1 Corinthians 14:4 (NIV) reads:

4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.

How is speaking in tongues an activity that edifies the individual who practices the gift? How is it "self-edifying"?

Related questions:


7 Answers 7


Man is body, soul and spirit. 1 Thess5:23

The body is a carnal/biological machine that houses the soul and spirit.

“Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” ‭‭John‬ ‭14:23‬

It can also house other spirits in some cases hundreds of other spirits.

“Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭12:44

The soul of man is understood to be his emotions, will and mind. All immaterial but they act on the body and the body acts on the soul. This would require many verses about I’ll post three one for each

  • mind “for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;” ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭2:10‬
  • will “My soul refuses to touch them; They are as loathsome food to me.” ‭‭Job‬ ‭6:7‬
  • emotion “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭42:1‬

The spirit cannot act on the body without going through the soulish part of man. There is one exception

Speaking in tongues

The spirit of man communicates with the Spirit of God perfectly bypassing the mind of man such that he cannot understand what is being said and the mouth speaks

“For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭14:2‬

In fact this is reiterated by Paul explaining either praying by engaging the mind (soulish part of man) OR praying just with the spirit. He does not speak against either but rather encourages both.

“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭14:14-15

To your question why is the person speaking in tongues edifying himself? Or how Is he edifying himself?

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:16‬ ‭

There is perfect communication unhindered communication between the born again spirit of man and the Spirit of God. Therefore it is a perfect prayer. Such a prayer is the ultimate prayer for oneself because it is not impeded, overridden or hindered by rationalization of the will/emotion/mind of man.

In such a prayer you are praying a perfect prayer according to God’s will. And agreeing with God means getting the highest chance of answered prayers. Answers to prayers are extremely edifying

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” ‭‭1 John‬ ‭5:14‬

Because joy ought to be complete/full

“Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” ‭‭John‬ ‭16:24‬

Additional notes

Diving a little deeper, in a congregation of believers if someone starts to speak in an unknown tongue and he is edified despite not understanding what is being said to translate for the rest of the congregation for them too to understand (or despite there not being a translator), why then wouldn’t all the other born again believers be edified too?

Why wouldn’t they have a reaction like John the Baptizer when he was in the womb despite not knowing any language and being under developed physically? A reaction that then spurred on his mother to prophesy.

“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit,” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭1:41‬ ‭

There is evidently some level of edification among the saints when someone speaks in an unknown tongue and no one translates but it is to a much smaller degree as that experienced by the person through whom the word is being delivered.

The person speaking in tongues is experiencing firsthand in their person a supernatural manifestation that also has physical, mental and emotional qualities not just spiritual qualities. These are far more accentuated than for any of the hearers.

There is an agreement of the Spirit together with the spirit of man that is limited to the individual. This manifestation in itself is edifying.

In order to get the benefits of the message the message must be deciphered and spoken in a language the others can understand.


Imagine a scene where a child is being hugged by his father in a loving way, and the father tells the child something in a language you cannot understand. You can see and be comforted in a limited way by the mere fact that a father and child are embracing and interacting in a loving fatherly manner but if someone translates what the father said to the child, that comfort in seeing a wholesome interaction magnifies, especially if the message is profound. Supposing that child doesn’t yet know how to speak that language either and a translator wouldn’t help him at all yet, he is edified and comforted by the mere fact that he received a loving embrace that no one else received in that moment from his father.

In some similar way, when a person connects in their spirit with the Spirit even if they don’t understand the words, that interaction with God is so wholesome and elevated that it’s only natural that a born again believer will be edified by such a manifestation. And if that person or another person could understand the profound words the Spirit shared with the individual to the whole congregation, then the whole congregation too would be edified hearing the words spoken by God in real-time.

  • Saves me from having to write a response. (+1).
    – Dave
    Dec 21, 2021 at 3:16
  • Nihil, isn't this an answer concerning our prayers to God in that the Spirit of God knows what we are too inept to say? Not sure the scriptures you have presented are appropriate for this question.
    – Gina
    Dec 21, 2021 at 6:12
  • @Gina not sure I understand your comment. Follow the thought, the spirit of man in conjunction with the Spirit of God prayers perfect prayers, if we don’t know how to pray but the Spirit prayers through us perfect prayers, how is that not going to be edifying? Dec 21, 2021 at 16:02
  • Just meant your answer is talking about praying to God, not the public speaking in "tongues". Points are well made, just don't seem to apply here.
    – Gina
    Dec 21, 2021 at 16:31
  • 1
    This is an Incredible Answer Dec 23, 2021 at 12:23

οἰκοδομεῖ (oikodomei)
Verb - Present Indicative Active - 3rd Person Singular
Strong's Greek 3618: From the same as oikodome; to be a house-builder, i.e. Construct or confirm.

HELPS Word-studies

3618 oikodoméō (from 3624 /oíkos, "a house" and domeō, "to build") – properly, to build a house (home, edifice); (figuratively) to edify – literally, "build someone up," helping them to stand (be strong, "sturdy").

Later verses provide further insights:

13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15So 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. 16Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, d say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? 17You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.

The emphasis is on the realities in the spiritual dimension. When one is truly speaking in tongues, he is communicating spiritual truths enabled by the Holy Spirit. As such, it is an exercise to strengthen his beliefs, his faith. He can praise God and increase his love for God and the gospel. He is building himself up spiritually so long as he is in touch with the Holy Spirit while doing so. It is a time of devotion.



How is speaking in tongues a practice edifying for the own individual?

Answer: In the Spirit, Mysteries are being Revealed

NKJV, 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.

The text seems to state that speaking in tongues is a source of knowledge/revelation for the one speaking in tongues. It is not as though one is speaking mysteries to God that he wouldn't have known a few eon prior.

By having this source of revelation knowledge, one can edify themselves:

NKJV, 1 Corinthians 14:4 - He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself,

  • 1
    This is correct. It is the mysteries spoke in the Spirit that explain the edification. +1 Dec 21, 2021 at 7:05
  • 1
    Very correct answer Dec 23, 2021 at 12:24

The word "tongue" simply means language. The Greek word is Strong's #1100, "glossa" and is defined as the tongue, a language. (1) It does not mean some mystical utterances.

An unknown tongue means a foreign language not known by the congregation. If there is no one to interpret that foreign language then it only edifies the one speaking.

"for he who is speaking in an [unknown] tongue -- to men he doth not speak, but to God, for no one doth hearken, and in spirit he doth speak secrets;" (1 Cor. 14:2, YLT)

The word in brackets [unknown] is not in the original, but was added. The original text just says "speaking in a tongue".

The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates it as:

"For the person who speaks in another language is not speaking to men but to God, since no one understands him; however, he speaks mysteries in the Spirit."

Contemporary English Version:

"If you speak languages that others don't know, God will understand what you are saying, though no one else will know what you mean. You will be talking about mysteries that only the Spirit understands."

International Standard Version:

"For the person who speaks in a foreign language is not actually speaking to people but to God. I..."

Speaking in tongues does not mean some unintelligible sounds spilling forth from the mouth. Acts chap. 2 makes it clear that speaking in "tongues" was speaking a foreign language.

"3 and there appeared to them divided tongues, as it were of fire; it sat also upon each one of them, 4 and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, according as the Spirit was giving them to declare....

"6 and the rumour of this having come, the multitude came together, and was confounded, because they were each one hearing them speaking in his proper dialect, 7 and they were all amazed, and did wonder, saying one unto another, `Lo, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 and how do we hear, each in our proper dialect, in which we were born? (Acts 2:3-4, 6-8, YLT)

The Holy Spirit poured forth the ability to speak in other dialects / languages so that the unbelieving could believe, just as were the other powers of the spiritual gifts.

Paul explained further in 1 Cor. 14:22-23 that:

"22 so that the tongues are for a sign, not to the believing, but to the unbelieving; and the prophesy [is] not for the unbelieving, but for the believing,

23 If, therefore, the whole assembly may come together, to the same place, and all may speak with tongues, and there may come in unlearned or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?" (YLT)

If everyone of the assembly spoke in an unknown / foreign language and some unbeliever came in among them, then the unbeliever would not be able to understand them, and would think they were crazy. Which is why Paul goes on to say in vs. 27,

"27 if an [unknown] tongue any one do speak, by two, or at the most, by three, and in turn, and let one interpret;" (YLT)

The word "interpret" is Strong's Gr. 1329, and means to explain, or translate. It means to translate from one language to another language. (2)

In vs. 21, Paul references Isaiah.

"in the law it hath been written, that, `With other tongues and with other lips I will speak to this people, and not even so will they hear Me, saith the Lord;'" (1 Cor. 14:21, YLT) ... which is from...

"Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people,..." (Isa. 28:11, NIV)

"For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people," (ESV)

"So with stammering lips, in a foreign accent, [Adonai] will speak to this people." (CJB)

Isa. 28:11 prophesied that God would speak to them in foreign languages. As Paul referenced Isa. 28 in 1 Cor. 14 then the context of 1 Cor. 14 must be about foreign languages known to men. See also the discussion of this issue at BlueLetterBible by Don Stewart.

Therefore, if no one else in the assembly speaks that foreign language, then the speaker in "tongues" is only edifying himself.


  1. Strong's Gr. 1100, glossa - Biblehub

  2. Strong's Gr. 1329, dierméneuó - Biblehub


This question appears to be predicated on the debatable assumption that the "tongue" is unknown to the person speaking. That is not necessarily the case as 1 Cor 14:4 makes clear.

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary suggests this -

  1. edifieth himself—as he understands the meaning of what the particular "tongue" expresses; but "the church," that is, the congregation, does not.

Barnes says something similar:

Edifieth himself - That is, the truths which are communicated to him by the Spirit, and which he utters in an unknown language, may be valuable, and may be the means of strengthening his faith, and building him up in the hopes of the gospel, but they can he of no use to others. His own holy affections might be excited by the truths which he would deliver, and the consciousness of possessing miraculous powers might excite his gratitude. And yet, as Doddridge has well remarked, there might be danger that a man might be injured by this gift when exercised in this ostentatious manner.

That is, if a person is speaking and praying to God in a language unknown to the congregation, how can he/she be edified if what is being said cannot understood. Paul says this more explicitly in 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.

As Matthew Poole suggests:

How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? Romans 10:14. So that, though he that speaketh in an unknown tongue may (if he understand what he says) have his own heart affected with what he saith, yet it is not possible he should affect another.

Thus, 1 Cor 14:4 and V22 both suggest that the "tongues" Paul is referring to are understood by the speaker.

  • 1
    Exactly. An unknown tongue implies that there are known tongues / languages.
    – Gina
    Dec 21, 2021 at 6:15
  • @Dottard You seem to avoid explaining how that by speaking in a "Foreign language" he in the Spirit is Speaking mysteries... And why the mind will be unfruitful Dec 23, 2021 at 12:26
  • 1
    @FaithMendel - fair point. I will add some extra material. However, note that the original text does not have the word "foreign" anywhere.
    – Dottard
    Dec 23, 2021 at 20:33
  • Point noted about the use of Foreign" I used it here to distinguish it from "Known tongue". As Gina like to put it. Dec 23, 2021 at 21:21

Own individual is edified very very much by speaking in tongues! For instance, I know no Arabic, but suppose I am given immediate knowledge of Arabic by Holy Spirit and instead of praying in my native Georgian I suddenly find myself praying in Arabic! That will edify me a lot, probably, because Paul says so and I believe he is right. But to what extent it will edify can be known solely by an edified guy himself and I am not such a guy to boast the mentioned edification.

Indeed, I was somehow edified by songs of “Beatles”, even when I knew not yet English, and even this will be difficult for me to tell and explain how was I edified by “Hey Jude” or “Michelle”, to say nothing about “Yesterday” and “Rocky Racoon”, but to speculate how a tonguespeaker was edified some two thousand years ago is absolutely shrouded by impenetrability of not-understandability.

It would be interesting though to have lived back then in 1st 2nd centuries AD when tongue-speaking was still granted by God most probably for the reason of convenient spreading of Gospel, spend few months with a tongue-speaker in intense communication, spiritual talks, prayers and ascetic exploits, and after that I could find myself in a position to understand a bit what spiritual benefit is there in praying to God in foreign tongue? I do not exclude - how can I? - that the tongue-speaking guy would just convince me that the benefit from praying in foreign language is the same as with that from praying in one's own language and even the second is more beneficial for the nuances and shades of own language is known better by a language carrier and so prayer can thus contain also more psychological-emotional nuances. Interesting indeed to idly phantasize about such things that are impossible to know.


It is an experience unlike any. It is indescribable. It is like being caught up in a wind, namely your spirit is carried along, intertwined with the Holy Spirit, a fiery dance transcending reality; time is suspended, and you escaped the sensation of being in the flesh. Now if that is not edifying I do not know what is.

But that is nothing like the Mind of God revealed to you, in a humanly comprehensible way. That is a nuclear explosion within you. But filled with gentleness and beauty and overwhelming ecstatic glory, though you still have to fight hard not to roll on the floor and run into the streets shouting Eureka, and harder still when it happens suddenly, unexpectedly, in the midst of some public space and public activity.

Thus, "Is Saul also among the prophets?"

Also that Archimedean legend may not be far from truth, for the closest secular sensation is perhaps that induced when you apprehend the beauty of some deep mathematical proofs, such as the Basel Problem, or at least that is what I can say from my experiences.

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