1 Corinthians 14:2 (NIV):

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.

If someone does not speak to people but to God, isn't that the definition of prayer? If so, is 1 Cor 14:2 supporting the practice of praying in tongues to God in a private setting (e.g. alone in a prayer closet, etc.)?

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    @NihilSineDeo - I didn't mean to contrast it against any other interpretation, but I added a parenthetic sentence to clarify what I mean by "private setting". – Spirit Realm Investigator Jan 5 at 2:26
  • You will need to establish that 1 Cor 14:2 is discussing a private setting as distinct from the public church setting that the rest of chapter is about. – Dottard Jan 5 at 8:24
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    @Dottard - if Paul did this a lot, but he was against doing it in public, where else would he do it other than in private? – Spirit Realm Investigator Jan 5 at 8:43
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - that is the point he makes in V22 - Paul used the gift of tongues to reach people whose langue he could not speak and because he travelled a lot, he used this gift a lot, in public. – Dottard Jan 5 at 9:10

If we dissect what is transpiring and the reasons why, maybe we could arrive at an answer to your question.

Praying intelligibly occurs when the soulish part of man is engaged in prayer. This takes place in the mind. The mind can process the words both to understand and to speak.

“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 ‭14:15‬ ‭

Now the spirit praying can also pray intelligibly. The advantage is the person understands what he is saying. There is a disadvantage however praying with the spirit intelligibly, namely going through the mind. The mind unlike the spirit is not regenerated, it is being sanctified. The mind is limited and influenced by the flesh. Human logic can override the prayer of the spirit and change, alter or deny the prayer being prayed intelligibly by the spirit.

The spirit however has the ability to bypass the mind and act directly on the body. In doing so it doesn’t allow the mind to corrupt the perfect prayer of the spirit. This is done by praying in an unknown tongue.

“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭14:14‬ ‭

Therefore in light of how pure and perfect this praying is, it is highly recommended that praying in tongues take place as often as possible. The spirit needs an outlet to speak to God. By stifling the spirit, when at last the spirit is given a chance to pray out loud, it usually comes out like a hydroelectric dam and it’s overwhelming for the soul (emotions)

“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 ‭ “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭14:4‬ ‭

When the spirit is praying, given only God understands, it is obviously directed towards Him. And since it’s a perfect prayer, it should be encouraged as often as possible. Paul certainly practiced speaking in tongues “excessively” by today’s standard.

“I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭14:18‬ ‭

This should not be limited only to praying in the closet, private praying. The spirit should be allowed to flow, throughout the day.

Paul makes this point later in the chapter

“If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭14:23, 27-28‬ ‭

The bolded parts seem to contradict. You can’t be silent and speak. What Paul is saying is this, no one is to take up time during a church service to merely speak in tongues without interpretation. It isn’t edifying to the church only to the individual praying.

“Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭14:19‬ ‭

Therefore when he says “speak to himself and to God” he means in a setting when it’s not disruptive to the church service, taking up time with unintelligible speech. But if there is communal praying that could be a time to pray in tongues, or at home, at work, whilst traveling to and fro.

If this doesn’t answer the question, please let me know how to edit my response


Try this exercise - read 1 Cor 14 and each time "tongue" is mentioned, substitute the word "Mongolian" (or any other language you have no idea about). Then one can see what Paul is saying:

  • V2: For he who speaks in a Mongolian does not speak to men, but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries in the Spirit
  • V4: The one who speaks in Mongolian edifies himself, but the one who prophesies edifies the church
  • V6: Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in Mongolian, how will I benefit you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?

... and so forth. This is one way to understand this passage; the "tongues" are human languages, similar to those in Acts 2 where people understood what was being said. Luke even lists the numerous languages spoken by the Apostles at Pentecost. If one of the Apostles spoke (say) Parthian to someone only familiar with (say) Greek and Latin, then he would hear gibberish as shown above.

The other way to understand this passage is to insist that 1 Cor 14 is talking about ecstatic utterances called "glossolalia" (a word unknown to the NT Greek that means "tongues speaking"); and that such "tongues" are only heavenly languages unknown (quite often) even to the speaker.

When it comes to tricky passages in the Bible I am a firm believer that the clearer passage should illuminate the less clear. Thus, I would take acts 2 as clarifying 1 Cor 14, and thus, that "tongues" are a supernatural gift of human languages to reach new peoples as was the case in Acts 2.

Paul says this in 1 Cor 14:22, "Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers. Prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers." He then goes on to say in V23-25:

So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who are uninstructed or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if an unbeliever or uninstructed person comes in while everyone is prophesying, he will be convicted and called to account by all, and the secrets of his heart will be made known. So he will fall facedown and worship God, proclaiming, “God is truly among you!”

  • So, yes or no? If someone is speaking to God but not to people, is that praying? – Spirit Realm Investigator Jan 5 at 3:39
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - if someone is speaking to God that person is praying. Since God understands all languages, it immediately follows that if a person is speaking a language unknown to associates, then by definition, only God understands. – Dottard Jan 5 at 3:43
  • Which is not a problem when the number to associates present in the room is zero, right? – Spirit Realm Investigator Jan 5 at 3:46
  • I don’t agree that Acts 2 clarifies this verse because in Acts 2 those listening understood what was being said, whereas here this is not directed to men but God as a rule with the exception that the tongue is translated or someone listening understands the language. Further Paul spoke in tongues more than all of them, v4 says it’s for personal edification, therefore there is no need for translation. Otherwise I appreciated your response – Nihil Sine Deo Jan 5 at 3:49
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - see V19 - Paul is talking about a church setting – Dottard Jan 5 at 4:03

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