An organ of the body playing a prominent role in tasting and in speech. What is commonly called taste results from reactions of the taste buds plus the aroma detected by the sense of smell. More important, the tongue is also essential to speech, because articulation of words requires active maneuvering on its part, which it does with dexterity and remarkable speed.—See MOUTH (The Palate).
In Bible usage, “tongue” often stands for “language.” (Ge 10:5; De 28:49; Isa 28:11; Ac 2:4; 19:6; 1Co 12:10; see LANGUAGE.) Or, at times, it refers to a people speaking a certain language.—Isa 66:18; Re 5:9; 7:9; 13:7.
Jesus’ half brother James vividly describes the power exercised by the tongue and the need for the Christian to exercise great care to use it properly. He points out that failure to bridle the tongue can be a factor in causing one’s worship to be futile. (Jas 1:26) He likens the tongue to a fire that can destroy a forest. The unbridled tongue can be influenced by destructive forces and can bring about such a great quantity or extent of unrighteousness that it can contaminate the individual’s entire life. It can be poisonous, spiritually, to oneself and to others. It cannot be tamed by man’s own efforts; nor can any imperfect human be completely exempt from ‘stumbling in word.’ (Jas 3:2-8) But the taming of this unruly organ of the imperfect human flesh is not impossible for the Christian, for by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness through Christ a person can bridle his tongue and can make over his personality.—Jas 3:10-18; 1Pe 3:10; Col 3:9, 10; compare Ps 34:13; 39:1.
In harmony with James’ description of the tongue, the writer of Proverbs says that the calmness of the tongue can be “a tree of life.” On the other hand, a distortion in it can mean “a breaking down in the spirit”; death and life are in its power. (Pr 15:4; 18:21) “A mild tongue itself can break a bone,” in that a person hard as bone may be softened by a mild answer and break down in his hardness and opposition. (Pr 25:15) In fact, the tongue can heal in a spiritual way if it speaks the words of God. (Pr 12:18) “From Jehovah is the answer of the tongue,” for only he can provide spiritually correct words that result in healing. (Pr 16:1) The Scriptures foretold the spiritual healing from Jesus’ ministry as he spoke God’s words, ‘binding up the brokenhearted.’—Isa 61:1.
Jehovah emphasizes how he views the badness of the false tongue, listing it as one of the seven things that he hates, placing it alongside “hands that are shedding innocent blood.” (Pr 6:16-19) David describes the wicked as attempting to destroy God’s servant with a ‘tongue sharpened just like a sword,’ but he points out that actually God will see to it that they themselves are wounded, for “their tongue is against their own selves.” (Ps 64:3, 7, 8) Jehovah promises his people: “Any tongue at all that will rise up against you in the judgment you will condemn.” (Isa 54:17) This is comforting to God’s servants, who stick to his law even though those considered wise in the world may speak great things and say: “With our tongue we shall prevail.” (Ps 12:3-5) They may “keep sticking out the tongue” and striking with the tongue (Isa 57:4; Jer 18:18), but their failure is certain.—Pr 10:31.
Jehovah promised to make tongues that formerly were stammering “quick in speaking clear things” and to cause speechless tongues to “cry out in gladness.” (Isa 32:4; 35:6) When Jesus was on earth, he healed literally speechless persons, or those with some speech impediment. (Mr 7:33-37) The time will come when every tongue will speak right things, for Jehovah declares that every tongue will swear to him. The apostle Paul reveals that this will be done through Jesus Christ, when he says that every tongue will “openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”—Php 2:11; Isa 45:23; Ro 14:11.
Jehovah symbolically describes himself as having a tongue that he will use in his anger, “like a devouring fire.” (Isa 30:27) At Pentecost, when Jesus Christ poured out holy spirit on some 120 disciples gathered in a room in Jerusalem, that spirit was made manifest audibly by their speaking in different tongues and visibly by a tongue as if of fire sitting upon each one of them.—Ac 2:3, 4.