Speaking in Tongues

Definition of Speaking in Tongues

Tongues of Fire
Illustration of the apostles receiving the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Peter Dennis / Getty Images

Definition of Speaking in Tongues

"Speaking in Tongues" is one of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:4-10:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; ... To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. (ESV)

"Glossolalia" is the most commonly accepted term for speaking in tongues. It comes from the Greek words meaning "tongues" or "languages," and "to speak." Although not exclusively, speaking in tongues is primarily practiced today by Pentecostal Christians. Glossolalia is the "prayer language" of Pentecostal churches.

Some Christians who speak in tongues believe they are speaking in an existing language. Most believe they are uttering a heavenly tongue. Some Pentecostal denominations, including the Assemblies of God, teach that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

While the Southern Baptist Convention states, "there is no official SBC view or stance" on the issue of speaking tongues, most Southern Baptist churches teach that the gift of speaking in tongues ceased when the Bible was completed.

Speaking in Tongues in the Bible

The baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues was first experienced by early Christian believers on the Day of Pentecost. On this day described in Acts 2:1-4, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples as tongues of fire rested on their heads:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (ESV)

In Acts Chapter 10, the Holy Spirit fell upon the household of Cornelius while Peter shared with them the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. While he spoke, Cornelius and the others began speaking in tongues and praising God.

The following verses in the Bible reference speaking in tongues - Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4; Acts 2:11; Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 12:30; 1 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Corinthians 13:8; 1 Corinthians 14:5-29.

Different Types of Tongues

Although confusing even for some believers who practice speaking in tongues, many Pentecostal denominations teach three distinctions or types of speaking in tongues:

  • Speaking in tongues as a supernatural outpouring and sign to unbelievers (Acts 2:11).
  • Speaking in tongues for the strengthening of the church. This requires an interpretation of the tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27).
  • Speaking in tongues as a private prayer language (Romans 8:26).

Speaking in Tongues Also Known As

Tongues; Glossolalia, Prayer Language; Praying in Tongues.


In the book of Acts on the Day of Pentecost, Peter witnessed both Jews and Gentiles being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.

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Your Citation
Fairchild, Mary. "Speaking in Tongues." Learn Religions, Apr. 5, 2023, learnreligions.com/speaking-in-tongues-700727. Fairchild, Mary. (2023, April 5). Speaking in Tongues. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/speaking-in-tongues-700727 Fairchild, Mary. "Speaking in Tongues." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/speaking-in-tongues-700727 (accessed June 3, 2023).