What Does Speaking In Tongues Mean
In my previous article I wrote about how speaking in tongues (also called “glossolalia” or “ecstasis”) is not an evidence for God. But what does it mean if you believe that it’s from God? It seems simple enough — some Christians say they hear God speak through them, while others claim to see visions and signs like angels ascending and descending. What do these things really mean? How can we tell whether such experiences are real or imagined?
First of all, let’s define what speaking in tongues means. According to Wikipedia, “Glossalalia [sic] refers to the spontaneous verbal expression of language that cannot be understood by its speakers.” So, according to this definition, any sort of word that could be used to describe human language falls under the category of glossolalia. The same source says that glossolalists “believe that there are two kinds of gloSAlALia—one kind experienced during prayer, ecstasy or trance, and one kind that occurs naturally between friends.”
So, speaking in tongues has been described as something akin to normal conversation, but with no understanding on the part of the person who is doing it. Some people have even compared it to sleep talking — when someone talks in their sleep without being aware of it. Others compare it to the way infants babble before learning to talk. This type of behavior usually happens when someone is relaxed. For example, in a state of trance, a person may start babbling gibberish, seemingly unaware of what he or she is saying. Other times, however, a person will suddenly burst out in fluent speech that he or she doesn’t understand.
The first explanation of glossolalia was given by St. Paul. He said that those who were filled with divine power would sometimes experience ecstatic trances in which they would begin speaking in tongues. These experiences were temporary, lasting only long enough for them to receive revelation. During these revelatory moments, the person praying might feel sensations of heat or cold, tingling, trembling, fainting, dizziness, or other physical effects. Sometimes the person will seem to levitate off the ground. They may become so excited that they start dancing around. At other times, the person may start laughing wildly or singing, perhaps spontaneously composing new lyrics.
Some scholars think that glossolalia may have roots in shamanic practices in South America and Africa, where shamans use hallucinogenic drugs to induce altered states of consciousness. Shamanic practitioners dance in circles, sing songs, make animal noises, and yell at the top of their lungs. Many of the same behaviors attributed to glossolalists are common among shamans. Shamans also perform rituals involving fasting, sweat baths, whirling dervishes, drumming, invocations, incantations, offerings and prayers.
One argument against the idea that glossolalia comes from shamanism is that many Christian churches teach that glossolalia is demonic possession, rather than a sign of spirituality. Of course, most religions teach that there are demons, since evil exists. However, glossolalia is different because it appears to come from within the believer. If glossolalia is caused by demons, why don’t pagans and Muslims have similar experiences? Another argument goes along these lines: Even if glossolalia is caused by demons, there must still be a higher intelligence behind it. Why would a demon possess a person and then allow him or her to speak clearly and coherently? And finally, if glossolalia is caused by demons, why doesn’t everyone who prays end up possessed?
A third view holds that glossolalia is a manifestation of God. This position is held by some Pentecostals and Charismatics. According to this belief system, God gives each individual a special gift of prophecy, healing, and/or speaking in tongues. When a person receives this gift, he or she begins experiencing it regularly. Like other gifts, this one can be misused, causing harm to oneself or others.
Another view holds that speaking in tongues is actually a form of prayer. As mentioned earlier, some Christians believe that God speaks through them. People who hold this view say that glossolalia is simply a channel of communication between God and humanity. While this may sound reasonable, it raises another question. Is it possible that God could communicate with us more directly without using a medium? Couldn’t God just send us a message via radio waves, television signals or computer networks? Wouldn’t that be less complicated? Perhaps God thinks that our human brains aren’t capable of handling certain types of information. Or maybe God wants us to grow spiritually by practicing hearing Him through various forms of media.
People who hold the second view of speaking in tongues say that God uses glossolalia to help humans enter into a trance-like state. Those who pray in tongues are able to access spiritual realms beyond our own minds and bodies. One way of looking at this theory is to imagine that God creates a hologram, which shows images of Himself throughout time and space. By entering into a trance-like state, we’re able to perceive glimpses of this world. We can look at the past and the future, see other dimensions, and interact with beings from other worlds. This view explains why Jesus seemed to know everything going on around Him. It also helps explain why holy men and women had extraordinary powers. They entered into a trance-like state, allowing them to tap into supernatural forces.
This theory makes sense, but is it true? Most scientists doubt that God sends messages to individuals in order to change his creation. Rather, they argue that God communicates with us so we’ll create a better world. Theologians debate this issue, but no one is sure exactly what God wants from us. One thing is clear: There are no documented cases of anyone receiving direct instructions from God in a foreign language.
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