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Often in an effort to discredit the contemporary practice of speaking and praying in tongues, some will insist that it is an ecstatic experience in which a person yields to some overwhelming power that induces an altered state of consciousness or some form of chaotic religious frenzy. Regardless of what Montanus and his followers did in the early church, and regardless of what some on the far fringes of the pentecostal world might do in their purported exercise of this spiritual gift, we need to examine what the New Testament says.

So, let me ask again: Is tongues-speech an ecstatic experience? It’s important to remember that the New Testament never uses the term ecstasy to describe speaking in tongues. Never. It is found in some English translations but is not in the Greek text. Many define ecstatic as a mental or emotional state in which the person is more or less oblivious to the external world. The individual is perceived as losing self-control, perhaps lapsing into a frenzied condition in which self-consciousness and the power for rational thinking are eclipsed.

There is no indication anywhere in the Bible that people who speak in tongues lose self-control or become unaware of their surroundings. In fact, when Paul describes how tongues is to be used in the corporate assembly of the church, he gives instructions that indicate the speaker is fully aware of his/her surroundings and is in complete control of this spiritual gift.

Note first of all that Paul believed he was capable of making an informed and controlled decision as to when and where he exercised this gift. He makes it clear that he will only speak in tongues in the gathered assembly if there is interpretation (1 Cor. 14:18-19). He gives no indication that he might somehow be seized and fall into an ecstatic trance wherein his cognitive and volitional faculties are suspended.

The most explicit evidence that tongues were not ecstatic is found in 1 Corinthians 14:27-28,

“If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God” (1 Corinthians 14:27-28).

Obviously, Paul believed that the tongues-speaker would be aware of how many had spoken and that he/she had to wait their “turn” in order that someone might interpret. He also believed that the one speaking in tongues had the power of will to “keep silent” in the absence of an interpreter. None of this makes sense if the speaker lost cognitive control and lapsed into a frenzied state of being.

The parallel with those who prophesy is also instructive. In 1 Corinthians 14:32 Paul says that “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” If those who are gifted prophetically can control the exercise of their gift, then it stands to reason that those who speak in tongues likewise can do so.

Finally, we need to remember that there is a vast difference between an experience being ecstatic and it being emotional. Tongues are often a highly emotional and exhilarating experience, bringing peace, joy, etc., but that does not mean they are ecstatic.


Dwayne, I am merely a fellow reader, but maybe I can help you, at the risk of being one of those annoying people who chime in when it is not wanted.

1 Corinthians 12-14 answers a couple of your questions already.

1. Does the one speaking in tongues know what the interpretation is? 1 Cor 14:13-14 indicates the answer is "no".

2. Is the interpretation of tongues a gift? 1 Cor 12:4-11 talks about gifts given and v10 lists interpretation of tongues as one of them.

3. Who can confirm that the interpretation is correct? I would say it's a matter of circumstantial evidence. On TV if a person speaks in another language with an interpreter, unless you can understand the other language, you are left to conclude that you are getting an accurate interpretation. However, in the same way people speaking out in tongues can have a sense that there is an interpretation, there can also be a sense that the interpretation is not right. In the end, however, the interpretation of tongues functions as prophecy and should be judged as such (1 Cor 14:29), regardless whether it actually is an interpretation of the tongues or not.

4. Can you have two interpreters at once and could they get different interpretations? Yes, I think you could have two interpreters, but their interpretations should not be different. (In fact, if they were the same, that would be one way to conclude that the interpretation was correct). If they are different, then at least one is incorrect. Regardless, both should be treated as prophecy and judged as such. (1 Cor 14:29)

5. Does the tongues speaker have to ask if there is an interpreter present before they speak? There is nothing explicit in Scripture about this. I had a friend pass a similar question on to me a while ago and I put an answer on my blog. Very short answer: Not necessarily. The Spirit can let the speaker know if there is an interpretation in the wings. But none of this is cut and dried. Someone may have an interpretation but be too scared to speak it out. Or the tongues speaker may get it wrong and there is no interpretation. How to deal with that in a meeting without shaming or discouraging people and yet being responsible to follow the instruction not to speak if there is no interpretation is a pastoral issue, which, again, I addressed elsewhere. I won't link to it here, because you came to read Sam Storms, not me, and perhaps Sam will be able to respond as he has time.

As for your last question, well...that's one I'm not really in a position to chime in on.

Dr. Storms,
Thank you for this article and the many others on spiritual gifts. Your careful attention to the details of text are much needed. especially in light of those who claim that continuationists reach their conclusions based on mere feeling and/or presupposition.

As one who rather recently has come to believe in the continuation of the gift of tongues and other miraculous gifts, I still have so many questions and fears. Concerning tongues and receiving the gift of tongues, many say that the Spirit gives the utterance yet you have to do the actual speaking. They claim that there will often be a sort of "welling-up" of syllables or phrases that you then step out in faith and speak. I believe this is basically how you describe your own experience in your book on spiritual gifts (which I greatly appreciate). In light of your comments that tongues is not an ecstatic experience, how should we view those who claim that they received the gift in a dramatic way, namely, they passed out on the floor and woke up speaking in an unknown tongue? Should we allow room for the Spirit to grant the gift in this way?

Also, would you say that when the Spirit gives the utterance that it is very distinguishable from an inner compulsion? I know many charismatics claim that one simply has to come the point where he or she exercises faith that the language is indeed of the Spirit, regardless of where syllables are coming from. I suppose this is one of those "I want to make sure I have the real thing" questions.


What is your interpretation and practice of this passage?

1 Cor 11:3-15 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. 5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake. 10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.

Does the one speaking in tongues know what the interpretation is? Is the interpretation of tongues a gift? (scripture refence please). Who can confirm that the interpretation is correct? Can you have two interpreters at once and could they get different interpretations? Does the tongues speaker have to ask if there is an interpreter present before they speak? How does your theology in this area match up John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and S. Lewis Johnson?

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