I Corinthians 14:1-4 says, "Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that you may prophesy. For he that speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not unto men, but unto God: for no man can understand him; howbeit in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he that prophesies, speaks unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. But he that speaks in an unknown tongue edifies himself; but he that prophesies edifies the church"(Old King James Version). My subject in this message is "Unknown Tongues". Fifteen times in this chapter Paul used the word "Tongues." Six times the words "Unknown tongues" are found in the King James Version of this chapter. If you have a King James Version, please note that the word "unknown", every time it is used means it is not in the original text as given by the Holy Spirit, but was added by the King James translators. They did us a great disservice by adding the word "unknown," because it has led to much misunderstanding and misapplication of the word tongues in the New Testament.
We are experiencing a new surge of Pentecostalism and in Christendom today. It is spreading to some of the larger denominations, not usually associated with this movement. I refer to those who use some king of tongue-speaking in their worship services and other miraculous gifts. They understand the tongues in this chapter to be ecstatic speech, one's own personal prayer language. It has no structure and is not a known language only to the person who has it and God. It is an angelic language beyond the human, and is a miraculous gift from the Holy Spirit. It behooves us too study this chapter well, for it is important that we know what the word of God teaches about the tongues mentioned in this chapter and throughout the New Testament.
In the first place a study of the New Testament reveals that the tongues mentioned in this chapter were human languages. The word translated tongue comes from the Greek word glossa. From glossa we get the English word glossolalia which literally means "to speak in tongues." However, the term is applied to the ecstatic utterance of unintelligible speech-like sounds by religious people, like that in the Pentecostal movement, but the Greek word used in the New Testament never carries such a meaning. Glossa means language. Thayer's Greek dictionary defines the word thusly, "The language used by a particular people in distinction from that of other nations." This is the normal and common meaning sf the word as used by the Greeks and as used in the New Testament. It cannot be shown to have any other meaning in the gospel of Christ. It always means, biblically, "human language." It doesn't mean babble, ecstatic speech, jargon, gibberish, or incoherent talk. Intelligent, normal human language is the meaning of the term. Jesus predicted that the early Christians would speak with tongues in Mark 16:17, "In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues." Jesus said "new tongues" because they were to speak in languages which they had not learned previously. Hence, they were new languages.
We can learn very much about this subject by calling to memory the first time Jesus sent this power to his disciples to speak in new languages. It happened on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem where the Christian religion had its inauguration. Acts 2:1-4 says, "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they (the apostles) were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." This was the beginning of tongue-speaking or language-speaking. The persons thus assembled together and filled with the Holy Spirit were not, as many have supposed, the one hundred and twenty disciples mentioned in the previous chapter. The subject changes from the 120 disciples to the 12 apostles in Acts 1:26. The house in which they were sitting when the Spirit came upon them was not the upper chamber in which they were abiding, but most likely in some apartment in the temple (Luke 24:53). The fire-like and forked tongues which were visible above the heads of the apostles were symbols of the audible languages which they immediately began to speak. When the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance, the promise of a baptism in the Holy Spirit was fulfilled and they were filled with power from on high, as Jesus promised in Acts 1:5. The power took effect on their minds, and its presence was manifest outwardly by their speaking in languages which they had never learned. Acts 2:4 says they spoke in "other tongues," and this means they spoke in languages other than their own native tongue. In other words, the apostles spoke in foreign languages.
But how do we know they spoke languages? How do we know that this may not have been a private-prayer-language like some people claim, one's own private language by which he talks to God? We know from Acts 2:5,6 which says, "And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together and were confounded because that every man heard them speak in his own language." Was it babble or was it language? Was it a human language or was it unintelligible speech. Everbody heard the wonderful works of God in their own languages(Acts 2:11). They said, "Are not these men all Galileans? How do they know all these languages. Galileans are not educated people; they have no schools up there to teach this stuff. How can it be we are hearing the wonderful works of God in our own languages?" How could they hear the wonderful works of God unless they heard their own language? What languages did they speak? Verses 9-11 tolls us that some 17 different languages were spoken. I tell you that what the apostles said was not babble, ecstatic speech. It wasn't everybody with his own private little prayer speech which you do in the closet all by yourself, or when you are in an emotional state of mind in a religious service. They spoke bonified, human languages. The gift of tongues or languages in the New Testament church was always languages and was never anything else. Now this evidence is so impressive that none can dispute that tongue-speaking in Acts 2 was human languages, foreign languages which were fully understood. Our friends will agree that languages is one of the meanings of the word, but they maintain that as you go farther into the New Testament, it changes and there is such tongue-speaking as a private prayer language. This is pure speculation and opinion, for as we continue to study the word of God, it does not change. Tongues mean language and nothing else.
The next outstanding example of speaking in tongues is related in Acts 10. Cornelius and his household were the first Gentiles to become Christians. Acts 10:44 states, "The Holy Spirit fell on them that heard the word." Then we are told that the Jews who had become Christians were astonished because "that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. For they heard them speak with languages and magnify God." This wasn't babble or some kind of private prayer language. Cornelius and his house spoke in languages. It is the same word as in Acts 2. Look at Acts 11:15; Peter reporting back to Jerusalem on the conversion of the first Gentiles said, "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as on us at the beginning." Peter said that God gave Cornelius and others in his house the same gift. Peter said they got the same gift the apostles got, and the apostles got languages. What, then, did Cornelius' household get? Languages! It had to be, for it was the same thing. And tongues continue to be the same thing throughout the New Testament. Acts 19:6 is another example of the same thing. Paul laid his hands on twelve men he had just baptized, and the Holy Spirit came on them and they spoke with tongues or languages. This is the same word as used in Acts 2 and Acts 10. It was languages.
I shall present one more evidence that tongues in the New Testament are always languages. I Corinthians 14 gives many directions about the use of languages in the worship. I Corinthians 14:28 forbids the use of any foreign languages in Christian worship, if no interpreter is present. The reason for this prohibition is given in I Corinthians 14:22,23, "Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not....if therefore the whole church be come together, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that you are mad?" If you have everybody speaking a language, doing their own thing, the result will be hysteria. People will think you are crazy. It will have an adverse effect on non-Christians. The impressive thing about speaking in tongues, which made it a strong evidence for Christianity, was that it was a real language which the person had not learned. The sign or miracle was speaking in a foreign language with the supernatural help of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, it was also translated miraculously. That was impressive! Without an interpreter, tongue-speaking was worthless and was forbidden in church worship, because it was no longer a sign.
Let us now review what we have learned. The gift of tongues in the New Testament was a Spirit-given ability to speak a foreign language. When you take that definition and compare it to what is going today in religious services, we see a conflict with the teachings of God's word. Babbling, ecstatic speech, private prayer-language simply do not fit. No such thing is found in the New Testament. The so-called tongue-speaking preached today is linguistic nonsense, incoherent speech and has no religious value to anyone. It is not a true language. It is a certain Bible truth that if what is heard in tongue-speaking services today are not known languages, it is not the gift of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament. It is of man and not of God.
But someone says there have been known languages spoken in these charimatic assemblies. I would not dispute this fact, but if it is so the people had better be on their guard. If what you hear is a bonified language, you had better be careful, for many people today are biingual and multilingual. They can speak different languages and interpret them because they have learned them. And there are many counterfeits in the world! Now if you have people in these charizmatic assemblies who are multilingual it would be very easy to imitate the New Testament gift of tongues. Such people could deceive even the elect.
One of the miraculous gifts of the first century church was the gift of interpretation, and still another Christian had the gift of discerning spirits to make sure this person was speaking a bonifide language which he had never learned. For a person who is bilingual, it would be easy to deceive charizmatLc assemblies. It would be easy to imitate this miraculous gift. I strongly suspicion that much of this is going on today in groups who exploit the tongue-speaking gift. This helps give the people the impression that the Holy Spirit is really working among them and causes the people to be in awe. We cannot go by the sight of our eyes in this matter. We must know what the gift really was, how it was given, what its purpose was, and when it ended. If we don't know this, we can fall into this deception very easily.
It is a wonderful thing to be a New Testament Christian. When you become a Christian as the New Testament directs, you are a true Christian. But if you accept Christianity in a way devised by man and not according to New Testament teaching, I don't know what that makes you. You may be a follower of Christ but not a true disciple. Wen you become a Christian in the way the Word of God teaches it gives you a beautiful assurance and a wonderful certainty that pervades every day and goes into every situation. When one obeys the gospel and becomes a Christian, he has the assurance that as he follows in the footsteps of the Lord all things are well. It is for this reason that I would call upon those of you who have never been immersed for the remission of sins, to believe in Christ, make a commitment to Christ to stop sinful living, and be immersed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to have all past sins washed away in the blood of Christ. I urge you to confess your faith openly before men and turn away from the sinful ways of the world. Complete the primary acts of obedience by being buried with Christ in baptism. In baptism one symbolically buries his old way of life and then is raised from the grave of water with a commitment to live a new life in Christ.