Hey everyone! Below is my entry for the essay contest. I will be arguing that the miraculous gift of tongues can be both a human language and a “heavenly” one. Obviously, I do not agree at all with this position, and will be representing it in a way I could see it being argued. This essentially requires me to intentionally misinterpret scripture, so I will have a response at the end of the essay dedicated to my personal views, and why what I wrote above is in error. All scripture references will be from the ESV. Enjoy!
The gift of tongues is a gift that enables the Christian to speak in a language foreign to the hearer. This comes in two forms, the speaking of “earthly languages”, such as the occurrence on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, and the speaking of a “heavenly language”, which we see represented in 1 Corinthians.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:1,
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”.
Note how Paul mentions an “angelic” tongue in addition to the “tongues of men”. This is one verse that demonstrates the different varieties of this gift.
Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 14:2 says,
“For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.”.
It can be argued that prophecy is for the entire church, but tongues are for the individual. Verse 4 says,
“The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.”
Of what use is this angelic tongue? Romans answers that question for us. Romans 8:26 says,
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”.
Many of us have faced circumstances in which we simply had no idea what to pray. The one gifted in tongues has the Spirit intercede on his behalf. The heavenly language, like the human one, can also be translated to function as prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:27).
God has given gifts for the building up of the Church (1 Corinthians 12:7). The gift of tongues can be used for the edification of others by human languages, and to the self, by spiritual language.
Now I will debunk my above creation. I believe that the gift of tongues described in scripture was exclusively human in language. While 1 Corinthians 13:1 does mention an “angelic” tongue, this an example of hyperbole. Hyperbole is defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “extravagant exaggeration (such as “mile-high ice-cream cones”)”1. Reading further into the text demonstrates its hyperbolic nature. Verses 2-3 read,
“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”.
Speaking in an angelic tongue is spoken of in the same manner as having prophetic abilities to know all mysteries and knowledge and having a faith to move mountains, and is, perhaps, just about as common.
Looking at the context of 1 Corinthians 14:2 helps to discern its true meaning. When we add verses 1-5, it reads,
“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up”.
The gifts of prophecy and tongues are being contrasted in the passage. It seems like Paul is saying, “Especially desire prophecy. The one who speaks in a tongue speaks mysteries as he is not understood. No one except the speaker is built up for this reason. The prophet, however, encourages, builds up, and consoles. Tongues are good, but prophecy is better since it edifies the church.”. It would appear the passage would actually lean against the use of heavenly tongues when we understand it in its full context. “mysteries in the Spirit” does not suggest a language that cannot be found on earth, it is a mystery as no one knows the tongue spoken.
This context is also helpful with verse 4. As previously stated, the tongue-speaker only is being built up, as no one else knows what he is saying. Verse 4 does not necessitate speaking in an otherworldly tongue, nor, as we will see later, does it suggest that the primary purpose of tongues is self-edification.
Romans 8:26 is a weak text to use to justify non-earthly languages. This is a text that refers to all believers, since all are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Since this applies to all believers, and we know that not all believers speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30), it would appear that the verse refers to something else. It is also notable that the “Spirit” is the one groaning, not the Christian, and that the Spirit uses words that “cannot be uttered”, arguably even with an angelic tongue.
The gift of tongues is not given for the individual Christian. It’s purpose is for unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22). It was prophesied about in Isaiah 28:11. Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 12:7 says,
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
The primary purpose of tongues was for those outside the Christian fellowship, as we see in Acts 2. The men were “amazed and perplexed”, because they hear God being praised in their own language. This cannot occur with an angelic language that no man speaks.
In summary, the focus of 1 Corinthians 14 is on the superiority of prophecy and necessity of translation when using the gift of tongues. The verse is not intended to support a heavenly variety of the earthly gift we see in Acts 2. Several other verses may suggest that the gift may enable the Christian to speak non-earthly languages, but the arguments seldom hold up when examined.
1."Hyperbole." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 22 June 2017.
NOTE: Miscellaneous edits have been made, primarily for formatting.