Tongues a Sign to Unbelievers

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As a nation, the Jews were always seeking a sign (Matt. 12:38, I Cor. 1:22). At Pentecost, the fact that the apostles spoke in tongues was a sign to the unbelieving Jews who were there celebrating the feast. The miracle of tongues aroused their interest, but it did not convict their hearts. It took Peter’s preaching (in Aramaic, which all the people understood) to bring them to the place of conviction and conversion. 

When Paul taught, he used koine Greek and Aramaic, which all the Jews spoke. He also spoke in ancient Hebrew. His New Testament epistles were written in Greek. He could rightly say that he spoke more in foreign languages than any of his audience (v. 18). Nevertheless, he insisted that he would rather speak five words that could be understood than ten thousand words in a language with which his hearers were unfamiliar (v. 19).

In this passage Paul makes it plain that it is not quantity of words but the quality of understanding that is important. He says that in their tongues speaking, the church members in Corinth are acting like children playing with toys and not as mature men (v. 20). Paul associates the gift of tongues with spiritual immaturity. The purpose of tongues was to demonstrate God’s divine power to the unbeliever (v. 22). It took preaching in the language that people understood to bring them to the place of conviction and conversion. A message in a language that the people could not understand(unless interpreted) could never bring conviction to a lost sinner.  In fact, unsaved people may leave the service thinking the whole assembly was crazy (v. 23).


This should be a vivid reminder to me that when I share the Word of God, it must be understood if it is to do anyone any good. That is why the appropriate use of illustrations provides a window of understanding to truth in the Word that is unfamiliar to the listener.

I Corinthians 14:18-25 (English Standard Version)

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