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When Paul spoke of speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14, was it a language that only God can understand?


1 Corinthians 14:2

ESV - 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.

Clarify (1) Share Report Asked November 07 2013 Photo Anthony Clinton

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Jeff3 Jeff Hammond
There are two types of "speaking in tongues".

The first is the initial sign of the coming of the Holy Spirit to equip a believer to be a more effective witness for Christ. 

Jesus said:
"You shall receive power (Greek: dunamis - dynamic ability) after that the Holy Spirit has come upon you. And you shall be My witnesses..."

We see this in Acts 2:1-11; Acts 10:44-46; Acts 19:6-7, where several people spoke in tongues as a sign of the infilling of the Holy Spirit's power. In Jerusalem, the hearers from 16 nations understood them in their own languages. It may have been similar at Caesarea since they testified that it happened like it did in Jerusalem. At Ephesus they were glorifying God - was that in tongues or in their own languages. That's not made clear. However, I have witnessed this happening in Indonesia where a 10 y.o. person spoke in clear English although not knowing any English. What is clear, is that these cases indicate, at least sometimes, proper "earthly" languages, spoken miraculously, that could be understood by at least some of the hearers.

In the context of 1 Corinthians 12-14, we see 9 specific gifts from the Holy Spirit distributed among the believers. Not everyone gets the same gift. Each of the 9 referred to has a 'normal' aspect as well as the 'supernatural' aspect. All should have knowledge, wisdom and faith. All can pray for the sick and prophecy. All should have discernment and be able to see miracles happen in their Christian walk. 

However there is a supernatural wisdom, knowledge, faith etc, given by the Holy Spirit for special circumstances, which only those who have that gift can use. See 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. They are divided among the believers so each is dependent upon the others. No-one has the lot!

As with the others, so with speaking in tongues. In the first use above, tongues was a sign of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the numbers were not limited. This is perhaps what Paul was referring to as his prayer language which he spoke more than all the Corinthians - not in church but on his knees at home.

In the church services it was another matter. The gift (one of the 9) of tongues was restricted to a maximum of three and had to be interpreted, 1 Corinthians 14:27-28. Why? Different from the prayer language tongues which is a man speaking the secrets of his heart to God (i.e. from man to God), the Gift of tongues is the opposite direction. It is a message from God to man and therefore must be interpreted. Otherwise, the speaker must keep quiet, or pray for the interpretation himself, 1 Corinthians 14:13.

Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 13:1 that there are "tongues of men and angels" and that the most important thing about their operation is the love of Christ. Any gift operating outside of His love's motivation is out of order. 

Even though Paul did not speak publicly in tongues, he did encourage everyone that they should speak in tongues, 1 Corinthians 14:5. Obviously it is of great advantage to a believer to be endued with the Holy Spirit's power to be an effective witness, but speaking in tongues is not the greatest. Paul even said that prophecy was greater, and of course above all is love. That doesn't mean we neglect the lesser, but the motivation of heart, Christ-like love must be preeminent.

Finally, tongues is not gibberish and fuzzy repetitive, meaningless sounds. It is "languages". The word "tongues" is old English. What is your mother tongue? 

True, biblical speaking in tongues is the sign of the exciting equipping of the Holy Spirit to empower a believer to be a dynamic witness for Christ. It is not a sign of superior spirituality, but it is a gifting the Lord has given and made accessible to believers as they follow Christ. We must not be satisfied with a copy-cat experience, but we really do need the "real thing"!

Some tongues will be understood, for a divine purpose. Some will not be understood, except by God, as it is the sharing of the secrets of the heart.

November 07 2013 11 responses Vote Up Share Report

Photo Anthony Clinton Teacher in China
1Co 14:18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 
1Co 14:19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. 

Now note the apostle after boasting that he spoke in tongues more than all in Corinthians explains he was not benefiting them speaking a language he did not himself understand. He does not say "I had rather speak five words in YOUR understanding" No he says "Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with MY understanding". So right here we find Paul distinguishing the tongues he spoke was not a language he understood. When he was teaching the Corinthians he would be teaching them in his understanding and their understanding. When he spoke in tongues it was not a language of his understanding at all. 

This is further explained in the beginning of the chapter. Noting verse 1Co 14:2 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. 

Clear as a bell here this tongue, "glossalalia" which the strongs concordance explains as "one naturally unnaquired" is a language that only God understands. This again in verse two is speaking mysteries unto God. The reason on it's own why it had no value to anyone but the speaker is because it edifies the speaker but not the hearer. How does it edify the speaker? Well there is no explanation as to how a language man utters that Only God understands edifies the speaker other than the Word of God says it does. I believe the indication as to why the speaker praying in a language only God understands, edifies him is further in the text.

1Co 14:13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. 
1Co 14:14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. 
1Co 14:15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. 

Now we know if the language spoken was only understood by God it would take another gift to interpret it. That would be the supernatural gift of interpretation. But the next 2 verses make it clear that a person prays and blesses God when they speak a language that only God understands except God gives them the ability to interpret it.

It's no wonder the apostle exhorted them all to seek to speak in this language that only God understood. It was a pure language of worship and prayer in the spirit and totally uncontaminated with human thoughts. Yet in the Church, the public gathering, they were to excel in prophecy teaching and preaching, revelation and doctrine that would edify all gathered together. 

In 1Cor 14 the context is setting the public worship in order, in 1Cor 12 it is the Unique function of the individual believer in the Body. So the 9 gifts there mentioned are unique ministries of individuals. This tongue gift is not the same as the one mentioned above. That gift is a prayer and worship language, the gift in ch 12 is the sign gift that is God calling attention to unbelievers as He did on the day of Pentecost. This distinction is clear from 

1Co 14:22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: 

This tongue I believe to be related to that unique ministry in ch 12. So the person speaks out and the hearer says "Wow I know this guy could not know my language but here I am hearing Him worship God in my language."Thus He realizes it is a sign from God and falls prostrate knowing God is in them truly. Paul urged them all to speak in tongues and not to forbid them that did.

November 07 2013 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Stringio Shankar Narayan
1 Co 14:18 thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: means: Apostle Paul went to many different places in his missionary journey to share the gospel and every place he went people spoke different languages and Paul was enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit to communicate the gospel in the languages of the people groups he ministered. Paul was enabled to speak the gospel in many different languages apart from his mother tongue, and the result -----souls were saved and local churches were established.

November 07 2013 1 response Vote Up Share Report

Data Mark Kuhn
Biblical scholars agree that in Acts 19:1-7 and elsewhere that these verses clearly indicate that tongues were intended “to overcome unbelief” (Walvoord and Zuck 1984, 409). They were specifically for unbelievers and to validate Paul’s message and to overcome the listener’s unbelief (Walvoord and Zuck 1984, 408, 409).

Even at the risk of offending some, this reminds me of snake handlers. Some churches take one text out of context and make it a pretext and sadly, the worship is more centered on the gift of tongues or the handling of snakes than it is with Christ being the center of worship. Jesus Christ should always be the center of all worship services and never any gift since Paul tells us not to exalt in any gifts of the Spirit since they come from God anyway.

Here is a personal note on the gift of tongues and the twisting of scriptures. Sadly, many denominations or churches do not take problematic scriptures and place them against all the scriptures relating to a particular subject to discover the proper context to see whether it is biblically sound or not. This is what is meant by “rightly dividing the Word of God” (II Tim 2:15) and “scripture is of no private interpretation” (II Pet. 1:2). 

A sound principle is that if there is a problematic scripture or verse; take all the other scriptures that relate to this subject and place them all against the one scripture or scriptures to bring clarity to the subject. If we still can not decide its meaning, then this might be God’s prerogative alone to know about and we have no business trying to inject or infer meaning when God is not clear on the subject. If God has not plainly revealed its meaning in scripture or it is not clarified by other scripture, then this is not revelation from God intended for us and should not be taken as such. Revelation from men is highly questionable and not like the inerrant Word which is infallible. If God had wanted us to fully understand it, He would have revealed it. Some things that are not clear must be for Him alone to know and we have no business trying to decode such enigmatic scriptures into a meaning that we were never intended to know in the first place.

It is apparent that there is sufficient evidence about tongues that they are clearly a sign for unbelievers, Jews or otherwise. They are also a sign that God is at work. The earliest church historians never mention that speaking in tongues continued to occur in the church after all the apostles were gone. Speaking in tongues is a rather recent movement in the 19th century. I speak Spanish and I feel that some people are gifted at learning other languages. My former pastor picked up several African languages at the time he was on mission trips. He had a gift for it. But it was a known language. I can speak in “other” tongues, like English, Spanish, and even some Greek but what sounds like gibberish to those who don’t know them, it is a known language. But these are known languages and I am not just “letting myself go”.

I have been told that I have never been “filled by the Holy Spirit” or been “truly baptized into the Holy Spirit” unless I have spoken in tongues. That is not biblical nor should someone feel less “spiritual” if they don’t speak in tongues. By the way, tongues are the last gift mentioned of all the gifts of the Spirit and love is over and above all other things. In my humble opinion, charismatic’s too often take it to the extreme and belittle those who do not speak in tongues and incorrectly associate their not being filled with the Spirit when this is actually a one-time event at the moment a believer receives the Holy Spirit at conversion. You can not have any more of the Holy Spirit, nor can you have any less of Him. You either have the Holy Spirit or you don’t.

May 19 2015 2 responses Vote Up Share Report

Stringio David Sutton
Speaking in tongues has always been so that any language that was in the presents of the one speaking could understand. I read it as being a universal language understood by all who we present. On Pentecost there were people from all over that part of the world, spoke many different languages but all who were present understood the apostles preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and his will for man to be saved.

January 15 2014 17 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Ssur Nosirrah
My opinion is that speaking in tongues is a great thing, but all too often the Pentecostal Holiness Church lets people speak, pray, or shout in tongues without it being interpreted. Paul, in the epistles, stated that if no one in the premises could interpret the heavenly tongue than the person speaking in tongues should hold the tongue in. Therefore the works of this church do not match the guidelines set in the epistles. Sometimes, though, it will be interpreted and there is great rejoicing in their church. These people will sometimes also interpret their own tongues, there is also great rejoicing in that.

April 11 2019 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini John Menako
Jesus Christ spoke about the gift of speaking in tongues as for the propagation of the gospel: compare Matthew 10:5-8 to Mark 16: 15-18. When the reference was to only the lost sheep of Israel the different tongue was not needed. When the stage becomes the the whole world, yes, the power of the Holy Spirit makes us able to speak in the language of our location. Please also analyse 1Corinthians 14: 10-11. Our Christ Jesus gave to some this ability for the propagation of the gospel;- not for prayers- our God understands all languages and the Holy Spirit remains our Helper.

January 10 2018 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

Mini Coby Helton
1 Corinthians 14:2
ESV - For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. To try and briefly answer your question, yes the language spoken in verse 2 was a language that only God could understand, only because it was a language that was unknown to everyone else in the congregation; therefore since God knows all languages, He is the only one being spoken to and understands the language. That is why Paul was giving these instructions in the first place, he was rebuking them, they were edifying no one but themselves and making themselves look good when in fact the gifts were given to edify others. No spiritual gift was given to edify only ourselves. That's why Paul is telling them to not do it (speak in unknown language) without an interpreter. God bless.

November 26 2020 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

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