What does it mean, “he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God”?

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This quote is found in 1 Corinthians 14:2, and later in that chapter, Paul explains himself in the following verse, “If I pray in a language those around me do not know, I might be praying with the Spirit, but my thoughts would be unfruitful for those listening” (1 Corinthians 14:14). Paul here insists that if we pray out loud, we should either pray so others around us can understand or else keep quiet! 
 
The next few verses shed more light: “What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. 16 Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?” (1 Corinthians 14:15,16)?
 
According to these verses, who has the problem with understanding? It is the listener and not the speaker, as is commonly taught. If you have ever prayed with someone who is offering a prayer in a language unknown to you, then you know what Paul meant when he said it is difficult for you to say “Amen” at the end of the prayer. Without an interpreter, you have no idea to what you are assenting. 
 
Coming back to the verse in question in light of what was just discussed, “For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries” (1 Corinthians 14:2). It is clear that when a person speaks in an unknown tongue, or language, other people who do not know that language will not be able to understand it and it will be a mystery to them. Only God can understand it, hence, better to be polite and pray silently than cause confusion to those who don’t understand one’s language. 
 
In His service,
BibleAsk Team


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