I’ve been asked several times in the last few months both online and in person for my opinion on the question of whether I believe Jesus ever spoke in tongues. This might be because I’ve written a book on the subject, therefore I’m the guy to ask?
I’ve avoided answering this question for a few reasons:
- I don’t understand what is proven if Jesus did or if he didn’t. It’s like asking me what is the price of tea on Mars, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. None of us can definitively know or prove our opinion on the matter, and we can only speculate.
- Even if Jesus didn’t speak in tongues, it isn’t a good argument for saying we shouldn’t, either. This is usually the angle people ask me from –“Well Steve, Jesus didn’t speak in tongues, so why are you making a big deal of it?“
There is also no record in the Bible of Jesus getting married. Does that mean that Christians should not marry? If you’re one who believes this gift isn’t for today, that’s one thing and we can discuss it from there. But claiming Jesus didn’t and saying it’s the reason we shouldn’t either is not a very good argument for your position as there are a number of things he didn’t do or address in the Gospels which other New Testament writers like Paul did. Jesus didn’t water baptize anybody, but do we argue that baptism isn’t for today because it’s something Jesus Himself didn’t do?
That’s my simple answer.
If people want to debate or be contentious about it, that’s their prerogative. I don’t know if it really matters whether he did or not.
That all being said, I received a comment on one of my blog posts last week regarding how I didn’t address whether Jesus spoke in tongues in my book on the subject. I was contemplating writing a response to the comment, but decided to let it evolve into a blog post instead.
I will leave relevant segments of the comment in block quotes below along with my answers where they pertain.
I read your book, Nine Lies People Believe About Speaking in Tongues. It has been an encouragement to me to pray more in the Spirit.
First, I appreciate and am very grateful for your kind and encouraging words. It’s my goal to have helped stir people up to pray in the Spirit more, as well as help push people to take that leap if they’ve been struggling with this gift being valid for today. Feedback such as yours reminds me that all the time and work that went into it has been worth it!
“One lie your book did not cover is one I have had to address many times; Jesus is our model and He never spoke in tongues. On page 201 you wrote, “what we have written in our Scripture canon does not contain any wasted pages,” I would add to that nor do the Scriptures contain any wasted words.”
Yep. So far so good, I agree with you on that and stand by my comment from the book.
English Bibles are a translation. What is the purpose of a translation within a translation? In the case of Jairus’ daughter Jesus said, “’Talitha kum!’ (which translated means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’)” Mark 5:41, why don’t the Scriptures record Jesus as simply saying, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” What is the purpose in the Scripture record of Jesus saying, “Talitha kum,” and then recording its translation? It must be to show by His example Jesus spoke in tongues.
It’s at this point you and I both diverge on whether this passage would be the pin to hang one’s hat on to prove definitively that Jesus did indeed speak in tongues, heavenly languages or some form of glossolalia. I don’t see how this instance or others you cite below are evidence of anything other than what the Scripture writers say they are — instances of Jesus saying something in one language, and then the writers translating it for the original Greek readers, and us now having that Greek writing translated into English thousands of years later, including the mention that phrases Jesus said were originally in Aramaic.
I do variations of this kind of thing all the time on my blog and in my writing when I tell accounts of something that happened to me in my daily life in Peru and I interacted with people in this culture in Spanish. I’ve been known to say “I said this” and write the Spanish phrase or response, and if I feel so inclined, write in brackets in English what it was that I said, because I assume the majority of my readers might not know Spanish, and I think it would benefit them if I let them know what it was I was saying. I don’t really see how the original New Testament writings doing something similar is that puzzling or hard evidence it was tongues Jesus spoke.
The same question applies to the man brought to Jesus who “was deaf and spoke with difficulty,” Mark 7:32-34. Again Jesus speaks words that must be translated, “Ephphtha,” which means, “Be opened.” Again, why do we have a translation within a translation, if not to show Jesus spoke in tongues?
The first word of Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane was, “Abba.” According to Paul “Abba” is an utterance of the Spirit, Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6.
At this point I think it might just be boiling down to a matter of semantics. Now, I’m all about speaking in tongues (I wrote a book about the subject, after all!), but I’m not sure this passage or the reference in Romans 8:15 is a really good point to use to prove glossolalia. For example, he also says “Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3), but I’m willing to assume you don’t take that passage to determine Paul is referring to speaking in tongues.
Inspired speech can also be any type of speech that also happens to be in the native tongue of the speaker or the hearer, and is not limited to being glossolalia. Inspired speech is not ipso de facto glossolalia. Many would agree that prophetic utterances can also be “utterances of the Spirit.” At this point is just becomes semantics, in my humble opinion.
Then there are the words of Christ on the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” Mark 15:34. Jesus quotes a familiar passage of Scripture, Psalm 22:1, and learned men who know the Scriptures are present, the chief priests and scribes (v. 31), and mistakenly think He is calling for Elijah (v. 35), because they do not understand what He is saying. This is the biblical definition for tongues, “For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries,” 1 Corinthians 14:2.
Again I urge you to consult studied exegetes. I commend your willingness to address an often misunderstood and controversial subject from a biblical standpoint.
Be blessed, brother!
While I agree with you that when one speaks in tongues they are speaking to God, but I don’t believe that means everything one speaks directly to God automatically must be speaking in tongues. For this reason I’m not sure your passage in Mark 15:34 of Christ speaking out to His Father is automatically somehow tongues by virtue of the fact the onlookers mistook what he was doing. We’re told elsewhere in Scripture that he spoke plainly about being raised in three days and people somehow thought he was talking about destroying and rebuilding the Jewish temple. Nothing about tongues.
You suggested I needed to consult exegetes, but nobody who’s answered my question on this matter has yet given me the same conclusion you have posited. One individual, who asked me to clean up his response if I used it in a blog post and not mention his name had to say on the matter when he wrote me back:
Most citizens of the time were at least bilingual and maybe even trilingual, even the lower classes: Aramaic, Greek, and to a lesser degree Hebrew, the more educated might have known Latin also. Greek was the language of common interpersonal discourse. I don’t think there is any significance at all [about it being glossolalia]. That a Greek translation (Scriptures) quotes an ipissima verba of Jesus in Aramaic is just being specific of what he said, especially if the reference is to Scripture that the Greek/Gentile hearers would have had no exposure . . . ” Jesus said this in ‘Aramaic’ which means”. . . is simply narrative of the story. Nothing about tongues.
Further elaborating on this idea of Jesus saying things in Aramaic that the Gospel writers included and translated for their readers, I found an interesting article further suggesting a simpler and more likely explanation:
In the other passage, Mark 15:34, we have the Christ quoting Psalm 22:1 in Aramaic. Aramaic was a common language known to the Jews in the area. There remains some dispute as to whether it was the primary language of the Jews at that time…But it seems certain that the Jews in Galilee and Jerusalem would have known Aramaic. In fact, Peter was called “Cephas,” an Aramaic name.1
After Judah was taken captive to Babylon in 586 B.C., they lived in a country and among a people who spoke Aramaic. When they came back from captivity, Aramaic remained a common language of the area. Even after the time of Jesus, one of the great Jewish writings, the Talmud, known as the Babylonian Talmud, was written in Aramaic.
So, given that the phrase is an Aramaic phrase and given the parallels we find between this passage and Mark 15:34, it is more likely that the author was simply providing for the Greek readers (the book of Mark was originally written in Greek) the actual Aramaic words spoken by Jesus.
I personally find the author’s response at the above link to make much more sense. Whether Jesus spoke in tongues or did not, I don’t feel is something either of us can prove or disprove. As you know, I’m a strong advocate for speaking in tongues and for it being a gift for everybody. But if I were to attempt to prove Jesus spoke in tongues a man baptized in the Spirit, I wouldn’t personally use the above passages you cited as the ones I’d use to attempt to prove it.
Thank you once again for not only reading my book, and not only reaching out to me to let you know you did, but also for taking the time to write me a carefully crafted and thought-out comment that I don’t take lightly, even if I’m not in full agreement with your suggestions.
While I don’t take a hard stance one way or the other about whether Jesus spoke in tongues (he could have!) I personally am not persuaded that these instances of Aramaic speech being cited in Greek Scripture are the decisive proof to claim that he did.
Thanks for giving me some food for thought!
Blessings and fire on your head,
Check out my other posts and podcast episodes about Speaking in Tongues.