[Editor’s note: This question is specific to the Indonesian translation of 1 Corinthians, although it is relevant to the general question about unknown languages and whether they are mentioned in the Bible]


 I am from Bandung, Indonesia.  One of my friends asked me about 1 Corinthians 14:2-4  What is  the meaning speak in tongues in this context?  I ask because in the Indonesian Bible the translation includes the phrase Holy Spirit languages. So I want to know more about these Holy Spirit languages.


Yes, when we were in Indonesia this past time we were told about the Indonesian Bible and its translation of 1 Corinthians 14:2.  The translation “spirit language” is not in the original.  I assume that it was Pentecostals who made this translation–reading their own incorrect interpretation into the passage.  This is a very unfortunate error.  The actual Greek is the word is glossa which literally means tongue.  The literal word-for-word translation is this: “For the one speaking in a tongue.”  There is no Greek word that can be translated “spirit” in the original of Paul.  The problem with this bad translation is that it is misleading, at least to some people. They use this to push the false teaching that the Bible talks about “spiritual languages” which are separate from human languages.  There is no suggestion of this in the New Testament, certainly not in 1 Corinthians 14:2.  From Acts 2 we know that the “tongues” that were spoken by the apostles were actual languages.  From Corinthians, Paul commands that if tongues are spoken in church, there must be a translator.  Presumably, the translator was one who actually spoke the language, because in the New Testament the tongues spoken were actual human languages.  They were not some sort of angelic gibberish or some sort of unknown “spiritual tongue.” This concept is not in the Bible and it certainly is not in 1 Corinthians 14:2.  You may want to explain this to your Pentecostal/Charismatic friends.  You should go on line and get a copy of the Greek Text.  I am using a Greek/English interlinear which shows each Greek word and its literal translation.  If you give people the actual facts, you may be able to help them overcome their incorrect understanding of tongue-speaking, which is talking in an actual human language.  It is likely this will be hard for a charismatic Christian to swallow, because they have become convinced of their nonsense mumbling being from God.  This will undermine a significant part of their faith.  I suggest you do this carefully and not push too hard on this topic.  Although this is a false teaching from the Bible, I believe it is not an issue of salvation.
John Oakes

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