Rules That Guide Speaking At Church (1 Corinthians 14:26-33)
- 14:26-28 Paul ask a question, “How is it then, brethren?” and then goes on to describe what their chaotic gatherings must have been like: each one has a psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, a revelation, or an interpretation. Then he clearly states, “Let all things be done unto edifying.” Edification is the goal of the gathering of every church. So Paul is basically saying, whatever your church meeting is like, if it isn’t edifying then it is wrong and it needs to stop. If anyone speaks in an untranslated tongue there are a few rules to follow: (1) Only allow two or three at the most to speak; (2) they should speak “by course” or successively, in order and one at a time; (3) finally they can only speak with interpretation. But if there is no interpreter, the person who has the gift of speaking in tongues must keep silent in the church. He can’t speak publicly. Instead he can speak to himself (meditate) and speak to God (prayer) silently—obviously with language you can understand not gibberish otherwise the problem is the same, it is unfruitful.
- 14:29-31 Another gift that was part of the church at that this time was prophets (Acts 13:1; Ephesians 2:20; 4:11). They also had rules to follow: (1) Only allow two or three to speak; (2) the other prophets were to judge what was said; (3) if one of the prophets who is sitting there and not speaking receives revelations from God, then the one who is speaking should hold his peace or stop speaking and allow the other to speak; (4) they must prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and be comforted.
- 14:32-33a To clarify any other confusion, Paul states that, “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets”—meaning that each prophet can control himself. No one can say they can’t control what they are doing because of the Holy Spirits work in their life, etc. And finally, Paul explains the basis for all of these rules, the character of God—he states, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace”. Confusion, upheaval, disorder are not characteristics of God. Instead, peace and harmony are descriptive of what God is like. Therefore, in all churches of the saints, we should reflect God’s character.
- Conclusion: Edification is important (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Romans 15:2-3). It is the goal of meeting together as a church. When the church meets together, everything they do should not only edify but also be done in such a manner that it reflects God’s very character—that which leads to peace and not confusion. Speaking gibberish seems to be at odds with God’s character and not in line with it.
Authority, Decency And Order (1 Corinthians 14:34-40)
- 14:33b-35 As in all churches of the saints—meaning the following principles will apply to all churches—women should remain silent in the churches, because they are not permitted or allowed to speak, but they are commanded to be under obedience—to be in submission—this isn’t a new principle but also mentioned in the law (1 Corinthians 11:3-15; 1 Timothy 2:11-15). Since the reason for them not to speak is because they need to be in submission, it seems this prohibition for speaking in church is focused on speaking in an authoritative manner, such as judging what the prophets were saying, speaking in tongues, or any kind of lead teaching or any type of speaking that brings down male leadership in the church. Thus, in this context, it would be a shame or disgraceful for women to speak in the church, So Paul tells them to learn by asking their husbands at home.
- 14:36-38 Paul is teaching the church with authority because he knows that some might not like to read what he is writing to them. Again he sarcastically ask them, “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?”—meaning were they the original source and authority for the Word of God, of course not. So Paul goes on to say that if any person thinks they are “a prophet, or spiritual” they should acknowledge that the things that Paul wrote unto them are “the commandments of the Lord”—they have the full authority of Scripture like the Old Testament. If anyone be ignorant—refuse to acknowledge this truth, we are to let him be ignorant—ignored, not acknowledge, not recognized (they are not to be a part of this discussion because they reject Scripture).
- 14:39-40 Finally, Paul ends the discussion by summing up his key points: (1) they were to covet or be zealous to prophesy; (2) they were not to overreact and forbid people to speak with “foreign languages” but it was to be allowed to accomplish its purpose as a sign to unbelievers and in church according to the rules—especially translation; (3) they were to let all things be done decently and in order.
- Conclusion: Paul’s teaching is authoritative and supersedes all human experience. Those who aren’t following what Paul has said are not obeying the commandments of the Lord. They weren’t to forbid tongues because it had a necessary purpose but also it wasn’t the gift that Paul told them to pursue—prophesy was.
Answering Hard Questions
- What if I spoke in tongues and it made me feel better and more joyful etc? This is your emotions and emotions don’t tell us what truth is. For example, you can listen to a good song but it has nothing to do with Jesus and it can make you feel good. We can’t just do things because it makes us fell better, energizes us, etc.
- You can say that tongues don’t exist today, but so many people around the world speak in tongues, how can you explain this? It is true that there are people all around the world claim they speak in tongues. But there are two type of tongues: false and true. “False tongues” are the gibberish nonsense that most people claim to speak. The problem is that these false tongues can’t be verified because they are not human languages. A person might claim the gift of “interpreting” but their interpretation can’t be verified either. This is convenient for those who want to speak in false tongues because there is no standard to be compared to. Thus, this also voids one of the purposes of speaking in tongues—to confirm the word that is preach with signs and miracles. How does speaking gibberish and someone claiming they can translate it confirm the word being preached? Miracles are supposed to be obvious supernatural workings of God that are undeniable (like healing a blind man, not healing someone with a cold). On the other hand, real “tongues” are authentic human languages and therefore they can be verified by the vast number of people who speak that language. How many people today claim to speak real “tongues”? Not many, because this claim can actually be verified. Thus, we most who claim to speak tongues today are just speaking gibberish.
- Doesn’t the Bible says to “forbid not to speak with tongues”? Yes, but it is referring to speaking in real “tongues” and not a false “tongue”. The Bible never encourages speaking in gibberish. We don’t forbid people to speak in real tongues, but we think it has already ceased people don’t have this gift. If someone want’s to speak at church in a foreign language they can if they follow the rules—especially that it needs to be translated.
- If I spoke in tongues before but now I am told it is wrong, what was I doing before when I was “speaking in tongues” and what should I do now? Hopefully, you are convinced by the Bible that there is a false way to speak in tongues. If you were speaking in tongues before and it wasn’t a real language then you were just speaking “happy gibberish” or just sounds from your current language that are often repeated over and over again (which Jesus gives us a warning against when praying in Matthew 6:7). You should recognize this and choose to not spend time in emotional babble, but instead focusing your efforts in prayer and Bible study with your mind fully concentrated on it.
- Why are tongues and prophesy compared? Both are gifts from the Holy Spirit, one means to speak in a foreign language supernaturally and the other means to speak God’s revelations supernaturally but not in a foreign language, thus in your native language—which is also the most likely the language of the people you are talking. So it is comparing “native languages” and “foreign languages” or “language understood by the hearers” and “language not understood by the hearers”. Thus, prophecy is proven to be superior in gift for communication, pray, praise and spreading the gospel.
- Are the tongues in Acts and 1 Corinthians that same gift of tongues? Yes, it is the same gift of the Holy Spirit and not two different gifts. A detailed comparison proves this.
Interpretation Is Needed Or It’s Useless (1 Corinthians 14:13-17)
- 14:13 Therefore—if the goal is church edification—then if a person speaks in an untranslated tongue he should pray that he may interpret—to clearly explain meaning to the hearers so that the church can be edified.
- 14:14-17 Paul continues his sarcastic tone and once again points out the silliness using an untranslated tongue or gibberish to pray. If a person prays in such a manner, he is praying with his “spirit”—his inner being, passion, human spirit, heartfelt, sincere—but his understanding or his mind is completely unfruitful. So what should this person do? Paul simple says to pray with your spirit, but also pray with understanding. This means he should stop praying in a language we don’t understand because there is no comprehension. The same thing goes for singing. We are to sing with our spirit and with our understanding. Otherwise, when we sincerely (with the spirit) bless but we are speaking gibberish or an untranslated tongue, how will others (“he that occupieth the room of the unlearned”) agree and say, “Amen” when we give thanks? They won’t because they don’t understand what we are saying. We might be giving thanks well, but the others are not edified.
- Conclusion: Any believer who was given the gift to speak another known human language that they have never studied was to only use it within the church if it was interpreted into the language of hearers in the church.
Only Speak What Can Teach Others (1 Corinthians 14:18-19)
- 14:18 Just to make sure everyone knew that Paul was not against the use of real “tongues” he thanks God because he actually spoke with tongues more than the church at Corinth. The difference is that Paul used the gift properly and for the right reasons. (Note: There is no record in the Bible of Paul speaking in tongues, which is important to note because he had the gift and used it a lot, but it wasn’t important enough to write down.)
- 14:19 Paul continues, even though he spoke with tongues more than those in the church he was writing to, he makes it very clear that in the church he would rather speak five words with his understanding, that by his voice he might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an untranslated language or gibberish.
- Conclusion: Even though Paul spoke in tongues, he never misused it or chose to speak in a foreign language instead of speaking in the language of the hearers. To Paul the important part of any gift is the ability to teach others.
The Purpose Of Tongues (1 Corinthians 14:20-25)
- 14:20 Pauls next step is for us to understand the purpose of why tongues were given as a spiritual gift. First, he chides the Corinthian believers for being children in their understanding. He tells them to be children in “malice”—(perverting moral principles) but to be men in their understanding—that is to be mature and think carefully about the situation that he is presenting to them. They need to grow up in the Lord.
- 14:21 Then he shows them the prophecy about tongues, saying that in the law it is written (Isaiah 28:11-12), “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.” This was a prophecy that God was going to use people who spoke other languages (Gentiles) than that of Jews, and speak to the Jews, but they would also reject this message. This was fulfilled in Acts 2:3-12 (Jews) and 10:44-46 (Gentiles) when God gave men each different languages. (Note: Some languages the hearers could understand and some they couldn’t understand, which is probably the reason for them mocking, saying, “These men are full of new wine. ” From what we have already learned, if you don’t know what someone is saying, he is like a barbarian to you.)
- 14:22 Therefore—because of the prophecy—tongues were for a sign to unbelievers not to them that believe. But prophesying on the other hand serves for them which believe not unbelievers (1 Corinthians 2:14).
- 14:23-25 Paul makes another comparison through a hypothetical situation. He says if the whole church comes together into one place and everyone is speaking with “tongues”—all kinds of different earthly languages probably at the same time—and there comes in those that are unlearned or unbelievers they will say that the church is mad—insane, uncontrolled emotion and chaos. This is obviously not the response that we want. So this was an example of misusing a real spiritual gift. On the other hand, if everyone was prophesying—speaking one earthly language, that of the hearers—and there comes in those that are unlearned or unbelievers, there is the opportunity that they may be convinced of all, judged of all, the secrets of their hearts made manifest and so falling down on their faces they will worship God and report that God is really among you. Thus, even though tongues was a sign to unbelievers, prophecy does a better job at evangelizing the unbelievers—it is superior.
- Conclusion: The main function of tongues was to serve as negative sign to unbelievers. Thus, as tongues were properly spoken, it did positively edify the church thorough allowing people to hear in their own language the wonderful works of God—but don’t forget this fulfillment and blessing itself was the sign of judgment given to the unbelieving Jews. This also gives temperance to this gift.
Prophesy Not Tongues (1 Corinthians 14:1-5)
- As a side note, before we study this chapter, the following has been noted as a helpful guide to properly understanding this chapter. In the original language (Greek), there is a singular word “tongue” and a plural word “tongues”. Some translations clearly note this difference, but sometimes it is lost in translation. Thus, for a possible clearer understanding, read the singular form “tongue” used in the following verses of this chapter: 2, 4, 13, 14, 19, 27 as “untranslated language” and the plural form “tongues” used in the following verses of this chapter 5, 6, 18, 22, 23, 39 as “foreign languages”. Other uses are as follows: verse 9—“tongue” is speaking of your actual tongue; verse 21—“tongues” uses a different word but means foreign language as well; verse 26 uses a different word but it is also in the singular and thus can be read as “untranslated language”. If this is not helpful to your study, then you can simply read all the uses of “tongue/tongues” (except verse 9) as “foreign languages” for a simpler understanding of what is meant and the problems within the church.
- 14:1 This chapter starts with three things that we should do: (1) We are to “follow after” or strive for “charity” or sacrificial love—the type of love explained in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; (2) We are to “desire” or be zealous for spiritual gifts—every person is given different gifts by the Holy Spirit for the profit of all or the church—as explained in 1 Corinthians 12:1-10; (3) We are to a greater extent (“but rather”) be zealous that we may prophesy—communicating God’s word in the known human language of the hearers.
- 14:2 Paul starts by mentioning about people speaking in an “unknown tongue”—which is an “untranslated language,” a “none human language” or “gibberish”. Whatever they are “speaking,” they are not speaking to people because no one can understand what they are saying—which voids the purpose of spiritual gifts: to profit all. Instead they are speaking unto God (or they think they are)—at first glance this seems like a good thing, but here are two considerations: (1) anyone speaking gibberish to Almighty God is not respectful of Him—it was as if they were treating God like they did their idols (1 Corinthians 12:1-2); (2) they were speaking in the untranslated language and only God knew what they were saying. Also, they were speaking by their own human spirit (not the Holy Spirit) and they spoke “mysteries”—things that were not understood. Again, this can have two understandings: (1) if speaking gibberish with new mysteries—this is opposite to the other teachings about “mysteries” because God is now “making known the mysteries” (Colossians 1:25-27; 2:2-3; Ephesians 3:5-10; 1 Corinthians 2:7-14; 1 Timothy 3:16); (2) if speaking an untranslated language—it was a mystery what they were saying because now one understood and there was not translation taking place.
- 14:3 On the other hand, the person who “prophesieth” speaks to people for their edification (upbuilding, strengthening) exhortation (encouragement, support), and comfort (consolation). This is a spiritual gift that if used properly will accomplished its intended function—especially because not translation is needed.
- 14:4 Paul then goes on to sarcastically make a comparison: a person who speaks in an untranslated language or gibberish does so to edify himself, but a person that prophesies edifies the church. This is not a prescription for how a person should edify himself and edify the church. A few possible understandings: (1) This is a contrast. One is right and one is wrong. Edification is always other focused. See the following verses for a study in edification: Romans 14:19; 2 Corinthians 12:19; Ephesians 4:12, 16, 29; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; 1 Timothy 1:4. (2) Selfishness described as self-edification is never the goal of the spiritual gifts that we are given by the Holy Spirit and therefore to use them for to edify yourself and not the church is wrong (1 Corinthians 12:7). (3) Maybe the person understands what he is saying even though the church doesn’t so he can only edify himself, but it is still not the best way.
- 14:5 Paul then says he “would” or wishes them all to speak in “tongues”—to have the supernatural ability given by the Holy Spirit to speak authentic foreign language. He is not contradicting what he already stated about the gifts (the Holy Spirit distributes different gifts to different members and not all will have the same gifts; 1 Corinthians 12:11, 30), but is just emphasizing through using a hypothetical situation to show that even if he could make everyone speak in tongues (foreign languages) that he would wish to an even greater extent for everyone to have the gift of “prophesy” because it is communicating God’s word in a known human language and the church would be edified. (Compare 1 Corinthians 7:7 where Paul also said that he “would” or wished all men single.) Thus, “prophesy” is greater unless it was accompanied by interpretation—translation into the language of the hearers—and thus able to edify the church.
- Conclusion: The emphasis is on “prophesy” the superior and “tongues” as the inferior. There was a possible “false tongue” and a “real tongue” being spoken. Prophesy was better than both because of its ability to edify the church without translation. Thus, the goal of all spiritual gifts is to edify the church, in which prophecy is superior.
Excel To The Edifying Of The Church (1 Corinthians 14:6-12)
- 14:6 Paul then says that if he came speaking to the church with the real gift of “tongue” that it wouldn’t be profitable for the church unless he was transmitting, by interpretation, understandable revelation, knowledge, prophesy or doctrine.
- 14:7-8 To help our comprehension of this basic logic—understanding is needed for edification—Paul gives us some examples: (1) lifeless things that make sounds, such as a pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, we won’t know what is being played; (2) if a trumpet gives an uncertain sound then people won’t know to prepare themselves for the battle.
- 14:9-11 In the same manner as the examples above, unless we speak intelligible words —words easy to be understood—with our actual tongues, no one will know what we are saying. We are just speaking in the air. Gibberish is just speaking into the air with absolutely no benefit. There are all sorts of real human languages spoken in the world and they all have meaning and significance when they are spoken—people don’t just speak gibberish. Therefore, if someone doesn’t know a certain language when it is spoken to him, then he will be a barbarian (an incomprehensible foreigner) to the speaker and the speaker a barbarian to him. Languages spoken that can’t be understood between the speaker and listener divide not unify (Genesis 11:1-9).
- 14:12 So the same principle applies to the church and its members who are zealous (enthusiastic and fervent) of spiritual gifts: they are to seek or strive to excel to the edifying of the church. A language spoken without significance is worthless—gibberish or an untranslated language does not build up the church.
- Conclusion: All spiritual gifts should be used to edify the church, especially all the “spoken gifts”. This means real “tongues” shouldn’t be used unless there is translation and the church can be edified. Gibberish should never be used.
The Second Use Of Tongues In The Bible—Gentiles (Acts 10:44-48)
- 10:44-48 Peter was preaching the word (Acts 10:34-43) and the Gentiles heard, believed (Acts 10:43) and received the Holy Spirit. They even started to speak with tongues—because of Acts 2:1-11 this would mean to have the supernatural ability given by the Holy Spirit to speak an authentic foreign language that you have never studied—and what was the content of this speaking in tongues: magnify, praising and extolling God. (It also seems apparent that the believing Jews could understand what the tongues speakers were saying.)
- Conclusion: So this is a gift for Jews and Gentiles with the common factor being that they are believers. This also seems to fulfill in part what Mark 16:16-20 had meant.
More Gentiles Speak In Tongues (Acts 19:1-7)
- 19:1-7 Paul laid hands on about 12 Ephesian male disciples and they received the Holy Spirit and they began prophesying and speaking in tongues—again because of Acts 2:1-11 this would mean to have the supernatural ability given by the Holy Spirit to speak an authentic foreign language that you have never studied.
- Conclusion: More fulfillment of the purpose signs was given is taking place (1 Corinthians 14:21-22).
Tongues Is A Spiritual Gift (1 Corinthians 12:1-11)
- 12:7 There are a diversity of spiritual gifts but there is unity in all of them (1 Corinthians 12:4-6) and everyone who is given the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is for the “profit withal” or the common good.
- 12:10 Some believers were given the spiritual gift of “divers kinds” or various kinds of “tongues” or foreign languages. Thus, some believers were given the special ability to speak an authentic foreign language that was previously unknown to them. Some believers were given the spiritual gift of “interpretation” or translation of “tongues” or foreign languages. Thus, people were given the ability to translate an authentic foreign language that was previously unknown to them.
- 12:11 All the gifts are the work of the one and the same Holy Spirit, and he distributes them to each person as he will (1 Corinthians 12:18).
- Conclusion: The supernatural ability to speak foreign languages and to translate foreign languages was part of the spiritual gifts mentioned. God through the Holy Spirit gives to people according to His will and not everyone has the same gifts but we will have different gifts. The purpose of the gifts is to profit everyone not self. Thus, not everyone will be able to speak in tongues or translate tongues.
Tongues Aren’t Given To All Believers (1 Corinthians 12:27-31)
- 12:28-30 Again it is stated that God gave the church “diversities of tongues” and then the questions are asked, “Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” It is a rhetorical question—meaning the answer is an obvious “no”—not every person will have the same gifts in the church body (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). He ends by telling us to covet earnestly or desire the best gifts—as this is a good thing to do—but he will show us a more excellent way—love. Spiritual gifts are good, but love is better. Some believers speak in tongues and some will translate but every believer should love.
- Conclusion: The spiritual gifts are not a sign of spiritual maturity but “love” is. Every believer will have different gifts, not the same ones. We are to covet the best gifts—tongues is not in that category (1 Corinthians 14:1, 3-6, 24, 29, 31, 39).
Tongues Are Temporary (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 8-10)
- 13:1 The clear object of this chapter is to show “love” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a) is the more excellent way. It is more excellent than any spiritual gifts that we could have. He strongly states that we could be doing many great things for God, but if we didn’t have love, then it would be useless (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). He uses many hypothetical situations (“though I give my body to be burned”; 1 Corinthians 1:3) to emphasize the great importance of love in every situation. There are two examples that we need to address in our study. First, “Though I speak with the tongues of men…”—Paul starts off by saying that if he spoke in “tongues of men”—which is the supernatural ability given by the Holy Spirit to speak authentic foreign languages and “have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal”. Tongues without love is just noise. He adds “of men” which clearly indicates he is talking about genuine human languages. Second, he adds “of angels” or the “tongues of angels”—which means to speak the same as angels do. But what do angels speak? Every time an angel speaks in the Bible, those whom the angel is speaking to understands what is being said without translation. Thus, from the evidence we have in the Bible we can guess they probably have the ability to speak human languages without studying them. So it seems then that Paul is saying that even if he has this ability but didn’t have love it would be useless. Angels serve as messengers in the Bible who always clearly give the message to the intended receiver of the message (so Paul is probably saying, “If I could be like that!”). Thus the notion that there is an “angelic language” or the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues is an “angelic language” has no Scriptural support. (Angels Speaking: Genesis 16:9-11; 21:17; 22:11; Matthew 1:20; 2:13; Luke 1:19 and many more verses.)
- 13:8 Again, love is the emphasis of this verse because love “never faileth”. Then he goes on to show “tongues” is inferior to love because “they shall cease”. The word “cease” simply means to have an end. When tongues have fulfilled their role they will no longer be a gift that the Holy Spirit gives to believers. So what was the role of tongues? (1) Tongues were a sign to confirm the message and messengers of the gospel before we had the completion of the New Testament to guide us (Mark 16:16-20; Hebrews 2:3-4); (2) Tongues were a sign of judgment to Israel and unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:21-22; Isaiah 28:11-12). Thus, in the “early church” (in Acts etc.) these two signs were fulfilled, which makes sense why this gift seems to have ended. Outside of Acts and 1 Corinthians (which were of the same time period) no other believers are recorded in Scripture to be using this gift nor is it mentioned again in Scripture. Where did it go? It seems that it fulfilled its role and then ceased. Note: the two other gifts in the verse “prophecies” and “knowledge” will also come to and end one day, but the words used are “fail or vanish away”—which technically have the same meaning “to become inactive”. But When? “When that which is perfect is come”. These two are specifically mentioned in verse 9 (but tongues is not) which leads into verse 10. This state of perfection is most likely referring to our eternal state with God when things will be completed and not “in part”.
- Conclusion: Tongues is an inferior gift. It is only useful when exercised with love. There are no known angelic languages in the Bible. Tongues will cease and it seems apparent that they have already ceased. Therefore, it seems tongues are no longer being given to believers by the Holy Spirit.