Let’s read that interesting verse: “Though I speak with the TONGUES OF MEN AND OF ANGELS, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal” (NKJV). I believe the “tongues of angels” refer literally to the “language of angels.” This does NOT mean that Paul (or anyone else) could actually speak the celestial language that angels speak. He is simply saying, “IF I could speak in the language of angels,” and yet I lacked love, my words would be as meaningless as “sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.”

It’s quite possible that Paul did hear angels speak at one time. In 2nd Corinthians 12:4 Paul informs us that “he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” If this does refer to “the tongues of angels” we learn here that Paul was forbidden, once he returned to earth, to communicate what he had heard. Since Paul called their words “inexpressible,” their words were, as some have said, “outside the scope of human language,” or “too sacred to be uttered and therefore not for publication.”

Today we are often told that when believers “speak in tongues” they are in fact “speaking a heavenly prayer language” that the angels use. What we just saw would seem to rule that out for Paul was forbidden by God to speak that language. I would add that when angels visited earth and spoke to men, they ALWAYS spoke in the common language of the men that heard them speak. If they had spoken in their own language, it would have been unintelligible and thus without purpose.

The “gift of tongues” was “the ability to speak in a foreign language that one had never learned.” The first example of this is found in Acts 2:1-4, “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with once accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them DIVIDED TONGUES, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to SPEAK WITH OTHER TONGUES, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” That this was NOT the “tongues of angels” is made clear in verses 5-8, “And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because EVERYONE HEARD THEM SPEAK IN HIS OWN LANGUAGE. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?’” There is no reason to think that the “gift of tongues” changed at some point from the “tongues of men” to the “tongues of angels.” (302.6) (DO)