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Speaking in Tongues:  Does No Man Understand?

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Question:   Hi Dr. Luginbill, On speaking in tongues, doesn't Paul say that when we talk in tongues "no man understands"? Unless there is a translation that I don't know about - and I have checked out several - it seems to me that "no man" means no man or no woman in any language. Also, he says that the person is "talking unto God." That seems to cinch it that, though there was a kind of tongues involving foreign languages, there is also a kind of tongues that nobody but the Lord (and maybe one with the gift of interpretation) understands. You say you have never spoken in tongues. Perhaps you have never asked for this gift? It is so easy to get. Honestly, it happened to me by "accident." Some friends in a Bible study were talking about "the baptism of the Holy Spirit" over a decade ago. That sounded like something good to have. But I told the Lord, "I don't, don't want to talk it tongues." They seemed very iffy and very weird. But the Lord had other plans. Not long after the Bible study group, I was reading this book The Holy Spirit and You. There was a paragraph in there which was a prayer for how to receive "the gift of a Heavenly language for praising" God. The next thing you know my jaw dropped of it's own accord, and I found I could speak in this strange new language. I had even tried, experimentally, to do that shortly before, just as a sort of game, and got nowhere. Suddenly it was flowing out of me!

Thanks for your time and comments. Have no fear, I will never, ever give up studying the Bible. It is the most fascinating thing in the world, and so needful all the time.

In Christ

Response : 

As to the "gift of the Spirit" issue, I do have some experience in these matters and am aware of what you are speaking of. My comments on the site, e-mail answers and etc. come from study of scripture, and I try to divorce this from experiential considerations. That is, we walk by faith, not by sight. And if we are convinced of the truth of something in and from scripture, then nothing we see or experience should ever be allowed to compete with what we know from faith in the Word. I think it is pretty clear from the Bible that all contemporary believers in Jesus Christ have been baptized with and by the Spirit at the moment they believed (compare Matt.3:11 with Gal.3:26-29, Rom.6:3, etc.). We all have the Spirit, if we are Christ's at all (Rom.8:9).

It is very true that in apostolic times this "baptism" occasioned by belief was often attended by miraculous manifestations (and it is certainly not my place to say when and where and how God can or will do this again). But the manifestations of the Spirit are not the same as the gift of the Spirit, and to equate the two, as groups who focus on tongues and the like often do, is to wrongly suggest and imply that other believers don't have the Spirit on the one hand, and to misunderstand (and I would say cheapen) the great value and blessing of the main twin effect of the baptism:

    1) uniting us with our Lord Jesus Christ, and

    2) quickening our spiritual abilities through the indwelling Spirit (i.e., empowering our relationship with and work for the Lord).

These most important things are possible with or without tongues, and they are really what the Bible is discussing when it talks about the baptism of the Spirit.

It is certainly true that breaking down our resistance to deep and heartfelt prayer to the Lord is a good thing, and that focusing our concentration on Him and the task of prayer can be difficult, and that, further, any pleasant and emotionally stimulating support for such prayer is a benefit (as long as there is nothing scripturally wrong with it). To the extent that I have witnessed the phenomenon of what is today called tongues, it seems to me to be exactly that, a verbalization of the emotions welling up inside believers who yearn to express themselves to God. My attitude towards this is not particularly supportive, as you no doubt have realized. That is so for several reasons:

    1) I do not believe that, whatever this is that is being called tongues is really the biblical, Spirit-given gift of tongues (for the reasons I have repeatedly set forth), so that the first problem is that neo-tongues is claiming to be something it is not.

    2) While I understand and appreciate enthusiasm and emotional response to God, in my opinion such things are much more salutary when they are subject to a modicum of discipline; so that "praying" in a "tongue" (especially if it is not really a tongue but only a verbalization of emotion) is not nearly as beneficial as expressing true meaning in conjunction with controlled emotion, through the recitation of a Psalm, for example (that is what Paul means too when he says he wants to pray with his mind as well with as his emotions: 1Cor.14:14-19).

    3) God is not the author of confusion (1Cor.14:33), or weirdness (you allowed as how tongues seemed odd to you once), so that everything in the Church of Christ (i.e., in all our behavior as Christians) must be done "decently and in an orderly way" (1Cor.14:40). Strange, odd, and bizarre behavior of any sort should give us pause. This is exactly the sort of thing that cults love to make use of, because once you have people doing odd things, you not only break down their inhibitions (so as to make them more vulnerable to persuasion for all manner of nonsense), but you also alienate them from friends, family and the world of normalcy (also cementing them into the cult at the same time as these other influences that might serve as a restraint upon on their obedience to the cult have thus been removed).

Talking with God does bring true peace, and I can see where a device that makes that conversation more accessible, more enjoyable, and more free-flowing would be highly desired. But, as I say, in my view, even though it may take more effort, more self-discipline, more thought, and be less impressive, the content behind prayer is what is really important and what is really edifying. Because it is with our conscious minds that we are here in this world to serve the Lord and grow in Him, and it is therefore with those minds, supported by emotion, that we should first and foremost fellowship with Him. This is really the point I feel behind 1Cor.14:2 which you quote. Paul's purpose in making this point is his sentiment, very clear in v.1, that it is preferable to express content (i.e., in understandable "prophecy") rather than not (i.e., in non-understandable "tongues"), and the fact that "no one hears" when one does so is clearly being held up as a disadvantage in that context rather than as advantage.

If this is the case with the genuine gift of tongues, how much more would this biblical principle not also be true of all contemporary approximations of this gift which may or may not be the definite article?

Here are some other links on the subject:

The Gift of Tongues: Part 1

The Gift of Tongues: Part 2

Is "speaking in tongues" a sin?

Is "speaking in tongues" biblical?

An Extended Conversation about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

"The baptism which now saves you":  1st Peter 3:21.

Some questions about Nimrod and Christmas trees, Tongues, and Healing

A Miscellany of Questions and Answers (Ninevah, the beast, tongues, demons, Sadam, etc.)

Yours in our Lord,

Bob L.


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