The Gift of Tongues: Part 2
Question #1: I hope you can shed light on this verse (1st Corinthians 14:2 "unknown tongue" in the KJV). Is it saying that there is a way to speak to God through tongues for edifying ourselves in Christ?
Response #1: The phrase "unknown tongue" is the way in which the King James translates the Greek word glossa ("tongue") throughout the context of 1st Corinthians chapter fourteen. This is a fairly unique way of doing it. For example, the NIV has simply "tongue" but with a text note "or in another language". This is clearly what Paul means as the Greek text makes clear. This is also, in my view, what the KJV really meant, that is, by "unknown" the KJV translators meant "otherwise unknown to the person who is speaking in the tongue, but a genuine human language nonetheless". The gift of tongues, as the rest of the context of 1st Corinthians chapter fourteen makes clear enough, consists of the ability to speak a genuine language that one otherwise does not know from previous study or life-experience, as on the day of Pentecost when all of the foreign nationals in Jerusalem "heard them speaking each in his own language" even though the believers did not know these languages through human means (it was the gift of the Spirit that enabled them to do so: Acts 2:1-13). The only thing that Paul says about edification in this context is that speaking in tongues does not edify those who listen without an interpreter (1Cor.14:17). Since he also says that when he prays in a tongue "my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful" (1Cor.14:14), this certainly indicates to me that whatever emotional boost or lift speaking in a tongue according to this particular gift might bring, it is no substitute for normal prayer which involves thought and controlled language. As a result, I would argue that this is true of any other application of the gift of tongues as well.
No doubt the function of all legitimate gifts, gifts which are both genuinely from God in principle and genuinely given by Him in individual cases (i.e., the fact that there was or is a gift of tongues does not mean person X has it) provides spiritual encouragement. But there is no shortcut to spiritual edification. Spiritual growth comes from reading and studying the scriptures, praying and focusing on the truth, exposing oneself to orthodox and substantive Bible teaching, believing the truth to which one is exposed, applying that truth to one's life, and helping others to do the same. This process has always been the same and always will be as long as time and human history abide (see the link: Peter #14). As to the question of the role of tongues in the Church today, you might want to check out the following links which discuss the subject in some detail:
In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Well, what an interesting afternoon I have had reading the weekly postings. Wow, a Biblical smorgasbord if ever there was one!
Two comments I would like to make, with your kind permission (I always feel guilty taking up your time!):
1. On the subject of divorce and remarriage, no one appears to have thought about sin versus the unpardonable sin. I have been divorced for many years and by happenstance I have never met anyone I wanted to marry. But if I did, I would repent of divorce, (which I have already done anyway) and ask my heavenly father and the Lord Jesus Christ to bless my new marriage, having first checked with them, since I am no longer an orphan, whether I was doing the right thing or making another mistake. Divorce is not the unpardonable sin, and divorce happens for so many different reasons. It breaks my heart to see and hear the torment which divorced people are put through in the Christian fellowships through ignorance. Then when they fall into sexual sin they are condemned once more. I do not see the Spirit of the Lord at work there, I see cruel, ignorant people lording it over Christian brothers and sisters who are their equals in Christ, not their slaves.
2. I believe wholeheartedly in the manifestation and practice of the 9 gifts of the Holy Spirit, (I am not referring to the ministries, or helps, finances etc. )namely: 1. The Word of Knowledge, 2. the Word of Wisdom, 3. Faith, 4. Prophecy, 5. The Discerning of Good and Evil Spirits, 6. Speaking in Tongues, 7. Healing, 8. Miracles and 9. The Interpretation of Tongues. I operate in these gifts myself and have done so ever since I became born-again. Do you?
I remember reading in one of your articles that you believe these gifts are no longer in operation. Why do you believe that, and what scriptural references would you submit to back up that claim?
With kind regards,
No guilt please! It is always good to hear from you. I am keeping you and yours in my prayers.
As to your two comments, I would certainly agree with the first one whole-heartedly. The unpardonable sin (sometimes called the unforgivable sin) is refusing to believe in Jesus Christ. That is the only sin for which our Lord could not die, the rejection of Himself and of His work on the cross in dying for our sins.
The one who believes in Him is not being judged, but the one
who does not believe has already been judged on the grounds that
he has not put his faith in the Name (i.e., the Person) of God's
Refusing that offer of grace is a sin for which no pardon exists. Divorce has nothing to do with it.
For if we continue to sin willfully (i.e., arrogantly) after
having received full knowledge of the truth, there no longer
remains any sacrifice applicable to [such] sins, but [only] the
terrifying expectation of judgment and fiery retribution waiting
to devour those who oppose [the Lord].
For more on this please the links:
As to your second comment on spiritual gifts, I would not describe the situation precisely as you have. First of all, there are many more gifts than nine, not only "helps" and administration, but also apostleship, evangelism, teaching, and no doubt many more than have been expressly written down in scripture. None of the lists in the New Testament is self-described as comprehensive and exclusive; on the contrary, we are told to be good stewards of the "multifaceted grace of God" (1Pet.4:10), with the Greek word poikilos which I translate here "multifaceted" indicating an exceptional degree of variety and multiplicity.
Secondly, a ministry is different from a gift, as you clearly see. We are told in 1st Corinthians 12:4-6 that there are different gifts, different ministries, and different effects. Every Christian has (at least one) gift given by the Spirit at salvation for the purpose of the edification of the entire Body (1Cor.12:4), and, ideally, we all grow spiritually to the point of recognizing our gift(s), preparing to use them, and then placing ourselves into service as the Lord directs. I take the list you've mentioned plus the other lists as gifts rather than ministries. Now not all gifts are developed or put into service effectively, so the fact of having a particular spiritual gift does nothing for the Lord in and of itself. Once a person does respond in spiritual growth to the point of being usable by the Lord, He, Jesus Christ, is the One who assigns the particular ministry which complements the gift (1Cor.12:5), then the Father is the One who ordains the particular impact of the ministry, its nature and scope et al. (1Cor.12:6).
Thirdly, it is clear from scripture that not all Christians have all gifts. Paul demonstrates this quite emphatically at 1st Corinthians 12:29-30 through listing a large number of gifts which not everyone has, for example, the gift of apostleship, prophecy, teaching, powers, healing, tongues, or interpretation, and we are right to apply this principle to all of the other gifts of the Spirit, named or unnamed. This certainly makes sense, and, indeed, this is the only way to understand his entire description of the Body of Christ elsewhere as the perfect mixing together of a wide variety of gifts – not ministries per se – but actual capabilities (whether or not they are properly developed).
If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the
whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
So quite aside from the question of whether or not certain gifts are presently being given or not, it is very clear from scripture, in my opinion, that there never was a time when the Spirit was giving tongues, to use an important example, to every single believer. That is one litmus test I use for teachers/groups who claim the existence and practice of miraculous gifts today, namely, the inappropriate attempt to assign gifts generally to all which scripture tells us the Spirit assigns (or assigned) only particularly and individually.
Fourthly, the list of nine provided here demonstrates the essence of where I part company from many who claim the operation of apostolic gifts. Some of the gifts you list, the word of knowledge and word of wisdom, for example, are in my view different in scriptural terms from the "gift" or "power" that people who claim to have them imagine them to be. Tongues, again, provides a perfect example of this. At great personal expense (emotional and temporal rather more than financial) I have rather extensive experience of this particular issue. I have always and repeatedly affirmed that I have absolutely no doubt about the ability of our God to give the actual gift of tongues, so that the question is not one of faith but one of objective reality. Further, since I believe scripture to give us clear indications and a solid basis for believing that such gifts are not in fact being given today, it is my view that the burden of proof is on those who claim that they are being given to "prove it", rather than the other way around. So I try not to "pick fights" about this (people are free to believe what they will, even if it be untrue), but am required to stand up for what I believe to be the truth whenever I am questioned about something like this. This can be a long and detailed discussion, and there are many points to be made, but I will confine myself to what I believe to be the main (though not the sole) point/reason for the present day non-existence of apostolic gifts (using tongues as the example), and an explanation of what I am convinced is really going on in "reported cases".
In my considered opinion and personal experience – not to mention everything I read in scripture – God's power is unleashed in the world primarily and incomparably through His Word. It is the Word of God which leads to salvation. It is the Word of God which leads to spiritual progress and spiritual growth. It is the Word of God which truly empowers Christians, for it is the "operating capital" which the Spirit within us uses; it is the fulcrum for the Spirit's lever. Without the Word understood and believed, no Christian can get far, no matter how initially enthusiastic or emotional, and no matter how gifted or how well supported by Christian fellowship. Only the truth of the Word, solidly fixed in the heart can sustain a believer in the trials, the testings, and the tribulations of the devil's world. There is no substitute. Indeed, the very purpose behind all of the spiritual gifts is just this sort of edification of the Body of Christ. The very purpose behind all of the spiritual gifts is to contribute to the spreading of the truth, primarily within the Church for the "building up of itself" (Eph.4:16; cf. Eph.4:12). That is precisely Paul's point in 1st Corinthians 12 when at the end of the chapter he stresses that we all ought to "desire the greater gifts", by which he clearly means in context those which more directly teach the truth (rather than supporting the teaching of the truth indirectly).
In my experience and observation, what passes for the practice of apostolic gifts today is far different from what scripture actually describes (a clear indication to me that these practices have nothing to do with the Spirit at all). Tongues provides our test case here again. For in the first place, as mentioned above, organizations which affirm the continuation of this temporary gift usually claim that it is common to all truly born again Christians (something that was never the case, even in apostolic times). Secondly, they universally misunderstand its purpose: the gift of tongues was "for a sign" for unbelievers (1Cor.14:22), not primarily for the edification of believers – and certainly not for the entertainment of anyone. In its actual scriptural application, tongues functions as an evangelistic tool, allowing the communication of the gospel to unbelievers by believers, even though the latter might not speak the language of those they are evangelizing. This was an important gift in apostolic times, since this was the period wherein the gospel was to be rapidly spread to a wide-variety of peoples throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond.
The import of the above is telling. What this means is that, just as precisely described in Acts chapter two (where a variety of presently existing languages are named), tongues are real human languages, and the purpose of having such a gift is to speak to actual unbelievers about Jesus in their own tongue. I know of and am aware of not a single verifiable case of a missionary effort today wherein Christians with such a gift are operating in such a way. Where people assert that they have the gift of tongues, generally it is in private use (alone) or occasionally in a fellowship of believers (in church – precisely the practice Paul forbids without a genuine interpreter of the language present). Now I have made what I consider a fairly thorough personal study of the practice of tongues, and I while I have occasionally heard claims of individuals being able to speak a language they never learned or heard, upon investigation all such assertions have proved to be worthless (generally, practitioners revert to the excuse of speaking an "unknown" language, an assertion which ipso facto contradicts the purpose of the genuine gift of tongues). What I have actually seen and heard with my own ears, however, is something which while called "the gift of tongues" is really anything but.
Many religions make use of cultic chanting of actual texts (whether from the Veda or the Quran or even the Torah or what have you), and occasionally of syllables devoid of meaning. The latter is what I have mostly observed in Christian circles. No doubt vocalization of a repetitive strain allows for a certain relaxation, possibly even concentration, and emotional high (as one enters a "zone" or "trance-like" state). It does not follow, however, that such activity constitutes the function of a God-given spiritual gift. I would be the first to rejoice at the discovery of any such legitimate gift currently operational, and God can certainly accomplish this – He is the Lord and has the power and the authority to do whatever He wishes. What I have a problem with is claiming that He is doing something He hasn't done, and obsessively fixating upon behaviors and activities that for His own reasons He has abrogated for the present time. As I say, it is not a question of faith, but a question of fact.
Now I am happy to be proven wrong, and will rejoice abundantly when and if the Lord begins again to give out apostolic gifts. But everything I have read and considered in scripture (happy to have that discussion if you wish), and everything I have observed and experienced all point to the present inactivity of the "sign gifts" so prevalent in the book of Acts. There are certainly many good reasons why this should be so, but for me one of the most weighty is that they would tend to distract from the fundamental purpose of the Christian life: to grow up spiritually through the truth contained in the written Word of God and to help others do likewise. This process of growth, progress and ministry upon which all our future rewards are based is by no means an easy one, and for many Christians it is far from attractive and far from "fun". That explains why it is being done correctly in so few places by so few Christians and Christian teachers, and is in so little demand by Christians generally. Spiritual growth, proceeding in the biblically correct way, is in fact hard work; progress in the Christian walk, the passing of tests through the application of what is believed, is even harder; and effective ministry which contributes to the growth of others is hardest of all. But only in this way do we honor our Master and truly respond to His mandates to us.
Indulging in "gifts" (which to my mind are no gifts at all) may be "fun", but it is an immense distraction to the genuine purpose of our Christian life. To the extent that we are wrapped up in such things, and all the more so to the degree that we really think we are doing something by enjoying them, to that extent we are only wasting our time, because inevitably such practices tend to replace entirely the hard work of learning the truth of scripture, applying it, and helping others to do likewise (and on this score, unfortunately, I know full well of what I speak). To me, this is biggest litmus test of all. If apostolic gifts were indeed legitimately being given nowadays, they should have the effect of promoting spiritual growth, but in my observation of this phenomenon generally, they are having the opposite effect, precisely as the return to ritual on behalf of mainline Protestant denominations is doing, or involvement in social welfare to the detriment of the Bible in other groups is doing. Satan has a substitute for everyone, whatever our preference, and it takes discernment, discipline and courage to resist and to fight for what is right.
If you are still with me at this point, I do allow as to how everyone's experience is different, and I am certainly happen to listen and discuss all this further. If you wish, you may have a look at the following links wherein some of the rationales for this position as alluded to above are discussed in greater detail:
Written in the love of Jesus Christ our Lord who died for us all.
Have been reading Your web sight for a long enough time to know that your last e-mail from "All things Charismatic" (2/10/07) was so full of encouragement as I read your answers to some of the very things from whence I came: Roman Catholic to Being Saved by the grace of God through faith in His Son. Not to bore you with all the same but at one time was very much like the man you were e-mailing. Spoke in tongues at the same time as physical water baptism. Following Charismatic doctrine like a child. But here I am 20 years later changing and growing in truth an knowledge because of your web sight and others. Following the bible and truth. Can never get enough truth. May God bless you, for giving you the wisdom to tell the truth.
Staying in faith with the only truth, the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word.
Always good to hear from you. I really appreciate the e-mail. Despite my own (negative) experiences, I have a tendency to believe what people tell me. I'm not a natural-born skeptic, and so whenever I have exchanges like this it always takes spiritual effort to remember that the Bible is superior to all experience. After all, antichrist and his false prophet are prophesied to be amazing the world with their "miracles". I praise the Lord for your deliverance, salvation, and spiritual growth, and I am honored and humbled to have some small role in your quest for the truth.
Fighting the good fight of faith through the truth that is in Jesus Christ and His Word alone.
What doctrine do you follow? I don't like every church I go to where people speak in tongues, and I don't agree with it when they tell me I'm blaspheming the Holy Spirit if I don't believe in what they are doing. What kind of church can I attend? Please help me. I have another question for you. Do you believe we will see the 7 years of Tribulation or will God catch us up before that starts?
Good to make your acquaintance. Like you, I am very skeptical about the present day practice of tongues. I do not believe that the gift of tongues is currently being given, and I do not believe that what most churches do is in any way related to the genuine gift of tongues. Please see these links for much more information:
As to your second question, this is also a topic which I have written much about. The idea that Christians will be "raptured", caught up in resurrection to meet the Lord before the Tribulation begins, is a fallacy and a very dangerous one at that. The resurrection occurs when Christ returns at the Second Advent, not seven years earlier before the start of the Tribulation. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are going to be very surprised when the Tribulation begins and they are still here. The biggest problem with this false doctrine is that it is leading many Christians in our Age of Laodicea to be lukewarm about spiritual growth because they imagine that they'll never personally have to face supremely difficult spiritual challenges. The result will be that they will be spiritually unprepared when the Tribulation begins, and so may fall away in the Great Apostasy (see the link). Please see the following links for more information on this subject:
The Origin and the Danger of the Pre-Tribulational Rapture Theory.
Fallacies about the Start of the Tribulation (in Coming Tribulation part 2B)
It is indeed very difficult to find local churches where the truth is being honored and taught. But you clearly have very good spiritual instincts. Keep responding to the Spirit's guidance and God will lead you to a place of spiritual growth. In the meantime, you are very welcome at Ichthys.
Stand fast in the Lord, and please feel free to write me back about any of this.
In Jesus our dear Savior,
I've heard many Christians telling me that "that which is perfect" refers to the bible, but I disagree. They also accuse me of wrongly dividing the word of God.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)
I believe this passage is referring to the 2nd coming of Christ (end of sins, everlasting righteousness, etc.).
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. (Daniel 9:24)
This verse also states that prophecy and visions will be sealed up at the final week. This seems to tie in with the passage in 1 Cor. 13. I believe that that which is perfect refers to when we as believers are "perfected" and sin is done away with. We will no longer need visions and prophecies then. Someone also tried to prove me wrong by telling me that the "vision and prophecy" passage is speaking of the fulfillment of the "vision and prophecy" found in the scriptures. I don't see how this is possible since this refers to Jesus' 2nd coming.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
Paul also said in the passage in 1 Cor 13, "but then shall I know," implying that he will see that day. Paul died in 67 AD and the bible was not completed until around 95 AD. If the completion of the bible is "when the perfect comes," then Paul never saw that day. That would be contrary to the view that "when the perfect comes" refers to the completion of the bible. But if "the perfect comes" refers to Jesus' 2nd coming where He raises the dead and glorifies all believers, then Paul, like all Christians will see that day. What do you think? Thanks in advance!
I would not wish to limit the interpretation of this prophecy to the return of Christ. For one thing, the phrase, "the perfect" is in the neuter gender, so that a more accurate translation would be "the perfect thing". Translating as "the perfect" is not wrong. However that particular English rendering conveys the idea of a concept more than that of a concrete thing (which the Greek suggests), and, as the discussion you relate reveals, that important fact has been lost on many readers of scripture because of the questionable translation.
Key to determining what "the perfect" is here in this context is first noticing what it is opposed to. Paul tells us that prophecies, tongues and (gifts of) knowledge are only partial, and that the partial will done away with when the "complete" (or "perfect") arrives. Note that all three of these transient gifts are essentially media for transmitting God's truth. They were certainly essential supplements to Old Testament in Paul's day, because without the teaching of the apostles and the direct revelation from God by these miraculous means, the grace message so familiar to us from the New Testament would not have been available to these early believers, at least not to a complete degree.
The word translated "perfect" at 1st Corinthians 13:10 is the Greek adjective (used as a noun in conjunction with the definite article) teleion. It does mean "perfect" in the original English sense of the word (coming from Latin per-factum) of "fully made" or "complete". So whatever "the complete thing" is, it must be the counterpart of the gifts and production of tongues, prophecy and knowledge which are "incomplete". There is certainly a sense in which seeing "the complete" or "perfect" as referring to our eternal status is correct, for then we shall be with Jesus and will understand everything "perfectly" in a way we are unable to do on earth. Moreover, it is also certainly true that in the later part of the chapter (in verse 12), Paul talks about precisely that: the perfection of our knowledge and understanding when we are face to face with our dear Lord Jesus Christ. However, I do think Paul's focus here in verse 10 is with the "perfect thing" which replaces the "imperfect media" of temporary communication gifts, that very "perfect thing" whereby we grow up from being spiritual children into being spiritual adults (verse 11), namely, the Word of God, "complete" once the canon was finished (in ca. 64-68 A.D. when John finished Revelation; see the link: The Date of Revelation).
Understanding "the complete" as the Bible makes perfect sense. After all, the Bible is the "mind of Christ" (1Cor.2:16), the written word of God and counterpart to the living Word of God, our Lord Jesus. The Bible is God's complete, revealed Truth, and is "perfect" in every way. Moreover, Paul's purpose in dictating these words was to de-emphasize the Corinthians morbid fascination with spectacular "sign gifts", a misapplication which was leading them away from what was truly important, following Jesus Christ through spiritual growth and production, something which is only possible through disciplined study of the Word of God. This theme he finishes off in this section by emphasizing the three premier Christian virtues, the greatest of which is love, the counterpart virtue of production through which we aid our fellow believers as the pinnacle of our spiritual advance (see the link: Christian Rewards). This production is impossible without the process of prior spiritual growth which is itself impossible without the truth of the written Word of God.
So I do think that Paul is talking about "perfection" on several levels in this chapter: personal "completion" (wherein we advance beyond the "childish things" of v.11 and become mature – the Greek word for maturity is the same as the word here for perfect; cf. in this same book at 1Cor.2:6: "We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature [teleiois cf. teleion]"); ultimate "completion" when we "know as we are known" as in v.13b when our "partial knowledge" becomes perfect in the presence of our Lord); but also importantly the perfect medium which connects our personal advance to our eternal state and reward, the truth of the Word of God. That certainly means the Bible which is the written source of God's revealed truth to us here on earth. Once the scriptures had attained their "complete" state, the cessation of the "sign gifts" with which the Corinthians were over awed was a natural development. Not only were they no longer necessary as temporary media to transmit previously unavailable truth, but they also would have tended to distract believers from the primary source God means us to concentrate on until we find ourselves in His presence: the "perfect" Word of God, the completed canon of scripture:
When we become "perfect", childishness ceases and we are useful to God.
When the Lord returns and eternity begins for us, all things will be "complete and perfect", and we will "know everything perfectly", even as God knows us perfectly, the "knowing in part" of the present time having passed away.
When the written word became "complete / perfect", sign gifts ceased as they were only a stop-gap and incapable of conveying the entire message of truth found in scripture.
So while "the perfect" or "the complete" cannot perhaps be limited to the Bible, the Bible is clearly what Paul means by this purposely general term, "the perfect". What he means by this idea throughout the context of the chapter is "the truth", both written (scripture) and fulfilled (when we experience eternity), and our personal response to it becoming "complete" ourselves in our Christian lives by abandoning childish concerns (like the Corinthian fixation on sensationalism) and concentrating on living for Jesus Christ instead by doing things His way, spiritual growth and production based upon accepting and living the truth of the "perfect" Word of God.
In the One who is Perfect in every way, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Thanks for your quick response Bob! I have another question, in reference to a verse. I have read much of your responses to those asking about details on the gift of speaking in tongues and in my filtering through research scattered throughout the internet I have come across a verse that I haven't seen you discuss yet. I was hoping to see what your translation of this verse would be, and also your response to what Paul was speaking of in it. The verse is 1st Corinthians 14:2 and this is what it says according to the KJV:
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
What is the unknown tongue? If it is a language that is simply foreign, shouldn't there be a race capable of understanding it on this earth if this verse is in reference to the gift of speaking in tongues (a gift which is designed to bring the truth to races where in the speaker does not know the language)? And what is meant by "mysteries" in the spirit? Any insight you may have would be appreciated! Thanks again!
Good to hear from you. To begin, while the KJV is a pretty good translation, all translations are essentially interpretations; they have to be since in order to translate, a person has to have some understanding of what is meant in the original language, then turn this understanding into an equivalent in their own language as best they can. That "understanding" may be perfect, near perfect, slightly off, or totally wrong. Then again, there is also the issue that what I say to you in English you may take in a slightly different way than in the way in which I mean you to take it.
1st Corinthians 14:2 is a somewhat difficult verse to interpret, and the translators of the KJV decided to "help" people understand by taking a few liberties which really only confused the situation (in modern times at least). For one thing, as you probably know, the KJV used the convention of putting into italics all words which are not really in the original Greek or Hebrew. The word "unknown" is not there in the Greek at all. This choice of an added word to expand what Paul meant by "tongue" or "language" may have made sense in the 17th century, but today "unknown" in a context like this means something a little different from what the translators may have intended, for today it leads us to think the meaning is "totally unknown to anyone and unknowable". All the Greek says is "language/tongue". I would expand the whole translation as follows:
The reason I say this (i.e., in v.1, that you should rather
desire gifts that are more content-focused, such as prophecy) is
that a person who speaks [by the Spirit] in a language [not
otherwise known to him or his listeners] is speaking not to
people (i.e., since his audience doesn't in that case understand
the language he's speaking) but to God (who understands
everything). For [in such a case] no one is listening to him
(i.e., no one even is going to pay attention to a person
speaking in another language they don't speak, let alone gain
any edification from the experience), but he is speaking by the
Spirit (i.e., he himself doesn't even understand the sounds he's
making) mysteries (i.e., things that can't be understood without
A couple of things about the above. First, the Greek plainly says "no one is listening" not "no one understands"; the KJV translation leads us to believe that "no one can understand", which plays right into the mistaken idea that "unknown" means "unknowable" – an impossible jump for a "word" which is not even there in the Greek. Secondly, the passage has to be understood in context, and the context is one of using gifts for edification, their intended purpose. Paul is not against tongues, but against the invalid use of them. Tongues are an evangelizing tool when properly used, and can also theoretically be used for edification in a local church provided there is someone capable of legitimately interpreting what is said. In such a case, the use of the "tongue" is essentially the same as prophesying, that is, giving a message direct from God through the Spirit. The only difference is that, if the message comes in a Spirit-empowered foreign language, it requires interpretation. If it comes via Spirit-empowered prophecy, there is no language barrier (hence no need for an interpreter). Thirdly, the word "mysteries" in the New Testament means "things which are or were somehow not known or understood previously", and often relates to the truth of the gospel as it is fully understood after the coming of Christ. Paul uses the word here to affirm that the incomprehensible words coming from someone speaking through the Spirit in a language they don't otherwise understand are indeed God's truth, but they can't be understood because of the language barrier. Hence, these words are "mysteries", not un-knowable because of their content (indeed, the gospel is entirely known to us now), but unknown as to their precise and present meaning because they are being delivered in a language that neither the speaker nor his audience is familiar with. So between "unknown" and "no one understands" and "mysteries", it all sounds pretty "mysterious" indeed, but a look at the original in the context makes it pretty clear, I would say, what Paul means: the problem lies in the lack of interpretation. In the very next verse we find that problem explicated when Paul explains that the one prophesying "edifies" all his listeners, but the one speaking in an otherwise unknown language benefits only himself. Neither of these gifts is presently functional in the Church, in my view. And why should they be? For we now have the whole will and counsel of God, the entire completed canon of scripture blessed available to all – and with very few exceptions in our own languages as well!
In the One who is the truth which all are meant to understand and embrace, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
A few of my friends claim to speak in tongues, but their understanding of tongues differ from what I believe to be legitimate according to the Bible...I may be wrong. What was the purpose of speaking in tongues? Who spoke in tongues? What is a "tongue"? What was the result in speaking in tongues? Why should I speak in tongues? Sorry for all these questions on tongues. I'm trying to get some clarity on the truth of tongues since there seems to be much confusion on this topic within the churches today.
I have written on this topic before, so while I will give you an overview here, please do follow the links below to get the details and the exegesis.
Tongues are "for a sign" for unbelievers as Paul tells us at 1st Corinthians 14:22, and with these words he is clearly referring not only to Isaiah 28:11-12 (which he has just quoted) but also to the day of Pentecost, when many foreigners in town for that festival heard the believers proclaiming the gospel in their own languages. Therefore, legitimate, divine "tongues", the kind we are not to forbid (1Cor.14:39), are always real languages. They were useful in evangelizing peoples whose languages were otherwise not known to the evangelist, and in the early Church which lacked a completed Bible and usually also lacked prepared teachers, they were useful for providing direct revelation from God – provided someone was present who had the gift of interpretation and so could understand and translate the tongue/language in question (cf. 1Cor.14:27-28).
Like many of the other clearly miraculous gifts, tongues played an important role in the edification and spread of the early Church. And like many of the other clearly miraculous gifts, tongues has now apparently "ceased" (as Paul predicted in this same context: 1Cor.13:8). Now we have the scriptures in complete form and plenty of opportunity to understand them (even if those opportunities are little used by most), and that is far better than having the clearly miraculous gifts but without the Bible (although "less exciting" to those who value experience over substantive truth).
What genuine tongues is not is someone babbling away in an incomprehensible manner, making indistinguishable sounds. In my own personal research on this subject, I have never come across a single case of a person "speaking in tongues" where the sounds they were making constituted a real human language – let alone having someone else present with a gift that allowed them to understand and translate the "language"! However the number of people who claim to speak in tongues is doubtless in the millions. God can certainly give you or me or anyone else the gift of tongues – if He so desires. But just because I claim to speak in tongues, does not make it true. That is a very important distinction which is lost on people who claim to "speak in tongues". What genuine tongues is not is working oneself up into an emotional state and pouring out gibberish. It is certainly possible to do this without any particular effort or training. Certain pagan sects do this all the time. Demon possessed people do it all the time. Even believers without the true gift who ought to know better do it – and indeed certain denominations are essentially founded on it. But the emotionally charged articulation of sounds with no meaning is not the biblical "speaking in tongues" of the New Testament. And that is easy enough to see directly from scripture, since in the biblical understanding of the issue all real languages, all real "tongues", convey meaning:
Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what
good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or
knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? Even in the case
of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp,
how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a
distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a
clear call, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you.
Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will
anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into
the air. Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the
world, yet none of them is without meaning. If
then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am
a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. So it
is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to
excel in gifts that build up the church.
So what of this behavior which is called "tongues" today that clearly has nothing to do with the biblical "speaking in tongues"? In the 60's there was a philosophy which said "if it feels good, do it" and "if it doesn't hurt anyone else, don't get up tight about it". Unfortunately, even by these worldly standards, present day emotionally generated verbal articulation only "feels good" for a while, then when the falsely aroused emotional state passes causes a person to feel worse (as with all artificially generated highs, they are inevitably followed by lows). Also, it does hurt someone, namely, the person who does it, because such pseudo-speaking-in-tongues easily becomes a sort of focal point for experienced-based Christianity, and the next thing you know the little attention you were giving to the Bible has gone completely; and it hurts other people too, because even if you are a strong person who may only be "knicked" but such false practices, doing something wrong like this and proclaiming it not only right but godly helps to weaken the consciences of those who may not be able to escape the experience as scot-free as you may.
I think your "spiritual radar" is giving you good signals. I advise staying clear. Please see the following links:
In our dear Lord Jesus,
I looked through your links and reviewed them, but have a question on this verse which I can't quite understand. What does Paul mean by tongues of men and of angels. What are tongues of angels?
1 Corinthians 13:1: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
Paul is using a series of hypotheticals here which are deliberate exaggerations (knowing all tongues, all angelic tongues, all mysteries, having all knowledge, all faith so as to move mountains, giving away all possessions, giving one's body over to be burned). Just as no one is actually in possession of "all knowledge", for example, so no one "speaks with tongues of angels" – but even if they did, it would mean nothing without the functional love which only genuine spiritual growth can develop and generate. The point Paul is making is that without love even exceptional gifts, even gifts beyond those actually given (and "tongues of angels" have never been given since angels do not need to be evangelized), and even exceptional deeds, even those beyond what is really legitimate are as nothing.
I take from this passage that angels do communicate with languages of their own (although we know from their encounters with human beings in scripture that they are also capable of understanding and communicating in human languages). I do not take from this passage that human beings have ever received any "gift of angelic tongues". Paul is certainly not saying that here. Rather, he is saying that even if he could speak in all human languages and in all angelic languages (which neither he nor anyone else can), then that would still mean nothing without living one's life in Christian love (again, something which requires spiritual growth through understanding and applying the truth of the Word of God).
I am aware that some people, at a loss to explain why the sounds they are making are clearly not related to any human language as they should be if what they are doing is legitimate, have resorted to this verse to try and say, "well, I must be speaking an angelic language". But tongues are a sign for unbelieving human beings, and operated as a spiritual gift to evangelize human beings (or to teach and edify human beings where the gift of interpretation was present) – never angels. So besides the fact that Paul's comments here do not in fact open the door for a "gift of angelic tongues", there is also no rationale for there being such a gift, since we are not to evangelize angels but our fellow human beings. Finally, since this is the only passage where the subject comes up so far as I am aware, and since it is a hyperbolic context of deliberate (and sanctified) exaggeration in order to make a point (about how important love is), there is no justification for extrapolating a "gift of angelic tongues" from this verse.
Having heard what passes for "tongues" on occasion, I also must say that I would have a very, very hard time believing that this is what angels sound like.
I keep getting emails from my friends on tongues and wanting to compile my questions in one email. A friend of mine said that he knew of a missionary in Africa who spoke in African without ever learning the language. Where someone else had said:
These incidents are not in conjunction with the school that says either:
a.) The word of God is that which is perfect comes is, therefore anulling the need for artificial revelation. (tongues, dreams, prophecies)
b.) The dispensational denial of said phenomena as being only to the Jews.
c.) The furtherance of the gospel was the sole purpose of tongues.
If "a" is correct, then there just couldn't be any truth to the stories that occassionaly show up in these arguments that some Missionary was preaching ands poke in another language.
If "b" is correct then the dispensationalist has to explain why the gentile church at Corinth was speaking in tongues, an arguement I have yet to hear from any dispensational school.
If "c" is correct, then why did I have to come to africa and learn the language just like any one else who desired to communicate the gospel to the africans speaking world whose native tongue was not african?
Either you have to deny these stories or believe that tongues have ceased in which you don't, and then you have to define which instances were true tongues (preaching the gospel in america and being heard in Afrikaans babbling in a church service or). The two are mutually exclusive in my mind.
What do you think? Also, I have one more question which just came to me. I'm trying to get a friend of mine out of this church which speaks in tongues (gibberish). I told her that if modern day tongues were in fact a real language then how come they don't have a lexicon or concordance? She said tongues are (most of the time) between us and God. So you really can't make God into a dictionary and seeing as the language of tongues is different with each person, so you can't make a concordance. Is this what the bible says? because I can't seem to find it in the bible. Finally, in your link you mentioned that praying to God is more of an emotion than speech. This verse was used by my friend to prove to me that tongues is an unknown language because only God and the person speaking to God can understand it.
1 Corinthians 14:2 - For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.
I'm not quite sure exactly what this verse means.
1st Corinthians 14:2 does describe a person with the gift of tongues speaking to God rather than to men. However, it does not say that this tongue in which they do so is not a human language, and, indeed, that is the meaning of the Greek word glossa here throughout the context of the chapter, namely, "language". Secondly, the idea that everyone can speak in tongues this way is refuted a little earlier in 1st Corinthians 12:20 where we find that "not all speak in tongues", so the burden is still on the individual in question to show that anyone – let alone everyone – can speak in another language as a result of a gift from God. Thirdly, the whole point of Paul's bringing up the issue of tongues in 1st Corinthians 14 is to rein in its abuses, and the abuses are precisely the sort of thing which modern supposed-speakers-in-tongues inevitably do – in fact the entirety of what they do, namely, pour forth incomprehensible gibberish which no one can understand, is precisely the thing that Paul is objecting to here over and over again in chapter fourteen (cf. vv.23-25). Fourthly, Paul very specifically states in verse 28 that unless someone is present with the gift of interpretation of tongues, then there should be no speaking of tongues in the church at all. All of these statements (and indeed everything else in 1Corinthians chapters 12-14) are predicated upon the understanding of a tongue being a real, human language, and none of these verses make sense if we posit a tongue as a "non-human language" or the like. To say that you can't hold God to a lexicon is to miss the entire point. We are not holding God to anything or limiting Him or making any demand of Him – we are trying to understand His Word. By making this statement, this person is essentially saying, "I know what I am experiencing, and my experience is superior to anything the Bible might have to say". That is the slipperiest of slopes. Even if the person with the genuine gift of tongues speaks to God, speaks in the Spirit, speaks to/with his/her spirit, he/she is still speaking in a real human language according to these verses – at least if the practice is a legitimate case of tongues.
The important thing here is, after all, what God has really done. If God has really given this person or anyone else the gift of tongues, then we praise and thank God for it. But just because a person pours forth unarticulated sounds in an emotional state does not cause God to honor this as if it were the real gift of tongues. So we are talking about reality here, not about hypotheticals. The point that tongues is a gift which always manifests itself in a real human language is important mainly as a way for those of us who want to follow the divine mandate to "test the spirits to see if they are really from God" to do so. Lots of people claim to talk directly to God. Lots of people claim to have seen Jesus. Lots of people claim to be able to heal the sick. Lots of people claim to be able to prophesy the future. Lots of people claim to be apostles sent by God. Some of these people are just a bit misguided. Some of these people are crazy. Some of these people are really trying to get their hands on our money or control us for any manner of nefarious purposes. And we would be poor Christians indeed if we were so gullible as to believe fantastic claims that emanate not from God but from a human source. We are supposed be innocent as doves – but wise as serpents (Matt.10:16; cf. Rom.16:19; 1Cor.14:20). So it is with tongues. I never doubt God's ability to do all manner of miraculous things, even things that are entirely unexpected because of the times in which we live. It is not about God or His ability at all. It is about whether or not the people who are doing these sorts of things are doing them in the power of God or from their own flesh, and there is nothing ungodly or immoral about examining the facts before believing what other people say – indeed, if we do not, we are likely become prey to some cult sooner or later.
Finally, this is all apropos of the a/b/c question below: a) it is my understanding that tongues "have ceased", but I don't rule out God giving the gift if He so desires even now; b) I believe that while there is something to dispensationalism, it has been very much overblown beyond what scripture says, and I would not use this as an argument to rule out tongues (see the links: "Dispensations", Dispensations and the Church", "Dispensationalism", Oikonomia in CT 2A, and "The Scofield Reference Bible"); c) again, this was the main purpose, but we do find it in 1st Corinthians used for personal and group edification (when genuine interpreters are present).
Therefore my response to stories of this sort is 1) If they are true and to the extent they are true, I rejoice (but I am not required, indeed, not allowed, to put credence in human stories without personal verification); 2) Even if they are true, that does not mean that I have the gift of tongues, or can have it just because I may want it, or can somehow force God to give it by engaging in the activity that passes for tongues today; 3) Even if the stories are true, that does not mean that all these other people who tell them also have the gift of tongues or that what they are doing is truly "tongues"; 4) I must note that inevitably in all of these stories the missionary speaks and understands a genuine human language, Q.E.D. that people we are face to face with who claim this ability should easily be able to demonstrate that this is what they are doing too (i.e., there are no "incomprehensible languages" in these stories); 5) importantly, none of this has anything to do with a "second baptism" of the Spirit; generally speaking, groups who place a high priority on this so-called speaking in tongues often claim that the ability to do so comes from such a "second baptism" or "second blessing", and that is a dangerous, blasphemous insult to the Lord who graciously gave us of His Spirit when we first believed (Rom.8:9; 2Tim.2:1). In practice, the false use of pseudo-tongues is a way of getting otherwise normal Christians interested in fringe behavior, and that speaks volumes about the legitimacy of "tongues" as it is currently practiced overall.
Hope this helps with your questions.
I wanted to ask you about tongues and the position that tongues have ceased. Some of my friends tell me it has and others have told me it hasn't and are not sure. I see that in acts, they spoke in their own tongue and in 1 Corinthians some of the people spoke in "unknown tongues" and an interpreter was to interpret as you said. Are those the ones that the forbid not command is given? (1 Cor. 14:39).
I think that it is an assumption that "tongues would cease when that which is perfect is come" has to refer to the bible, but it seems just that - an assumption. The bible is perfect, which I agree, but I haven't seen and conclusive evidence which would suggest that that verse was indeed referring to the Bible.
A couple of points. First, I think the "(KJV) unknown tongues" are the exact same gift we find in Acts chapter one, except that in Acts chapter one we actually see them being understood by some people who happen to be speakers of that language. In Corinth, we can pretty much assume that everyone (or at least the vast majority) spoke only Greek, so that gifts of other tongues would be "unknown" (the KJV's word – it's not in the Greek text) because no one was around who knew them (just as in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost the tongues were "unknown" to the local scoffers who accused the disciples of being drunk, but "known" to those in town for the festival who happened to hear their native tongues being spoken).
Secondly, in 1st Corinthians 13, while I do think that "the perfect" can be applied generally, it mostly meant to be taken specifically. That is to say, when history is over and we are in resurrection everything will be perfect and we will know perfectly even as we are perfectly known. However, the principle Paul states here is also correct and applicable to tongues and prophecy and various miracles etc., namely, that they are temporary and will cease when no longer necessary; in this second instance, the "completion" or "completed thing" or "perfect thing", however one cares to translate to teleion, would be the Bible, the means of spiritual growth and maturity (along with the Church and her gifted members to teach it as it becomes a normally functioning Body where apostolic leadership is no longer required).
Since it is clear (to all but the Roman Catholic church and some cults) that there is no longer any apostolic leadership with the passing of the twelve, it certainly stands to reason that the other obviously-miraculous gifts necessary for the interim function of the Body are also no longer needed and so have ceased. That would certainly seem to be the reason why Paul singles out these gifts here as those which are "going to cease" in contrast to his stressing the importance of the "greater gifts" of teaching and evangelism (1Cor.12:31; Eph.4:11). Note that all three of these special, temporary gifts were meant to impart the truth, truth which would be available in written form when the Bible was complete (the precise eventuality which makes these "sign gifts" no longer necessary for the edification of the Body).
When the Church started from nothing, there weren't many "Paul's" around, and, take it from me, it takes a good amount of time to prepare for a teaching ministry. To fill that void, prophecy (and probably "knowledge" in a similar way too) provided a perfect message directly from the Lord until such time as the normal function of the Body we see today could begin. The same thing is true of evangelism. Nowadays, if a person feels the call to evangelize in, say, Chile, they can learn Spanish and prepare formally and personally for this life-long ministry. It will take time, maybe a decade or two, but now there is time because there is a "pipe-line" of people who are involved in such ministries, a well as formal means of preparing. Such was not the case on the day of Pentecost.
I am very careful never to say that no one has the gift of tongues or like gifts, but that certainly does seem to be the trend of the way that the Lord has been working things out over the past 2,000 years or so. That fact alone ought to be enough to put the burden of proof on those who claim to have one of these gifts. And it has to be remembered that evangelism and teaching are always the purposes behind these gifts – something I never personally see in what passes for tongues and prophecy today. God can certainly give whatever gifts He desires whenever He desires, but our desire to have them is of very little moment (and doesn't, of course, mean we do have them). I find it very interesting that Paul emphasizes communication of truth (1Cor.12:31) while de-emphasizing the hyper-miraculous gifts (tongues, prophecy, knowledge will cease and are "partial"), yet the trend of our present-day Laodicean church-visible is to turn things exactly upside down. That seems to me to speak volumes about whether or not tongues etc. have, for all practical purposes "ceased" at present, now that the Bible is no longer partial, and we have the means to learn it, study it, and teach it – if we care to do so.
In our Lord Jesus,