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(Tongues-Speaking)
What Are Its Implications?

Chapter 1

No Christian can ignore the many questions raised by the phenomenal growth of "glossolalia" or "speaking in tongues." The Pentecostal denominations, which had their start at the turn of this century, now claim membership of over 2,000,000. Their ranks have swelled largely at the expense of the other denominations. Now in the past twelve years the charismatic movement has deeply infiltrated the historic Protestant churches. Even the heavily guarded precincts of Catholicism have not been spared. "Born-again Catholics who speak in tongues are not uncommon today. Then, of course, there are the "Jesus People" and the charismatic fellowships springing up on college campuses across the nation.

All have a common complaint, namely, the stagnation and hollowness of the mainline denominations which have stifled the working of the holy Spirit in the hearts of believers. Hence, there has been a mass exodus from these churches and also an inner revolt against the clergymen as these sincere Christians seek to experience the realities of the Christian life. Bible Students sympathize with this disenchantment over churchianity. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, the Apostle Paul listed the perilous conditions in the world that mark the end of the Age. Verse 5 describes the masses of professed Christians today, "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof," to which Paul adds, "from such turn away."

Actually Bible Students were the first in this exodus from churchianity. Shortly before the turn of the century they heeded the words of Revelation 18:1-4 and left the worldly churches of Babylon. Congregations of Bible Students continue to form throughout the world.

Completely independent of other Bible Students congregations or any man-made headship of Christ and the unstifled working of the holy Spirit in their hearts. As a result they experience the realities of the Christian life at the end of the Age.

There are hazards in fleeing clerical authority. The Christian's wily foe, Satan, stands ready to divert a good thing. There must be a final authority to which each, standing free in Christ, can turn. This authority cannot be an inner experience only, as it would render us vulnerable to Satan. It is disheartening to find some Christians who place their "charismatic experience" above Scripture. We trust these are the exceptions. Thank God, there is an absolute authority, the Bible, which is to govern and regulate every aspect of the Christian life. (2 Tim. 3:16 and 17; 2:15) Because we are concerned we raise the following Scriptural points relative to speaking with tongues.

New Testament Criteria for Glossolalia

Glossolalia, a Greek word that simply means tongues-speaking or speaking with tongues, was one of the miraculous gifts (Greek: charisma) of the spirit prevalent in the Church during the time of the Apostles. Many feel the holy Spirit is again miraculously bestowing the charisma of tongues on Christians. Glossolalia today generally takes the form of ecstatic, unintelligible utterances. The question of whether tongues-speaking as used in the Scriptures was ecstatic utterances or foreign languages will be considered in detail subsequently.

Speaking with tongues in the early Church had limited practical value. Therefore, the Apostle Paul saw the need of laying down certain rules governing the use of this gift of the Spirit in the Church. These rules are found in 1 Corinthians 14. If contemporary glossolalia is a blessing of the Lord, we would naturally expect it to function in accordance with these rules.

  1. First Corinthians 14:5, 27, 28. Tongues-speaking is only edifying in the Church if it is interpreted. "But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the Church." Note from the context that Paul includes both speaking and praying in tongues in this rule.
  2. Most tongues-speaking today is not interpreted as enjoined by Paul.
  3. First Corinthians 14:22. "Tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not."
  4. The tendency of glossolalia Christians today is to impress fellow Christian believers with the need to being "Spirit-filled." Yet the Apostle said this gift was to be used primarily as a sign to unbelievers. The fact that the current usage of tongues largely ignores these two basic New Testament rules tends to cause this version of glossolalia to be suspect in the minds of many sincere Christians.

    How Important is Glossolalia?

    It is interesting to note how the New Testament ranks tongues-speaking as to its importance. In the 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul deals with the diversities of operations of the holy Spirit in the Church. Then he lists the gifts of the Spirit according to their importance. (1 Cor. 12:28). And what do we find at the bottom of the list? Speaking with tongues! Yet our charismatic friends seem to have a different sequence of importance today with glossolalia on or near the top.

    First Corinthians 12:29-30 reveals that not all faithful Christians in the apostles' day were to expect to speak in tongues. Yet today many feel glossolalia is the badge of a Spirit-filled Christian.

    The unwarranted premium placed on glossolalia today is reflected in an article which appeared in the February 28, 1975 issue of Christianity Today. The article entitled "A Plea to Some Who Speak in Tongues" was written by a pastor who opened the doors of his church to "both those who speak in tongues and those who do not." The following quotation contains some of his disappointments:

    "Professing to be filled with the Spirit of humility and holiness, these persons expressed the opposite. The subtle but real spiritual conceit became more apparent until the words 'Spirit-filled' came to have a regrettable taint. Other pastors with whom I have talked have had similar experiences. There is often a 'know-it-all' attitude among those who speak in tongues that exactly contradicts what they protess in testimony. They definitely give the impression that those who do not speak in tongues have not 'arrived' spiritually, do not have the sensitivity to interpret the Scriptures, do not have prayer power that can bring results. These persons are insensitive to the concept of Christian discipline. In many of them, habits of worldliness remain while the tongues-speaking flourishes. They are unteachable. Again the spiritual superiority complex rears its ugly head. The tongues-speakers apparently believe that they know it all."

    It is hoped that the extremes mentioned in this article are only characteristic of a minority. However, the article does reflect the unscriptural importance attached to glossolalia today. Disconcerting things are heard in charismatic circles, such as; non-charismatic Christians are not to be raptured but left to endure the "seven-year tribulation." Another example is the following quotation from an address given at the Presbyterian Charismatic Conference by George MacLeod, former moderator of the Church of Scotland and member of the House of Lords.

    "Only the charismatic communion in all denominations can hear all that God is saying in this age of the Spirit."

    Again this may be the view of a minority. Nevertheless, these extremes are symptomatic of the charged atmosphere of partisanship in the Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal movements indicating a consensus that only glossolalic Christians are "Spirit-filled." An unwillingness by charismatics to accept that speaking with tongues was the lowest operation of the Spirit in the Church (1 Cor. 12:28) and that non-glossolalic Christians can be equally "Spirit-filled" (1 Cor. 12:30) cast serious doubt on this practice being an operation of the holy Spirit.

    Miraculous Gifts in the Early Church

    In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul uses the term "spiritual gifts" in describing the miraculous gifts such as tongues and healing. A revealing statement concerning the purpose of these "spiritual gifts" is also made by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:11, "That I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established." Note the phrase "ye may be established." Remember the New Testament had not yet been given. Evidently the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were necessary at the critical juncture to establish the faith of the Church until the Bible had been completed. Further, the Church of Christ as a completely new operation in the plan of God required more tangible manifestations of its validity. The miraculous gifts provided this confirmatory evidence for the Church at its inception. But the gifts became superfluous (1 Cor. 13:8) after the Church had been established and the canon of the inspired writings had been completed. The Scriptures, the Apostle declares, are sufficient, "that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works." 2 Tim. 3:17

    A distinction must be made between the spiritual gifts and the gift of the holy Spirit" promised to all believers in Acts 2:38. The Greek word for gift in Acts 2:38 is Dorea not Charisma. Dorea is any gratuity, but Charisma, when related to the holy Spirit, denotes a miraculous power. Therefore, Acts 2:38 cannot be used to prove that all believers down through the age would receive miraculous gifts.

    It is interesting to note how the gifts (Greek - charisma) were initiated in the Church and how they were to cease. The gifts were conferred only by the apostles; however, there were two notable exceptions. These two exceptions occurred at the time of the baptism of the holy Spirit.

    The one baptism of the holy Spirit (Acts 1:5) came upon the Church in two steps - both of which were indelibly marked by the miraculous manifestation of speaking in tongues. The first was on the Day of Pentecost, ten days after Jesus' ascension. The waiting disciples were baptized with the holy Spirit. How did they or anyone else know this nucleus of the Church received the holy Spirit? This significant event was indelibly marked in history by the phenomenon of tongues which accompanied the receiving of the Spirit. As a result, the Jews from many foreign lands gathered at Jerusalem for the holy days, heard the Gospel preached in their won language or tongue. Acts 2:1-11

    The second step in the baptism of the holy Spirit occurred 3 and a half years later. It was the historic event of the first gentile, Cornelius, and his household coming into the Church. This notable event was also stamped indelibly for history with the miraculous speaking of tongues. (Acts 10:44-47) Acts 11:15 confirms that the Day of Pentecost outpouring of the holy Spirit, accompanied by tongues, only occurred again at the conversion of Cornelius. Acts 1:5, and Acts 11:16-17 are the only Scriptures that mention the baptism of the holy Spirit. They limit this baptism to the Day of Pentecost and the conversion of Cornelius. All other scriptural accounts of gifts reveal that they came not as a baptism from the Lord but now could only be conveyed through the Apostles. (Gal. 3:5; Acts 4:19-21, 29-31; Acts 19:1-6) This is further confirmed by Rom. 1:11 At the writing of Paul's letter to the Romans none of the apostles had visited Rome. From Rom. 1:11 we find that the Church at Rome had not yet received spiritual gifts. This was one of the reasons Paul desired to visit them - thus confirming that gifts could not come by prayer alone but only through the ministry of the apostles.

    Simon Magus, though given a miraculous gift by the Apostle Peter, was reprimanded for trying to but this apostolic power of conferring gifts. Acts 8:17-23

    When did the exercising of these gifts cease? If the gifts could only be conveyed by the apostles, then when they died the gifts ceased with the death of those Christians who had received these gifts from the apostles.

 
 
 

TONGUES SHALL CEASE

First Corinthians 13:8 contrasts tongues and other gifts with love, and states tongues shall cease but love will never fail. Our charismatic friends say, Yes tongues will cease when the Church is caught up with Christ. But notice verse 13, "And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love." Regardless of how we interpret verses 9-12, verse 13 tells us that faith, hope and love abide after something ceases. And the only thing that cease in Paul's discussion are the tongues and gifts of verse 8. After tongues and the other gifts of verse 8 cease, then faith hope and love abide or continue on. There is a time that faith and hope will exist after tongues and the other gifts cease. How long will faith and hope last? Until the Church is united with Christ in the first resurrection. Then there will be no need. Faith and hope will end in the reality of being with Christ. Therefore tongues must cease sometime before the Church's history on earth ends.

First Corinthians 13 is crucial to our subject and warrants a more detailed consideration. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul shows that the exercising of any gift or service for God is worthless unless it is prompted by love. Then in verses 4-8 he lists all the beautiful qualities of love. In verse 8 Paul lists the last quality of love, "love never faileth," and uses it to show the transitoriness of the gifts by contrast.

Verse 8 reads: "Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away." Paul is referring back to the miraculous gifts of prophecy, tongues, knowledge in 1 Corinthians 12 and reveals they are only temporary.

Verses 9 and 10 - "For we know in part, and we prophecy in pary. But when they which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." Some Pentecostals apply this phrase "when that which is perfect is come" to the return of Jesus to take his Church. But note these two points. (1) The Greek word for "that" is definitely an impersonal pronoun which cannot apply to a personality. (2) The whole construction of this verse in the Greek defines a growth from the partial or incomplete to perfection or completion and not the return or coming of something which is already perfect. The Greek word here translated "perfect" is often translated "complete" elsewhere in the New Testament. Our perfection at our resurrection change is referred to by the phrase, "when that which is perfect is come." Even the miraculous gifts of knowledge and prophecy in this life are but partial or incomplete compared to the complete or perfect knowledge and vision of eternity that will be ours when we are joined with Christ.

Verses 9 and 10 show a contrast between this life and eternity. Then in verses 11 and 12, Paul makes a contrast between childhood and maturity in the Church of his day and designated tongues as the mark of childhood.

Verse 11, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." Here we may conclude that Paul associates tongues with the childhood stage in the Church. This is confirmed by a parallel statement of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:19 and 20 where Paul call those who speak in the Church in tongues, without interpretation, as children in their thinking. And even though the Church was to pass out of its childhood stage of gifts, maturity now is only a glimpse of the perfection to be had at our resurrection change.

Verse 12, "For now [even in maturity] we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

Verse 13, "And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." After the childhood stage of tongues and other miraculous gifts cease, the developmental qualities of the spirit, faith, hope and love will sustain the Church until her resurrection change at the end of the age. These qualities are of a more enduring nature, thereby enabling the Church to withstand the trials and besetments of the age.

Note again that the faith, hope and love of verse 13 endures after something ceases. And the only thing that ceases in 1 Corinthians 13 are tongues and the other gifts as mentioned in verse 8. Therefore, there is a period in which faith and hope will continue after tongues and the other gifts cease.

Some apply verses 9-12 of 1 Corinthians 13 to the completion of the Bible. The thought expressed is that the Church knew in part and prophesied in part (verse 9) until that which is perfect is come; that is, the Bible is finally complete (verse 10). Then the childhood stage of gifts is over (verse 11). But even having the Bible complete is a partial knowledge compared with the resurrection change (verse 12).

Whatever the merits of this application of 1 Corinthians 13:9-13 this much is certain, gifts are mentioned in the book of Acts and 1 Corinthians. Traces of the gifts are found in the earlier epistles to the Romans, the Galatians, the Ephesians. However, there is no mention of them in the later epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 1 and 2 Peter and John's epistles. This is significant. The New Testament writings are being circulated. Doctrinal truths, the abiding graces of faith, hope and love are what the apostles exhort the Church to rest on rather than the exceptional gifts. The tongues as foretold in 1 Corinthians 13:8 were already in the process of ceasing in the apostles' day.

FOREIGN LANGUAGES OR ECSTATIC UTTERANCES

Most glossolatists agree that the tongue-speaking recorded in Acts 2:6-11 refers to speaking in foreign languages as verses 8-11 clearly state. When the disciples received the holy Spirit at Pentecost, they spoke in foreign tongues. What was the result? Jews, gathered in Jerusalem from many lands, heard the Gospel in their own languages. Tongues-speaking today is not in foreign languages. Rather it takes the form of exstatic unintelligible utterances and it is claimed that the speaking in tongues discussed in chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians refers not to the foreign languages of Acts 2:6-11, but to ecstatic utterances.

Babel Reversed

Unintelligible ecstatic utterances miss the basic Scriptural logic for the gift of tongues. Tongues-speaking in foreign languages was Bable reversed. Genesis 11:1-9 reveals that as the human race was repopulating after the Noahian flood, they still spoke one language. Instead of migrating throughout the earth, mankind alienated from God, concentrated together to build the city of Babel with its tower to reach unto heaven. What a monument this would be to man's united ability. But from God's perspective it was a monument of sinful man's unity to perform every evil imagination. (Gen. 11:5; Rom. 1:21) For their won eternal welfare it was better that they be scattered abroad to minimize the leavening effect of sin upon each other. To accomplish this, God "confound[ed] their [one] language, that they may not understand one another's speech." (Gen.11:7) This was the beginning of diversified languages. Becoming foreigners to each other resulted in their migrating throughout the earth. It was detrimental for man to dwell together in his sinful condition.

The picture changed when Jesus died to redeem sinful man. This good news (the word Gospel means good news) was now ready to be proclaimed to all the world. But there was a language barrier. God by the gift of tongues bridged the language barrier invoked at Babel. Now this message of reconciliation could be proclaimed to all nations. Faithful Christians evangelized the Roman World by means of the gift of tongues, the ability to speak in foreign languages, until there was a sufficient number of Christians to conduct this witness by less miraculous operations of the holy Spirit. This whole scriptural logic of Babel, and Babel bridged for the proclamation of the Gospel, is lost if tongues-speaking is unintelligible syllables.

If the gift of tongues today is ecstatic utterances, what a waste. For as Harold Lindsell observed in a Christianity Today article, "there is no known case in which a missionary received the gift of speaking the language of the group he sought to reach. Missionaries have always had to learn to speak the required languages the hard way." It would seem logical that the gift of tongues in Acts 2:6-11 and 1 Corinthians 12-14 were the same. However, we are not left to humans reasoning in this matter. First Corinthians 14:21 provides a proof that tongues as used in 1 Corinthians 14 means foreign languages as in Acts 2:6-11. Indeed 1 Corinthians 14:21 refers to and Old Testament prophecy on tongues-speaking that was fulfilled in Acts 2:6-11. In connection with saying in 1 Corinthians 14:22 that "tongues are a sign not to them that believe but to them that believe not," Paul says in verse 21, "In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak to this people; and yet for all that they will not hear me, saith the Lord." From where in the Law or Old Testament was Paul quoting? Paul was quoting from Isaiah 28:11(RSV) reads, "By men of strange lips and alien tongue the Lord will speak to this people…yet they would not hear." When were the Jews to be spoken to in an alien or foreign tongue? Isaiah 28:14 states, "Therefore hear the word of the Lord ye scornful men that rule this people which is in Jerusalem." The day of Pentecost in Acts 2:6-11 is the only Scripturally recorded time that unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem heard the Gospel preached in foreign languages. Thus, 1 Corinthians 14:21 and Acts 2:6-11 both refer to the same incident. Both use "tongues" to denote foreign languages. Therefore tongues as used in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14 are a reference to foreign languages and not ecstatic utterances.

As is so often the case in problems of Scriptural interpretation, the Lord provides the key of interpretation within the Scriptural context. Isaiah 28:11 and 14, Acts 2:6-11 and 1 Corinthians 14:21 all refer to the same event and provide the Scriptural proof that the gift of tongues in the early Church was exclusively foreign languages. Further, the Apostle Paul uses 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 to prove that tongues are a sign for unbelievers because tongues as quoted from Isaiah 28:11 and 14 was to be a great sign to unbelieving Israel. How effective a sign was it? Three thousand unbelieving Jews accepted Christ as a result. Indeed tongues were Scripturally intended to be a sign not to believers but to unbelievers. And yet our charismatic friends use tongues as a sign among Christians to denote a "Spirit-filled Christian."

The Abuse of Tongues at Corinth

It is helpful to understand why Paul had to go into this discussion on tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. Corinth was the commercial center of Greece. Much of the commerce between Rome and the East passed through its harbors. Consequently it was a city of many different nationalities. The gift of tongues (foreign languages) was prevalent among the brethren of Corinth to assist them in witnessing the Gospel to so many diverse nationalities. First Corinthians 14:19-20 reveals that the brethren at Corinth abused the gift. They were childish in the use of tongues. Like little children with a new toy, they wanted to show off. At their Church Services they exhorted in tongues (verse 23) and they prayed in tongues (verses 14-16) without any interpretation. This edified none (verse 5). Hence Paul's reprimand, "Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. Brethren, be not children…"(1 Cor. 14:19-20 Note the phrase "that by my voice I might teach others ALSO." This implies that when he spoke in an understanding language he taught himself and "others also. Conversely, if he spoke in tongues (foreign languages) he just taught himself. The thought of that even when speaking in tongues he comprehended what he was saying. This, of course, is not the case with ecstatic utterances of today where the tongues-speaker does not comprehend what he is saying.

First Corinthians 14:9-11 provides another proof that Paul is speaking of foreign languages and not ecstatic utterances. In dealing with the problem of tongues Paul said, "except ye utter by the tongue words [rational sounds] easy to be understood [a common language], how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air [in vain]. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices [articulate speech] in the world, [notice Paul is not talking about so called "heavenly languages" but voices in the world] and none of them is without signification [each national language has its distinct meaning]. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian [foreigner] unto me." The Greek word means foreigner, not barbarian. Paul is clearly saying that an unknown voice or tongue would sound like a foreign language. Novice the RSV of 1 Corinthians 14:11, "But if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me." The logic of 1 Corinthians 14:9-11 is only meaningful if tongues are foreign languages and not ecstatic utterances.

Tongues-Speakers Comprehend

Contemporary glossolalists do not comprehend their won ecstatic utterances. However, those that possessed the gift of tongues at Corinth did understand what they said as is shown in 1 Corinthians 14:5, 'for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he [the speaker] interpret, that the church may receive edifying." In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul deals with the abuse of the gift of tongues and here at the beginning of the chapter he lays the ground rule for peaking in tongues. It is the tongues-speaker who should interpret and not someone. Else Nor is this the rare exception of one person having both the gift of tongues and interpretation. Paul is here setting the basic rule, that those who spoke in tongues in the apostles' day understood what they were saying and should interpret it into the common language of the Church. Some were so proud of their gift that they spoke in tongues and didn't explain. But Paul says translate yourself.

Verse 27 and 28 expand on the ground rule of verse 5. "If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God." (I Cor. 14:27-28) It is in this last sense Paul says, "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself."

Notice only one was to speak in tongues at a time. A little different than what you hear in some charismatic circles today. Also "let one interpret," either the speaker or someone else. "But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence." This proves the tongues-speaker knew beforehand what language he would speak in and whether or not there was an interpreter of that language present.

This raises a question. If according to verse 5 the tongues-speaker interprets himself, how would you have a situation as stated in verses 27 and 28, where neither the speaker nor anyone else were able to interpret. Remember Corinth was a center of many nationalities and this situation could easily arise. It is not unusual for one to understand a new language and not speak it. Greek was the common language in the church at Corinth. Say there was an Italian Christian in the church at Corinth and he had the gift of tongues. He could understand Greek but not speak it. He would be able to translate that tongue (foreign language) into his mother tongue, Italian. However, that would be meaningless to the church. Unless someone could translate his gift of tongues into Greek, he should keep silent.

First Corinthians 14:14-17 shows that the person who is praying and singing in an unknown tongue can and should interpret it into words of understanding. "For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfriutful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

Notice the phrase "my spirit" in verse 14 in which Paul observes if he prayed in an unknown tongue, it was "my spirit" - not the holy Spirit mechanically taking over. It was his gift of the Spirit by which he prayed intelligently in a foreign language. But this would create a problem. His understanding of what he was praying would not be fruitful to others, since they would not understand the foreign language. Therefore, what would he do? He would pray and sing with the gift of the Spirit but he would also interpret it so that others could understand and be edified. This again confirms that the tongues-speaker comprehended what he was saying and that even prayers uttered in tongues were to be interpreted for the benefit of others present.

This consideration of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 reveals three basic points concerning tongues in the apostles' day.

  • Tongues were foreign languages.
  • The tongues-speaker understood what he said.
  • All utterances by the gift of tongues in the congregation, including prayers, were to be interpreted.
 
 
 

Tongues-Speakers Comprehend

Contemporary glossolalists do not comprehend their won ecstatic utterances. However, those that possessed the gift of tongues at Corinth did understand what they said as is shown in 1 Corinthians 14:5, 'for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he [the speaker] interpret, that the church may receive edifying." In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul deals with the abuse of the gift of tongues and here at the beginning of the chapter he lays the ground rule for peaking in tongues. It is the tongues-speaker who should interpret and not someone. Else Nor is this the rare exception of one person having both the gift of tongues and interpretation. Paul is here setting the basic rule, that those who spoke in tongues in the apostles' day understood what they were saying and should interpret it into the common language of the Church. Some were so proud of their gift that they spoke in tongues and didn't explain. But Paul says translate yourself.

Verse 27 and 28 expand on the ground rule of verse 5. "If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God." (I Cor. 14:27-28) It is in this last sense Paul says, "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself."

Notice only one was to speak in tongues at a time. A little different than what you hear in some charismatic circles today. Also "let one interpret," either the speaker or someone else. "But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence." This proves the tongues-speaker knew beforehand what language he would speak in and whether or not there was an interpreter of that language present.

This raises a question. If according to verse 5 the tongues-speaker interprets himself, how would you have a situation as stated in verses 27 and 28, where neither the speaker nor anyone else were able to interpret. Remember Corinth was a center of many nationalities and this situation could easily arise. It is not unusual for one to understand a new language and not speak it. Greek was the common language in the church at Corinth. Say there was an Italian Christian in the church at Corinth and he had the gift of tongues. He could understand Greek but not speak it. He would be able to translate that tongue (foreign language) into his mother tongue, Italian. However, that would be meaningless to the church. Unless someone could translate his gift of tongues into Greek, he should keep silent.

First Corinthians 14:14-17 shows that the person who is praying and singing in an unknown tongue can and should interpret it into words of understanding. "For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfriutful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

Notice the phrase "my spirit" in verse 14 in which Paul observes if he prayed in an unknown tongue, it was "my spirit" - not the holy Spirit mechanically taking over. It was his gift of the Spirit by which he prayed intelligently in a foreign language. But this would create a problem. His understanding of what he was praying would not be fruitful to others, since they would not understand the foreign language. Therefore, what would he do? He would pray and sing with the gift of the Spirit but he would also interpret it so that others could understand and be edified. This again confirms that the tongues-speaker comprehended what he was saying and that even prayers uttered in tongues were to be interpreted for the benefit of others present.

This consideration of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 reveals three basic points concerning tongues in the apostles' day.