Troublesome Topic: Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 14:6-10

1 Corinthians 14:6


But now brothers, if I should come to you speaking in [strange] tongues, what will be the benefit to you, if I should not speak to you in a revelation,

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or in knowledge,

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or in a prophecy,

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or in a teaching?

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But now brothers, what if I did what is reported that you do? What if I came to one of your church meetings and “prayed” out loud with unintelligible utterances I call my “prayer language”?  Would that benefit you, as all of the Spirit’s gifts are intended to do? Or, in order for it to benefit you and others would I also need to include a truth that has been uncovered for me by God , or some of the knowledge I have acquired from my personal experiences in my relationship with God, or a divinely inspired word of admonition about how to put truth to work in your life, or a summary of time-honored teaching that is respected by all followers of Jesus?


Paul was making the point that what they were doing in no way fit the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s gracious gifts. His gifts were, and are, always for the benefit of others, often fellow believers, and sometimes unbelievers. The only way the people in Corinth could be of benefit to others was to add something to their version of tongues. This shows that they had things backwards in many ways. In contrast, the two proper forms of tongues would be of benefit to others; speaking in a foreign language by the Spirit’s inspiration was of benefit to unbelievers because it was used to convince them to believe in Jesus, and private tongues, i.e. praying with unintelligible utterances such as groaning and tears, ends up being of benefit to others when that burden is clarified by God and then He helps us bring it to fruition as a ministry to others.

1 Corinthians 14:7


Even the lifeless things giving a sound, whether a flute or a harp, if a distinction to the sounds is not given, how will what is being piped or being harped be known?


Allow me to give an example that is connected to the way you speak in tongues. Musical instruments create beautiful music by playing a variety of notes with different timing. But if you play the same note over and over again, how can any beauty be found in that? Since your speaking in tongues is just as monotonous and repetitive as that would be, it should be obvious that what you are doing has no meaning.

1 Corinthians 14:8


For also, if a trumpet gives an unclear

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sound, who will prepare himself for battle?


Here’s another example, if a trumpet that is used to give signals for battle gives an unclear signal, who will take action and be ready when the battle starts?

1 Corinthians 14:9


In this way you also, if through the tongue you do not give well-marked

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speech, how will it be known what [is] being spoken? For you will be speaking into air.


It is the same with you and the sounds you make. If you keep using this form of tongues you have invented which includes unclear sounds, and if you keep doing it in public instead of in private, how will those who hear you know what you are saying? You will be speaking to no one, which would violate the form of tongues seen on Pentecost as well.

1 Corinthians 14:10


It happens that there are many kinds of languages in the world, and none are without meaning.


We know that there are many different languages spoken in this world, and we know that all of them have meaning; no people group uses their tongues to speak gibberish, because they want to be understood. Both of the proper forms of tongues have meaning, but what you do has no meaning. You are not using public tongues as on Pentecost because that serves to convince the unsaved, and you are not using private tongues because you are not keeping it private.


The Corinthians were engaged in something which went against the purpose of Spiritual gifts, violated the nature of languages and human communication in general, and could not be justified in any way. Paul had to be talking about false tongues here because the two proper forms of tongues have meaning, although private tongues (groaning and weeping in prayer) are understood fully by God and partially by the one praying. Some people today will probably say, “when I pray in tongues it is the same way – God knows what my heart is trying to say even if I don’t.”

The first difference I notice is that private tongues as I am describing it includes a small degree of understanding by the one praying; there is a sense of burden or a burning question about some topic, person, or issue. The person praying sees an incomplete and blurry picture; the things that are lacking are the details, and the course of action that should be taken. That is very different than saying “God knows what my heart is trying to say even if I don’t.” I perceive that most people who use modern tongues sense strong emotion, but no course of action is ever reached.

But the biggest problem with modern “prayer languages” is that they are often used in public settings, which is contrary to the purpose of private tongues. In the case of the Corinthians, Paul sensed that what they were doing had no meaning for anyone, even God. I cannot read the hearts of people who speak in tongues publicly today, but I will say that the nonsensical babbling that goes on in our era seems remarkably similar to what was going on in Corinth as Paul describes here in verses 7- 10 of I Corinthians 14. Paul seems to be accusing them of doing something only for the purpose of looking more spiritual in the eyes of others. As I have mentioned elsewhere, those who knew what the real thing was and still chose to create a counterfeit will be judged more harshly than those today who have been taught that something is the real deal when it is not.

 Corinth was worse than Babel; at least the people at Babel were saying things that made sense!

The next lesson in the Full Series on Tongues is Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 14:11-17

The next lesson in the Mid Length Series on Tongues is Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 14:12 -15



“to uncover, unveil, reveal something previously unknown.”


This is “practical, experiential knowledge, moral knowledge, and knowledge gleaned from relationships.”


This refers to “God-inspired speech which makes clear the mind of God” and the way we can apply His mind to our lives.


This usually refers to “established teaching, or summarized body of respected, time-honored teaching, doctrine, applied teaching.”


This refers to something “unseen, unclear, not immediately obvious, indistinct, not evident, unrecognized, indistinct.”


This word comes from the preposition “well” and the verb “to give a sign, indicate, make known.” Together they mean “well-marked, clear, intelligible, easy to understand.”