The Tongues Conundrum (Part 2)

by Scott

I recently began a series on the gift of tongues, but started with some thoughts on the larger scope of Spirit-inspired speech. But let’s move on specifically to the gift of tongues.

The first instance that we read about tongues is at the Pentecost event of Acts 2:1-4:

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The word normally translated as ‘tongues’ in our English versions comes from the Greek word glossa or glossia (plural). It could also be translated as ‘languages’, which seems an acceptable translation when considering the biblical teaching on this gift. Though some might argue it sounds like babble (or babel), it actually comes as some sort of intelligible language, even if that language is not personally known to the speaker.

As a kind of side excursus, many theologians see this act of the initial outpouring of the Spirit as a reversal of the curse at the Tower of Babel where there was a confusion of languages (Genesis 11:1-9). Because of Pentecost, tongues now stands as a sign of unity in the body of Christ, God using people to speak in languages they have not learned to be a blessing to the body of Christ.

Of course, one of the main purposes of tongues in Acts 2 was that of an evangelistic drawing of people to Christ. But, a sort of theological deduction from considering tongues across both Acts and 1 Corinthians (and possibly a few other passages) is that such was given as a unifying sign of edification to the body of Christ, thus, reversing the curse of Babel for God’s covenant people. And, I can only suppose that the first Christians that witnessed the amazing and paradigmatic event of Acts 2 would have been blessed and edified by the outcome.

Now, in the account of Acts 2, the people spoke in languages that were recognised by those gathered around (see Acts 2:5-12). This is really the only biblical account in which we see tongues being utilised evangelistically. But that does not mean it was never again utilised in such a way in the New Testament record, especially if an interpretation comes forth, which we will consider later on from looking at 1 Corinthians 14.

We see other specific examples of tongues in Acts, specifically with Cornelius’ household in 10:46 and the Ephesian disciples in 19:6. But neither of these accounts point to an evangelistic use. Rather they were a response to the baptism/initial filling of God’s Spirit.

Still, though tongues might come forth in a language recognised by those present (and I can think of a couple examples off hand from ministry friends in the present day), we must also bear in mind that tongues might not always be spoken in a language that is recognised by those present. I think such is acceptable when we consider words like there from Paul:

For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:2)

But it is through the interpretation of the tongue that understanding is brought to the body of Christ for edification, or even utilised in drawing people to Christ. And, I suppose the need for the gift of interpretation would only point to the fact that tongues are not always understood by those present.

There is much discussion about another aspect of tongues, as highlighted by these words of Paul:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

Some will claim that this reference to ‘tongues of angels’ is a hypothetical situation and one should not expect to find themselves speaking in such a manner. But remember the first words of Paul’s statement: ‘If I speak in the tongues of men.’ Now, we know this is an actual certainty – speaking in the tongues of men that we have not learned. Thus, it seems highly unlikely that Paul would refer to one situation that is a reality and one situation that is hypothetical. And, noting that tongues is a Spirit-enabled language, it’s possible that one might speak in a heavenly tongue.

Nothing could be ‘proved’ in regards to this, since tongues can regularly come forth in languages one has never learned, and especially since there are thousands of languages and dialects in the world. But I would propose that, since it is possible to speak in tongues (languages) or men, then the same could be true with regards to tongues of angels.

As an encouraging personal side story on the gift of tongues, I share an account of a specific local church where a friend of mine is an elder-pastor. This happened about a year and a half ago.

My friend specifically works with a church that officially relates to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). But, while they maintain that relationship of accountability, the church does not always practically function in regards to every specific of the SBC. For example, they have a plurality of eldership, which is not the norm for SBC churches.

Also, as you might imagine, historically, the SBC has not been an advocate for the practise of the more ‘charismatic’ giftings of the Spirit, i.e., those in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. My friend’s church never preached against such, and they actually were quite open in allowing people to openly share what God was stirring in them during their corporate gatherings, even some things that could be classified as prophecies and revelations. But, with tongues, there was not much knowledge or practise of this gift.

So, my friend and the wider eldership of the church decided to take up preaching and teaching through the book of 1 Corinthians. Wow, what a challenge to say the least! And, of course, many months down the road, they took up a close study of 1 Corinthians 12-14.

Not too long after they finished the teaching on those chapters, God brought a surprise into their midst. God was making sure that their spirituality was not just doctrinal teaching, but also a practical reality. In one of the Sunday gatherings of the congregation, a person gave the first ever public message in tongues. In recalling the story to me, my friend shared how he kind of sat back in his chair and went on to let God know that he trusted Him. This was something that had never happened before. But my friend was not going to ‘nip it in the bud’, as they say.

And when the message in tongues was finished, the interpretation came forth by the one who spoke in the tongue.

But here is the beautiful part – After the gathering ended, a young man came forth to speak with my friend who is one of the elder-pastors. This young man did not usually attend their gatherings. Rather, he happened to be there as he was in a close relationship with one of the members of my friend’s church. I guess he was the boyfriend of one of the young adults of the church. He shared with my friend that he was of Jewish background and the tongue that had come forth in the gathering was in Hebrew (obviously more modern Hebrew than ancient-biblical Hebrew). And the young man preceded to share that the interpretation that came forth was correct.

A fantastic story of God’s grace and gifting amongst His people. A testimony to the reality of the gift of tongues being utilised, and utilised properly, in the corporate gathering of God’s people.

Thus, here are some summary points from this first post on tongues:

  • Tongues is most likely a God-statement that He was reversing the curse of Babel for His body.
  • Tongues can be utilised evangelistically (as in Acts 2) or in edifying the body (1 Corinthians 14).
  • Tongues can be spoken in actual human languages or in the languages of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1).

I hope this has begun to give somewhat of a solid introduction into the gift of tongues. Stay tuned for more articles in which I will discuss other important aspects of the gift.

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30 responses to “The Tongues Conundrum (Part 2)

  1. For those who have already read this article, here is an update in the article:

    Yesterday, I actually spoke with my friend, the one who is an elder-pastor in the account I shared above. He shared with me the details where I had been a little hazy. He told me that the one who gave the message in tongues was the one who gave the interpretation. But the young man of Jewish background came up to my friend after the gathering ended and shared with him that he was of Jewish background, the tongue was in Hebrew, and that the interpretation was actually correct.

    Good to confirm the details. A beautiful story. So I edited the article above to read this way:

    As an encouraging personal side story on the gift of tongues, I share an account of a specific local church where a friend of mine is an elder-pastor. This happened about a year and a half ago.

    My friend specifically works with a church that officially relates to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). But, while they maintain that relationship of accountability, the church does not always practically function in regards to every specific of the SBC. For example, they have a plurality of eldership, which is not the norm for SBC churches.

    Also, as you might imagine, historically, the SBC has not been an advocate for the practise of the more ‘charismatic’ giftings of the Spirit, i.e., those in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. My friend’s church never preached against such, and they actually were quite open in allowing people to openly share what God was stirring in them during their corporate gatherings, even some things that could be classified as prophecies and revelations. But, with tongues, there was not much knowledge or practise of this gift.

    So, my friend and the wider eldership of the church decided to take up preaching and teaching through the book of 1 Corinthians. Wow, what a challenge, to say the least! And, of course, many months down the road, they took up a close study of 1 Corinthians 12-14.

    Not too long after they finished the teaching on those chapters, God brought a surprise into their midst. God was making sure that their spirituality was not just doctrinal teaching, but also a practical reality. In one of the Sunday gatherings of the congregation, a person gave the first ever public message in tongues. In recalling the story to me, my friend shared how he kind of sat back in his chair and went on to let God know that he trusted Him. This was something that had never happened before. But my friend was not going to ‘nip it in the bud’, as they say.

    And when the message in tongues was finished, the interpretation came forth by the one who spoke in the tongue.

    But here is the beautiful part – After the gathering ended, a young man came forth to speak with my friend who is one of the elder-pastors. This young man did not usually attend their gatherings. Rather, he happened to be there as he was in a close relationship with one of the members of my friend’s church. I guess he was the boyfriend of one of the young adults of the church. He shared with my friend that he was of Jewish background and the tongue that had come forth in the gathering was in Hebrew (obviously more modern Hebrew than ancient-biblical Hebrew). And the young man preceded to share that the interpretation that came forth was correct.

    A fantastic story of God’s grace and gifting amongst His people. A testimony to the reality of the gift of tongues being utilised, and utilised properly, in the corporate gathering of God’s people.

  2. Hi Scott,

    I’m totally with you on point 2, brother, but your 1st and 3rd points need some refinement, I think.

    Point 3: “Tongues can be spoken in actual human languages or in the languages of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1)”

    The only text that could lead one in that direction is 1 Cor. 13:1. Yet that text does not claim that men actually do speak in the tongues of angels. It only says, “if….” Since neither that text, nor any other in Scripture, teach that men actually do speak in heavenly languages, it is hardly something that seems to be a major point about tongues in the New Testament. Yet it made your top three.

    Though you disagree, the mention of men speaking in the language of angels is simply a case of hyperbole, or in other words, an impossibility. This observation of the text carries the flow of the passage so much better.

    Notice Paul doesn’t speak singularly, but in the plural: “the languages of men.” Based on the parallelism in v. 2, we should probably understand that to mean, “all the languages of men.” The same carries over into the second phrase, “all the languages of angels.”

    The second and third hyperboles are in verse 2. Would you not agree that it is impossible for any man, including the incarnate Jesus, to “have all knowledge and know all mysteries?” Or, who able to “remove all mountains?” Yet it is so obvious the two verses, 1 and 2, are a parallel argument building to a major point.

    To claim v. 1 is not hyperbole, but then to claim v. 2 is, is simply reading the text to make a point, not to let it speak.

    Thus in 1 Cor. 13:1, Paul is not implying that some speak in the languages of angels anymore than he is claiming some know all mysteries and some move all mountains.

    It is better to understand the text as teaching that it is impossible for men to speak in all the languages of men and of angels. This hyperbole, along with the other two, make Paul’s larger point: it is impossible to exercise spiritual gifts without love. Why? Because in order for someone to have and exercise a spiritual gift, they must be regenerate, and all who are regenerate love.

    Your way of reading the text actually undoes Paul’s argument. You have made it possible for someone to have immense spiritual giftedness, and yet have no love.

    In other words, your interpretation claims that someone can have the Holy Spirit supernaturally give them immense gifting (speak angelic languages, know all mysteries) but yet not be at all empowered by the Holy Spirit to love at all. However, Paul’s point in the text is the exact opposite. Love never fails.

    Several other points deserve comment.

    You mention that many see the tongues in Pentecost as the reversal of the curse at Babel. Yet nowhere in Acts 2, nor anywhere else in Scripture, make this claim. And, if we test it, it fails patently. The world we live in evidence of that curse in full power, for people still speak in many different languages.

    You have built your hope on the words of men. The fact that some, or many men believe it to be the reversal of the Babel curse is simply an assertion. Yet based on that you have made a statement: “Tongues is probably a God-statement….” However, that merely rests on what you perceive a majority of men to claim.

    Not only that, a “God-statement” means something God states. Yet, nowhere does God state this. Are you sure you want to go there?

    You write:

    “And, noting that tongues is a Spirit-given language, we could only expect that we might sometimes speak in a heavenly tongue.”

    Here, my brother, you are only stating why you assume – that tongues are a Spirit-given language. Yet, if tongues was only speaking known human languages of that day, then they were merely human language. Even though the Holy Spirit gave supernatural power to speak it, that is different in category than claiming the language they spoke in was “Spirit-given.”

  3. Thanks for the comment, Ted.

    You made this statement: Yet it made your top three.

    Those three bullet points were simply summary points of this particular article. Not my ‘top three points’. I will share some more in future posts.

    I am also aware of the hyperbole argument from 1 Cor 13:1f. Actually, my colleague, Marv, emphasises that as well. It is a good point, one I take into consideration. I notice that angels do speak when they communicate with humanity. So, I think it is possible to speak in the tongues of angels, since they speak. But I don’t hang my hat on that as a cornerstone about the gift of tongues. But I suppose it is possible.

    Your way of reading the text actually undoes Paul’s argument. You have made it possible for someone to have immense spiritual giftedness, and yet have no love.

    In other words, your interpretation claims that someone can have the Holy Spirit supernaturally give them immense gifting (speak angelic languages, know all mysteries) but yet not be at all empowered by the Holy Spirit to love at all. However, Paul’s point in the text is the exact opposite. Love never fails.

    That was your deduction, but I don’t remember stating such in my article – to tear down Paul’s argument of love being the greatest and never failing. But a great point about why the statement about tongues of angels is probably hyperbole. It’s mostly hyperbole, but then points out that which will remain and is most important. Though I guess it is somewhat hyperbole to expect someone to fully love with agape love at all times.

    But I never stated I was trying to deconstruct Paul’s statement about love.

    You mention that many see the tongues in Pentecost as the reversal of the curse at Babel. Yet nowhere in Acts 2, nor anywhere else in Scripture, make this claim. And, if we test it, it fails patently. The world we live in evidence of that curse in full power, for people still speak in many different languages.

    You have built your hope on the words of men. The fact that some, or many men believe it to be the reversal of the Babel curse is simply an assertion. Yet based on that you have made a statement: “Tongues is probably a God-statement….” However, that merely rests on what you perceive a majority of men to claim.

    I think it is quite easy to come to theological deductions when studying Scripture. Everything does not have to be stated in a particular verse and chapter to be true, does it? You look at the emphases across varying passages and conclude certain things. It happened with the doctrine of the Trinity. We have to be honest and conclude it comes through theological deduction from the whole gamut of teaching on the Father, Son and Spirit. I have deduced, from the gamut of NT Scripture, that tongues is a declaration that Babel is being reversed in the new covenant.

    Another maybe ‘smaller’ deduction is that I believe Scripture proclaims that there is now the prophethood of all believers. No verse tells me that, but I believe that the whole body is a prophetic body.

    Specifically, you said this: The world we live in evidence of that curse in full power, for people still speak in many different languages.

    Yep, that is the mark of the world. I am trying to mark out what is to be true of the body of Christ who are partakers of the new covenant.

    Here, my brother, you are only stating why you assume – that tongues are a Spirit-given language. Yet, if tongues was only speaking known human languages of that day, then they were merely human language. Even though the Holy Spirit gave supernatural power to speak it, that is different in category than claiming the language they spoke in was “Spirit-given.”

    Maybe I should have termed it ‘Spirit-enabled’ language. So I updated the article.

    I’ll share more on tongues in the future. I appreciate your interaction.

  4. Scott, I think when angels in speak to humans we find them speaking human languages. Those are larynx-lips-tongue vocal systems. Whether that suggests that they have such a thing for communication with God, us or each other, I think is doubtful.

    As far as Ted’s suggested “refinement” about the Babel-Pentecost thing is concerned, it occurred to me to post my take on it, which is not quite the way you stated it, but still is something along those lines. I haven’t wanted to step on your tongues posts though.

  5. Marv –

    On the tongues of angels thing, your comments have caused me to rethink. And where I would have argued a little more positively for it, I would now only say it is possible. But we will never know since we don’t know all languages. I don’t want to make an intellectually silly argument though as a cop-out. But I wouldn’t put it completely out.

    I’d love for you to write an article on the Babel-Pentecost thing. Or maybe you were thinking more along the lines of an article or articles looking at the whole gamut of issues with tongues. In all, I think showing how you and I don’t agree on every issue might be helpful and interesting to readers. You know, I’ll probably post some apostle stuff over here one day. 🙂

  6. Yeah, you should post your apostle stuff, of which there is a bunch, as I recall. That might double our post count overnight… 🙂

    I’ll slap my Babel thing up. Just thoughts, nothing I’d go to the wall for. But I find it kind of satisfying.

  7. Yeah, I still need to finish off the apostle series with 2 or 3 posts with positive statements of what I see the apostolic ministry as.

  8. Thanks for your interaction, Scott.

    You wrote: “But I never stated I was trying to deconstruct Paul’s statement about love.”

    Certainly not! Not did I say you were trying to!

    What i was saying is that the force of your interpretation of 1 Cor. 13:1 deconstructs Paul’s meaning. Once you affirm that speaking with the tongues of angels is an actuality, then you remove the force of his argument, which is its impossible to have spiritual gifts but not love.

    By the by…

    the angels speaking with humans note is proof angels are communicative beings. But we already knew that, right? What it doesn’t prove is that they speak to each other in languages, which I’m guessing they probably do.

    All it proves is that they speak to humans in human languages when speaking to humans. Just like Lucifer to Eve, eh? So nothing new here.

  9. Ted –

    Once you affirm that speaking with the tongues of angels is an actuality, then you remove the force of his argument, which is its impossible to have spiritual gifts but not love.

    I understand what you are saying, but I don’t think that has to be the necessary conclusion here. The major point is that, if a person could do all these great ‘spiritual’ things and have not love, well they are worthless. And so love remains greatest of all.

  10. Hi,

    In my first post above, I said implied you were making too much of your point about the gift of tongues probably including the speaking of angelic languages. I said, “yet it made your top three.”

    You responded:
    “Those three bullet points were simply summary points of this particular article. Not my ‘top three points’. I will share some more in future posts.”

    OK, but your article in its first paragraphs claims to be an introduction on tongues, and you summed up your article with three points. It would seem valid for me to conclude that for you, this is one of the top three things about tongues a person should, by way of introduction.

    As I wrote, this point about the gift of tongues and angelic languages is not only far from certain, as I try to explain, its not even possible given the nature of 1 Cor. 13:1-2.

    So did you make it one of your three main points to open the door later for asserting something about the practice of modern tongues?

  11. Scott, you are missing my assertion, bro.

    you wrote:

    “The major point is that, if a person could do all these great ‘spiritual’ things and have not love, well they are worthless. And so love remains greatest of all.”

    No, Paul’s major point is the impossibility of being able to use spiritual gifts in the most powerful way and yet not have love. For to not have love is to be unregenerate. And to be unregenerate is to have no power or capacity to use spiritual gifts.

    Therefore, all who have spiritual gift(s) must, and will, use them in love. For love NEVER fails.

    • Ted –

      No, Paul’s major point is the impossibility of being able to use spiritual gifts in the most powerful way and yet not have love.

      Unfortunately, it seems the Corinthians had fallen into the trap of using spiritual gifts and not doing it with agape love motivation. Of course, we might say they were not doing it ‘the most powerful way’. That might be so. But they were an example of participating in these gifts without a strong underlying foundation of love.

      And, unfortunately, as we know, this happens today as well. Not good.

  12. Hmm. Don’t think I quite buy the lack of love means not regenerate construction. I mean, I get the 1 John allusion and I suspect Paul might be inclined to agree with love as a sign of regeneracy, but we do have regenerate people who love imperfectly at best (100%, rough estimate). The point of Paul’s hyperbole is relative value. Crank any spritual gift up to superstar level… Still performed without love, it is of no value. It’s probably also true that no one will in fact be used of God to display such divine power without also displaying divine love, but I don’t really think that is Paul’s point.

  13. Okay, for the sake of full disclosure, I am copying over my comments from the Theologica version of Scott’s post. It says largely what Ted says:

    Scott, you say “hypothetical.” Do you really mean “hyperbolic”?

    Reasons why I too would “claim” Paul is employing hyperbole here, and that therefore “tongues of angels” is not an actual entity would be:

    1. That these clauses in vv. 1-3 are third-class conditions with subjunctive mood for the verbs, they are automatically hypothetical.

    2. Paul goes on to use clear hyperbolic statements: “understand all mysteries and all knowledge,” “all faith, so as to remove mountains,” “give away all I have…” and so on.

    3. The hyperbole functions to make his point about love. Spiritual gifts taken to the nth degree are still worthless without love.

    4. The English “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels” is somewhat misleading in representing the emphasis of the Greek, which reads more like: “If in the tongues of men I speak and of angels.” The effect I think is something like, “If I speak not only in the tongues of men–but of angels.” In other words, the “of angels” part is deliberately separated and placed last to give it some zing.

    5. However, even “speak in the tongues of men” is somewhat hyperbolic, if it means all languges. Sort of similar in this way to all knowledge, faith etc. However, the point of saying “men” here is that he is going to contrast this with “angels.”

    6. Your statement of what is “highly unlikely” bumps into verse 2 which begins: “If I have prophetic powers,” which in fact (for Paul) is reality, but then goes on to talk about “all knowledge, and understanding all mysteries,” which is NOT true, but exaggeration, hyperbole.

    7. What I do find unlikely is that spirit beings communicate through a vibrating column of air produces by a vocal apparatus with larynx, tongue, lips, such that a human being actually could employ the same system.

    I don’t thereby mean to say that it absolutely excludes the existence of “angel languages,” but we have to recognize, I think, that this is hyperbole, and consider what it says accordingly. Nor do I mean to suggest that tongues was always recognizable languages.

  14. Dear Asphaleia,

    Got your comment on performing a gift without love.

    Can a spiritual gift be performed without any love?

    That’s the question. I say no. You say yes.

    To try and prove it, consider 1 Cor. 13:1. Is the gift of tongues, which is revelation from God (1 Cor. 14:6), ever a noisy gong, or clanging symbol? Not in itself, for it is revelation from God. God can even speak revelation through Balaam’s donkey, or an unregenerate man (John 11:50-51). Yet it is not an undecipherable, harsh, irritating sound (like a gong or cymbal). It is revelation.

    Tongues can never be a noisy gong or clanging symbol in itself. Even uninterpreted tongues is revelation. Its just untranslated.

    God’s revelation could only be a noisy gong in one who is utterly spiritually gifted, (even more than Christ when incarnate) yet unregenerate – without love.

    But that’s an impossibility.

    All this to say, the idea that the NT spiritual gift of tongues has no connection with the language of angels.

  15. I’m Marv, the “asphaleia” tag is just the way my account is labelled, so it comes up on the comment.

    Well, you understand that I agree the “angel language” remark is hyperbole and not likely to be a reference to an actual thing.

    As for the love matter, I don’t think Paul was making a metaphysical point to the Corinthians or in fact any point of information at all. He was exhorting them to, as the author of Hebrews says “love and good works.” (empasis added). I’ll agree that no true utterance of tongues can be a meaningless noise, but Paul is saying it would be worth no more than a clash of metal, though it were as sublime as the very song of the Cherubim. It is a metaphor, of course.

    I have no interest in arguing whether an unloving person could be used to voice an utterance in tongues. It might be a good point that Paul could make: aspire to love above all, for if not you won’t even have the ability to exercise spiritual gifts. I just don’t think the way his argument as presented is intended to make that particular point.

    In fact, it seems that they were in fact doing just about everything with a serious deficit of love, being prideful and divisive and inconsiderate of others. He showed them a “better way,” however.

    One may certainly give away all one’s possessions and even give oneself over to be burned for a motivation other than love–it is possible–seeking glory, seeking reward, seeking 72 virgins, perhaps. Who knows? If these are done in self-service or even hatred, the otherwise “noble” act has no moral value. What Paul is arguing in that sentence, he is arguing in the sentence about tongues.

  16. Ted,
    I think Scott was not off the mark. Paul could not be trying to say that it ‘is impossible to have the gifts and have no love”. In the preceding chapters Paul noted divisions, immorality, selfishness, lawsuits, and improper behaviors in the church yet commended that they “came behind in no gifts”. So certainly it is possible to have the gifts and yet fall short in love.

    The broader context is that the gifts were t be used “so that the members should have the same care for one another”, “…for the edification of the body”. That is, the “better way” (12:31) was in conjunction with love (see also Eph 4:16). The broader context actually exceeds the Corinthian Epistle’s (the Eph verse and also 1Pet 4:8-11). In fact the Primary Commandment (Jn 13:34) was at issue. Yet the Cessationist gets out all this is that the gifts were ‘only for the purpose of signs’!

  17. Pingback: On Tongues of Angels « To Be Continued…

  18. Hi brothers!

    The story of the Hebrew tongues speaking is amazing, but it fails a critical 1 Corinthians 14 test…

    You wrote:
    “And when the message in tongues was finished, the interpretation came forth by the one who spoke in the tongue.”

    So apparently, the same person who spoke the tongue also interpreted his own tongue. That’s a no-no.

    A tongue was not to be interpreted by the speaker of it. Follow my logic for a few sentences here.

    Paul writes, “So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church. Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret” (1 Corinthians 14:12-13).

    So Paul is speaking of the one who wishes to speak a public tongue in the assembly praying that there might be another person in the assembly with the gift of interpretation so that his tongue might be publicly interpreted for the edification of all. Otherwise, if there is no other person with the gift of interpretation he should not speak his tongue publicly.

    “but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God” (1 Corinthians 14:28).

    This verse makes no sense if the tongues-speaker is allowed to be his own interpreter. It assumes what Paul teaches in vv. 12-13. If a person can do their own interpretation of their own tongue, then there would never be a time when they must keep silent in the church.

    Therefore, if I were in that congregation that day, both you and I would have been duty bound to not allow that display of modern tongues.

    Since the ability to interpret a tongue is a spiritual gift (12:10) and was received by the believer at the moment of new birth (12:7), it was to be exercised as any spiritual gift is. We don’t pray to be able to use a spiritual gift we already possess. We just use it.

    The power to use our spiritual gifts doesn’t come in response to prayer.

  19. Let me clean up a clunky paragraph…

    Instead of “So Paul is speaking of the one who wishes to speak a public tongue in the assembly praying that there might be another person in the assembly with the gift of interpretation so that his tongue might be publicly interpreted for the edification of all. Otherwise, if there is no other person with the gift of interpretation he should not speak his tongue publicly.

    Let’s try this:
    “Paul is teaching that one who wishes to speak a public tongue in the assembly must pray not for himself to be able to give the interpretation, but another. If there is another, then his tongue might be publicly interpreted for the edification of all. Otherwise, if there is no other person with the gift of interpretation he should not speak his tongue publicly.

    Then follows my explanation. Thanks.

  20. Hi Sydney,

    “So certainly it is possible to have the gifts and yet fall short in love.”

    Absolutely. What impossible to to have the gifts and have no love. Read the verses again 🙂

    “Yet the Cessationist gets out all this is that the gifts were ‘only for the purpose of signs’!”

    They do? See my recent notes above and 1 Cor. 14:13 – tongues were awesome for edification, when faithfully used in the public assembly, bro.

  21. Hi Marv,

    “One may certainly give away all one’s possessions and even give oneself over to be burned for a motivation other than love–it is possible–seeking glory, seeking reward, seeking 72 virgins, perhaps. Who knows?”

    HA!

    But Paul isn’t speaking of an indefinite “one,” but himself. It feeds the point of impossibility.

  22. Ted –

    That was not Marv’s story. So Marv is free from your correction.

    There are a few things to remember:

    1) Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor 14 do not cover every single instance that might come up. Nor was it a this-is-everything-that-must-be-done manual like how to run a car. He addressed some things, but I highly doubt every issue. So, my point is that we allow some leeway and not legalism. Case and example is when Paul says for two or at most three speak a message in tongues (14:27), I don’t think that if we have a fourth in a gathering today that we are disobeying God. It’s just not that legalistic. That’s reality.

    2) There is very much an allowance for the tongue speaker to interpret. What I suppose is that you have maybe never been in a gathering where a tongue comes forth publicly (but maybe you have, I don’t know). Thus, you are analysing this text as an instruction manual on how every single thing works, possibly without ever experiencing how to work out this gift in the gathered congregation. I want to be grounded in the Scripture, but Scripture does not address every tiny issue. You can’t quote one verse (1 Cor 14:13), which I believe you mis-read, and say that someone has done something wrong. There is some freedom that needs to be allowed (again, think of a fourth public tongue or prophetic message being allowed, as I mentioned above). And remember, Paul is addressing one particular community that is going way overboard. I suppose in another context, let’s say in Ephesus, Paul would not put the hammer down on expectations and harsher correction. Another example to consider is come join a congregation where everyone is not from America. Join in a local church where there are 12 nationalities with 12 different mother tongues. You have got even issues to consider that Paul possibly never dealt a lot with since everyone pretty much spoke the same language in the local congregation (or could at least understand the language).

    3) I’m ok if you want to discount my story. I think it is a case and example of the glory of tongues in the public gathering, even with the tongue speaker also being the interpreter. I would say that they have the greatest responsibility to interpret, since they felt compelled and moved by the Spirit to share the tongue. So, the account I give shows confirmation of the message. If God was displeased, I suppose there would have been no confirmation of the message. But if you need to discount it as not measuring up to Scripture, we will get on with what God has called us to.

    4) I believe you quote from the NIV, and it is interesting how it says in 1 Cor 14:13 – ‘For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says.‘ Let’s allow for God to utilise the tongues speaker to interpret. God will confirm the message to the people. He is Father, Jesus is Head.

    5) Lastly, I don’t have time to go into the gifts of the Spirit, especially those in 1 Cor 12-14, but I guess I have a different view on the gifts than you. You say:

    Since the ability to interpret a tongue is a spiritual gift (12:10) and was received by the believer at the moment of new birth (12:7), it was to be exercised as any spiritual gift is. We don’t pray to be able to use a spiritual gift we already possess. We just use it.

    Though I believe the Spirit might give specific gifts to specific people, we must also allow that each person be utilised in any gift as God sees fit. I am not regularly used in prophecy. But I have prophesied. I am not specifically an evangelist. But I am salt and light and speak of the things of Jesus to non-believers. Also, I pray for God’s anointing a strength before I teach on Sundays, though I ‘already have a teaching gift’. Why cannot someone do the same with tongues and interpretation?

    Again, 1 Cor 14 does not address every issue. Thus, wisdom says we use discernment as we approach these issues 2000 years later in a completely different culture. That is the wisdom of God, not legalism and approaching 1 Cor 14 as if it is a car instruction manual.

  23. Thanks Scott, sorry Marv. I was confused on who wrote the post.

    I’m with you, Scott. I don’t like to compare Scripture to an instruction manual, but like you, I do regard it as authoritative on things spiritual, including the practices of things spiritual. I like your point,

    “Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor 14 do not cover every single instance that might come up. Nor was it a this-is-everything-that-must-be-done manual like how to run a car. He addressed some things, but I highly doubt every issue.”

    But to the point at hand, I do not think Paul would allow a tongues-speaker to do his/her own tongues-interpretation. Much of 1 Corinthians 14:13ff assumes this very point and becomes unintelligible without it. Since the argument is quite extended in the passage, it should not be merely waved at glibly.

    The tension of the passage is due to the fact that folks were speaking tongues-messages but their interpretations weren’t being given. Paul loved tongues (as do I) and loved speaking them (1 Cor. 14:18). He wished for them to be used greatly in the assembly (v. 27, v. 39).

    1 Cor 14:13 is not so obvious in the Greek as to who the interpreter is. One must rely on the context.

    You wrote,
    “Though I believe the Spirit might give specific gifts to specific people, we must also allow that each person be utilised in any gift as God sees fit. I am not regularly used in prophecy. But I have prophesied. I am not specifically an evangelist. But I am salt and light and speak of the things of Jesus to non-believers. Also, I pray for God’s anointing a strength before I teach on Sundays, though I ‘already have a teaching gift’. Why cannot someone do the same with tongues and interpretation?”

    For the simple reason that we are talking about spiritual gifts, which a believer possesses from new birth to death. These are defined and described in Scripture. They don’t come and go but are permanent.

    You are discussing something different – divine enablements, sovereignly bestowed. These are not spiritual gifts, and can not be “employed” at will as spiritual gifts are (1 Peter. 4:10-11).

    If God wants to give someone a divine enablement to give a tongues-message or a prophecy, praise God! But that is different than claiming a spiritual gift.

  24. Ted –

    But to the point at hand, I do not think Paul would allow a tongues-speaker to do his/her own tongues-interpretation. Much of 1 Corinthians 14:13ff assumes this very point and becomes unintelligible without it. Since the argument is quite extended in the passage, it should not be merely waved at glibly.

    Your basing a lot off of one half of one verse, which is debatable, especially considering the translation you originally quoted (I think the NIV) – For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says.

    Now you might say that I have built a doctrine upon one verse about speaking in the tongues of angels. I don’t think I have built a doctrine, but have put why I believe it is actually possible that Paul meant that we could speak in tongues.

    But, with the interpretation rule you have laid out, you have taken the line that one who gives a public tongue cannot interpret. You would not allow for it. To do so from one half of one verse that seems to actually allow for it to happen, well, you are laying down a tight law.

    And, I feel pretty confident the account I shared show how it is healthy and acceptable for the tongue speaker to interpret.

    For the simple reason that we are talking about spiritual gifts, which a believer possesses from new birth to death. These are defined and described in Scripture. They don’t come and go but are permanent.

    Again, this is extremely dogmatic for something that is not so hard-lined taught in Scripture. Now I believe we, by the Spirit, are given gifts. But who is to say we cannot receive gifts later on? Consider Timothy in 1 Tim 4:14. I don’t think that was speaking of his conversion/new birth, but rather something that was imparted to him later on. And what is a gift if it is not ‘divine enablement’ (to use your phrase)?

  25. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for pointing out the irony in my responses! I am still laughing at myself! Appreciate you so much, brother!

    So, anyway, here’s a little defense.

    “with the interpretation rule you have laid out”

    I don’t have a rule that says, “one verse can not a doctrine make.” It’s just that 1 Cor. 13:1 shouldn’t be used to assert that tongues may include ability to speak in celestial languages. It simply isn’t making that point, nor is that even hinted at anywhere else in Scripture.

    “…you have taken the line that one who gives a public tongue cannot interpret. You would not allow for it. To do so from one half of one verse that seems to actually allow for it to happen, well, you are laying down a tight law.”

    Keen eye, Scott, and this is why I have to laugh at myself.

    You are right, but then, wrong. You are right in that I would not allow for a tongues-speaker to give their own interpretation. You are wrong in that I claim that one half of a verse is all that seems to allow for it. And a verse that seems to imply it! LOL at myself.

    O.K. Here goes.

    My citation in the prior post was not simply “1 Cor. 14:13,” but “1 Cor. 14:13ff,” where the “ffs” are big. I discuss those “ffs” briefly above, and have tried to give supporting reasons, including the issue of praying, and the nature of spiritual gifts. you did not make mention of this in your reply, but I know you read my remarks in good faith.

    Among the “ffs” are 14:28: “If there is no interpreter, the [tongues] speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.”

    That verse doesn’t even make sense if the tongues-speaker can pray for, and receive, the ability to interpret his own tongues-message. The simple fact is, if a tongeus-speaker can pray for the ability/power to interpret his own tongues-message, then there will never be a day when the church won’t have both a tongues-speaker and a tongues-interpreter available. Both gifts would be in the same person!, but this makes 14:28 idiocy.

    So also, 14:18-19: “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

    Again, if Paul simply interpreted his own tongues messages, this issue goes away. Prophecy is greater than tongues only in that it communicates to the listener in his/her own language and does not require tongues-interpretation. But, tongues is of exact comparative value to prophecy when it is interpreted. This is why Paul writes, “greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified” (14:5).

    14:5 is important because it features the exact same language as our verse under consideration, 14:13: “he interprets.” From 14:6 to 14:13 is an extended appeal for tongues interpretation, summed up in 14:13: “anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says.”

    The verb “pray” in 14:13 is an imperative, i.e., an apostolic command. The tongues speaker must pray for interpretation, or else he violates God’s will. He must pray for interpretation. Is this him praying for himself?

    No. Most English translations render the 3rd person verb “interpret” as “he interprets.” But does that refer to himself, or to another in the assembly with the gift of interpretation?

    In 1 Cor. 12:10 Paul teaches that a tongues-speaker is not the same as one gifted with the gift of interpretation. Here’s the context:

    1 Corinthians 12:8-12:
    “To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.”

    Paul teaches that one can have the gift of tongues, but to another is given the interpretation of tongues. They aren’t the same person. In 14:5 and 13 then, Paul is not referring to the tongues-speaker giving his own interpretation of his own tongue. According to 12:10, that is not available to him, but only to another believer gifted with interpretation. An interpolation of 14:13 would read this way:

    “Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he [one gifted with interpretation] may interpret.”

    This helps us makes sense of 14:28. If there were no interpreter in church that day, Paul’s counsel is to “keep silent in the church” (14:28).

    God made it this way because the body of Christ is to rely on each other, not one person. “though it is made up of many parts, and though all its parts are many, they form one body” (12:12).

    So I hope you see I’m not taking ½ a verse and making cheap hermeneutic rules. And I hope you go back to the text and see that God has principles in Scripture governing spiritual gifts that are to be obeyed.

    Blessings.

  26. Pingback: The Tongues Conundrum (Part 2) | To Be Continued…

  27. Pingback: The Tongues Conundrum (Part 4) | To Be Continued…

  28. Pingback: The Tongues Conundrum (Part 3) | The Prodigal Thought

  29. Pingback: The Tongues Conundrum (Part 8) | To Be Continued…

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