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CHAPTER 3-section 5

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" supernaturally.

"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 speaketh mysteries."

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.


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