In 1 Corinthians 13:1 is Paul telling us to speak in the tongues of angels?
1 Cor 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. NIV
It is important to look at what Paul is trying to say. What point is Paul trying to get across to the reader? Charismatic theology assumes that Paul is teaching that people can and DO speak in an angelic language. This certainly would be a language unknown to man. However, in every single biblical encounter that man had with an angel, he never had a problem understanding or communicating with them. So, if there were some angelic language, this would be the only scriptural reference to it. It is important to understand that in this passage Paul is not teaching that we can speak in an angelic language. Scripture never refers to tongues in this manner. The context reveals to us what Paul is actually trying to teach. Paul said IF I speak the tongues of angles, and do not have love, it means nothing. He said he would only be making unnecessary noise. He is not telling us that we all have this ability to speak angelic languages but that even if it were possible it would be completely useless without love. Paul makes a similar statement in regards to the importance of love in the very next verse:
1 Cor 13:1-2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. NIV
Again Paul is making a hypothetical analogy to show that love should be the motivating factor behind all the gifts. If he had the gift of prophecy and could understand all mysteries and all knowledge and even have the faith to move mountains, but not have love, he is nothing.
One could argue that Paul represents one of the greatest characters in the entire Bible. He certainly was given special gifts by God (Acts 19) and was even caught up to the heavens (2 Cor 12). If anyone has ever had enough faith to move a mountain, certainly Paul would have been one of them. Yet, the Scripture does not teach that any saint had this much faith. Paul understood he did not have this faith, but said IF he did, and did not have love, it would be a meaningless faith. Likewise, to understand all mysteries and possess all knowledge would be an admirable trait, but Paul only said IF it were possible to do so, without love it would be meaningless. In verse 12 Paul tells us clearly that he only knew in “part.” That reveals that he did not possess all knowledge. To suggest that he did was not his purpose. Rather, he was trying to show that without love, even the grandest of things is useless. The next verse used by Paul is also relevant:
1 Cor 13:3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. NIV
If anyone is under the impression that Paul was teaching that we have the ability to speak in angelic languages, they would also have to believe we should all have enough faith to move mountains and have the ability to understand all mysteries. They must then also consider giving all they have to the poor and surrendering their body to the flames. Obviously Paul is not teaching this should be the lifestyle of Christians! Paul certainly never did such a thing and there is definitely no mandate here from him for us to do so. His point was again, that If he did those things, without love, they meant nothing. Likewise, even if he could speak in tongues of angels, without love it would be worthless. Paul is not teaching that we are to attempt speaking in some angelic language. In fact, the context had nothing to do with angelic languages. It was an instruction concerning the condition of their heart. When they exercised their spiritual gifts, they were to do so in love.
For an in depth study on this topic please read our page titled "Spiritual Gifts."