Select your language
Nuer (Sudan/South-Sudan)
Tshiluba (DR Congo)

The Tongues of Men and of Angels

1 Corinthians 13: 1

Edwin N. Cross

The languages of men are many. Most, but not all, have the Word of God translated into their own tongue. How did all these languages come into existence? They are the consequence of God's judgment at Babel when "the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them..." (Gen. 11: 9). In Genesis 10: 5 we read: "By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue..." It is here that the word "tongue" first occurs in the Bible. The Hebrew word used is "lah-shohn" (Strongs No. 3956) and is translated tongue and language. The words used refer to ordinary speech.

But what about angels-what language do they speak? If we suppose that they have a separate tongue, as some have deduced from 1 Corinthians 13: 1, we may be sure that they would have only one language. Which of the angels were judged by God at the plain of Shinar? It was only fallen mankind who could conceive the notion of building "a tower whose top may reach unto heaven;... lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth" (Gen. 11: 4). Clearly, angels did not need to reach unto heaven and neither were they judged with confusion of their tongue! But are we sure they do not speak another language? Reflect a little on their purpose. The word ev-angel-ist has at its root the word angel, meaning messenger. Angels are messengers. Their task was to bring messages from God to men and women.

A brief review of some Biblical examples will demonstrate this point clearly. Read Genesis 16, where an Angel1 spoke with Hagar. What language was used? Of course it was one Hagar understood. In Exodus 3 the Angel of Jehovah spoke with Moses from the midst of the burning bush. He had no trouble in understanding what was being said to him. Now read Judges 13: 1-5. When Manoah and his wife were told of the birth of their son Samson, what language did the Angel use? Was His exalted message readily understood by this rural couple? Of course it was. The narrative shows they spoke together with the Angel. In 2 Kings 1: 3 Elijah is addressed by an angel. The words he used are recorded and we can understand with our rational faculties what was said. An angel also spoke with the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 1: 9ff.). These Old Testament conversations were evidently all conducted in Hebrew and were comprehensible conversations when normal human language was used. We read of no mutterings or incomprehensible gibberish coming forth from the lips of angels. If you turn to Isaiah 8: 19 you will find a very dubious group chirping and muttering. Scripture records that there is no light in them. In the New Testament angels are again found bringing their glorious messages to surprised but comprehending hearers. We have no alternative but to conclude that they were spoken to in Aramaic or Greek. Zechariah, Joseph and Mary well understood the holy communications that reached their ears in Matthew 1 and 2 and Luke 1 and 2. Acts 8: 26 furnishes another example in Philip being told to go toward the south, to the way that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. Cornelius presumably was addressed in Greek by the angel (Acts 10: 3). In Acts 12: 7 the sleeping captive, Peter, is spoken to by an angel.

1 It would seem that the Angel of Jehovah in Genesis 16, Exodus 3 and Judges 13 is Jehovah Himself. In Mr. Darby's translation the "A" of "Angel" is capitalised.

In none of these instances, nor in any others in the Bible, will you find angels uttering ecstatic, unintelligible sounds. How does this all square-up with what is found in the modern charismatic movement? Apart from Satan having the power to mimic real languages, it appears to me that the generality of tongues speakers are deceived by some phenomena found in ecstatic religious ceremonies. Of course Satan is behind the deception, for he is the father of lies (John 8: 44). Claims to apostolic power and gifts arose in the church at Ephesus, evidently at the turn of the first century. The apostles had nearly all been called home and perhaps only John was then alive. The Lord commended the Ephesian assembly in their correct judgment of these pseudo-apostles. "Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars" (Rev. 2: 2).

The renowned researcher into religious cults, A. J. Pollock, threw out a challenge that there should be a reliable test made of the reality or otherwise of the claims of the Pentecostal systems. He suggested "that a number of able Christian linguists should be invited to listen to these tongues. In the main, we believe, they are gibberish. They are not real languages at all. We have been told that in some cases where real languages are spoken, the persons speaking have rolled out floods of obscenity. In that case the tongue is clearly Satanic, for the Scriptures repeatedly speak of unclean spirits." (from "Modern Pentecostalism, Foursquare Gospel, Healings and Tongues: are they of God?" published by Central Bible Truth Depot, London 1945). His suggested test has been proposed to various "angel" tongue speakers but none have accepted the challenge for fear of demonstrating that their so-called tongue has no linguistic structure at all and a marked lack of complex creatorial order found with true language.

My conclusion is that the modern claims are generally false but if a known tongue is uttered the evidence I have been able to evaluate is that it would not be from the Holy Spirit but an unclean demon. Far from having the tongues of God's angels we see men deluded by fallen angels. Since the revelatory gifts have ceased,2 we may regard modern tongues speakers as false prophets. This is also consistent with our other conclusions.

If you have fallen into the trap, it will be best to repudiate the false gift and confess the matter to God without delay. The unclean spirits will not merely deceive but will also defile those persons who have spiritual fellowship with them. The danger is great and we must not underestimate the powers of darkness to intrude even among those professing to be outside the religious world.


2cf. 1 Corinthians 13: 8 and James 1: 25 to see the use of "perfect" in relation to the Word of God. See also Hebrews 2: 3-4 to confirm the interpretation of Mark 16: 17-18, that the special sign gifts were to confirm that the new dispensation being introduced was of God.

"Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain." (Proverbs 25: 14)

"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." (1 John 4: 1)