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CHAPTER 3-section 6

"And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air." Verses 7-9.

His reference to trumpet sounds during battle is especially meaningful, as even in recent times military commands to retreat or attack were given via the trumpet or bugle. Only when these sounds were distinct and clear could their true meaning be understood by the armies. Confusing sounds would meet with disastrous results. Once again Paul cautions against the use of sounds other than those normally used. "For ye shall speak into the air."

Having pointed to the trumpet sound as an example to some-ex-warriors perhaps who had been converted to Christianity and who now were practicing tongues within the congregation-Paul continues by relating another example.

"There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me." Verses 10, 11.

Many Bible translations—RSV, NASB, TEV, Phillips, Weymouth, Goodspeed, Moffatt—have translated the original word used for "voices" to "languages," a meaning generally endorsed by New Testament scholars. Consequently, what Paul is referring to is that there are many languages in the world, but without knowing what the speaker is saying, both speaker and hearer will be as strangers to one another. By saying this he attempts to point out once more the absurdity of their actions, but this time he directed his counsel to those in the church who had the ability to speak either supernaturally supplied or intellectually learned languages. He continues, "wherefore let him that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an [unknown] tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also." Verses 13-15.

Different meanings may be attached to verse 13. Possibly he means that someone who speaks in a language should pray that someone else in the congregation would receive the ability to interpret for him, or it could mean that he should pray that someone else might receive the power to explain what he had just been saying. Verse 14 points to the first conclusion, for Paul compares it to a prayer uttered in a language and continues to state that in such case the spirit prays, but the action of the mind produces no results, no fruits, and is thus "unfruitful."

In corporate worship, public prayer is offered to God as an expression of the love and devotion of the entire congregation. If spoken, however, in a "foreign" language, its function as part of the corporate worship ceases. Then in verse 15, Paul ties both the "spirit" and the "understanding" together. Dr. Waiter Specht, a New Textament theologian at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan offers this comment: "He who preaches the sermon in a worship service is speaking for God to the people. He who offers the prayer is speaking for the people to God. It requires an intelligent exercise of the mind as well as the spirit to meet this sacred responsibility."

Both spirit and understanding are a necessity for an intelligent communication in praying and in singing. Paul adds that if one prays with the spirit alone while in the company of the "unlearned" it won’t give them a reason to say Amen, because they will not be able to understand the meaning of the sound they heard. Public response to a prayer has always been important. The word "Amen," Hebrew for "so be it," is a standard ending to a Christian prayer, and when members of a congregation join in a corporate prayer and make it their own, they signify this by repeating this word. Yet how could this be done if the language used in the prayer was unintelligible?

Says Paul, speaking of this type of prayer, "For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified." Verse 17.

Glossolalists invariably quote verse 18 of Chapter 14 to prove that Paul himself spoke in unknown tongues: "I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all." But Paul adds in the following verse: "Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that [by my voice] I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an [unknown] tongue." Verse 19.


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