Chapter 14 provides most of the statements
used by glossolalists in their attempts to form a sound basis for their
position, beginning with the first verse and continuing almost
uninterruptedly through to verse 40. (Words supplied by the King James
translators are shown within brackets here and in the following
pages.) "For he that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue speaketh not
unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth [him], howbeit in the
spirit he speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to
edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an
[unknown] tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the
church. 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."
1 Corinthians 14:2-5.
Considering the many languages spoken in
Corinth because of its cosmopolitan nature, certain members of the
congregation undoubtedly were able to converse fluently in more than one
"tongue" due to their association with the foreigners. Also,
there must have been many who had received the "gift of tongues"
"Do you speak a language?" is a
question often asked Americans of foreign extraction, not with the intent
of inquiring into their ability to speak English, but rather to inquire if
they can speak a foreign language or a foreign tongue. When someone
queries, "How many languages do you speak?" they most certainly
do not want to know whether the subject speaks English; that’s pretty
obvious. They want to know how many other languages, and this is precisely
the issue in Corinthians.
When Paul states, "He that speaketh
in a tongue speaketh not unto men but unto God," he is simply saying
that if you speak with a tongue or an intelligent foreign language in
church (that he is speaking of activities within the church is indicated
in the remainder of the chapter), you really only speak to God, for no one
else understands it. In other words, he is saying, "in the spirit he
Prophesy! Speak for God! Paul exclaims.
At least that edifies the church. The speaker in tongues, on the other
hand, only edifies himself, that is, makes himself look important since he
himself is his only listener.
Somewhat attempting to soften his
approach, but not without failing to reemphasize his position, Paul
counsels, I wish you would all speak in languages, but I’d prefer that
you’d prophesy, for that is far superior to speaking in languages unless
you have it interpreted so that it may benefit the church. See 1 Cor.
14:2-5. Clearly Paul does not forbid foreigners to use their languages in
the church; but he strongly desires their comments to be translated for
the good of the church. Here Paul is specifically speaking to people who
were employing the gift of glossolalia incorrectly within the church
instead of using it to evangelize Corinth, or to those who were using a
learned language within the church to make it appear that they too had
received a gift from the Spirit, or lastly to those who used their native
(foreign) tongue in worship services. Inasmuch as they had a common
language, there was no apparent need for "tongues" within the
church—hence Paul’s admonition.
In verse 6 Paul goes a step further:
"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?"
Simple but straightforward counsel! Paul
undoubtedly used many diverse languages on his missionary journeys. But
how would it benefit the church if he should come to them speaking in
tongues they were unable to understand? And then Paul makes a comparison
intended to erase all possible misconceptions.