1 Corinthians 14:2


Friday, 16 January 2015

 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. 1 Corinthians 14:2

Paul will now contrast the speaking of a “tongue” to “prophesying” which he mentioned in the previous verse. Before analyzing this contrast, it needs to be noted that the word translated here as “tongue” signifies a human language in Acts 2:11, 10:46*, 19:6*; Romans 3:13;  1 Corinthians 13:1, 14:4*; and Revelation 5:9, 7:9, 10:11, 11:9, 13:7, 14:6; 17:15. The other times that “tongue” is used, it refers to the literal tongue in the mouth or something which resembles a tongue (such as “tongues” of fire). In three of these verses marked with an asterisk (*) it is implicitly understood to be a language because the people around them understood what was said.

There is no instance recorded in the Bible where the word “tongue” signifies anything other than a known language. The text must be forced to have this word imply some type of ecstatic utterance or a “shoo bop be loo bop” type of sound which is so commonly used by Charismatics and others in an attempt to draw attention to themselves.

Understanding that this is speaking of known languages, Paul’s words imply that the language is not known to all. It would be comparable to saying, “A French guy stood up and spoke French in a German church meeting.” In grasping this, we can properly interpret Paul’s intent. When a person “speaks in a tongue” (meaning a known language which is not understood by those in the congregation), he “does not speak to men but to God.”

When Charlie Garrett preaches at the Superior Word in Sarasota, Florida, he often preaches words and sentences directly from the Hebrew. When he blesses the elements of communion, he often gives the blessing in Hebrew. In this, none of the congregants understand what he is saying. If he throws in a German or Japanese phrase, the same will probably be true. Either few or none of those present will understand. Thus he speaks not “to men but to God” (who understands all languages). However, holding to the tenets of Scripture, (as will be seen later in this chapter), he always translates what he says in a foreign tongue for the benefit of those in attendance.

The reason that when he speaks in a tongue he “does not speak to men but to God” is explained by Paul as he continues with verse 2. It is because “no one understands him.” Without training in a language, nobody suddenly grasps that language. Instead, they sit listening without comprehending. This is no different than the recipients of the tongues spoken to in Acts 2. People heard the gospel preached in their own languages. If the languages were unknown to them, there would have only been confusion in their minds. But the Holy Spirit, acting as a “universal translator,” converted the words of the believers into a language that they could understand; a known language.

If this didn’t occur, a different outcome would have resulted. As Paul says, “However, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.” The term “in the spirit” is pneumati. It can mean “wind,” “spirit,” or “breath.” Only the context of the surrounding verses can properly interpret the exact meaning of pneumati. As this is speaking of oral utterances, the word pneumati is certainly referring to “breath.” His “breath” speaks mysteries.

But even if it is to be translated “spirit,” it is certain that the breath of the man indicates the utterance of his spirit. There is no reason to assume that this is referring to the work of the Holy Spirit. From the later verses, it will be seen that speaking in “tongues” which do not fit certain guidelines cannot be of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, this here is certainly not speaking of Holy Spirit inspiration either.

In Paul’s words, we see that anyone who speaks in a different language will not be comprehended by those who hear it. Instead, they will find the words to be a mystery. A mystery is simply something unknown and which cannot be grasped without an explanation of the matter. Thus, Paul will give very strict guidelines in the verses ahead for the speaking of tongues.

Too often, readers of the Bible insert presuppositions into the text as they read. When this is done, anything can mean anything. Along with presuppositions, sensationalism is also introduced in order to heighten the experience of reading. The reason why this is often the case is because Bible study takes effort and contemplation. But that is hard work. And so rather than enjoy the Bible for the depth of wisdom it contains, a lighter and more sensational approach is taken in order to find satisfaction from the words which seem difficult and even confusing.

Life application: Be diligent in the study of the Bible. As believers, we get just one brief life to glean from it all we can before we will stand before our Creator for rewards and losses.  Let us be approved on that day.

Lord God, life is such a brief vapor. In my mind, I’m still young and full of energy, doing the things that I did as a youth. But in my body I am slowing down and finding a few new pains with each passing day. Lord, help me to use my time rightly before my days are done. Give me the wisdom, the intelligence, and the desire to pick up Your word, read it, study it, and cherish it during this brief moment of my existence. Why should I stand before You and say, “I was busy watching TV”? Instead, let me say, “Your word carried me though each wonderful day.” Amen.


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