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What Does the Bible Say About..The Purpose of Tongues?

I am posting this question because the person asking gave an invalid e-mail. I have previously answered similar questions, but I am hoping she will read my answer here in spite of its similarity to previous answers.

I am a tongue speaking woman of God. One of my words (translated by my pastor) means life in Hebrew. According to the Word, tongues are used for self edification, or to prophesy. It also helps us to pray according to God's will when we don't know how He wants to pray. Tongues are used to magnify the Lord, and to keep us as believers conscious that the Holy Spirit dwells within us. One major thing that tongues do is to help us as believers build our faith, because "without faith it is impossible to please God." If there is no interpreter, we are advised in the Word to speak softly where you and the Lord can hear (1 Corinthians 14:28). Please refer also to 1 Corinthians 14:4, 1 Corinthians 14:2, Isaiah 28:11-12, Jude 1:20, and Romans 8:26-27.


If you are speaking tongues as was done in the Bible, then my first question is why only one word was translated. Since speaking in tongues (languages) was always speaking in a human language that could be understood by natural-born speakers of that language, why was he only able to translate one Hebrew word, rather than a whole communication in Hebrew?

You say “Tongues are used to magnify the Lord, and to keep us as believers conscious that the Holy Spirit dwells within us.” That is the exact opposite of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:22.

Nowhere does the scripture say that tongues help us to pray when we don’t know how he wants us to pray. Romans 8:26-27 says, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Nothing in that passage, which is about the indwelling of the Spirit, is there any mention or implication of the use of human language. In fact, it says that the Spirit speaks directly to God for us, without the use of the tongue or of language. If we had to speak in tongues in order for the Spirit to help us pray, then a lot of people would be in trouble, even in the congregation in Rome to whom Paul was writing. Even in Corinth, not everyone was given the gift of speaking in tongues. It was one of several gifts, and Paul considered it one of the least important. If it were important for prayer, then it would seem that God would give it to everyone, not just a few.

You also say languages were for “self edification, or to prophesy.” Actually, those were other gifts, totally separate from the relatively unimportant gift of languages. Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 14:2, 4 is that a person who spoke in a language without an interpreter might as well have been babbling. He is saying that rather than accomplishing what the language was supposed to accomplish, the speaker might as well just talk to himself or try to build himself up. The language was not being used for what it was supposed to be used for, that is, for the teaching of those who had not already believed.

You refer to Jude 20, which says nothing about tongues. It says to pray in the Holy Spirit, which you can do without using any language other than your own.

You also referred to Isaiah 28:11-12, but I am not sure why. That is a prophecy of the destruction of Israel by the Assyrian army. The reference to the priests speaking to the people in a different language is a reference to being conquered by a people that spoke a different language. What that has to do with the first century gift of speaking in foreign languages the speaker had not learned in the normal way is not clear.

If you have not already done so, please see Topical List of Questions and look up “Tongues” for my previous answers showing that the Bible says that the spiritual gifts, including the minor one of speaking in other human languages, was necessarily going to end within a few years of when Paul wrote.