In last week’s post, we introduced a series about the gift of tongues. Cessationists generally define the gift of tongues as the supernatural ability to speak authentic foreign languages that the speaker had not previously learned. Continuationists, by contrast, generally allow for the possibility that the gift produces speech that does not correspond to any human language. The question we are asking in this series is whether or not that possibility is biblically warranted.
Does the Gift of Tongues Produce Non-Human Languages?
Most continuationists acknowledge that modern tongues-speech predominately consists of something other than human foreign languages.
Of course, some continuationists point to anecdotal evidence to claim that modern glossolalia (tongues-speaking) can sometimes consist of human languages. But even supporters of modern tongues, like George P. Wood of the Assemblies of God, admit the infrequency of such reported occurrences. After commenting on alleged accounts “where one person spoke in a tongue that a second person recognized as a human language,” Wood is quick to state: “Admittedly, such occurrences are rare” (from his review of Strange Fire, published Jan. 13, 2014).
Such occurrences are so rare, in fact, that continuationist claims about modern glossolalia producing real human languages remain unconvincing to everyone outside the charismatic movement (including both Christians and non-Christians). As we saw in the previous post, professional linguists (like William Samarin of the University of Toronto) who study glossolalia have concluded that it “fundamentally is not language.” D. A. Carson, himself a non-cessationist, represents an objective assessment of the evidence when he writes: “Modern tongues are lexically uncommunicative and the few instances of reported modern xenoglossia [speaking foreign languages] are so poorly attested that no weight can be laid on them” (Showing the Spirit, 84). Continue Reading…