Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 2, No. 6 Page 6 June 2000

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Tongues of Angels

By D. Gene West

From time to time we receive questions from members of the congregation, and one that we received recently has to do with the tongues of angels mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:1. We enjoy receiving questions from time to time because it indicates that people are studying the Bible for themselves, and that they are serious about that study in that they are asking questions about the things they do not understand. The passage under consideration reads as follows:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.”
If I am understanding the question properly the questioner wants to know if the angels in heaven speak a language all their own, and is that what Paul was referring to when he spoke of the languages “of men and of angels”? As to what languages may be spoken in heaven by the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and the angels, those of us who dwell on the earth would have no way of knowing. Every time the Bible speaks of something that is said in heaven, or something that is said by God or by angels that has been spoken in the languages in which the Bible was written, or in the language spoken by the hearers at the time, it is intelligible to mankind. For example, at the transfiguration of Jesus the voice of God came out of a cloud and said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear Him.” That statement was understood by those who heard the voice, just as was the statement that God made at the baptism of Jesus. The Jews, at that point in their history spoke a language commonly called Aramaic, and so it must be presumed that when God spoke, he spoke in that language. If that is not the case, then unless there was the miracle of interpretation, the people would not have understood what was said by the heavenly voice.

As to whether or not God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the angels have a language that is reserved for them in heaven, one would have no way of knowing since that has not been revealed to man. One may assume that is the case, but that would be only an assumption and not proof.

In 1 Corinthians 13:1, Paul is using a figure of speech which basically means that if he had the ability to speak all the languages of heaven and earth, and did not love his brother and fellow man, then his orations in these languages would sound like someone beating on a tub. His efforts would simply be noise and nothing more. He is speaking hypothetically, saying that if he could master all the languages of men, and even those of angels, if such existed different from the languages of man, and still had no love in his heart, he really was quite worthless.

The words of Paul in the first part of the verse are a conditional clause, and as such, it indicates that Paul does not himself engage in speaking in foreign languages in the public worship of the church. Lenski points out that Paul is saying in effect, “Suppose that I as the Lord’s apostle have the highest possible gift of tongues, those that men use, and even those that angels use -- how you Corinthians would admire, even envy me and desire to have an equal gift!” (P.545, 1 Corinthians 13)

He is trying to get the Corinthians to see that they are placing emphasis on the wrong thing, that what is important in the exercise of the Christian faith is not speaking in tongues. As a matter of fact, he forbid the use of languages at Corinth unless there was an interpreter present, but what is important is having a deep and abiding love in our hearts for our fellow man, and especially for our brethren (Galatians 6:10).

When the angels of God appeared to Abraham in the planes of Mamre to tell him that he was going to have a son in a year from that time, they spoke to Abraham in a language he could understand. Since Abraham came from Ur of Chaldees, it can be safely assumed that he spoke the language of the Chaldean. When the angels spoke to him they must have spoken to him in a way that he could understand for he knew immediately what the message was! Furthermore, Sarah, who was listening to what was said, also understood the message of the angels, and laughed. Abraham understood the language of the angels when they told him that they were going to see how wicked Sodom had become and perhaps destroy it. Abraham began to bargain with them to save the people of Sodom, because Lot lived there. (See: Genesis 18.)

There may be languages spoken in heaven that man has never heard, and if there are, and if man could master those languages, and if he did not love as he ought, the mastery of those languages would do nothing for him except make him like someone banging on a brass cymbal! This is the proper interpretation of the meaning of 1 Corinthians 13:1.

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