The Capranica

Comments on theology and life

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Location: Hemet, California, United States

Co-Pastor of First Baptist Church of San Jacinto, California

Thursday, December 08, 2005

So, Where Did These Private Prayer Languages Come From?

For years I have searched the Scriptures looking for the elusive but much acclaimed “private prayer language.” As of today, I still can’t find it in the Bible. No where! I do have some good friends who tell me they have found it in the Bible and in their mouth and they regularly engage in a regular “private prayer language” sessions in their “prayer closets.” The only passage I have yet to hear them quote is 1 Corinthians 14:4 – “One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.” For a moment (more like a split second), they had me convinced. Then I read all of chapter 14. Convinced no longer. In fact, there seems to be nothing “private” about tongues in any passage of the Bible where the infamous “speaking in tongues” is mentioned. Only one Gospel mentions the phenomenon (Mark 16:17 – confirmation of eye apostolic witness 16:20) and it is a very PUBLIC speaking gift. The book of Acts mentions “speaking in tongues” a few times (contrary to the claims of most modern day tongue talkers). Acts 2, 8, 10 and 19 are the passages. Interestingly, each time a group spoke in tongues it was when a new people group was confirmed as those included (Acts 1:8 – note the geographic parallels) in the emerging church (oops, that is probably not a good phrase to use today). Furthermore, all of the Acts accounts are PUBLIC scenes. The only other place in the Bible (yes, the whole Bible - I'm open to suggestions) where the phenomenon of tongues is mentioned is in 1 Corinthians, and here, only three chapters directly refer to it. No other New Testament epistle directly refers to the idea of speaking in tongues. Not that it needs to in order to be legitimate, but when those who advocate tongue talking do so, they seem to suggest through their vehemence that it is a ubiquitous activity advocated throughout the Bible. According to what the Bible does say, tongues does not appear to have ever been a normal occurrence. Outside of Paul’s reference to tongues in 1 Corinthians, he never encourages any of his associates or churches to pursue or engage in tongues. He does encourage prayer – but never private prayer languages. At this point, a tongue talker is going to be quite jittery. No doubt, they are going to point me to the idea that Paul spoke in tongues more than any of the Corinthians (who appeared to be enamored with the gift – 1 Cor 14:18). Ah yes, but I want to ask, where does any text clearly say that Paul had a private prayer language? 1 Corinthians 14, where tongues is directly addressed, speaks of the gift as a public speaking gift. It is mentioned alongside other public speaking gifts, primarily prophecy. Furthermore, the entire context of 1 Corinthians 14 is the gathered PUBLIC assembly of the church, not a closet alone with oneself. Paul discourages speaking in tongues without interpretation (this is a public issue), because if I were to do so in the meeting, I will only edify myself and thus denigrate the very reason for the gift (to publicly edify – 1 Cor 12:7). I can find no legitimate reason to interpret any reference to tongues as being engaged in while in your closet. Paul does not advocate it. He advocates keeping your mouth closed while in the public gathering if there is no one present who is gifted to interpret your tongue talking. Every reference is to the PUBLIC expression of the gift. Verse 5: I wish that you all spoke in tongues (notice – no closet here), i.e., publicly. You doubt this? Why then in the very next phrase does he say, “but even more that you would prophesy?” The context is the gathered assembly. Verse 6: “If I come to you speaking in tongues . . .” – clearly not in private, but in front of them, “what will I profit you unless I speak to you [implied publicly] either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching [all public speaking gifts].” Verse 13 – “Therefore [don’t miss this verses connection to verses 7-12 and the public expression emphasized] let one who speaks [still in a public context] in a tongue pray that he may interpret.” Why? Because the assumption is that the gift is used publicly and no one will otherwise understand. Verse 14 – no indication here that we have shifted from the church meeting to the private prayer closet. Some will pounce on me with verse 15 – “I will pray with the spirit” – this has to be private, right? Nope. No more than “sing with the spirit” is private. Verse fifteen still sees tongues in a public setting – never private prayer closets. Verse 16 makes this clear – “if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the ‘Amen’ . .” Implication, blessing in the spirit is done publicly and no one can understand it and therefore should not be done. Am I suggesting that Paul indicates from verse 18 that he spoke in tongues in PUBLIC more than any one else? Sure. There is NOTHING in the context to suggest he means in his private devotional time. EVERYTHING in the context suggest he means publicly. In other words, this idea of a “private prayer language” has been advocated vociferously by those who claim to engage in it. They have developed a rather intricate theology to support it. My major problem with their viewpoint is that there is nothing in the Bible to support such a practice. Whether the gift has ceased or not is another issue. I am simply arguing that the Bible does not support a regular, personally edifying private gift of speaking in tongues. The Bible never advocates such, encourages such or even hints at it. Why then should we?


Blogger Jason E. Robertson said...

Excellent post. In fact, I believe that any private prayer language that is practiced is a pagan practice. I wish that people could understand the danger that is found in such practices.

12/10/2005 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger Bret Capranica said...

Thanks. I plan to post a few more thoughts on the subject - dealing specifically with 1 Corinthians 13. Thanks for stirring the post with the posts on the apostles this week.

12/10/2005 07:27:00 PM  
Blogger servingHim said...

Thanks for posting your thoughts on "private prayer language." I read them today while trying to understand the recent IMB vote. It is reported that Jerry Ranking uses a private prayer language and ask the trustees to vote against the prohibition. The issue of private prayer language is divisive for sure. Thanks again.

1/29/2006 02:14:00 PM  
Blogger Bret Capranica said...

servinghim, I appreciate you reading. I hope to post some of my own thoughts on the Wade Burleson issue as well as the IMB's recent activities. The debate has been vivid at Fide-O, however. You should read some of their posts as well.

1/29/2006 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger servingHim said...

Thanks Bret for the Fide-o tip. I look forward to reading it as well as your posts.

I blog to help teachers prepare LifeWay lessons from Explore the Bible series. See

Thanks again,

1/30/2006 05:41:00 AM  
Blogger R. L. Vaughn said...

Bret, excellent and helpful article dealing with this subject I've been studying recently (because of all the bloggers writing about it).

I realize this is an old post, but hope you will notice and answer a question. You wrote, "The book of Acts mentions 'speaking in tongues' a few times.... Acts 2, 8, 10 and 19 are the passages." I just recently posted on my blog about the N.T. incidents of tongues and only found three in the book of Acts. I've gone back over Acts 8 and haven't found tongues there (or glossa either, I don't think). Is there a translation that includes tongues there? I want to be accurate in my post, but just don't see anything about tongues there in Acts 8.


5/08/2007 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger Jacob Noah said...

Dear Friend,

It was very encouraging stuff. I found many interesting points in this blog. I definitely savored every little bit of it.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher


4/02/2013 10:19:00 AM  

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