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Is the Interpretation of Tongues the Same as Prophecy? — Charisma Magazine


This study was carried out to examine the concept of speaking in tongues in Pentecostal Churches in Nigeria, using selected denominations in Lagos State as the case study. There are much confusion and controversy in our churches today about the phenomenon known as speaking in tongues. Some claim that the gift of speaking in tongues continues in our time as the Holy Spirit miraculously moves persons to speak in a language they had never learned. Other believers are convinced that the Scriptures leave no room for the continuation of that special gift beyond the founding era of the Apostolic church. To worsen it all pagans abound in such ecstatic utterances and are convinced they are from God. The objective of this paper is to investigate both the use and abuse of speaking in tongues. Historical and exegetical methods were used. Data were gathered through primary and secondary sources. The study found out that speaking in tongues was miraculously used by God at Pentecost and in the earliest churches in the apostolic era. But there were distinguishing features that marked it out from the psychological phenomenon found among pagans. In our contemporary church in Nigeria, the only way to test the source is by comparison with what God explains in his word about the purpose and occasion for the legitimate manifestation.

                                                   CHAPTER ONE


1.1 Background of the Study

Speaking in tongues is one controversial subject in most Christian denominations in the world, as it values, benefits and practice are been questioned by many other religion. There are clear evidences in the bible on the benefits of praying in tongues and one is to profoundly communicate with God while confusing the devil with speaking in a different tongue. Wherever the Pentecostal movement or church is found the subject of speaking in tongues comes to the fore. Pentecostals differ, however, as to what role speaking in tongues play in worship and in the church as a whole. Sundkler postulates that “Pentecostal churches whether they are led by Europeans or Africans are definite on the gifts of speaking with tongues. The baptism of believers in the Holy Ghost is indicated by the initial physical sign of speaking with tongues, as the Spirit of God gives them utterance (Sundkler, 2010). Horton (2011) supports this when he also writes “it is inconceivable that a supernatural experience like the baptism should exist without distinctive supernatural evidence. A tongue is that necessary evidence and these statements clearly support the idea that tongues must accompany baptism in the Spirit. Pentecostals consider the events on the Day of Pentecost (Act 2) as repeatable in terms of the promise that the gift of the Spirit was for the attendees and their offspring (Act2:39) as part of their hermeneutics that reads Acts as a model for the church today (Menzies 2016). They argue that speaking in tongues serves as precedent and archetype of Spirit baptism (Mittelstadt 2010) but also as repeatable evidence of the Holy Spirit’s continued presence (Synan 2011).

Speaking in tongues do play an important role in the Pentecostal Movement in order to sensitive the believer to the promptings of the Spirit, to give confidence to witness, and provide power to live a holy life (in the language of pioneers like Taylor [2010] and Haywood [2011]). However, it is argued here that the claim that the events during the Day of Pentecost should be repeated and replicated in the modern church is only valid if the tongues of Acts 2 can be proved to be identical with the tongues in 1 Corinthians 12–14 and contemporary experience. Larry Christianson, a Lutheran pastor, stressed strongly the significance of speaking with tongues for personal prayer life and found in it a source of spiritual refreshment but he refused accepting that speaking in tongues is the only sign of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues, singing praises to God, dancing for the Lord and declaring the mighty acts of God are distinctive in Pentecostal churches around the world. In the words of Ojo (2018:77), there is no doubt that Pentecostalism has awakened in Nigerians an eagerness for spiritual life in the secular world, and a desire for an experiential communion with God in prayers. People are now giving serious attention to their prayer life.

Pentecostalism, according to Achunike (2004:95-96), is noted for encouraging a spirituality that abhors confinement and standardization, while provoking an intimate experience of the Holy Spirit.

Many Nigerians are now after a spirituality that is manifested in power since seeing is believing. The power is proof of the validity and authenticity of the religious life of an individual. In this context, Achunike observes that: “People are looking for men of God and Spiritual masters and the results their encounter with these men of God will yield for them.” To this end, religious pragmatism is becoming a feature of spirituality and prayer in Nigeria (Achunike 2004:99). The Charismatic Renewal is usually associated with the belief that there is another important experience after the conversion experience called the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is believed to impact a dynamic spirituality in the lives of believers. Indeed, there are pieces of evidences and testimonies to affirm this fact. The events in Acts 2 and similar passages in chapters 10 and 19 form the basis of the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Allan Anderson has remarked on the primacy of religious experience associated with the Holy Spirit and charismatic gifts as the foundation for Pentecostal spirituality through the ages (Anderson 2004:19,38).

The Holy Spirit baptism, according to O’Donovan (1996:128), has the power to change people’s character and behaviour, and to help them become more and more like Christ since that is a supernatural act of God which makes us part of the church. As a result, the church can effectively oppose the evil work of demons through her prayers and by using the weapons of spiritual warfare. The supernatural tongue is a means by which the Holy Spirit witnessed to Israel on the day of Pentecost (2:4-13; 10:45, 47; 19:6). They were a sign of the truth that Jesus was the Messiah and an indication of the new age of the spirit in which Christians speak in a language they have never learned (Acts 2:4; 1Cor 14:14-15). It may be in existing spoken human languages (Acts 2:6) or in languages unknown on earth (1Cor 13:1) which is still valid for us today. It is not “ecstatic speech,” as rendered in some translations, for the Bible never uses the term “ecstatic utterance” to refer to “speaking in tongues”.

BBC - Religions - Christianity: Pentecostalism

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The contemporary Pentecostal churches today has divided over many issues ranging from the tussle for power, doctrinal differences on issues like the pattern of speaking in tongue, baptism, tithing, worship, dress code and holy communion. What confuses most believers is how all this things has it foundations and roots from the bible yet Christians are easily divided by them based on different interpretations. From the scriptures, most Christians connect speaking in tongues with the initial evidence of the baptism in the spirit, while others reject such idea. Some regard it as “a thing of the past”, arguing that speaking in tongues, like some other miraculous gifts, ceased to exist after the bible was completed. Consequently, it is easy to get lost among the variety of opinions and interpretations. The primary concern of this present study is not speaking in tongues generally, but one specific issue in connection to it: can Christians in church speak simultaneously in different tongue, or must they speak one by one? Namely, believers in Pentecostal churches in the context of worship and prayer often practice simultaneous praying or singing together in different tongues. Critics then points to Acts and 1st Corinthians 14 claiming that, yes, believers in Acts 2 were speaking simultaneously in tongues, but their speech was understood by bystanders in 1st Corinthians 14. Apostle Paul specifically proclaim that those who have gift of tongue must speak “one by one”. Does this mean that there are two different and opposite teachings regarding speaking in tongues?

Surprise: The African Church Is Not Very Charismatic | Christianity Today

1.3 Aims/Objectives of the Study

The primary aim of this study is to examine the concept of speaking in tongues in Pentecostal churches in Nigeria. The specific objectives are:

  1. To examine the nature of speaking in tongues in Pentecostal churches in Nigeria.
  2. To examine speaking in tongues as a major source of conflict among Pentecostal churches in Nigeria.
  3. To examine the impact of speaking in tongues on the spiritual life of the members Pentecostal churches in Nigeria.
  4. To examine the roles of speaking in tongues in Pentecostal churches in Nigeria.
  5. To examine speaking in tongues as a spiritual gift in Pentecostal churches in Nigeria.
  6. To suggest ways to address the extremes of this phenomenon in Pentecostal churches in Nigeria.


The following selected questions were carefully formulated to guide the study;

  1. Are there possible ways to address the conflicts that persist in Pentecostal churches in Nigeria as a result of speaking in tongues?
  2. Is speaking in tongues a major source of conflict in the Pentecostal churches in Nigeria?
  3. Does speaking in tongues impacts on the spiritual lives of Christians in Pentecostal churches?
  4. What are the roles of speaking in tongues in Pentecostal churches in Nigeria?
  5. Is speaking in tongues a divine gifts according to the doctrine of Pentecostal churches in Nigeria?
  6. What are the ways to address the extremes of this phenomenon in Pentecostal churches in Nigeria?

1.5 Research Hypotheses

H0: There is no impact of speaking in tongues on the spiritual lives of members of Pentecostal churches in Nigeria.

H1: There is impact of speaking in tongues on the spiritual lives of members of Pentecostal churches in Nigeria.

 H0: speaking in tongues is not a divine gifts according to the doctrine of Pentecostal churches in Nigeria

H2: speaking in tongues is a divine gifts according to the doctrine of Pentecostal churches in Nigeria.

1.6 Significance of the Study

This study will be imperative and significant in the following ways:

The findings of the study will add to the body of literatures on the concept of speaking in tongues in churches.

The study will help appreciate and fully understand the essence of Pentecostalism in Nigeria as a branch of true Christianity. It will also provide a basis for members of other orthodox churches to study the doctrines of Pentecostal churches of Nigeria.

Finally, the study will serve as a resource base to other scholars and researchers who intend to carry out further studies in this field subsequently, and if applied will go a long way to avail new concepts for the topic.

1.7 Scope of the Study

The study is based on concept of speaking in tongues in Pentecostal churches in Nigeria, the study is particularly focused on some selected Pentecostal churches in Lagos State.

1.8 Limitations of the Study

Financial constraint– Insufficient fund tends to impede the efficiency of the researcher in sourcing for the relevant materials, literature or information and in the process of data collection (internet, questionnaire and interview).

Members Reluctance: In most cases the members of the selected churches often feels reluctance over providing required information required by the researcher. This result in finding information where the structured questionnaires could not point out.

Researcher’s Commitment: The researcher, being of full time student spent most of her time on other academic activities such as test, class work, assignment, examination etc which takes average focus from this study.

Inadequate Materials: Scarcity of material is also a major hindrance. The researcher finds it difficult to lay hands on several required material which could contribute immensely to the success of this research work.

1.8 Operational Definition of Terms

Speaking in tongues

Speaking in tongues, also known as glossolalia, is a practice in which people utter words or speech-like sounds, often thought by believers to be languages.


Pentecostalism is a form of Christianity that emphasises the work of the Holy Spirit and the direct experience of the presence of God by the believer. Pentecostals believe that faith must be powerfully experiential, and not something found merely through ritual or thinking. Pentecostalism is energetic and dynamic.


Church is a building that is used for Christian religious services, religious services are held in a church.


Christianity is a religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, as described in the New Testament. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament.




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