Language Or Gibberish?
This article is written with the idea of providing a means to get started in this study. It is by no means an effort to answer every question or give you all the proof you need. To truly understand, you need to do some research on your own. Most of the Scriptures quoted are from The Interlinear Bible, by Jay P. Green, Sr., as general editor and translator.
Speaking in tongues - is it necessary to do so to be classified as a true follower of Yahweh? What is meant by tongues? Does it refer to real languages? Or to useless gibberish that someone "claims" to interpret? Of what value are tongues in today's churches? Are tongues proof of conversion or only of ego and immaturity?
In Webster's Columbia Concise Dictionary, besides being a part of the human body, a tongue is defined as "speech; the whole sum of words used by a particular nation; a language; a nation as distinguished by their language."
The subject of tongues must be one of the most misunderstood, confusing subjects. Most believe that it refers to a super-natural taking over of the body and tongue; to gibberish. The following quotes are just a few examples of the beliefs extant today.
From the Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible, by Herbert Lockyer, Sr., editor, pages 1060-1061 -
"Gift of Tongues - the Spirit-given ability to speak in languages not known to the speaker or in an ecstatic language that could not normally be understood by the speaker or the hearers.
"Apparently the only possibly direct reference in the Old Testament to speaking in another tongue or language is found in Isaiah 28:11 - 'For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people.' This seems to be a reference to an invasion of the Assyrian. They apparently would speak in another language, one probably unknown to the people of Israel.
"In an appearance to His disciples after His resurrection, Jesus declared, 'and these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues' (Mark 16:17).
"On the Day of Pentecost, the followers of Christ 'were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance' (Acts 2:4). The people assembled in Jerusalem for this feast came from various Roman provinces representing a variety of languages. They were astonished to hear the disciples speaking of God's works in their own languages. Some have suggested that the miracle was in the hearing rather than in the speaking. This explanation, however, would transfer the miraculous from the believing disciples to the multitude who may not have been believers.
"Tongues as a gift of the Spirit is especially prominent in I Corinthians 12 and 14. In I Corinthians 12 the phenomenon of tongues is listed with other gifts of the Spirit under the term gifts. As one of the several gifts given to believers as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, tongues is intended, with the other gifts, to be exercised for the building up of the church and the mutual profit of its members.
"In I Corinthians 14 Paul deals more specifically with the gift of tongues and its exercise in the church. In this chapter, the tongue is not an intelligible language, for it cannot be understood by the listeners. Therefore, a parallel to the gift of tongues is the gift of interpretation. The gift of tongues was used as a means of worship, thanksgiving and prayer.
"The gift of tongues is to be exercised with restraint and in an orderly way.
"The phenomenon of speaking in tongues described in the New Testament is not some psychological arousal of human emotions that results in strange sounds. This is a genuine work of the Holy Spirit."
From The Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M Metzger and Michael D Coogan, page 255 -
"Glossolalia (from Grk, glossai, 'tongues, languages,' and lalein, 'to speak') - is a phenomenon of intense religious experience expressing itself in ecstatic speech. It is found in several religions, and in Christianity is understood to be a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
"Explicit New Testament references to speaking in tongues are confined to I Corinthians 12-13 and three passages in Acts (2:1-13; 10:46; 19:6). While Paul and the author of Acts both affirm that tongues are a gift of the Spirit, their portrayals of the experience are very different. Paul, who himself had shared the experience (I Cor. 14:18), describes speaking in tongues as unintelligible to others unless a further gift of interpretation enables it to be more than private devotion, and he contrasts tongues and prophecy (I Cor. 12:30; 14:5). Luke's description of Pentecost understands these 'other tongues' (Acts 2:4) as intelligible proclamation, and he links tongues and prophesy (Acts 2:16-18; 19:6).
"Paul replies to questions and assertions put to him by the Corinthian church. As with other matters in Corinth, Paul is disturbed by the self-centeredness of those who prize and parade their piety while neglecting the love that builds up the community. … He suggests that undue preoccupation with tongues represents immaturity (I Cor. 13:11; 14:20) rather than maturity, and he limits the use of tongues in the church's assembly (I Cor. 14:27-28).
"Luke's account of Pentecost may include residual traces of the unintelligible speech that Paul describes, for he reports that some had charged those who had received the Spirit with drunkenness (Acts 2:13). But Luke interprets the tongues as known languages, and Pentecost as the reversal of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9), where a confusion of languages had divided the human community."
From Sacred Origins of Profound Things, by Charles Panati, pages 172-173 -
"Speaking in tongues - The Holy Spirit was for early Christians also a tonic for heightened consciousness through the 'gift of tongues': to utter with fluency a range of sounds outside normal speech - and sense. The phenomenon, known as 'glossolalia' (Gr glossa, 'tongue' + lalein, 'to prattle'), experienced a vogue during the apostolic age, though Saint Paul doubted its value.
"The gift of tongues is mentioned in the New Testament in the Acts of the Apostles, and it has occasioned a great deal of hand-wringing and soul-searching. What happened on the first Pentecost, when the apostles were understood by listeners of many different languages, is clearly a miracle of some sort. An apostle would speak in his own language of, say, Aramaic, but miraculously he would seem to be speaking in Greek to a listener who understood only that language. This is a miracle that the Church has never been comfortable with.
"By mid-second century, speaking in tongues already was frowned upon, ascribed to the hysteria of demonic possession. In our own century, it has made a resurgence both in America and in Europe, spawning new Pentecostal faiths, a burgeoning form of Latin American Protestantism, and believers who call themselves 'charismatics,' from the Greek for 'gift of God's grace'."
From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, volume 4, page 2995 -
"Gift of Tongues -- …I Corinthians 14 contains such a full and clear account that this passage is basic. The speaker in a tongue addressed God (vs 2, 28) in prayer (ver 14), principally in the prayer of thanksgiving (vs 15-17). The words so uttered were incomprehensible to the congregation (vs 2, 5, 9, etc), and even to the speaker himself (ver 14). … The words were spoken 'in the spirit' (ver 2); i.e., the ordinary faculties were suspended and the Divine, specifically Christian, element in the man took control, so that a condition of ecstasy was produced. This immediate (mystical) contact with the Divine enabled the utterance of 'mysteries' (ver 2) - things hidden from the ordinary human understanding.
"… the word for 'tongue' (glossa) is of fairly common use in Greek to designate obsolete or incomprehensible words, and, specifically, for the obscure phrases uttered by an oracle.
"A complete explanation of the tongues is given by the phenomena of ecstatic utterances, especially when taken in connection with the history of New Testament times. In ecstasy the soul feels itself so suffused with the Divine that the man is drawn above all natural modes of perception (the understanding becomes 'unfruitful'), and the religious nature alone is felt to be active. Utterances at such times naturally become altogether abnormal. If the words remain coherent, the speaker may profess to be uttering revelations, or to be the mere organ of the Divine voice. Very frequently, however, what is said is quite incomprehensible, although the speaker seems to be endeavoring to convey something. In a still more extreme case the voice will be inarticulate, uttering only groans or outcries. At the termination of the experience the subject is generally unconscious of all that has transpired.
"The account in Acts 2 differs from that of I Corinthians 14 in making the tongues foreign languages, although the ability to use such languages is not said to have become a permanent apostolic endowment. When the descent of the Spirit occurred, those who were assembled together were seized with ecstasy and uttered praises to God. A crowd gathered and various persons recognized words and phrases in their own tongues; nothing more than this is said. … At times of intense emotional stress the memory acquires abnormal power, and persons may repeat words and even long passages in a foreign language, although they may have heard them only once. Now the situation at Jerusalem at the time of the Feast gave exactly the conditions needed, for then there were gathered pilgrims from all countries, who recited in public liturgical passages (esp. the Sehmoneh Esreh) in their own languages. These, in part, the apostles and the 'brethren' simply reproduced. Incomprehensible words and phrases may well have been included also, but for the dignity of the apostles and for the importance of Pentecost St. Luke naturally cared to emphasize only the more unusual side and that with the greatest evidential value.
"St. Paul's treatment of the tongues in I Corinthians 12-14 is a classical passage for the evaluation of religious emotionalism. Tongues are a Divine gift, the exercise is not to be forbidden.
"Ultra-emotionalistic outbreaks still cause the formation of eccentric sects among us, and every evangelist knows well-meaning but slightly weak individuals who make themselves a nuisance. On the other hand, a purely intellectual and ethical religion is rather a dreary thing. A man who has never allowed his religious emotions to carry him away may well be in a high state of grace - but he has missed something, and something of very great value."
From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, revised by Ivor H Evans, pages 1090-1091 -
"The gift of tongues - command of foreign languages; also the power claimed by the early church and by some later mystics of conversing in and understanding unknown tongues."
From The Growth of the Early Church, W A Carleton, p 32 -
"The external signs which accompanied the coming of the promised Spirit of power were a sound similar to the fierce roar of a mighty wind and an appearance of flaming tongues, one of which settled on each person present. This experience apparently included all the hundred and twenty and not merely the twelve. Becoming conscious of the power of the indwelling Spirit, they began to speak in other languages; or at least they were understood in other languages. Jews from many nations were present in Jerusalem. The enumeration of these national groups is listed in such an order as to imply the whole world. Indeed, the writer spoke of them as from 'every nation under heaven' (Acts 2:5). As the disciples spoke exalting and glorifying God, each present understood the words spoken in his own native tongue. This experience was quite different from the 'tongues' spoken of in I Corinthians 14, which were unintelligible without an interpreter. Luke evidently saw in this speaking in tongues a foreshadowing of the presentation of the gospel to all nations."
From After Jesus - The Triumph of Christianity, published by The Reader's Digest Association, Inc. --
From pages 25-26 -
"Now, on Pentecost, as the Spirit broke like a wave around them, the disciples began to understand Jesus' promise and to fulfill his commission. The whole company could not help but speak 'as the Spirit gave them utterance.' In the Pentecost event recorded in Acts, the disciples' words are not recounted but only how miraculously their speech was adapted for the occasion. Among the residents and pilgrims in Jerusalem were Jews and proselytes to Judaism from the whole known world - the nations comprising the Roman Empire and from beyond the empire in Parthia and Arabia. As the crowd listened, they recognized that they were not hearing the Aramaic or the Greek common in Jerusalem but the tongues peculiar to Cappadocia or Pamphylia or whatever country they had come from.
"This miracle was perhaps later understood to be more a symbol than a necessity for communication, since nearly everyone in Jerusalem could have comprehended Aramaic or Greek. But here in the first proclamation inspired by the Spirit, the divisions of humanity were symbolically overcome. Ever since the Tower of Babel described in Genesis 11:6-9, mankind had been divided and scattered by diverse languages. Now people were united, each understanding equally the utterance of God's word through the disciples. The event also focused attention of the fact that from the start, the news of Jesus was addressed to the vast Diaspora. As events unfolded, these Jews from across the world became the principal conduit for the proclamation in its early years.
"These people were not drunk, Peter told them, after all it was only 'the third hour of the day' (9:00 A.M.). Rather the crowd was witnessing something far more profound, nothing less than the fulfillment of God's great promise that they knew from the prophet Joel - his promise that in 'the last days' God would pour out His Spirit not just on a few prophets but 'upon all flesh.' On sons and daughters, on young men and old, even on servants, 'I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy,' God had said. This was a cosmic event, as significant as the sun being turned to darkness or the moon rising blood-red."
From page 50 -
"Speaking in tongues (or glossolalia) was prevalent and the phenomenon was somewhat disparaged by Paul. He explained that prophecy is preferable, because it benefits the entire community: 'For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him….On the other h and, he who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.' Chanting singing, and preaching were rituals meant to unite the congregation. Speaking in tongues, Paul believed, could be valuable only if someone in the congregation were able to interpret the meaning."
From the Illustrated Dictionary of Bible Life and Times, published by Reader's Digest Association, Inc., page 352 -
"Languages are considered to be separate tongues, and Isaiah refers to foreign speech as an 'alien tongue' (Isaiah 28:11). At the Pentecost described in Acts of the Apostles, 'divided tongues, as of fire' (Acts 2:3) rested on the assembled apostles, miraculously enabling them to speak in actual foreign languages. The practice of glossolalia, or 'speaking in tongues' that are incomprehensible by ordinary means, was common in some early churches. The apostle Paul discussed the problem in I Corinthians 13 and gave a number of directives about the use of glossolalia, including that it was to be done in a non-threatening fashion and be accompanied by interpretation."
From Commentary on the Whole Bible, by Matthew Henry, volume 6 -
From page 14 -
Just imagine "The amazement with which these strangers were seized when they heard the disciples speak in their own tongues. It should seem, the disciples spoke in various languages before the people of those languages came to them; for it is intimated (v 6) that the spreading of the report of this abroad was that which brought the multitude together, especially those of different countries, who seem to have been more affected with this work of wonder than the inhabitants of Jerusalem themselves."
From page 458 -
"To another divers kinds of tongues, or ability to speak languages by inspiration. To another the interpretation of tongues, or ability to render foreign languages readily and properly into their own."
From page 465 -
"It is remarkable here that he (Paul) only compares prophesying with speaking with tongues. It seems this was the gift on which the Corinthians principally valued themselves. This was more ostentatious than the plain interpretation of scripture, more fit to gratify pride, but less fit to pursue the purposes of Christian charity; it would not equally edify nor do good to the souls of men.
"What cannot be understood can never edify. No advantages can be reaped from the most excellent discourses, if delivered in unintelligible language, such as the audience can neither speak nor understand: but he that prophesies speaks to the advantage of his hearers; they may profit by his gift. Interpretation of scripture will be for their edification; they may be exhorted and comforted by it. And indeed, these two must go together."
From page 466 -
"New revelations, the most clear explications of old ones, the most instructive discourses in themselves, would be unprofitable in a language not understood.
"To talk in an unknown language in a Christian assembly is altogether as vain and to no purpose as for a trumpet to give no certain sound in the field or day of battle.
"Words without a meaning can convey no notion nor instruction to the mind; and words not understood have no meaning with those who do not understand them: to talk to them in such language is to waste our breath.
"To speak in the church in an unknown tongue is to talk gibberish, it is to play the barbarian; it is to confound the audience, instead of instructing them; and for this reason is utterly vain and unprofitable."
From page 468 -
"Tongues were rather a sign to unbelievers than to believers (I Cor. 14:22). They were a spiritual gift, intended for the conviction of conversion of infidels, that they might be brought into the Christian church; but converts were to be build up in Christianity by profitable instructions in their own language. The gift of tongues was necessary to spread Christianity, and to gather churches; it was proper and intended to convince unbelievers of that doctrine which Christians had already embraced; but prophesying, and interpreting scripture in their own language were most for the edification of such as did already believe: so that speaking with tongues in Christian assemblies was altogether out of time and place; neither one nor the other was proper for it.
"The credit and reputation of their assemblies among unbelievers required them to prefer prophesying before speaking with tongues. For, if, when they were all assembled for Christian worship, their ministers, or all employed in public worship, should talk unintelligible language, and infidels should drop in, they would conclude them to be mad, to be no better than a parcel of wild fanatics.
"The Christian religion is a sober and reasonable thing in itself, and should not, by the ministers of it, be made to look wild or senseless."
From A Commentary, by Robert Jamieson, A R Fausset and David Brown, volume 6 -
From page 9 --
Acts 2:4 - "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues - real living languages, as is quite plain from what follows; as the Spirit gave - or 'continued giving' them utterance - implying a prolonged exercise of this strange faculty. The thing uttered - perhaps the same by all - was 'the wonderful works of God,' possibly in the language of the evangelical Hymns of the Old Testament; at all events, it is clear that the speakers themselves understood nothing of what they uttered."
From page 10 -
"But there is no ground for thinking that the Pentecostal utterances were a permanent gift of speaking in foreign languages, or that they were intended for any but the immediate purpose which they most completely served - to arrest the attention of multitudes of Jews from every land, and to afford them irresistible evidence that the predicted effusion of the Spirit 'in the last days' had now taken place."
From page 319 -
I Cor 12:10 - "kinds of tongues - the power of speaking various languages; also, a spiritual language unknown to man, uttered in ecstasy."
From page 323 -
I Cor 14:2 - " mysteries - unintelligible to the hearers, exciting wonder rather than instructing. Corinth, a mart for merchants from Asia, Africa, and Europe, would give scope for the exercise of the gift of tongues; but its legitimate use was in an audience understanding the tongue of the speaker, not in mere display."
I Cor 14:5 - "Translate, 'Now I wish you all TO speak with tongues (so far am I from objecting to tongues), but rather IN ORDER THAT (as my ulterior, higher wish) ye should prophesy.' Tongues must therefore mean languages, not ecstatic unintelligible rhapsodies: for Paul could never 'wish' for the latter in their behalf. greater - because more useful."
I Cor 14:9 - "by the tongue - the language which ye speak in. ye shall speak - ye will be speaking into the air - i.e., in vain."
I Cor 14:11 - "a barbarian - a foreigner. Not in our deprecatory sense of the term, but one speaking in a foreign language."
I Cor 14:19 - "I had rather - the Greek more literally expresses, 'I WISH to speak five words with my understanding (rather) than 10,000 words in an unknown tongue.' The Greek for 'I would rather' would be different. St. Paul would NOT wish at all to speak '10,000 words in an unknown tongue'."
From page 325 -
I Cor 14:23 - "whole…all…tongues - The more there are assembled, and that speak in unknown tongues, the more will the impression be conveyed to strangers 'coming in' from curiosity ('unbelievers,' whether knowing a foreign tongue or not), or even from a better motive ('unlearned,' ignorant of foreign tongues), that the whole body is a mob of fanatical 'madmen,' and that 'the Church is like the company of Babel builders after the confusion of tongues'."
From Unger's Bible Dictionary, by Merrill F Unger, page 1108 -
"Gift of Tongues - After our Lord's ascension, while the disciples were gathered together in one place, 'suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them (Acts 2:2,3). After this external phenomenon there now ensued the internal filling of all who were assembled with the Holy Spirit. The immediate result was that they began to speak with other tongues. For the sure determination of what Luke meant by this, it is decisive that heterais glossai 'other tongues', on the part of the speakers was, in point of fact, the same thing which the congregated Parthians, Medes, Elamites, etc., designated as 'our own tongue,' comp. V. 8. The 'other tongues,' therefore, are, according to the text, to be considered as absolutely nothing else than languages, which were different from the native language of the speakers. 'They, the Galileans, spoke, one Parthian, another Median, etc., consequently languages of another sort, i.e., foreign (I Cor. 14:21); and these indeed - the point wherein precisely appeared the miraculous operation of the Spirit - not acquired by study (Mark 16:17)' (Meyer, Com., in loc.). When the event is admitted to be distinctly miraculous, the power a special gift of God, it need not be considered either impossible or inconceivable; and incapacity of conceiving the modus operandi should not lead to a refusal of the credibility and certainty of the fact."
We've seen what man has interpreted these scriptures to mean. There are a lot of ideas propounded. Let's see if Yahweh's Word agrees with them or if there is something more. We will look at the scriptures that most discuss this subject, lastly checking I Corinthians 14 verse by verse.
Pentecost After Messiah
Just before He ascended to the Father, Yahshua told the disciples that the Spirit would come upon them within just a few days. They stayed, as He had said, in Jerusalem. During that time, they drew lots and replaced the dead Judas with Matthias, another witness of the deeds and resurrection of Yahshua. When the feast of weeks (Pentecost) came, they all met together in one place.
"And in the fulfilling of the day of Pentecost, they were all with one mind in the same place."
"And suddenly a sound came out of the heaven, as being borne along by a violent wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting."
"And tongues as of fire appeared to them were being distributed; and it sat on each one of them."
"And they were all filled of the set-apart spirit, and began to speak in other languages, as the spirit gave to them to speak."
The word "languages" in verse 4 is often translated "tongues." It is Strong's #1100 in Greek, glossa, meaning "the tongue; by implication, a language".
Notice, they were filled with the spirit - it doesn't say that it took over their body, mind or mouth. The spirit gave them the language - it gave them the ability to speak it. The noise of the spirit filling the room and the men speaking must have been loud - it drew attention and people came to see what was going on.
"And Jews were living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation of those under the heaven."
"But this sound occurring, the multitude came together and were confounded, because they each heard them speaking in his own dialect."
In all this, keep one thing in mind. These were not Gentiles and people unfamiliar with Yahweh. It says these were devout Jews. They knew the scriptures. What they heard was not the Hebrew of the torah - it was the language spoken in the parts of the world they came from. That also makes it clear this was not an "unknown" tongue or gibberish, but a known and understood language.
The scriptures go on to list the areas these men were from, showing the variety of languages. And what did they hear?
"… we hear them speaking the great deeds of Elohim in our own language."
They knew who Elohim was; the Yahweh of the torah. They knew the history. These tongues had a different meaning to them because of that history - a concept that is not in the mind of those who "speak in tongues" today.
Peter stood up and preached to them. At the end of his sermon, we find:
"And hearing, they were stabbed in the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, men, brothers, what should we do?"
"And Peter said to them, repent and be baptized, each of you on the name of Yahshua Messiah to forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the set-apart spirit."
"For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all those afar off, as many as Yahweh our Elohim shall call."
The people did as they were bid to do. They continued in the teaching, fellowship, sharing of meals and prayers.
"And fear came to every soul, and many wonders and miracles took place through the apostles."
Now they had just learned of the Messiah and accepted Him. They had been baptized and were learning how to follow Yahweh's way. What would they have to fear? (This is an explanation the writer of this article had never considered, but this concept is found in numerous resources.)
This is where their past history comes into play. It affected only the descendants of Jacob in this matter - the Gentiles and Greeks would not understand this. In earlier times, when Israel heard different languages among themselves, it had a meaning - they were under judgment. They were under punishment and realized the time had come for repentance.
"Because you did not serve Yahweh your Elohim with joyfulness and with gladness of heart for the abundance of all things."
"You shall serve your enemies whom Yahweh shall send on you, in hunger, and in thirst and in nakedness, and in lack of all things, and he shall put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you."
"Yahweh shall raise a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle flies; a nation whose tongue you will not understand."
Isaiah 28:11-12, 17
"For with stammering lip and another tongue, He will speak to this people."
"To whom he said; this is the rest; cause the weary to rest; also, this is the repose, but they willed not to hear."
"I will lay justice for a line, and righteousness for a plummet; and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of the lie; and the waters shall overflow the hiding place."
In verse 11, the word "stammering" is Strong's #3934, Hebrew la'eg, meaning "a buffoon; a foreigner". "Lip" is Strong's #8193, Hebrew saphah, meaning "the lip; by implication, language".
"Behold, I will bring a nation on you from far away, O house of Israel, declares Yahweh; it is an enduring nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language you do not know."
Yahweh was warning the people. He told them what was expected of them and that there would be judgment in the future. In other words, "You will know judgment is near when you hear the foreign languages among you."
The people in Jerusalem who heard the apostles speak knew of these warnings. They knew the past history and what happened to their ancestors. They had been conquered and taken to a foreign land to serve another king - one who spoke another language. So should there be any surprise that fear came to them?
At that time, the Messiah had just ascended to the Father a few days before. The disciples preached Yahweh's word in a call to repentance. These people then took those truths about what they had heard and witnessed back to their hometowns. And using their own languages, spread the word of Yahweh's truth and the Messiah's sacrifice.
In I Corinthians 12, Paul discusses the subject of spiritual gifts. He points out that there are numerous gifts given by Yahweh through His spirit.
I Corinthians 12:4
"But there are differences of gifts, but the same spirit."
And they are given at Yahweh's discretion.
I Corinthians 12:11, 18
"But the one and the same spirit works all these things, distributing separately to each as He wills."
"But now Elohim set the members, each one of them, in the body, even as He desired."
Yahweh decides for each person - which gift, how many, when, etc. No one else has any say in it. And no one else can take away what Yahweh gives. But it is clear that not every person has every gift.
I Corinthians 12:28-30
"And Elohim placed some in the church; firstly apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers; then works of power; then gifts of healing, helps, governings, kinds of languages."
"Are all apostles? All prophets? All teachers? All workers of power?"
"Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak languages? Do all interpret?"
These are basically rhetorical questions. But we know the answers are no. Not all the people are all of these things. That would be a waste. Besides, then who would they serve? We each have different talents and abilities.
I Corinthians 12:31
"But zealously strive after the better gifts; and yet I show you a way according to excellence."
And what would be the better gifts? Not the ones to glorify yourself, but the ones with which you can best serve Yahweh and His people.
The chapter that follows is about love. He makes the point that you can do all kinds of deeds and know all kinds of things. But without love for Yahweh and fellowman, the value of those deeds and that knowledge drops to nothing.
I Corinthians 13:8
"Love never fails. But if there are prophecies, they will be abolished; if tongues, they shall cease; if knowledge, it will be abolished."
So, although they may be among the spiritual gifts, prophesies, tongues, and knowledge are not the "be-all, end-all". They will come to an end - but love goes on.
I Corinthians 14
I Corinthians 14:1
"Pursue love, and seek eagerly the spiritual things, but rather that you may prophesy."
By telling them to pursue love, he is telling them that their attitudes and motives are important. That is something that all of them can do, not just selected ones. Which would be of more benefit to a congregation? Prophecies or speaking in tongues? Or the spirit of true love and concern for one another?
I Corinthians 14:2
"For the one speaking in a tongue does not speak to men, but to Elohim; for no one hears, but in spirit he speaks mysteries."
So what good would the tongues do? How can anyone be edified or taught if they don't understand the words? And how does it benefit Yahweh? He doesn't need anyone to teach or edify Him. Or how can anyone learn from mysteries? The mysteries were explained by Paul and the other apostles then. And what were they?
"Now I rejoice in my suffering on your behalf, and I fill up in my flesh the things lacking of the afflictions of Messiah, on behalf of His body, which is the church."
"Of which I became a minister, according to the administration of Elohim given to me for you to fulfill the word of Elohim."
"The mystery having been hidden from the ages, and from the generations, but now was revealed to His saints."
"To whom Elohim desired to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the nations, which is Messiah in you, the hope of glory."
I Corinthians 14:3
"But the one prophesying to men speaks for building up, and encouragement, and comfort."
This is what the people need, not tongues or mysteries that they cannot understand.
I Corinthians 14:4
"The one speaking in a tongue builds himself up; but the one prophesying builds up a church."
Those who insist on using tongues, when no one else can understand, is being selfish and is allowing his ego to rule him. The person speaking is not supposed to do so to build up himself - he is to be speaking to edify the congregation.
I Corinthians 14:5
"And I wish all of you to speak in languages, but rather that you may prophesy - for greater is the one prophesying than the one speaking in tongues, unless he interpret that the church may receive building up."
Paul simply said that he wished they could all speak in other languages. So it is obvious that they all did not!
What about the phrase "unless he interpret"? If the speaker could interpret and tell them what he meant, why didn't he just speak in their language in the first place? The only purpose served by speaking in tongues and then interpreting it yourself would be to stroke one's ego.
Now if this refers to a second person doing the interpretation, that's different. The other language would not edify the church - but the interpretation would.
I Corinthians 14:6
"But now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you, except I speak to you either in revelation, or in knowledge, or in prophecy, or in teaching?"
Paul is telling them that if he speaks to them using the gift of language, it will be of no benefit to them if they cannot understand it. But if he uses another gift instead, such as prophesy or teaching, in the language they understand, he will edify them - build them up.
I Corinthians 14:7-8
"Yet lifeless things giving a sound, whether pipe or harp, if they do not give a distinction in the sound, how will it be known what is being piped or harped?"
"For also if a trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who will get himself ready for war?"
If music played on a pipe or harp is off-key and off-beat, how could anyone sing or dance to it? Trumpets were used to send a message to a large group, whether to assemble, to get ready to march, to go to war, etc. If the person blowing the trumpet doesn't make clear his message, how would the people know what to do or what was expected of them?
I Corinthians 14:9
"So also you, if you do not give a clear word through the language, how will it be known what is being said? For you will be speaking into air."
So if the language you speak is not clearly understood, then no one will know what is being said. Right? "Speaking into air" - the sounds will permeate the air, but go no further. Maybe that's similar to us saying "he's just speaking into the wind." Don't we wonder about people when they mutter or chatter and no one can understand them? We have a tendency to move away from them, don't we? If people move away from you like that, how can you teach or edify them?
I Corinthians 14:10
"So it may be many kinds of sounds are in the world, and not one is without distinct sound."
It is saying that there are many kinds of sounds, speech or language, but that they may be unintelligible to the listener.
I Corinthians 14:11
"If then, I do not know the power of the sound, I will be a foreigner to the one speaking, and the one speaking is a foreigner to me."
In some versions, the word "foreigner" is rendered "barbarian." It is Strong's #915 in Greek, barbaros. It means "one of rude speech; the Greek description of foreign languages unintelligible to them." This continues to prove that these tongues referred to were proper human languages, not gibberish. But even then, if not interpreted, proper languages are of no value to those who do not understand them.
I Corinthians 14:12
"So also you, since you are zealots of spiritual things, seek to build up the church that you may abound."
Paul was telling them that if they wanted to receive and use spiritual gifts, yearn for things that would edify, build and benefit the whole assembly, not just one or two. This doesn't say we should simply covet the gift that sounds greatest to us, but strive for something that will help others.
I Corinthians 14:13-15
"So then, the one speaking in a language, let him pray that he may interpret."
"For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful."
"What then is it? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the mind; I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the mind."
He was saying that he did his work with both his spirit and his mind, meaning with his understanding. Both are needed, not just one, to make sense of things.
I Corinthians 14:16-17
"Else, if you bless in the spirit, the one occupying the place of the unlearned, how will he say the amen at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you say?"
"For you truly give thanks well, but the other is not built up."
If the person in the service was praying in an other tongue you did not understand, would you proclaim "Amen" at the end of it? Without knowing what you were saying "Amen" to?
What is meant by the "unlearned"? It is Strong's #2399, Greek idiotes. It means "private or untrained person." According to the Greek-English Lexicon by J H Thayer (p 297), it is defined "In the New Testament an unlearned, illiterate man, opposed to the learned, the educated." In other words it was those who had not studied a foreign language and could not understand the words of those who had received the gift of language.
Once again, that points to the fact that these were actual languages, not gibberish. How could you train anyone to understand gibberish if the sounds had no meaning?
You may pray well and be quite eloquent in a second language. But if the others in the room do not understand, what is it worth? How does it edify them?
For example, tune in to a radio station that uses Spanish, which you do not understand, with a friend who does understand it. Try listening to a news program or a lecture. How much would you get out of it? Would it leave you well-informed or edified?
I Corinthians 14:18
"I thank my El that I speak more languages than all of you."
Say what? Is he speaking thinking he is something great? No. He was grateful he could speak various languages since he was being sent out as a missionary. Can you imagine going to a different nation to teach Yahweh's truth, but not being able to speak the language? Paul needed that give to carry out the charge he had been given. Yahweh had given him that charge - he didn't simply take it upon himself.
I Corinthians 14:19
"But in a church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may also instruct others, than myriads of words in a foreign language."
He is saying that if he wishes to edify a group of people with words they would understand, it would be better to say very little, than to speak volumes of words that they could not understand.
I Corinthians 14:20
"Brothers, do not be children in your minds, but in malice be like infants, and in your minds be mature."
He is telling them not to behave childishly. They had been misusing the gift of tongues - their behavior was not that of a mature servant of Yahweh. He had already made the point they were still babes - and acted like it - when he said they needed to be fed with milk (I Cor 3:1-2).
I Corinthians 14:21-22
"It has been written in the law, by other tongues and by other lips I will speak to this people, and even so they will not hear me, says Yahweh."
"So that tongues are not a sign to those believing, but to those not believing; but prophecy is not to those not believing, but to those believing."
Here is where Paul refers to what we saw earlier in Deuteronomy, Isaiah and Jeremiah. These are the places where the people learned that the use of tongues or foreign languages in their midst was a sign of impending judgment. Something the Gentiles did not understand.
Notice this says that tongues are not a sign to the believing - they are of no value within the assembly. They realize that they are facing judgment and they are doing their best to follow Yahweh. It is those who are the unbelievers who need the witness of tongues. The tongues are to be used to reach people - not to reach Yahweh. Prophecy is for those within the congregation - to uplift and teach them. It is not for the unbeliever - their mind is not open to it.
I Corinthians 14:23
"Therefore, if the whole church comes together, and all speak in languages, and uninstructed ones or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you rave?"
In other words, if there is a group of people meeting together, all speaking in a different tongue all at the same time, anyone coming in will think they are all nuts; that they're all mad. People would be speaking, but there would be no understanding. What kind of witness would that be to a new person? It would be of value to no one.
I Corinthians 14: 24
"But if all prophesy, and some unbeliever or one not instructed comes in, he is convicted by all, he is judged by all."
But if there is prophesying - teaching and edifying - taking place, a newcomer can come in and learn.
I Corinthians 14: 25
"And so the secrets of his heart become revealed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship Elohim, declaring that Elohim is truly among you."
Also notice that is says one who comes to believe will fall on his face in worship of Yahweh. That would be an act of humility; bowing down to worship the Creator. Not like the Pentecostal and charismatic people who fall backwards when the spirit comes upon them; what they call being "slain in the spirit". There is nothing about that in the subject of spiritual gifts in the twelfth chapter.
I Corinthians 14:26
"Then, brothers, what is it? When you come together, each one of you has a psalm; he has a teaching; he has a language; he has a revelation; he has an interpretation; let all things be done for building up."
Apparently they each came with something each week - and all of them wanted the floor. He reminded them to be sure that the whole group was to be edified.
I Corinthians 14:27
"If one speaks in a language, let it be by two or three at the most; and in turn, also let one interpret."
Paul set standards for the churches to abide by. If they wanted to speak in another language and have their speech interpreted, there were to be no more than two or three throughout the whole meeting. This insists that for each language used, there was to be an interpreter. It also indicates that they were to take turns, one at a time.
I Corinthians 14:28
"And if there is no interpreter, let him be silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to Elohim."
This brings two points to mind. One is that if no one were there to interpret, the speaker was not to speak at all in that language: he was to remain quiet. The second point is that the speaker had to know what language he was speaking - so that he could check beforehand to see if there were an interpreter on hand. So it cannot be referring to unintelligible sounds; gibberish.
I Corinthians 14:29
"And if there are two or three prophets, let them speak, and let the others discern."
Paul tells them there could be more than one speaker at a meeting. He also says that the listeners are to discern or judge. They are to listen and determine if the speakers were speaking the truth of Yahweh, led by the set-apart spirit.
I Corinthians 14;30
"But if a revelation is revealed to another sitting by, let the first be silent."
As the group listens to a speaker, a message or answer may be given to another in the room. He should be allowed to explain it; the original speaker listening to him. The floor is to be shared, along with give and take on the part of the speakers, but only one at a time.
I Corinthians 14:34-35
"Let your women be silent in the churches, for it is not allowed to them to speak, but to be in subjection, as also the law says."
"But if they desire to learn anything, let them question their husbands at home; for it is a shame for a woman to speak in a church."
This raises a totally different subject that will not be addressed here, except to say that there are many who explain and "prophesy" their way around these statements. The wrest and twist the scriptures so that the women may have the floor. They cannot accept these words for what they simply say.
I Corinthians 14:36
"Or did the word of Elohim go out from you? Or did it reach only to you?"
This is more or less sarcastic. "You think you are the only one who can do this? Or you are the only one who understands and has received this from Yahweh?" Or is it still referring to the women? Asking them from where their authority came?
I Corinthians 14:37
"If anyone thinks to be a prophet, or a spiritual one, let him recognize what I write to you, that they are a command of Yahweh."
Which is it? Does a person have a true gift from Yahweh? Or is it only in his own mind? Whichever, it should be recognized that through Paul, Yahweh laid out specific conditions and limitations - certain parameters in which the congregations were to function.
I Corinthians 14:38
"But if any be ignorant, let him be ignorant."
To those who disagree or want to argue with what is said here, just let them be. They choose to remain ignorant and disobedient of Yahweh's desires.
I Corinthians 14:39
"So then, brothers, seek eagerly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in languages."
The men are to be eager to serve Yahweh and to teach and uplift others. They are to share the truth and joy of Yahweh. But he also tells them not to forbid the use of languages - if the criteria are followed.
I Corinthians 14:40
"And let all things be done decently and in order."
Yahweh has always done things in an orderly manner - and He expects the same of us.
Two More "Proofs"
There are two other verses that people use to promote the idea of tongues. They feel that these give validation to them and what they are doing.
"And signs will follow to those believing these things: they will cast out demons in my name; they will speak new languages."
If He was sending them to all areas of the known world to witness for Him, this should not be surprising. The answer is one of two options: either they would learn new languages, or He would give them the miracle of tongues as they needed, just as He did the disciples on that Pentecost. But in order to teach other people, it would have to be known languages, not something unutterable.
"And likewise the spirit also joins in to help our weakness; for we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the spirit himself pleads our case for us with groanings that cannot be uttered."
"Groanings" are Strong's #4726, the Greek stenagmos, meaning "a groaning, a sigh."
Of course, these are unutterable. If you hear someone moan, groan, or sigh, how would you speak that in a word that other people would understand? You can't! It's simply a sound. But it conveys a feeling, an emotion. Yahweh can know that we feel depressed, sad, unhappy, worried, etc., simply by these sounds - and He knows what we need before we can even find the words to know how to ask.
So what about today? Does this gift still exist? Not to the extent it once did, but surely, if there were a need, as there was at that Pentecost, Yahweh would fill the need. He did it then, He can do it again. There are people who do study languages and can read, write and speak in more than one tongue. They can certainly be used in the service of Yahweh. Sometimes a newcomer can come into a congregation that speaks and understands more easily in a language other than English. If someone in the congregation has the gift of knowing that language, he would certainly be a help in explaining Yahweh's ways to the newcomer. Or how about translating tapes to go to another country? Or translating booklets and articles? There is a large world out there - with many people yearning for Yahweh's truth.
What we need to do is to search ourselves individually. Find out exactly what your talents, abilities and gifts are. It may take some prayer before you have a sure answer. But once you figure it out, get to work and do the job Yahweh has for you. Don't try to be something you aren't, or try to take on a gift that has not been given to you.