Friday, June 23, 2006

What about tongues in First Corinthians 14?

Most who advocate the usage of speaking in tongues today use First Corinthians 14 as one of their main texts of support. But I would encourage you to read this chapter very carefully. What kind of tone is Paul using in writing to the church at Corinth on this subject? This chapter is not a commendation for their practice of tongues. If anything, it is a rebuke for their misuse of this spiritual gift. The church at Corinth had turned tongues into a sought after practice but they were practicing it through ecstatic utterances.

As you read this chapter, it is important to note that sometimes Paul uses the singular word “tongue” and sometimes he uses the plural word “tongues.” He is showing that there is a difference between the true gift of tongues that he practiced and the false gift of tongues that the Corinthians were practicing. When Paul uses the singular word, “tongue,” I believe that he is speaking of the counterfeit gift of tongues or that of ecstatic utterances. When he uses the plural form, “tongues,” I believe that he is speaking of the authentic gift which is the ability to speak in a known language never before learned. The only exception to this is in verse 27 where a singular person is speaking a single genuine language. In order to be grammatically correct, here the singular form of “tongue” is used describing the genuine gift of speaking in tongues.

Notice a couple of things from this chapter. In verse 5, many read in this verse that Paul is advocating that everyone should speak in tongues. This is not the case. In fact, First Corinthians 12:30 makes it clear that even when this gift was operative, not everyone would have the gift. Paul is simply showing that by this written rebuke he is not despising the true gift of speaking in tongues.

In verses 6-12, Paul states that the problem with their ecstatic utterances is that they were unintelligible to those who heard it. He gives several examples to show that noise without understanding has no value. For music to be music, it must be intelligible. If I just sat down at the piano and began to bang on the keys with no rhyme or reason, would you be able to pick out what song I was playing? I don’t think so. Would you in anyway profit from my playing it? Not at all. Any language without meaning is pointless.

In verse 18, Paul does say that he himself had the genuine gift of speaking in tongues. He goes on to say in verse 19 that in the church, five words spoken which can be understood are better than 10,000 words of ecstatic utterances that no one is able to understand.

In verses 26-28, Paul gives the procedure for the usage of the true gift of tongues in the church. It was to be used both systematically and orderly. Four regulations were stated. First, only two or three people should speak in one service. Second, they should each take a turn, speaking one at a time. Third, what they say should be interpreted so that everyone can benefit. And fourth, if no interpreter was present, they should not speak. Even if speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift in operation today, and I don’t think it is, I’m not sure the way I am seeing it used and practiced is really what Paul had in mind.

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