Seek not to be Mysterious

3 Different Kind of Tongues

1 Corinthians 14:2-3 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. 3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.

In verse 2, the Lord begins to deal with the gift that was giving the Corinthians a big problem—tongues. There are three different kinds of tongues talked about in the New Testament:

  • New tongues[1] – languages that are new to the speaker which he has never learned before.
  • Other tongues[2] – languages not na­tive to the speaker, which he may (vs. 18) or may not[3] have learned, but which are under­stood by the hearers.[4]
  • Unknown tongues – languages that are unknown to everyone in the congre­gation and, therefore, require an interpreter, whether it is the speaker (vs. 13) or someone else (vs. 27).

The Corinthians were talking in languages that nobody in the congregation knew.  If someone is doing that, then they “speaketh not unto men, but unto God” because the only one who understands what is in their heart is God.  When Paul speaks about “tongues” here, he is not talking about the charismatic gibberish that some people would have you to believe.  He is referring to a real language[5] that others do not understand.  Some Christians misinterprets this, thinking that Paul is talking about some gibberish fabricated to pass off as a language to deceive people into thinking they are communicating with no idea what they are communicating.  In other words, they are speaking in a mystery.

If a person speaks in an unknown language, they are speaking “mysteries” (vs. 2); not mysteries like the ones mentioned in 1 Corinthians 4:1.  They are speaking “myster­ies” in the sense that no one understands what they are say­ing except God who understands the heart of all men.[6]  Even then, it is a mysterious language that THEY invented, NOT God.  Because God understands all things, including their mysterious language, these “mysteries” do not mean that the gibberish is an actual language.  God understands the heart of man and knows all things.  The person speaking in an “unknown tongue” is not speaking “in the spirit” as the Charismatics say.  The “spirit” mentioned here is NOT the Holy Spirit.  It is not a capital “S.”  The verse here refers to the spirit of man,[7] NOT the Holy Spirit.  For example: If you pick up a short-wave radio set and turn the dial and pick up a fellow coming through there talking in a tongue that nobody in the room knows, he is talking in an unknown tongue.

When a man speaks, those words coming out of his mouth are a man’s words.  When a man speaks, he is speaking with the spirit of man.  If he is prayed up and yielded to the Holy Spirit, when he opens his mouth and speaks, the Spirit of the Lord comes out of his mouth with the words he is saying.  If the man is not “prayed up” and is led by the devil in what he is going to say and is deliberately or pur­posely lying and misrepresenting the truth, when he opens his mouth to speak, the spirit of the devil comes out of his mouth.  If a man is just giving his own opinion and ideas, that is the spirit of man coming out of his mouth when he speaks.  Every time a person opens their mouth, one of three spirits comes out:

  • One is the human spirit; the spirit of man.
  • One is the Lord’s spirit; the Holy Spirit.
  • One is the devil’s spirit; an unclean spirit.

What Paul is talking about in this passage is men speaking a language.  He is not talking about some gibberish that makes a person special because only they and God know what is going on.  The purpose of speech is communication.  Communication means understanding.  Teaching someone a mystery in a language that they do not understand is NOT communication.  It is a focus on self.

There is no place in the Bible where God told anybody to try to get “tongues.”  No­body is told to covet “tongues” or to find out how to get it or try to get it or want it.  First Corinthians 14 is a whole chapter written to correct the misuse of “tongues.” There is not one positive thing said about tongues any­where in the New Testament.

On the other hand, the Bible has told us to covet the gift of prophecy.  Tongues may speak “mys­teries” that no one can understand, but prophecy “speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.”  Shouldn’t that be enough explanation given by God for a person to understand His meaning?  Suppose all a person had of this chapter was verses 1, 2, and 3.  Would they think that God really wanted them to go around trying to get tongues?  Isn’t it amazing the importance that some people put on verse 2 without looking at verse 1 and verse 3?  If a person knew they could be used to edify people and exhort people and comfort people, would they really have to guess what the Lord would want them to do?  On the other hand, suppose the “tongues” promoters are right.  If a person sat here and spoke “hobbley bobblye gobbly fubble dubble” to edify themselves, what would that mean?  It would mean they were selfish.  However, if a man prophesies, he edifies others and comforts them, and exhorts them.  If anything the tongues speakers said was really true, they still wouldn’t have anything that was worth five minutes of our time trying to get.

The reason that prophecy gives a man edification, exhortation and comfort is because it is a clear and understood message.  Nobody can receive edification from someone speaking a language that he cannot understand.  In fact, when he is in a room with people speaking other languages that he cannot understand, he will feel uncomfortable.  If a person loves the people he is speaking to, he will try to make his message understood.  He will not keep his message to himself.  He will share it with others by using prophecy.

The word “prophecy” means: “to utter predictions; to make declaration of events to come.”  In the Bible the word also means: “to preach; to instruct in religious doctrines; to interpret or explain Scripture or religious subjects; to exhort.”  In verse 3, Paul is saying that it is much better to preach and explain the Scriptures to others than it is to “speak mysteries to yourself.”


[1] Mark 16:17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

[2] Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.   1 Corinthians 14:21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.

[3] Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

[4] Acts 2:8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?

[5] 1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

[6] 1 Corinthians 14:16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?

[7] 1 Corinthians 2:11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.

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