Glossolalia today


If the gift of tongues was not ecstatic utterances and if the gift of tongues ceased shortly after the death of the Apostles, then how do we account for the phenomenon of tongues in the form of ecstatic utterances today? It is interesting to note that glossolalia is not a phenomenon confined to Christianity. Pagan religions throughout the world are frenzied with tongues. This is reflected in an article in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation entitled "An Ethnological Study of Glossolalia" by George J. Jennings, March 1968. Jennings observes that glossolalia is practiced amoung the following non-Christian religions of the world; the Peyote cult among the North American Indians, the Haida Indians of the Pacific Northwest, Shamans in the Sudan, the Shango cult of the West Coast of Africa, the Shago cult in Trinidad, the Voodoo cult in Haiti, the Aborigines of South American and Australia, the aboriginal peoples of the subarctic regions of North America and Asia, the Shamans in Greenland, the Dyaks of Borneo, the Zor cult of Ethiopia, the Siberian shamans, the Chaco Indians of South America, the Curanderos of the Andes, the Kinka in the African Sudan, the Thonga shamans of Africa, and the Tibetan monks. Certainly we wouldn't attribute Glossolalia in these heathen religions to the work of the holy Spirit.

Behavioral Scientists have conducted extensive research on glossolalia and for the most part concur that supernatural forces are not necessary to explain its existence. This is shown in an article entitled "Behavioral Science Research on the Nature of Glossolalia" which appears in the September, 1968, issue of the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation . This article is perhaps one of the most comprehensive scientific discussions on glossolalia and some of its conclusions are briefly quoted as follows:

VI. Summary of Behavioral Science Research Data on Glossolalia

1. Glossolalia is an ancient and widespread phenomenon of most societies, occurring most usually in connection with religion.

2. Glossolalia may occur as part of a larger condition of hysterical, dissociative, or trance states, or it may occur completely alone.

3. Glossolalia is not necessarily related to specific personality types.

4. Glossolalia may be deviant behavior due to abnormality of the mind, or it may be normal expected behavior, depending on the social and cultural environment.

5. Glossolalia is a form of partially developed speech in which the thought-speech apparatus of the person is used for a variety of internal mental functions.

6. Glossolalia may be a form of healthy regression in the service of the ego, leading to more creative modes of life.

VII. Possible Theological Implications

In my discussion in this paper, there is a wealth of reasonable information which gives us an outline of the mental, social, and cultural contexts within which glossolalia can be, and is, produced. Thus we need not invoke either divine or devilish supernatural forces to explain or justify the existence and function of glossolalia.

However, the fact that we have a reasonable scientific framework for explaining and understanding this behavior does not necessarily undercut its importance or value to either and individual or a religious group. Glossolalia can be useful and valuable as a media of spiritual exercise for an adherent.

Perhaps the most important distinction that should be made is between cause and consequence. Glossolalia is not "caused" by supernatural forces. However, glossolalia may be a "consequence" of involvement in deep and meaningful spiritual worship. Glossolalia does not miraculously change people in a supernatural sense, but participating in glossolalia is a part of a larger social and personal commitment may play an important role in the change of direction in participant's lives.

VIII. Summary

Glossolalia is an unusual pattern of aberrant speech. Areview of the current research data provides a new source of information for examining the phenomena of glossolalia. If is a nodification of the conscious connection between inner speech and outer speech. The meaning and function of glossolalia is closely tied to its social and cultural context. The historic theological debates concerning glossolalia centered on whether it was of divine or devilish origin. Such debate is irrelevant. Glossolalia, as such, is not a spiritual phenomea, but is may be a result of deep and meaningful spiritual exercise.

Whether we agree with these conclusions or not, the research referred to in the article reveals that glossolalia today is actually abbreviations of known languages. Note the following quotations:

5A. Structural Linguistics of Glossolalia

A number of studies on American English-speaking glossolalists have recently been done. These reports vary somewhat in the specific technical conclusions, but in general there is consistency in the conclusions. The differences seem to be due to the fact that glossolalic speech has different degrees of organization. Some glossolalia is very poorly organized and consists of little more than grunts and barely-formed sounds, while other glossolalia is highly organized into a systematic series of vowels and consonants. Several language studies, including our own, suggest that glossolalists develop their speech from ill-formed structure to "practiced" and "polished" glossolalic speech. Thus the quality of glossolalia depends to some extent on the stage of development of glossolalia.

The following seem to be reasonable conclusions from these studies. Glossolalia, in English-speaking subjects, is composed of the basic speech elements of English. The major difference consists of a lack of organization of the basic vowels and consonants into the elements necessary for intelligible speech. The elements of speech such as pauses, breaths, intonations, etc., are greatly reduced or changed. Thus glossolalic speech tends to resemble the early speech qualities of young children before they organize all the various parts of the adult language. Further, there is a reduced number of vowels and consonants used. The conclusions of the linguists is that glossolalia has the characteristics of partially formed language, while lacking certain requirements of true language.

Indeed, many of the qualities of glossolalic speech are those found in the speech of young children. A comparison of Devereaux's outline of children's speech and glossolalic speech is striking. On this basis, one may suggest that glossolalic speech appears to be a return to an early way of speaking, in which speaking and sound are used for purposes other than just the communication of thought. This idea gets further support from other data to be cited.

Another line of investigation has focused on the duplication of glossolalia under experimental rather than religious conditions. Al Carlson, at the University of California, recorded two types of glossolalia. One type was recorded by volunteers who were asked to spontaneously speak in unknown language without having ever heard glossolalia. These speech samples were then rated and the two types of glossolalia could not be distinguished from each other. In fact, the "contrived" received better ratings as "good glossolalia" than did the actual glossolalia.

Werner Cohn, at the University of British Columbia, took naïve students to Pentecostal churches to hear glossolalia and then asked the students to speak in glossolalia in the laboratory. They were able to successfully do so. Their recordings were then played to glossolalists who described the glossolalia as beautiful examples.

In sum, the data suggest: that glossolalia has a specific language structure based on the language tongue of the speaker; that the linguistic organization is limited; and that the capacity to speak in this type of semi-organized language can be duplicated under experimental conditions. Thus, glossolalia does not appear to be a "strange language," but rather the aborted or incomplete formation of familiar language.

This research clearly undercuts the claims of glossolalists that they speak a "heavenly language." In reality they are speaking abbreviations of their national language.

Another interesting article appeared in the New York Times, January 21, 1974:

JohnP. Kildahl, a clinical psychologist and professor at New York Theological Seminary, said here today that the Pentecostal practice of speaking in tongues constituted "learned behavior."

Dr. Kildahl, an ordained Lutheran clergyman and former chief psychologist at the Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, recently published a study of glossolalia undertaken with a grant form the National Institute of Mental Health.

In his address, he said that on the basis of his research and extensive correspondence with charismatic Christians it appeared that five elements were normally present when someone began speaking in tongues. These are a "magnetic" relationship with a group leader, a sense of personal distress, and "intense emotional atmosphere," a supporting group, and the prior learning of a rationale of its religious significance. In the case of people who begin to speak in tongues when they alone, he said "these five conditions have been present in the days or weeks preceding the initial experience."

Kildahl in his book The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues, further explains how glossolalia is initiated:

How the Experience is Initiated

Typically after an ordinary evening church service, interested members of the congregation are invited to remain in church in order to discuss the gift of tongues. The leader encourages the people to "receive" this ability going from one another laying his hands on each person's head. "Say after me what I say, and then go on speaking in the tongue that the Lord will give you." One might utter a few syllables, speak for two or three minutes, or ten, or not for several days and while at home. "It was the best I ever felt in all my thirty-one years."

Once possessed of this ability, a person retains it and can speak with fluency whenever he chooses. It does not matter whether he is alone or in a group of fellow glossolalists. He can speak in tongues while driving a car or swimming. He can do it silently in the midst of a party, or aloud before a large audience. The experience brings peace and joy and inner harmony. Glossolalists view it as an answer to prayer, an assurance of divine love and acceptance. It is referred to as a "direct and personal encounter with the holy Spirit."

How do we explain tongues today? As has been noted, tongues-speaking is also practiced in many heathen religions throughout the world today. Certainly this is not the work of the holy Spirit. Perhaps Behavioral Scientists are correct in saying that much of tongues-speaking has a natural explanation. However, this much is observable - when a person has experienced tongues he is absolutely convinced as to the scripturalness of his experience and the correctness of his doctrinal beliefs. Hence the traditional Pentecostal insists on the correctness of the "second blessing." The theologically liberal Protestant who speaks in tongues feels that his doubt in the inspiration of the Bible is vindicated. Catholic Pentecostals testify that the charismatic experience has deepened their devotion to Mary. A glossolalic experience convinces Mormons that their brand of Christianity is right, etc. Thus, while tongues may not be directly caused by Satan yet it can be used by him as an effective means of sidetracking sincere Christians. The following scriptures reveal that one of the signs of the end of the world or age would be the phenomenal working deceptions of Satan in the Church. "And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." Matt. 24:2 and 24

"Even his, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie." 2 Thes. 2:9-11

Satan's involvement in the charismatic wonders cannot be ruled out as part of the deceptive wonders at the end of the age.