The Gift of Tongues, a Distinction

When I read Matthew 24 many years ago, I thought it would explain the rapture. It speaks of the end times, and from Jesus’ own words! Reading it all in context, I found the pastors I had grown up with had failed me. It doesn’t mention or suggest the rapture. The book of Revelation also has no mention of the rapture.

Bible verses can be cherry-picked to support any belief we wish to have. We can fool ourselves or be fooled into believing things in the bible that aren’t really there. This is how I feel about the Cessationist view on spiritual gifts. 

Taken in context, 1 Corinthians 12-14 is very plan on what Paul is teaching us. But many have taken these verses and made it their own. Continuationist are also to blame here. 

Let’s dive in and see what Paul says.

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 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. 

Some translate the “speaks not to men but to God” as a little “g” god meaning, speaking tongues to idols. What about the capital “S” on “utter mysteries in the Spirit”? And why then, does Paul say in verse 39, “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”

Is that tongues a different type of tongues? 

So, Paul is speaking about the gibberish tongues to idols in one verse, and then at verse 39 he’s talking about speaking the tongues of men as was spoken in Acts 2? Where does he change this?

The focus of chapter 14 is about orderly worship. There is one type of tongues he is speaking of. It is the gift of tongues by the Spirit. It is speaking not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.

Anyone who speaks this way in a church service and does not have an interpretation is going against Paul’s teaching. They are disorderly. 

I have fallen victim to this sin many times in my past. Many services had us speaking in the tongues of angels and without any interpretation. For any newcomer, it would be confusing.

Paul says it best here:

6 Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 7 If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

This is why the love chapter precedes this. It is out of love that we should be fellowshipping with one another. If I know Manderene and no one else does, what profit would it be to speak it to the crowd? In the same way, the gift of tongues should not be used in church… at all… right? 

Let’s continue and see what Paul says we should do.

13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 

Growing up in an Assembly of God church, there were times in a sermon when a respected elder of the church would stand up and exercise the gift of speaking in tongues. These were not human tongues but were, as Paul put it in 13:1, tongues of angels. 

Then we would all wait. After a time another respected elder of the church would stand up and interpret. It was always about 3 or 4 people who exercised these gifts. It was done orderly and properly as Paul says here. Why should this even be addressed in Corinth? They were speaking in strange tongues without discernment or love for their fellow men. Paul does not repuke them to never do this, he tells them to pray that he may interpret. 

Now, if this chapter was about tongues of men… why would you yourself pray that you might interpret? Wouldn’t you already know how to interpret it into a language all can understand? Paul isn’t speaking of tongues of the mind, but of the spirit.

14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 

Paul also admits to speaking in tongues, and even more than all of them.

18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Some suppose that he means the various tongues of men here. Yet, in context he is not talking about a tongue of the mind. He doesn’t forbid the speaking of tongues that are a speech of the sprit, he just says, speak words that all can understand in church. He would rather say 5 words with his mind than 10 thousand words in a tongue. Why? Because for building up of the church… people need to understand what is said.

 A Distinction Between Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12-14

What then is the distinction between the tongues of men used in Acts 2 and the 1 Corinthian tongues that Paul was addressing? 

The tongues spoken in Corinthians needed interpretation.

In Acts 2, Jesus’ followers were filled with the Spirit. They began speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. But there was no gift of interpretation in use here. Why? 

In Acts 2 The Spirit was giving them the tongues of men to speak and everyone who spoke that language already knew what was being said.

Acts 2:5-13 says.

5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

So, why do we even need the gift of interpretation? Because the tongues being spoken in the Corinth service were not that of men.

Acts 2 was a distinctive, miraculous moment where men from all over the world heard the good news preached in their own native languages.


The Tongues Addressed in Corinth

It uttered mysteries in the Spirit:

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.

It was not intelligible:

9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.

It was of the spirit and not the mind:

14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.

Paul spoke it himself:

18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.

And he did not forbid it:

39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.

Tongues cannot and should not be misused. Without love, it is annoying to the unbeliever. It is babble without interpretation. 

At no time does Paul stop his writing and distinguish or change his tone on what tongues he is speaking about. In context, it is obviously a tongue that is in need of interpretation. This distinguishes it from the tongues of men.

Paul ends with:

40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

Next I will cover what Paul says on the gift of prophecy.

He isn’t talking about fortune telling.

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