1 Cor. 14: 3-4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth HIMSELF; but he that prophesieth edifieth THE CHURCH
Paul writes extensively about speaking in tongues in the Bible, and he devotes three chapters in his first letter to the Corinthians to describe how the speaking in tongues should be used properly. At no time did he suggest that speaking in tongues would soon cease, but he rather encouraged the Corinthians (and all of us) to seek this gift and the others, in order to get edified and maybe even edifying others. We are to be EAGER to get the gifts, so it’s a shame that there are some christians who try to amend what Paul is telling us, by suggesting that speaking in tongues was only a sign for unbelieving jews and of God’s judgment on Israel. Instead, we are told to pray for one another so that we may be healed, regardless of if unbelieving jews are present or not. Since we can read “is any sick AMONG YOU”, it suggests unbelieving jews might not be present at all.
Ja. 5:13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.16 Confess your faults one to another, and PRAY ONE FOR ANOTHER, THAT YE MAY BE HEALED. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
John. 14:11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
A few questions – mainly about Paul’s teaching…
- Why would Paul give the Corinthians instructions how to handle the tongues among themselves, when they were NOT “unbelieving jews“?
- Why does he suggest that the gift of tongues is one of many gifts that helps to build up the body of Christ? What does this have to do with unbelieving jews, particularly when Paul emphasizes that this is a rule for both jews and gentiles? (1 Cor. 12:10-13)
- Why would he suggest that God has set diversities of tongues IN CHURCH apart from apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healings, helps and governments? Where do the unbelieving jews fit in here? (1 Cor. 12:28)
- Why does he say that we don’t even speak to man but UNTO GOD, if the signs were supposed to be for unbelieving jews? (1 Cor. 14:2)
- Why does he say that NO MAN UNDERSTANDS due to tongues being a MYSTERY, if unbelieving jews were supposed to understand? (1 Cor. 14:2)
- Why does he distinguish speaking in tongues (not understood) with prophesies (understood), if the speaking of tongues were supposed to be for unbelieving jews? (1 Cor.14 1-3)
- Why does he suggest that the one who speaks in tongues edifies himself if they were supposed to be for unbelieving jews? (1 Cor 14:4)
- And why doesn’t even interpreted tongues (prophesies) seem to be for unbelieving jews, since Paul specifically says they are for edification, exhortation and comfort, rather than being a sign for unbelieving jews? (1 Cor. 14:3)
- Why are the tongues called “unknown” tongues, if tongues were always supposed to be known and understood by unbelieving jews? (1 Cor. 14:4)
- Why does he again say that interpreted tongues are good for the edification of the CHURCH rather than unbelieving jews? (1 Cor. 14:5)
- Why does he say that speaking in tongues can be made among BRETHREN (so not unbelieving jews), but that it wouldn’t profit anything unless there were interpreted – when they would indeed be profitable for these brethren? (1 Cor. 14:6)
- Why does he indicate that speaking in tongues is not connected to knowledge (unless interpreted)? (1 Cor. 14:6-9)
- Why does he again suggest that spiritual gifts (such as speaking in tongues if interpreted) can be used for edification of the church, rather than being for unbelieving jews? (1 Cor. 14:12)
- Why is there a separate gift called “interpretation of tongues”, if tongues were always understood by unbelieving jews, and why do not all people who can speak in tongues have this gift? Why even call them “unknown tongues“? ( 1 Cor. 14:13)?
- Why does he again say that a person’s understanding is unfruitful if he speaks in tongues, if they are always supposed to be understood by unbelieving jews? (1 Cor. 14:14)
- Why does he make a distinction between praying with our spirit (when we don’t understand) and praying with our understanding? And if speaking in tongues are always supposed to be understood by unbelieving jews, why does Paul say we should pray in BOTH ways (without our understanding and with our understanding) and IN CHURCH? (1 Cor.14:15)
- Why does he again suggest that not all people understand the tongues (unless interpreted), and why does he suggest that people are able to say AMEN to tongues whenever they DO understand them (when they are interpreted)? Why does he suggest that speaking in tongues can involve GIVING THANKS, if they are supposed to be for a judgment towards unbelieving jews? (1 Cor. 14:16)
- Why does he again make a distinction between speaking in tongues with and without interpretation if tongues were always supposed to be understood? And why does he say that whenever tongues ARE understood, they can be used for TEACHING, rather than being for a sign/judgment for unbelieving jews? (1Cor. 14:18-19)
- Why would he assume that unbelievers, who might visit the church, think we are mad when we speak in tongues? Could it be because we speak gibberish? (1 Cor. 14:23)
- Why does he again make a distinction between speaking in tongues (no one understands) and speaking in prophesies (interpreted tongues) where people DO understand, and where they can even get the benefit of being convinced of all and able to worship God – thanks to realizing that God is with these christians who speak with interpreted tongues? (1 Cor.14:24-25)
- Why does he again suggest that speaking in tongues has a valid place in the body of Christ, and that they can be used for EDIFICATION of the body/church, rather than being for unbelieving jews? (1 Cor. 14:26)
- Why does he again separate the gift of speaking in tongues with the gift of interpretation of tongues? (1 Cor. 14:26-27)
- Why does he suggest that we should speak in tongues to OURSELVES and to GOD, if we are not able to get the gift interpreted IN CHURCH? How many unbelieving jews do we expect to find in our own closet where we are told to pray? If the tongues were for unbelieving jews, why would we think about using them for ourselves and for GOD? (1Cor. 14:28)
- Why does he again say that speaking in tongues is for learning and comforting (of the church), rather than being for unbelieving jews? (1 Cor. 14:31)
- Why does he again suggest that speaking in tongues has a place among the saints in church, rather than being for unbelieving jews? (1 Cor. 14:33)
- Why does he give instructions for the church that they should seek to get the gift of prophesy (interpretation of tongues) and not forbid people to speak in tongues? (1 Cor. 14:39)
- Why does the Bible provide a few accounts of people who are speaking in tongues where unbelieving jews are not around?
- Why did so many people from various countries understand the tongues to be about “the wonderful works of God”, rather than being judgments/signs for unbelieving jews?(Acts. 2:11)
We are encouraged to speak in tongues
Speaking in tongues is never labelled as means to spread the gospel, but if someone will hear interpreted tongues they will hear a christian praising and magnifying God about his wonderful works, and/or making prophesies. If the tongues are not interpreted, they will come out as gibberish because the person speaks mysteries which NO MAN UNDERSTANDS, and Paul specifically says that the tongues (unless they are interpreted) are not even supposed to be for man but UNTO ourselves and UNTO GOD. We are not told to not pray in tongues every again if we don’t have the gift of interpretation, but we are told to pray at home for ourselves and to God. Tongues (if interpreted) are supposed to be for the edification of the church, but how can one be edified by speaking words of judgment against the Jews? The reason God sent tongues (prophetic speech) to the believers is for power and praise.
Believing jews (not unbelieving jews) were astonished when they realized that gentiles had received the holy Ghost, and they were confident that they had received the holy Ghost precisely because they heard the gentiles spoke in tongues and magnified God.
Acts 10:44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
We can get power, after the holy Ghost has come upon us, and we can begin to speak with other tongues:
Joh. 7:37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Acts. 2:1 2 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
It’s a risk that skeptics misunderstand Acts 2 (or purposely add things which are not stated), and read 1 Corinthians 12-14 in the light of their misunderstanding of Acts 2. They are not as keen to read Acts 2 in the light of 1 Corinthians 12-14!
Acts 2 says that “every man heard them speak in his own language”, but it does NOT say that ALL men understood ALL tongues by ALL disciples. If that were the case, then each of those individuals understood an awful lot of languages and must have been incredibly talented! Note that people from EVERY NATION under heaven were present, and is it really likely that every single one of those men understood ALL languages that the disciples spoke?! Just imagine how it would be to understand all languages under heaven! Depending on how we count, no less than 14 different people are listed as present. I don’t know to what extent these 14 different groups of people understood each other’s languages (I’m for instance Swedish and I also understand Norwegian and Danish), but the whole point with this story is to tell us that different kinds of people from all nations, still understood what the disciples said. Maybe it wasn’t unusual for some exceptionally learned men to speak maybe 2-3 languages, but to understand more languages than that must have been highly unusual, even if we reduce the 14 languages to a smaller amount.
Acts 2:5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, OUT OF EVERY NATION UNDER HEAVEN.6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
1 Corinthians 14:21 and the quote from Isaiah 28:11
Just as the OT Jews were perplexed by the Assyrian dialect, so they are perplexed today by tongues they don’t understand, and uninterpreted tongues will not help them in any way.
Paul’s message is to NOT stand up and speak in tongues in church unless there is interpretation, because only then will the listeners be able to understand, learn and be edified. The consequence of tongues-speaking is that unbelievers (Jew and Gentile) do not understand what is being spoken, so to them it is just a mysterious “sign” and nothing they can grasp.The Greek word for “sign” can apart from “sign” also mean “wonder”, “mystery” or “perplexity”. Paul wrote 1 Cor 14 to show that tongues without interpretation does not benefit anyone except the speaker, and therefore the Corinthians should not speak tongues loudly in the church service (without interpretation) because for others, it is just a mystery/sign.
1 Cor. 14:20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.22 Wherefore tongues are for a SIGN, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
Isaiah 28:5 In that day shall the Lord of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people,6 And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate.7 But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.—:11 For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.12 To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.13 But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.14 Wherefore hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.15 Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:16 Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.17 Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.
Paul also talks about the church order, and he says that tongues are for a sign (sēmeion Strong’s 4592) to them who do not believe, but prophesying (interpreted tongues) are for those who BELIEVE – for their instruction and edification. Prophesying can also convict a stray unbeliever that happens to be there, and therefore prophecy is better than tongues in the church unless there is an interpretation. Mark tells us on the other hand that speaking in tongues is one of the signs that shall FOLLOW a believer, but then he is referring to something that you would normally expect to see among christians (and he doesn’t say this was a fact for his generation only).
Mark 16:17 And these signs (sēmeia Strong’s 4592) shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
As Paul gives these instructions, he lets us know that speaking in tongues had actually been prophesied beforehand by the Prophet Isaiah, centuries before Pentecost. Paul didn’t say that tongues are a sign to only unbelieving Jews, but that tongues were a sign “...to them that believe not…“, and tongues can be a sign to unbelieving Jews and/or to unbelieving Gentiles alike. If speaking in tongues were a sign to only Jews, and Jews had to be present before speaking in tongues could be exercised, he would have made this clear. Are we actually to believe that Paul would not pray to God in other tongues, unless an unbelieving Jew were present with him in his prayer closet? In Isaiah 28 God is basically telling Israel that they have been so wicked that he will allow them to be conquered by Assyria, so it was a judgment and an assurance that they would be taken captive. The quote in Isaiah can’t be a prophecy that is fulfilled by the church because Christians did not take the Jews captive to a foreign land. The prophecy was only to be fulfilled once – in the 700’s B.C. Cessationists might say that tongues are still a judgment against the Jews, to show them that they are no longer God’s exclusive people, but Paul is speaking of prophecies/tongues in the church service where there are believers – for their edification and instruction. If tongues are a sign of judgment against the Jews because they do not understand it, then it is also a sign of judgment against everybody (including apostles) because NO MAN understands unless it is interpreted.
Speaking a message in tongues and interpreting it in a public service can have convicting effect on an unbeliever – by exposing them to their faithless state, and stirring them to rededicate their lives to Christ. Today millions of millions of christians speak in tongues despite no presence of unbelievers, and if the tongues have ceased, we must ask ourselves why they haven’t ceased! Many true born again christians, who show lots of good fruit, still speak them! Are they demonic? Would God give a stone to someone who asks for a spiritual gift?
Unbelieving jews were not always present when people spoke in tongues.
Peter preached the gospel to the gentiles in Cornelius’ house, and those present were already believers before coming there, or they were born-again in that instant. So now, you have a room full of christians, speaking in tongues, with no unbelieving jew hear them.
Acts. 10:45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
In Ephesus, Paul found 12 of John the Baptist’s disciples and he preached the Gospel to them, resulting in that they believed and were baptized. The only ones present were Paul and twelve born-again christians – so no unbelieving jews.
Acts. 19:4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.7 And all the men were about twelve.