WHAT ARE “UNKNOWN TONGUES ?”
Turn in your Bible to 1 Corinthians, Chapter 14.
Notice the term, “unknown tongue,” as used in verses 2, 4, 13, 14, 19 & 27. Do you see anything different in appearance about the word, “unknown” ? In most Bibles, the word “unknown” appears in different type-set, or in italics. The reason for this is the fact that the word “unknown” does not appear in the Greek manuscripts, from which New Testament was translated. In fact, the term “unknown tongues” does not find itself anywhere in these Greek manuscripts !
The word “unknown” found its way into the English King James Bible by human translators who had no idea that there would ever be any misunderstanding concerning the term, as there is today. The King James Bible was translated at a time when understanding about spiritual gifts, like many other important Biblical issues, had been dead for many years. People were just getting back to Bible study, having been deprived for many years by the Roman Catholic Church (which kept the Scriptures in Latin, not the language of the people). Consequently, there was a very real probability that the translators of the King James Bible themselves had never experienced the gift of tongues, nor had known others who had exercised it. How could they explain this amazing spiritual gift when it was almost unknown to their limited theological world at the time ? They did not understand, so they added the word, “unknown” to express that lack of knowledge of these tongues.
Obviously, the King James Translators wanted it to be understood that the term “unknown” does not appear in the original manuscripts – so, they were careful to put it in italics. Furthermore, in the time of King James, the word “tongues” always referred to “a literal language.” Both of these facts are ignored in almost every church that claims to speak in “unknown tongues.”
THE PURPOSE OF TONGUES, THE LITERAL LANGUAGE.
The true gift of tongues is explained (in 1 Corinthians 12:1-10), along with the other gifts of the Holy Spirit to have a distinct purpose: To communicate God’s Plan for Salvation ! It is interesting to observe that many of the people who admire the false babbling which some consider, “speaking in and unknown tongue,” are the same ones who get very upset at any preacher who tries to dazzle his congregation with his large, “higher-than-thou” vocabulary. They rightly object, on the grounds that, although the preacher might be revealing his higher education, he is revealing also, his lack of wisdom, because the people do not understand what he is trying to get across. He would have been better of to speak in terms and language that was easily understood by the people.
In the same light, this writer might get behind the pulpit and preach in German. . . to an English-speaking congregation in Covington, Georgia. The people might conclude that the preacher studied well, or perhaps, spend some time in Germany. But, if they came to hear the Word of God, their time would have been wasted because they didn’t understand what the preacher said ! It would have been better, rather than magnify his talents, for the preacher to speak in English from the start.
The Christians at Corinth, as all Christians, were given gifts by the Holy Spirit which they were to use to proclaim the Word of God (Acts 1:8). Now, these Christians, like most people, wanted to be recognized as being great, while doing the least amount of work to accomplish that standing. The Lord had given to some of them the gift of the Spirit to speak in foreign languages (i.e., “tongues”); but, instead of using them where they would do the most good and communicating the Gospel to the people who understood that language, they spoke these languages within the local church which didn’t comprehend anything they said. Indeed, to them, such talk was an “unknown language.” We must as ourselves is this what the Holy Spirit intended, or desired that this gift accomplish ?
When given a gift as this, the recipient should use it as the Holy Spirit wants the gift to be used, and where the Holy Spirit wants it used ! In the case of “tongues,” or languages, they were to be used to communicate Christ to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22), and were to be used where the unbelievers were – and that was generally not in church ! So, to their Greek-speaking brothers and sisters in Christ, these folks with the gift of tongues, were accomplishing nothing but turning attention to themselves and their gifts, not to Christ ! Why can’t thinking Christians see that the same is true in supposedly “tongues-speaking churches” today ?
Let’s exalt the Giver of the gifts, the Precious Lord Jesus, and not the gifts themselves ! Let’s use the genuine gift of “speaking in a tongue, or language” where that language is understood, and not in the church, where the individual – not the Lord Jesus – receives the glory. Yes, this writer believes that there is such a gift. The Bible clearly states it ! But it is not the confusing and emotionally-chilling babbling that many try to pass off as “speaking in tongues.”
Speaking in “tongues” is not speaking in an “unknown tongue,” because the word “unknown” does not really appear in the Greek Manuscripts ! The gift of tongues, is an understandable language, used to communicate the Gospel.
MISTAKES OF THE EARLY CHURCH REGARDING TONGUES
There is a right way and a wrong way to use the genuine gift of “tongues,” or foreign languages. Paul goes to great lengths to impress upon the Christians at Corinth the proper way in which to use the true gift of the Spirit. Now, understand that this church did have the gift of speaking in “tongues” (foreign languages), but they didn’t use the gift as the Holy Spirit meant for it to be used. Paul gives reasons for his disapproval of the Corinthian mis-use of “tongues” or languages, in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 14.
1. Paul continually de-emphasizes “speaking in tongues.” Why would he do this, if the gift deserved all the attention that the so-called Charismatic churches give it ? Simply because, it is not the greatest gift, or the most effective gift, or the most glorifying gift ! On several occasions, in Chapter 14, Paul tries to persuade the Corinthians to place more emphasis on another gift – the gift of prophecy:
“Follow after love, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.” (14:1)
“I would that ye all spoke with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied. . .” (14:5)
Now, these were very immature Christians. They had spiritual gifts as every believer has from the moment he is saved, but they were not mature enough to use them in the proper manner, yet. Paul set this fact straight from the beginning of his letter to Corinth:
“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes, in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for to this time ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” 1 Corinthians 3:1-2
Why, the, do some churches insist upon imitating a great blunder by an immature church ? Do they get a thrill out of being immature ? Is there pleasure in doing something wrong for a Christian ? If they are immature or weak, or worldly, the answer is “yes.” Here in the United States I have seen a Dad or a Mom on the floor in front of a Christmas tree, playing with the children’s toys before they are given to the children. Yes, they sometimes enjoy the thrills of childishness.
The improper use of this gift, especially when it is done for self-glory, is immature ! These people at Corinth, although given every chance to grow spiritually, found it more enjoyable to remain immature and satisfy their fleshly attitudes. Thus, instead of taking a mature attitude to “go into all the world” with their gift of tongues, they found it more gratifying to impress other Christians with their gift, and be the center of attention within their local church.
What a waste ! These believers, have the true gift of tongues could have been great missionaries throughout the world, using their gifts to preach and teach the Gospel. Paul senses their stubbornness, in part, due to their immaturity, and offers to them a suggestion which would bring some help to this spiritually undernourished church.
Speaking in a foreign language would bring nothing but confusion, and a diversion of attention away from Jesus and onto the stray sheep. So he suggest asking for the gift of prophecy, which would be beneficial to the entire church ! The needed to get more faith…enough to launch off onto foreign shores and villages to preach the Gospel. Tongues would not increase their faith, but prophecy would. Paul contends that tongues should not be emphasized; and particularly where a church is so immature that they refuse to use them in another land where the Holy Spirit had intended them to be used !
Now, this writer has spoken to some leaders in the “Tongues-Movement” who claim vehemently that they do not put and emphasis on tongues, but that they proclaim the full Gospel, with all parts equally exalted. Yet, their churches advertise that they speak in tongues above everything else. Usually, the gift of healing comes in as a close second in emphasis.
They spend more time in church advocating, defending, and propagating this “experience” than for any other single thing. Look at the newspaper, and see what they advertise. Listen on the radio, and hear what they preach. But, most of all, listen to their regular members, and hear what they continually bring up. Tongues ! Tongues ! You cannot ignore the facts ! Most of these churches spend the majority of their time, resources, and energy focusing upon tongues ! Paul says that this is a wrong emphasis, even to people who had the true gift of the Spirit to speak in other languages.
Many of them use speaking in tongues as a test of spirituality against others. They will ask, “Do YOU speak in tongues ?” If the person being questions responds in the negative, they are told that in order to be close to God one MUST speak in tongues. If we were to assume that the person who is doing the questioning had the true gift of tongues, they would still be wrong in their conclusion about the other person. Not every has been given the same gift. The Bible says, in 1 Corinthians 12:11, But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. Tongues is just ONE of the many gifts which the Holy Spirit gives out. Not every saved person has it, and it does not make the person without tongues less spiritual for NOT having it. In fact, it is possible that a person who was NOT given the gift of tongues by the Spirit might have more spiritual gifts than a person who had tongues.
2. Speaking in any tongue that is unknown to the user, is just as good as not speaking at all.
In fact, it is likely to bring harm. (14:5) What good would it be for you, if this book was written in Hebrew ? Unless you could read and understand Hebrew, it would be worthless. What if your Bible was written in a foreign language that you didn’t understand (Praise God, we can read it in English !)….would it be of any value to you ? 1 Corinthians 14:5 is not speaking of prayer, as we do it every day. Nor is it speaking to God as we should. What is implied here, is that since no one else understands the literal language in your midst, only God can. But what does that do for the church ? Nothing !
3. Even to “pray in the spirit” is useless if it is in an “unknown tongue.”
(14:14) We have all heard the term “praying in the spirit” used to define what a person who “quietly” speaks in tongues is doing. But look as verse 14 more carefully. It does not say that the Holy Spirit is praying for us, making intercession for us as if we were in a right relationship with God. It doesn’t even imply that the Holy Spirit of God has any part in this type of praying language that is unknown to the user. Instead, it is well clarified in that “my spirit prayeth.” Oh, yes. The old man of the flesh. . . . The carnal nature that made the Corinthian Christians who had the gift of tongues want to be the center of attention in the church ! Yes, that old nature is still present in every Christian, and by self-will would do things like praying without understanding.
So, when one jabbers and babbles without reasoning and understanding, it is “my spirit that prayeth.” Let’s not blame the precious Holy Spirit of God for ignorance and immaturity. He is our Teacher ! (1 John 2:27) Did you ever have a teacher in school that couldn’t explain thing well ? Maybe that teacher just wasn’t able to make himself understood. You suffered for his inability. But the Holy Spirit has no problem as our human teachers did. He is capable and willing to teach. But to teach, He must make Himself understood….. And that is not done by praying in and “unknown tongue.”