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Speaking in and Interpretation of Tongues


The gift of "interpretation of tongues" was needed because the "speaker of tongues," the glossolalist, was not understood by the people. "Glossolalia" is the original Greek word meaning "tongue" (glossa) and "talking" (lalia); it implies the faculty of speaking with tongues (languages). This Greek word "glossolalia" as a term came into use during the 19th century, although in the New Testament era "speaking in tongues" was a common phenomenon. This practice of speaking in languages and dialects is recorded in two places in the New Testament, Acts chapter 2 and 1 Corinthians chapter 14. Glossolalia in these two passages meant utterances expressed by individuals to God in exotic manner, but in human speech. When a language was unknown to the people, an interpreter was used. However, many who used this glossolalia spoke in unfamiliar tongues, and those who heard did not understand or benefit from what was said.

Apostle Paul speaks to the Corinthians concerning the "speaking in tongues." He said: "One who speaks in a tongue (foreign language or dialect) speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit" (1 Cor. 14:2). Paul compares the utterances of the speaker of tongues with prophesy (preaching) and he supports the validity of prophesy because: "He who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation" (v. 3). Paul stresses the point that the learning of the teachings of Christianity is first and foremost for the believer; this is the primary mission of the Church. Therefore, those who speak in foreign languages which are unknown to the people are not serving the church but themselves. Paul says: "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies (preaches) edifies the church" (v. 4). Paul makes the comparison between speaking in tongues and preaching: "He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in tongues" (v. 5).

It is clear here by Paul's explanation that speaking in tongues without an interpreter has no value for the people 3/4 the Church. Paul emphasizes this point by saying: "If I come to you speaking in tongues, how shall I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophesy or teaching?" (v. 6). Apostle Paul concludes his admonition: "If you in a tongue utter speech that is not intelligible, how will any one know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.... But if I do not know the meaning of the languages, I shall be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me" (vs. 9, 11). As it is with teaching it is also with prayer, which must be understood by the people. Otherwise the speaking of prayers in tongues is in vain. "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful" (v. 14). Therefore, "I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also" (v. 15). The same applies to singing and to blessings. "Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how can any one in the position of an outsider (without gifts) say the 'Amen' to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified" (vs. 16-17).

Apostle Paul discourages the practice of "speaking in tongues" inasmuch as the people do not benefit, for "in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue" (v. 19). Paul makes himself clear as being against "speaking in tongues": "Thus, tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers. . . . If, therefore, the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, and outsiders of unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?" (v. 22). If there are speakers in tongues without one to interpret, "Let each one of them keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God" (v. 28). Paul does not oppose the practice of "speaking in tongues" provided that the language of the speaker can be made known by the people either by using the languages understood or using an interpret to convey the meaning to the people. For Paul, religious instruction of the people is the most important work of the church. "For you can all prophesy (preach) one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged" (v. 31).

The varieties of gifts mentioned here, as well as those in Romans (12:6-8), "are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills" (1 Cor. 12:11). All these "varieties of gifts" are interlocked and equal, coming from the same Source 3/4 the Holy Spirit.

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