bible teaches that the greatest commandement is to love God with all one's self, including one's understanding, one's intellectual faculties (Mat 22:37). Glossolalia is a practice where reason and understanding are "switched off" and is therefore a sin against the greatest commandment.
  2. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is a spirit of intelligence and understanding (Isa 11:2). The Holy Spirit cannot therefore inspire an occult phenomenon such as glossolalia. Moreover all biblical characters who were inspired by God expressed themselves in understandable utterance using analogies (comparaisons, parables, etc.)
  3. The Bible prohibits glossolalia and its interpretation (Deu 18:10). Jesus himself condemned the meaningless prayers praticed among the pagan religions (Mat 6:7-13).
  4. The Bible teaches on the one hand that certain activities such as reading the bible or praying are for the own good, edification, but on the other hand that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for the good, the edification of the others (1Co 12:7; 1Co 14:12, 26; Eph 4:11-12; 1Pe 4:10; analogy with the members of the body in 1Co 12). But charismatic glossolalia is supposed to edify the one who practices it and not the others, and thus cannot be a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Philosophical Arguments

  1. Logic and intelligibility are indispensable foundations for showing the truth of Christianity. If Christianity would teach occult practices such as glossolalia it would reject its foundations and that would be a fatal self-refutation.
  2. The point of language, of oral expression is to communicate ideas, meaning. He who practices glossolalia does not understand what he utters and neither do those who listen to him. Glossolalia is therefore meaningless.
  3. Both philosophy and the Bible (Psa 147:5; Isa 41:28; Rom 11:33) teach that God is infinitely rational, and that His will is in keeping with His immutable character (voir aussi: Num 23:19; Mal 3:6; James 1:17). So God wants men to be rational and not to pratice glossolalia (see also Pro 10:13.)

Psychological Argument

Academic studies have shown that glossolalia is not a language but a mere psychological, (see book of John P. Kildahl), sociolinguistic phenomenon (William J. Samarin). Besides, many credible and non-gullible Christians (M. Unger, C. F. Dickason, G. A. Birch,W. Bühne, F. Varak...) have docuemented verifiable cases of Christian glossolalists who were demon-possessed, and this in many countries.


Why this Argument is not Correct

We have mentionned a few counter-arguments which falsify the conclusion of the charismatic argument for glossolalia. The argument must be incorrect. Can you see what is wrong with it?


(1) "Glossa" does not mean "Glossolalia"

"Glossa" (glwssa), which is the word used to designate the languages discussed in this chapter of the letter to the Corinthians, means either the tongue (the physical organ in our mouth) or a language accessible to human understanding such as a foreign language, but not a occult phenomena such as glossolalia.

Glossolalia was very well known in the hellenistic world. The Greek could describe it with words derived from three roots, of which "mantia" (manteia) was the most common. "Glossa" (the word used by Paul in 1Co 14) was never use to designate glossolalia. Even the German theologians such as Johannes Behm who interpret this chapter as dealing with the practice of glossolalia within the church recognize that this would be the only case where"glossa" would be used to describe glossolalia, and that their only argument is that the phenomenon described here would the same as the one practiced in the pagan religions.

An interpretation such as Behm's distorts the meaning of the words used by Paul and cannot be very credible. In addition, one wonders why Paul would have misleadingly used the word "glossa" while he could have used one of the many Greek words which have the right meaning. Charismatics may answer that Paul used "glossa" to make a distinction between the glossolalia inspired by the God of the Bible and the glossolalia inspired by the demons worshipped in the other religions. This charismatic reply is however not credible because Paul used the word "prophetis" (profhthV, which gave the word "prophet") to designate those who transmit the Biblical revelation whereas "prophitis" was the word designating the mediums of the pagan religions, and especially those uttering oracles through the practice of glossolalia.

(2) These Languages could be learned through Education

Paul called those who did not understand these languages "idiotis" (1Co 14:16,23,24. "Idiotis" (idiwthV, which gave us the word "idiot"), designate a persons without education (and is also used in Act 4:13 and 2Co 11:6). So these languages are normal languages that can be learned and understood through education, and not occult utterances such as glossolalia.

(3) These Languages could be translated

The verbs Paul used when speaking about translating these languages (1Co 14:5, 13, 26-28; see also 1Co 12:10, 30) are derived from the Greek root which gave the word "hermeneutics.". These verbs mean "to translate, interpret, explain" and entail the idea that the translator or interpretor understands what he translates. (These words are very often used in the New Testament with the very clear meaning of "translation", for example in Heb 7:2). I did not find any instance where these verbs are used in the context of interpreting glossolalia (other verbs were used then, such as sumballw, shmainw, or verbs derived from krinw...). This is one more indication that there is no question of an occult phenomenon such as glossolalia here.

(4) Were these Languages Incomprehensible?

The theologians who saw in this chapter a pagan practice have put forward the argument that the Corinthians did not understand their utterances (1Co 14:14-15) and thus practiced glossolalia. Does a serious analysis support or invalidate this argument?

Paul said in verses 14-15 and 19 that the Corinthians would speak without "intelligence", and used the word "nous" (nouV), which means "mind, intelligence" and is opposed to "stupidity." The idea of Paul is not that the Corinthian speaker did not understand their own utterances, but that they spoke stupidly, without intelligence (the negation of "nous" conveys the idea of stupidity, as for example with the adjective "anitos" which can be found in Luk 24:25; Rom 1:14; Gal 3:1,3; 1Ti 6:9; Tit 3:3). This is the more striking as Paul used the verb "ida" (to know, understand) in verse 16, that is between the verses 14-15 and 19; he chose thus his words very carefully to pinpoint nuances.

Moreover Paul used the verbs "akouo" (1Co 14:2) (akouw, from which comes the word "acoustic"), "ginosko" (1Co 14:7, 9) (ginwskw) and "ida" (1Co 14:11, 16) (oida, from which comes the word "idea"). These three verbs are suitable for expressing the lack of understanding or knowledge of a language. Paul would thus have used them in verses 14-15 and 19 if he had meant that the one who spoke one of those languages did not understand what he what he was saying.

In conclusion, the text in verses 14 and 15 shows that these languages were practiced with stupidity, but not without the understanding of the utterances, and thus cannot be used to infer the practice of glossolalia.

(5) He who spoke these Languages would understand what he said

Paul said (1Co 14:28) that he who spoke one of these language spoke to himself and to God in the absence of translation. But how could he speak to himself if he did not understand his own words?

Much more, certains verses (1Co 14:16-17; 11-12; 5-6) show clearly that these languages could bring any edification unless they were understood. Now Paul taught also that he who spoke one of these languages was edified (1Co 14:4). Therefore he who spoke one of these languages would understand what he said. The same point can be found in verses 16 and 17; Paul says here that one could not say "amen" at a prayer in one of these languages without understanding the prayer, and that that the one praying in one of these languages could say "amen" to hiw own prayer. If follows here again that he who prayed in one of those languages would understand this language.

He who spoke one of these languages would thus understand what he would say, there is therefore no question of glossolalia in this chapter.

(6) These were Normal Languages

Paul said (1Co 14:18) that he spoke more languages than all the members of the church of Corinth together. Many have understood this as showing that Paul was an enthousiastic adept of glossolalia and would practice it inordinately. But Paul was excessively busy with his missionary and professional activities, day as night (1Th 2:9; 2Th 3:8), he was carrying the burden of the problems of the many churches he had founded, etc. (2Co 12:23-28). Paul could not have more time to practice glossolalia than any member of the church of Corinth, and the less could he practice it he alone more than all of them together. So these languages were certainly not glossolalic utterances.

Or would Paul have had more time because he would practice glossolalia at home, whereas the Corinthians would only practice it in the church? Here again Paul was certainly too busy to be able to practice it more than all Corinthians. Besides, such a practice is never mentioned in the New Testament: how could Paul have devoted all his time to such a practice and never mention it in his letters? This explanation is not acceptable. Moreover such a practice would be utterly absurd and even sinful since Paul considered that these languages were spiritual gifts and that spiritual gifts must be used for the edification of others, not for one's own edification (1Co 12:7; 1Co 14:12, 26; Eph 4:11-12; 1Pe 4:10).

Or would these languages be miraculous, such as the three cases of foreign languages miraculously spoken and mentioned in the book of Acts (chapters 2, 10 et 19)? The point of these linguistic miracles was to break a language barrier and make the Christian message understandable to foreigners. But, quite the contrary, the languages mentioned in this letter to the Corinthians were incomprehensible to other persons! Besides, these linguistic miracles were unique events and not spiritual gifts which one develops and regularly practices. And the book of Acts, which recounts the journeys and miracles of Paul never mentions that he performed such miracles. Moreover how could Paul know that he miraculously spoke foreign languages (and he certainly never did) more often than all the members of the church of Corinth? This third explanation is no more acceptable than the others.

The remaining possibility is that these languages were normal foreign languages, as point (2) above indicates. And this is indeed the only satisfying explanation. One can hardly find someone who lived in as many places as Paul did and was as gifted at foreign languages (Paul spoke Arameic, Hebrew and Greek, and very probably Latin,

Arabic, Syriac and many dialects of Asia Minor and Greece.) Paul had certainly had the opportunity to learn more languages than all the members of the church of Corinth together, we can say with certainty than he spoke more languages than them all.

In conclusion, these languages are normal languages and not glossolalic.

(7) What is then the Correct Explanation of Paul's Ideas?

You should now be able to find this explanation. Here is a hint: the key verses are verses 15 to 19.


We can now understand why Paul said that those who spoke these languages did it without intelligence (1Co 14:14-15). The listeners who did not know these languages could understand them in the absence of translation and thus could not be edified (1Co 14:4-6, 12, 17). But, in contrast to personal activities, the purpose of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the edification of the others, of the church (1Co 12:7; 1Co 14:12, 26; Eph 4:11-12; 1Pe 4:10). Consequently those who practice their gift (may it be teaching, counseling, or, as in the present case, foreign languages) in such a manner that others are not edified, do it uselessly, and thus without intelligence, stupidly (see the remark on the Greek "nous" above).

My wife, present in this congregation this morning, is Dutch. If she would pray aloud during the service in this French-speaking church, she would be edified through her own prayer (1Co 14:4), but since the French cannot understand her, she would only speak to God (1Co 14:2) and herself (1Co 14:28); the others would not be edified (1Co 14:17), she would be stupid to do so (1Co 14:14-15,19.)

The case of my wife would be an illustration of the situation in the church of Corinth. Corinth was at the time of Paul an important Roman colony with an international harbour. The city was composed of many inhabitants originating from Italy, Asia Minor, Israel, etc., in addition to the local Greek population. The New Testament even mentions the presence in Corinth of foreign Jews such as Aquilas, Priscilla and Apollos. It is quite possible that in this church some Jews recited some prayers in Hebrew and that other foreigners may have then prayed or sung in foreign languages, without any translation into Greek, the local as well as the international language of the time.

We can also understand why Paul spoke of praying for being able to translate one's words (1Co 14:13). It is very difficult (1Co 14:27-28) to keep concentration when speaking and translating each sentence, hence the prayer for divine help (1Co 14:13). A petitionary prayer requires some personal initiative and does not seem compatible with a glossolalic, ecstatic state. Moreover there do not seem to be any cases where a glossolalist "interprets" his own utterance, whereas there are some cases where one succeeds in translating his own words.

There are many more things to say about this chapter fourteen and especially about verses 20 to 25, but lack of time limits us to what we studied so far.



The Bible teaches that one should love God with all his intellect (Mat 22:37) and should renew (Rom 12:2) and develop his intellectual abilities (Eph 4:13; Heb 5:12; 2Pe 3:16-18.) Unfortunately many Christians do not develop the intellectual gifts, faculties they may possess, and do not study philosophy, history, ancient Greek and Hebrew... A lack of knowledge and logic can lead to serious heresies, to occultism indeed as in the case of glossolalia which we studied this morning. These consequences are terrible and confirm the divine word "My people is destroyed by lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6.) This is the more disastrous for the church that the New Testament forbids association with Christians who practice occultism.

Even worse, glossolalia is only one out of the many occult practices of the charismatic movement. And this movement grows to menacing proportions, at least comparable to the second century charismatic heresy, montanism. The churches could then only stop it by officially condemning it and excommunicating the charismatics. Gérard Dagon, Président of the Fédération Evangélique de France, was recently courageous enough to take a stand against the charismatic movement. We can rejoice and praise God for this example of pure and upright faith. We can also pray and act so that an end may come to this heresy which leads astray many Christians deeper into occultism with each new wave.


[1] The article "Rexposition and Refutation of some charismatic arguments" should soon be available on this site, and will provide a systematic analyse and refutation of charismatic arguments for many charismatic doctrines and practices.


Bibliography - Selection of Works

about the charismatic movement:

charismatic and in favor of glossolalia:

about glossolalia:

Christian critic of glossolalia:

about the antiquity:


containing ancient texts:



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