Tongues a Sign to Unbelievers

The philosopher Freud once said to a dear woman friend: “You know, for more than 30 years I have been engaged in the deepest researches into the mysterious workings of the human personality. Yet there is one question I cannot answer, and never will be able to-what does a wom … More


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. Have you ever heard a preacher who was trying to impress his audience with how much Greek he knew by quoting a lot of it to the audience? It may have made him feel good as to all that he was able to quote but it really didn’t do a thing for the people listening.

Paul taught in Koine Greek as well as in Aramaic, which all the Jews spoke. He also spoke in ancient Hebrew and all of his New Testament epistles were written in Greek. Therefore, 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 communication 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. He implies that as the church matures, their concerns will be less in the area of the spectacular and more in the area of understanding. The purpose of tongues was to demonstrate God’s divine power to the unbeliever (v. 22). 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 the reason for the appropriate use of illustrations.

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

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