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In 1 Cor 14:2, the act of speaking in a tongue is described as a process in which a person utters mysteries under the influence of the Holy Spirit:

2 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. [ESV]

This matches the experience of the apostles in Acts 2:4, in the sense that they also spoke in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance:

4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. [ESV]

In short: the Holy Spirit is the one inspiring the words that a person utters in an unknown tongue. The Holy Spirit is the source of the words.


But there is more to the phenomenon. In 1 Cor 14:13-15, Paul sheds additional light on what it means to speak in a tongue, by pointing out a distinction between speaking with the mind and speaking with the spirit:

13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 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. [ESV]

Here, Paul is telling us that there is a difference between speaking with one's mind and speaking with one's spirit (used as a synonym for speaking in a tongue). Notice also that the mind is unfruitful while a person speaks with the spirit (v14), and that tongue speaking can manifest during prayer and singing (v15).


And finally, we get to Paul's brief revelations about his personal experience with the gift (verses 18 and 19):

18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. [ESV]

Here we get two key observations:

  1. Paul spoke in tongues a lot (v18).
  2. Once again we see a distinction between speaking with the mind and speaking in a tongue (v19).

I hope to have made a good case for the existence of two different modes of speech according to Paul: (1) speaking with the mind and (2) speaking with the spirit (in a tongue). To me, this is undeniably clear. What is not necessarily clear however is the difference between these two modes.

Question: What is the difference between speaking with the mind and speaking in a tongue (with the spirit)?

My own speculative guess: during the process of speaking in a tongue, I believe that the parts of the brain that produce volitional speech become temporarily inactive. The person stops using the language parts of their brain to consciously produce speech, and instead, the words (in an unknown language) are spontaneously revealed to the person's mind by the Holy Spirit. This would explain why the mind is said to be unfruitful during tongue-speaking.

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    Please consider this for your first point about 1 Cor 14:2 & Acts 2:4. While Acts 2:4 is about how the disciples when the holy spirit came in them spoke in languages that people from other regions and countries could understand, the situation in 1 cor 14:2 is quite different in that when these people spoke no one could understand, Paul is saying there is no value of such utterances unless these people can convey a prophecy that helps others. G-d bless.
    – Yeddu
    May 7 at 5:26
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    But the person building himself up does so regardless of whether he understands or not because the spirit in him is communicating with God. The others are not able to build themselves up in like manner. May 7 at 11:09
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    A person building "himself" up??? Do you guys even understand what this really means? That is pride, that is the pharasee praying out in a prominent place in the temple so everyone can hear his great works and deeds! This is absolutely against what Jesus himself taught about prayer. It is a false doctrine and I am amazed that Christians well versed in biblical writings even come to such a ridiculous conclusion!
    – Adam
    May 7 at 13:17
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    @Adam agree with you. Like I said never came across anyone in my life with this and only saw it on TV. Spent an hour on this topic on Youtube and see that its a scary place some of these big big pastors are in. +1 to you
    – Yeddu
    May 7 at 17:43
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    @YedduPrasad - One problem with this ‘tongues’ thing is there are examples of incorrect practises of it, even abuse - and examples of these are available online. And - if you just for now accept that this might your ‘spirit’ speaking - there are cases (example in eastern mystic religion) where the persons unsaved spirit can be ‘influenced’ by demonic entities - and produce similar ‘effects’. But importantly - this shouldn’t detract. Or be used as an argument against ‘tongues’. They pray too - does that mean we shouldn’t?
    – Dave
    May 7 at 18:36
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You have the answer in your question. “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays”. And if your ‘spirit’ doesn’t pray, you pray with your mind. ‘Mind’ comes from the Greek ‘nous’ which in some translations is translated to ‘understanding’.

The ‘mind’ is part of mans ‘soul’. Mans ‘understanding’ is based on his own ‘reasoning’, or ‘thinking’- and this is a function of the soul. And here is where we can run into some difficulty. Because .....

The key to understanding this is to understand the ‘makeup’ of man. And this is an area of disagreement amongst theologians. Some believe that ‘spirit and soul’ are the same. This ‘debate’ is covered and argued in other questions on this forum, so I won’t re-present it here. But if you accept that soul/spirit are ‘one and the same’, the answer to your Q will be very different to this one. Those of that persuasion will react to the response I’m outlining. They will have a very different view to this.

Man is three parts, body, soul and spirit. Prayer has a ‘source’. That ‘source’ determines the type of prayer. If the source is your spirit - tongues is the outcome. Your ‘spirit’ doesn’t use your ‘understanding’ (of language), it ‘uses’ your mouth (or rather you allow it [your spirit] to use your mouth) to ‘speak’ its own language.

my mind is unfruitful” v14. “mysteries” v2

In the same way, when you ‘speak’ with your own understanding, your letting your ‘mind’ ‘use’ your mouth. (The way we all speak). Because in a ‘man has three parts’ view, the ‘body’ [including the mouth] is ‘separate’ from both soul and spirit. The ‘body’is how, or rather what you [the ‘real’ you] use, to interact with your environment.

Essentially, when the ‘sources’ is your [born again] spirit, as in a believer, the Holy Spirit interacts with mans ‘spirit’ to talk to God. BUT ... In Acts 2, this is slightly different. Here it’s Gods Holy Spirit speaking through mans ‘spirit’ to man. That’s why in this case the ‘tongues’ was a known language - it had to be - because it was a message (sign) to man. They, that is other people, had to be able to understand it. Where as in a believers personal ‘prayer’, it’s communication with/to God. (As it is when praying‘with your own understanding’). Both ‘types’ of prayer are [real] prayer. And, Paul emphasises this.

Nevertheless, as you will be acutely aware, this is an area of much contention. I’m sure you will end up with other responses to consider - and you should! There are other views, and I am not presenting this as the answer - although it is for me.

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  • It might be what you think is an answer but it makes some outrageous assumptions that are dead wrong. You are not adequately reading the context of the scriptures you quote and are ignoring large parts of referenced chapters that are very important for understanding the real meaning. It is important to ensure one does not grab random texts and use them out of context to develop meaning and therefore doctrine one cannot ignore other relevant biblical themes ...its a classic mistake on this topic. Sorry -1 from me.
    – Adam
    May 7 at 13:27
  • @Adam - why don't you post your own answer? I would be very interested to read it if you do so. May 7 at 14:45
  • @Adam As I said above, this view is ‘a’ view, and won’t necessarily be accepted by all. And as others have pointed out, this is an open forum. And there’s plenty of free space. - Appreciate you qualifying the down-vote.
    – Dave
    May 7 at 18:41
  • the downvote is easily qualified by your first reading the entire context of the chapters from which you have drawn your references!
    – Adam
    May 8 at 0:03
  • @Adam - I think you misunderstood my comment regarding your downvote. I was thanking you for providing reasoning for it! - not asking for further explanation. I appreciate we have differing views, and I’m always interested in hearing why/how/where.
    – Dave
    May 8 at 0:45
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The mind is like the CPU. It does the information processing. After that, it signals the tongue to speak. This is also where demons attack in order to control our actions.

Mark 5:15

When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind;

Our minds can also be negatively and positively influenced. Romans 8:

5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

This is the mechanism. The Holy Spirit is connected to our human spirits. He influences our minds to cause us to decide with our minds' cooperation to agree to certain actions, e.g., speaking in tongues. The Holy Spirit seeks our volitions to agree to do.

Romans 8:

7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.

The minds of people can be influenced by demons to speak demon's words according to their fleshly desires.

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Speaking with the mind

  • means the mind is actively engaged and aware what it being said and what the meaning of the words are. This is referred to as the mind being fruitful.

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

This could be contrasted with an unfruitful mind. This does not mean the mind cannot hear, cannot act on the body to form words with the mouth, but that the words are unintelligible to the mind. It’s codified language.

An example of an unfruitful mind is asking my child to repeat in Spanish after me, word for word or sentence by sentence. While sounds are correctly coming out of his voice box, his mind is not fruitful because the words mean nothing to him.

Speaking with the spirit

  • means the spirit in man, connects with the Spirit of God and receives knowledge in a codified (or non codified) form. The spirit acts on the body to speak. It bypasses the mind and speaks.

If the language is not codified then the mind is fruitful and can engage the knowledge. The mind can also begin to interfere with the message. Some things are hard to believe or fathom and the mind could be tempted by an unseasoned speaker receiving non codified revelation to “correct” the message, filtering it through the mind such that it makes sense to him.

If the language is codified the mind is unfruitful and because the mind doesn’t understand the words, the most it can do it stop the process of speech altogether but it cannot alter the message.

Contrast

“There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭14:10-11‬ ‭

So in all cases speaking with the mind means the speaker understands the language. Speaking with the spirit can mean this too but in the event that the person does not have the gift of interpretation of language/s or the translation follows afterwards, the mind cannot understand what is being said. The message remains raw and unfiltered in its purest form. Yet not understood.

If a native speaker of that language hears the message whether the mind was fruitful or not they would understand the language and the message conveyed. The big difference is that the spirit of the man speaking is built up whether he understood with the mind or not because there was a connection in the spirit with God.

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  • Unfortunately you didn't read on...this refutes everything you just said because the context is not included in your answer....vs15."What then shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind. I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. 16Otherwise, if you speak a blessing in spirit,b how can someone who is uninstructed say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying?" In reality the theme of this passage of scripture is that Paul is telling us to do the complete opposite of your answer.
    – Adam
    May 7 at 13:36
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    Except you didn’t read earlier Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭14:5‬ ‭@Adam May 7 at 13:42
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    @Adam - why don't you post your own answer? I've seen you criticize answers very harshly but hardly ever you post your own answers. I would be very interested to read your answer to this question. May 7 at 14:43
  • @Nihil Sine Deo...I am not an English major at university level...i majored in Technology and Design, However, even i can see the woefully poor methods used by many here to glean doctrine form the sciptures. When one reads English, the structure of a paragrah for example starts of with a statement, then goes on to further elaborate on said statement in order to make its meaning fully understood, then sums up with a conclusion. The bible writers do follow these same principles. We can expand those same principles into the chapters, books, and entire Bible themes. That is biblical consistency
    – Adam
    May 8 at 0:21
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    @Adam The Bible says what it says and either you accept it or you don’t. The context is congregational praying in a church meeting. Paul encourages speaking in tongues in a congregation IF afterwards someone interprets the tongue. That does not exclude private speaking in tongues “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 Cor‭14:2‬ it is understood that the tongue speaker doesn’t understand either. Hence “Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret.” ‭‭1Cor14:13‬ May 8 at 11:28

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