Most glossolatists agree that the tongue-speaking recorded in Acts 2:6-11 refers to speaking in foreign languages as verses 8-11 clearly state. When the disciples received the holy Spirit at Pentecost, they spoke in foreign tongues. What was the result? Jews, gathered in Jerusalem from many lands, heard the Gospel in their own languages. Tongues-speaking today is not in foreign languages. Rather it takes the form of exstatic unintelligible utterances and it is claimed that the speaking in tongues discussed in chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians refers not to the foreign languages of Acts 2:6-11, but to ecstatic utterances.

Unintelligible ecstatic utterances miss the basic Scriptural logic for the gift of tongues. Tongues-speaking in foreign languages was Bable reversed. Genesis 11:1-9 reveals that as the human race was repopulating after the Noahian flood, they still spoke one language. Instead of migrating throughout the earth, mankind alienated from God, concentrated together to build the city of Babel with its tower to reach unto heaven. What a monument this would be to man's united ability. But from God's perspective it was a monument of sinful man's unity to perform every evil imagination. (Gen. 11:5; Rom. 1:21) For their won eternal welfare it was better that they be scattered abroad to minimize the leavening effect of sin upon each other. To accomplish this, God "confound[ed] their [one] language, that they may not understand one another's speech." (Gen.11:7) This was the beginning of diversified languages. Becoming foreigners to each other resulted in their migrating throughout the earth. It was detrimental for man to dwell together in his sinful condition.

The picture changed when Jesus died to redeem sinful man. This good news (the word Gospel means good news) was now ready to be proclaimed to all the world. But there was a language barrier. God by the gift of tongues bridged the language barrier invoked at Babel. Now this message of reconciliation could be proclaimed to all nations. Faithful Christians evangelized the Roman World by means of the gift of tongues, the ability to speak in foreign languages, until there was a sufficient number of Christians to conduct this witness by less miraculous operations of the holy Spirit. This whole scriptural logic of Babel, and Babel bridged for the proclamation of the Gospel, is lost if tongues-speaking is unintelligible syllables.

If the gift of tongues today is ecstatic utterances, what a waste. For as Harold Lindsell observed in a Christianity Today article, "there is no known case in which a missionary received the gift of speaking the language of the group he sought to reach. Missionaries have always had to learn to speak the required languages the hard way." It would seem logical that the gift of tongues in Acts 2:6-11 and 1 Corinthians 12-14 were the same. However, we are not left to humans reasoning in this matter. First Corinthians 14:21 provides a proof that tongues as used in 1 Corinthians 14 means foreign languages as in Acts 2:6-11. Indeed 1 Corinthians 14:21 refers to and Old Testament prophecy on tongues-speaking that was fulfilled in Acts 2:6-11. In connection with saying in 1 Corinthians 14:22 that "tongues are a sign not to them that believe but to them that believe not," Paul says in verse 21, "In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak to this people; and yet for all that they will not hear me, saith the Lord." From where in the Law or Old Testament was Paul quoting? Paul was quoting from Isaiah 28:11(RSV) reads, "By men of strange lips and alien tongue the Lord will speak to this people...yet they would not hear." When were the Jews to be spoken to in an alien or foreign tongue? Isaiah 28:14 states, "Therefore hear the word of the Lord ye scornful men that rule this people which is in Jerusalem." The day of Pentecost in Acts 2:6-11 is the only Scripturally recorded time that unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem heard the Gospel preached in foreign languages. Thus, 1 Corinthians 14:21 and Acts 2:6-11 both refer to the same incident. Both use "tongues" to denote foreign languages. Therefore tongues as used in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14 are a reference to foreign languages and not ecstatic utterances.

As is so often the case in problems of Scriptural interpretation, the Lord provides the key of interpretation within the Scriptural context. Isaiah 28:11 and 14, Acts 2:6-11 and 1 Corinthians 14:21 all refer to the same event and provide the Scriptural proof that the gift of tongues in the early Church was exclusively foreign languages. Further, the Apostle Paul uses 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 to prove that tongues are a sign for unbelievers because tongues as quoted from Isaiah 28:11 and 14 was to be a great sign to unbelieving Israel. How effective a sign was it? Three thousand unbelieving Jews accepted Christ as a result. Indeed tongues were Scripturally intended to be a sign not to believers but to unbelievers. And yet our charismatic friends use tongues as a sign among Christians to denote a "Spirit-filled Christian."

It is helpful to understand why Paul had to go into this discussion on tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. Corinth was the commercial center of Greece. Much of the commerce between Rome and the East passed through its harbors. Consequently it was a city of many different nationalities. The gift of tongues (foreign languages) was prevalent among the brethren of Corinth to assist them in witnessing the Gospel to so many diverse nationalities. First Corinthians 14:19-20 reveals that the brethren at Corinth abused the gift. They were childish in the use of tongues. Like little children with a new toy, they wanted to show off. At their Church Services they exhorted in tongues (verse 23) and they prayed in tongues (verses 14-16) without any interpretation. This edified none (verse 5). Hence Paul's reprimand, "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. Brethren, be not children..."(1 Cor. 14:19-20 Note the phrase "that by my voice I might teach others ALSO." This implies that when he spoke in an understanding language he taught himself and "others also. Conversely, if he spoke in tongues (foreign languages) he just taught himself. The thought of that even when speaking in tongues he comprehended what he was saying. This, of course, is not the case with ecstatic utterances of today where the tongues-speaker does not comprehend what he is saying.

First Corinthians 14:9-11 provides another proof that Paul is speaking of foreign languages and not ecstatic utterances. In dealing with the problem of tongues Paul said, "except ye utter by the tongue words [rational sounds] easy to be understood [a common language], how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air [in vain]. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices [articulate speech] in the world, [notice Paul is not talking about so called "heavenly languages" but voices in the world] and none of them is without signification [each national language has its distinct meaning]. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian [foreigner] unto me." The Greek word means foreigner, not barbarian. Paul is clearly saying that an unknown voice or tongue would sound like a foreign language. Novice the RSV of 1 Corinthians 14:11, "But if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me." The logic of 1 Corinthians 14:9-11 is only meaningful if tongues are foreign languages and not ecstatic utterances.

Contemporary glossolalists do not comprehend their won ecstatic utterances. However, those that possessed the gift of tongues at Corinth did understand what they said as is shown in 1 Corinthians 14:5, 'for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he [the speaker] interpret, that the church may receive edifying." In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul deals with the abuse of the gift of tongues and here at the beginning of the chapter he lays the ground rule for peaking in tongues. It is the tongues-speaker who should interpret and not someone. Else Nor is this the rare exception of one person having both the gift of tongues and interpretation. Paul is here setting the basic rule, that those who spoke in tongues in the apostles' day understood what they were saying and should interpret it into the common language of the Church. Some were so proud of their gift that they spoke in tongues and didn't explain. But Paul says translate yourself.

Verse 27 and 28 expand on the ground rule of verse 5. "If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God." (I Cor. 14:27-28) It is in this last sense Paul says, "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself."

Notice only one was to speak in tongues at a time. A little different than what you hear in some charismatic circles today. Also "let one interpret," either the speaker or someone else. "But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence." This proves the tongues-speaker knew beforehand what language he would speak in and whether or not there was an interpreter of that language present.

This raises a question. If according to verse 5 the tongues-speaker interprets himself, how would you have a situation as stated in verses 27 and 28, where neither the speaker nor anyone else were able to interpret. Remember Corinth was a center of many nationalities and this situation could easily arise. It is not unusual for one to understand a new language and not speak it. Greek was the common language in the church at Corinth. Say there was an Italian Christian in the church at Corinth and he had the gift of tongues. He could understand Greek but not speak it. He would be able to translate that tongue (foreign language) into his mother tongue, Italian. However, that would be meaningless to the church. Unless someone could translate his gift of tongues into Greek, he should keep silent.

First Corinthians 14:14-17 shows that the person who is praying and singing in an unknown tongue can and should interpret it into words of understanding. "For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfriutful. 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. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

Notice the phrase "my spirit" in verse 14 in which Paul observes if he prayed in an unknown tongue, it was "my spirit" - not the holy Spirit mechanically taking over. It was his gift of the Spirit by which he prayed intelligently in a foreign language. But this would create a problem. His understanding of what he was praying would not be fruitful to others, since they would not understand the foreign language. Therefore, what would he do? He would pray and sing with the gift of the Spirit but he would also interpret it so that others could understand and be edified. This again confirms that the tongues-speaker comprehended what he was saying and that even prayers uttered in tongues were to be interpreted for the benefit of others present.

This consideration of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 reveals three basic points concerning tongues in the apostles' day.

  1. Tongues were foreign languages.
  2. The tongues-speaker understood what he said.
  3. All utterances by the gift of tongues in the congregation, including prayers, were to be interpreted.

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