“I want to suggest to you now that a lot of the trouble has arisen because people have not given the full significance to the word ‘tongue’ — [in the phrases] ‘in an unknown tongue’ or ‘in a tongue’, the ‘unknown’ is generally supplied. What is the basic meaning of this word ‘tongue’? Now I am not giving my own opinion here, but the opinion of the experts in these matters, and there is no doubt but that the Greek word means ‘speaking tongue’, or if you prefer, ‘the tongue in action’. It is not referring to dialects or languages.
What the Apostle is talking about here, therefore, is ‘the tongue speaking as it is moved by the Holy Spirit’. Normally, when a man speaks, his tongue moves as the result of his understanding and the direction of his will; but when a man speaks in a tongue, the tongue is in action as the result of the operation of the Spirit. All these gifts are gifts of the Spirit, and therefore the very word that is employed rejects this whole notion of languages or dialects, and is indicative of the fact that it is speech, the tongue in action, the tongue speaking as the result of the propulsion or direction or control of the Holy Spirit himself.
This seems to me to be made perfectly clear by the Apostle in verses 14 and 15 of chapter 14 where he says,
“If I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.’You see the contrast is between ‘praying in the spirit’ and ‘praying with the understanding’. In the one case it is the Spirit — the Holy Spirit — acting upon the man’s spirit and moving his tongue. In the other it is the man himself with his understanding speaking through his tongue.
These are crucial verses and those who are familiar with Charles Hodge’s commentary will know how he finds himself in considerable difficulty at this point. The only way in which he can get himself out of it is to say that what the Apostle is actually telling us is this: ‘If I pray in an unknown tongue my spirit prayeth, but I am not giving understanding to other people.’ But that is not what the Apostle says. Paul is talking about his own spirit and about his own understanding: not about giving understanding to other people. Indeed that is precisely what he is not saying, and that explanation, therefore, does violence to the whole text. There are other commentators who entirely agree with what I am saying. Paul is referring to something that happens in himself.
Verse 2 confirms this:
‘He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.’And he says in verse 4:‘He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself.’This is the whole mystery with regard to this gift. It seems to me that we can only interpret it by saying that to speak in a tongue means that for the time being a man has been taken up by the Spirit. The Spirit has come upon him and has lifted him up into the spiritual realm and he finds himself speaking in a language that he does not understand. It is an extraordinary language. Though he does not understand it, it is yet edifying to him as verse 4 says. He does not understand the words, but he knows what he is doing — he knows that he is glorifying God. That is the real meaning of verse 2: ‘He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not for men, but for God.’ It is better to translate it ‘for’ rather than ‘unto’. He is not helping men as it were, he is not doing anything for men, but he is doing something for God. He is glorifying God, worshipping Him, and magnifying Him. He knows he is doing that, but he cannot identify the actual words that he is using. The whole thing is a mystery.
But, you see, we are dealing with the realm of the Spirit, a realm which is miraculous and which is supernatural. This is the theme which the Apostle has in mind throughout this whole chapter. These are spiritual gifts. This is not man’s natural faculties being heightened; this is a gift, something new, something which is given. And so the Apostle says that what happens when a man speaks in tongues is that the Spirit is controlling him, by-passing his understanding for the time being. Instead of it coming through the understanding to the tongue, it goes directly through the man’s spirit to the tongue . . . .
Now I was very interested in turning up this definition in an excellent lexicon by Arndt and Gingrich. They say that beyond any question at all, the ‘speaking in tongues’ referred to in these chapters means ‘broken speech of persons in religious ecstasy’. That is precisely what I am trying to say — that when a man speaks in tongues he is taken hold of, he is lifted up above himself and he speaks in a language that he does not understand. I am very ready to agree with those who say that he is probably speaking in the language of paradise, the language of the glory itself . . . . So that this is not some kind of gibberish; it is a man possessed by the Spirit, lifted up into a condition of ecstasy in which he speaks in this language of glory, not understanding what he is saying, and yet knowing that it is the language of glory, and that he is glorifying God.
All emphasis mine.
This excerpt was taken from:
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Joy Unspeakable: The Baptsim and Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Christopher Catherwood, Ed. (1995), Combined edition of Joy Unspeakable (1984) and Prove All Things (1985), “Control of the Tongue,” Kingsway Communications, Ltd., Eastbourne, England, 2003, pp. 274-278.
Today the Doctor brings his inimitable talent for careful analysis to the gift of tongues. Note, that he is not in this post speaking of whether or not tongues continue today; instead this is his view about the mechanics of how the gift of tongues works.