I recently saw a thread on Twitter that held a very strong opinion that the gift of speaking in tongues is a natural language. The author of the thread got his defense from the experience in Acts 2, and 1 Corinthians 14:10-11.
This post is to give an answer beyond a reasonable doubt on what exactly is the gift of speaking in tongues, is it a known/natural language or a supernatural one? Can it be understood without the help of the gift of interpretation? What about the event in Acts 2?
Let me start with 1 Corinthians 14.
“There are many different languages in the world, and every language has meaning. But if I don’t understand a language, I will be a foreigner to someone who speaks it, and the one who speaks it will be a foreigner to me. And the same is true for you. Since you are so eager to have the special abilities the Spirit gives, seek those that will strengthen the whole church. So anyone who speaks in tongues should pray also for the ability to interpret what has been said. For if I pray in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don’t understand what I am saying.” – 1 Corinthians 14:10-14 NLT
1. You don’t “pray” to interpret if it’s a known language. You simply learn that language.
Notice that Apostle Paul said you should “pray to have the ability to interpret”. If that means that interpreting the gift of tongues is by a supernatural means, then it means the language must be supernatural also. That you have to pray to interpret is enough evidence to see that isn’t a known/human language. It is a language you need a supernatural ability to know what is being said.If speaking in tongues requires a supernatural ability to interpret (1 Cor 14:13), then it must be a supernatural language. You don't pray to interpret a language you can learn. Click To Tweet
2. Vs 14; it’s your spirit praying and you don’t understand what is being said.
Reading 1 Corinthians 14 from vs 7
“Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody. And if the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle? It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space. There are many different languages in the world, and every language has meaning. But if I don’t understand a language, I will be a foreigner to someone who speaks it, and the one who speaks it will be a foreigner to me.” – 1 Corinthians 14:7-11 NLT
Paul compares speaking in tongues to just playing rubbish on an instrument. You don’t understand what’s being played as compared to if they play that “waking up notes on the bugle in Military camp.
“For if you have the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking only to God, since people won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be mysterious.” – 1 Corinthians 14:2 NLT
Take note Paul said, “people won’t be able to understand you, you will be talking to God”. He did not say, some people won’t be able to understand you. I mention this for people that say you will be speaking a known language that you didn’t learn by natural means. That will mean other people who know that language will be able to understand you.'People won't be able to understand you, you will be talking to God' (1 Cor 14:14). He did not say, some people won't be able to understand you. Click To Tweet
This is another pointer that the gift of speaking in Tongues is not a human language.
Do you get it? It is foreign to the speaker, but for it to edify the audience, he still has to interpret it by a spiritual ability, meaning it’s not natural to the audience, it’s foreign/mysterious to them also.
You speak only to God. You don’t speak in tongues to people. You speak to God. You speak only to people when the tongues is interpreted, and that is prophecy.Tongues gift is foreign to the speaker, but for it to edify the audience, he still has to interpret it by a spiritual ability, meaning it’s not natural to the audience, it’s foreign/mysterious to them also. Click To Tweet
Now, to Acts 2. I will need you to put your thinking cap on here.
“And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers. They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other. But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”” – Acts of the Apostles 2:4-13 NLT
Some background thoughts;
1. These remarks about “hearing people in our own languages was a journalistic account”.
It is like when you go to a crime scene and you ask people what they saw, you’ll always see disparities.
What I mean is that, Act 2:4-13 wasn’t intended to give a “teaching/doctrine on tongues”. It was just a report of what people said and what people saw,
1b. 1 Cor 14 however is a teaching on Tongues.
Paul’s focus in 1 Corinthians 14 is to explain and correct misconceptions and excesses around the use of the gift of speaking in tongues and prophecy. So if we have to choose what should be a doctrinal guide on the subject of speaking in tongues between Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14, we should choose 1 Cor 14.
2. Some disparities in what people said in Acts 2.
– Some said they heard their own languages.
– Some said they were drunk. Incoherent speech is known with Drunkenness, not a change of language. What I mean by this is, you don’t get the ability to speak a new language when you are drunk. You experience incoherent/muddled speech. You say things that will be difficult to hear, but not a new language.
3. Considering the number of people talking at once; 120 people.
What is the natural possibility of people hearing their own distinct language when 120 people are talking all at once.
Have you ever been in a room with 100 people all talking at once. It will be hard, almost impossible to distinguish what they are saying, not talkless of all speaking in different languages, it will be chaos, which is why the remark of “them being drunk” seems more accurate. Because with drunkenness comes incoherence of speech.
And notice that when Peter gave a defense, he didn’t talk about/acknowledge them hearing their own languages, he spoke about them assuming to be drunk. That is noteworthy.
“Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that.” – Acts of the Apostles 2:14-15 NLT
4. Let’s assume they heard in their own languages.
If this actually happened. Considering the premise I have in No 3, then it must be a miracle.
Note that this isn’t the same as “interpretation of tongues”, cos interpretation of tongues is not a “hearing gift”, it’s a “speaking gift”. You don’t hear what is being said in tongues in your natural language. You know and speak what’s being said supernaturally. What you hear is still “gibberish”. It’s not like I’m speaking in tongues but you are hearing English. No.
So, if they heard in their own understanding,
- – First, it must have been a miracle to hear distinct words in such a chaotic situation.
- – It must have also been a miracle to have heard in their own languages.
- It couldn’t be Interpretation of tongues since you need to be saved and have the Holy Spirit to function in the gifts of the spirit.
I hope these points provide adequate clarity on the nature of the Tongues gift. Feel free to ask your question as a comment below.