Unknown Tongues

I’m not sure this posting will clarify anything, but here goes.  This posting is a bit different and involves some scripture study mostly from Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14.

The topic is tongues, or more specifically the difference between foreign tongues and unknown tongues.  To start things off, we go to Acts 2 where we see a well-known and well-studied example of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on early believers.  This occurred on the Day of Pentecost, just 50 days after the Passover, when Jesus was crucified.

In Acts 2 the upper room believers were filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues.  But, this was a manifestation of speaking in an foreign tongue, not an unknown tongue, and was closely associated with ‘prophecy’ as was further evidenced by Peter’s reciting the prophecy from Joel regarding the outpouring of the Spirit in the last days.  In Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor chapter 14, he draws a distinction between speaking in tongues and speaking in an unknown tongue, although the language is not always very clear.

An unknown tongue is an expression of the Spiritual gift.  If interpreted it occupies the same space as prophecy and edifies (builds up) the church.  But, if the unknown tongue is uninterpreted it edifies the speaker, but not the church.  Paul basically discourages the use of unknown tongues in the church, unless it can be interpreted.  This is not a prohibition, but rather a means of maintaining order and avoiding confusion, as unknown tongues benefit the speaker, but is of little use to the church unless it is followed with an interpretation.

The only example we have of believers being gifted with the ability to speak in foreign tongues is in Acts 2, but that is not to say it hasn’t happened since then.  In Acts 2 this act was a ‘sign’ to the unbeliever, as each foreigner heard the works of God in their own tongue.  No interpretation was necessary as they spoke in a known foreign language.  Although we call this act ‘tongues’ it probably was better understood as prophecy in a known language, still a miracle, but not tongues in an unknown language that would need interpretation.

Once an unknown tongue is interpreted it carries the same significance as prophecy, which is also clearly indicated by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.  In fact, unless there is an interpretation for the church, Paul insists one should focus on prophecy instead, as it needs no further explanation or interpretation for the church to receive edification.

In 1 Corinthians 14 there are passages that have puzzled me for years, as they seemed contradictory.  But, in the light of understanding that ‘tongues’ could be understood to be either speaking in an unknown tongue, or speaking in a foreign language, some of the mystery and contradiction in this chapter can be dismissed.  The believers in Acts 2 were not speaking in an unknown tongue, they were speaking in a foreign, known tongue, that could be understood by the foreigners in the city at that time.

Now let’s be clear.  No matter the form, true ‘tongues’ is a gift of God and not man-made.  Not all tongues or tongue-talkers are God sent.  Paul instructs us to test the spirits whether they are of God or not.

If you are having any trouble following this you might want to study Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14, and associated study references.  There is a lot of ‘meat’ here…

3 Responses to “Unknown Tongues”

  1. Carol Gilham Says:

    I’m not sure how to define the”Baptism in the Holy Spirit, with the evidence of speaking in tongues.
    Unknown tongues? And, my prayer language?
    Is this defined as unknown tongues?
    I think of it as a gift.
    What about you?

    • Explorer's Group Says:

      Yes, your prayer tongue is a gift, and would be an ‘unknown tongue’ as it represents no known language among men. But, it is only ‘unknown’ to us, but not to God. You should pray in tongues to God as that is a way to ensure you are praying the will of God and not your own. However, to pray in an unknown tongue, as a presentation in the church, would not be appropriate UNLESS there is also an interpretation, as just praying in your prayer language benefits you, but does not necessarily benefit the church as a body. The Corinthians had a few problems, and one of them was that everyone was speaking in an unknown tongue, but there was no interpreter. In cases like this Paul recommends you pray to yourself and God, in a way that does not disrupt the normal church order.

  2. beamcguire@gmail.com Says:

    This was excellent and a great explanation of the difference! I think a lot of people in the church world need this blog and to know the difference! Most people take speaking in tongues as a sign of their spirituality! I’m sure you know what I mean! Blessings….

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