In 1 Corinthians 14:18-19 (NIV) Paul said:

18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

From v18 we understand that Paul was a top tier user of the gift of tongues. However, in v19 we see that Paul was rather contrary to abusing this gift in the church setting. From this it follows that Paul favored employing the gift of tongues in other contexts. What did Paul (heavily) use the gift of tongues for then?

  • @NigelJ maybe, but what about verse 2: "For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit."? – Spirit Realm Investigator Oct 25 '20 at 5:58
  • Chrysostom argues that he is employing here the same rhetoric as in Philippians 3:4-7. – Lucian Oct 25 '20 at 10:53

The only meaning that can be given to the words you quote, 1 Corinthians 14: 18-19 (without any further information being available) is that Paul is saying that he preached the gospel to many people in different countries in their own language.

But, in the church, he speaks intelligibly, to those present.

Else, he would not be understood.

Anyone who, in the company of others in the assembly, speaks in a language which nobody present can understand, must only be talking to God, for God alone will know what the person is uttering, 1 Corinthians 14:2. Indeed, the person may well speak to God 'in the spirit', but what they speak will be 'mysteries' for 'no man understands him'.

To read any more into the words is to add meaning to them that Paul is not actually expressing.

As Paul makes clear, anyone speaking in a language that nobody present can understand, must first ensure that they provide an interpreter to communicate the meaning. Otherwise, they are not permitted to speak in the assembly, 1 Corinthians 14:27-28. They will have to remain silent.

Even when Paul is on his own, he tells us that he will pray with his spirit and with his understanding also, or he will sing with his spirit and with his understanding also, 1 Corinthians 14:15.

By using the construction δε και (but also) Paul is indicating a simultaneity to his activity, his praying/singing being in immediate conjunction with the activity of his mind.

"καί ... δέ, but ... also, yea and, moreover also" Thayer's Greek Lexicon

So even when alone, in his own devotions to God privately, Paul was not prepared to, himself, utter a language with his mouth which his mind did not understand.

So, to answer the question,

What did the apostle Paul use the gift of tongues for ? [OP]

. . . the evidence appears to be that Paul used language (as did the eleven on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:8) to communicate the gospel to his fellow men in their own tongue.


It is very obvious where Paul's emphasis lies for, before even addressing the subject of language in detail, he first makes clear in Chapter 13 of his first epistle to the church of God at Corinth that [KJV] :

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 ...

... whether there be tongues, they shall cease ; knowledge - it shall vanish away.

... Now abideth faith, hope and charity.

... But the greatest of these is charity.

  • I think there is biblical support for the use of tongues in the context of prayer and singing. Check out verses 14 and 15: "14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding." – Spirit Realm Investigator Oct 25 '20 at 6:05
  • I think you are interpreting the "and" as meaning simultaneity in time, as if praying in the spirit and with understanding are to happen simultaneously. However, the "and" could also be interpreted as just meaning that he practiced both at different times. For instance, if I say "I will play basketball, but I will also play soccer", it doesn't mean that I will play basketball and soccer simultaneously. – Spirit Realm Investigator Oct 25 '20 at 6:31
  • Any basis to support the claim that δε και (but also) has a connotation of simultaneity in time necessarily? – Spirit Realm Investigator Oct 25 '20 at 6:38
  • (As an aside: are there examples of people using the gift of tongues to preach the gospel to foreigners nowadays?) – Spirit Realm Investigator Oct 25 '20 at 6:42
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator I would say there is widespread use of language to communicate the gospel nowadays. Many people (if they are so talented and gifted) learn languages (other than their own, native, language) - whilst at school or college - with that specific purpose in mind. – Nigel J Oct 25 '20 at 7:16

The answer to this question, "What did the apostle Paul use the gift of tongues for?" is explicitly answered several times in 1 Cor 14, namely:

  • V22 - Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers. Prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. [That is, Paul used the gift of tonges to reach new people who did not speak the same language.]
  • V2 - For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men [because they cannot understand what is being said], but to God [because God can understand any language]. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries in the Spirit [because anyone listening cannot understand]
  • V9 - So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.
  • V19 - But in the church, I would rather speak five coherent words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Thus, it appears that Paul used the gift of tongues to reach people of a different language, but in regular church gatherings he did not want the use of tongues because people could not understand - Paul tells us to speak intelligible words that those present can understand.

The experience at Pentecost in Acts 2 is a perfect example of this - tongues was used to reach people in their mother-tongue.

  • What about the case of Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:44-46)? Whom was Cornelius reaching in their mother-tongue? – Spirit Realm Investigator Oct 25 '20 at 8:53
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - probably reaching no one - it was simply an indication that the gift of tongues had been given to them to presumably use in outreach as per 1 Cor 14:22. – Dottard Oct 25 '20 at 9:43

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