Tongue Speaking Angels!


But what about Paul’s passing reference to the ‘tongues of angels’ in 1 Corinthians 13:1? Wouldn’t this reference prove that tongue-speaking could involve languages beyond those spoken by humans?

In the first place, consider the role, purpose, and activity of angels described in the Bible. The word ‘angel’, in Greek, is ‘angelos’, in Hebrew it is the word ‘malak’ and it simply means ‘messenger’ one who ‘speaks and acts in the place of the one who has sent him’. It doesn’t mean merely ‘to send,’ but rather ‘to send a messenger, message’.

It is true that angels in both the Old and New Testaments carried out a wide range of activities beyond message-bearing, including, worshipping God, Revelation 5:11-12, comforting, aiding, and protecting, Daniel 6:22 / Matthew 4:11 / Luke 22:43 / Acts 5:19 / Hebrews 1:14 and executing judgment and inflicting punishment and death, Matthew 13:49 / Acts 12:23.

But it remains true to say that the meaning of the term ‘angel’ is a messenger, one who communicates a spoken message. Therefore, their principal role in God’s scheme of things was to function as messengers to humans. Consequently, angels always are represented in Scripture as communicating in ‘human language’.

In the second place, what logical reason exists for humans to speak in an alleged ‘angelic’ language that is different from human language? What would be the spiritual benefit?

The Bible certainly makes no provision for humans to communicate with angels in such a language, nor would there be any need for an angel to communicate to a human in a non-earthly language.

The whole point of 1 Corinthians 12-13 was to stress the need to function in the church in ways that were meaningful and understandable.

Since God, by His very nature, never would do anything superfluous, unnecessary, or frivolous, it follows that He wouldn’t bestow upon a human being the ability to speak in a nonhuman language.

The ability would serve no purpose!

The Bible simply offers no rationale nor justification for identifying the ‘tongues of angels’ in 1 Corinthians 13:1 with some heavenly, otherworldly, non-earthly languages.

In the third place, if, in fact, the ‘tongues of angels’ refer to known human languages, what was Paul’s point?

Since angels were God’s appointed spokesmen, they naturally would perform their assignment in such a way that God would be represented as He would want to be.

God’s own angelic messengers would have complied with their responsibility in such a way and manner that they would have God’s approval. In other words, angels would naturally articulate God’s message as well as it could be expressed, i.e., perfectly.

When God inspired mere humans to communicate His will, He integrated their own educational background, stylistic idiosyncrasies, and vocabulary into their oral and literary productions. No such need would have existed for angels.

Their communications would have been unfiltered through human agency. Their announcements would have been the essence and pinnacle of eloquence and oratorical skill.

Perhaps, then, Paul wasn’t drawing a contrast between human and nonhuman languages at all. Before referring to the ‘tongues of angels,’ he referred to ‘the tongues of men.’ Why would Paul say, ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men’?

After all, isn’t that precisely what all adult humans do? We, humans, speak at least one human language! Paul must have been referring, then, not to the ability to speak a human language, but to the ability to speak all human languages.

No tongue-speaker in the first-century church had the ability to speak all human languages. In fact, the textual evidence indicates that most tongue-speakers probably had the ability to speak only one human language, which he, himself, didn’t understand, thus necessitating the need for an inspired interpreter, 1 Corinthians 12:30 / 1 Corinthians 14:26-28.

Paul could apparently speak more languages than any of the others, 1 Corinthians 14:18. If the ‘tongues of men’ referred to the number of human languages, rather than referring to the ability to speak a human language, then the ‘tongues of angels’ would refer not to the ability to speak an angelic language but to the ability to speak human languages ‘the way angels do’.

Here, then, would have been Paul’s point, even if a tongue-speaker could speak every human language known to man, and even if that tongue-speaker could speak those human languages with the efficiency, skill, and perfection that God’s angelic messengers have spoken them in history, without love, the ability would be wasted.

With this understanding of the text, Paul wasn’t contrasting human with nonhuman language. He was encompassing both the quantity, if I could speak all human languages and the quality, if I could speak them perfectly, of speaking human language.

One final point on the matter of the ‘tongues of angels’ merits mention. Even if the expression actually refers to angelic tongues that are nonhuman, it still is likely that tongue-speakers were incapable of speaking such languages.


Paul was speaking hypothetically and hyperbolically. No human being, with the exception of perhaps Jesus, has ever been able to speak in all human languages. For Paul to suggest such was to pose a hypothetical situation. It was to exaggerate the facts.

So Paul’s meaning was, ‘even if I were capable of speaking all human languages, which I’m not.’

Likewise, no human being has ever been able to speak the tongues of angels. So Paul’s meaning was, ‘even if I were capable of speaking the languages of angels, which I’m not.’

This conclusion is supported further by the verse that follows the reference to the ‘tongues of angels.’ There, Paul used two additional hypothetical events when he said, ‘If I, know all mysteries and all knowledge’ and ‘if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,’ 1 Corinthians 13:2.

But no one on the planet, with the exception of Deity, has understood all mysteries and all knowledge, nor has faith that could literally remove mountains. Again, Paul was merely saying, ‘even if I could do such things, which I can’t.’

The tongues were known languages, not ‘ecstatic utterances’. According to the apostle Paul, and in agreement with the tongues described in Acts, speaking in tongues is valuable to the one hearing God’s message in his or her own language, but it is useless to everyone else unless it is interpreted, translated. Paul’s concern is the edification of the church. 1 Corinthians 14:5 / 1 Corinthians 14:12.

Paul’s conclusion regarding tongues that weren’t interpreted is powerful, ‘But in the church, I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue’, 1 Corinthians 14:19.

There is no benefit to others in hearing something they cannot understand. More importantly, there is no benefit, and much harm, done in churches where the speaking and interpreting of a tongue brings forth that which doesn’t line up with Scripture or which cannot be verified in Scripture.

Paul was also concerned about ‘order’ in worship. His concern was that everything is done for the edification of the church. He goes on to say that there should only be two or three speaking in a tongue and one should interpret. If there is no interpreter present, then one should be quiet, 1 Corinthians 14:26-28.

The temporal nature of the gift of tongues assumes that the gift of interpretation of tongues was also of a temporal nature. If the gift of speaking in tongues were active in the church today, it would be performed in agreement with Scripture.

It would be a real and intelligible language, 1 Corinthians 14:10. It would be for the purpose of communicating God’s Word to a person of another language, Acts 2:6-12, and it would also be in accordance with 1 Corinthians 14:33, ‘For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.’