Studying Tongues

Tongues of Fire at PentecostRead this New York Times article about speaking in tongues and you might reconsider the practice–whether you’re for or against it. The results are far from conclusive, but researchers discovered that when practitioners spoke in tongues, their “frontal lobes — the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do — were relatively quiet, as were the language centers.” The study also supports the Pentecostal/Charismatic contention that speaking in tongues differs sharply from other spiritual practices: “The new findings contrasted sharply with images taken of other spiritually inspired mental states like meditation, which is often a highly focused mental exercise, activating the frontal lobes.”

[H/t to Tim Challies and Alex Chediak]


9 thoughts on “Studying Tongues”

  1. wow. that never happens to me when I speak in tongues. LOL I have a video with scientists and doctors discussing glossalalia too

  2. I accidently clicked “submit” twice. Ever heard the Rodney Howard Browne / Kenneth Copeland “dueling” tongues match? ha ha ha

  3. This looks like an interesting study. I do have some questions though. The study states that the “frontal lobes…were reletively quite, as were the language centers.” Does “reletively quite” imply that “tongues-speech” is to be understood as a noncognitive utterance? If this is in fact the implication, it goes against the common use of the word “tongue.” The word “tongue” (glossa) always refers to a cognitive utterance, even when the speech cannot be understood (Carson, Showing the Spirit, 81; Turner, “Spiritual Gifts Then and Now,” 18).

    I also have questions about one of the comments by one of the participants of the study. She said, “You’re really not out of control. But you have no control over what is happening.” Well which is it? Out of control, or in control? Scripture appears to teach that the tongue speaker is in full control. Paul’s limitations on the use of the gift suggests as much (see 1 Cor 14:27, 28). Particularly his limitation concerning how many are permitted to speak in tongues at one meeting (see Carson, Showing the Spirit, 118-119).

    I do hope this study proves to shed light on the gift of tongues. Nevertheless, no matter what the findings may show our authority on the issue is Scripture, not a scientific study, nor a personal testimony or experience. Such things should be taken into account, but where they differ with Scripture they must be discarded.

  4. I agree with you, Keith. I’m back to the Wesleyan quadrilateral whenever something like this comes up. Scripture must be our foundation, not our last resort or a useful reference tool. The role of tradition is important too, though the record there is somewhat spotty.

    My main interest in the study is its genuinely unbiased approach.

    But the cognitive disconnect suggested makes me a little uncomfortable. Okay, it makes me a lot uncomfortable. Out-of-control utterances, so-called ecstatic speech, aren’t so much Christian phenomena, are they? I know the more extreme factions of the P/C movement get into this a fair amount (the growling and such present at the Toronto Vineyard comes to mind). And the study doesn’t suggest trancelike behavior (which I sometimes saw in my youth).

    Anyway, it’s interesting.

  5. Jamie, this is an interesting article; have you read “Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief” by Andrew newberg (the one who did this study)? I highly recommend it–while he does not necessarily draw theological conclusions, he presents sound science that is thought-provoking. I’d love to discuss it with you sometime (I went a round or two with Paul Oxley on the subject–rather talk with you about it!). I’ll loan it out if anyone else wants to read it.

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