Speaking in Tongues Part 1
In this study we will examine each passage of scripture in which there is mention in the New Testament of speaking in tongues. The Greek word for “tongue,” in the New Testament is “glossa.” It can mean either the member of the body in our mouth or it can mean “language.” Some of the things we want to examine are:
1. Does the person who speaks know what he speaks?
2. Does the person who hears know what he hears?
3. If the tongue is unknown, is it unknown to the hearer or to the speaker?
The first passage where tongues are mentioned is: Mark 16:15 “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. 17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
The Lord said, “these signs shall follow them that believe…” Now, the “them” in this passage could mean every one that ever believes or it could have reference to the apostles only. If it has reference to every one that ever believes then even today a believer should be able to cast out devils, speak with new tongues, take up serpents, drink any deadly thing without it hurting them, and lay their hands on the sick and the sick recover. Obviously, not every one that believes today or in years past has been able to do these things and to continue to do these things. Therefore, the “them” under consideration must be the ones to whom Christ spoke, which is the apostles. The apostles did indeed manifest the signs the Lord spoke of. They were able to speak with new tongues, i.e., tongues they had not previously learned.
The next passage in which speaking in tongues appears is found in the book of Acts: Acts 2:3 “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. 6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. 7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? 8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? 9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, 10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.”
The miracle that was performed on the day of Pentecost concerning tongues was that the apostles spoke and people heard in their own native language. There were at least 17 different languages in which people heard. Obviously, the speaker only spoke one language, but people heard in at least 17 different languages! In the above both the speakers knew what they were speaking and the listeners also knew what was spoken for it is recorded: “we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” There were no unknown tongues spoken on the day of Pentecost! The speakers knew what they were speaking and the hearers knew and understood the language in which they heard.
What took place on the day of Pentecost was before prophesied by the prophet Joel: Acts 2:16 “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; 17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: 18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: 19 And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: 21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
What took place on the day of Pentecost was limited in scope or else we would still be witnessing this today that men would speak the wonderful works of God in one language and all present would hear in their own native language even if it was different from the speaker’s language.
The third occurrence of speaking in tongues in the New Testament is found in Acts chapter 10 when Peter went to the house of Cornelius: Acts 10:44 “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.”
Similar to the day of Pentecost, we find the Gentiles speaking in their native language and the Jews hearing in their native language. In this occurrence, both the hearers and the speakers knew the languages in which they were speaking. There was no unknown tongue involved in this occurrence. In both this occurrence and on the day of Pentecost the Holy Ghost was the interpreter so that both the speaker and the hearer who spoke different languages could understand and communicate with one another without a human interpreter. This miraculous occurrence was a sign to the Jews that God had a people amongst the Gentiles and that they should be a part of his visible church on earth as well.
The next occurrence is in Acts chapter 19: Acts 19:1 “And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, 2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. 3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. 4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. 7 And all the men were about twelve.”
Here the Apostle Paul came to a group of 12 men who had apparently been baptized by Apollos before Apollos had the authority to baptize. Paul having discovered that their baptism was irregular, took them and baptized them again. After that Paul had laid his hands on them, they spake with tongues, and prophesied. Again this teaches us that both the men who spoke knew what they were speaking as they prophesied and the hearer, Paul and whoever was with him, knew what was said. This was no unknown language, but language or languages that were well known and that were understood by the hearers. The Holy Ghost served as the interpreter, if one was needed.
The next occurrence in the scriptures of speaking or interpreting tongues is found in 1 Cor. Chapter 12 concerning spiritual gifts given to the church: 1 Cor. 12:10 “To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:” Also, v.28 “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? 30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?”
We are not told in the above whether the speaking in tongues or interpretation of tongues is talking about speaking in tongues unknown to the person with the gift or if the person with the gift has learned the tongues. Likewise, we are not told whether the interpreter is interpreting tongues he has not previously known or he is interpreting tongues that he has learned. I do know that not everyone can effectively learn several languages, but a few can. I also know that many people who know several languages cannot effectively serve as an interpreter. Regardless, Paul through the Holy Spirit instructed the churches as to how tongues may be spoken in the church in chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians. This we will consider below.
Speaking in Tongues Part 2
In this installation, we take a look at the teaching of 1 Cor. Chapter 14 with regard to speaking in tongues. This chapter deals with speaking in “unknown” tongues. “Unknown tongues” are not mentioned anywhere else in the scriptures, but in this chapter. As we have previously discovered, all previous mentions of tongues, in the New Testament, were of known tongues. That is the languages were known by someone who heard the speaker speak. It is very important in our understanding that we consider who the “unknown” tongue is “unknown to” in 1 Cor. Chapter 14.
The chapter begins as follows: 1 Cor. 14:1 “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. 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. 3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” In this passage, Paul shows the greater importance of prophesying over spiritual gifts. Also, note that the man who speaketh in an unknown tongue speaks unto God. The language he is speaking is unknown to other men in the church. They cannot understand him. His speaking in a language unknown to the others in the church means that he must be speaking unto God for no one else in the church could possibly understand him. If anyone else in the church could understand him, then the language would be known to that individual. An example of this would be if I spoke English to a congregation that knew only Spanish. I could speak to God because he knows all languages. However, to the congregation I am speaking in an unknown tongue and they would receive no edifying from my speech.
14:4 “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.” This shows that the speaker knows the language in which he is speaking as he is edifying himself. However, the church is not edified by his speaking unless he speaks in a language they can understand, or else, there is an interpreter to interpret from the speakers’ language to the congregations’ language.
14:5 “I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. 6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?” Paul said that in the church the church is not edified or profited by someone speaking to them in an unknown tongue, unless the tongue is interpreted that the church may receive edification by revelation or knowledge or prophesying or doctrine.
14:7 “And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? 9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.” Paul compares someone speaking in an unknown tongue to a lifeless musical instrument that gives no distinction in the sound so that it cannot be discerned what is being piped or harped. He also compares speaking in an unknown tongue to a trumpet that gives an uncertain sound. The hearers have no idea what they are to do because of the uncertainty. Moreover, he says that someone speaking in an unknown tongue is like someone speaking into the air. It cannot be known what is spoken. Paul also admonishes that we should speak with words easy to be understood.
14:10 “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. 11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.” Some have taken the position that unknown tongues are those that are unknown to any man or group of men. However, Paul dispels that idea when he said, “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.” Each voice or language has a signification. Thus, the idea of someone speaking in a language unknown to man would be contrary to the idea that when someone speaks in an unknown language that he is speaking in a language unknown to any man.
Moreover, Paul says that for two people to speak in a language unknown to one another is barbaric and makes the two people like barbarians to one another.
14:12 “Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. 13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.” Paul speaks here of the great need to edify the church and that by interpreting to the congregation what they otherwise could not understand is the only way that the church could be edified.
14:14 “For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. 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. 16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? 17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.”
If I could pray in a language that I did not know then my spirit would pray, but my understaning would be unfruitful. In other words, it would have no meaning to me unless I have understanding. Paul affirmed, “I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the understanding also.” Thus, when we pray we should pray with the spirit in a language we understand. Likewise when singing we should sing in the spirit in a language we can understand.
Paul also affirmed that we should pray in a language that the congregation can understand so that they can be edified and say amen at our giving of thanks.
14:18 “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 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.” Paul teaches that it is far more important to just speak five words with understanding in the church than to speak ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. There is no teaching or edifying of the church in speaking in an unknown tongue. It is a senseless exercise to speak in a tongue that is unknown to the congregation.
14:21 “In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. 22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.”
Speaking in other tongues to a congregation of believers is not a sign to them. The believers need no sign. They are already believers in Jesus Christ. Prophesying is for the believers. Moreover, the Lord said that unbelievers will not hear him even though they see signs.
14:23 “If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.” Paul says that if the unbelievers or unlearned come into the church and someone speaks in a language they do not know, then they will say that you are mad. However, if they come into the church and someone prophesies unto them and they are convinced of the truth then they will worship God and report that God is in you of a truth. Obviously, this is just one more argument put forth by Paul that preaching and teaching in the church should be done by words easy to be understand and that speaking in an unknown uninterpreted language should not be done in the church.
14:26 “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.”
Once more Paul gives a reason why speaking in languages unknown to the church should not be done unless there is someone to interpret for the church. He says “Let all things be done unto edifying.” Paul had previously taught that speaking in a language unknown to the church was not edifying. Moreover, Paul affirms that if there come those who speak in languages unknown to the church, then someone should interpret or if there is no interpreter he should keep silence in the church.
14:33 “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” For someone to speak in a language unknown to the rest of the congregation when there is no interpreter is confusion. God is not the author of such.
Elder Vernon Johnson