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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: Could Tongue-Speaking Be Heavenly Languages Rather than Known Languages?

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Don Stewart

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Though tongues, recorded in the Book of Acts, are most likely known earthly languages, the tongue-speaking recorded in First Corinthians seems to be a heavenly language. This is not the same as ecstatic babbling, but rather speaking in a non-earthly language. Those who believe that the tongues are sometimes heavenly languages do so for the following reasons.

While Acts 2 strongly implies that the tongue-speaking was in known languages, the other instances in the Book of Acts do not. The sign of tongues, not the tongue language, is what convinced Peter that the Gentiles believed in Christ. There is no indication that anyone understood the languages that Cornelius and his group spoke when they received the Holy Spirit.

Different Sort

But even if the tongues in Acts all were known languages, those recorded in First Corinthians seem to be of a different sort. In Acts, the tongue-speaking occurred in a situation where people received the initial indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When Paul discusses tongues in First Corinthians, his concern is the worship service. In addition, there are several remarks made by the Apostle Paul which indicates the tongues were heavenly languages:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1).
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).
For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful (1 Corinthians 14:14).

All these verses seem to refer to a heavenly language.

Arguments Against This View

Those who believe that the tongue-speaking in both cases refers to known languages respond to these verses in the following manner:

1. Though the situation in Acts and Corinthians are different, the tongues are still the same. Since the first instance of tongue-speaking in Acts refers to known languages, one could assume that known languages were spoken in the other instances as well.

2. When Paul mentions speaking in the tongues of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1), he probably meant it theoretically.

3. First Corinthians 14:2 refers to the general audience as not understanding the uttered language, and has nothing to do with a heavenly language.

4. First Corinthians 14:14 refers to the one praying in a language which he does not understand, which may be only a foreign language.

These responses, however, are not necessarily convincing, and when the evidence is weighed either view can be supported.

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