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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Speaking in Tongues

Don Stewart :: Were Those Who Spoke in Tongues in an Ecstatic, Uncontrolled State?

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Were Those Who Spoke in Tongues in an Ecstatic, Uncontrolled State?

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues – Question 2

One of the issues surrounding the gift of speaking in tongues was the emotional and physical state of the person who exercised the gift. Was the person actually in an uncontrolled state of frenzy, or was the speaker in control of his or her senses?

According to Some, Tongue Speakers Were in a State of Ecstasy

Some Bible translations translate speaking in tongues as speaking in ecstasy. This gives the impression that those who spoke in tongues were in an uncontrolled state. Tongue speaking is equated with emotional outbursts that were not in the control of the speaker.

The Crowd at Pentecost Thought They Were Drunk

The response of the crowds at Pentecost is used to support this idea. When they heard the disciples of Jesus speaking in tongues they assumed they were drunk. The Bible records their response as follows.

But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine” (Acts 2:13 ESV).

This seems to indicate that they were not in control of their senses.

Peter assured the crowd that they were not drunk. He said the following to the crowd that had gathered.

For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day (Acts 2:15 ESV).

The fact that the crowd on the Day of Pentecost thought that the disciples were drunk supposedly shows that they were in an uncontrolled state at the time they were speaking in tongues.

Paul Warned about Unbelievers Thinking the Corinthians Were Crazy

Paul’s exhortation to the church at Corinth is also used to support the idea of tongues being uncontrollable.

Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? (1 Corinthians 14:23 NASB).

Unbelievers would assume the people to be crazy because they were all in an uncontrolled state. This gives further support to the idea that these people were not in control of their senses.

Response to the Belief That Tongues Was Uncontrolled Ecstatic Talk

The idea that speaking in tongues in the New Testament was some type of frenzied, uncontrolled utterances on the part of the people is not what the Scripture teaches. The Bible says the following things about speaking in tongues in the New Testament.

The Greek Word, Translated Ecstasy, Never Speaks of Someone in an Uncontrolled State

The Greek noun ekstasis and verb eksistami, from where we get the English word “ecstasy,” are found in the New Testament. The word can mean “amazement” or “astonishment.” In other contexts it can have the idea of someone being in a trance. It never has the idea of someone being in an uncontrolled or frenzied state.

The word has the idea of amazement or astonishment. The word is used of the response of the people who saw Jesus bring a twelve-year-old girl back to life. We read.

Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement [ecstasy] (Mark 5:42 NKJV)

In this case, the people were astonished to see this miracle of Jesus.

The word is used to describe the response of the crowd to a man whom Peter healed.

And they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement [ecstasy] at what had happened to him (Acts 3:10 NRSV).

Here the people were amazed at what had occurred.

The Word Can Have the Idea of a Trance

There are two places in the New Testament where the word is translated as “trance.” The word is used to describe what happened to Peter when he was praying in the city of Joppa. Scripture says the following.

I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me (Acts 11:5 NKJV)

Peter received a message from the Lord when he was in this state of ecstasy. During this state of ecstasy, or trance, Peter was able to communicate with the Lord. In other words, he was in control of his senses.

Paul spoke of being in a state of ecstasy, or trance, while he was praying. He gave the following testimony recorded in the Book of Acts.

When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance (Acts 22:17 ESV).

Paul, too, received a message from the Lord when he was in this ecstatic state. In neither case where this word means trance, do we find Peter or Paul in some uncontrolled, frenzied state. They were able to understand the message the Lord had for them as well as communicate their own rational feelings.

The Word Is Never Used of Those Who Spoke in Tongues

While the word translated “ecstasy” is used in the New Testament, it is never used of those who practiced tongue-speaking. However, it is used of those who observed the phenomena. We read of this in the Book of Acts.

And they were astounded and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?... And they were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, “What could this be?” (Acts 2:7, 12 HCSB).

In this context the word means “amazed.” Those who heard the disciples speak praises to the Lord in their own dialect were amazed that these Galileans were able to do such a thing. Again, the word has nothing to do with the idea of out of control or frenzied.

Tongue-Speakers Are Self-Controlled

Scripture makes it clear that those who spoke with tongues were in control of their selves. In other words, they have not worked themselves up into some type of ecstatic frenzy.

At Pentecost, a large crowd gathered after the believers spoke with tongues. Peter then stood up and explained what happened.

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words” (Acts 2:14 ESV).

There is no indication that he and the other disciples were in some uncontrolled frenzied state before he eloquently spoke to the crowd.

Nothing Indicates an Uncontrolled State

In the other instances where tongue speaking is recorded, Caesarea and Ephesus, there is nothing that indicates those who spoke with tongues were in an uncontrollable state. Indeed, there is no evidence whatsoever. The same holds true for the situation at Corinth. Paul wrote about the ability of the tongue-speaker to exercise self-control

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 ESV).

This passage makes it clear the tongue speaking is self-controlled by the speaker. The speaker is able to keep silent if there is no interpreter. Paul did not say that the people in the church had to force the person to become silent. The tongue speaker was able to control his tongue-speaking if he were exercising the God-given spiritual gift.

Therefore, any uncontrollable tongue-speaking is certainly not directed by the Holy Spirit. If a believer does speak in tongues in an uncontrolled state, then they are misusing the gift.

Self Control Is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit

Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote the following to the Galatians about what the fruit of the Spirit consists of.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23 NASB).

Speaking in tongues is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The gifts are to build up the body of Christ as well as produce the fruit of the Spirit in those who exercise them. One fruit of the Spirit is self-control.

Therefore, the idea that tongue-speaking was some uncontrolled frenzied state is not found in Scripture.

Summary – Question 2
Were Those Who Spoke in Tongues in an Ecstatic Uncontrolled State?

There are some people who understanding tongue–speaking to be ecstatic utterances with the speaker in an uncontrolled state. They support this contention in a number of ways.

First, there is the word ecstasy itself. It of course, has the idea of someone being in an uncontrolled state of being. If tongues are ecstatic utterances then it seems to follow that the speakers themselves were in a state of ecstasy.

They also note the response to the crowd of the tongue–speaking on the day of Pentecost. These people thought the disciples of Jesus were drunk. This seems to indicate they were in an uncontrolled state.

Paul’s statement to the Corinthians is also cited as further evidence. He said that unbelievers would think believers were crazy if they all spoke with tongues. These examples seem to support the idea that

those who spoke in tongues were in a frenzied state of ecstasy.

However this is not the case. While the word ecstasy is found in the New Testament it is never used of those who spoke with tongues. Indeed, there is no evidence whatsoever that those who spoke in tongues were unable to control themselves while they were exercising this gift. In other words, we should not assume that the Holy Spirit seized these people to the place where they spoke in some sort of uncontrollable frenzy. This is not what happened.

Indeed, there is no biblical example of tongue–speakers being in an uncontrolled state. To the contrary it is clear the people were always in control of their senses.

The Bible makes it plain that those who speak in tongues can control themselves at all times. Paul emphasized this when he gave the rules for speaking in tongues to the Corinthians. Any uncontrolled tongue–speaking is not Spirit–led.

Indeed, the gifts of the Spirit are given to produce the fruit of the Spirit. One of the fruits is self-control. Speaking in a frenzied uncontrollable state is not an example of self-control!

Therefore anyone who speaks in tongues in a biblical manner will be in control at all times.

What Is the Gift of Speaking in Tongues? ← Prior Section
Why Do Some Believe the Gift of Tongues Has Ceased? Next Section →
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