Charismatics Christians typically claim that born-again, Spirit-filled Christians should regularly speak in tongues. They define tongues as a supernatural prayer language which is to be used privately and publicly. During certain parts of the public worship service some Charismatic groups all speak in tongues or sing in tongues at the same time; each person speaking their own private tongue language. But that is exactly what Paul commands Christians not to do in his first letter to the Corinthians.
It seems that the pagans of the time practiced speaking in tongues and that some Christians adopted this practice after learning that the Holy Spirit empowered the early Christians to speak in tongues. But there is a key difference between these practices.
The phrase "speaking in tongues" refers to:
Speaking in tongues occurs mostly in two books of the Bible.
There are references to speaking in tongues by the early church fathers.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4)
And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? (Acts 2:7)
And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? (Acts 2:8)
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)
And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. (Acts 2:43)
This is the genuine gift of tongues. Notice that the people are speaking a language they don't understand but the listeners do understand it. This resulted in the conversion of thousands of people to Christianity.
This example of speaking in tongues was a sign to Jews and God-fearers that Christianity was a genuine work of God. The key ingredients:
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. (Acts 10:45)
For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. (Acts 10:46)
Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? (Acts 10:47)
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. (Acts 10:48)
A second example similar to the first. Gentiles who were listening to Peter preach the gospel believed and the Holy Spirit came upon them. Notice that those who were listening to them understood what was being said (they knew that they magnified God).
Speaking in tongues was a sign from the Holy Spirit that even Gentiles could become Christians and they were immediately baptized into the church. The key ingredients:
When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:5)
And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. (Acts 19:6)
In this incident, Paul encountered some disciples of John the Baptist. Paul reminded them of John's message, that after him would come the Messiah. They believed, Paul baptized them, and they spoke in tongues. The key ingredients:
Gifts of the Spirit
We can't discuss speaking in tongues without addressing the topic of the Gifts of the Spirit since speaking in tongues is one of the Gifts of the Spirit.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; (Ephesians 4:11)
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12)
Paul lists the following gifts:
In this list Paul emphasizes leadership roles of various people. Not everyone has one of these gifts.
For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office [functions]: (Romans 12:4)
Paul starts off by mentioning that Christians have different functions.
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; (Romans 12:6)
Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; (Romans 12:7)
Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:8)
Paul lists the following gifts:
Notice that there is no mention of the Charismatic gifts in this list.
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:4)
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; (1 Corinthians 12:8)
To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; (1 Corinthians 12:9)
To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers [diverse] kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: (1 Corinthians 12:10)
Paul lists the following gifts:
Note that speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues go together. Charismatics typically claim that a person's private prayer language is a language which can be interpreted. If it is a language then it must have a vocabulary, syntax, and grammar. In my opinion this so-called private prayer language is not a language at all, rather, it is mere gibberish. This would be OK if scripture approved of it. In my opinion, scripture does not approve of the practice of speaking gibberish either privately or publicly.
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. (1 Corinthians 12:28)
Paul lists the following gifts:
This is an interesting list. It appears to be a list of gifts to be practiced by the leaders of the church. There is no evidence in the New Testament that anyone other than the leaders of the church performed miracles or healings. The inclusion of tongues here fits perfectly if this gift involves speaking in a foreign language to share the gospel to people who speak a language unknown to the speaker.
He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (Galatians 3:5)
Paul is discussing false teachers who lead the people astray by teaching that they are to follow to Old Testament law. He reminds them that we are saved through faith. Presumably, those false teachers are unable to perform miracles as the orthodox teachers are. But there is no mention of miracles being performed by Christians at large.
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: (James 5:14)
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. (James 5:15)
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (James 5:16)
It is the elders who are to be called when someone is sick. The prayers (in faith) by the elders result in the forgiveness of sins and in healing.
Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? (1 Corinthians 12:29)
Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:30)
Charismatics typically expect all Christians to speak in tongues but Paul says differently. Not everyone is to be an apostle and not everyone is to speak in tongues. But if speaking in tongues is a private prayer language which all Christians possess (as Charismatics claim), why would God only give this to certain individuals? Clearly, Paul does not consider speaking in tongues to be a private prayer language for use by all Christians.
But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:31)
Some gifts are better than others, but charity (love) is above all.
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. (1 Corinthians 13:1)
Paul mentions tongues of men and tongues of angels. Tongues of men refers to the various human languages — not to speaking gibberish. Presumably angels speak in a language that is understood by all the other angels — their language is not gibberish either.
Paul goes to great lengths to emphasize that tongues (languages) must be understood to have any value. Merely speaking gibberish is useless.
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. (1 Corinthians 13:8)
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. (1 Corinthians 13:9)
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:10)
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. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
The gift of speaking in tongues will one day end. This is because there will be a final day after which the process of salvation is complete; everyone has either accepted or rejected God. Therefore, speaking in tongues has the purpose of bringing unbelievers to God; it is not a private prayer language to be used for personal edification.
Prophecy and knowledge will one day end for the same reason; they are for the purpose of bringing people to salvation. When we come face to face with God we will no longer need gifts of tongues or of prophecy or of knowledge.
Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)
Paul goes to great lengths to demonstrate that prophesy is far superior to speaking in tongues. Yet many Charismatics seem to emphasize speaking in tongues.
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. (1 Corinthians 14:2)
Paul is mocking them. The original use of speaking in tongues was clearly for the purpose of communicating to others.
But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. (1 Corinthians 14:3)
When we speak to others it should be for the purpose of edification, and exhortation, and comfort. Speaking in gibberish does not do this. But true speaking of tongues as was done on the day of Pentecost does do this. Therefore, speaking gibberish is not speaking in tongues.
He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. (1 Corinthians 14:4)
This verse is used by Charismatics to support the notion of a personal prayer language. But Paul only wants them to practice prophecy in the church because it edifies others. Therefore, even if Paul is referring to a personal prayer language it should only be practiced when alone and not in public worship.
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. (1 Corinthians 14:5)
People are not to speak gibberish in church. If someone does speak in church using another language (presumably because someone is present who understands that language) then someone else should provide the interpretation. This could be by someone who knows both languages or it could be via a supernatural interpretation. But note that we are not to speak gibberish in church. As I noted earlier, how is interpretation of gibberish even possible?
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? (1 Corinthians 14:6)
Paul again emphasizes that speaking in tongues should not be practiced in public worship.
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? (1 Corinthians 14:7)
For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? (1 Corinthians 14:8)
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. (1 Corinthians 14:9)
Paul is clearly stating that the kind of speaking in tongues they were practicing is actually speaking gibberish.
There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. (1 Corinthians 14:10)
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. (1 Corinthians 14:11)
Paul refers to foreign languages. There is no communication in speaking a foreign language unless the hearer understands the language. Therefore, foreign languages should not be spoken in public worship unless there is interpretation.
These verses highlight the problem with having liturgy in a language that the common people don't understand.
Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. (1 Corinthians 14:12)
Spiritual gifts are for the purpose of edifying others, not for edifying oneself.
Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. (1 Corinthians 14:13)
If someone is supernaturally (or otherwise) speaks a foreign language, they should not speak in church unless they can also interpret it.
For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. (1 Corinthians 14:14)
This verse is used by Charismatics to support the notion of a personal prayer language. But even if such a thing as a personal prayer language does exist it should only be used in private. The question is whether prayer can be performed without understanding; whether it is possible to pray when we don't know what the speech we are using even means?
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. (1 Corinthians 14:15)
Paul seems to be saying that the understanding is an essential ingredient in prayer and worship. Charismatics typically interpret this verse to mean that both kinds of prayer and worship are valid: that performed with the understanding and that performed without the understanding.
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? (1 Corinthians 14:16)
This verse seems to refute the idea of Charismatics that prayer and worship without any understanding of the meaning is valid.
For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. (1 Corinthians 14:17)
It is useless to speak to others in gibberish.
I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: (1 Corinthians 14:18)
Paul speaks in tongues more than all the Corinthians. Presumably in his journeys he encountered people who did not speak Greek and he preached to them in their own language even though he did not know the language.
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. (1 Corinthians 14:19)
Paul emphasizes that they should not speak in tongues in public worship services.
Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. (1 Corinthians 14:20)
He is calling them childish and immature in their thinking.
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. (1 Corinthians 14:21)
In the passage from Isaiah God is remarking that he is speaking to the people, but they don't hear him because they aren't listening; it is as if God were speaking gibberish.
Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. (Isaiah 28:9)
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: (Isaiah 28:10)
For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. (Isaiah 28:11)
To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. (Isaiah 28:12)
But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken. (Isaiah 28:13)
The people in Isaiah's day refused to hear God's word so they would hear the foreign speech of their conquerors and would realize that God had judged them for their wickedness. These words in a foreign language would be a sign to the unbelieving Jews.
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. (1 Corinthians 14:22)
Tongues is a sign for unbelievers; this matches the occasions in the book of Acts in which tongues are described.
Prophecy edifies believers. Paul is going to great lengths to show that prophecy is vastly superior to tongues in the church service.
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? (1 Corinthians 14:23)
Why would unbelievers think these Christians are mad when they hear them speaking in tongues, after all, in the previous verse Paul emphasized that speaking in tongues is a sign for unbelievers? The reason is because the kind of speaking in tongues that the Corinthian church was practicing was not genuine speaking in tongues. They were all speaking gibberish. Genuine speaking in tongues involves speaking a language which is understood by those present; in that case it is a sign and it often results in the conversion to Christianity of the hearers.
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: (1 Corinthians 14:24)
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. (1 Corinthians 14:25)
In the previous verse we have newcomers attending a church service in which everyone speaks gibberish. This is not beneficial to them. In the current verse everyone is speaking words from God in the language of the newcomers; this results in conversion to Christianity. But later (verse 27), Paul commands them to not do this — they should not all speak at the same time even if they are speaking words from God; rather, only one should speak at a time. And there should only be two or three instances of this during one church service — the rest of the church service should be composed of the liturgy, singing, reciting, and a sermon or homily by the one who presides over the service.
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. (1 Corinthians 14:26)
In the church service everything should be done for the edification of the people, this includes the speaking in tongues. If someone does speak in tongues it needs to be followed with an interpretation. Gibberish can't be interpreted because it has no meaning, but has only a superficial resemblance to language.
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. (1 Corinthians 14:27)
But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. (1 Corinthians 14:28)
Anytime someone speaks in a foreign language in the church service someone is to translate into the language of the congregation.
I think Paul is mocking the Corinthians in this verse for thinking that the gibberish they have been speaking can be interpreted.
Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. (1 Corinthians 14:29)
If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. (1 Corinthians 14:30)
After praising the virtues of prophecy, Paul now restricts it use in public worship services. Apparently the church services of the Corinthians were very disorderly with everyone speaking, shouting, and singing at once; some in gibberish and some in their native language.
Notice there is to be only a short time in the service devoted to people prophesying. Only two or three people can do this and the others must remain silent.
For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. (1 Corinthians 14:31)
Paul wants them to speak one at a time so that everyone can hear what is said.
And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. (1 Corinthians 14:32)
People should use restraint and not speak until it is their turn (if they even get a turn at all).
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (1 Corinthians 14:33)
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. (1 Corinthians 14:34)
It is obvious from these verses that the church services of the Corinthians were chaotic. Paul commands that church services are not to be disorderly; rather, they are to be orderly and structured.
Paul's reference to women remaining silent is, I believe, a cultural reference. Presumably in the general atmosphere of chaos and disorder, certain women shouted out at various times thinking this was OK (and in the chaotic atmosphere it was not unreasonable that they thought this).
And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. (1 Corinthians 14:35)
I wonder if the husbands understood what was being taught any better than the wives? I think this is cultural because the women of the day were less educated than the men. These days women are treated with more respect and dignity (but, sadly, they are not treated as equal to men even in our modern society).
What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? (1 Corinthians 14:36)
Paul reminds them that it is apostolic teaching that is their authority, not prophetic utterances.
If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 14:37)
But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. (1 Corinthians 14:38)
Paul expects everyone to obey his commands. Disobeying him is a sign that they are not true spiritual leaders of Christianity after all.
Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. (1 Corinthians 14:39)
Paul is afraid that the Corinthians or other readers of this letter will go to the opposite extreme by forbidding anyone to speak in tongues. Even among non-charismatic Christians there are occasional instances in which someone speaks in a foreign language which they don't know and someone overhears them and converts to Christianity.
Let all things be done decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:40)
Their current practice was not orderly. Paul commands them to drastically change their practice. Note that many Charismatic churches have completely ignored Paul's command.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
Paul is comparing the suffering of Christians in this world with the glorious lifestyle we will have in the future after the re-creation of the universe.
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. (Romans 8:19)
The word "creature" refers to humans. The phrase "sons of God" refers to the angels. We are awaiting the time when the angels will appear (along with Christ) to redeem us.
For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, (Romans 8:20)
God allowed the human race to fall under the spell of Satan to be tested.
Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Romans 8:21)
In some future day we will be redeemed.
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. (Romans 8:22)
Because of our present condition we groan in pain and agony as we suffer the indignities of sin and wickedness. This sin and wickedness pervades the fabric of the whole world because these wicked spirit beings have a tight hold on the spirit realm to which we belong. Even the unsaved suffer in this way.
And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:23)
Not only do the unredeemed suffer but so do those who are redeemed, those of faith. We long for the resurrection in which sin and wickedness is gone and we have a new, glorified body.
For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? (Romans 8:24)
But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. (Romans 8:25)
We must wait for this glorious day.
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:26)
The Holy Spirit provides comfort to us in these difficult times. Notice that the Holy Spirit takes up our burdens and groans under the oppressive weight.
This verse is often used to support the notion that we have a personal prayer language. But note in this verse that the Holy Spirit groans, not us.
And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:27)
God does it all. He searches the heart, he knows the mind of the Holy Spirit, he makes intercession for us believers.
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Corinthians 5:1)
The phrase "earthly house" and the word "tabernacle" refer to our current physical body. The phrases "building of God" and "house not made with hands" refers to our yet-future resurrected body.
For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: (2 Corinthians 5:2)
We suffer and desire to one day receive our resurrected body.
If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. (2 Corinthians 5:3)
For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. (2 Corinthians 5:4)
Being in this current body is like being naked. We will only be truly clothed (in righteousness) once in our resurrected body.
Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 5:5)
Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (2 Corinthians 5:6)
(For we walk by faith, not by sight:) (2 Corinthians 5:7)
In this body of sin we do not truly experience God's presence.
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)
Sometimes we might wish for death, for that future time in which we are fully-present with God, that time in which we inhabit our glorified bodies.
But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost. (Jude 20)
Charismatics use this verse to support their idea that we have a personal prayer language involving speaking in tongues. Certainly this verse can be used to support this idea, but it can just as easily be interpreted to mean prayer empowered by the Holy Spirit. All faith-filled activities are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. (Mark 16:17)
Even the 70 disciples that Jesus sent out two by two cast out demons. And the book of Acts records three examples of people speaking in languages they did not know.
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. (Mark 16:18)
Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake and suffered no harm. There are no examples that I know of in the New Testament of people eating poison and not being harmed. There are plenty of New Testament examples of the apostles performing miraculous healings.