THE BIBLICAL VIEW OF
THE GIFT OF LANGUAGES
The Gift of Languages as a bona fide Spiritual Gift
The gift of tongues then is a bona fide manifestation from
the Spirit in order to carry out a particular aspect
of God's Messianic program.
It is identified in the list of gifts at 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. The operational
issue concerning all spiritual gifts is found at verse 7,
"Now to each one is given the manifestation of the
for the common good."
Each gift has the mutual benefit of the church as its
Tongues is an evangelistic sign gift which is designed to convict and woo the unbelievers of Israel into accepting Christ as the
When unbelievers are converted and joined to the body, the whole body benefits. Thus, like all the gifts, it is needed for the
proper function of the body within the context of its specific purpose
(1 Cor. 12:12-26).
And in the same way that we have parts of the human body
deemed less significant or useful, so it is that there are some gifts
that are deemed less significant or useful. Yet, all parts have a place
in the body and should be given the honor that God has designed.
It is with this in mind that Paul gives at 1 Corinthians
12:28, a list of the gifts from the standpoint of their actual functional
value in the church and places tongues at the bottom of the list. That,
if nothing else, should be the first signpost that the gift of tongues
should not have the prominence assigned to it either by the Corinthians
or by those believers of today who make it the center of their worship
And then, at verses 29-30, he confirms what he related
at verses 7-11 that the gifts are distributed individually so that not
everyone has the same gift. In fact, he very emphatically
states with a rhetorical question, that "not
all" speak in tongues do they (v. 30)? And this becomes the second signpost that the gift of tongues should not have
the prominence that is assigned to it today.
In 1 Corinthians 12:31a, Paul exhorts the "body"
(the group of believers) to earnestly desire the greater gifts. This is
not instruction for each individual to "seek"
the possession of a gift, for the gifts are distributed sovereignty by the Spirit (v. 11) but for the body as a whole to seek for
the proper function of the gifts within its assembly.
And then, at 1 Corinthians 12:31b, he establishes that
which supercedes the gifts; that which operates above and beyond the gifts;
that which must govern every aspect of our Christian life including the
function of the gift that each one has; the Law of Love. The operative
concept behind the law of love is "benefit,"
(Romans 13:8-10). If the experience and expression
of true Christian love is not present in the life, then any expression of "any" gift is an expression of emptiness;
pride and self- centeredness which seeks only self
benefit and gratification, and does not benefit the
person doing it in the least. And in such cases, it should be obvious that
any expression of the believer in this condition would be a malfunction
of the gift since the Holy Spirit would be quenched and unable to provide
His guiding influence.
This is the subject of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Verse 1 is very tricky because it plays upon the frame
of reference of the Corinthians and not ours. For us to come "up to
speed" we need to understand the cultic background of Corinth.
THE MYSTERY CULTS:
A. Concerning the expression of "tongues:"
1. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol.
1, page 722, "Parallels may be found for this phenomenon in various
forms and at various periods and places in religious history."
2. "In Greek religion there is a series of comparable
phenomena from the enthusiastic cult of the Thracian Dionysus to the divinatory
manticism of the Delphic Phrygia."
3. Page 723, "The unintelligible lists of magical
names and letters in the magic papyrus which are used in the invoking and
conjuring of gods and spirits may also be analogous to this obscure and
meaningless speaking with tongues. With these mystical divine names, etc,
in which there are echoes of all the various oriental languages, we may
certainly couple the view that they derive from supraterrestrial tongues
used by the gods and spirits in heaven, each class having its peculiar
voice or dialect."
4. Summary: The practice in these cults was to force oneself
into an emotional or physical frenzy through drinking
or dancing or chanting and singing. This produces a semi-conscious, self-hypnotic
condition in which an unintelligible ecstatic gibberish would be uttered.
They considered this, speaking the language of the gods and angels and
therefore was the ultimate in earthly spiritual communion.
B. The Corinthian problem:
1. The Corinthian church had all the gifts functional
within their assembly. 1 Corinthians 1:7
2. They began their Christian experience with the proper
1 Corinthians 1:5-6; 2:1-5
3. But they moved into emotional slavery. In other words,
they ceased to function on the terms of God's quality
of love. 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:3; 6:5-8; 2 Corinthians
4. They observed the similarity of the "gift"
of tongues to their past practices in the mystery
cults, which practices held the highest place of value
in those cults.
5. So it was very natural to transfer that value to the
bona fide spiritual gift of tongues.
a. The emotional attraction
b. Caters to individual pride
6. But there were problems.
a. In the mystery cults, everyone performed the activity
b. But the spiritual gift of tongues was limited.
1. Not all had it.
2. Women did not have it.
3. It was infrequently used:
its rank: a lesser gift (1 Corinthians 12:28)
its purpose: evangelistic and directed to Jews only
7. So because of this pseudo-value placed on tongues,
everyone wanted to do it just as they had done in
the mystery cults.
8. But since they could not, a false activity developed
to give the appearance of the genuine gift.
a. But it was only a return to the cultic practice of
the pagan Greeks.
b. It was emotional self-hypnosis which produced a verbal gibberish that
only "imitated" the true gift.
c. The mental desire to have it, plus the emotional and
peer pressure enabled everyone to create their own "language".
9. The result was verbal chaos in the services and a de-emphasis
on love and doctrinal instruction. Therefore, no edification.
Paul's intent in 1 Corinthians 13, is to place the emphasis
on love and the filling/control of the Spirit rather than on either the
bona fide gift of tongues or its emotional "cultic" imitation.
Verse 1: The desire for approbation from using the imitation
1. IF I SPEAK WITH THE TONGUES OF MEN: In context, this
refers to the bona fide gift of tongues, which was
the use of a specific Gentile language in order to
communicate the Messianic message to the Jews. There
is nothing wrong with using this gift, for Paul himself acknowledged
that he used it extensively (1 Corinthians 14:18). But
if the Holy Spirit is not in control then everything that the believer does comes from the flesh (Romans 8:8) and the selfishness
of his own lusts. In other words, if love is not the motivator behind the use of the gift, then the Spirit is quenched and the flesh
(sin nature) is in control resulting in a false representation
of the gift of tongues.
2. AND OF ANGELS: this does not refer to the bona fide
gift, for the gift was the use of human languages to communicate specific
truth to the hearers. This specifically refers to
the cultic practice that had been "imported"
from the Greek mystery cults and adopted by the emotional,
carnal "majority" of the church in order to find some kind of personal "satisfaction" in thinking that
God is doing something special and mystical with them.
There is absolutely no evidence in scripture that man
ever has or even can speak in the language of angels. Furthermore, every time
that angels had a message to give to a human, it was
always in that person's own language, not in some
angelic language. However, it was believed by participants
in the Greek mystery cults that they were speaking with the languages of
angels and gods.
3. AND DO NOT HAVE LOVE: This refers to the expression
of that quality of love which reflects the attitude of God in seeking
the benefit of others. The 15 virtues of love are listed in verses 4-7.
Additional teaching from Paul informs us that this quality of love can
only be produced by learning the truths of God's viewpoint and allowing
that viewpoint to permeate our soul so that His standards become ours (Philippians
1:9; 1 Timothy 1:5). In other words, only as the believer maintains fellowship
with God can love be reflected from his soul. For church age believers,
fellowship is intricately connected with the filling-control of the Holy
Spirit (See Spirituality) so that the real contrast here, is between carnality
and spirituality; between self benefit and mutual benefit.
4. I HAVE BECOME A NOISY GONG: This refers to the actual
impact that is realized when love is not the motivator
for our actions. The "gonging bronze" was
used by someone selling wares in the market in order
to draw attention to himself and his merchandise.
5. OR A CLANGING CYMBAL: This is the device used by a
"professional mourner" in order to draw attention to the sorrow
of the occasion. These "mourners" could
be hired to attend a funeral procession or gathering and through the noise-making
routines would draw people's attention and give the impression (real or
false) that the dead was much loved and much respected.
In both cases, the one who involves himself with this
"counterfeit" activity is only bringing
attention to himself and not seeking the glory of
God or the benefit of his fellow believers.
Verse 2: Three other areas that are neutralized without
1. AND IF I HAVE PROPHECY: The spiritual gift and function
of prophecy as a spiritual gift. The gift involved
both a fore-telling side and a forth-telling side.
The emphasis in this section of scripture is the emphasis
placed on the gift at Acts 15:32, "And Judas and Silas, also being
prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy
See Topic, Spiritual Gifts: Gift
But whether the function be "prophetic" in nature
or didactic, if the believer is out of fellowship with God and operating
independent from the motivating standards of love,
then his prophesying and his teaching is useless and
he is viewed as "nothing."
2. AND KNOW ALL MYSTERIES AND ALL KNOWLEDGE: It is at
first, tempting to relate this back to the list of
gifts and regard it as a reference to "the word
of knowledge" at verse 12:8, but since Paul uses the verbal forms
of these words, it is more likely that his intent is to deal with the "possession"
of information that one places value on as pertinent to his Christian life.
"Know," then refers to the result of disciplined study of God's
word so that one possesses a thorough "academic" knowledge of
God's plan. The point is, that even though one may have a lot of "knowledge,"
without the motivation of love, that knowledge is nothing. Furthermore, the knowledge that one possesses may actually be
a knowledge that is not in agreement with the standards
of God such as at Colossians 2:8,
"See to it that no one takes you captive through
and empty deception, according to the tradition of men,
according to the elementary principles of the world,
rather than according to Christ."
Mysteries in the plural takes this beyond the revelation
of God and once again addresses the Greek "mystery"
cults. The issue in those cults was the possession of private and/or "restricted"
cultic knowledge (mysteries) which you then used to
build your prestige and power within the cult.
"Mystery" as it is used in reference to God's
plan always refers to the progressive nature of revealing His plan to His
people, as Paul explained at Ephesians 3:4-5, "which in other generations
was not made known . . ."
"All knowledge," refers to the possession of
academic information about God that would be used
as a false criterion for spirituality and fellowship with God. Paul mentioned
this quality of knowledge earlier at 1 Corinthians
"We know that we all have knowledge.
Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies."
It is important to realize that in this comparison, Paul
is not excluding knowledge but simply demeaning the possession of knowledge
for the sake of knowledge itself, without any application of beneficent
3. AND IF I HAVE ALL FAITH, SO AS TO REMOVE MOUNTAINS:
This refers to the function of faith as a miracle
producing ability, which is probably what the gift
at 1 Corinthians 12:9 is referring to. But as it is with any idea of faith,
the issue is really the object of faith rather than the function of faith
itself. This is illustrated at Matthew 7:22, where we find that unbelievers
can perform miracles "in the name of Christ." It should therefore,
not be surprising to us that believers also can become involved with a
"false" miracle producing way of life which is not motivated
by "true" Christian love, but instead, by a self-centered,
self promoting lust for approbation, power and money. In such cases, that
miracle producing "faith" is useless in God's eyes, no matter
HOW MANY "mountains" are moved.
Verse 3: Two areas of "religious" devotion
1. GIVE ALL MY POSSESSIONS TO FEED THE POOR: Material
generosity without the "true" motivator
of beneficent love for the people involved, has no spiritual value. "It
profits me nothing."
2. DELIVER MY BODY TO BE BURNED: Even religious sacrifice
to the point of martyrdom for what you believe has
no spiritual value if it is not motivated by "true"
love as it is defined by God. Keep in mind that every
religious movement has its martyrs, but the existence of martyrs does not
vindicate the movement any more than an abundance
of social generosity does.
The whole point of 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 is to establish
the fact that a believer can participate in various activities, think he
is in fellowship with God and sharing from the things of God, and yet,
in actuality be trapped in a circle of emotional religious deception.
Verses 4-7: Here Paul gives a detailed analysis of the
quality of love which is produced by the Holy Spirit
and the word of God in the soul. The fruit of the
Spirit is love (Galatians 5:23).
I will not develop this analysis of love as it is not directly related
to our subject.
See Topics: BENEFICENT
LOVE and LOVE:
Verses 8-10: orientation to the plan of God concerning
the temporary nature of the gift of tongues.
1. LOVE NEVER FAILS: The word "fail"
actually means, to fall (pipto), and communicates the quality and permanence of
the way of life that operates on God's character standards.
2. BUT IF THERE ARE PROPHECIES (gifts of prophecy) THEY
SHALL BE DONE AWAY:
This statement relates only to the gift of prophecy. The
Greek word, katargeo, means to set aside, render ineffective and powerless,
to abolish, to nullify. It occurs in a future passive indicative, which
indicates that the gift of prophecy will "receive" an abrogation
at some time in the future. The KJV translation here does not accurately
represent the meaning of the verb, but translates it as "shall fail."
Not only is this a mistranslation, but the idea of FAIL is totally wrong
concerning prophecy. All the prophecies of the Bible will be fulfilled
to the letter, and nothing of what God has spoken will FAIL. Furthermore,
there is confusion in the KJV by translating the Greek word, pipto, as
FAILETH in the first part of the verse, and then the word, karargeo, as
fail, in the next part - giving the impression in the English that they
are speaking about the same thing, which is not true.
KNOWLEDGE is also assigned a future abrogation by the
use of the identical word, katargeo, with the same
morphology (future p. ind.).
And again the KJV has failed to represent either the true meaning of this
verb or the fact that it is the very same verb for both knowledge and prophecy,
but instead, inserts a different English word (shall vanish away), which
only adds to the confusion. The abrogation of these
two gifts is discussed in verses 9-12.
This is not really the subject of this work and actually
has no bearing on the temporary nature of tongues
at all. But the important thing that relates to our
subject, is the use of the word, "done away."
The Greek word, katargeo, means to set aside, render
ineffective and powerless, to abolish, to nullify. It occurs in a future passive indicative, which indicates that the gift
of prophecy will "receive" an abrogation
at some time in the future. That abrogation is discussed
in verses 9-12 and has nothing to do with the gift
of tongues. KNOWLEDGE is also assigned a future abrogation
by the use of the identical word, katargeo, with the
same morphology (future p. ind.).
However, TONGUES, THEY SHALL CEASE: Here we have a different
word to communicate the longevity of the gift of tongues.
And the most important point in this context is that
verses 9-12 explain only the relationship of katargeo to the gift of prophecy
and knowledge and have nothing to do with the cessation
of tongues. The cessation of tongues is governed by this different word and by the context that
establishes in the next chapter which culminates at verses 20-22. The word is,
pauo, which means to cease. It occurs in the
future middle indicative. The significance of the
middle voice is that the subject acts upon itself
with a reflexive idea. It means that the subject,
tongues, will cease of its own accord without any specific action from an outside source. In other words, when tongues has
accomplished its purpose it will cease of its own accord because its job will be done and there is nothing else for it to do.
Again, "when" this happens has nothing to
do with verses 9-12, for that deals only with prophecy
and knowledge. The job of tongues will become accomplished
when there is no longer a "physical" nation of Israel to be the specific recipient of the message. This occurred
in 70 AD when the Roman army destroyed the temple.
That removal of the temple and temple activity made final the transition
from the old priestly body to the new one.
For a complete understanding of this truth, one needs
to study the history of Israel's priestly responsibility and her failure
as God's representative on earth. This will be discussed in detail in chapter
Verses 9-12: Since these verses explain the meaning of
the Greek word, "katargeo," and not the
word, "pauo," they do not address the issue
of tongues at all and therefore I shall not comment on their meaning within this work. Except to say, that in the same way
that tongues was abused and counterfeited in the Corinthian
church, so it is being done today. And in the same
way that tongues is counterfeited today, so there
is a search for a more "mystical" involvement with prophecy, wisdom and knowledge. And it is within the context of
the counterfeit emphasis on "tongues" that
this counterfeit emphasis on prophecy, wisdom and
knowledge occurs. The language of 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 seems
to extend the function of prophecy and knowledge throughout the church age, but the fact that the counterfeit "tongues"
is the primary emphasis within these groups of believers,
makes it apparent that God could not be honoring any
function of prophecy and knowledge within that group. For a detailed analysis
of this part of the chapter see the Bible Fragrances Commentary for
1 Corinthians 13.
The bona fide gift of tongues has ceased as of 70 AD and
any MOVE of God will not be made in support of that
which has ceased in accord with His perfect plan for
the change from Israel to the church, as the priestly agent.
Paul's intent is to demonstrate to the Corinthians that
what they were doing was in violation of love as well
as in violation of the original design for the gift
of tongues in the first place.
That is why he concludes chapter 13 with, "And now remains faith, hope (confidence) and love, these three; but the greater
of these three is love.
FAITH refers to the function of faith that takes the character
of God as represented in His word and applies it to
every situation in life.
See Tipic: Faith Rest
CONFIDENCE refers to the resultant attitude of total confidence
in the character and plan of God as it is revealed
in His word.
LOVE refers to the character reflection of Christ as evidenced
in the 15 virtues of love outlined in verses 4-7.
Love is the ultimate goal of all Christian activity.
The comprehension of love as we learn God's word;
the application of love to ourselves as we apply God's standards to our own soul; and the expression of love to others as
we reflect the beneficent nature of love from God's
perspective (1 Timothy 1:5).
"But the goal of the instruction is love out from
a pure heart
and a good conscience and an un-hypocritical faith." (BFT)
Eph. 3:16-19 (BFT),
That He would grant you, according to the riches of His
to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man;
so that, having been rooted and grounded in love,
Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;
so that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints
what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,
so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
In the context of the local church and the function of
the spiritual gifts, the issue in love is the mutual
benefit of those in attendance since they are there to worship God and
be edified by the teaching of the word. Paul discusses
this in detail in 1 Corinthians Chapter 14.