Q378 : Are Tongues Always Known Languages?

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Q378 : Are Tongues Always Known Languages?

Hello Tony,

I was reading your teaching on tongues in 1Cor. 14. I appreciated how you broke it down, but you said something in the conclusion that I wasn’t sure I could get behind. I wanted to see if you could clarify this statement.

Here is what was written

In every place in Scripture where we have objective evidence regarding the nature of how tongues were actually used, they are undeniably known human languages, not the ecstatic speech claimed by Pentecostals and Charismatics today as speaking in tongues [emphasis added]

I’m not defensive about it I just am seeking truth. Paul says this in 1 Corinthians:

2 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 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)

Now that doesn't mean that Paul is not speaking a human language. He may very well be, but what is the use in a human language if it is indeed toward God and only edifying for the one speaking as Paul says later.

I think what I mean to say is that your point suggests that tongues are for people not for God and that someone should understand them since they are always human speech, but Paul says clearly that is not the case.

In the end its not a big deal and I'm not mad about it. We are just children trying to understand who Jesus is and I will get to heaven and realize I got a lot of things wrong.

Just trying to understand your point.

A378 : by Tony Garland

I agree with your observation: my point suggests that tongues are for people not for God and that someone should understand them since they are always human speech, but Paul says clearly that [communicating with other people] is not [always] the case.

Your bring up a good point: I should have qualified my statement as being about situations where humans were speaking in tongues publicly, for the benefit of other people, which is the primary context I was addressing.

The situation which Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 14:2 does not provide “objective evidence” either for or against the idea that tongues are human languages. So I considered that passage as outside of the context I was attempting to address.

Even so, if we consider the situation mentioned by Paul there, there is still clearly communication taking place (to God).

To apply the point I was trying to make concerning tongues and languages to 1 Corinthians 14:2 : biblical tongues always involve communication. In this case, the communication was God-ward, not person-ward. Yet it still was communication.

The larger point I was attempting to make would still apply. That is, communication requires the transmission of information whereas ecstatic speech, by its very “random” or “overly repetitive” nature does not contain information. Linguistic studies done on ecstatic speech have concluded that ecstatic speech is fundamentally different from true language. The primary difference is this: ecstatic speech does not carry information.

This gets back to the nature of true language — an important element which separates humans from animals. True language is not simply “varied sound,” else animals could be said to be using language. True language contains elements of meaning (constructed from phonemes, words, grammar) and can be ascertained as being a true language even by those who cannot understand its meaning. On this score, ecstatic speech fails the “sniff test” of being true communication.

I try to demonstrate this point in one of my presentations titled, The Nature of Biblical Tonguesa where I send an English paragraph of text using Morse code (I am a licensed amateur radio operator, N7DXb).

The idea here is for listeners to hear a paragraph of text in various forms: first the English text in its original form; then the identical set of symbols (characters) in randomized order, as randomized by a computer algorith in 4 different variations. Even people who do not know Morse code can recognize the true text from the randomized variants. This is because the different results fall into two different groups: 1) the English text which contains information; 2) the randomized variants which do not contain information. Even without being able to decode the information within the original text sent as Morse code, it stands apart from the randomized variants.

This is the same difference a listener can detect between tongues which truly communicate (true, unlearned language) and those which do not (ecstatic speech claimed as biblical tongues by Pentecostals and Charismatics today).

This idea was foundational for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Random signals from outer-space do not represent communication from intelligent aliens. That’s because the radio signals that we receive from outer space are either too random (noise) or too repetitive (e.g., energy emissions caused by unintelligent sources such as rotating stars). If listeners actually find a signal containing information, they will be able to recognize it, even before it can be decoded.

Just like hieroglyphics, the symbols or sounds comprising true communication clearly denote information content — even though, as in the case of Egyptian hieroglyphics, it took many years of effort to “break the code.” (Indeed, the effort expended to decipher the text would never have been expended if those involved in the effort did not recognize the symbols conveyed information.)

So: in the case of 1 Corinthians 14:2, even when the tongues speaker is speaking privately to God, true language (communication) is involved.

Some proponents of ecstatic speech attempt to escape this implication by implying that God might communicate using random verbal means that cannot be decoded by men. But it is God who established language and gave it to intelligent creatures (men and angels) for the purpose of communication. He is the One who established the laws of symbolic logic and the imprint of intelligence upon audio streams to differentiate them from unintelligent sources (e.g., animals, random noise, the sounds of nature).

Ecstatic speech does not have the “signature” of intelligence and therefore does not qualify as biblical tongues, whether unlearned human language, or some other non-human language known only to God.

So I could broaden my original point to include 1 Corinthians 14:2 by emphasizing the fact that biblical tongues always convey information—even in settings where those speaking do not understand their utterances. Ecstatic speech does not.

I hope I’ve clarified what I was on about.

I appreciate your close reading of what I have said — which deserves additional clarification. I also appreciate your careful thinking through the issues involved. Both characteristics will serve you well as you continue in your pursuit to “know Him and make Him known.”

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