by Bill Lambert

In 1 Corinthians chapters 13, 14, and 15, the apostle Paul addresses the misunderstanding that some of the brethren in Corinth had about the various spiritual gifts then in existence.  It seems that there were some who had a particular fascination for the ability to speak in languages which they had not learned.  Exactly why this seemed so important to them we are not told.  It is pointed out to them, especially in chapter 14, that the purpose of all spiritual gifts was to impart the will of God.  These languages are referred to as “unknown tongues.”  This simply meant that the speakers did not know the language in which they were enabled to speak.  This has been a confusing area to some.  They are under the mistaken impression that it involved a kind of language which was unknown to anyone, a special language, reserved only for those who speak under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  
The events in Acts, chapter two will help to clarify any misunderstanding about the nature of “tongues.”  Let the reader understand that the “cloven tongues” of fire referred to in Acts 2 are not to be confused with the “other tongues” also mentioned there.  The scripture says that the apostles began to speak in “other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Were these “other tongues” a special language spoken only by Spirit-led men?  The answer is to be found in the context.  The hearers said that they were hearing the wonderful works of God proclaimed unto them in their “own tongues,” in which they were born.  Thus, the “tongues” were known languages to the hearers, languages with which they were very familiar.  The speakers were unfamiliar with the various languages, making it necessary for the Spirit to “give them utterance.”  While this explanation helps to simplify the matter, it does not lessen the wonder of it at all.  As a matter of fact, it shows that the gifts which were bestowed upon the apostles were not only miraculous, but also practical.
Consider, how useful would it be for some special, unknown (to anyone) language to be used?  Who would have been able to understand it?  Even when one spoke in a known language which he had not learned, it was necessary that an interpreter be present if the hearer did not know the language being used.  If this was not done, the hearer was not benefited.  There may be some sounds which might be similar to sounds with which he was familiar, but the meaning might be completely different.  Such would constitute “uncertain sounds.”  The writer says that would be like a military trumpeter who did not make any distinguishing sounds with his instrument.  The troops would not be sure what the trumpet call was supposed to mean.  Confusion would reign, just as it does among those who employ their self-devised “tongues” in their religious services.
Someone has said that “necessity is the mother of invention.”  Those who claim spiritual gifts today, because of their misunderstanding about unknown tongues, “needed” a special sound, so they invented one.  Those who use it may have gotten it from a common source, but it is not from the Spirit of God.  As noted before, people in the New Testament who were endowed with spiritual gifts spoke in real, known languages.  What is done today in certain religious services is nothing like what Spirit-enabled people in the New Testament did.
In 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, Paul says that when “that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”  He shows that the spiritual gifts were given to complete (perfect) the revelation of God.  The gifts of tongues, of prophecy, and of special knowledge were among the spiritual gifts which accomplished this.  Once revelation was complete, then the spiritual gifts would no longer be needed, for they, individually, only represented a part, not the whole.
Since the revelation of God is complete, and there is no need to have the spiritual gifts which were given in the first century, those claiming such gifts today are making false claims.  This includes those who claim to be speaking in “tongues.”  Whatever they think they have, it is not what people in the New Testament had, and it serves no useful purpose.