There is only one gift of speaking a known language, which the user does not know. This is often referred to as the gift of “tongues.” Some argue that there is a second gift of “tongues” used in private prayer (Romans 8.26). The passage says the Holy Spirit prays for us when we do not know how to pray, but His intercessory prayer is not audible. Instead it is made “with groanings too deep for words.”
Still others claim 1 Corinthians 14.2 refers to a special prayer language. Paul was commenting on the gift of speaking a known language, which one does not know. When a person uses that gift no one but the person(s) who knows that language is edified with knowledge. The person using the gift is edified by the use, but the other believers who do not speak that language are not edified. He went on to explain that it is far more beneficial for everyone to prophecy (teach Scripture) rather than speak in “tongues” (1 Corinthians 14.2-5). He was not talking about a special prayer “tongue” that many believers claim they have.
The apostle Paul went on to explain in verses six through thirteen that it is far more important to the church for members to teach Scripture rather than speak a known language, which no one understands. In verse thirteen he said those who speak in “tongues” should pray to be given the gift of interpretation so they can share with the congregation what he said. He even said teaching Scripture is 2,000 times more important than speaking in “tongues” (verse 19). Christians who speak in “tongues” should only do so if someone can interpret it and if no one can, he is to remain silent (1 Corinthians 14.27-28).
Another argument for a special prayer “tongue” comes from the statement by Paul, “I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also” (1 Corinthians 14.15). Paul simply reiterated what he had written a few verses earlier that those who speak in “tongues” should pray to interpret so the entire congregation can be edified (verse 13). He was not making a doctrinal statement that there is a special “prayer tongue.”
The main purpose of the gift of “tongues” was to be a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14.22) — specifically Jewish unbelievers. Each time people spoke in “tongues” Jewish unbelievers were present (Acts 2.4-13; 10.44-48; 19.1-10). It was a fulfillment of what Isaiah prophesied of (28.11). Christians who speak in “tongues” in church services should always use the rulethat the Holy Spirit set down:
“If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.” (1 Corinthians 14.27-28)
Any church that does not follow these rules is not in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Their motives for misusing the gift must be questioned. Are they using the gift to edify each other by imparting spiritual knowledge or are they using it for entertainment or to get an emotional high?
It should also be noted that the belief of speaking in “tongues” is evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not biblical. Paul said not every believer has the gift of “tongues” (1 Corinthians 12.30). Speaking in “tongues” is also not evidence of a second blessing or empowerment. It is solely a spiritual gift that only some believers are given and it is the least of all of the gifts (1 Corinthians 14.28). Those who are given that gift should “earnestly desire the greater gifts” (1 Corinthians 12.31).
Christians who do not understand the purpose of the gifts of the Holy Spirit should study chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians until they do.