The "Gift of Tongues"
On the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2), God poured out the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and He gave them the gift of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the languages of the many peoples from all over the world who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. This miraculous ability to speak a language other than the native language of the apostles was also given to many of the new converts to Christ and was a permanent God-given ability that stayed with the individual.
Problems began to develop in the early Christian church over the misuse of this gift to speak in an "unknown" or foreign language (see 1Cor 14). During the church meetings, many who had this gift would speak and pray in this foreign language and the result was that the meetings were becoming chaotic due to the fact that most of the believers did not understand the languages being spoken. Thus Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church had to give counsel on how and when this gift was to be used in the church and how and when it was NOT to be used.
Because the congregation did not understand what was being spoken, Paul states that the speakers in these foreign languages are only "speaking to God" since none of the other church members could understand the language. The rest of the congregation and Paul are praying "in spirit" with the individual praying aloud in this unknown language, but their minds are not understanding what is being said and therefore their minds are not being "edified". Paul therefore further states that those who speak in this language ought to keep silent in the church unless someone could translate the language and thereby "edify" the church.
Paul was not commending this practice of uncontrolled unintelligible speaking in the church as many modern "Pentecostal" Christians claim, but rather was rebuking their disorderly conduct in speaking in "unknown languages" in the church without a translator. Since there was no translator of what was being said, the speakers were only "speaking to God" and not edifying the other church members. Furthermore those who were abusing the gift that God had given them were becoming puffed up by the gift, since they were using it without consideration of the inability of the others to understand what was being said.
It is with this background in mind that we can understand what Paul means when he says that when someone in the church service prays to God in an unknown language, Paul's "spirit" is praying (praying with the person praying in the unknown language), but Paul's mind is not understanding what the person is praying about. Therefore no one should use this gift in the church without an interpreter. Also, states Paul, if this gift is to be used in the church, not more that a few people are to use it even WITH a translator.
Many today in the Pentecostal churches teach that the phenomenon that is recorded in 1 Corinthians of "speaking" to God and "praying" to God in an unknown language is a "different" manifestation than that which transpired at Pentecost. Most will agree that the gift that was poured out at Pentecost was the ability to speak in foreign languages so that those who had come to celebrate the feast could hear the Gospel of Christ. But today' s "charismatics" teach that the manifestations of "tongues" mentioned in 1 Corinthians is very different than the manifestation at Pentecost. They teach that there is a "tongue" that the Holy Spirit gives that only God can understand and which no other person understands. The believer who supposedly possesses this gift should "pray" and "praise the Lord" in this "heavenly" tongue and that this gift is a great "second blessing".
Those who interpret 1 Corinthians thusly are missing the true meaning of Paul's advice to the Corinthians. This interpretation is a gross misinterpretation that has caused these "charismatic" churches to be filled with a Satanic deception that is spreading even into the mainline Protestant churches who are unfaithfully dividing the word of God. Sorrowfully many evangelical ministers and members have left the evangelical movement and joined in this deceptive "speaking in tongues" of these modern Pentecostals who misunderstand Paul's counsel to the Corinthian church of the first century.
Let there be no misunderstanding on this matter. On the day of Pentecost when people from all over the world were gathered to observe the feast, God gave the apostles the ability to preach in foreign "unknown" languages the Gospel of the forgiveness of sin for all repentant sinners who put their faith in the atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross. Many of the converts of the early church who believed and were baptized in the name of Christ also received this permanent gift to praise God and proclaim the Gospel in a language that was not their native language. This ability was a miracle, a gift, (charisma, in Greek) to further the gospel among all those unbelievers who did not speak either Greek or Hebrew. This was not an "experience" for the mere sake of worshipping God in an "experiential" way and to make one "tingle all over" with "love" and speak a gibberish that no one else in the church can understand. This false excitement and gibberish are blasphemy and a false spirit which is sweeping over all the world and will deceive many. It is an excitement that is absolutely devilish. This writer has been in Pentecostal meetings and in Roman Catholic meetings where this "experience" has taken place and it is nothing but a "Christianized" spiritualism and a connection with familiar spirits speaking through the medium of the "tongues" speaker. Some even claim that the "spirits" of the apostles and the Virgin Mary are speaking through them!!
"Pentecostals" even have the blasphemous nerve to accuse and characterize those who speak out against this terrible deception and manifestation as "blaspheming the Holy Ghost", rejecting the "seal of God", and despising the "anointing of God". In view of this terrible deception that is sweeping today's churches is it any wonder that Paul reprovingly stated to the Corinthian church, "For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." 1 Cor. 2:2 The message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified is the only message that will preserve the world today from this false spirit of "tongues" that would, if possible, deceive the very elect of God. All who would believe that we repentant sinners are justified by grace alone through faith in the sinless life and atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ alone ought to stand fast and resist this abomination of "tongues speaking" and ought to reprove it where ever it raises its head.
Many conservative Protestant theologians now correctly take the position that, as the early church grew and elders and deacons were appointed in the churches to give structure and organizational form to the church, the epistles and apocalyptic revelations of the apostles were organized into a unit that came to be called the New Testament "holy scripture". In the providence and will of God these scriptures became the source of doctrinal authority and the church became less and less dependent upon spiritual gifts like healing and other overt miracles of the Holy Spirit to direct the church and call attention to the Gospel. Miracles were becoming less prominent even in the ministry of the apostle Paul and the other apostles as the Christian message took hold in the Roman Empire. The Holy Spirit uses the Bible today rather than overt miracles as the authoritative vehicle for spreading the Good News of Jesus to all the world.
Today all of Christendom is debating the question of the continuity of these spiritual gifts of speaking foreign languages, healing, and amazing miracles. However, today these miracles are NOT God's chosen and normative means to authoritatively verify the Word of the Gospel. Now we have language schools to learn the languages of the world. We have hospitals to bless and treat those afflicted with disease. We have the printing press, and radio and television, and the internet to proclaim to all the world the truth of the Bible. The Truth can stand on its own authority as the word of God. Demonstrative miracles to draw attention to the truth is not the means which the Holy Spirit is using in the final days to call attention to the message of Christ's saving redeeming love.
Now it is Satan who is using signs and wonders (see Rev 13:14) to deceive the world, while God is using only truth to defeat the devices of the enemy. Thus in the very end, God's people will have only the word of God (sola scriptura) to rest their faith upon while the miraculous deceptions of the enemy are deceiving all in the world who hate the truth and choose to believe a lie.
KJV 2 Thessalonians 2:1— Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. 3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin (Lawlessness One) be revealed, the son of perdition; 4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. 5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? 6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: 9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Because they receive not the love of the truth, great false miracles will be performed by the Man of Sin to a wicked generation who demand "signs and wonders" before they will believe. But God will have a people who withstand the onslaught of the "false prophet" armed only with the sword of the Word.
Like David facing Goliath armed only with the simple weapon of a shepherd, God's people will slay the Image to the Beast armed only with the double edged sword of the Bible. The Law of God through the convicting power of the Holy Spirit is the cutting edge of the sword of the word to convict of sin and righteousness and judgment, while the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins through faith in the sinless life and atoning death of Jesus Christ is the healing edge of God's word which brings life to all who repent and believe.
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds). Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;" 2 Corinthians 10:3 ff
See also this excellent article: Speaking in Tongues: Ecstatic Utterances or Foreign Languages???