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 interpreterhas 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. ).
All these "varieties of gifts" are interlocked and equal, coming from
the same Source 3/4 the Holy Spirit.