by Mike Ratliff
26 But two men had remained in the camp: the name of one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them. Now they were among those listed, but who had not gone out to the tabernacle; yet they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, and said, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”
28 So Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, one of his choice men, answered and said, “Moses my lord, forbid them!”
29 Then Moses said to him, “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” 30 And Moses returned to the camp, he and the elders of Israel. Numbers 11:26-30 (NKJV)
8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 (NKJV)
Carefully read the two passages I placed at the top of this post, Numbers 11:26-30 and 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. Actually, the second passage leads right into the the passage which is the focus for this post, 1 Corinthians 14:1-25. I wanted you to read these other passages to keep things in context. I have a friend, a good friend, who claims to be “a Pentecostal.” However, he and I have talked quite a bit about this topic. He asked me a few years ago if I had ever spoken in tongues. I told him that I had not. I asked him if he had. He told me that he had not either, but that since the church or denomination he was part of placed such a premium on that that it bothered him some that he did not. He refused “to fake it.” He told me that if he was not overcome by some outside force to speak in tongues then he was not going to just start doing it. He then asked me if it bothered me that I had not spoken in tongues. I told him that it didn’t bother me at all. He asked me why. I almost quoted sections of 1 Corinthians 14 to him. I am a Bible teacher. I teach from God’s Word. I make things from God’s Word clear to those who also have the Spirit of God. Tongue speaking is not meant for that purpose, but is a sign gift used by God to influence unbelievers. On the other hand, in the Church, the verbal gifts that God uses are those of preaching and teaching, which would include prophecy. I then told my friend that if God wanted me to speak in tongues then it was entirely up to Him to make that happen and I am His bondservant or slave to do with as He wills.
1 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification. 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 (NKJV)
The words translated above as “speaks in a tongue” are the Greek words λαλῶν γλώσσῃ or laleō glōssa. The word λαλῶν simply means “to speak,” but in this usage it would be best translated as “one speaking.” The word translated “a tongue” by the NKJV, γλώσσῃ is the Dative, singular form of γλῶσσα, which means “language.” The fact that in v2 Paul used the singular form of γλῶσσα in a negative sense saying that “no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit” is referring to the counterfeit gift of pagan gibberish that was part of their “worship.” In fact, in every instance of this form of γλῶσσα in 1 Corinthians 14, the King James translators added consistently the word “unknown” before it, but never in the case of the plural form as we see in v5, “I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.” Here is v5 from the Greek, “θέλω δὲ πάντας ὑμᾶς λαλεῖν γλώσσαις, μᾶλλον δὲ ἵνα προφητεύητε· μείζων γὰρ ὁ προφητεύων ἢ ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσαις, ἐκτὸς εἰ μὴ διερμηνεύῃ, ἵνα ἡ ἐκκλησία οἰκοδομὴν λάβῃ.” Both instances of the word translated as “tongues” in this passage are γλώσσαις, which is the Dative, plural form of γλῶσσα. The plural form indicates the genuine gift of a foreign language.
Now, with that said, let’s read vv1-5 from that context. Paul was actually saying that prophesy was the best gift for the church because prophesies builds up the church. What purpose do the speaking in tongues serve? They serve no purpose unless there is an interpreter or if the language being spoken is the one spoken by the unbeliever meant to hear the Word of God by the one with that gift of tongues. Notice that it is all about what is best for the church.
6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? 7 Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? 8 For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? 9 So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. 11 Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. 12 Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.
13 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. 16 Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 17 For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.
18 I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; 19 yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.
21 In the law it is written:
“With men of other tongues and other lips
I will speak to this people;
And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord.
22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. 23 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. 25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. 1 Corinthians 14:6-25 (NKJV)
Again, notice that in the singular form the word “tongue” is not used by Paul in a positive sense, but a negative one. However, in the usage of “tongues,” they are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers. On the other hand, prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. This is why church is not for the unchurched, but for Christians alone.
26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 (NKJV)
Carefully read this my brethren. This is speaking of orderly worship. There is no chaos here. There is no ranting and raving with people running around screaming and laughing like madmen. This is about order and peace and not confusion. Any church or its leadership that claims that “God is here!” because they have what they call “manifestations” of the Spirit in which people run around jerking and falling down causing others to fly around the room spinning and such, babbling and screaming are talking about something alien to what the Apostle Paul was describing here. If you look back at the top of this post to 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 you will read that these spiritual gifts like tongues and prophecy will pass away when the perfect shall come. He qualifies that statement in the rest of that passage so that when some say that the completion of the Bible is “the perfect” actually makes little sense. No, this stuff that is partial now will pass away when the perfect comes and that is when Christ returns. Does this mean that I believe in the gift of tongues? Yes, but as you read above, as Paul qualified it. It is for ministering to unbelievers only; not believers in the Church. I believe this is why I have never experienced it all in my entire walk and ministry because I minister through teaching from God’s Word to believers. When I do share the gospel it is with unbelievers who speak English as I do. I pray this makes sense. On the other hand, I have no doubt that God could cause the same miracle of tongues as he did in Acts to present the Gospel to unbelievers if that was according to His will. It would be something He would do, not something we would try to make happen.
Soli Deo Gloria!