In the Bible, there are two types of speaking in tongues. Those who do not speak in tongues are against the idea that people can speak in the tongues of angels, which might not be the tongues of men. Naturally, they say that it is gobbledygook or something like that. Once I read a book about a linguist who went to South America and studied people who were speaking in tongues in Pentecostal congregations. The linguist concluded that most of what he heard was repetitive sounds that did not seem to have any meaning and therefore did not constitute a language. However, he found he had to do everything he could at times to resist the pull that he felt to give into the feelings that he ought accept Lord Jesus as his Savior, during the alter calls.
On the day of Pentecost, clearly the Bible teaches that people heard the apostles and others speaking in their own languages. Whether the 120 people, who were filled with the Holy Spirit and had fire appear upon their heads, were speaking in the different languages or just babbling may depend on the hearer. We the reader, automatically assume that those speaking were speaking in different languages, when in fact they may not have been. A significant number of those present thought that the speakers were drunk (Acts 2:13,15).
What could have happened is that the Spirit of God interpreted the babbling for each person who understood what was being said. If 120 people are speaking in many languages, how would anyone know what was being said?
In the book of Corinthians, chapter twelve, verse ten, we learn that there is the gift of tongues and the gift of interpretation and both of these come from the Spirit of God.
In chapter fourteen of Corinthians, we read the following:
For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, he who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in tongues, unless some one interprets, so that the church may be edified….Therefore, he who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how can any one in the position of an outsider say the “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all; nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.... In the law it is written, “By men of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” Thus, tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? (1 Cor. 13:2-5; 13-18;21-23)
We see in the above that those speaking in tongues are considered to be speaking mysteries in the Spirit and the Apostle Paul claims he speaks in these tongues more than anyone else. Speaking in tongues are to be considered a private matter, unless someone interprets. Nevertheless, even though speaking in tongues is a sign for unbelievers, if all the members of a congregation start speaking in tongues, will not outsiders consider them mad.
That speaking in tongues should be a sign for unbelievers seems somewhat contradictory, if unbelievers are to consider a gathering of people mad, who speak in unknown tongues. J.B. Philips New Testament translates this a little differently so that the sense is more coherent:
That means that tongues are a sign of God’s power, not for those who are unbelievers, but to those who already believe.
Yet, when we take into account that the Apostle draws upon Isaiah (28:11) to claim justification for tongues being a sign for unbelievers, J.B. Phillips appears to be twisting what the Apostle actually meant.
Individually, those who speak in tongues provide a sign for unbelievers, but they are mysteries in the Spirit and really are of no value unless there is an interpretation. Because of this, matters become clear why people do not kindle towards speaking in tongues, if they are inclined to be antagonistic towards the practice.
As it happens, I have met a number of people who speak in tongues during the day and use this phenomenon as a kind of battery charger. For the Apostle says that those who speak in tongues edify themselves. The other benefit that comes from speaking in tongues is intercession. People who intercede on behalf other people and do not know how to pray can pray in tongues.
To quote Jamieson, Fausset & Brown’s Commentary on Romans 8:26:
“As we struggle to express in articulate language the desires of our hearts and find that our deepest emotions are the most inexpressible, we groan under this felt inability. But not in vain are these groanings. For the Spirit Himself‘ is in them, giving to the emotions which He Himself has kindled the only language of which they are capable; so that though on our part they are the fruit of impotence to utter what we feel, they are at the same time the intercession of the Spirit Himself in our behalf.”
While many dismiss tongues, they also are probably disinclined to be serious contenders in the spiritual realm, and have not been known to move molehills, let alone anything resembling a mountain—even one scaled down to size.
Speaking in tongues, from what the Bible states. appears to be an inarticulate utterance that has to be interpreted in order to be understood, but it is useful for intercession. Speaking in tongues appears to edify those who possess the gift and may be a sign for unbelievers who do not possess it; but if many people speak with them at the same time, they will either be considered mad—or drunk.