Tongues 1 Cor. 14: 2

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The gift of tongues, like the gift of healing, was a sign gift given to unbelieving Jews so that they would believe.  In the New Testament, “tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not,” (1 Cor. 14:22).  The unbelievers who require a sign to believe are Jews, “for the Jews require a sign,” (1 Cor. 1:22).  The three times that you find tongues being spoken in the Bible, the audience is always Jews (Acts 2, 10, 19).

In Acts 2:5, tongues were a sign to the Jews who didn’t believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.  In Acts 10:46, tongues were a sign to the Jews who didn’t believe that Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 19:6, tongues were a sign to a dozen Jews who had been discipled by Apollos (Acts 18:24-28) that they had received the Holy Ghost (Acts 19:1-6).

Tongues in the Bible are not evidenced by someone speaking unintelligibly, while wearing a giddy expression on his face and experiencing some sensual presence in his life.  Tongues are “known languages” when they show up in Acts 2:6.  The Galilaean disciples speaking in tongues were speaking the native tongues of over 16 different nationalities present in Jerusalem (Acts 2:7-11).  There was no interpreter needed because everyone heard them speak in his own language.  These “unlearned and ignorant men,” (Acts 4:13) had received the gift of tongues so they could witness (Acts 1:8) to the Jews who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost from so many different regions.

1 Cor 14 is where people who believe in speaking in tongues will turn to offer scriptural proof of their gift.  They like to quote 1 Cor 14:2 as a proof text, because it mentions “an unknown tongue” that “no man understandeth” when “he speaketh mysteries.”  However, according to 1 Cor 14:16, 23, the person who “understandeth not” what is being said is “unlearned.”  Being “unlearned” implies that the unknown tongue spoken in 1 Cor 14:2 is a language that can be “learned.”

What Paul is describing in 1 Cor 14:16 is like a man from Mexico giving a testimony of thanksgiving in Spanish to English speaking brethren.  Those who can’t speak Spanish can’t understand him.  That’s why 1 Cor 14:2 says, “for no man understandeth him.”  Jer 5:15 says, “… a nation whose language thou understandeth not, neither understandest what they say.”  The tongue is unknown to those who don’t speak it or who haven’t learned it.  Therefore, an interpreter must be there (1 Cor. 14:28).  If there is no interpreter, the fellow speaking the foreign language “speaketh not unto men, but unto God,” (1 Cor 14:2).

Corinth was a coastal trade center.  Thus, many different languages were being spoken in the church. The Lord gave Paul some rules to govern the services to avoid “confusion,” (1 Cor 14:33), to maintain “order,” (1 Cor 14:40) and to facilitate “understanding,” (1 Cor 14:2, 9, 14-16, 19-20).

The five laws or rules for speaking in tongues that the Holy Spirit gave us in 1 Cor. 14:27-34 are violated in all congregations that profess that speaking in tongues is for Christians today. Keep in mind, the Holy Spirit is not going to violate his own rules in the scriptures. The laws are:

  • Men only – vs. 27 & 34, “any man” “let your women keep silence in the churches”
  • Not more than three, at a service – vs. 27, “by two, or at the most by three”
  • One at a time – vs. 27 “by course”
  • One interpreter – vs. 27, “let one interpret”
  • If no interpreter, keep quiet – vs. 28, “if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence”

Here are some other considerations from 1 Cor 14:

  • The “unknown tongue” of 1 Cor. 14:2 is not a mysterious prayer language of the Holy Spirit; it is a language that no one else in the audience can understand.  It is unknown to them.  If you and I heard a fellow speaking Russian, or some language we don’t understand, and you asked me what he is saying, I would reply, “I don’t know, man, it’s a mystery to me.”
  • If the Holy Spirit is interceding for him, you can be sure of one thing, it won’t be with “tongues.”  According to Rom 8:26, when the Holy Spirit gets involved in prayer, it’s “with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
  • The reference to the “spirit” in 1 Cor 14:2, 14-16 is not a reference to the Holy Spirit, but to the man’s spirit.  Notice the lower case “s.”
  • The “understanding” in 1 Cor 14:14-16 is not the understanding of the speaker.  It is the understanding of the hearer.  The speaker understands what he is saying, but his understanding is unfruitful because the hearer can’t understand him.  He’s to pray that he might be able to interpret for the hearer (1 Cor 14:13).  You know how difficult it is for someone fluent in Spanish to make himself understood in English, for instance.
  • The tongues of 1 Cor 14 are not the tongues of angels (1 Cor 13:1).  If you read your Bible, carefully, you will notice that every time an angel speaks he is clearly understood.  No interpreter is required to translate for him.

Conclusion: you can see from this lesson today that the current use of tongues is a perversion of scripture.  This movement is not from the Holy Spirit.   He would never violate his own scriptures.