Have you ever noticed that some people just seem to have a knack with learning different languages? How is this affinity for learning human language similar and different to gifts related to “tongues” in the the New Testament?
Today we will examine the category of the gift of tongues, which exists establish and communicate the Kingdom of God with new audiences. We will specifically explore 3 specific manifestations of the gift of tongues in Acts, Mark, and other verses. I am writing this article today because along with the Spirit of Adoption, I am convinced that God is currently illuminating gift of tongues to equip his Bride for an increase in international apostolic harvest in coming days and years.
When many people hear the word “tongues” in a Christian context, their immediate first thought is of Charismatic Christians “speaking in tongues” (practicing glossolalia). Given that speaking in tongues (glossolalia) is a large point of division between traditional and Charismatic Christians, we probably first need to address what glossolalia is and isn’t. As someone who has been pretty thoroughly formed by both charismatic and more traditional streams, I’m going to be as precise and gracious as possible in my descriptions. I ask that readers put on enough fear of the Lord and humility to assume that God’s capacity to speak through a range of Christian traditions is greater than our own petty opinions.
Types of Tongues: 1 – Glossolalia
Glossolalia is something Charismatic Christians call “praying in the Spirit” or praying in tongues. Generally, Charismatic Christians believe that glossolalia is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is still essential for today. The main defining feature of glossolalia is that individuals freely utter syllables and word-like sounds that are not a known human language, with the goal of allowing the Holy Spirit to pray through them to establish God’s agenda without human interference. On an individual level, the primary audience for glossolalia is God. Due to the increased level of yieldedness to God (praying not solely the mind but with the spirit), Charismatic Christians consider the practice of glossolalia to have a strengthening effect on their faith and give greater efficacy to their prayers because they have less of an agenda. Individuals who practice glossolalia are quite aware that it doesn’t sound like human language, and consider glossolalia a form of “angelic” or “spiritual” language (as compared to praying in a known human language, praying with your mind). Generally, the bible stipulates that glossolalia (speaking in tongues) within a large group assembly must be interpreted through an individual walking in the gift of interpretation of tongues so that the entire congregation can pray with their minds AND their spirits. Like all evaluating all spiritual phenomena, Christians must use the gift of discernment to understand what manifestations are true or false. That being said, we need to have a generous degree of humility to realize that God often does allow very extreme (ie, strange) manifestations of the Holy Spirit because of his own extreme “otherness“. Unlike extreme manifestations of other spirits, extreme manifestations of the Holy Spirit are never physically dangerous. However, extreme manifestations can and will shake our rigid expectations about how God should move to the very core.
Types of Tongues: 2 – Xenoglossia
In Acts 2:1-13 and 10:44-48, a second kind of tongues is “Xenoglossia”. The greek root “xeno” means foreign (as in, foreigner). “Glossia” means speech. Therefore, xenoglossia is to speak with the known human language of individuals from foreign contexts.
In these verses, believers filled with the Holy Spirit were able to spontaneously speak in foreign languages that they through their own human understanding, they had not previously learned. The speakers’ foreign language capacity seems to be spontaneous, directed towards a specific human audience, using a human language that the audience recognize (likely mother tongue), and specifically time bound to the period of time that the speaker is under the unction of God.
Anecdotally, I have heard two stories of xenoglossia in modern times. For the sake of simplicity and so that we are not distracted, I’m going to leave the stories anonymous. In both instances, the individuals were praying in tongues (glossolalia), and felt the unction of the Holy Spirit changing the specific sounds to something different and more specific than their typical praying in tongues prayer language. In one of these instances, a woman was giving birth in an Israeli hospital, experiencing a difficult delivery. She was singing in tongues over the baby while the nurses did their part to complete the birth. As the mother sang, she noticed that some of the nurses appeared to be shocked at the lyrics the Holy Spirit sang through her. Eventually, one Jewish Israeli nurses left the room in disbelief and anger. Apparently, the mother had been singing Hebrew scriptures over the baby throughout the process of intense birthing. This birthing experience was a prophetic sign of how some Israeli Jewish individuals will come to freely put their faith in Jesus.
In another instance, a man was also praying in a small group setting in Asia, using glossolalia. He also felt his stream of syllables change from his regular prayer language into an Asian tonal language. In that moment, he was anxious that it would seem like he was making a racial slur and that it would seem like he was manipulating his tongue (the language) by his own volition. Still, he abandoned the fear of disgrace and allowed himself to utter the syllables that he felt the Holy Spirit directing. In the group of about 8-10 individuals standing nearby, one man began intensely sobbing. Apparently, the Holy Spirit was speaking to the sobbing man in fluent Cantonese, through the first speaker on a topic that was very intimate. The speaker was unaware what he had said, so the listener had to ultimately explain. Due to the location of meeting, the tonal nature of the language, and the specific sound effects, the speaker had assumed that he was speaking in Mandarin. However, when the speaker was informed as to the specific language and the context of the message, he was humbled and pleasant surprised.
In both of these contexts, the message that the Holy Spirit spoke through the individual was extremely personal. The audiences had powerful emotional reactions as the Holy Spirit revealed the desires and hidden thoughts of their hearts (something the Holy Spirit tends to do best).
Types of Tongues: 3 – New Tongues
While the Church has historically explored glossolalia and xenoglossia to a relatively high degree, there is a third kind of tongues mentioned in Mark 16:17-18 that Christians will need to understand in order to partner with God for the international harvest work he is amplifying in the coming days and years.
The writers of the New Testament refer to glossolalia as praying in the spirit. In Greek, they refer to xenoglossia as speaking in heteros “different, neighboring” (2087) dialektos “languages” (1258) (Strong’s concordance definitions of words taken from Acts 2:1-13).
Yet in Mark 16:17-18, another word is introduced.
And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”Mark 16:17-18
The Greek word for “new” in the text is kainais, from the Greek root kainos (2537). This is the same root that Jesus used in describing how new wine must be put in new wineskins. It is defined by Strong’s concordance as “fresh, new, unused, novel.”
Jesus continues to use kainos as an adjective to describe the new wine he will drink with his followers in heaven, the new heavenly garments his followers will wear, and the new covenant. His followers continue to use it to discuss the fresh tomb he was laid in, and new creation (including our new nature in Christ).
One of the best articles I have found on the subject of Mark 16:17-18 new tongues is by Bill Lockwood. Lockwood defines the gift of new tongues in Mark 16:17 as “a fresh or new way of speaking; not a new kind of utterance unknown to mankind”. In the article, Lockwood’s main idea is that the gift of new tongues is a form of grace to learn known human languages through study. I agree that grace to learn new human languages fluently is connected to the category of tongues. However, based on the usage of the word kainos, I believe that the gift of new tongues actually relates to innovation, and a grace for pioneering new ways of speaking and sharing the gospel.
Again, the entire category of tongues relates to establishing and communicating the Kingdom of God with new audiences. In each age, God equips some individuals to share the gospel exceptionally, pioneering new teaching styles, new tools, and new expressions of living the gospel. Within our present age, some individuals live with a tangible grace for technology and broadcasting media. However, we will have barely read the book if we believe that technology as we know it will be the sole way God reveals his new methods of revelation in this century. We will see an increase in Holy-Spirit initiated prophetic signs, to respond to individuals hunger and desire for experiencing God. As shaking on the Earth increases, we will see individuals’ hunger for God increase. Their desire will re-establish the wovenness of mind, body, and spirit (undoing Greek dualism). As the hungry seek and are satisfied, we will see an increase in sacramental thinking that paves the way for radical multiplication of miracles. In close partnership with his Spirit, God will give individuals creative liberty to work miracles as he illuminates the mindset behind them: That the Holy Spirit’s sovereign power weaves through our entire lived experience.
Why does this matter?
We will see children moving intuitively in miracles, signs, and wonders (Acts 2:17). To accept anything less is to rob Jesus of a measure of worship he paid for in blood, and to rob the nations of their inheritances from the Lord. The Lord has given the nations children (born again believers of ages, but also youth), and they are a gift (Psalm 127:3).
God is pouring out the gift of new tongues on individuals who will model his wildness, skill, and beauty in worship and prophesy. God created worship and prophesy to be as creative as the Holy Spirit. We should always expect God to encounter us through a variety of methods, and innovate new ways to share his voice with others. We must be more multilingual to mirror the beauty of Revelation 7:9 throne room worship. We must be purer voices than the mediums and witches, with greater manifestations of the favor and power of God through our loving obedience. We must expect to inherit more and pursue the “more” God wants to release, because whatever we receive, we can pass on to our children. We cannot afford to settle for anything less than the fullness of God.
A Prayer for God to Open Our Ears
Help us to communicate in the languages of heaven,
Equip us so that we can hear your Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven.