Groanings Too Deep To Be Uttered

In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we do not know what to pray for like we should. However, the Spirit himself makes interession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. ~Romans 8:26

Let’s talk about tongues—meaning the spiritual ability to speak in a language you have not learned, whether anyone around you can understand the language or not.

I don’t think Romans 8:26 has anything at all to do with tongues, but we need to dispense with some controversial issues so that they don’t interfere with looking at what the Scripture has to say about prayer in this verse. Tradition—meaning beliefs that we got from our denomination, parents, or some other source to which we are emotionally bonded—can entirely steal our ability to interpret even the most obvious, straightforward teachings of the Bible.

And speaking and praying in tongues is an emotional issue these days, not as much as 30 to 50 years ago, but still an emotional issue.

I have a friend and mentor who, I’m pretty certain, believes that tongues have passed away because of 1 Cor. 13. He’s brought it up with me at least two or three times, and I always just tell him I don’t agree, then avoid discussing the issue.

The point of that comment is that even I, Mr. Theological Controversy, avoid arguing this topic, even with close friends.

Simply put, I think that, in regard to the interpretation of Scripture, tongues is a muddy enough issue that it has to be resolved on a practical, experiential basis, not a theoretical one.

Let me explain.

Tongues in Acts

The Book of Acts is often used to argue about the role of tongues in the church today. It is important that we remember that this is the issue. What about today? Should we be speaking and praying in tongues? Is there spiritual edification for us or for the body in praying in tongues, or has it ceased, as 1 Cor. 13:8 says it will at some point.

Despite the fact that the Book of Acts talks about tongues more than any other book of the Bible, it is, in my opinion, useless for determining anything about what we ought to do today.

The reason is that nothing is said about tongues in the Book of Acts that is doctrinal or theological. We are simply told that it happened. We are given no instructions, no reasons, no guide for the future.

I think the one thing we can all agree on concerning tongues in the Book of Acts is that it happened often, it happened at conversion, it’s never mentioned outside of conversion, and it seems to have happened to every convert present.

I would add that we can all agree that it always happened when some new group of people came into the church, but I think it’s really a stretch to suggest that the disciples of John in Acts 19:1-6 are a new group of people.

The others are:

  • The Jews on the day of Pentecost, represented by the apostles (Acts 2:1-4)
  • The Gentiles under the preaching of Peter (Acts 10:45-46)
  • Possibly the Samaritans under the preaching of Philip and the laying on of hands of Peter and John (Acts 8:14-18)

Tongues in 1 Corinthians

The only other place that tongues is mentioned is in 1 Corinthians 12-14. There we find some definitive guidance on the use of tongues in the church and in our private prayer life.

I keep using “tongues is” rather than “tongues are” because I’m talking about the gift of tongues. “Languages” would be a better translation than tongues, but we’re all used to using “tongues,” so, contrary to my normal manner, I’m sticking to convention.

Corinthians tells us:

  • Not everyone has the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 12:30)
  • Interpretation of tongues is also a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:30)
  • Tongues without love is useless (1 Cor. 13:1)
  • That tongues will stop when “that which is complete” comes (1 Cor. 13:8), as will prophecy and the gift of knowledge
  • That praying in tongues builds up the person praying, but not the church (1 Cor. 14:4)
  • Unless the tongues are interpreted (1 Cor. 14:5)
  • If we speak in tongues, we should pray that we can interpret (1 Cor. 14:13)
  • If you bless food in public in tongues, you are giving thanks well, but you shouldn’t do that because no one else can understand you (1 Cor. 14:16-17)
  • Paul prays and sings in tongues (1 Cor. 14:15)
  • Paul doesn’t understand what he’s praying or singing (1 Cor. 14:14)
  • Paul speaks in tongues more than any of the Corinthians (1 Cor. 14:18)
  • And he thanks God for that! (1 Cor. 14:18)
  • Paul doesn’t speak or pray in tongues in the church (1 Cor. 14:19)

Summing Up the Scriptures on Tongues

What does that say for us today?

Honestly? I don’t know. Here’s the problem.

Whom do you know that speaks in tongues and that spoke in tongues spontaneously, without instruction or being told that they should speak in tongues?

One person? Two?

I attended and diligently participated in Pentecostal and charismatic churches for eight years. I read books about the history of the Pentecostal movement written by Pentecostals. I read everything that Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, T.L. Osborne, and several others wrote.

My experience?

Almost no one in the modern era has ever spoken in tongues without coaching. There are a few rare exceptions, but they are very rare.

I think it is undeniable that this is not what happened in the Book of Acts.

Were the apostles coached on speaking tongues before the Spirit fell on them? How about Cornelius? Did Peter really interrupt his sermon about Jesus to mention that real Christians speak in tongues, but Luke forgot to mention it?

No, in the Book of Acts, men and women spoke in tongues as the Spirit fell on them—spontaneously, without coaching.

That simply doesn’t happen today. Or if it does, it happens so rarely that I have never heard of it despite being on the mission field with Pentecostal missionaries and extensive experience in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches and literature.

I heard of one well-known ministry (a husband-wife team, I forget their names) that sat people down and had them say “abba” over and over until they “spoke in tongues.”

I’m sorry, that’s not the New Covenant’s gift of tongues. It is babbling.

Look up “travesty.” It’s an interesting word. What that ministry was doing is a “travesty” of tongues, not tongues itself.


I have to go to a prayer meeting. I’m late. I’ll give you a conclusion tomorrow.

There is a good, practical approach to tongues in the modern era, and the secret to it is locked up in Romans 8:26.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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2 Responses to Groanings Too Deep To Be Uttered

  1. Looking forward to part two!

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