“Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” 1 Corinthians 13:8–10

Our question has the same answer as the question, “What does the Bible say about infant baptism?” Nothing! Just as pedobaptists assume that there must have been children immersed by Paul and Silas in the home of the Philippian jailer, so anyone who presumes to find praying in some “angelic” prayer language is searching for something not taught in Scripture.

For those who would state that believers should not forbid speaking in tongues, note that Paul forbade speaking in tongues. In 1 Corinthians 14:28 Paul says, “But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church….” In Corinthians 14:34 he says, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak….” This might sound “sexist” to our 21st century ears, but both verses are in the context of speaking in tongues.

Those who believe in ecstatic praying (spiritual prayer language) point to four texts. They think that Romans 8:26, 1 Corinthians 14:4–17, Ephesians 6:8, and Jude 20 are verses that allow for a charismatic, personal prayer language. We will look at each text in turn.

First, it is wise to review what we know about “charismatic” gifts. Charismatic leaning Christians believe that Christians must strive for a “second work” of grace which they identify as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They conflate the event in Acts 2 on the birthday of the Church with a doctrine that a believer plainly cannot feel. The Holy Spirit’s work of immersing a new believer into the “body of Christ” happens to all believers and it happens at the point of salvation. 1 Corinthians 12:13 says, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body….” Ephesians 4:4ff reads, “One body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism….”

Second, on the day of Pentecost recorded for us in Acts 2, the believers spoke in human tongues (the word is glossa, the word from which we get glossary). In this pivotal chapter that details the change in dispensations, we learn that the Holy Spirit’s new ministry was to indwell every believer. That day was a big “catch-up” day. The Church got its start with a bang in that the Holy Spirit came upon the saints and they went out to witness to everyone in Jerusalem gathered for the feast of Pentecost from all the corners of the earth. As they witnessed, the Holy Spirit made the people hear the Gospel in their own languages! It was quite a day as 3000 people were born again. This is not how “tongues” are practiced today, in either prayer or preached utterances.

Third, it is plain from 1 Corinthians 13:8ff that such “sign-gifts” will cease. The words Paul uses to express the termination of the gifts of healing, tongues, interpretation, and prophesying are instructive. Prophecies will fail (be abolished, be inactivated, be unemployed). Tongues will cease (desist, pause). Knowledge will vanish away (fail). These gifts were sign gifts to the Jews (1 Corinthians 1:22) to show that the Church Age is authentically God’s work. They were useful in the days before the completion of the canon of Scripture. In the days before the Bible was complete, God provided that believers across the far-flung Roman Empire had His Word by the instrumentality of these special Spirit gifts. Now you know why it is imperative for an interpreter to be present and active whenever these gifts were exercised! No wonder Paul forbade tongues in any other context.

Of the four verses used as proof texts for a special prayer language, 1 Corinthians 14:14ff is probably the significant text: “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding…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?” In light of the preceding context, praying in tongues must have an interpreter in order to be of God, and that the body of believers may be edified. Such a prayer cannot be a “private prayer language.” It must be for all, not just for self. Also, a private prayer language violates the purpose of tongues because they were to serve as a “sign” to unbelievers, not saints. Finally, since tongues were expressly not for every single believer to exercise, do those not privileged to exercise the gift of tongues miss out because they cannot elevate their prayers to the level of ecstatic utterance? Not at all. Prayer in another tongue was a different human language that required an interpreter for anybody who did not know the language, even if it was the one praying.

The other three texts are self-evident. Romans 8:26 is the Holy Spirit making intercession for us among the Godhead, not private prayer languages exercised by the saints. Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20 speak of praying in (the sphere of) the Spirit, not a private prayer language, but praying in the realm of the Holy Spirit’s work and along the line of the Spirit’s purposes. Guard your heart against error. Trust and obey.