Biblical overview and personal experience and observation
According to their statement of fundamental truths, Assemblies of God in Great Britain and Ireland, the largest Pentecostal grouping in the British Isles, "believe… in the Baptism in the Spirit with the Initial Evidence of Speaking with Other Tongues". Assemblies of God insist on speaking in tongues as evidence of one's having being filled with the Holy Spirit because of the record of such events in the Acts of the Apostles:
1 Corinthians evinces a continuing rôle of speaking in tongues, after the initial filling with the Holy Spirit: for self-edification (1 Cor. 14:4); and, when someone with the gift of interpretation is present (1 Cor. 14:27,28), as a gift for the church (1 Cor. 12:10).
It is clear that in Acts 2:6–8 NIV the tongues, or languages, were intelligible to their hearers (though, presumably, not to their speakers): "When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: 'Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?…'" It is equally clear that in 1 Corinthians the tongues are unintelligible to their hearers: Paul speaks of the gift of "interpretation" of tongues (12:10), and says further (14:2,19 NIV): "…Anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no-one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. …In the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue."
As to the languages used when one speaks in tongues, Paul mentions, in the well known chapter on love (1 Cor. 13:1 NIV), "the tongues of men and of angels…"
I would take issue with the New English Bible translation "strange tongues" in Mark 16:17, where the original means "new tongues", and also with its translations "ecstatic utterance", "tongues of ecstasy", "language of ecstasy", "ecstatic speech", "ecstatic language" (and for that matter, "strange tongues") in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 where the original means simply "tongues" or "tongue". The use of the word ecstatic, to my mind, implies the loss of control associated with some forms of religious mysticism.
I cannot remember the first time I heard someone speak in tongues, but my first acquaintance with Pentecostal churches was in early 1965. My friend Chris's recollection is clearer (in conversation on 15 January 1977):
…One meeting we went to at Sharon soon afterwards [Sharon Full Gospel Church, Manchester, shortly after his miraculous healing from epilepsy in January 1965]…, somebody actually spoke in tongues and spoke in "human"; a girl spoke in German and French, and it was quite distinguishable. I've never heard it since, actually… It's always been an unrecognisable tongue, which you presume to be an angel's tongue… But I remember hearing this girl stand up and start speaking — oh, it was definitely German — and then, again, she spoke in French.In August 1978, while describing our very first attendance at a meeting in Sharon, a youth meeting one Saturday night early in 1965, Chris told the same story:
I remember there being two messages in tongues… one distinctly in German, the other distinctly in French… There was… what I could recognise as fluent French, and also fluent German, which made me think, "Oh!… God's here!"I don't recall the above incident; my first memories of hearing speaking in tongues are after we started going to Fleetwood Full Gospel Church. There was a lot of it going on when I stayed behind after church on perhaps 23 May 1965 for what they called a "waiting meeting"; see The “waiting meeting”. I didn't speak in tongues myself on that occasion, though.
Strangely, I have very little recollection of Whit (or Pentecost) Sunday, 6 June 1965, when I did actually speak in tongues. I wrote the following account in October 1990, based on the conversation with Chris in August 1978 that I quoted from above:
On the Whit Sunday, at Sharon, Chris remembers that Pastor Williams got those seeking the Baptism in the Holy Spirit to go into the back room during the evening meeting.I remember that the words I kept on repeating were
/ˈaː-gor-ˌa-gor-a-ˈsiː-kor-ˌa-gor-a/,or something similar.
I remember hearing Mrs. Smith (the Pastor's wife) speaking in tongues at Fleetwood Full Gospel Church in the mid- to late 1960's on a number of occasions, giving messages in tongues (i.e. the "gift" of tongues as in 1 Cor. 12:10), which were usually interpreted by someone else in the meeting. Her "tongue" used to sound very "bubbly", something like this:
/ɪn-ˌgaɪ-ra-la-ma-soː-aɪ-an-ˈdiː-ra-la-ma-gaɪ — ɪn-ˌgaɪ-ra-la-ma-soː-aɪ-an-ˌdiː/.
/ˌga-da-ˈʃan-da-ˌga-da-ˈʃan-da-ˌga-da-ˈʃan-da/— usually topped off with
/ˌga-da-ˈsiː-an-da/— would annoy me a great deal.
/ˌʃa-ga-ˈla-ga — ˌʃa-ga-ˈla-ga — ˌʃa-ga-ˈla-ga/.In British parlance, it sounded like a command to have sexual intercourse with a thermal insulation engineer: "Shag a lagger"!
It disturbed me, after I started to speak Esperanto regularly in the late 1980's, that Esperanto diphthongs, e.g. /uj/, started to creep into my tongues-speaking. I remember stopping abruptly, consternated, on one occasion, thinking: "No! It's not real. I'm making it up."
In the 1990's, hearing Keith Robinson saying
/ˈʃa-da-ˌba-da-ˈgan-da — ra-ˌba-ri-ˈjan-da/
/ˈhuː-ˌda-ˈhuː-ˌda-ˈhuː-ˌda-ˈhuː-ˌda/produced anxious doubts in me.
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