CHAPTER ONE -------------------------------Feedback Box:
"In a 100-member congregation, one man doing all the talking is only 1% of CHURCH"
A vision of worship services from 1 Corinthians 14. Paul never dreamed of a "church" where only one man does virtually all the talking, and is placed above public scrutiny when he talks! Paul says half a dozen times, and in half a dozen ways, that "all" should participate in the "preaching".
Appendixes at the end of this chapter: Appendix One, "The Greek phrase "mallon de". Appendix 2, "Why All Gifts are Not for Everyone". Appendix 3, "How 'Prophesy' is Popularly Substituted for 'Preach'". Appendix 4 "Verse 5's inference that "all" should preach is supported by English and Greek Grammar." Appendix 5, "You Can't Prophecy or Edify Silently". Appendix 6, "Criticism". Appendix 7, "Speaking in Tongues".
1 Corinthians 14 is the only place in the Bible that describes the format of a Christian meeting, and it describes more interaction between church members than any of us have ever seen.
The primary activity of fellowship gatherings is supposed to be our exercise of the Holy Spirit Gift of "prophecy", according to the KJV, NIV, Book, Jerusalem Bible, New English, RSV, and Living Bible; or "to be able to speak the messages of God", Phillips, or "to be able to preach the messages of God", Living Bible.
We have three indications of what God means by prophecy: (1) the definition of it in Greek lexicons, (2) the definition of it, by Paul, in verse 3, and (3) the use of it as described in Acts 11:28, 21:10-11, 13:1-2.
But the most annoying thing about 1 Cor 14 is its insistence, not just once but six times, that not just one person, but everyone in the assembly should, ideally, be sharing whatever this Gift is. (Or at least should be free to share it.) 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 even promises revival within the church when this happens.
Verse 31 says everyone should "prophesy". "...ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted." Verse 31. (NIV: For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.)
The corresponding Greek word ("propheteia") is defined "to bring a message from God". That sounds like "preaching", which we today define as a pulpit lecture; except that if everyone in the church "preaches", "in turn", then what you have is more like a discussion.
Verse 3 defines 3 purposes of prophecy, all of which can be reached in a discussion between people who know each other. "...he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification (Gr. "building up"), and exhortation (Gr. "to correct"), and comfort." (NIV: ...everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.)
Verses 29-33 describe something like what we today call a panel discussion followed by audience questions and comments:
"29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints." (NIV: 29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.)
Verse 29 speaks of going "two or three", which is a good size for a panel discussion. The bigger the panel, the more need for artificial controls like timed statements. Verses 29 and 32 describe the speakers being scrutinized by others, as naturally occurs when panelists take audience comments. Verses 30-31 talk about speaking one at a time, like a well organized panel discussion. Verse 33 says the result is well organized, and indeed panel discussions have proven almost a foolproof way for a roomful of people to interact with each other in an orderly way.
One difference between God's model and a modern secular panel discussion (or most Sunday School discussions) is that any member can introduce any new topic of discussion as he is inspired, v. 29-30. This is a bit like the provision in Robert's Rules of Order that any member can propose that the group consider any "new business". Robert was a Christian, by the way.
Even though the Bible says "all" should participate, verse 30 indicates it is not the moderator's duty to say "Well, Suzie, you haven't said anything yet. Wouldn't you like to contribute something now?" Rather, the Spirit directs people to speak. The moderator only makes sure Suzie is allowed to speak when she is ready. Verse 30 implies that the speaker may continue freely as long as no one is waiting to speak; but when someone stands, he needs to wrap up his point and allow a response.
God doesn't say only once that all should (at least be allowed to) "prophesy" during the discussion. God says it SIX times in just this one chapter.
(1) 1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. (NIV: Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.) This verse ties together chapter 12, about "spiritual gifts", 13, about "charity/love", and 14, about "prophecy". This verse is addressed to everyone who should love and who should develop their talents: that is, to ALL believers.
(2) 5 I would that ye ALL spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied:...that the church may receive edifying. (NIV: I would like EVERY ONE OF YOU to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy...so that the church may be edified.)
(3) 12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. (NIV: ...Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.) (In other words, "anyone who wants spiritual talents will learn to prophesy -- my plea throughout this chapter -- because prophecy edifies, as I pointed out in verse 3.")
(4) 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. (NIV: But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!") What an incentive for "everybody" to "prophesy"! When sinners react like that, don't we call it "revival"? "Judged of all" means that this sinner, walking into our fellowship, doesn't just sit and listen. He participates in the conversation, through which others discern things about him which he has struggled to understand. For example, when a barely recovered addict came to a Bible discussion and saw she could talk freely, and that the others had experiences she could learn from, she directed the conversation to questions on her heart, and received something warmer than "professional counseling": fellowship.
(5) 31 "...ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted." (NIV: For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.)
(6) 39 ...brethren, covet to prophesy...40 Let all things be done decently and in order. (NIV: 39...my brothers, be eager to prophesy...40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.)
A Bible Discussion without rules isn't the vision here. But God wrote us a great Rule Book.
LINE BY LINE:
"Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that YE may prophesy." (NIV: Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.)
God meant to say "but rather that JUST ONE OF YOU prophesy, surely! Can you imagine how chaotic a church service would be WHERE EVERYONE PROPHESIES? Surely when he wrote "that ye (you) may prophesy", Paul was just addressing the preacher.
Well, let's figure this out. How many of us are supposed to "follow after charity (love)", the first phrase in verse one? One of us? Just one of us. Right?
"All of us", you say? Watch what you say. You might regret saying that.
OK, How many of us are supposed to desire spiritual gifts? Just one of us? Just one of us.
"All of us", you say again?
OK, then how many of us are supposed to aspire to be able to prophesy? "All of us", I thought I heard someone say. But I didn't hear much conviction behind it.
Let's go over that verse again:
"Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy."
The whole chapter is about how to conduct church services. So when verse 1 makes prophesying so important, it makes prophesying IN CHURCH important.
If you think God is getting pretty controversial here, by making "prophecy" so unaccountably important, wait till you see how "prophecy" is defined in Greek lexicons, and by the rest of this chapter!
"...But RATHER that ye may prophesy." Is prophecy more important than love, more important than the other gifts? No. The Greek phrase means that following after charity and desiring spiritual gifts are still important, but they are only two pieces of the puzzle, of which the third piece is prophesying.
In other words, we are supposed to follow after love, and desire spiritual gifts; but our spiritual life won't be complete until we are ALSO prophesying in church. The Greek phrase actually uses pretty powerful imagery, which may be translated in our culture as:
Pursue love like you would a wad of $100 bills in the wind, and crave spiritual gifts like you would a steak dinner after a week-long fast. But even after these are second nature to you, there will be a void in your Christian walk until you are also prophesying [in church].
(For more information about the Greek phrase, see Appendix One at the end of this chapter, "The Greek phrase "mallon de". There is a link at the end of the appendix which will return you here.)
Did you read that?! Did that say what I think it said?! That we're supposed to want to prophesy? Which is bad enough, but also that we're supposed to want it as much as love and the other gifts? Didn't Paul know Love is all we need? Is Paul crazy or something?!
Of all the Gifts to so elevate, how does prophesy rate, this Gift which is only exercised by a few crackpots which nobody with any intelligence believes, this gift which several denominations declare has ceased in our time?
CONTRADICTION? "GIFT" v. ACTIVITY
"But", you ask, "Chapter 12 said prophecy was but one of many gifts; the Holy Spirit gives some the gift of prophecy, and gives other gifts to others. So why does this verse tell us ALL to prophesy?"
I really hate to admit it, but you're right. Chapter 12 says, over and over again, that each gift, including prophecy, is but one of many gifts. As a general rule, no one gets them all, and not one gift is given to all.
(For more information, see Appendix 2, Chapter One, "Why All Gifts are Not for Everyone".There is a link at the end of the appendix which will return you here.)
Look at 1 Corinthians 12:29 especially:
29 [Are] all apostles? [are] all prophets? [are] all teachers? [are] all workers of miracles?
Paul is obviously asking rhetorical questions, to which the clear answer is "of course not, stupid!"
And he uses "prophets" as one of his three examples! Obviously, not everyone is supposed to be a prophet!
But in 1 Corinthians 14:1, the appeal to seek after prophecy is addressed to each and every reader. And it isn't just in verse 1 that each and every reader is challenged to prophesy. Several more times throughout this chapter, each church member is challenged to prophesy during each fellowship gathering!
Here's my theory: everybody is supposed to sing in church, right? But that doesn't mean you call everybody in church a SINGER.
The practice of turning the verb which describes what you do ("sing", "preach", "prophesy", etc.) into a noun which identifies you and distinguishes you from others ("singer", "preacher", "prophet", etc.) only sticks when you do it well or a lot. When you do it no better or more than anybody else, your activity doesn't distinguish you from anybody else, so all you get is a verb. Everybody sings in church, but only a few are considered "singers". Everybody is supposed to prophesy in church, according to chapter 14, but only a few are considered "prophets", according to chapter 12. That isn't a contradiction. That's just common sense. That's just the way we talk every day.
Tongues speaking churches make the same distinction, between speaking in tongues as a "gift", and the ordinary run-of-the-mill speaking in tongues which everyone is supposed to do if they want to be "baptized by the Holy Spirit". Chapter 12 is about PropheCY, the noun: p-r-o-p-h-e-C-y -- the specialty which the Holy Spirit gives only to some, while reserving other gifts for others. Chapter 14 is about propheSY, the verb: p-r-o-p-h-e-S-y -- the activities that belong in a church, activities we should all do together.
However we decide to resolve the contrast between chapter 12 and 14, there is no escaping the fact that, according to 1 Corinthians 14:1, Prophecy is a very, very important goal for the hope chest of each and every Christian.
The troublesome verse again:
Verse 1: "Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy."
"Wait a minute!" you ask. "Isn't prophecy the one where the Old Testament warns that if you foretell some future event and it doesn't come true, you are supposed to be executed? I'm not real anxious for that!"
I don't want you to be. I don't want you telling people what is going to happen in the future, unless it really is.
But that isn't especially what the word means. There has always been more to being a prophet than foretelling the future. Prophets were the guys who stood up to political rulers (the ones with the power to persecute) and told them to get the corruption out of their government and their judiciary, and to stop leading people away from God: and who got themselves tortured and killed for their trouble. Now isn't that much better than being executed for being a false prophet?
But the Greek word for "prophet" in 1 Corinthians 14 has a very broad definition, which doesn't specifically require either foretelling the future or confronting your government. It is defined "one who has insight into divine things and speaks them forth to others." A related definition explains "the meaning 'foretell' is secondary and incidental.'"
What word can you think of, which is common today, and is practiced in church today, which means primarily to "bring a message from God", and which is thought, ideally, to be a message so courageous that it invites (at least a little) persecution, and of which foretelling the future is an incidental aspect?
How about "preaching"?
I wasn't the first to notice this meaning of "prophecy". Two entire Bible translations beat me to it: Phillips translates verse one, "...to be able to speak the messages of God...", and the Living Bible says "...to be able to preach the messages of God...".
Many preachers even use "prophecy" interchangeably with "preaching" to describe what they are doing.
(For two examples, see Appendix 3, Chapter 1: "How 'Prophesy' is Popularly Substituted for 'Preach'". There is a link at the end of the appendix which will return you here.)
But if "preaching" is an apt translation of "prophesying" in chapter 14, we have a bigger problem on our hands than when we thought it meant "telling the future". Our problem is that the thought of every church member exercising the gift of "preaching", as part of each church service, is every bit as shocking as the thought of every church member foretelling the future, during services!
Yet 1 Corinthians 14 tells us, not just once, but half a dozen times, and in half a dozen ways, that that is exactly what God desires.
Later chapters will explore why God could possibly want such an incredible thing! And how such an incredible thing may be accomplished without ruining Christianity. But the first inquiry to get out of the way is to establish that this, indeed, is what God commands.
If "prophetaia" means "preaching", then verse 1 says we should all desire the spiritual gift of preaching. Of course, if you are led to preach out in public, or at the capitol, where people will misquote you and vilify you, your calling would certainly have the support of this verse. Although Paul didn't talk about it in this chapter, his life certainly manifested this aspect of the gift of prophecy. But the rules for prophecy given in this chapter specifically apply inside church.
Let's look at verse 3 and 4. I have already shared with you how the Bible dictionaries define "prophetaia". Now let's see how Paul defines it. Actually Paul is defining not what prophetaia is, but what it does. It builds up, encourages, and consoles. That's what "preaching" does, doesn't it?
3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men [to] edification, and exhortation, and comfort. 4 ... he that prophesieth edifieth the church. (NIV: "But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.")
This description of what prophetaia does fits "preaching" so well that it is time to translate "prophetaia" simply as "preaching" from now on.
But these verses don't just say all Christians should preach. They define what Christians ought to say when it is their turn. They should edify, exhort, and comfort. The definition of "preaching" here authorizes a moderator to limit fellowship discussion that does not edify, exhort, or comfort, and does not seem to be a message from God. There are even more criteria sprinkled throughout the Bible.
Why do Sunday School teachers rack their brains to engage members of their class in more discussion, but if you suggest that God's model church service is a Bible discussion, they will answer, "that would be chaos!"?
In Verse 5 Paul wishes all of us spoke in tongues, but he wishes even more strongly that we all preached! (Or whatever else "prophetaia" means.)
Verse 5: "I would that YE ALL spake with tongues, but rather that JUST ONE OR TWO OF YOU prophesied [or preached]:...
Yup, just one or two of you should preach. Preferably one. What a cockamamie idea, to have everyone preaching. What a zoo that would be!
Huh? You say it reads:
Verse 5: "I would that YE ALL spake with tongues, but rather that YE prophesied:..."
Well, didn't I say it the way God MEANT to write it? Paul didn't SPECIFY that he wished ALL would prophesy, did he? Doesn't that give us the right to fill in the blank with what would make us the most comfortable?
Is there a reason to interpret "I would...rather that ye prophesied" as "I would...rather that ye ALL prophesied"?
Yes. The whole chapter is addressed to every Christian, not just a few. Several verses establish this chapter as rules for the whole church to follow. (v. 4, 5, 6, 12, 16, 17, 19, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 39, 40.) The phrase "ye all", in the first half of this verse, clearly addresses this verse to the whole church.
This would be enough reason to interpret "I would...rather that ye ALL prophesied", even if the word "all" weren't in the first part of this sentence.
We can turn to the rules of grammar for further evidence that the "all" in the first part of the sentence is assumed in the second part. (Viz. "I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye [all] prophesied:...")
Everyday grammar trims duplicate words by omitting details from later statements which readers are able to "supply" from earlier, similar statements.
Greek grammar ("mallon de" again) agrees with English grammar in supporting the scenario of "all" prophesying, or preaching.
(For more information about the grammar of this verse, see Appendix 4 of this chapter, "Verse 5's inference that 'all' should preach is supported by English and Greek Grammar." There is a link at the end of the appendix which will return you here.)
Verse 5 contains still another proof that Paul longed for EACH of us to prophesy/preach in church: Paul would that EACH of us spoke in tongues, even though speaking in tongues doesn't edify the church at all, while prophesying is the premiere way to edify the church.
(In fact, speaking in tongues communicates no information whatsoever, and should not even be allowed in church without an interpreter. For more detail, see Appendix 7, Chapter One, "Speaking in Tongues". There is a link at the end of the appendix which will return you here.)
So why would Paul want EACH of us to share inferior information, but want only ONE OR TWO of us to share superior information?
You say, "When verse 5 says to prophesy, which means to 'edify the Church' according to verse 3, it probably just means for us to pray (silently). Or to be a good example. A silent witness. Surely he didn't mean for us to all talk! How could it edify anybody, to turn church into a zoo?"
Other verses tell us to pray, Luke 18:1, or be a good example, 1 Peter 2:11-12. Maybe you can even find something in the Bible about being a "silent witness" to offset 1 Peter 3:15 which emphasizes being ready to "give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have." (NIV)
This verse, verse 5, is about prophesying, edifying, and interpreted tongues, all of which are defined by every dictionary, and by common sense, as requiring, for their existence, spoken words. In case anyone needs Paul to spell out for them that "edifying" requires the use of the "voice", verse 19 comes to the rescue. Verse 19 is another way of saying verse 5, and it specifies the use of the "voice".
19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that BY MY VOICE I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. (NIV: "But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.")
Notice three tests of the contribution Paul is asking of us: (1) we have to use our voice -- we have to talk out loud. (2) We have to make sense -- we have to be understandable. (3) We have to teach others -- others have to be able to learn from our words.
Now does it sound to you like you can "edify" the church, by Paul's meaning of that word, if you are silent?
If an activity can't be consciously understood by others present, it apparently fails Paul's test of whether it is "building up" the church.
Can silent prayer build up the church? Perhaps, by the way we use the words "building up". But not the way Paul is using them in this chapter.
Other Scriptures call for prayer; but not these. These passages, about prophesying and edification, are calling for something else: for truths which are articulated out loud and can be consciously understood.
There are more proofs that "edification" is done with the voice, out loud. But that should be so obvious, already, that let's not crawl through it here. Let's tuck it away in an appendix so only folks with exhaustive brains will have to be exhausted by it. For every proof you will ever want to know, that each of us, ideally, ought to offer edification in church, with our voices, out loud, see Appendix 5, Chapter One: "You Can't Prophecy or Edify Silently".
ISN'T THERE SOMETHING EVERYONE IS ALREADY DOING WHICH COUNTS AS "EDIFYING"?
In church today, in America, in the 1990's, only one person does virtually all the "edifying". The rest of us sit and passively listen.
Now, wait a minute. Let's not rush to judgment. Maybe there is a way to define "edifying" so that the way we do church is the way Paul is saying we should do it. Is it possible to define "edifying" as what the rest of us are already doing? In other words, "passive listening"? Can passive listening build up the church?
Perhaps, but not in the way in which Paul says, in this chapter, that the church needs to be built up. Edifying is described by Paul as something where "by my voice I might teach others also". (Verse 19. Also see Appendix 5. There is a link at the end of the appendix which will return you here.)
None of this is true, of course. Everybody knows the Bible says every church is supposed to have one person doing all the preaching. Occasionally there might be a guest preacher, or maybe the youth minister, or assistant pastor, or a missionary, who might take over for a service. But certainly the Bible doesn't call for a service where a stranger can walk in and hear more than one preacher giving a sermon in the same service!
But don't worry. There's a simple explanation for what you're reading right now from 1 Corinthians 14.
So now that that's settled, and we're just dreaming, let's dream about that word "all" in verses 5, 12, and 24. Even if you balk at matching the definition of the Greek word "propheteia" with the English "preaching", you can see Paul wanted "all" in the church to be doing something. (Whatever "propheteia" means.) But in today's church, almost everybody is supposed to be doing nothing and one man is doing almost everything, right?
"This verse has got to mean something else. I know: 'propheteia' means something else besides preaching", you theorize.
That theory creates an even bigger problem: because then not only are you leaving unchallenged the accusation that today's churches practice ungodly dictatorship, but you are accusing today's dictators of wasting the church's time with preaching, instead of spending all their time doing whatever else you can come up with for that word to mean!
VERSE 6-11: Discussion Management Tips
Verses 6-11 explain why unknown, uninterpreted tongues in church are a waste of time. Speaking in Tongues is not the issue of this chapter. But the reasons Paul gives for censoring uninterpreted tongues offer principles valuable to anyone considering "passing the microphone" in church.
(Whether the modern practice known as "speaking in tongues" is the same as the Biblical practice, or whether God gave it to this age, is immaterial to the point of this chapter: so the main section of this chapter won't address that issue. That issue is of interest, however, to anyone wanting to understand what a Corinthian church service is like, so it is addressed in Appendix 7. There is a link at the end of the appendix which will return you here.)
Paul's point is that what is spoken needs to be understandable. If everyone is given a shot at the microphone, not everything that everyone says is going to be understandable! Even with everything in English! Some of it is going to be rambling; some of it is going to be so pointless (boring) that listeners will leave the room; mentally at first, and physically if it keeps up. Some of it is going to be redundant.
Some of it is going to be so unnecessarily offensive, that listeners will lose the whole train of thought in their struggle with their emotions. Some of it is going to be critical of others. In fact, in verse 32, Paul even demands there be criticism (accountability). When communication is critical, it is even more vital that it be understandable.
(For some philosophy of how Christians ought to criticize understandably, especially in a fellowship considering obeying 1 Corinthians 14 regarding group scrutiny of preaching, see the short Appendix 6 of Chapter One, "Criticism". There is a link at the end of the appendix which will return you here. For a comprehensive approach to the problem, see "The Peacemaker/A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict", a thoroughly Biblical approach to reconciliation of disputes from the minute to the magnificent, by Christian lawyer Ken Sande, published Baker Books, Grand Rapids Michigan 49516.)
Although you are probably getting really uneasy about the prospect of dealing with tense communications in church, can you see how the experience of dealing with them, with numerous dispassionate, reasonable and prayerful observers present to keep things sane, will give husbands and wives invaluable skills for healing their marriages? Or parents and children skills for diffusing the growing pains that divide them? Or employers and employees some techniques for working together with more harmony and more fun?
Conversely, can you see how broken, "disfunctional" families of today, compared with the miniscule divorce and rebellion rate of a century ago, are the natural consequence of forsaking the spirit of a century ago when America was like one giant church service, where Christians of all persuasions conducted business, politics, news reporting, and court with reference to God's Word? Where churches handled most of the functions now handled by welfare bureaucracy and courts?
And please remember the little "warning" before the Introduction: nobody ever said fellowship was easy. But it's worth it. And if you are a Bible Believer, please don't reject this vision for Church on the basis of whether it is difficult; but only seek to determine whether it is commanded. If it is commanded, we can trust God to make it possible, and even to make it a fount of Life.
The moderator whom your church selects can use verses 6-11 for his authority to keep the train of thought understandable, and to interrupt, as necessary, to pull it back on track.
6 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? 7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? 9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them [is] without signification. 11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh [shall be] a barbarian unto me. (NIV: "Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me.")
12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual [gifts], seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. (NIV: "So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.")
In verses 2-11, who does Paul want to refrain from speaking in tongues without interpretation? Just one or two, or everybody? If only one or two refrained from uninterpreted tongues but everybody else continued babbling, would that satisfy this command? No; Paul didn't want anyone speaking in tongues which were not interpreted, did he? So therefore he was telling everyone to refrain from uninterpreted tongues, was't he?
So who does verse 12 address? One or two, or the whole congregation? The whole congregation, of course.
So when this verse tells people to "seek to excel to the edifying of the church", how many people is he asking to do that? One or two? No, this verse is addressed to everyone in church, isn't it?
Paul's point is that speaking in a foreign language without bothering to interpret doesn't benefit anybody, so the discussion should, rather, be devoted to prophecy, and secondarily foreign languages which are interpreted. Because prophecy "edifies" or "builds up" (v. 3), and to a lesser degree interpreted tongues edifies the church (v. 13), which is what church discussion is for.
In giving the two examples, prophecy and interpreted languages, of what builds up, is Paul saying these are the only two ways of building up a church which he allows? Of course not. Paul is giving us the general principle that anything which builds up, or edifies, or benefits the church, ought to be encouraged.
Now I don't mean to be redundant, but I just want to make sure we don't miss the lesson here. Who is supposed to "seek to excel to the edifying of the church"? Just one or two, or everyone? Why, everyone, didn't we agree? So if you don't personally have a gift for interpretation, to what does this verse leave for you to aspire? You should make plans to preach, shouldn't you? Isn't this verse a personal command to you?
And what if your "church" won't let you obey this verse in your "church"? Should you with any less fervor "seek to excel to the edifying of the church"?
Doesn't this verse become, in that situation, a personal command for you to do whatever it takes to lead your church to open up the pulpit to the congregation, so that you and everyone else in your church can obey this verse?
It isn't an option to decide you cannot accomplish this in your "church", so this verse commands you to create a fellowship where this verse is obeyed. This isn't an option, because other verses show that God recognizes only one church per city. We are commanded to increase interaction between all Christians in our city, not just between all the Christians in "our own church". One does not increase Christian interaction by breaking away into ever tinier church fragments at the first hint that "the other guy" is doing something wrong.
Verse 12 proves, even if there were no other proof in the Bible, that EACH of us is commanded to propheaia.
First, because the entire verse is addressed to each reader.
Second, because the admonition to "seek to excel to the edifying" is specifically addressed to everyone zealous of spiritual gifts, which 14:1, 12:31, and the rest of chapter 12 in general explains is supposed to be EACH of us.
Third, because prophetaia is given in verse 3 as one of three examples of edification, and in verse 5 as the prime example.
VERSES 13-16 -- INPUT SHOULD BE WELL REASONED
Here again are verses which tell us how to conduct an orderly public discussion in church, even though these verses are traditionally applied only to the question of tongues/foreign languages. (See Appendix 7 for an analysis of what these verses say directly about tongues. There is a link at the end of the appendix which will return you here.)
Words spoken in church should be understandable, v. 15. They should not only be understandable, but persuasive, as much as possible, v. 16, so that others will say "Amen" [Gr: "so be it"].
If we may use a little common sense to flesh out this concept, common sense will assure us not everything we say will persuade others; but Paul's scenario implies that he expects congregational input to at least be well reasoned, so that if it is not persuasive, our moderator should cut it short before it goes on interminably, hopelessly tangling everybody's brain cells together. (On the other hand, common sense will warn us against censoring congregational input simply on the basis of how initially agreeable it strikes others, rather than taking the time to discern whether an idea which initially offends others may in fact be Biblical.)
13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in an [unknown] tongue, [Gr. "a language"], my spirit prayeth, but my understanding [Gr. "mind"] is unfruitful. 15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. 16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? (NIV: For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirt, but I will also sing with my mind.")
(Greek notes: v. 16, KJV "the room of", comes from a Greek word meaning "is in the condition of being". "The unlearned", KJV, comes from Gr. common member, as opposed to elder; or "illiterate", as opposed to educated. The word is pronounced "idiotu", from which comes our word "idiot". But in context, Paul refers simply to someone who has not "learned" the particular language being spoken.)
VERSES 17-20: INPUT SHOULD BE RATIONAL
Congregational input is supposed to be rational. Verse 17 again lifts up "edification" as the goal of words spoken in church. Verse 19 says the goal is "understanding": the words spoken should "teach" others.
Simply opening up the pulpit to the whole congregation will by no means assure that what is said will always be rational!
Probably the greatest resistance to allowing what this chapter commands is the experience of trying to be nice and polite with people who ramble, and who won't stop until they are impolitely stopped. But God would rather we had fellowship than the sort of "good manners" which silences everybody because it is afraid to be firm with anybody.
But verse 20 reminds us that being firm doesn't mean being "malicious". Our restraints on unedifying speech should be as gentle as "children".
17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that [by my voice] I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an [unknown] tongue. 20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
How many church fights might be calmed by emblazoning verse 20 across the ceilings, even of '90's churches which limit their battlegrounds to gossip and board meetings!
It is a verse crucial to any church which dares to obey 1 Corinthians 14. Without it, all the arguing, which everybody seems to fear would result from allowing Bible discussion, would happen. With it, husbands would find in church an example of how to get along with their lives; children would be inspired to respect their parents; and politicians incubating in God's houses all over America would catch a new vision of political dialogue.
We tend to be at our most articulate in expressing malice, and at our least articulate in helping people understand each other who disagree over important issues. Not only is this our practice, but it is our ideal. We say it is good to express our anger eloquently so we can "let it all out" and "tell how we really feel". But we say it is not good to express our political or spiritual theories eloquently because "he will never change his mind anyway". Paul says we should be the opposite. We should be men in understanding, not in venting malice. We should be as inarticulate as children in expressing malice, not in our understanding of issues and people.
(Verses 22 and 23 say nothing about our subject which I am able to extract. They are about speaking in tongues. So for my analysis of them, see Appendix 7. There is a link at the end of the appendix which will return you here.)
VERSES 24-25 EVERYONE PREACHING WILL SAVE SOULS!
What greater purpose does any church have, than to save souls? Verses 24-25 could not any more clearly say that a sure-fire way to accomplish that is to let everyone in church share the pulpit! Subject, of course, to the discipline described in the rest of the chapter.
The scenario is that "all" exercise their "preaching" in EVERY church service. (Or at least in every ordinary, typical service.) The scenario is "if ALL prophesy", and the promised outcome is as wonderful as any Christian could want.
If you are a Bible believer, who believes that every single verse was put there by God, and no verse is a mistake, you cannot read these verses and continue to justify a church format where one person does virtually all the talking! Not even if these were the only two verses in the whole Bible which make that point! Paul actually PROMISES that this change in your church format will SAVE SOULS! How can you justify not pressing for this change?
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. (NIV: "24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, 'God is really among you!'")
The visitor is "convinced" by all. Gr: he is challenged, refuted, admonished, his faults are exposed to him, brought to the light. This is sometimes said of the effect of modern "preaching", which is not addressed to anyone in particular, but of which hearers report, "I knew he was preaching right at me!" But these verses suggest a more intrusive "getting to know you" process. Indeed, if all church members shared the pulpit, members would know a lot more about each other than members do today! So it would be more natural for the intrusiveness of that depth of "fellowship" to apply to visitors.
But even if the visitor were never questioned, so that the visitor felt conviction only as others described their own insights and "the shoe fit", think how much more impressed he would be "that God is in you of a truth" if he heard everyone in church crafting that kind of insight together, rather than hearing it from just one of the group!
The visitor is "judged" by all. Gr: "examine or judge, to investigate, examine, enquire into, scrutinise, sift, question; specifically in a forensic sense of a judge to hold an investigation; to INTERROGATE, EXAMINE THE ACCUSED OR WITNESSES; to judge of, estimate, determine the excellence or defects of any person or thing".
(The word appears 16 times in the KJV. It is translated 6 times as "examine"; 6 as "judge"; 2 as "ask question"; 1 as "search"; and 1 as "discern".)
It's pretty hard to read that definition and retain the image of visitors left alone to experience conviction indirectly, only when a "shoe" happens to "fit".
In fact, it is pretty hard for a Bible Believer to read that definition and continue to justify a church where visitors are allowed to come and observe, without being invited into the discussion!
A church under persecution has a right to know who is visiting. But I'm not even sure the Corinthian church was experiencing persecution at that time. However, any church experiencing fellowship will just naturally want to get to know visitors!
"But maybe Paul meant something else by that word," you theorize", besides what the dictionary writers mean."
Well now let's just suppose you're right. Let's take it a step further: let's theorize that God never even meant to put verses 24 and 25 in His Word. Interesting theory. But there is a little problem with it. OK, you have a church where everyone can share in the discussion. Someone walks in whom you don't know. During a point in the conversation, he stands to speak. What do you tell him? "I'm sorry, but sit down and shut up. You can't speak because..."
Do you see the problem yet? How can you complete this sentence?
"...because (a) you aren't a member"? Oops, the New Testament doesn't have any concept of "church membership", other than the fact that if you are a Christian in a given city, you are a member of the church of that city. (For details, see Chapter 5.) If your visitor can't talk, how can anyone know whether he is a Christian? But even if you had membership forms and could read hearts, can you imagine Christians having an animated discussion from which they rudely exclude visitors? I can't imagine any present-day Sunday School discussion silencing visitors, so I can't imagine why, should discussion spread to the whole Church experience, Christians would want to start excluding visitors.
"...You can't speak because (b) the pastor hasn't checked you out to see if he agrees with you"? Well, that's what pastors do now to guest speakers and musicians, because of the current assumption that unity is achieved by censoring dissenting views -- that allowing people who don't agree with you to speak would be "divisive". But where Bible discussion is allowed, there will be dissenting views. The views of an unbeliever in God's Word will of course still be farther out than the views of believers in your group, but any group that can deal with the sincerely expressed views of friends can face the speculations of unbelievers.
(Actually where dissent can be expressed, and therefore scrutinized by the group, actual dissent will diminish as group analysis strips away erroneous ideas. Where dissent does not appear to exist only because it is censored, it exists in much greater strength than where it appears to be strongest only because it is uncensored. Thus in America, the nation of the world with the freest speech, dissent seems strongest because it is uncensored, but Americans are united in spirit to a far greater degree than in other nations where there is "unity" only by the power of fear.)
I have visited scores of large and small churches, and filled out scores of "would you like a visit from the pastor?" visitors' cards, and only once did I get a visit, and then it wasn't from the pastor. So I can assure you today's churches don't show the interest in their visitors which Paul expected!
He really did expect it, too, didn't he? He didn't just command us to show interest. He spoke as if he just naturally expected churches would show interest in their visitors, without him having to command it. Boy, was he naive! Was he out of touch! Was he overestimating today's churches!
(Oh, well, I guess he had all he could do to worry about the churches of his time, without worrying about his letter being read by churches for the next 2,000 years.)
I have mixed feelings about championing scrutiny of new members, because I have chafed at having been scrutinized in the past. I have experienced scrutiny which felt like it had the malice warned of in verse 20, I have experienced a demand for superficial tokens of spirituality, combined with disinterest in substantial evidence of spirituality.
For example, some have wanted me to raise my hands in joy, or wear certain clothes, or cut my hair a certain way, or express the Salvation Message by a set of words I mostly agreed with but which I wouldn't have chosen because they seemed awkward and stiff and insufficient -- as if they had been written by a committee.
But those making such demands have seemed completely uninterested in anything else I had learned from all of Scripture, outside the two or three paragraphs they wanted me to affirm. They weren't even interested in evidence of how I lived, beyond concern for two or three scandalous no-no's. Once I affirmed their wording, they didn't care if they heard another word from me. I was "in", no matter what else I believed, or did.
But "in" was not the same thing as "heard". It only meant I was privileged to listen to them.
Paul was not just offering a theory, when he said the "preaching" he wanted causes "the secrets of his heart [to be] made manifest". Paul was describing what he had seen and experienced, because he said, not "thus should be the secrets of his heart made manifest", but rather "thus ARE the secrets of his heart made manifest". He said it as if he were summarizing the common experience of every reader. In fact, he wrote it as if he were drawing upon this familiar bit of common knowledge, not to reveal anything new, but only to prove his earlier point about the inferiority of untranslated tongues!
That kind of group interaction and intimacy, which resulted in the secrets of visitors' hearts being read like an open book, wasn't the kind of scrutiny I have experienced, because there was no interest in even the pearls offered by my heart, not to mention its secrets!
Not that my friends weren't trying. In a sea of churches which exercise not the least scrutiny of, or interest in, new members whatever, they were a lighthouse of fellowship. It is deficient only by Paul's standard, which I strive to lay before you.
By Paul's standard, the newcomer had the same freedom to challenge the pastor, openly, during the service, that the pastor or anyone else had to question the newcomer!
This same word, "judge", used to describe the group's treatment of the visitor, is used in verse 29 to describe the scrutiny which everyone in Paul's church had to look forward to, from each other, when they preached!
VERSE 26: 5 CATEGORIES OF EDIFYING IN ADDITION TO PROPHESYING
Previous verses said each and every one of us ought to prophesy/preach in church. This verse adds five other things which each of us should also contribute! Actually it is not clear that each of us should contribute each of the five. Maybe we should be grateful to be called on for but one of the five. (Besides preaching.) But what a contrast with today's churches which hear individually from 5% of the members, on all gifts together, tops!
26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
"Every one of you hath a...doctrine"! (A teaching. A synonym of prophetaia.) That is certainly not covered by the song leader, or the assistant pastor who "warms up" the crowd for the "real" pastor, inviting individuals to share a "PTL" (news for which the individual "Praises The Lord") or a "testimony".
To allow any lowly layman (as opposed to the publications of the denominational headquarters) to present the church a "teaching", that is, a new theological point, is to open up the authority to think to the masses. It is a very controversial step.
"Revelation" is another synonym of "prophetaia". In fact, "revelation", "doctrine", and "prophecy" overlap one another. Their respective definitions seem to repeat elements of one another. In fact, by spelling out all three, Paul is inoculating us against a restrictive definition of this "prophecy" (preaching) which he has been telling us all to exercise. Because Paul has written this, the moderator cannot tell someone who challenges the church doctrine, "I'm sorry, but this microphone is only available for 'bringing a message from God.' You cannot use it to propose a doctrine." No, Paul has opened the door wide to the gamut of Biblically centered discussion.
VERSES 27-33 "PAUL'S RULES OF ORDER": ACCOUNTABILITY
27 If any man speak in an [unknown] tongue, [let it be] by two, or at the most [by] three, and [that] by course; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. 29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If [any thing] be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not [the author] of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (NIV: "29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.")
Verse 27 says "But don't go any more than two at a time, or three at a time for an absolute maximum!"
(This describes a panel discussion, followed by questions or comments from the audience. This modern forum, which perfectly matches God's description of what we should do, proves itself in modern experience as an efficient way to feature, in a group discussion, a few who have especially prepared themselves on a topic, and yet to access the collective wisdom of even a very large audience. In a church, panelists could rotate as topics rotate.)
Wha-? But there's only supposed to be one preacher!
And the Greek word explains they are supposed to "alternate". Alternate between whom? Between the preacher and, and between, ? Is the preacher supposed to alternate between himself and himself? Is Schizophrenia another Biblical qualification of preachers?!
Verse 29 says the preachers should go two or three at a time, and all the other preachers should analyze the merits of everything that is said! This apparently doesn't mean to analyze silently, because it says "let the other judge". Remember how "judge" is defined, which we saw when we looked at verse 24? No way is this level of "judging" silent! Judge means more than mere private discernment where an individual "chews the meat and spits out the bone", reaching an opinion which is never articulated, so that it neither scrutinizes nor can itself be scrutinized. "Judge" means to render a verdict. Out loud.
Verse 32 elaborates:
"And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." (NIV: "The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.")
A preacher cannot be thought of as in subjection to critics whom he never allows to articulate their criticism -- who must rely on the preacher's mental telepathy to express the substance of their criticism!
Of course, if you were actually going to let everyone speak, you would have to have some way to weed out the nonsense, the stuff that goes off the deep end, and that way would sure do it.
Verse 31: "For ye may ALL prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted." (NIV: "For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.")
Verse 31 again says everyone is expected to preach. That way everyone learns, and everyone is comforted. Two very wonderful rewards for obeying this chapter.
Now look at an amazing verse, 33. After presenting the very picture of chaos in the minds of today's church goers, Paul says:
"For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints." (NIV: "For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.")
The chapter was written to a group where, apparently, everyone all talked at the same time so no one could hear anybody. Paul simply told them to all go one at a time, and to scrutinize, as a group, everything said, so there would be no confusion.
Or more likely, the Corinthian scenario Paul addressed was exactly like the scenario in many discussion groups today such as during Sunday School: between 8 and 40 people sincerely trying to have a polite discussion, but many do not participate. Some do not participate because they are shy; some because they are polite and do not want to rudely interrupt -- but there is no system for recognizing someone's desire to speak other than rude interruption; and some do not participate because they are bored -- because the leaders are nervously filling up "dead air time" with superficialities and rhetorical questions. Into this vacuum of sound plunge the few motormouths who interrupt each other to the exclusion of the polite and bored. Some are motormouths because they are nervous when no sound is being made. Some are motormouths because they sincerely believe their wisdom is the only wisdom in the class worth sharing.
When a group foregoes a single leader, an additional new problem must be considered: when there is no single "leader" to dictate the subject of discussion, and there is no vote by the group to agree on a discussion agenda, but whoever speaks can talk about any subject, the subject is then likely to dance around like a pinball ball.
Whether or not this experience, which we have all had, was the situation in Corinth, Paul's response is just as appropriate: he encourages ALL to participate, not just a few; he even and he introduces the Panel Discussion format to keep the subject from wandering aimlessly.
Verse 40 repeats, "Let all things be done decently and in order." (NIV: "But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.")
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."
How many times does Paul underline his teaching with an affirmation like that? Once! I think that's about the strongest such affirmation in all Paul's writings! It says "if you really think you're a preacher, then let's see you acknowledge that the rules I just gave you are from Jesus!"
Whups, I skipped a few verses, didn't I? Verse 37 follows some statements about women being silent in church. So you might think the affirmation of verse 37 only applies to the statements about women. But the statements about women are not a new subject. They are only one more facet of Paul's Rules of Order: rules about prophesying, edifying, speaking in tongues, preachers scrutinized by preachers, and about wives arguing with their husbands.
Okay, there is a very good reason I skipped verses 34-36: those verses are very uncomfortable.
But I guess I'm going to have to struggle with them anyway. Because now that I have convinced myself that everyone in church is supposed to share the pulpit, I have to take a position on whether Paul meant everyone but women.
So hang on to your hats. In our next chapter we'll take a new look at the verses used by generations of Feminazis to give up on God.
(Chapter Two: Did God Write "For Men Only" on the Pulpit?)
Recommended Bible Discussion Topics
1 Corinthians 14 says church should be a discussion. Such as a panel discussion. But when Christians actually interact with each other, actually fellowship with one another, and get to know one another, without adequate Scriptural preparation, several bad things can happen:
(1) HERESIES. The discovery of heresies in one another tempt Christians to split. (Just like the discovery of faults in one another tempt spouses to divorce.) Antidote: the Scriptures prohibiting "divisions" (denominations).
(2) HABITS. The discovery of personal habits about each other, that drive each other nuts, tempt Christians to hate. Antidote: Scriptures about love.
(3) CONFUSION. Christians discover their own unpreparedness to defend their own beliefs, and face meetings with frustration, dread, and the hope nobody will call on them. That is, if they have the courage to even come. (In the Pulpit/Pew system, the only way to express endorsement of ideas is by whether you stay or leave. Actually talking with another human being about the Bible can be a new, frightening experience.) Antidote: Scriptures about always being ready to give an answer, about Jesus' promise to give us the words we need, and about taking a stand for Jesus.
(4) NO CONCLUSION. The discussion can ramble, be hard to follow, and fail to produce insights justifying the group's existence. Antidote: Scripture about the Inspiration of Scripture, about seeking God's counsel in every matter, about living by "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God". Discussions incorporating plenty of Scripture will never fail to be profound, informative, and practical.
(5) PASSION. Passion for a beloved doctrine, without love for a beloved brother, can produce a War for "Truth" that seeks only to expose the heresies of a brother, with hardly any thought of conversion and reconciliation of a brother. Antidote: Scriptures about pride, and about love of neighbor.
(6) PRIDE. The desire to "win" an argument, in order to gain influence with others, can overwhelm desire to hear what God may be saying. Antidote: Scriptures about safety in a multitude of counsellors, about how even God listens to man, about how God can speak even through a donkey, even through Pharaoh-Necho, a godless dictator.
(7) ANGER. The scrutiny demanded by 1 Corinthians 14 can anger those scrutinized; but reluctance to exercise scrutiny will allow errors to go unchecked, causing people to be deceived. Antidote: Proverbs about the precious gift of criticism.
(8) ANARCHY. The change from pulpit/pew to round table makes those not fully persuaded feel "leaderless", and desperate enough to crown almost anyone as their "pastor/king", filling the perceived power vacuum with a worse arrangement than before. Antidote: Scripture about the limits to the power of elders, about ordination merely approving what they are already doing, about subjection of everyone to each other, about structure of a worship service.
Does Biblical fellowship -- family-grade, Christ-centered relationships, genuine interaction, intimacy, helping, sharing, caring -- seem impossible? Antidote: Scriptures about God's promises to answer prayers, prayed with faith, for good, but impossible things.
The Scriptures selected for study in this book are selected for the purpose of immunizing fellowships against "divorce", and building strong, healthy bonds between them, so that the bad things won't tear apart fellowship. Which Scriptures do we need for that purpose? Well, all of them, of course.
This book's criteria for selecting Scriptures for study is whether misunderstanding about them has the potential to destroy fellowship. For example, some are so misunderstood that they are turned into commandments, no less, to "get a divorce" from other believers, which is the very opposite of their actual message! Verses which have not been turned upside down, on the other hand, can be understood without commentary. It is the Bible, not this book, which is a guide for Fellowship. The only purpose of this book is to salvage, from the grime of tradition, a few veiled verses.
(Tradition! Just as the Pulpit/Pew Tradition has made it difficult to read 1 Corinthians 14 and see the plain scenario of everyone "passing the microphone", even so the Denominations Tradition has made it difficult to read verses about "another Gospel" and "an heretic" and see the plain command that denominations are simply not permitted.)
Appendix One, Chapter One: "The Greek phrase "mallon de".
The importance of "prophecy" compared with the importance of "charity" and of "spiritual gifts", according to verse 1.
1 Corinthians 14:1 ties together chapters 12, 13, and 14. Chapter 13 is tied in by the phrase "Follow after charity". (Chapter 13, the "Love Chapter", is about love, which is "agape" in Greek, and "charity" in the KJV.) Chapter 12 is tied in by the phrase "Desire spiritual gifts". (Chapter 12 explains the distribution of Gifts of the Spirit, and lists broad categories of gifts.) Chapter 14 is tied in by the phrase "That ye may prophesy". (Chapter 14 gives instructions for orderly prophesying in church.)
"Follow after charity". [Gr: agape (love)] Just how much energy should we spend "following" after love? Well, the Greek word for "follow" is defined "to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing".
"...Desire spiritual gifts". Just how fervent should be our "desire" for spiritual gifts? Well, the Greek word for "desire" is defined "burn with zeal...boiling with (emotion)".
"...But RATHER that ye may prophesy." What?! It's bad enough that love, and all the spiritual gifts, are supposed to consume that much of our time, our energy, and our emotion. But Prophecy?!!
Worse: is our striving for prophecy supposed to somehow displace our "chasing after" love and our "burning with zeal" for the other gifts?
That's not exactly what "rather" means, in the Greek. In English, "rather" indeed suggests "instead of". But the Greek phrase means that following after charity and desiring spiritual gifts are still important, but they are only two pieces of the puzzle, of which the third piece is prophesying.
"Rather" is the KJV translation of the Greek MALLON. MALLON is defined as a "comparative", like "more", and is defined "...more willingly..." But when it is accompanied by DE, [KJV: "but"], "an adversative and distinctive particle, but, now, moreover, etc.", it is defined, in the reasonably thick Arndt-Gingrich Greek lexicon, as:
"...'but rather, or rather', or simply 'rather', introduces an expression or thought that supplements and thereby corrects what has preceded. [Examples:] Romans 8:34 Christ Jesus who died, YEA RATHER was raised. Galatians 4:9 since you have known God, OR RATHER have been known by God. "
What follows "supplements and thereby corrects" what precedes. Usually we think of something which needs to be "corrected" as being "incorrect". But the examples given in this definition show there need be no factual error needing correction. It is not an error to say Jesus died. But that, alone, is certainly an incomplete statement, crying out for completion!
So it might be more precise to say what follows "mallon de" completes the incomplete information which precedes "mallon de".
According to this definition, 1 Cor 14:1 says it is incomplete to "just" chase love and passionately crave gifts, but to neglect to "prophesy" in church. (The entire chapter contains rules for conducting church services.)
In other words,
Pursue love like you would a wad of $100 bills in the wind, and crave spiritual gifts like a steak dinner after a week-long fast. But even after these are second nature to you, there will remain a void in your Christian walk until you are also prophesying [in church].
(Were it not for the "de" in the sentence, the Greek word for "rather" would be defined as a "comparative", like "more", which would mean prophesying is more important than love, and all the other Gifts, combined. This is the interpretation you are left with if you reject, or suspect, nuances from the Greek and if you rely strictly on the KJV "rather".)
In other words, a saint who is full of love, and who even exercises some of the Holy Spirit gifts, is not Walking with God as God desires, until he is also Prophesying. In church.
Back to the link that brought you to Appendix One.
Appendix 2, Chapter One
Why All Gifts are Not for Everyone
1 Corinthians 12:10 lists "prophecy" as but one of many spiritual gifts, and in 12:31 rates all the gifts together as less than love. But 14:1 says prophecy is an indispensable part of every Christian's walk! This makes sense if "prophecy" is meant, in chapter 12, as a specialty, in which Christians acquire expertise which distinguishes them from others; but is meant, in chapter 14, as something which all should do at least a little of, even if we aren't especially good at it.
(Here is the verse which says all the gifts together are rated less than love:)
1 Corinthians 12:31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way. 1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity [Gr. "agape"; love], I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
1 Corinthians 12 says each gift is but one of many gifts. As a general rule, no one gets them all, and not one gift is given to all.
1 Corinthians 12:11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. 12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also [is] Christ....
17 If the whole body [were] an eye, where [were] the hearing? If the whole [were] hearing, where [were] the smelling? 18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. 19 And if they were all one member, where [were] the body?....
24 For our comely [parts] have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that [part] which lacked: 25 That there should be no schism in the body; but [that] the members should have the same care [Gr: anxiety; concern; as if promoting one's own interests] one for another....
28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. 29 [Are] all apostles? [are] all prophets? [are] all teachers? [are] all workers of miracles? 30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
We aren't just given a "this is the way it is whether you like it or understand it or not". We are eloquently shown how stupid it would be for every "member" of our human bodies to, for example, be able to taste or touch. And this analogy is presented as an explanation of why we need each other so desperately in church: so that we, through membership in the "Body", can benefit from the talents, of others, which we lack. By creating us in a way that we need each other, that makes it easier for us to love each other as ourselves, v. 25.
However we decide to resolve the contrast between chapter 12 and 14, there is no escaping the fact that, according to 1 Corinthians 14:1, Prophecy is a very, very important goal for the hope chest of each and every Christian. It is ranked right up there with specializing in one or more of the Gifts, and it is even ranked right up there with Love. Therefore it should be very important to any "Bible Believer" (someone who believes every verse in the Bible is the Word of God, as opposed to the "higher critics" who designate uncomfortable verses as "insertions" by some ignorant scribe) to determine what "prophecy" is, and then to obediently put the same priority on mastering prophecy that God does.
Note to Hollywood Christians who figure that since Jesus said love summarizes all the commandments, so as long as we "love", why bother to read the next thing to do: 14:1 ranks the importance of prophesy right up there with the importance of love. If you aren't prophesying in church, maybe your love isn't all it should be.
If God tells us to desire it, we have confidence that God will answer our prayers for it.
"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" Matthew 7:11
Back to the link that brought you to Appendix 2
Appendix 3, Chapter 1: "How 'Prophesy' is Popularly Substituted for 'Preach'")
For example, in a fund-raising letter Thanksgiving, 1997, Randall Terry described how he got half an hour on British television to speak "about the Ten Commandments, the gospel of Christ, the blood of innocent children crying from the ground; I rebuked the apostate clergy who support abortion and homosexuality, I urged pro-life members of parliament to fight for the children...I spoke the truth about abortion...the Word of God...."
Terry never even hinted that he might have foretold the future, and yet the coupon for the video copy of his preaching says "Randall, please send me a video tape of you prophesying to Great Britain." And when we watch it, Terry promises, "I promise you'll be as shocked as I am that I was able to prophesy to the nation of Great Britain."
Prophecy = preaching: no new definition
It is no new idea that "prophesying" means, in 1 Corinthians 14, "preaching". That is the assumption of anti-tongues pastors who preach the superiority of "prophesying" in order to minimize tongues. What would be new, in most quarters, would be to point out the verses that say everyone in church ought to do it.
But there is theological schizophrenia about "prophecy". Some of he very pastors who assume "prophecy" is "preaching", in chapter 14, go back to 13:8-10 and state that it is now, in our time, that "prophecy" has ceased!
Because in chapter 13 they translate "prophecy" as "telling the future" from force of cultural habit, while in 14 they are forced by the context to translate "prophesy" as "preaching".
OK, I'll admit it. It wasn't just "them" that did it. I did it. I have read the Bible several chapters at a sitting less often than I have studied passages in isolation. So when I read chapter 13 and chapter 14 in different months, it was easy to not notice how inconsistently I was defining "prophecy".
Back to the link that brought you to Appendix 3.
Appendix 4, Chapter One
Verse 5's inference that "all" should preach is supported by English and Greek Grammar.
Verse 5: "I would that YE ALL spake with tongues, but rather that JUST ONE OR TWO OF YOU prophesied [or preached]: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying."
That's what you wanted to hear, isn't it? What a zoo that would be, if everyone preached!
Huh? You say I didn't write that right? You say it says:
Verse 5: "I would that YE ALL spake with tongues, but rather that YE prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying."
But surely I wrote it the way God meant to write it. After all, Paul didn't SPECIFY that he wished ALL would prophesy, did he? As he specified that he wished ALL would speak in tongues? Doesn't that give us the right to fill in the blank with what would make us the most comfortable?
Sorry. Everyday English grammar trims redundant words by omitting details from later statements or phrases which readers are able to "supply" from earlier, similar statements. Here's an example from Scripture, with phrases added in parenthesis to show how cumbersome the verse would be if grammar did not follow this simple, common sense rule:
Luke 17:34 I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one (man in the bed) shall be taken, and the other (man in the bed) shall be left.
In the example, "I wish all of you were smart; but even more I wish you were kind", "all of" is not specified in the second phrase. But readers naturally supply that detail from the first phrase. We naturally infer that any omitted details in a later statement will be the same as the details provided earlier, unless it is otherwise specified.
Greek grammar further supports having us ALL "prophesying" (preaching) in church services. "Rather", Gr. "MALLON", again appears with "DE" which tells us that what follows corrects what precedes. "That ye all speak with tongues" precedes "MALLON DE"; "that ye prophesied" follows. So "that ye prophesied" is a correction of "that ye ALL speak with tongues". Since "that ye ALL speak with tongues" is a command to everyone, and "that ye prophesy" is a correction of that command to everyone, therefore it would seem "that ye prophesied" must also be a command for everyone. In other words, mallon de implies that a tongues-speaking congregation, where not everyone preaches, is incomplete. But on the other hand, mallon de implies that a preaching congregation where not everyone speaks tongues is also incomplete.
However, the phrase "greater is he that prophesieth" comes along later in the verse to clearly say everyone preaching is not only one final piece of the puzzle, but it is the more valuable piece. Later verses say it is better not to speak in tongues if there is no one to interpret; there is no comparable "escape clause" for the necessity of everyone preaching.
I should acknowledge that it may still be possible, technically, to interpret this verse as: "I wish you all spoke in tongues; but even more I wish you spent your fellowship time listening to one man preach."
You would have to prove that although nothing in this verse specifies that "all" should not be supplied, in the second phrase, from the first phrase, that other Scriptures definitely specify that.
Even if you cannot prove that, you could point out, "verse 5 does not absolutely prove the 'all' from the first phrase should be inferred in the second phrase, because there might be other Scriptures which rule out that inference."
But you have to strain to hang on to such an interpretation, in the face of all the evidence against it shown here.
Back to the link that brought you to Appendix 4.
Appendix 5, Chapter One
You Can't Prophesy or Edify Silently
You say, "When verses 5, 12, and 26 say to prophesy, which means to 'edify the Church' according to verse 3, Paul must have defined 'edify' in some way that allows us to do it silently. it probably just means for us to pray (silently). Or to be a good example. A silent witness. Surely he didn't mean for us to all talk! How could it edify anybody, to turn church into a zoo?"
Should we really have to prove that prophesying is done with the voice, out loud? Normally not. It is just common knowledge.
But when you combine the fact that prophesying is out loud, with the fact that God invites everyone to prophesy in church, the result is so disagreeable to traditional Christendom that ordinarily sane theologians are tempted to squeeze common sense tighter than a Clinton lawyer in order to fit through a loophole. So it probably is worth while, in this case, to take time to prove the obvious. To close every conceivable loophole, and even a couple of inconceivable ones.
Here are several proofs that this "edification", which God calls each of us to do in church, has to be done with our voice, out loud:
(1) Edification requires communication, which requires spoken words.
An English dictionary defines "edify" as "to instruct so as to improve, uplift, or enlighten morally and spiritually". "Instruct" is defined as "to communicate knowledge, facts, directions, or orders". "Communicate" is defined as "to make known, generally something intangible, as intelligence, news, opinions, or facts."
"But", you ask, "that doesn't say anything about spoken words. Couldn't church members edify the church by communicating through some other means? Like a church bulletin board? Or by turning the church bulletin into a newsletter in which members can express themselves? Or by having a church web page and theological chat room? Or at the least by having a church member directory with not just names, pictures, and phone number, but job skills, special interests, ways members would like to interact commercially with each other, political concerns, etc.?"
Exactly! Churches could partially meet the 1 Corinthians 14 demand for inter-member communication through these means! But so far, churches haven't allowed these means of uncensored, inter-member communication, either.
These forums are ways, to satisfy God's mandate for Bible discussion, which I outline in chapter 12. A well rounded program of inter-member communication would surely utilize each of these forums. Each have their advantages, and their limitations.
But all these technological wonders, added together, cannot replace, for most people, the primitive spoken word. Written words are not a solution for everybody, or even for very many. Only a minority are articulate through writing, and even for those who are, published dialogue is excruciatingly slow. The time lapse between writing and distribution is so long (except in a "chat room") that by the time people can respond, and their response is distributed, readers have to be reminded what the response is to. At best, written dialogue is useful for something like discussion of some point of theology. A web page, church bulletin, or bulletin board is useless for discussion of, say, how to get the church garage painted next weekend.
"But wait a minute", you ask. "Why the concern for dialogue? I thought all you wanted was to let everyone up to the microphone. That need could be met, couldn't it, at least for writers, by letting them contribute opinions to a web page, like a newspaper's 'editorial page'?"
No. 1 Corinthians 14 does not merely mandate giving everyone the microphone to say anything they like, without correction or criticism. There has to be dialogue. There has to be interaction. v. 29, "Let the prophets speak two or three [at a time, such as in a panel discussion], and let the other[s] judge." V. 32, "And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." A mere "opinion page" would create the same confusion and exasperation for churches which newspapers create for their readers by their editors neither responding to incorrect statements, nor acknowledging points well taken. V. 33 "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints."
Published information is ideal for a mass of information which has been more carefully prepared than could be done by someone talking extemporaneously. It is ideal for distributing to people for study at their leisure, in a larger chunk of time than would be feasible for a large group. It is ideal for distributing comprehensive information in a package from which individual readers may study portions they need, without reading the rest.
Published dialogue is great for carefully prepared statements that should be remembered. It is lousy for brainstorming, or tentative discussion. It is great for recording conclusions. It is an inefficient way to sift through tentative proposals, or to relate tidbits of personal news. It is great for presenting a relatively short message, from a few people, to a very large number of people. For assemblies numbering in the thousands, it could become an important supplement. But it is a cumbersome forum for a free exchange of ideas between a very large number of people.
For dialogue which is not "timely", such as theological debate, an internet web page, which can keep the same information available for a long time, is better than a magazine because it can post ideas and responses side by side, whether the response followed by minutes or months. It can edit new responses in with the old dialogue. (With a magazine, new responses don't make any sense unless you go dig out an old issue to see what the response is to.)
But web sites are no substitute for face-to-face fellowship via spoken words. Besides the problem that few like to write, few understand computers, and dialogue is so slow, the privacy with which internet information is viewed leaves members with no sense of which parts of the fellowship web site have been seen by which members. Without a sense of what other members have been "paying attention to", there is little sense of whether there is group consensus on anything, as there is where all members are physically present and able to participate.
For more spontaneous conversation, there is always the Church Chat Room. For those with computers. Or for those with friends with computers. For those who can type fairly fast. Or for those with friends with computers who can type fairly fast. In other words, even that is not a substitute for a face to face meeting. But one advantage of it, as a supplement, is that it
The fact is that the only way humans have for communicating intangibles like intelligence, news, opinions, facts, knowledge, directions, or orders, is through words. And the only efficient way for a group to exchange such information, between all its members, is through spoken words.
A few New Agers keep trying to communicate with "Mental Telepathy", but until they can develop a little more precision and consistency, we are stuck with the need for spoken words as the most efficient way to communicate all but the most primitive, basic concepts.
(2) Greek: "edify" means "instruct", which requires verbal communication.
The Greek word "oikodomeo" (KJV: "edify") means exactly the same as its English counterpart. It means to build up the church. "To instruct; especially, to instruct or improve morally or spiritually". Like the English "build", (part of the definition of "edify"), "oikodomeo" has both a literal, architectural sense of building a physical structure, and a figurative, edifying sense of building a human relationship. Oiko=house, domeo=build.
Of course, Paul's churches had no web page, chat room, bulk mail permit with which to send out church bulletins, or copy machines. Maybe they had bulletin boards; papyrus probably wasn't prohibitively expensive. But the Bible never mentions bulletin boards, while it does mention "preaching" and "reasoning". The Bible offers no endorsement of mental telepathy as a means for Christians to communicate with one another. So when Paul told all members to "instruct" one another during their church services, the only means of instruction available to them was the spoken word.
(3) Verse 19 describes edification and defines it as "by...voice"
A comparison of verse 5 with verse 19 further supports the dictionaries' assumption that "prophesying" and "edifying" require, for their existence, spoken words.
Uninterpreted tongues are portrayed, in verse 5, as the opposite of prophesying. Tongues are bad and prophesying is good, because prophesying edifies while tongues do not. Uninterpreted tongues are contrasted again, in verse 19, not this time with the word "prophesying", but with a description of what prophesying and edifying are: "words" of "understanding" which "teach others". This matches the Greek and English dictionary definitions of edification as that which "instructs" and "enlightens".
This assures us that Paul is still talking, in verse 19, about "edification", even though he doesn't repeat the word in every single verse he discusses it. But in verse 19 he adds, to the definition of "edification", that it is done with the "voice".
Verse 5: "I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying."
Verse 19: "Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."
(4) Verse 19 implies that whatever takes church time away from understandable, out-loud voices, is a waste of time.
"Five words with...understanding", in other words, a little that edifies is worth a whole lot that doesn't. There is little place "in the church" for anything that does not edify. Anything else, besides verbal, out-loud edifying, is pretty much a waste of time.
The traditional use of church music already conforms to this principle. Wordless music, which cannot "edify", in this sense, takes negligible church time. It is performed while people are doing other things. Like coming, going, taking an offering, or having communion.
The traditional use of church art and symbols likewise consumes little church time. In protestant services, the most that occurs is things like candle lighting while people are coming in. Even in Catholic services, where the priest takes church time, certain times of the year, to do things like walking around with incense, or sprinkling everybody with dampened branches or scepters, or putting ashes on foreheads (Ash Wednesday), the rituals do not take a great deal of time.
Uninterpreted tongues, like wordless music, rituals, art, or a "silent example", such as a pleasant nature and an angelic smile, may "communicate" with the emotions, but they cannot "edify". At least not the way Paul is defining "edify". In order to edify, you have to say words. Out loud.
If it weren't for Paul's warning about it, we would be hard pressed to explain what's so bad about uninterpreted tongues. Why doesn't Paul give credit to the "holy example" provided by someone in trance-like joy, hands uplifted, gazing up to heaven, and uttering a pleasing combination of vowels and consonants which make no sense whatsoever? Isn't that just as virtuous an "example" as a ritual which consumes just as much church time but contains no words of wisdom, such as lighting candles, or walking around with incense, or bowing before images?
It probably is. But if it takes very much church time, it probably is wasting it.
And yet to take a little church time for pretty things surely could not be so bad, by itself. But when men do what God does not say to do, and then besides, they do not do what God says they should do, they waste more than time. God says all should prophesy. Nothing is said about candles, incense, bowing, or looking holy. There simply is no escaping God's mandate that everyone "share the microphone" in church.
(5) The contribution v. 19 describes is made by "voice".
Even if you are slow to accept that the description, in verse 19, of the contribution Paul expects of us, matches dictionary definitions of "prophesy" and "edify", you will have to acknowledge that whatever it is that Paul expects of us, in verse 19, is supposed to be contributed "by...voice".
19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that BY MY VOICE I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.
So if you are not ready to acknowledge verse 19 is still talking about prophesying and edifying, then your only remaining option is to believe God wants two contributions to church services of us: prophesying/edifying, which, dictionaries and common sense agree, require, for their existence, spoken words, and whatever else you think verse 19 requires of us, which ALSO is given through spoken words!
(6) Verse 19 is talking about what WE, not just Paul, should contribute.
Does Paul speak only of himself having the standing to use his "voice" in church, as the featured sermon-giver? Or does he use first person only as a common grammatical device to illustrate, and to personalize, the logic he means everyone to adopt? We can tell Paul uses first person only as a grammatical device, from how freely he switches back and forth between first and second person, without interrupting his train of thought, while describing what "you" or "I" should do, as if what "you" and "I" should do are the same thing.
He uses first person in v. 6, 11, 14, 15, 18, 19; second person in v. 5, 9, 12, 16, 17; and third person in v. 13.
(7) The equation of "Words of understanding" (done with the "voice", v. 19) with "prophecy" (which everyone is supposed to do) is supported by the portrayal of both of them, throughout chapter 14, as the opposite of "tongues".
Still another way we know Paul means that every member present ought, ideally, to "speak...words with" their "understanding", with their "voice", "teach(ing) others", (v. 19), is that "words with understanding" is another way Paul has been describing "edification", which verse 5, 12, and 26 say we should all do. Not only are "words with understanding" indistinguishable in meaning from "edification", but the way in which "words with understanding" are contrasted with "tongues" is indistinguishable from the way "edification" is contrasted with "tongues".
Most of this chapter is taken up with the contrast between a way God wants us to contribute to the fellowship, and another way God does not want us to contribute. The way we are not to contribute is by speaking in a foreign language which no one can understand. The way we are supposed to contribute is by prophesying, v. 1, 4, 5, 12, 22, 24, 26, 31, 39, which is defined as edification, exhortation, and comfort, v. 3.
In verse 4, Paul is talking about prophesying again, and he refers again to the good thing it accomplishes: it edifies. Paul doesn't repeat, again, that it also exhorts and comforts, but we know it still does, because we just read it in verse 3.
This is an example of the common, everyday grammatical device of not repeating every detail of what you have just explained, leaving the reader to supply omitted details, in later references, from the details given earlier. Once you define a word, you shouldn't have to give the definition again every time you use the word: you can expect the reader to remember the definition, so that all you have to say, after that, is just the word.
(8) "Edifying" (v. 3, 5) is equated with "understanding" (v. 19) in the sense that "edifying" contributes to understanding.
In verses 12-19, Paul is explaining WHY prophesying is edifying, but speaking in tongues which are not interpreted is NOT edifying. The difference is that the sound of a foreign language does not communicate anything to the "mind"; it does not contribute anything to "understanding". Prophesying, by contrast, does.
Throughout these verses, again and again, the contrast is set up between edifying, which contributes to the understanding; and talking in a language no one present understands, which is "unfruitful" with regard to understanding. Conversely, the similarity is set up between prophesying and understanding, while the contrasting similarity is set up between speaking in an unfamiliar language and obliviousness.
12 ....seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. ....14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue [Gr. "a language"], my spirit prayeth, but my understanding [Gr. "mind"] is unfruitful. 15 ....I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also:.... 16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? 17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that BY MY VOICE I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.
"Words with my understanding", v. 19, is described as "words easy to be understood" in v. 9.
The contrast between uninterpreted tongues and edification/prophesying/words of understanding is so thorough that as we meditate on exactly what God means us to do, we can add, to Paul's definition of "prophesy", "the opposite of speaking in a foreign language which no one present understands".
Notice three tests of the contribution Paul is asking of us: (1) we have to use our voice. We have to talk out loud. (2) We have to make sense. We have to be understandable. (3) We have to teach others. Others have to be able to learn from our words.
(9) Verse 17 specifically defines the "understanding" of verses 15 & 16 as being "edifying"
15 ....I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also:.... 16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? 17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.
(10) Verse 16, 19 say our contribution must be consciously understood. Therefore silent listening, or even silent prayer, cannot substitute for how God wants us to contribute.
Notice that verse 16 says we, not Paul, should "give thanks", or "bless with the Spirit", in such a way that others know when to say "amen": in other words, not only with our voice, out loud, but so that our words can be consciously understood:
15 ....I will pray with the understanding also:.... 16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?...19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that BY MY VOICE I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.
Paul wants the opposite of an uninterpreted foreign language: Paul wants words spoken plainly enough to be consciously understood. If an activity can't be consciously understood by others present, it apparently fails Paul's test of whether it is "building up" the church. That was what was so bad about uninterpreted foreign languages, according to this chapter: to people untrained in a foreign language, it sounds like something flapping in the breeze, vs. 9; it sounds like a bunch of Barbarians, vs. 11. It doesn't make any sense. It can't be consciously understood.
Well, if you are silent in church, you can't be consciously understood very well, can you? If being consciously understandable is God's test of whether our contribution to the service benefits the assembly, then anything we do silently isn't the type of contribution Paul is looking for, when he asks us all to edify and prophesy, is it? I won't say silent prayer does not contribute to the church. But it cannot be passed off as the contribution Paul expects of us, which he describes in this chapter.
Of course, verse 14 doesn't specifically address silent prayer. It is talking about "my spirit pray"ing, while my mouth is moving. (Not only does verse 13 indicate "my spirit pray"ing is oral, but verse 16's similar phrase, "bless with the spirit", is explicitly oral.)
This not only fails to edify the church, but takes the church's time, which could be better spent on intelligible words which do edify. Silent prayer does not take the church's time, of course. And silent prayer is fruitful for the understanding of the person praying, assuming he is praying in his own language. And obviously it is good, and expected, that we should pray silently in church!
But just as obviously, silent prayer doesn't edify anybody else. So when verse 14 says speaking in uninterpreted tongues is no substitute for prophesying/edifying, even though "my spirit prayeth", we may indeed conclude that neither is silent prayer a substitute for prophesying/edifying, even though "my spirit prayeth".
You ask, "Who ever suggested silent prayer was a substitute for edifying, anyway?"
You did, don't you remember? That's one of those wild possibilities you threw out in a fit of desperation. This whole appendix, remember, is only to here to prove the obvious, that prophesying has to be done out loud. No wild, desperate excuses. Period. God said it. Done. So do it.
Back to the first link that might have brought you to Appendix 5. (The text before that link says: Now does it sound to you like you can "edify" the church, by Paul's meaning of that word, if you are silent?....For every proof you will ever want to know, that each of us, ideally, ought to offer edification in church, with our voices, out loud, see Appendix 5, Chapter One: "You Can't Prophecy or Edify Silently". )
Back to the second link that might have brought you to Appendix 5. (The link right after "Is it possible to define "edifying" as what the rest of us are already doing? .... Can passive listening build up the church? Perhaps, but not in the way in which Paul says, in this chapter, that the church needs to be built up. Edifying is described by Paul as something where "by my voice I might teach others also". (Verse 19. Also see Appendix 5.)
Appendix 6, Chapter One
One temptation, when we criticize, is to think it important to remember only what the other guy did wrong, and not bother to recall when and where it was, or the evidence that proves he really did what we think he did, or the reasoning by which we can prove the offending words or deeds were actually wrong.
Another temptation we have is to enhance our allegation by calling it a general pattern rather than a single incident or two; because if it only happened once or twice, it wouldn't be that big a deal: but when we say "he always does it" then the guy must be a real jerk.
So we generalize. We accuse,"You never listen to anybody." But because we do not provide a single instance of when and where this has occurred, the person we criticize (1) can't remember a single time he committed the alleged offense; and (2) knows it cannot be true that he "always" commits the alleged offense; and (3) wonders whether, if he knew what incident triggered the criticism, he would agree it would have been an offense, even if it had happened.
He cannot respond to us, because he has no idea what we are talking about. When our criticism is too general to be understood or answered, our speech becomes as dark and filthy and profane as if we were simply cursing. In fact, cursing is the spirit of imprecise criticism: our speech conveys no more useful information than cursing; our speech conveys only our frustration and rage, which is all that profanity conveys.
Our anger further complicates our victim's attempts to understand us. His efforts to learn the details of our criticism from us are met with our further generalizations and allegations, which add to the heap crying out for rectification.
America's Bill of Rights provides that each person charged with a crime shall be given a "Bill of Particulars" explaining when and where the crime is alleged to have been committed, and what law defines it as a crime. To do less, that is, to generalize, is to deprive the accused of either the right to defend himself, if the allegation is unfounded, or to repent, if the allegation is founded!
Many of us say we don't mind being criticized, but then others wonder why we appear to resist criticism when we get it. Although clear, concise, and irrefutable criticism has its own discomforts, criticism, of all the communications experienced by a church which dares to pass the mike, must be understandable.
Back to the link that brought you to Appendix 6.
Appendix 7, Chapter One: "Speaking in Tongues"
This appendix is significant only to the extent you may find it interesting. It has nothing to do with the subject of this book. The theory about what God means by "Speaking in Tongues", which I present in this appendix, has nothing to do with the subject of this book. If this theory is right, it does not strengthen the points made in this chapter. If this theory is wrong, it does not weaken the points made in this chapter. The only reason I am writing about it at all is that I love to search out the meanings of Scriptures, and obviously 1 Corinthians 14 has much to say about "speaking in tongues" so I have thought a lot about it, and have sought to satisfy my own curiosity, and once satisfied, I am enthusiastic about my findings and anxious to share them. However, these findings properly belong in an appendix, being on a different subject from the book proper.
It is very important that readers keep this perspective, since some readers come from "tongues-speaking churches" and others do not. There is no theory I could put forth, therefore, which, if used by readers as a litmus test of whether to continue reading, would not lose me half my readership. If I were more prudent, I would save most of this appendix for an obscure booklet unlikely to be published, because the important goal is to get Christians obedient to 1 Corinthians 14, at which time their assemblies will then be able, through Bible discussion with all brains engaged instead of just one, to arrive at sound doctrine concerning what the same chapter says about "speaking in tongues", without my help.
But I can't resist sharing this study. However I will do it only on one condition: you, the reader, have to PROMISE me, before I will give you permission to read further, that if this study offends your favorite doctrines too deeply to keep it any longer in your house, that you will rip out only the offending pages, and will NOT use your indignation as an excuse to ignore what God tells you to do about prophesying in Church.
Your continued reading constitutes your acceptance of the terms of this contract.
Highlights of the Scripture study presented below. You will see why "speaking in tongues", as practiced today, is NOT the "speaking in tongues" as manifested at Pentecost. But were the "tongues" described in 1 Corinthians 14 likewise different from those at Pentecost, but like those spoken today? You will see an application of "tongues" verses to the present-day problem of maintaining order in multi-lingual congregations.
But even if the modern ritual of "speaking in tongues" is nowhere defended in the Bible, today's practice has tremendously blessed today's churches because the "interpretation" which virtually always follows "a tongue" is the closest thing to "prophecy" which today's churches allow.
Why churches benefit from "tongues" and "interpretations", even if "tongues" (as practiced today) have no Biblical precedent: I have listened to thousands of "interpretations" in a wide variety of "tongues-speaking churches". I have always listened critically. That is, I have always compared them with my memory of Scripture, looking for points of conformity with Scripture which might support their origin in God, and looking for points of divergence from Scripture which might disprove their origin in God, or might even support suspicions of demon influence. Despite my vigilance, I have NEVER found evidence that any interpretation was NOT of God, and I have virtually ALWAYS found them uplifting, as well as Scriptural.
Are all interpretations, then, "messages from God", the Greek lexicons' definition of "prophecy"? Scripture bids us always apply a few tests to any message given by any human (Matthew 7:16-20, 1 John 2:22, 4:3), but I have found no evidence to question their origin in God, any more than any other message given by any human trying to let God speak through him.
So even if I am right about "tongues", there is no controversy that their attendant "interpretations" enable perhaps half a dozen church members to "prophesy" at each service, which is half a dozen more than non-"tongues" churches allow! So even if "tongues" as done today were never God's idea, but a church which will not obey God regarding "prophecy" will nevertheless allow "prophecy" under the guise of unBiblical "tongues", God is humble, (Matthew 11:29), and is willing to work with that!
For those inclined to dismiss reasoning solidly founded on Scripture because "I've been blessed by tongues all my life, and you cannot now present any argument that will make me doubt the Voice of God in the interpretations", this may be the way to reconcile your experience with Scripture. Yes, God has spoken to you through those interpretations, which were actually "prophecies", from a handful of fellow church members. And now God wants to bless you even more! God wants you to allow the REST of your church to bless you!
Questions We Must Answer
1. Why, at Pentecost, were there no "unknown tongues" (languages understood by no one present) as practiced today, or even as described in 1 Corinthians 14?
Acts 2:14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken unto my words: 15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. 16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; 17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: 18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:
Peter said what his audience witnessed was described somewhere in Joel 2:28. Did Peter's audience witness young men seeing visions? I don't think so. Did they witness old men dreaming dreams? Not that I find mentioned in the Bible. Did they witness "sons and daughters" prophesying? Well, that is consistent with 2:11, "we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God", and 2:8, "how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?"
But it is not consistent with the "tongues" described in 1 Corinthians 14 which are CONTRASTED with "prophesying". Verse 2 says "no man understandeth" tongues. No man can hear about "the wonderful works of God" through tongues as described in 1 Corinthians 14:2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, and 28.
In other words, not only is the practice of "tongues" different in Acts 2 than it is today, it is different than the practice in 1 Corinthians 14. OR, is there a way to interpret the experience of "tongues" in Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 so that we may understand them to be the same experience?
2. Why does Paul urge anyone speaking in tongues to pray that he, himself, may interpret, 1 Corinthians 14:13, but churches today wait for someone else to interpret?
Why does Paul urge someone who speaks in tongues to pray that HE may interpret, even though no one today even expects such a thing, but only waits for someone ELSE to interpret?
3. Why does every other "Holy Spirit Gift" require growth and learning, except for "tongues"?
"Tongues" are a "Holy Spirit gift". "Tongues" in Greek means simply "languages", or a "foreign language". Every other Holy Spirit Gift is a skill which natural talent enhances, but prayer, desire, discipline, and hard work are necessary to make it flower. Even the gifts of healing are like this, even according to "faith healers" through whom God does mighty miracles. Why not "tongues"? When a missionary shows a quick aptitude for a native language, are we wrong to acknowledge that as a "Gift" of "tongues"? In every other Gift, are there not grades of manifestation all the way from the miraculously dramatic and immediate, to slowly methodical hard work, yet once mastered, both are equally described by those benefitting from them as "a gift"?
4. Why doesn't Acts 10 mention an "interpreter" when Cornelius' family spoke "with tongues"?
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?
When Cornelius and his household spoke in "tongues", all the people, every single one of them, who came with Peter, heard Cornelius and his family magnifying God, according to Acts 10:45. In order to ASSUME one of them spoke a language no one understood, and then another of them "interpreted" in a language all understood, we must interject, into the text, the existence of an "interpreter", and then doubt that ALL the people with Peter heard Cornelius' family magnifying God directly, but only that they "heard" through an "interpreter". The fact that the Bible leaves out a detail does not prove it never existed; however, as we consider various possible Biblical scenarios, keep in mind that the most natural, literal interpretation of this text is that all of them heard the family magnifying God directly, with their own ears. But if there was no interpreter, then the story of Cornelius cannot be a precedent for today's practice, wherein there is ALWAYS an interpreter.
A more natural interpretation, if this can be reconciled with all the other "tongues" passages, is that when Cornelius and Peter met, the first thing they had to do was establish which language was known to all present. Cornelius probably knew Greek and Latin, and possibly Aramaic, but probably not Hebrew. Peter surely knew Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew, but probably not Latin. Besides that, Peter might have known one or two other languages spoken near Palestine, and Cornelius might have known one or two other languages spoken near Rome. The degree of fluency in each language spoken by each person also varied. Peter might have known Hebrew and Aramaic best, but might have really struggled with Greek. Cornelius might have been fluent in Greek, but only mediocre in Aramaic -- really stumbling when a conversation got technical. The other members of Cornelius' family must have had varying degrees of fluency in the various languages, so that there was constant translating going on between Cornelius and his family when Peter spoke, and perhaps likewise, for the same reasons, between Peter and those with him when Cornelius spoke, when Peter first arrived.
Once the extent of their language barriers was established, Peter and his companions would have seen it as a miracle when Cornelius' family began speaking fluently in a language (or languages) understood by the Jews but not, previously, by the Romans. And if Cornelius' family actually understood the new language they were speaking, (an experience not known in today's practice), then it would not be confusing for them to "all speak at once", but rather it would be like people talking to each other about some new, wonderful experience they all suddenly share. Nor would it be confusing for Peter's companions to hear them all speaking "at once", for they would not need an interpreter to follow the discussion!
Scenario: a church where 45% speak English, 30% speak Spanish, and the rest speak Arabic. I have been in groups where many spoke something other than English, and they either got involved in an animated conversation with each other and ignored the rest, or provided only spotty, occasional translation.
All the Jews were persuaded that the Romans had been baptized by the Holy Spirit! To persuade those particular Jews of that fact was quite a feat in itself, since they began their meeting with great skepticism whether any uncircumcized heathen could possibly be saved! Would they not have had some doubt, had they not heard with their own ears that the "tongues" were real, miraculous languages, and not mere babbling as any pagan dopehead could do? Would they have so easily trusted an "interpreter"? Even within tongues-speaking churches today, skepticism exists among both laity and clergy whether every single "tongue" spoken is of God. Would anything less than hearing a miracle with their own ears have convinced Peter's company? Well, it might have, of course. Just keep this in mind as you weigh the likelihood of the possible interpretations we will consider.
Summary: In today's practice of "speaking in tongues", in "spirit filled" churches, the person "speaking in tongues" never has the foggiest idea what his "words" mean, until the next person offers an "interpretation". But in the Biblical practice, there are indications people understood what they were saying.
But then what else could the Biblical scenario have been? This study proposes this scenario:
There was only one New Testament church per city. That means people speaking several different languages all came together. When that happens, it is natural for people who share a language to talk with each other in their common tongue, oblivious of others in the room wanting to understand but without a translator. Even when some are able to translate, it is easy to enjoy the fellowship and the fast, animated discussion too much to take the extra time and concentration to translate.
Examples from my personal experience: A group of Sudanese refugees in Des Moines, Iowa suffered division because those speaking Nuer were having such a good time they didn't get around to translating for the fewer Dinka present; the Dinka took it for personal rejection, and left to form their own organization. Tribal rivalries added to the language barrier, but the inconvenience of translation was a significant problem by itself. In fact, in those meetings, there might be a dozen Nuer, two or three Dinka, and four or five English. About a third of the Nuer knew Dinka, and everybody present knew some English, so they could have translated. But their enjoyment of being able to speak their mother tongue was greater than their love for those present whom they were rudely ignoring. They should all have spoken English only, since they are in the United States where their laxity in mastering English is seriously depriving them financially. They should have taken the opportunity to practice English with fluent and sympathetic English speakers present. But usually they would not even translate in English.
The result? Newcomers to the group would walk in, see all this chaos of half the group talking in a language the other half could not understand, while the other half sat there looking ignored and stupid, sitting on their hands and waiting for someone to notice them or say something intelligible, and think the whole group must be crazy. That must have been the situation in the Corinthian church.
Once I was taken to another city as the guest of Sudanese. I was assured they would translate everything into English. Well, occasionally, the speakers did; but mostly they didn't. So I sat by those who brought me and begged them to translate. Their minds were on the information and jokes being presented; they remembered me only when I prodded. I generally got about 10 words in English for every 1,000 words I heard in Nuer. When everybody laughed, I would ask "what did he say?" Then the man near me would begrudgingly give me a brief summary of the subject, but with no details, and certainly not enough that I could understand the humor. But you see, even that little bit of translation made my friends miss a little of what was going on.
If you want fellowship across language barriers, you are simply going to have to get conversation to slow down long enough for translations. That is going to take discipline.
Whether or not the Corinthians "spoke in tongues" as practiced today, they still had language barriers when they met. In fact, language barriers were the need met by the first manifestation, at Pentecost, of "speaking in tongues". So we should expect to see, somewhere in the Bible, (this Bible which expects communication between all the Christians in a city), to somewhere urge Christians to discipline their natural inclination to keep to their own language group, so that all in the assembly might understand one another. Perhaps, just perhaps, the verses about "tongues" in 1 Corinthians 14 are just such admonitions.
Sometimes pride motivates someone to speak in a language he knows which he knows few if any understand, just to show off. I have suffered this inconvenience when reading books which occasionally made points that relied on words in Latin, Greek, or German. Since I did not know the words, and they were not translated, I missed the point. But I never missed the author's main point: that the author was very intelligent.
Yet "tongues" churches today, like their non-tongues brethren, almost never provide translators so those in the city who don't know English may attend; their focus is on "languages" which no one understands, not even the "interpreters"! (In today's practice, the "interpreter" usually waits a bit, often up to half a minute, after the end of the "tongues", before his "interpretation" comes to him. This demonstrates, for anyone who may misunderstand, that the "interpreter" doesn't understand the "tongue" while it is being given! In today's practice, he doesn't even know he will "get" an "interpretation"!
If someone today spoke in a foreign language which he understood, which is the scenario implied at Pentecost and with Cornelius, people today wouldn't even regard it as "speaking in tongues"!
Yet even if today's practice is a misunderstanding, I cannot doubt that God speaks through today's practice, just as He speaks through us despite all our other imperfections! Never have I sensed any evil in any "interpretation" I have heard. Every message was both gracious and inspiring. I don't even think I ever heard bad grammar!
The concern I had as I listened critically was whether these words really of God, because if they were I wanted to seriously obey them, and if they weren't I didn't want to be deceived. It seemed presumptious to believe any human could bring a message from God. And yet that is exactly what 1 Corinthians 14 asks ALL of us to do! So whether or not today's "interpretations" qualify as "interpretations" by Biblical standards, they definitely qualify as "prophecies", which means "messages from God".
I've read a few books promoting today's practice. I heard the story of a man who decided to "expose" it; so one night he was just going to get up and say a bunch of gibberish, and then when others reacted with awe he would tell them the joke was on them because he just made it up. He did that, except that then, someone else stood up and said "No, no, you have just preached the Gospel to me in my native language of XXXX." The lesson of this experience is supposed to be that it is impossible for today's practice to not be genuine, because even when men try to pervert it, God uses it.
(But this would be like saying that because people are healed sometimes in immediate, dramatic response to prayer, that every time someone prays for healing, an immediate, dramatic healing occurs. It is easier to see how foolish this logic would be for healing, because the sick person usually knows whether he is healed; while with today's practice of "tongues", it is virtually never confirmed that the syllables spoken are intelligible in any language.)
It was said that at Kingsway Cathedral one night, (where I served on the music staff three years), a couple of visitors, who were Jews, asked the deacon why one man stood up and spoke in perfect Hebrew and then another man stood up and gave a perfect translation?
I have no reason to doubt such evidences, but religious writers and speakers almost never give names, places, and dates, (correctly assuming most Christians would never bother to check them), so they are impossible to verify.
"Speaking in Tongues" defined; some principles of interpretation
"Speaking in tongues" is a phrase used in Pentecostal, Charismatic, some Evangelical, and a variety of independent churches (which we will shorten to simply "Pentecostals" from now on) to describe their practice of allowing individuals to interrupt the service with what sounds like a foreign language, but which the speaker himself does not understand. This is followed by another speaker giving a message in English, which is presented as a translation of the foreign language, even though the "translator" doesn't understand a word of the foreign language either.
Some churches justify their rejection of this practice, not by challenging this portrayal of the nature of "speaking in tongues", but by saying this practice was only for then, not for now. But another interpretation of the "tongues Scriptures" is that they never were of the nature we see in churches today. They never were magical, mysterious languages (some of them incapable of communicating anything to anyone), which no one present could understand, not even the one speaking.
A principle of interpretation I follow is that if a verse can be interpreted as describing either something magical, or natural, and if there is no Biblical reason to choose the magical interpretation, the natural is to be preferred. Nevertheless if there are the slightest Biblical grounds for choosing the magical interpretation, I will acknowledge them.
A related principle is that if a verse can be interpreted as supporting a very odd practice, which cannot be accounted for by logic or common sense; but can just as legitimately be interpreted as supporting a practice which makes perfect common sense, which everybody does every day and understands easily, common sense is to be preferred over weirdness. Again, not that I hesitate to accept the weird, if I am certain the Bible does. But I do not admire weirdness for its own sake, when it lacks Biblical support.
Another test, when interpreting a description of one of the Gifts of the Spirit, is usefulness. The Gifts are supposed to be useful. 1 Corinthians 12:7, 21, 22, 24. In addition, Paul's specific test of the Gift of Tongues is whether they "edify the church", 1 Corinthians 14:4, 5, 12, 16, 19, 26, 28.
One scenario of Speaking in Tongues is simply the ability to communicate with foreigners. This is an awesome talent whose usefulness is obvious to everybody.
Another scenario is today's practice which flies so far in the face of common sense that people who do it have to argue from Scripture to justify why it is even good. But Scripture doesn't persuade unbelievers, who still think it is crazy (1 Corinthians 14:23). And even after the verses are lined up to prove that this practice is commanded, we are left with little understanding of why it is commanded; of what good it does anybody; or if we have to accept that it is somehow good, by what mysterious means it does good.
When our choice is between an interpretation of Speaking in Tongues whose usefulness common sense readily understands, or one at which common sense shakes its head in confusion and suspicion, I prefer the former.
But again, if the Bible clearly calls for a practice, and the only obstacle to accepting it is common sense, common sense must give way.
Pagan superstitions and practices are presented as magical; they are odd; and they are not useful. Christian beliefs and practices do not characteristically fit this pattern. I suspect that, when the Bible is interpreted correctly, they never fit this pattern.
The "Tongues" Scriptures
Let's go over the Scriptures concerning "tongues":
Mark 16:17 "And these signs [Gr. seh-MAI-no, that by which a thing is known, indication of divine presence and power, miracle] shall follow them that believe...they shall speak with new [Gr: new in quality, character] tongues [Gr. languages]"
This shows that there is something about the "languages" God is talking about that is miraculous. They must be more than merely going to school to learn French.
Acts 2:4 "they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other [Gr. heteros, other, diverse, different] tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance"
This is the same outpouring of tongues Jesus promised, as indicated by the fact that the word used to describe the tongues Jesus promised is like the word used to describe the tongues which were ultimately spoken: Jesus said they would be "new in quality, character", and they turned out to be "other, different".
Acts 2:7 "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? ....11 ...we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God."
What was different and new about these languages was that they were spoken by men who had lived in isolation from the languages they were now speaking.
A delegation from the United Nations might go for an outing to a small Iowa town and expect to find a merchant who knows French, or a mayor who knows German. But what if the delegation walked downtown and everyone they met spoke to them in their native language?! They would ask themselves, "How is this possible?"
Although, at Pentecost, the Tongues were given to the Christians instantly, without their need of learning them, that is not the miracle, which the Bible identifies, that impressed the unbelievers. The Bible doesn't indicate the unbelievers even knew how long it took the Christians to acquire the languages. Their astonishment was merely that a large number of Galileans had accomplished the impossible. Had they learned those languages in 5 years, it would have been just as astonishing.
The languages at Pentecost did not sound different than languages learned the hard way. They were perfectly understandable to the visiting pagans, who had grown up with them.
The men speaking the languages understood their own words. Or at least there is every reason to assume they did. Today's custom, a sermon with which no one interacts verbally, but only listens to politely, was not even the custom during Sabbath services; much less was it the custom with people addressing other people milling about on the Temple grounds outside formal services. Admittedly, if we can believe God can instantly teach a man a language, it is not that much more to believe God can use our mouths to carry on a dialogue with foreigners, and actually responding to their objections and arguments, without, ourselves, understanding a word we are saying! But there is no reason to believe God's miracles were more improbable than God specifically says they were.
There is no reason given, in these verses, to assume the speakers of tongues did not understand what they were saying. There is no reason to assume they were "speaking the wonderful works of God" with their brains disconnected. There is no reason to assume they went home that night with no inkling of what they were communicating, or of how the foreigners were reacting, or of what seeds they planted that day.
In fact, Peter did understand their verbal response. Even though they were talking "to one another", verse 12, meaning in their own native languages. Peter knew, and he answered them, beginning in verse 14.
Another "tongues" passage which shows the "tongues" were understandable to those present; the listeners heard the speakers "magnifying God", vs. 46.
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?" (Also Acts 19:6)
These languages, too, were so miraculous that they were taken as proof that the Holy Ghost had come upon them. These tongues were exactly like the tongues spoken at Pentecost, since Peter concludes they obviously "received the Holy Ghost as well as we", v. 47. In other words, they were human languages, understandable to the multilingual humans present, who had grown up with those languages. We know this was not a non-human, "heavenly" language which no one present understood, or which needed to be "interpreted", because "they heard them...magnify God". V. 46.
1 Corinthians 12:8 "For to one is given by the Spirit ...10...to another prophecy; to another discerning spirits; to another divers kinds [Gr. geneh, "families"] of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:"
("Interpretation", verse 10, comes from Gr: hermeneia, root of English "Hermeneutics", the science of interpreting a person's words or phrases and explaining it to others, especially applied to Biblical interpretation. The Greek word means the study of things spoken of obscurely by others.)
Verse 10 contains two sets of related gifts. The first gift in each set is an ability; the second is the ability to scrutinize the first ability. The Holy Spirit gives "to another prophecy; to another discerning spirits", and the Spirit gives "to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues".
The gift of prophecy, as opposed to discernment, suggests the ability to inspire, as opposed to the ability to be precise; it suggests charisma, as opposed to reliability or even credibility.
Obviously both are crucial to the Body of Christ. The popular preacher needs the scholar to make sure his message is every bit true. The scholar needs the popular preacher to carry his findings beyond the walls of his private study.
The gift of "Divers kinds of tongues", as opposed to "the hermeneia of tongues", suggests fluency in several languages, as opposed to ability to concentrate on, dissect, analyze, and explain to others, the subtle nuances of a particular communication in a particular foreign language (such as New Testament Greek).
There is, of course, overlapping of these gifts.
The preacher who holds audiences in the palm of his hand needs to have at least a little theological precision for his gift to offer any benefit; while the scholar must have at least some ability to interest others, or his wonderful discoveries will never be shared.
A person fluent in other languages has, of course, some ability to interpret the subtleties of the languages he speaks; while the scholar with his lexicons and grammar charts has some fluency, some ability to communicate conversationally in the languages he analyzes.
One missionary goes to an illiterate tribe and learns their language enough to fellowship with them and hold big revival meetings. Another missionary goes to the same tribe and learns the language with enough precision to write it down, and translate the Bible into it.
"But", you ask, "Jesus said 'tongues' would be a 'sign'. A miraculous indication of the presence of God. What is so miraculous about going to two years of language school and then doing what you were taught?"
How fast do you suppose someone has to learn a language before you count it as "miraculous"? If God has made a person a linguistic genius, so that he can pick up languages in a fraction of the time it takes most people, is that fast enough to acknowledge that the gift was given by the Holy Spirit? What if a retarded person takes years to master a second language, but he prays and perseveres, and succeeds? Must we deny that God has blessed him? Everyone who has wonderfully mastered any skill has heard someone say at some time, "you have a Gift", regardless of how much time and work went into mastering it.
Let's apply this logic to the gift of prophecy, which is commonly translated "preaching". If a preacher goes to college for years and years to learn to preach, does that mean the Holy Spirit has never given him anything?! If he becomes a great preacher, but he failed to become a great preacher instantly, without study and everyday human disciplines, must we deny that God has given him his ability?!
There were instant preachers in the New Testament church. Elders were confirmed a matter of weeks or months after they first heard the Gospel! (There were "pastors", but no definition of them is given other than the implication that they were another word for the synonym "elders".) There were no 7-year seminaries in those days. Shall we, then, conclude that because pastors today take seven years to prepare, a task which New Testament pastors knocked off in 7 weeks or so, that today's pastors cannot possibly have received their calling and ability from the Holy Spirit?
An example of a Bible translator with uncanny ability is Rebekah Pearl. Before going to a missionary language school at 20 and graduating with honors, she had shown remarkable ability to pick up an Indian dialect at age 8, and the German-Dutch of an Amish colony at age 16. Her story is told in "Rebekah's Diary", published by The Church at Cane Creek, 1000 Pearl Road, Pleasantville TN 37147. This isn't the only story of remarkable linguistic gifts among God's missionaries. It just happens to be the book my wife is reading at the moment.
Shall we deny that missionaries, just in the course of learning new languages, manifest the "gift of tongues", just because they don't learn them as instantly as at Pentecost?
If our prayers do not result in an instantaneous healing, as did the prayers of Jesus and the apostles, but rather a miraculous healing follows our prayers by a matter of hours, or a couple of days, must we tell ourselves we have not experienced a Holy Spirit Gift?
Must we tell ourselves that the thing we are doing for God is not a Holy Spirit Gift unless our ability to do it has come miraculously, instantaneously, without any discipline, study, or preparation on our part whatsoever?
In making these points, I do not mean to dampen anyone's expectation that God still wants to manifest tongues, healings, and other gifts, instantly, as He did in Bible times.
(In fact, I assume that still happens, and it happens often. I think the only reason miracles aren't widely reported is that most of the Christians who witness them are perfectly irresponsible about documenting them with unbiased expert witnesses [doctors, in the case of healings]. Because they are undocumented, no one outside the immediate circle of friends and fellow believers has any good reason to believe them.)
Just as the Body of Christ is outfitted with an infinite range of Holy Spirit Gifts, 1 Corinthians 12, even so we are surely given a wide range of IQ's with which to develop them, so that our speed in developing them ranges from instantly, to very quickly, to slowly but surely.
Yes, the three examples given in the Bible of the Holy Spirit gift of tongues says they were given instantly. But it also says they were intelligible to those present. There was speed, but there was also quality.
Shall we accept, as Holy Spirit Gifts, only those which come instantly, without regard for their quality? When pagans see a Christian manifesting an amazing talent, an ability to do more or better than they have ever seen, is it not the quality of this talent which impresses them, before they ever learn how long it took to develop?
The Jews from around the world, listening to their home languages spoken by Galileans at Pentecost, were not impressed by how long it took to do the impossible, a fact which they did not even know. They were impressed that the impossible was happening.
Are the only people, who manifest the Gift of Tongues, those who utter sounds they themselves do not understand, but who can do it instantly? The Scriptures we have considered so far do not suggest anyone can utter sounds he himself does not understand, and be reckoned as exercising any kind of gift at all, much less a Holy Spirit gift. We are about to consider the passages in 1 Corinthians 14 which have been interpreted to say otherwise.
Pentecostals and other "tongues" churches say "divers kinds of tongues" means the person who stands up and utters sounds which sound like babbling, even to himself; and "the interpretation of tongues" means the person who stands up next and gives a message in English which is assumed to interpret the first message, even though the first message sounded like babbling to him, too.
This interpretation requires the assumption that the gift of "divers kinds of tongues" is exercised with the brain totally disconnected from the mouth and ears, the speaker not understanding a word he is saying. This is a pretty sensational assumption to make without Scriptural support. The Scriptures ahead of us, which Pentecostals say supports this interpretation, are worth looking at carefully.
1 Corinthians 12:28 And God hath set...diversities [Gr. geneh, see v. 10] of tongues....30 ...do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? [Gr. dier-meh-NEU-ou-sin, to interpret, translate]"
This repeats the information given in the previous passage, with a slightly different Greek word for "interpret".
1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal....8...whether there be tongues, they shall [once we are in Heaven] cease [Gr: be rendered useless]....
Verse 1 is a sobering reminder for anyone exercising one of the Holy Spirit's gifts. It is easy for humans to use God's blessings as props for pride, rather than tools to help those we are supposed to love.
Verse 1 seems to prove there is a "heavenly language", as opposed to an ordinary human language. This verse is cited by Pentecostals to silence critics who try to analyze whether a message in "tongues" matches any known human language.
But verse 8 indicates the "tongues" Paul speaks of will ALL be useless in Heaven. How is this possible, if some of them are the languages of angels? Why would a "heavenly language" be "rendered useless" when we enter Heaven?!
The context of verse 8 is abilities God gives us on earth, which will no longer be needed in Heaven. Prophecy (bringing a message from God) will no longer be needed, we are told, because we will be able to get our information from God directly! Knowledge will not be needed, because we will "know" (God), with the same fullness that "we are known" (by God), v. 12!
These verses do not specify why languages will no longer be needed in Heaven. But we can infer from the Tower of Babel story that diverse languages were the consequence of spiritual pride: so in Heaven, where pride is conquered, they will serve no purpose. We will all speak the same language again, as before Babel. Or, if the experience Christians on occasion have, of hearing a voice from God without their ears, is any indication, we may not even need physical tongues to speak in Heaven.
But then why does verse 1 infer that men can speak the language of angels? It doesn't necessarily. Paul's imagination soars, in the first verses, with human accomplishments which are not necessarily possible. Understanding of "all" mysteries and knowledge, and possession of "all" faith, doesn't seem quite possible, either. Paul never says all this is possible: his point is not whether they are, but that even if it were, and if he did all these things, but without love, it would be pointless.
In fact, he postulated all these feats in the first person, and introduced them with "though", indicating that even he, the greatest of apostles, 2 Corinthians 11:5, had not accomplished any of these things. So we should not be too quick to proclaim our mastery of them.
Finally we come to 1 Corinthians 14, whose verses are favorites of "tongues-speaking" theologians.
1 Corinthians 14
1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual [gifts], but rather that ye may prophesy.
(Technical note: notice that "gifts" is not in the Greek, but is "supplied" by the KJV translators. It is the same way several times in chapter 12, which is about the gifts of the spirit. When there is a Greek word corresponding to the KJV "gifts", the word is "charisma". This same rich word is what we know in the Bible as "grace" and "joy".
(In verse 1, "pneuma" appears alone, as if Paul were saying we should "desire spirituals". The same word is translated in verse 14 "my spirit prayeth" and in the next verse as "in the spirit he speaketh mysteries".)
2 For he that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth [him]; howbeit in the spirit [Gr. "pneuma", wind, a blast of air, or spirit] he speaketh mysteries [Gr. something hidden].
In other words, "If your native language is a foreign language to the assembly, and you speak it there, no man will understand you, but only God, even if, in the Spirit, you are explaining mysteries."
Or the Greek word "pneuma" might mean, here, not the Holy Spirit, but "hot air": for example, "You will just be filling the air with sounds whose significance is hidden. People will ask 'Huh? What'd he say?' and someone will answer, 'I dunno. It's a mystery to me!'"
(Technical note: Greek "de", KJV "howbeit", v. 2, is usually translated "but", when a contrast between the clauses it separates is strong, or "and", when the contrast is slight. It can mean the "then" of an "if...then" clause. It can separate the items of a list. It can announce the resumption of a discourse that has been interrupted by a digression. Sometimes it is used as a transitional particle between clauses with no contrast intended. Source: Arndt-Gingrich.)
Is this verse the precedent for today's practice? Today, he that speaks in a "tongue" is understood by NO man -- not even himself. Isn't that what verse 2 describes? In other words, "Every time anyone speaks in a 'tongue', not ONE person present, not even the one speaking, will understand a word!"
This interpretation assumes that "no man" is an absolute statement about the obscurity of the language spoken, which would rule out any human language, which would completely distinguish the "tongues" Paul is talking about from the "tongues" spoken at Pentecost. In fact, this interpretation of this verse would go beyond today's understanding that sometimes people speak in a "Heavenly Language" which no man can understand, but other times people speak as at Pentecost, in human languages which some present sometimes understand. This interpretation would turn this verse into an absolute statement that EVERY time a "tongue" is spoken, no one understands. This verse cannot be made to say "he that speaketh in a tongue SOMETIMES speaks not to men, but to God..." This verse is an observation about the general character of "tongues" which is always true. Certainly there is no way to make this verse describe the modern practice of not even the speaker understanding himself, much less anyone else present, without further alienating the Corinthian experience from the Pentecost and Cornelius experience.
Perhaps God's interpretation focuses on the futility of talking to men in a language only God understands. Perhaps "no man understandeth" is like the English idiom "God only knows", which we say even when some men may actually know but we just mean WE who are present have no way to know. Thus:
"If you stand up in church and speak in a language no one knows, maybe God will understand you, but no one else will -- I don't care if you are revealing Mysteries to the Holy Spirit, you won't be of much use to people."
Pentecostals and others take this as an exciting promise, that when they do their thing, they get to "speak in mysteries". But is the ability to speak in mysteries a wonderful thing? New Agers and ancient pagans thought so. But in the New Testament the only good thing to do with a mystery was to reveal it.
[Mark 4:11 "unto you it is given to know the mystery" (but to these others, who are quick to pick up stones, it will remain hidden.) Romans 11:25 "I would not...that ye should be ignorant of this mystery"; 16:25 "mystery...is made manifest"; 1 Cor 2:7 "we speak [declare, reveal] the wisdom of God [which had been, until now] in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom..."; 15:51 "I shew you a mystery"; Eph 1:9 "having made known unto us the mystery of his will"; 3:3 "he made known unto me the mystery"; 3:9 "make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery"; 5:32 "this is a great mystery, but I speak"; 6:19 "that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel"; Col 1:25-26 "I am made a minister...to fulfill the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid"; 2:2 "(that their hearts might be rich with) acknowledgment of the mystery of God"; 4:3 "praying...that God would open unto us a door...to speak the mystery"; 1 Tim 3:16 "great is the mystery of godliness" (which is then expounded upon). Mystery means hidden things, which makes 2 Thes 2:10, "the mystery of iniquity doth already work", refer to the conspiracies of the wicked.]
"Mystery" simply means "something hidden; secret". If we thought "mystery" meant some exotic "secret society" body of knowledge reserved only for the spiritually elite, then we would think verse 2 refers to some body of knowledge in addition to that available from talking in one's native tongue. But the only Biblical sense in which God's riches of wisdom is hidden is that men are too hard-hearted to embrace them. Christians are specifically told, by Jesus, not to hide anything from anyone, so how can we interpret 1 Corinthians 14:2 as favoring mysterious speech?
Matthew 10:27 What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.
But, you say, "Maybe verse 2 means, not that someone speaking in a foreign language utters truths which remain mysteries, but rather that he explains mysteries!"
Oops, not a very logical solution, that someone who speaks in an uninterpreted foreign language can explain anything at all, let alone reveal something which had been hidden!
A more natural interpretation of verse 2 is that when anyone speaks in a foreign language which no one present knows, then, whatever wonderful things he says about the Gospel, will be lost on everyone in the room.
3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men [to] edification, and exhortation, and comfort. 4 He that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
The meaning of verse 4 is
"4 If you speak in (your native tongue, which is) a language no one else in the room understands, then the only one in the room with any hope of being edified is yourself. But if you preach (in a language everyone in the room understands, then) everyone in the room will be edified."
(Grammatical and contextual analysis, in support of this interpretation, follows a little later.)
It is true that if you consider only the grammar and not the meaning, or context, you can read "He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself" and think it means "a really good way to edify yourself is to speak in a foreign language."
This is the meaning adopted by Pentecostals, who assume this verse speaks of "your private prayer language". They understand it as a foreign language, or perhaps not even a human language at all but a "heavenly language", which not even the speaker of the language understands! But this interpretation requires forcing, upon this verse, an entirely new definition of "edify".
The normal meaning of "edify" is a kind of information which is processed by the mind. By this definition, how can anyone, by speaking in a "language" which he himself cannot understand, edify himself? In order to make this verse say you can edify yourself by speaking a language no one understands, you have to pretend that "edify yourself" can mean some occultic building up of, not your "self", but your "soul", by means of sounds unintelligible to the brain.
Freud has convinced most of America that there is a "subconscious mind" which operates almost independently of the "conscious mind". But is there anything in the Bible that indicates we have more than one mind or will? So that the "soul" can be processing information while the "self" is disengaged?
Before this can seem like a natural interpretation, you have to assume a number of things which, I suppose, are not impossible with God, but which are not common knowledge or everyday experience, and which I do not know how to confirm by any other Scripture.
You have to assume that (1) Your soul can understand languages you can't; (2) There is such a great distinction between your "soul" and your "self" that your soul is capable of receiving instruction, or edification, from words which leave your "self" completely unenlightened; (3) The Holy Spirit wants to communicate with your soul, but not with you; and not silently or subconsciously, but through physical sounds which you must utter while not made privy to their meaning.
"Well, with regard to (3), what about Romans 8:26?" you ask.
Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings [Gr: "sighings"] which cannot be uttered."
This verse doesn't describe communications through words. It describes communication that "cannot be uttered", communication for which no words are adequate. This verse describes tears shed before God, hearts opened to God, waiting upon God for guidance, just listening in patience and hope. Certainly those who speak in tongues privately, at home, hold these attitudes as they speak. Surely the Holy Spirit can accomplish the miracle described in this verse while someone is speaking in "tongues" in all sincerity and in a spirit of obedience. But the utterance of words is not what this verse is talking about.
Should we fail to find Scriptural support for these assumptions, then we should consider again the similarities between the Pentecostal practice and the spiritual benefits, claimed by Pagans, of a trance, or channelling, or repeating mantras.
This doesn't mean Pentecostals are unsaved!
But not for the purpose of questioning whether our deceived brother can possibly be saved, Romans 14 -- if pagan influence in one or two of our doctrines can keep God away from us, then no one can be saved!
No, our purpose is only to grow in our understanding. Many Christians, confronted with Scripture which challenges their spiritual understanding, say their "personal experience" assures them they already have fellowship with God. Indeed, New Agers and witches say the same thing. And it is often true! Just as it is true that a parent can reach down to the level of a child and love him. But God expects us to grow, or, like we with our children, God will give us a prod. Scripture will faithfully guide our growth. As we better conform to Scripture, we may not necessarily feel any more love from God! Just as a child does not necessarily feel more love from his parents after he is grown! But when we grow, our relationship deepens. It matures.
Even a quasi-demonic activity isn't as harmful as hate, which all Christians struggle to overcome: if not even the hate in us can keep us from God, how can anything less? Surely all of us suffer at least one heresy. But when we sin ignorantly, God judges us more mercifully than when we sin deliberately, Luke 12:48.
Let me further emphatically state that of the Pentecostals and Charismatics I have known, they are not one whit less holy or saintly, to my discernment, than Christians who reject "speaking in tongues" as being unscriptural. Pentecostals are among the most saintly individuals I have ever met. But neither have I discerned Pentecostals to be more saintly than others. "Christ in us" is bright enough to glow through the grime of doctrinal error of whatever institutions we attend.
No, this study is not a challenge to the legitimacy of anyone's faith. The message of Romans 14 specifically comes against anyone who would elevate a relatively minor Scriptural disagreement into a club you can use to tell your brother he is not saved because he doesn't agree with you. (See Chapter 13.)
This issue is nothing more than just one more little step on our road to perfect understanding. Surely this study contains errors too! But even though every writing of every man surely contains errors, our Great God has asked that we deliver "messages from God" to each other, even through the error-riddled filters of our imperfect minds, and God is so awesome that He is able to bless our understanding through each other, and God has created a very efficient means of doing this, in 1 Corinthians 14.
Again, verse 4a:
He that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue edifieth himself....
It is amazing what our preconceptions can do to our Biblical interpretation. Our preconceptions can make us read this verse as testimony of the benefits to ourselves of speaking in tongues, or as a warning that it is limited to benefitting ONLY ourselves! Either reading is, grammatically, equally valid!
If we consider only the grammar of this phrase, and not its grammatical context, two equally valid readings of it are: "he that speaks in a tongue EFFECTIVELY edifies himself" or "he that speaks in a tongue edifies ONLY himself."
But when we compare the grammar of this phrase with the grammar of the rest of the sentence, we see that the point of verse 4 is to contrast speaking so that no one understands, with speaking so that everyone understands.
4 He that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
A contrast is being set up between "tongue" and "prophesieth", and between "himself" and "the church", while a correlation is being set up between "tongues" and "himself", and between "prophesying" and "the church". This grammatical structure directs the reader's attention to WHO is edified, (by contrasting speaking so that no one understands, with speaking so that everyone understands), and away from the QUALITY of the edification.
It would be a perfectly ordinary use of grammar for Paul to have chosen the word "edify", in the first phrase, not at all because he thought speaking in a language foreign to those present was a realistic way to edify oneself, but in order to link the two phrases with a common verb, in order to set up the contrasts and the correlations which were his point.
Not that it would be unacceptable grammar to interpret "he that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue BEARS FRUIT BECAUSE HE edifieth himself; WHILE he that prophesieth BEARS FRUIT BECAUSE HE edifieth the church." The point of this grammar study is to show that it would have been a perfectly everyday use of grammar for Paul to have said "he edifies himself" even if Paul meant that the actual DEGREE of edification of oneself, which occurs when one speaks in a language foreign to all present, is so minuscule that his use of the word carried a tinge of sarcasm.
Hence, I interpret: "If you speak in (your native tongue, which is) a language no one else in the room understands, then the only one in the room with any hope of being edified is yourself. But if you preach (in a language everyone in the room understands, then) everyone in the room will be edified."
The Context of Verse 4
It is when we turn to context that we must positively rule out the position, of self-described "tongues-speaking churches", that speaking in a foreign language is any kind of effective way to edify oneself.
The first problem with this interpretation is that it contradicts verse 14 which says someone who prays in a foreign language doesn't edify himself! Or at least "my understanding [Gr. "mind"] is unfruitful"!
Verse 4 says someone who speaks in a foreign language DOES edify himself. Verse 14 says someone who prays in a foreign language does NOT have a fruitful mental experience.
What is different?
(1) Is the crucial difference that verse 4 speaks of edification, while verse 14 speaks of the mind being fruitful? No. "Edified" and "the mind being made fruitful" mean too much the same thing to be able to say one can occur without the other.
(2) Is the crucial difference that verse 4 is about speaking in a foreign language, while verse 14 is about praying in a foreign language? Not likely. Verse 2 says when a man speaks in a foreign language, he IS praying, or "speaking to God". But even if it weren't for verse 2, How can prayer (talking to God) be less edifying, or less fruitful to the understanding, than talking (to man)? If there were a difference at all, surely it would be the other way around.
(3) Is the crucial difference that a different kind of "speaking in tongues" has slipped in between the two verses?
That's what some Pentecostals say, but this "solution" only causes more problems. They say verse 4 is talking about one's "private prayer language", which one does not share in church. That's why Paul isn't worried about the tongues-speaker failing to edify anybody else. As for how the speaker can edify himself, even though he doesn't understand his own words, (according to the Pentecostal understanding of "speaking in tongues"), why, it must mean some sort of mystical edification, of, perhaps, the subconscious mind, or the soul.
Verse 14, they say, is about the "gift" of tongues, the category of tongues which is shared with the church. That's why it is described as useless unless it is interpreted.
And how do we know the definition of speaking in tongues has changed between verse 4 and verse 14? Apparently because if it didn't, the two verses would contradict each other!
One problem with this interpretation is that everything in this chapter points to the application of its admonitions to a church service. (Verses 1, 4, 5, 6, 12, 16, 17, 19, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 39, 40.) There is nothing in this chapter to indicate that one single admonition is meant to apply outside a church service.
The Pentecostal "solution" to this problem is to allow uninterpreted tongues from everybody at the same time, for only a minute or so at a time, after the preacher says, with great feeling, something like "Glory to God". Just a minute or so of uninterpreted tongues won't hurt anybody, they must figure. The problem with this "solution", of course, is that this chapter prohibits uninterpreted tongues in church. (Verses 13, 19, 27, 28) To find exceptions to this rule, one must turn to some source outside the Bible.
But doesn't verse 28 tell people to speak, in "tongues", to themselves, and to God? Doesn't that point to a "private prayer language" for use outside the assembly?
28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
This verse would seem to describe ordinary silent prayer by someone who is not fluent in the language spoken in the assembly.
Of course, if this verse were alone, we could indeed read it, as Pentecostals do, as referring to leaving the assembly, going home, and there speaking, out loud, in "tongues".
But this verse is not alone. It is packed tightly between 24 other verses, of the 40 verses in this chapter, which make clear that the instructions of this chapter are meant for church services. When the application to home, or to church, are equally plausible were the verse alone, but when the verse is in a context that overwhelmingly applies everything to church, the verse must be applied to church. To imagine it refers to a "private prayer language" at home must be recognized as "taking it out of context".
"But", you ask, "if the scenario is not today's mystic practice of speaking in a language no one knows, but merely a foreigner coming to your church and being told not to speak in the language in which he is fluent, why would anyone attend a church which speaks a language foreign to him?"
Because in order to exist in a community, any foreigner will necessarily learn at least a little of the local language. So he will benefit at least a little from attending a church service. Keep in mind that in the New Testament, there was only one church per city. There was no division of churches, not even by language.
"But wasn't it rude to tell a foreigner that he shouldn't address the group in the only language he was fluent?"
It wasn't rude to articulate common sense. But it was unfortunate, so Paul later urges people in that situation to pray for the ability to interpret (from their native tongue to the language spoken by the assembly).
We have been going through chapter 14 a verse at a time, but have jumped to verse 14 because it is related to verse 4. We leave this subject for now, but will make more points about it when we come to verse 14 in order.
5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater [is] he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except SOMEONE ELSE interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
Uh, what? Oh, you say I didn't copy that right? It says "except HE interpret".
But in "tongues-speaking churches", isn't the custom for SOMEONE ELSE to interpret? Doesn't God know that's the way it's done? Why, then, did God say the person who speaks the foreign language should be the one, HIMSELF, to interpret?
There isn't even the slightest suggestion here that someone else interpret. This point is made even more emphatically in verse 13.
In other words,
5 I wish you were fluent in every language on the planet! But the whole point of talking in church is to bring a message from God. The person who does that, (in the language the assembly speaks), does the assembly far more good than the person who speaks 500 languages the assembly does not understand. That is, unless the multi-linguist likewise translates his message from God into the language of the assembly. The whole point of talking in church is to edify the church.
True, 1 Corinthians 12:10 lists "interpretations of tongues" as a separate gift from "families of languages" or diverse kinds of tongues. But the two may refer to the ability to speak with, say, Nambians, in their native tongue, and preach to them, as opposed to the scholarly ability to translate the Bible into their language.
Pentecostals assume this verse means you should first speak in the "unknown tongue", and then translate. This indeed would seem the logical way to do it, if the person translating were a different person than the one speaking the tongue. But Paul said they should be the same person. In light of this, if Paul indeed meant a person should speak in an "unknown tongue", and then the same person should speak in the "known tongue", one might ask, "why would someone, who is able to translate from his mother tongue to the language familiar to the assembly, not simply speak in the assembly's language, rather than first speaking in his own tongue, and then translating?!"
There is no Biblical reason to accept such an odd interpretation. Paul didn't mean the foreigner should first speak in his native language, and then translate into the local language! Paul only meant that the foreigner should translate his thoughts into the local language. Paul said it the way he did because his point was that people need to hear good preaching more than they need to hear gibberish.
Well, OK, there is one situation that DOES call for one person to speak in another language, and then to translate his own words. We all have heard speakers present a concept in another language, because it is clearer in another language than our own, and then translate it and explain the difference in our language.
6 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?
The sound of an unfamiliar language does not benefit the hearer, as does a message, in a familiar language, that contains revelation, knowledge, a message from God, or a teaching. The only way a foreigner, who doesn't know the local language, can still share wonderful insights, is through an interpreter.
7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? 9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.
Some people say the Bible has no sense of humor, but look at this figure of speech! My grandmother used to say, of someone boasting, "Oh, listen to the wind blow!" Maybe she got it from verse 9's "speak into the air".
The sentiment of verse 9 is that words spoken in a foreign language serve no purpose whatever. These verses convey this sentiment so emphatically that we might expect that even when a foreign language was spoken, and then interpreted, Paul considered the speaking of the foreign language as something to tolerate, a necessary evil, rather than itself being beneficial to the assembly. Indeed, in multilingual services offered in two languages, half the service is "wasted" so far as most who understand only one of the languages may feel. (However, it is not entirely "wasted". The process helps both language groups learn each other's language, and Paul did say "I would that ye all spake with tongues.")
10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them [is] without signification. 11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, [Gr: "foreigner"] and he that speaketh [shall be] a barbarian unto me.
Whenever we are surrounded by people speaking a language we don't know, we are unable to fellowship with them. Verse 11 says its the same in church. Nothing magical happens in church to make the experience, of listening to an unfamiliar, uninterpreted language, beneficial.
12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual [gifts], seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. 13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue pray that HE may interpret.
I got it right, that time, didn't I? Let the foreigner "pray that HE may interpret", not someone else.
In other words, "As you set your sights on spirituals ("gifts" is added in KJV), don't just aim for half of what is needed to build up ("edify") the whole assembly. 13 He that speaks a (foreign) language, let him pray for the ability to translate."
Let HIM, the one that speaks the language, be the one to pray for the ability to learn the common language. Not someone else; let alone someone else who doesn't understand the language spoken either!
14 For if I pray in an [unknown] tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
Review of the comparison of verse 4 and 14: Verse 4 says someone who speaks in a foreign language DOES edify himself. Verse 14 says someone who prays in a foreign language does NOT have a fruitful mental experience.
Remember that verse 4 may not say, at all, that speaking in a foreign language does a very good job of edifying; the point of the verse is only that, compared with preaching in a language the whole church knows, speaking in a language, which only you know, leaves any hope of being edified only with yourself.
Next let's clarify that verse 14 is talking about praying out loud. Otherwise there would be no need for interpretation, v. 13, the previous car in Paul's train of thought.
But if I am right, why does Paul say his understanding is unfruitful when he prays? If he understands what he is praying, will not his understanding benefit?
Pentecostals say his understanding isn't fruitful because he doesn't understand what he is saying! Someone else has to pop up and interpret so the first person can find out what he just said!
If this unusual practice had more Biblical support than a more natural practice, I would not flinch from it. But there is an equally legitimate interpretation which makes perfect common sense.
The clue to the answer is another question which springs to mind: how can you be edified by talking to yourself? Especially when you are talking to yourself, out loud, in the middle of a group of people who can't understand a word you are saying? How can that edify you?
"Fruitful", in the v. 14 phrase "my understanding is unfruitful", also means "to bear fruit". (In English as well as in Greek.) How can Paul's understanding "bear fruit"? Through what his ears receive from his own mouth?
Here again is the ridiculous scenario of talking to yourself! No, when you talk to a group, the way you want your understanding to bear fruit is by communicating your understanding to others. And seeing your understanding received by others, and taking root in the minds of others.
In other words, "If I pray out loud in church, in a language only I understand, MY spirit prays, but my wonderful insights cannot bear fruit in others."
At first I assumed the fruit was sought after in the understanding of the person speaking. But on the face of it, this is absurd. One learns little by listening to himself talk! Pompous motormouths who fancy they can best learn from their own words are the butts of jokes. You look for the fruit of your "understanding" in the minds of others, to whom you have communicated your understanding!
15. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
In other words, "14 if I pray (out loud) in a foreign language, my own spirit prays, but my understanding cannot bear fruit in the understanding of anybody else. 15 So I will pray (out loud) in the language familiar to the assembly, so that not only can my own spirit pray, but my brothers may pray with me...."
16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned [he who is in the position of being uneducated in the language] say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?
Someone speaking a language he himself does not understand would have, for the least of his problems, the inability of others to know when to say "amen". He himself wouldn't have a clue whether he is even blessing.
"Amen" means "so be it". It is something you say when you agree with something. Paul's point is that it is impossible to agree with something you can't understand.
But what Paul calls impossible is the norm in today's practice. "Tongues" churches today say "amens" after "tongues" messages which no one understands, while they are waiting for the "interpretation".
17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.
Paul was educated. He was a Roman citizen and a Jewish insider, so he surely started with Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin. During his travels he probably acquired more. How about the Holy Spirit manifestation as tongues at Pentecost? Did Paul have such miraculous abilities, in addition to his learned abilities? We can speculate either way; but verse 18 really doesn't tell us, one way or the other.
But verse 19 expresses such scorn for speaking in a language foreign to its hearers, that it seems hard to imagine Paul even calling it a "gift" only two chapters earlier. UNLESS -- unless when Paul called it a "gift", his scenario was not its use with people who didn't understand the language, but with natives to that language who did. Example: Wycliff Bible Translators, or any other missionary who goes to a country which has never had its language written down, much less had the Bible translated into it, and accomplishes both in a few short years. Is that not a gift?
20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
At first blush this sounds like an insult. An insult to people who needed to be told this common sense stuff. It probably is. But it is also specific. In understanding -- that is, with our minds -- we are supposed to operate at the level of men. Children are content to babble, or speak nonsense. Men don't appreciate wasted words. Throughout this chapter, Paul has specifically been equating "understanding" with "edifying" -- spoken statements in a familiar language. Paul has made very clear that whatever time is spent listening to an unfamiliar language is time spent not engaging the understanding. Now Paul says "lets not spend any more time on things which don't contribute to understanding."
Does Paul contradict himself in the following verses? Why does Paul say, in verse 22, that tongues are a sign to unbelievers, but in verse 23, that tongues will only prove to unbelievers that the church has gone crazy? Notice how verse 22 says "tongues" are a "sign" for those who believe not, but verse 23, next, says "tongues" are a pretty stupid sign for those who believe not: Verse 23 says if an unbeliever comes into church and hears foreign languages, he will -- and justifiably so -- think you are all crazy. What kind of "sign" is that?
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 [Gr. "idiotus", meaning untrained in the language], or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
Paul's allusion in verse 21 is to Isaiah 28:9-11. Isaiah's point is that Israel ignored Isaiah's plain-language warnings, so God would sweep over Israel with the Chaldean armies who spoke an entirely unfamiliar language, until the language of the sword would finally sink in. Isaiah's warning is translated by The Book (you may have noticed I generally trust the KJV. But in this case The Book seems much clearer, and no less faithful to the Hebrew):
Isaiah 28:9-11 "Who does Isaiah think he is," the people say, "to speak to us like this! Are we little children, barely old enough to talk? He tells us everything over and over again, a line at a time and in such simple words!" But they won't listen; the only language they can understand is punishment! So God will punish them by sending against them foreigners who speak strange gibberish! Only then will they listen to him! (The Book)
Paul concludes that "tongues" (foreign languages) are a (warning) "sign" "to them that believe not". "Sign" (Gr: "S[EH]MEION") is defined, in Arndt-Gingrich, as "the sign or distinguishing mark by which something is known; token, indication". In other words, as we say today, "evidence", or "proof". When Isaiah's prophecy came true, the unbelieving Israelites heard the unfamiliar speech of their conquerors and recognized Isaiah's warnings were fulfilled. When the unbelieving Israelite crowds at Pentecost heard Jesus' disciples genuinely communicating with foreigners in their native languages, they were given one more warning that the Man they crucified was the Son of God.
Again, verse 22, with the Old Testament allusions summarized in parenthesis:
22 Wherefore [the] tongues [of the foreign invaders, and of their bloody swords] are for a sign [that is, proof, or evidence], not to them that believe [God's plain warnings], but to them that believe not: but prophesying [bringing a clear message from God in a familiar language] serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.
But just because foreign languages were a sign to unbelievers in those two contexts, that does not mean they would be a sign to unbelievers who walk into a church and listen to everybody uttering nonsense which no one understands! No, in this context, unbelievers would merely conclude the whole church has gone crazy!
Three scenarios, two different effects: (1) the language of the Babylonian Sword proved God's judgment foretold by Isaiah had come. (2) the miraculously multilingual preachers at Pentecost proved Jesus merited being taken seriously. On the other hand, (3) a church meeting where people speak to each other in languages no one understands proves only that the whole church is crazy.
Let's go over the verses again, a little more slowly:
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.
Isaiah 28:11-12, Jeremiah 5:15, and Deut 28:49 all make this prophecy. Isaiah makes it most clear that it refers to the Babylonian invasion, which came because Israel refused to listen to God's plainly spoken words through His prophets.
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.
We could translate:
22 "Wherefore the language of violence and suffering reaches, not those who believe prophecy, but those who refuse to believe. Prophecy only reaches those willing to believe it."
The everyday common sense of this principle may become more apparent if we translate it into the everyday relationship between parents and children:
22 "Wherefore spanking 'persuades', not children that obey, but children that obey not: but parental guidance benefits not children that obey not, but children which obey."
"But", you ask, "How could 'all speak with tongues', v. 23, if Paul's scenario is a church which is conducted in the language of the region, with only sporadic foreigners? Verse 23 makes it sound like no one in the church spoke the regional language!"
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 [Gr. "idiotus", meaning untrained in the language], or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
Paul's goal for the church was a common language, with translators until that happens. But obviously, the fact that Paul needed to spell out this goal proves that Paul was responding to a church where people routinely spoke in languages others could not follow. In America, we are spoiled: we are 300 million strong, with a common language, and even regional accents are understandable, and even most foreigners learned our language in their home countries! And yet even here we have met a few immigrants who struggle with English. In Paul's travels the problem was far worse.
But we need not assume it was so bad that literally "everyone" spoke in a foreign language. It is a common, everyday literary device to illustrate a point with an extreme scenario. Viz., To the extent that "those that are unlearned [in a language], or unbelievers" enter and hear nothing but languages which mean nothing to them, in a region where they should reasonably expect to hear at least someone speaking a language they know, they will justifiably think you crazy.
By the way, in case you need a Scripture to confirm that behavior which makes unbelievers justifiably assume you are crazy is not good behavior, there is Colossians 4:5 and Ephesians 5:15.
Colossians 4:5 Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time [with urgency, knowing time is short, knowing time is precious, saving time from being lost].
Ephesians 5:15 See then that ye walk circumspectly [Gr: "according to the strictest school"], not as fools, but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Chapter 14's next treatment of tongues:
...26. How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
Here "tongue" is a separate contribution from "interpretation".
"But", you say, "didn't you note earlier that verses 5 and 13 emphasize that the person who interprets should be the same person as the one who knows the foreign language? Does verse 26 cancel this point?"
Verse 26 does not undermine the common sense point of verses 5 and 13. But while every church's prayer should be for every foreigner to quickly become fluent in the language of the region, this prayer is not always answered instantly. It is in the meanwhile that it will be possible to fellowship with him only if someone else helps translate for him, v. 26
Actually, the Greek word in v. 26 describes not only the skill of translation, but an entirely separate skill. "Interpretation" comes from a different Greek word in this verse than in verses 5 and 13. There the word, diermehneueh, specifies the interpretation of languages. Here it is hermeneia, the root of our "Hermeneutics", which is the study of Biblical interpretations. It means to explain clearly "what has been spoken of, obscurely, by others" according to Logos. Arndt-Gingrich says it means "1. to explain, interpret; or explain, discourse, without the idea of interpreting. 2. translate."
In other words, the primary definition means when someone else does a poor job of expressing themselves, you step in and help them say what they mean. "Clarification" would be a precise translation. When two members disagree over some matter because of misunderstanding, a third member could offer hermeneia in order to resolve the difference. In this case, the word might be translated "resolution", "reconciliation", or "mediation".
The Logos definition, by saying "spoken of, obscurely, by others" almost rules out "spoken of others in a foreign language", since messages in foreign languages are not merely obscure, which means only partially incomprehensible. They are utterly, completely incomprehensible. The word can also properly be translated "translate", but the particular sort of translation described suggests not the translation of a foreign language into a familiar language, but of a complicated idea into simple terms.
"But", you say, "this verse says 'every one of you hath a tongue'. Even if this means only a few of you 'hath a tongue' while the rest contribute other things, isn't 'a tongue' presented here as a contribution? You've been portraying 'tongues' as mere fluency in another language, something useful only outside church, when you are witnessing to people who speak that other language. You've been saying that in the church, it serves no purpose to speak any other language besides the language familiar to the assembly. Are you now admitting that the speaking of another language, besides the familiar language, can benefit a church service?"
Why of course! For whatever time there may be between a foreigner's prayer for fluency in the language of the region, and God's answer to that prayer, how will the foreigner be able to understand what is said, unless someone with "a tongue" translates for him?
When someone translates the group discussion for the benefit of a foreigner, he is exercising "the gift of tongues". When the foreigner has ideas to contribute, the very same person "interprets". There is nothing mysterious or unusual about this use of language, where "speaking in a foreign language" and "interpretation" are activities attributed to the same person. Nor is there anything even slightly unusual about using the word "interpretation", in a translation situation, to refer to interpreting what an individual tells a group, and then translating, for that individual, what the group is discussing.
The use of language which is so unusual that it has no precedent outside Pentecostal theology, is to claim that it is possible for fluency in a language, and ability to interpret that same language, to be mutually exclusive skills! Such a concept is only possible if you believe you can claim fluency in a language of which you cannot understand a single word! And that you can claim to interpret a language of which you cannot understand a single word!
"But", you say, "up till now, haven't you been telling us that the verses about 'speaking in tongues' deal with foreigners fluent only in a foreign language, and not in the local church language? Are you now flip flopping and admitting 'speaking in tongues' is about someone who knows the local language, but whom God has also blessed with fluency in an 'unknown tongue'?"
Let's review the kinds of people portrayed as speaking in tongues.
Verse 2 says no one understands a man who speaks in an unfamiliar language. This is so, whether the speaker knows the local language too, or not.
Verse 4 says he who speaks in an unknown language doesn't edify anybody but himself. This is so, whether the speaker knows the local language too, or not.
Verse 5 says it is more helpful to bring a message from God in the local language, than to talk in a language nobody knows. The implication is that the person is able to talk in the local language.
Verse 6 says speaking in a foreign language is a waste of time, compared with revelation, knowledge, prophecy, and teaching in the local language. The implication is that the person is not fluent in the local language.
Verse 9 says an unfamiliar language communicates no more than the wind blowing. This is so, whether the speaker knows the local language too, or not.
Verse 11 says two people talking to each other, when neither knows the other's language, sound like foreigners to each other. The scenario is clearly that neither knows the other's language.
Verse 13 says he who is fluent in a foreign language should pray for fluency in the local language ("that he may interpret"). Clearly the foreigner does not yet know the language of the region.
Verse 14 says if I pray (out loud) in an unfamiliar language, my insights cannot bear fruit in my hearers. This is so, whether the speaker knows the local language too, or not.
Verse 15 vows to pray with the spirit and mind, meaning in the local language; clearly the scenario is someone who knows the local language. Or at least is determined to learn it.
Verse 16 says a blessing in a foreign language leaves everybody guessing when to clap, or whether to laugh or cry, or when to say "Amen". The context of the surrounding verses shows the speaker is able to choose to speak in the local language.
Verses 18-19 say Paul is more multi-lingual than anyone there, yet 5 words in their language mean more than all the languages he has ever spoken. Obviously Paul knows the local language.
Verse 23 says if every language is spoken except the language of the region, visitors will think you are nuts. Paul is telling the church to do a much better job of limiting discussion to the regional language.
Finally, verse 26, some know a foreign language, and others can interpret. The fact that fluency in a foreign language is presented as a contribution to the church, rather than an obstacle to be surmounted, implies that the scenario is people also fluent in the local language.
In summary, there is no new definition of "tongues" here. The scenario has been changing from one verse to the next, regarding whether the "speaker of tongues" also knows the local language, since the beginning of the chapter.
There is one thing new in verse 26, in the perception of this study: in this verse, for the first time, "tongues" is presented as a contribution to the church, rather than an obstacle to be surmounted.
This is only because the Corinthians began with an unrestrained adoration of foreign languages, so Paul needed to give them 12 (count 'em) 12 reasons the usefulness of tongues is limited. But did Paul ever say fluency in other languages is of no use within a church service whatsoever? Of course not. Several of the reasons not to use tongues even implied ways to use tongues correctly. So now, at the end of his list, Paul simply lists tongues as just one of many skills the church needs, now that, hopefully, the church has learned to keep tongues in their place.
....26. How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
There's that word "edifying" again, which, as we have seen, can only happen when people understand the language spoken.
27 If any man speak in an [unknown] tongue, [let it be] by two, or at the most [by] three, and [that] by course [Gr: ana meros, "alternately"]; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
In other words, if a foreigner has something to say, let him alternate with an interpreter. At the most, let them go three at a time: two foreigners, and one interpreter. If there is no interpreter, there is no point in letting him speak in church, unfortunate as that is. He will just have to keep his thoughts between himself and God.
39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
How many churches today would permit a foreigner, even with a translator, to address the assembly? How many churches, even among the "tongues-speaking churches", would permit a genuine "tongue" to be heard?
In Des Moines, I know of church services in Laotian, Nuer (Sudanese), and Spanish. In Spanish services, there are interpretations, so that both Hispanics and Americans may understand. Although Des Moines has nearly 1,000 Sudanese, more Laotians, several thousand Hispanics, and groups speaking other languages who number in the hundreds or thousands, I know of no non-ethnic church which makes an effort to accommodate them.
Paul says everyone in church should "covet" to preach, and genuine tongues should not be prohibited. I'm afraid "churches" today practice the opposite: hardly anyone wants to allow preaching, beyond one or two per congregation; and genuine foreign languages are not permitted during services. Even churches which encourage Biblically unprecedented tongues, have no interest in accommodating Biblically defined tongues.
"Let all things be done decently and in order." In our technological age, the United Nations has demonstrated how people can communicate across language barriers as naturally as if there were no barriers. All it takes is a person very fluent in both languages in a sound proof booth, listening to the speaker before the assembly, and translating into a microphone as fast as the speaker talks. Those who need the translation are in the auditorium, listening to it on headphones. This setup is well within the means of any modern church, without even having to purchase new equipment other than headphones and wires.
Even if you cannot agree with my interpretation of "tongues" passages as addressing only language barriers -- even if you still feel certain today's practice of speaking in "tongues" which literally NO one understands is what the Bible is talking about -- PLEASE consider whether Paul's instructions to the Corinthians serve the additional purpose of addressing language barriers, which is a very real problem unnecessarily separating the Body of Christ today.
Back to the first of the links that might have brought you to Appendix 7, where it says "(In fact, speaking in tongues communicates no information whatsoever, and should not even be allowed in church without an interpreter. For more detail, see Appendix 7, Chapter One, "Speaking in Tongues"."
Back to the second of the links that might have brought you to Appendix 7, right after where it says "(Whether the modern practice known as "speaking in tongues" is the same as the Biblical practice, or whether God gave it to this age, is immaterial to the point of this chapter: so the main section of this chapter won't address that issue. That issue is of interest, however, to anyone wanting to understand what a Corinthian church service is like, so it is addressed in Appendix 7. )
Back to the third of the links that might have brought you to Appendix 7, where the text has just said: "Here again are verses which tell us how to conduct an orderly public discussion in church, even though these verses are traditionally applied only to the question of tongues/foreign languages. (See Appendix 7 for an analysis of what these verses say directly about tongues.)"
Back to the fourth of the links that might have brought you to Appendix 7 -- right after where it says "(Verses 22 and 23 say nothing about our subject which I am able to extract. They are about speaking in tongues. So for my analysis of them, see Appendix 7."
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