Speaking in "An Unknown Tongue"
Larry Ray Hafley

(The anonymous note below arrived via e-mail. It is published as it came to me. -LRH.)

Reply: First, since the author did not say, I do not know what I have said that has brought his reaction. It would help this reply if I knew the material to which he is objecting.

Second, it should be noted that, whether right or wrong, I have set forth my views openly and plainly, not anonymously. If the author truly has the spiritual gifts he claims to have, why should he be afraid? Why should he hide behind the cloak of anonymity? Of what does he have to be ashamed? Those who had certain miraculous gifts in the New Testament spoke "with all boldness" (Acts 4:29, 33; 14:3; Eph. 6:18-20). If he has what they had, why does he not do the same?

Third, must one "experience" a thing in order to believe in it? Mr. Anonymous ("because I'm afraid you might give me a verse") stated, "To someone who has never experienced speaking in what we as Pentecostal some time call an unknown tong.It doesn't surprise me that you don't believe." Well, has he ever died and been raised, or has he ever been bitten by a serpent or drank deadly poison and not been hurt? If not, does the fact that he has not experienced those things mean he does not believe in them? So, the fact that I have never experienced the ability to speak in tongues as was done in the New Testament has nothing at all to do with whether or not I believe such things did occur or do occur.

Later, our Mr. Anonymous ("because I'm ashamed to be identified with my teaching") makes that same argument for me. "I have never see Jesus face to face. But I know he real and he has saved me from death and given me hope of an eternal future with him." Since he can believe in Jesus without having seen him face to face, so I believe in the fact that certain ones in the New Testament were enabled to speak in languages they had never studied or never learned, though men cannot do the same today. Since he can believe in Jesus without having seen him face to face, so he and I can believe that some raised the dead and were bitten by venomous serpents without being harmed, though such things do not occur today (Acts 9:36-39; 28:3-6). Thus, even according to our anonymous, frightened friend, one need not "experience" a thing to believe in it, for though he himself has not personally "experienced" or seen Jesus "face to face," yet he believes in him and what he did for the sins of the world.

Christians do not deny that tongues speaking, as defined and described in the New Testament, does not occur today because they have not "experienced" it (Acts 2:4-11). Christians do not deny that men cannot walk on water today, as some did in the New Testament, because they have not experienced it (Matt. 14:25-29). Mr. Anonymous ("because I'm ashamed to openly defend my doctrine") has not walked on water, nor have any of his brethren. Yet, he believes it was done. Would he say men may walk on water today as Jesus and Peter did? If not, would he be denying the power of God? I have met men who claimed they have walked on water as Jesus did. Must our anonymous respondent "experience" it before he will believe his Pentecostal brother's claim?

Fourth, in this same connection, he says, "I speak from experience." This assertion is supposed to convince us of the divine origin of his claim to speak in "an unknown tongue." Mormons say they, too, "speak from experience." They testify that God has assured them that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith is his prophet. So does the Muslim testify who says that the Koran is a book of God and that Mohammed is his prophet. "I speak from experience," they all say. If that is "proof" of the divine truth and reality of Mr. Anonymous's "experience," why is it not sufficient to establish the heavenly veracity of the Mormons and the Muslims? Why should we believe him and not them?

Assumption and assertion will not suffice. Pagan witch doctors say they speak in heavenly languages and work wonders and miracles of healing. One of them could say, "I speak from experience." Would that assertion prove their case, too? Why should we believe the Pentecostals but not the pagans?

Fifth, what is that "heavenly language" ? Our covert correspondent needs to define it for us. His Pentecostal brethren cannot agree among themselves.

  1. Some say that "heavenly language" is a Spirit generated utterance which is not a language, but an oral expression of ecstacy, and "ecstatic utterance." This cannot be true, for "There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning" (1Cor. 14:10). If there are such utterances, all one is doing is speaking into the air and is to be seen as a "barbarian" (1 Cor. 14:9-11).

  2. Others say they are ecstatic utterances which are a special "heavenly language," wherein one speaks to God, not men. If there is such a passage, it conflicts with 1 Corinthians 14:9, "So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air." Again, if there is such a "heavenly language," where is the proof? What passage so states? Most cite 1 Corinthians 14:2, "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." Note the text. Why does one speak not unto men but not God? Is it because the language is a "heavenly" one? No, see the passage; it tells us why one speaks "not unto men but unto God." "For no one understands him!" That is true if I speak in the Russian language to an assembly in America. The Russian tongue is a real language, but if I speak it to an English speaking audience, I speak "not unto men, but unto God; for no man understandeth (me)." Thus, the fact that none understand what is spoken does not prove a heavenly language has been spoken.

  3. A few say they are the tongues of angels. This shifts gears without pushing in the clutch! We are discussing tongues of men, tongues which are "in (this) world" (1 Cor. 14:9-11). Hear these cogent comments with respect to men who might be said to speak with "the tongues of angels."

    "Paul supposed a hypothetical case, and said, 'if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels." We know he spoke in human languages, but we do not know that he spoke in the language of angels (1 Cor. 14:18, 19).

    "The reference to tongues of angels may well be a superlative, just as Paul's statement that though we or an angel preach any other gospel we are to be anathema (Gal. 1:8). Paul was not saying that an angel from heaven would preach another gospel, but emphasizing the fact that the gospel is the only and the final gospel. Just so, even if one spoke with the tongues of men, but had not love, he was nothing. This superlative underscores the fundamental importance of love.

    "In his commentary Matthew Pool suggested that just as manna was called angels' food (Psa. 78:25), without suggesting that angels ate, but that it was a most excellent food, so Paul may mean that if one expressed himself in the most excellent way it can be described as the tongues of angels" (James D. Bales, Pat Boone And The Gift Of Tongues, 77).

Which of the three views of what constitutes a "heavenly language," as cited above, is correct? And why cannot men who claim they are led by the Spirit agree on what it is they are speaking when they speak this "heavenly language"? The fact that they contradict one another and give conflicting explanations shows they do not have the Spirit they say they have.

Sixth, His alleged gift, this "heavenly language, edifies "the Church," he says. What church? Which church? Since he says he was "not raised Pentecostal," I am left to assume that he is now "Pentecostal." However, the Bible never speaks of a "Pentecostal church" of any kind. In the New Testament, "Pentecost" was a day, not a church, not an "experience," nor a "tongue." It was never used to designate believers in Christ, not even those who had received Holy Spirit baptism and spoken in tongues. Obviously, therefore, the Bible never speaks of anyone edifying a "Pentecostal church," as he claims to do.

Too, when Paul exhorted a church to grow and be edified, even one that had received miraculous gifts of the Spirit, he turned them to the word of God for that growth. "And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32; Cf. 19:5, 6). This commendation comports with Peter's command. "As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby" (1Pet. 2:2; Cf. Jas. 1:21). Even in the days of spiritual gifts, it was the word of God, whether through prophecy or men speaking God's message in language which could be understood, which edified the church (1 Cor. 14:5).

Seventh, anonymous affirms that, "In my life time of be used in this gift of God it has never brought harm are confusion to the Body of Christ." As we have shown above, many of Mr. Anonymous's claims are confused for they do not fit the outline of Scripture. As such they are hurtful and harmful, deceptive and destructive (Rom. 16:17, 18). His words will eat as doth a cancerous tumor. His doctrines will lead to more and more ungodliness (2 Tim. 2:16-18). Because of that, he must be opposed and exposed.

If he truly believes his remarks will edify and not confuse people, why does he hide behind his cowardly shield of anonymity?

Eighth, "tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe" (1 Cor. 14:22). Our anonymous correspondent says his "heavenly language" is used to edify the church. How does he use it as a "sign...to unbelievers"? Or does he? Can unbelievers understand his "heavenly language"? If so, do they need an interpreter? What can he tell unbelievers through his alleged gift that the unbeliever cannot learn by studying the Bible?

Further, in the connection, if no one understands his "heavenly language," he is to keep silence, if there is no interpreter (1 Cor. 14:27, 28). Does Mr. Anonymous ("because I'm afraid you might give me a verse") abide by this direction of the Holy Spirit? Does the church he attends allow two, or at the most three, to speak in order and have one to interpret? That is what the Spirit says should be done. If they do not, they are not being led by the Holy Spirit of God, for the Spirit today would not lead one to contradict what he (the Holy Spirit) said to do in the Bible.

Ninth, he says, "some things are not debatable," but simply have to be accepted. If so, why is he debating or discussing it with me? Why did he bother to write me if the issue of his "heavenly language" is "not debatable"? Is it "debatable" that men can raise the dead today? Is it "debatable" that men will not be hurt today "if they drink any deadly thing" (Mk. 16:18)? I wonder if it is "debatable" as to whether our anonymous friend takes up serpents (Mk. 16:18)? Remember, his tongues are "authorized" in the same passages as are the serpents and the drinking of "deadly" liquids (Mk. 16:17-20). Yes, I think it is "debatable" as to whether our friend actually does those things!

Tenth, and finally, tongues are languages. In the New Testament, those who spoke in tongues, were miraculously enabled to speak languages, or tongues, they had never studied and never learned. In Acts 2, men from many nations heard the apostles speak in their tongues, their languages, and they understood them (Acts 2:4-11). It is one of those "things that are not debatable." It is not being done today by the Pentecostals, nor by anyone else. And, that is "not debatable," either!

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