Is "Ecstasy" Involved When One Speaks In Tongues? (and I don't mean the drug!)4
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.