Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ecstatic Utterances and PPL Revisited

I’ve been doing some more research in this area. As I earlier indicated, I believe that modern ecstatic utterances (babblings, etc.) are not the same phenomena as biblical tongues. I believe that the biblical tongues were normal, human languages and that the ability to speak them came miraculously, not from studying them. I will try to succinctly present evidence for that conclusion. Second, I will discuss the cessation of that particular gift. (I don’t believe all spiritual gifts have ceased.) Third, I will discuss the origin of modern ecstatic utterances, including private prayer language (PPL). To make this presentation more readable, I will place references as endnotes so as not to interrupt the train of thought.

Question #1: Were the “tongues” mentioned in Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12-14 human languages or ecstatic utterances?

Acts 2

“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” (Acts 2:4, NASB)

In the above verse, the word “glossais” (γλώσσαις) is used for “tongues.”

“And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language.” (Acts 2:6)

In the above verse, the word “dialekto” (διαλέκτω) is used for “language.”

Some proponents of modern ecstatic utterances have said that the people speaking in tongues were using non-human languages, and these proponents believe that the hearers miraculously heard the message in their own language. If these proponents are correct, two miracles would have been required. This scenario seems inefficient and unnecessary.

If the miracle was in the hearing, then there was no need for a miracle in the speaking. The speakers could have spoken normally, and the hearers would have heard miraculously. The evidence favors the view that the speakers were miraculously speaking various human languages. The Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest commented on Acts 2:4:

“Let us be careful to note that Acts 2:4 refers to the languages of the individuals mentioned in Acts 2:8-11.” (1)

1 Corinthians 14:21

“21 In the Law it is written, "BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME," says the Lord. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.”

In verse 21, the Greek word for “other tongues” is “heteroglossois” (ετερογλώσσοις). In Acts 2:4, the Greek phrase for “other tongues” is “heterais glossais” (ετέραις γλώσσαις). Notice the similarity between the “other tongues” in Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14. Paul was writing to the church at Corinth, a group that understood what he meant by “tongues.” Luke, in contrast, was writing to someone who may not have been familiar with the gift of tongues, so he was more descriptive in Acts 2.

At the beginning of verse 22 in 1 Corinthians 14, the phrase “so then tongues”—“hoste hai glossai” (ωστε αι γλωσσαι) is significant. The inferential conjunction “hoste” means “therefore” or “so then.” “Hai” is a definite article that modifies “tongues,” and in this situation it is an article of previous reference (anaphoric article). The Greek scholars Dana and Mantey commented on this use of the article:

To Denote Previous Reference. The article may be used to point out an object the identity of which is defined by some reference made to it in the context.” (2)

Thus, Paul was referring to human languages in verse 21, and he was referring to human languages in verse 22. Fred Fisher, a former professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, listed some reasons for believing that the “tongues” in 1 Corinthians 12-14 referred to human languages:

“This was a common use for the word ‘tongues’ in the New and Old Testaments (cf. Rev. 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15). . . . The complex of Greek words which is translated ‘interpret’ or ‘interpretation’ (1 Cor. 12:10, 30; 14:5, 13, 26-28) is used, with one exception, in the New Testament with the meaning of translating a foreign language (cf. Acts 9:36; John 1:38-42; 9:7; Heb. 7:2). The one exception where the meaning is the more common Greek meaning of explaining something is Luke 24:27. . . . The analogy between the Old Testament passage and the tongues in Corinth (1 Cor. 14:21) would support the idea of a foreign language, for the Old Testament passage clearly has this meaning (cf. Isa. 28:11-12). . . . The statement that the tongues were a sign for ‘unbelievers’ (1 Cor. 14:22) would be in favor of a foreign language which the unbeliever could understand. . . . The strong supposition that all spiritual gifts were for the purpose of gospel proclamation would favor the idea of foreign languages as the meaning of the phenomenon at Corinth. In view of these considerations, it would seem that the weight of the evidence is in favor of giving the ‘tongues’ at Corinth the meaning of speaking unlearned foreign languages. The only real objection to this is found in 1 Corinthians 14:2 and 14 and possibly 23. If, however, we suppose that the speaker did not himself understand the language, but spoke it in the grip of the Holy Spirit, these passages could be so interpreted.” (3)

Question #2: Has the biblical gift of tongues ceased?

1 Corinthians 13:8-10

“8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”

Four things distinguish tongues from prophecy and knowledge in the passage: the use of the middle voice for “cease” rather than the passive voice for “done away” in verse 8, the use of the verb “cease” (pauo, παύω) with tongues instead of the verb “done away” (katargeo, καταργέω) used with prophecy and knowledge, the fact that verse 9 omits tongues but says that prophecy and knowledge are partial, and the fact that verse 10 uses the same verb (“done away”) as verse 8 for prophecy and knowledge. That's four strikes that indicate that the gift of tongues is in a different category. Paul was saying that biblical tongues would cease by themselves (middle voice), but prophecy and knowledge would be stopped (passive voice) when the perfect comes. I interpret “the perfect” as the second coming of Christ. Thus, Paul was saying that the gifts of prophecy and knowledge will be stopped when Christ returns, but tongues would stop by themselves at some point prior to His return. Has that point in history already occurred? Yes. Notice what Robert Gromacki said about it:

“In the three centuries that followed the apostolic era, there are only two references to tongue-speaking (Montanus and Tertullian who was a Montanist). The fact that Montanism reflected a false, egotistical view of pneumatology can hardly argue for the genuineness of Biblical glossolalia in that period. Therefore, there are no genuine cases of glossolalia in the post-apostolic era. Speaking in tongues had definitely ceased. The testimonies of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Chrysostom, and Augustine confirm this conclusion.” (4)

Could biblical tongues start again after ceasing for a while? Gromacki answered this question:

“If the gift were supposed to be permanent, then it would have occurred in every generation of every century up to the present time. To argue that the gift was active in the apostolic era, then silent for centuries, and is now active again is contrary to the plain statement of Scripture. When they cease, they cease. This is a blanket statement—not to be repeated again.” (5)

Herschel Hobbs also commented on 1 Corinthians 13:8-10:

“The word ‘cease’ is a future middle form. They will make themselves cease or automatically cease. This gift ended with the first century.” (6)

Question #3: What is the origin of modern ecstatic utterances and private prayer language (PPL)?

This is an interesting question. I’ll quote several people to provide some possible answers.

Gromacki gave the following options:

“Four possible opinions as to the source of modern glossolalia have been presented. Both sides admit that the phenomenon can be satanically, psychologically, and artificially produced. However, the advocates believe that much tongue-speaking has been produced by God. The author believes that the origin of modern speaking in tongues cannot be limited to just one source, but that all modern glossolalia can be explained by the first three mentioned.” (7)

David Christie-Murray referred to animism as a cause:

“Animism is an early stage in the evolution of religions; . . . primitive peoples imbued with animistic beliefs commonly accept that human beings may be possessed by spirits and speak their languages when under possession.” (8)

George Cutten mentioned great excitement as a cause:

“Pseudo language, or articulate sounds which simulate words, is probably the most common kind of speaking with tongues. . . . With the great excitement attending certain experiences, we can well understand from other cases how the rational part of the mind—consciousness—would be put out of action.” (9)

In regard to private prayer language, I think Matthew 6:7 can be applied:

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”

The Greek word in verse 7 for “use meaningless repetition” is “battologeo” (βαττολογέω). The word is onomatopoetic, meaning it sounds like the word it means. For instance, we use the word “swish” to describe a basketball going through the net without touching the rim, and we use the word “buzz” to describe the sound a bee makes. “Logeo” means “to speak,” and thus “battologeo” means “to speak batto.” Thus, Jesus said that we should not “speak batto” when we pray privately. Jesus said that this practice was something that the Gentiles did. Gromacki cited the instructions given by a person teaching others to speak in tongues:

“Repeat certain elementary sounds which he told them, such as ‘bah-bah-bah,’ or something similar. He then laid his hands on the head of each seeker, prayed for him, and the seeker did actually speak in tongues.” (10)

Not every person that uses PPL today says “batto,” but another onomatopoetic word—“babble”—describes some of the content of the prayers of some people who engage in PPL. We should not babble in private prayer.


1. Kenneth Wuest, Untranslatable Riches from the Greek New Testament, in
Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1942), 109.
2. H. E. Dana and Julius Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament
(Toronto: The Macmillan Company, 1955), 141.
3. Fred Fisher, Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians (Waco: Word Books, 1975), 217.
4. Robert Gromacki, The Modern Tongues Movement (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,
1967), 17.
5. Gromacki, 126.
6. Herschel Hobbs, The Epistles to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,
1960), 64.
7. Gromacki, 49.
8. David Christie-Murray, Voices from the Gods: Speaking with Tongues (London: Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1978), 4.
9. George Cutten, Speaking with Tongues: Historically and Psychologically Considered (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1927), 173.
10.Gromacki, 42.

For Further Study

A missionary friend of mine sent the following web addresses for sites that discuss the origin of ecstatic utterances, etc.: