Not only did the church not have to explain a new phenomenon, but they were simply able to employ a term already in use to describe a relatively widespread and known practice, with the term adequately conveying, for the Christians, the same information it would have conveyed on behalf of non-Christians---speaking in tongues while possessed by a god. Glossolalia did not describe something new that originated with or in the church, but was merely adopted and adapted by Christians, as an accepted religious practice for many that was already full of meaning and richly symbolic.
It is undeniable that what can be seen in the church today bears a heavy resemblance (identical?) to the occurrences of ecstatic tongues that took place in these ancient cults well before the day of Pentecost, to which is generally looked as the time of the outpouring of the Spirit that has, since then, enabled the ecstatic speech of Christians, though there are marked differences between both Christian, non-Christian, and pre-Christian speaking in tongues from what is recorded in the second chapter Acts.
In all cases of speaking in tongues, based upon the facts of history, the one performing the action is said to be doing so under the influence of their god. It cannot be said enough that speaking in tongues is not a uniquely Christian practice by any means. A large number of studies have revealed the fact that speaking in tongues is present in non-Christian religions all around the world. It is practiced quite distinct from the church in China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Siberia, Arabia, and Burma, just to name a few locations. Glossolalia can be heard among Eskimos, in Japanese séances on the island of Hokkaido, from the shamans of the Zar cult in Ethiopia, in Haitian Voodoo, and quite extensively in African tribal religions. In each case it functions differently for the group, though it will generally sound the same.
With an understanding that speaking in tongues was present in Paul’s world and elsewhere before Pentecost, attention can now be turned to one of the most important societal constructs in the world of Paul’s day, which is the construct of honor and shame. It was the system of honor and shame that governed relationships in the ancient world. One that was desirous of pursuing honor, while also being able to function at an honor-pursuit level within society (not a child, woman, slave, leper, etc…), would take great pains to perform public actions that would not be damaging to one’s accrued honor, while carefully avoiding activities or associations that would tend to bring shame. Honor equaled prestige in the ancient world. Honor was also considered to be a limited good, in that if one gained honor for themselves, it came at the expense of another person’s honor. More honor for one equated to more shame (or simply less honor) for another, and one could certainly gain honor for self by shaming another person. Speaking in tongues was certainly a component of this system.
This system of social interaction and order can be seen to have been at work in the records of the life and ministry of Jesus. When Jesus is challenged, in addition to these challenges being akin to rabbinic debates, they are also contests of honor and shame. If His challengers can defeat Him through their questions, thereby asserting their superiority or demonstrating potential flaws in His reasoning or grasp of the law, then they will have shamed Him while gaining honor for themselves. This shaming could very well have served to stem the tide of His kingdom movement. However, Jesus, who attracted crowds and prestige, did not seek honor for Himself. He as presented as one that accrued honor but did not seem to care for the workings of the system. In fact, He is presented as being only concerned with His Father’s honor.