The Expository Files

Thoughts On Speaking In Tongues

The following request recently came to me:

Would you mind sharing your thoughts on 1 Corinthians 13:1; 14:2 and the issue of speaking in tongues. My brother is a Pentecostal, and we have discussed this issue (along with several other issues) at length. I have pointed out that tongues is being able to speak in other languages, which he agrees with but then he says it is also speaking in the tongue of angels - saying his spirit is speaking to God ­as he points out in the verses above. Can you offer some insight on the "tongues of angels" (13:1), and "For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries" (14:2)?

First, though Paul is using hyper­bolic (exaggerated) language to stress a point in 1 Corinthians 13:1­3, he gives no comfort to modern Pentecostalism. Men do have tongues, or languages (Acts 2:4, 6, 8, 11; 1 Cor. 13:1). Those tongues, or languages, are not incoherent, multi-syllable jibber jabber. Rather, they are coherent, comprehensible languages, as Acts 2 and 1 Cor­inthians 14 clearly show.

(Compare Cornelius and his household who spoke in tongues. Those present knew the languages spoken, for they knew they were magnifying God [Acts 10:46]. How­ever, they could not have known if they were magnifying or maligning God if they had not understood the languages. See 1 Corinthians 14:9, 16 -- "except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken. . . how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned ['the unlearned' one is simply the one who does not know the language spoken, LRH] say Amen at thy giv­ing of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?" Further, we know the languages spoken by Cornelius ["the Gentiles"] were understandable, for Peter said it reminded him of "the beginning" at Pentecost, and we know those languages were understood by those who heard them [Acts 2:4-11].)

Again, the tongues of men, the tongues men speak, are understandable, comprehendible. They are not "without signification" or meaning as are the vain babblings of Pentecostalism.

The same is true with the language of angels. Angels speak. They have a language or tongue (Rev. 5:2, 11, 12). It is not some sort of heavenly muttering or mumbling. Paul says though he could speak with the tongues of men and even of those of angels and did not have love, it would not profit him at all, spiritually speaking (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Throughout the book of Revelation, John heard and understood the speech of angels, and we can, too!

Second, as kindly as you can, explain to your brother that, if he is speaking and no one un­derstands him, he is violating what the Holy Spirit has said. The Spirit says that one who is not understood is to keep quiet (1 Cor. 14:9, 16, 17, 27, 28).

Again, the tongues of men, the tongues men speak, are understandable, comprehendible. They are not "without signification" or meaning as are the vain babblings of Pentecostalism.

"Yes, but what about 1 Corinthians 14:2?" The text says, "For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries." Let us break the passage down, take it apart, and put it back to­gether again.

1. What is "an unknown tongue"? It is any language one does not understand. Russian is an "unknown tongue" to most of our readers. Why? Because it is not understood by them, it is an "unknown tongue." Is it, therefore, an unintelligible, "heavenly, prayer" language? No! It is only "unknown" in the sense that we do not understand it, but it is a real language that Russians understand. Now, if I speak Russian in an American assembly, I will be speaking in an "unknown tongue."

2. Though it is a language of men, I will be speaking "not unto men, but unto God." Why? "For no man understandeth him." Note it, please! The text does not say I will be speaking in an unknown tongue because it is some kind of esoteric, ecstatic "prayer language"! No, I will be speaking "not unto men, but unto God: for no man" will understand what I am saying! See that point? It is essential that you do so in order to understand the passage.

3. Even though I may be speaking great things, great mysteries of the wisdom and testimony of God, it is all for nought so far as the audience is concerned "for no man understandeth" me. If I, by the Spirit, am miraculously enabled to speak Russian and then use that gift before an American audience, I may be speaking the most profound mysteries of the kingdom of God, but I speak them to God and not unto man, "for no man understandeth" me.

1 Corinthians 14, it must be remembered, stresses that the audience, the church, must receive "edification, and exhortation, and comfort" (v. 3). The purpose of the as­sembly is for "the edifying of the church. . . that all may learn and be comforted (vv. 12, 31). In fact, "Let all things be done unto edifying"; that is, do nothing that does not edify (v. 26).

However, these things cannot be accomplished if one speaks in a language no one understands. Such speeches are "into the air" (v. 9). They cause brethren to see one another as barbarians (unlearned, untaught, v. 11). One cannot "amen" the prayer of another, "seeing he understandeth not what thou say est" (v. 16). Too, if one speaks in a tongue that none understand, both the unlearned and the unbelievers will say, "ye are mad" (v. 23).

Those who speak in tongues that are not understood produce confusion. They do not produce learning, edifica­tion, comfort, and peace. Hence, they are not to speak to others if there is no interpreter. "If any man speak in an unknown tongue (remember, an unknown tongue is sim­ply a language not understood by the audience), let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God" (vv. 27, 28). Pentecostal churches violate these words of the Spirit every time they engage in what they call "tongues speaking." (1) They often speak all at once, not in order. (2) More than two or three speak, and (3) they make no pretense of having an interpreter, "inspired" or otherwise (and any "interpreter" they might have would be, "otherwise," for there are no such gifts today [Acts 8:18; 1 Cor. 13:8-10; cf. Mark 16:19, 20; Gal. 3:15; Heb. 2:3, 4]).

(Addendum: In a letter to the fellow above, I suggested that he seek to arrange a public discussion with his brother's Pentecostal preacher on Holy Spirit baptism and speaking in tongues. If there is any response, I will keep you in­formed.)

By Larry Ray Hafley
{From Truth Magazine, Sept. 18, 2003}
From Expository Files 10.11, November, 2003