A Linguistic Approach to Tongues

I found these two articles by Robert Zerhusen very helpful on the study of speaking in tongues.  He gives compelling arguments to believe that tongues are known human languages in both Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14, and not ecstatic utterances.  They were published by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals:

Perhaps a great question to ask before and while you read is, “Who ever said that tongues has to be a miraculous gift?”  The Bible certainly say that, or really even imply it.

At the end of the day, this debate doesn’t make a lot of difference, as it’s not an essential thing.  However, we are called to know the Scriptures and study them.  Wherever you are at on this issue, I hope these articles are beneficial to you.

4 replies on “A Linguistic Approach to Tongues”

Do I dare ask you to elaborate more on where this leaves the 98% (my estimate if not more) worldwide charismatics on what they are doing when “speaking in tongues”?


Well, he goes there (a little bit) in the articles.

Zerhusen’s position, in short, is that these are real human languages that the speaker speaker already knows. He argues that you can’t gather from the text itself what “tongues” means — you need linguistic and historical research in addition to biblical exegesis. Now John Stott, for example, differs a little from Zerhusen and he says that the languages are human languages, but not known to the speaker. Stott shows plainly that the Greek word for tongues is translated only as “langauge” or “languages” throughout the whole Bible. What Stott argues is happening in contemporary experience (to answer your quesetion), and I think what Zerhusen says as well, is that there is a huge psychological influence on people in what they are conjuring up. Based on the text, and linguistic criticism, what they are doing cannot be real “language speaking.” It might be demonic, but most of the occurrences are psychological phenomenons.

That’s the short of it anyway. They are good reads. Very challenging to everything else people teach. And if it was published by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, I’m going to take it seriously.


“but most of the occurrences are psychological phenomenons.”

When I started to research it, I found that not only do charismatic Christians speak in tongues, but there are also sects from every major religion that do. I found that there are also numerous studies on the phenomena where people who are not “religious” can in fact “speak in tongues” as an emotion response.

So my biggest issue is… when you tell a charismatic that you believe that tongues are an “emotional response”, they tell you you’re wrong because they experience it (tongues) in a deep way. This same “experiential emotive theology” seeps out into other things such as worship, prophecy, slaying in spirit, healing, and even conversion. This is where my biggest problem with “speaking in tongues” lies.

Maybe I’m completely off track with these associations, but I personally think that its a dangerous thing. Not heresy by any means, but aberrant teaching. I see too many students get excited about these “manifestations of the Spirit” and dive deeper and deeper into seeking the next emotional response until they ARE involved with heretical teaching or have as Paul says “left the faith”.

Anyway, my 6 cents worth (probably costs 2 cents per paragraph)


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