There is some conjecture as to whether there is such a thing as a “heavenly language.” Is there a language unknown on earth but spoken fluently in heaven? If so, is it possible for someone to learn to speak this esoteric language? Is it possibly a gift of the Holy Spirit?
First, we should point out that the expression “heavenly language” is nowhere found in Scripture. Also, the phrase “tongues of angels” is used only once, in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Some have suggested that Paul’s reference to “tongues of angels” is proof that there is a heavenly language that only angels—and certain Spirit-filled believers—can speak. Let’s take a closer look at the verse and its context.
When Paul speaks of “tongues of men,” he is most likely referring to the gift given on the Day of Pentecost when the apostles were imbued by the Holy Spirit to speak languages virtually unknown to them (Acts 2:4-12). “Tongues of men” is a reference to the various human languages in use at the time. The Corinthian brethren so prized this miraculous gift that it became severely abused and counterfeited. Paul addressed this problem in his epistle. The Corinthians needed to know that God gave the ability to speak a foreign language as a sign, and the gift had some restrictions (1 Corinthians 14:1-33).
When Paul speaks of the “tongues of angels,” he isn’t speaking literally of a “heavenly language,” as some want to believe, but is using a hyperbolic expression. Hyperbole is an exaggeration to make a point. Paul is saying that, no matter how gifted one may be, whether in his own language, in foreign languages, or even in the hypothetical speech of angels, it’s all moot without love. In fact, without love, one’s speech is no better than the useless babble of the pagan religions. The pagan culture of Corinth honored their gods in ritualistic ceremonies accompanied by loud musical instruments such as gongs, cymbals, and trumpets. Their worship was a chaotic cacophony.
Speaking in “tongues of angels” is probably best understood as having the ability to speak with “divine eloquence.” As one well-known Bible scholar put it, “Paul is simply saying that, were he to have the ability to speak with the skill and eloquence of the greatest men, even with angelic eloquence, he would only become a noisy gong . . .”
The fact is that Paul used hyperbolic language elsewhere, including in the very next verse, with his mention of faith “to remove mountains.” His exaggerations serve to emphasize the necessity of love. Showing love is more important than the grandest, most miraculous action imaginable.
To suggest that Paul implies that “tongues of angels” is a kind of “heavenly language” is to go beyond what Scripture actually teaches. It is taking the expression completely out of context in an attempt to teach something other than what Paul actually said.