Face To Face With Tongues

A Verse by Verse Examination and Exposition On the Subject of Tongues


1st Corinthians 14

INTRODUCTION: In Chapter 14 the italicized word "unknown" does not appear in the Greek text, as with all italicized words found in the King James Translation.  These were supplied by the translators to help clarify the meaning and, in most cases, it does.  Tongues in Corinthians were in one sense "known," and in another sense "unknown."

Now to clarify what we mean.  The one speaking in tongues did not know what was said unless God also gave the gift of interpretation.  Those listening did not understand until the interpreter told them what was said in their own language.  Yet, what is unknown in one place has a meaning somewhere else in the world without being interpreted. 

"There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification."

  1. The Church is to be Controlled by Edification (1-6).

    (Verse 1).  At Corinth, tongues were passionately sought above the rest of the gifts.  "Follow after charity" literally means to pursue after love.  It is good to desire spiritual gifts, but more important than having all the gifts is the giving forth of the Word of God.  The true love of God separates the person who talks of God from the person who walks with God.  If a person truly loves the Lord, they would desire to pursue God's priorities.  Now we can see why the Lord begins Chapter 14 with "Follow after love" (charity).  All of Chapter 14 is God's correction concerning tongues.  It all begins with ... are we willing to follow and obey God's Word?  First, we should desire to give the Word of God to others; second, have a desire for spiritual gifts; third, accept the gift or gifts God wills for us to have; fourth, covet earnestly, that is ... pursue to the best of our ability with God's grace, those gifts for His excellence.

    (Verses 2-5).  In these Verses the Lord gives the contrast, the good versus the bad, the positive versus the negative, the speaker's will versus God's will.  Here is the contrast between their error and God's rebuke.
  1. ERROR:  They were speaking in tongues without an interpreter.  This is clearly an error, as Verse 2 states, "..."no man understandeth..."

REBUKE:  If they had one interpreting, every person in the assembly would have understood and been edified.  Any tongues spoken in Corinth without an interpreter were counterfeit and not of the Lord.  Why?  Because God forbade tongues, "...Except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying."  The one referred to here as the interpreter is the speaker himself.  If this were not true, "except he interpret" would read "except someone interpret."  This error led to many more deviations from God's will and Word, as we shall see.

  1. ERROR: "For he that speaketh in an (unknown) tongue speaketh not unto men ... for no man understandeth." (Verse 2a)

    REBUKE: This was exactly opposite God's will.  The church was to be edified.  This condemns any private use of tongues today, the same as it did in Corinth.
  2. ERROR (Verse 2b).  The speaker was speaking in tongues to God.

    REBUKE: This was not God's will.  The Lord said in Verse 2b "...howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries."  That is, he does not understand what he is saying.  God wants his children to communicate to Him with full understanding of what they mean and say.
  3. ERROR: They did not seek to "prophesy," i.e., give forth the Word of God.

    REBUKE:  This is proof they wanted self-glorification instead of Christ's glorification.  God had to remind them that they needed to grow up as men and be concerned about others.  Verse 3 instructs them that , "...he that prophesieth (speaks the Word of God) speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort."  This is the will of God they were too ignorant to acknowledge.
  4. ERROR: (Verse 4a)  They wanted to edify themselves by speaking in tongues.  "He that speaketh in an (unknown) tongue edifieth himself..."  This was their will instead of God's will.

    REBUKE: (Verse 4b,13).  God's will is that the church receive edifying through the hearing of His Word.  "...but he that prophesieth edifieth the church."  The best way for the believer to edify himself is to build up others in the faith and help them grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2nd Peter 3:18).  Today, as in Corinth, this is the difference between a true love of God, manifesting itself in putting others first, and a religion of shallow emotionalism which tends to exalt self.
  5. ERROR: (Verse 4b)  They did not seek to give forth the Word of God so the assembly could be edified.

    REBUKE: (Verse 4b)  As it was in Corinth, so it is today.  The popularity of small groups meeting in private homes to edify themselves by speaking in tongues is evidence they are not "edified" sufficiently by studying the Word of God.
  6. ERROR: (Verse 5)  This verse re-emphasized their desire to physically experience the sensationalism of speaking in tongues.  They had no concern for an interpretation.

    REBUKE: Since they had no one interpreting, it was proof they were interested in none but themselves.  God rebukes them again, trying to impress upon them, "...except he interpret, that the church may receive the edifying," not yourselves.  The purpose for tongues WITH AN INTERPRETER was only for the edification of the church.  It was not for a personal, so-called "experience."  Notice Verse 12b, "...seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church."

(Verse 6).  This Verse re-emphasizes to the individual that tongues were to profit the listener.  The reason: God's Word edifies and builds up the believer.  The interpreter gave forth the Word of God in their language with words "easy to be understood."  Paul uses the example of himself coming unto them for their "profit" or benefit.

"Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?" (Vs. 6)

In like manner, those speaking in tongues were to go unto others for the others' profit, not just their own.

Notice carefully ... the listener could not "profit" unless the speaker was speaking by the Holy Spirit and projecting one of the following: (1) "revelation," (2) "knowledge," (3) prophesying," (4) or "doctrine."  Had those speaking in tongues been doing it through the power of the Holy Spirit, there would have been no need for the instructions and rebuke in this Verse.  If they had been speaking by revelation, knowledge, prophesying, or doctrine, this Verse would not be in the Bible!  Let us examine the meanings of these four words:

  1. "Revelation": "An expression of the mind of God for the instruction of the church." (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by W.E. Vine)
  2. "Knowledge":  In this passage, "denotes knowledge especially and absolutely of a spiritual truth." (Vine's)
  3. "Prophesying": Signifies the speaking forth of the mind and counsel of God." (Vine's)
  4. "Doctrine": "Denotes teaching" (Vine's).  This word is correctly translated "teaching" in the RSV.

A study of Verse 6 reveals to us much more than may appear at a casual reading.  Notice carefully that the counterfeit tongues were void of:  (a) the mind of God, (b) any spiritual truth, (c) the counsel of God, and (d) did not contain any teaching whatsoever.  This is a demonic spirit's favorite activity...making a person feel religious without an understanding of the Word of God.  This is exactly what was taking place in Corinth!

  1. The Church is to be Controlled by Charity (7-19).

    (Verses 7-9).  The trumpet had been used for centuries as a signal device for armies.  The Israelites used the trumpet to call an assembly, announce war, to forward march, and for special days.  Each were recognized by a separate and distinct sound of the trumpet.  During World War II, one call of the trumpet was a call to mess, another meant to get up in the morning, and etc.  If the sound was not clear and distinct, you might go to the wrong place or do the wrong thing at the wrong time.  In other words, there would be confusion!

    The clarity and infallibility of God's Word is what builds up the Christian.  This is the foundation that will last.  No wonder we are instructed to "...utter by the tongue words words easy to be understood..." (9b).  Then, there will be no confusion among those assembled.  Shallow emotionalism soon fades; leaving the speakers, themselves, in want along with the listeners.

    Here is the conclusion.  After the jumping up and down, the jerking of the body here and there, the flood of emotional, ecstatic sounds, and the exclamation of "Praise Jesus!" over and over...louder and louder, God sums up the whole matter.  "...How shall it be known what is spoken?  For ye shall speak into the air" (9c).

    (Verse 10).  Every sound is significant and meaningful somewhere.  Even though the speaker did not know what he was saying, the sound had a meaning somewhere in someone's language.  If the speaker was controlled by a demonic spirit, the demon could actually curse Jesus through the speaker's vocal cords and allow the tongues speaker to feel sensationalism at the same time.  The demon could curse Christ and convince the tongues speaker he was speaking by the Holy Spirit, instead of an UNHOLY SPIRIT!  This is the Master Plan of Satan ... convincing a person they are doing something by the Holy Spirit, while in reality they are outright going contrary to the Word of God.  This is why 1st Corinthians boldly stated "...that no man speaking (in tongues) by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed..." (1st Corinthians 12:3b).

    (Verses 11-13).  In these three Verses we have, in respect to tongues, the meaning (11), the motive (12), and the message (13).  In Verses 11, there is no meaning to the voice if there is no interpreter.

"But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church..." (1st Corinthians 14:28a).

If one goes ahead and speaks in tongues without an interpreter, he is like a "barbarian."  A barbarian was one who spoke in an unintelligible foreign language.  An example of this is found in Acts 28:2,4 where the inhabitants of Melita are called barbarians (They spoke with a Punic dialect).  Without an interpreter, there was no meaning to the sounds and no one profited.

Verse 12 reveals the wrong motives of the Corinthians.  They proceeded, even though the church was not edified.  We are told they were "...zealous of spiritual things..." (The word "gifts" is italicized and does not belong in the original), but they were not concerned about others at all.  Since their motive was not to edify the church, we must conclude they were only interested in themselves.  Therefore, Paul seeks to correct their motive by instructing them to "...seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church."

Notice in Verse 13 who is instructed to interpret.  It is the speaker, himself.  Verse 5 says exactly the same thing, the speaker is to interpret.  "...for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying."  When we lay God's instructions alongside of what is going on in so-called tongues meetings of today, it is easy to see they do not parallel the Spirit of the Word of God.

The Word of God gives us the doctrinal lesson, but there is also a spiritual lesson to be valued.  As Christians today, let us speak words easy to be understood (Verse 11).  Make sure our motive is pure in God's sight, seek to build others up in the faith, humbling ourselves that others may be exalted (Verse 12).  As we walk in the Spirit of God, having an understanding of where we are going, what we are doing, and what we are saying; all three will give peace to our lives, influence others, and give God the glory.

(Verses 14-19).  Not only does Chapter 14 cover speaking in tongues, but this section covers praying, singing, and giving thanks in tongues.  All of which are prohibited.

  1. Verse 14 has caused confusion to many concerning "...my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful."  Is this spirit the human spirit, the Holy Spirit, or is it describing something else concerning the individual?
  1. Is this the human spirit that is praying?  No!  If it were the human spirit, the person would have an understanding of what he said.  This is not the case here for "...my understanding is unfruitful."  God made man with a human spirit which gives understanding.

"But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding." (Job 32:8)

Read 1st Corinthians 2:9-12 where the human spirit and the Holy Spirit are described as giving a person understanding.  With our human spirit we understand the things of the world; as contrasted with the Holy Spirit, Who enables us to understand the spiritual things of God.

  1. Is this the Holy Spirit that is praying?  No!  Again we call your attention to the fact that speaking in tongues, or languages, was for the edification of the church (14:2,4) as they received the Word of God.  If the person was speaking by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit would also have given the interpretation to the interpreter (14:5,13,27).  This was not the case here.  Since there was no understanding on the speaker's part and no interpretation or interpreter, it could not have been the Holy Spirit.
  2. What does "my spirit prayeth" mean?  When you look up the word, "spirit," in your concordance, you will find that the Greek word, "pneuma," is translated various ways in the Bible.  The word is translated "breath, life, wind, and ghost" in our English Bibles.  For example:
  1. Revelation 13:15 (KJT) - "pneuma" translated "life."
  2. John 3:8 (KJT) - "pneuma" translated "wind."
  3. Hebrews 1:7 (KJT) -  "pneuma" translated "spirits," referring to the angels as ministering spirits.
  4. Revelation 11:11 (KJT) -  "pneuma" translated "spirit"; but, not in the Moffatt, RSV, or the New English Bible.  There it is translated "breath."
  5. Acts 20:23 (KJT) -  "pneuma" translated "ghost."  In the RSV is is translated "spirit."

We have listed just a few examples to show that many times the context will determine what the Greek word, "pneuma," is referring to.  As previously shown, "my spirit prayeth" is not the human spirit of understanding or the Holy Spirit of God.  It would be better understood as "my desire and emotions prayeth."  Here, the person desired to pray, but was void of adhering to God's will that one interpret so the church would be edified.  They allowed their emotions to have free will going contrary to God's will.  God's will is expressed in Verse 15, "...I will pray with my spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also..."

  1. (Verses 15,16).  A person is never to sing in tongues.  Why?  There is no understanding.  Our will ought to be God's will, "...I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also."  Verse 16 rebukes them for not giving thanks the same way, with understanding.
  2. (Verse 17).  Their desire to give thanks is commended; but, their concern for others was missing, as well as their concern for God's will that the church be edified.  We have the same thing today, some concerned only with their spirituality, acting without acknowledging God's Word (2nd Peter 3:18 and 2nd Timothy 2:15).
  3. (Verses 18,19).  Why was Paul able to speak in tongues?  If one would trace the four missionary journeys of Paul, there is little doubt that he met many whose language he did not know.  God enabled Paul to exercise this gift.  Paul did not have time to go to language school ; so, God allowed him to speak in their language "the wonderful works of God."  If tongues are for today, why do our missionaries have to spend time learning the various languages, especially those claiming to have the gift of tongues?
  1. The Church is to be Controlled by Maturity (20-26).

(Verse 20).  These were "babes" who wanted attention for their superficial spirituality.  Let me substitute the meanings given to the word, "malice," and one can begin to see the strength of this Verse as levied against those who had not grown up.  "Brethren, be not children in understanding; howbeit in badness, evil, trouble, naughtiness, and wickedness be ye children, but in understanding be men."  One should be able to understand why such repercussions occur when you take a stand against the tongues advocates today.  This is characteristic of all that I have met, some just surface sooner than others!

(Verses 21,22).  verse 21 is referring to Isaiah 28:11 which reads "For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people (Israel)."  Literally translated, it would read "For through men stammering in speech and through a strange Gentile language will he speak to this people."  Notice Verse 21, "In the law (Old Testament, Isaiah 28:11) it is written, with men of other tongues (Gentile languages) and other lips will I speak to this people (Jews)..."  This is referring to God's warning and judgment upon Israel for their sins.  They would be taken captive by other nations speaking different languages.  There was an immediate and future judgment.  The immediate judgment was when the Northern Ten Tribes were taken captive by Assyria in 721 B.C. and the Southern Tribes, Judah and Benjamin, were taken captive by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.  They were given another chance after 70 years of captivity and were restored to their land.

Again they failed, and sinned in rejecting Christ as the Messiah, and the future fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D.  This was when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and dispersed the Jews to the four corners of the earth.  Their dispersing to all parts of the world and listening to strange Gentile languages was a sign to the Jews of God's judgment, yet they would not listen.  This is made clear by the last part of Verse 21, "And yet for all that (God's discipline) will they (Jews) not hear me, saith the Lord."

Even though the Jewish nation failed to evangelize the Gentiles and accept Christ as their Messiah; there were a few who did, as recorded in Acts.  God used tongues (languages) again as a sign to the Jewish nation.  First, on the Day of Pentecost...just 50 days after the resurrection of Christ (Read Acts 2:4-11, how "...that every man heard them speak in his own language).  This was a sign to the unbelieving Jew that Christ had come as promised and the Holy Spirit had been given.  In Acts 10, tongues were a sign to the unbelieving Jew showing him the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit the same as any individual, believing Jew. Then in Acts 19, tongues again were a sign to the unbelieving Jew that Paul's status of apostleship and his message of grace were ordained of God.

Since Israel has rejected the Messiah and failed to evangelize the Gentiles, God has side aside Israel, as a nation, and will evangelize the world through the church (primarily Gentiles).  Until the New Testament was completed, God gave one church the gift of tongues (languages) to be employed in their missionary efforts.  It was unbelievable to the Jews to see the Gentiles evangelizing the Jews and various other nationalities.  But, remember, it was just another sign God gave to the Jews to remind them that they had rejected their Messiah!

Verse 22 should now become clear.  "Wherefore tongues (languages) are for a sign not to them (Jews) that believe, but to them (Jews) that believe not."  One wonders how the Jews can still remain in unbelief after all the warnings, judgments and signs that God has given to them.  Since these signs had been foretold in Isaiah 28:11 (which Verse 21 refers to), it had fallen upon deaf ears and had been unseen by blinded eyes.  No wonder God said in the last part of Verse 22 "...but prophesying (Isaiah 28:11) serveth not (was absolutely useless) for them that believeth not, but for them (Jews) which believe."  Tongues were not needed for those that believe, but were a sign only to unbelievers.  God's prophecies (His Word) are always a blessing to the believer, but serve no purpose to the unbeliever.

It becomes clear why Paul addressed the Corinthians in Chapter One as he did, "For the Jews require a sign ... But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness."  In Hebrews 1:4 we also have the affirmation that "God also bearing them (Jews) witness, both with signs and wonders, with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will."

(Verse 23).  The word, "all," could be referring to everyone speaking at the same time, since Verse 31 is instructing them to speak one at a time.  No wonder the lost would think they were mad (insane).  There is no mention of the use of an interpreter, for which they had been rebuked in Verse 15.  We are to influence the lost for Christ with the Word of God (prophesying).  If our motives are right, we will.  If not, we will seek out to exalt self with unscriptural practices.

(Verse 24).  These next two Verses emphasize the importance of winning the lost to Christ, as opposed to showing others how super "spiritual" we are.  There are two types of people here ... the new Christian who is "unlearned" (concerning the Word of God) and the lost who "believeth not."  The word, "prophesying," means giving forth the Word of God.  When we give out the Word of God, both will be "convinced" (convicted in their conscience) and "judged" (by the Word of God that is preached).

(Verse 25).  "And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest..."  He now sees himself as God sees him.  The result is ... he worships God, leaves the assembly and gives a good report to the church.  This fulfills what God said concerning His Word in Isaiah 55:11...

"So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."

In Verse 23, we see self exalted.  The conclusion is, they will say you are mad.  In Verses 24 and 25, we see Christ exalted.  The result is, they will "report that God is in you of a truth."

  1. The Church is to be Controlled by Order (26-40).

    (Verses 26-33).  From these Verses we see that God instructs the men only concerning order in the church.  In Verses 34 and 35, the women are instructed.  It is God's will that in every assembly of believers peace should prevail, not confusion.  The following is a list of instructions that were to be followed at every assembly:
  1. (Verse 26).  Whatever gift we have, our motive for using it should be to edify others and the Lord, not self.  When our motives are right, our actions will be in accordance with God's Word.
  2. (Verse 27a).  There were never to be more than three to speak in tongues (languages) at any one meeting.
  3. (Verse 27b).  "By course" means only one was to speak at a time.
  4. (Verse 27c).  "Let one interpret" meant there was always to be an interpreter when tongues were spoken.
  5. (Verse 28a).  If no interpreter, "let him keep silence in the church."  No language could be any stronger or clearer.
  6. (Verse 28b).  Men should be praying silently during the assembly.
  7. (Verses 29-31).  The prophets were those prophesying (Verse 6), i.e., "speaking forth the mind and counsel of God."  They were to follow exactly the same rules that governed tongues (languages).  No more than three at a meeting.  While one was speaking, the other was to sit silently and "judge" (literally "discern").
  8. (Verse 32).  Each person is responsible to keep themselves (their own spirit) under control and in order.
  9. (Verse 33).  Whenever there is peace in the church, it is evident that God is in control of the people.  When a person causes confusion in the church, it is evident that Satan and / or their old nature is the controlling factor.

(Verses 34,35).  Here we find God's instructions to the women of the assembly:

  1. (Verse 34).  "Let your women keep silence in the churches."  Since tongues were given for edification of the church (Verses 5,12) and no women were permitted to speak in the church assembly, it becomes evident that women were never given the gift of tongues (languages), prophecy, or interpretation of tongues to be exercised in the church assembly.  The reason, again, is substantiated by Verse 34b, "...for it is not permitted unto them (women) to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience..."  Obedient to whom?  Notice in 1st Timothy 2:11,12, "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (She can have authority over the children).  Women are to be in subjection to the Word of God, and their own husbands (as recorded in Verse 35).

    (Some tongues advocates have told me this prohibition against women speaking in the church only refers to a business meeting in the church.  This is another example of their twisting, turning, and adding to God's Word to make it fit their practices.  Paul never discussed anything about a business meeting in Chapters 12 to 14.  This is absolute dishonesty with God's Word!  The hardest thing I have found is to get tongues advocates to accept God's Word).
  2. (Verse 35).  "And if they (women) will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home" (Not everyone in the church!).  It would be well advised for some women to ask their husbands concerning spiritual things, even though they feel they are more spiritually mature (and so they may be).  If they did this, it would serve as a challenge to their husbands to search the Scriptures for answers.  The confidence his wife gives him by asking questions could be the incentive he needs to get him going.  Always encourage your husband to be the spiritual leader and do not be in competition with him for that position.

    God emphasizes that "...it is a shame for women to speak in the church."  A woman's actions in the church assembly will almost always reveal her spiritual condition.  If a woman will not yield to God's commandment (Verse 34) to be silent in the church assembly, you can rest assured she will not be in obedience or subjection to her husband at home.  Much confusion in churches would be eliminated if professing Christian women would practice obedience to this portion of God's Word.  Any woman who does this will be greatly blessed!

(Verses 36,37).  In Verse 36, in plain terms Paul is asking them, "Do you think you are the only ones God gave His Word and gifts to?  Do you really believe you are the only ones who are giving out God's Word?  Verse 37, "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord."  In other words, "If you think you are a prophet or a spiritual person, then listen to the correction I have given concerning the spiritual gifts.  Remember, this Epistle is not made up of my words, but it is the commandment of the Lord."

(Verse 38).  In Chapter 12:1 Paul says, "I would not have you to be ignorant."  That was the primary reason for writing Chapters 12 to 14 correcting the misuse of tongues.  At the conclusion, after going into minute detail concerning the gift on tongues, he concludes by saying, "There is nothing more I can do for you, if you will not adhere to God's Word."  "But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant."

(Verse 39).  "...forbid not to speak with tongues."  This does not mean tongues are for today.  After all the instructions to correct the misuse of tongues, God would still permit them use until the completion of the New Testament Books (1st Corinthians 13:8-10).  This was probably an answer to those who wondered if God would just withdraw the gift of tongues, since it had caused so much trouble and had been so grossly misused in the church.  We have a right to "forbid" tongues now, because the gift ceased with the completion of the New Testament.  At that time in Corinth, they were not to forbid tongues until the Books of the New Testament had been written.

(Verse 40).  "Let all things be done decently and in order."  This is the measuring line for spiritual maturity.  After studying Chapters 12 to 14, how would you measure your spiritual maturity?

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Dr. Max D. Younce, Pastor

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