When Community Bible Chapel began to meet as a church, the leadership decided to publish a pamphlet, which would convey the doctrinal position and philosophy of ministry of the church. One of the most difficult tasks related to that pamphlet was to construct a statement on spiritual gifts. We knew that people would want to know where we stood on the charismatic movement. Let me quote that initial attempt to state our position:
The ministry of Community Bible Chapel is one in which every Christian is encouraged to exercise his or her spiritual gift for the profit of the church (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7). We do not practice the charismatic gifts of tongues or healing.
Our intention in this statement was to accurately reflect our practice as a church regarding spiritual gifts. We did not wish anyone to think that we were a charismatic church in the usual sense of the term. On the other hand, we were unwilling to go so far as to dogmatically state that certain gifts, which are found in the New Testament could not, under any circumstance, occur in our day. While our experience would incline us not to expect certain gifts, the Scriptures do not, in our estimation, clearly forbid them. To us, the temporary nature of certain gifts is, at best, an inference of Scripture, not an imperative. Neither are the elders of Community Bible Chapel convinced that just because a gift is present in the New Testament it must be present today. It is, after all, the Holy Spirit who sovereignly bestows these gifts (1 Corinthians 12:11).
In later publications, the elders have chosen not to make any statement on the exercise of disputed gifts such as tongues and healing. This is not because our position has changed, but because we do not wish differences on this issue to divide Christians or to keep a charismatic Christian from attending our services and fellowshipping with us. Nor would we appreciate a zealous but insensitive charismatic Christian attempting to impose his gifts or convictions on our body. That would surely not edify the saints. Regardless of one’s personal convictions concerning certain gifts, we would insist that the church meeting follow the guidelines given us by the apostle in the later part of chapter 14.
I say this by way of background to the passage which we will be studying in 1 Corinthians 14:1-25. Tremendous tension and polarization exists today between charismatic and non-charismatic Christians. Divisions and church splits over the charismatic movement have become all too common. Conditions in the church today hardly differ from those in the Corinthian church of centuries ago. Because of this polarization, few Christians are without strong feelings on this issue. Frankly, I believe there is error on both sides. Because of this, my teaching on 1 Corinthians 14 will probably not satisfy those who hold a strong position on either side of the issue. And, regretfully, each side will try to read more into what I say than what I mean.
The Corinthian church was both charismatic and carnal. They lacked in no gift (1:7), yet they were immature (cf. 2:14–3:3) and evidenced a lack of love (chapter 13). The gifts, which the Corinthians esteemed most highly, primarily tongues, were those which Paul referred to as the lesser gifts (12:22-24, 31, 14:1ff.). If the Corinthian church overflowed with charisma, it was void of the kind of Christian character which would deal with open immorality (5:1ff.), judge between disputing Christians (6:1ff.), and surrender the use of a liberty which would cause a fellow Christian to stumble (8:1ff.) or hinder the gospel (9:1ff). Spirituality, Paul insisted, cannot be measured by the presence of any gift, including (and perhaps especially) tongues (cf. 13:1-2).
Chapter 12 has shown us that setting certain gifts above others is spiritually unhealthy for several reasons. First, God is the sovereign Giver of gifts, so we cannot feel any the better or the worse because of the gifts we have been given (verses 4-6, 11). Second, spiritual gifts are all important because each has a special role to fulfill, and without it the whole body suffers (verses 14-19). Third, our estimation of the value of the gifts is frequently the opposite of God’s. The gifts, which are the most essential, may be the least appreciated (verses 22-24).
Chapter 13 teaches us that just as the Corinthians were wrong for placing the more spectacular gifts above the others, so they were wrong in placing excessive emphasis on gifts in general. They were more interested in manifesting charisma than character. Paul showed that love was the preeminent virtue because it enhances the value of spiritual gifts (verses 1-3), it enhances the unity and relationships of the saints (verses 4-7), and it endures for all eternity, in contrast to the temporary nature of all gifts (verses 8-13).
In chapter 14, Paul will show us how the quality of love is related to the gifts of tongues and prophecy and how love can be manifested in the exercise of these gifts.
Previously Paul has stated that some gifts are superior to others while implying that tongues are inferior. Now he will say so very clearly by contrasting tongues with prophecy, and he will give us the reasons why, under normal conditions, prophecy is superior to tongues:
Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying (1 Corinthians 14:1-5).
The initial problem we face in this passage is the definition of both tongues and prophecy. Scholars are divided as to the precise nature of each. Regarding tongues, some tell us that this gift is the manifestation of the Spirit in such a way as to produce an “unknown”199 tongue which is not a human language, but an ecstatic communication with God.200 Others maintain that it is a foreign language, just as in Acts 2:3.201
First, I must point out that understanding the principle of edification is the most crucial issue of this passage, not the definition of tongues. Second, let me remind you that Paul was personally acquainted with the tongues phenomenon of Acts. In Acts 19 Paul witnessed the gift of tongues and prophecy being poured out on some disciples of John at Ephesus. The three-fold occurrence of tongues reported in Acts by Luke (chapters 2, 10, and 19) each seem to be identical in nature. The fact that each instance is identical shows that God has accepted the Gentile converts into the church on equal footing with the Jewish Christians (cf. 11:15-18). If the nature of tongues and prophecy had changed from what it was in Acts, would Paul not have indicated this change clearly? In my estimation, the tongues of Corinth are the same as those of Ephesus and Jerusalem.
Regardless of whether or not you accept this position, we should be able to agree on the characteristics of tongues, which Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 14. Let me summarize them:
1. Tongues are an inspired utterance (12:3, 7, 10, 11, 14:2).
2. Tongues are primarily addressed to God (14:2).
3. Tongues are not normally understood by the speaker or the hearers, unless interpreted (14:2, 5, 13-15).
4. Tongues speaking is under the control of the speaker and is not an involuntary act (14:28, 32).
5. The content of tongues appears to be praise and adoration rather than revelation (cf. 14:2, 14-16; also Acts 2:11).
The definition of prophecy is also a matter of disagreement. In the Bible as a whole, a prophet is one who speaks directly for God, whether in foretelling the future or in forthtelling, proclaiming divine instruction for the present. In 1 Corinthians 14, it appears to be used a bit more broadly, but it would nevertheless be best to understand it as divinely inspired utterance, infallible and inerrant.
There were significant differences between these two gifts, differences, which under normal circumstances made prophecy of greater value for the edification of the church. First, prophecy was not addressed to God, but to men, while tongues was addressed to God (14:2, 3). Second, prophecy edified the church, while tongues edified the speaker (14:4). Third, tongues were unintelligible to the speaker and the hearer while prophecy was understood by both speaker and hearer (14:2, 3).
If verses 1-4 establish the superiority of prophecy over tongues, verse 5 seeks to clarify the matter. First, tongues are inferior to prophecy only when uninterpreted (“unless he interprets,” verse 5). It would appear that tongues were normally not interpreted in Corinth and thus were considered inferior to prophecy. But if interpreted, tongues would have equal value with prophecy. Thus, in verses 26ff. both tongues and prophecy have equal exposure in the church meeting (“two or no more than three,” verses 27, 29). Under ordinary conditions tongues should not be suppressed, but prophecy should be sought as the better of the two. When interpreted, tongues would edify as much as prophecy, but apparently this was seldom the case in Corinth. It is important to understand that the superiority of prophecy over tongues is qualified by the apostle.
Verse 5 ended by informing the reader that tongues will prove edifying to the whole church when they are interpreted. Verses 6-12 go on to illustrate the importance of interpretation by demonstrating the uselessness of sounds which have no clear meaning:
But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp? For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. If then I do not know the meaning of the languages in the world, I shall be to the one who speaks as a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me. So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.
Graciously using himself as the example, Paul asks the Corinthians what profit he would be, even as an apostle, if he spoke to them in tongues that they could not understand (verse 6). Only as he spoke in a language they knew could he give a revelation, a word of knowledge, a prophecy, or a teaching.
Turning to musical instruments, Paul asked how they could produce a meaningful melody unless there was a distinction in tones (verse 7). Another important instrument was the bugle. It was commonly employed in warfare to broadcast commands to the troops. If the bugle did not produce distinct notes, the soldiers would not know whether to advance or retreat. (TV watchers know that the cavalry always used a bugle to signal the attack.)
Moving from musical instruments to the language of men, in verses 9-11 Paul showed that men could not have a meaningful conversation unless they spoke a common tongue. A man speaking in a different language had something to say, and his speech had meaning, but not to the one who could not speak or understand it. So, too, the one speaking in tongues had an important message to communicate, but unless it was interpreted, the congregation would not understand its meaning and would not be edified by it.
Verse 12 returns us to the point of verse 5. When love prevails, the principle of edification will govern both the pursuit and the practice of spiritual gifts. Let us seek, then, those gifts which will most benefit others and those which will edify the church.
Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also; I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also. Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified. I thank God I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.
I know there are those who refuse to accept any private use of tongues, but these verses very evidently show that while the gift of tongues may edify the speaker in private, they will not edify in public unless they are interpreted. There are at least three indications in chapter 14 that there is a private use of tongues. First, in verses 13-15 the use is largely private, as we will note later. Second, in verses 18-19 Paul said that he spoke in tongues more than the Corinthians, yet there is no record of him ever speaking in tongues in public. In fact, he contrasts his private use of tongues with the public use (“however, in the church … ,” verse 19). Finally, in verse 28 Paul instructs the tongues speaker to “speak to himself and to God” if there is not an interpreter present. Just because one purpose of tongues may be public does not mean that there cannot be other purposes, although perhaps secondary.
Verses 13-15 seem to focus primarily (though not exclusively, cf. verses 16-19) on the private use of tongues. Paul’s premise, developed in the preceding verses, is that one can hardly be edified without the use of the mind.202
Some Christians seem to think of our faith as though it were mindless. That is not only tragic, it is untrue. The reason tongues speaking was not edifying to the church was that it was uninterpreted, and thus the saints could not understand what was said. When a prophet spoke, others were to judge what was said (14:29). How could this happen with the message spoken in tongues? It was even possible that the message might be blasphemous (12:2-3). If the gift of tongues were to be used in private, the one thus gifted would profit most if he could interpret what he said; otherwise he could not benefit except in knowing he had spoken words of praise to God. How much better to know what the Holy Spirit has inspired one to say.
In verses 13-15, tongues seem to have been spoken in private, rather than in the church meeting. Why would Paul encourage the tongues speaker to pray for the gift of interpretation of tongues if he were speaking of the church meeting? If one gifted to interpret tongues was present, he could interpret. But in the solitude of one’s prayer closet it is the tongues speaker who must have the gift of interpretation. While Paul in no way underestimates the benefit of this private use of tongues, he teaches that edification occurs when the mind is participating in the process.
Two inferences can be drawn from what Paul has said in verse 13. First, Paul assumes it is possible for the Christian to possess more than one gift. Otherwise why would he encourage the tongues speaker to seek the additional gift of interpretation? Second, it is implied that the Christian can pray and request certain gifts from God and that they may be granted. This tends to contradict the commonly held view that gifts are somewhat statistically given at the time of one’s salvation, never to change.
If tongues fail to significantly benefit the individual who speaks in tongues privately without being interpreted (verses 13-15), neither do they profit the group assembled in the church meeting without being interpreted (verses 16-19). Apart from interpretation, those who hear a man speaking in tongues have no way of responding to it since they don’t know what has been said. Praise and thanksgiving may very well have been offered to God, but who else knows it? It is extremely difficult to say “Amen” to what one has not understood. That is like signing a contract written in another language.
For two years we had a French student, Gerard Chalvet, attending our ministry group. He sang and played the guitar. Occasionally we would ask him to sing a song in French. As long as it was a tune that we recognized, we could recall the words as he sang. But when he sang an unfamiliar tune we had no clue as to what the words might be. We could not worship with him because we did not understand him. This was what seemed to be happening regularly in the church meetings in Corinth. Tongues were spoken, frequently and with fervor, but only God knew what was said.
What a shock it must have been for the Corinthians to learn that Paul himself spoke in tongues, and perhaps more than they (verse 18).203 Paul did not flaunt his gift as they did. Consequently, they might have thought he did not possess this gift. How could Paul know anything about tongues? He knew much if he spoke in tongues more than they. But he did so privately, preferring to speak in intelligible words when in the corporate gathering of the saints. Let tongues be reserved for the prayer closet unless an interpreter was present. Paul may have chosen not to speak in tongues even when there was an interpreter because of the exaggerated importance attached to the exercise of this particular gift.
Paul has saved the real bombshell until last. Those who prided themselves for speaking in tongues may have been reluctantly willing to admit that tongues were not edifying to the saints. But perhaps they still clung to the hope that even though tongues may not edify, they do evangelize. After all, wasn’t it tongues in Acts 2 which at least partly contributed to the salvation of thousands? In verses 20-25 Paul will show how shoddy this thinking was:
Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking mature. In the Law it is written, “by men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to me,” says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign not to unbelievers, but to those who believe. If therefore the whole church should assemble together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God declaring that God is certainly among you.
The Corinthians have been told repeatedly that they were carnal, not mature, foolish, not wise. Their thinking on the gift of tongues typified their immaturity. While they should certainly be nave concerning evil, they must not be so simple regarding the purpose of tongues (verse 20). Paul turned to a text in Isaiah 28:11 (cf. also 33:19) to prove his point. Before Israel entered the land of promise, God warned the Jewish people of the danger of disobedience:
Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord shall send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you. The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand, a nation of fierce countenance who shall have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young (Deuteronomy 28:47-50).
Through Isaiah and many other prophets God had spoken words of warning to the Israelites in the simplest of words (cf. Isaiah 28:9-10). The response of the nation was to reject the messenger and the message (28:12ff.). Because of their persistent rebellion God now warned that He would speak to His people by another means, through “stammering lips and a foreign tongue” (28:11). This sign was not one that would bring repentance, however. In spite of this sign, Israel would not listen nor turn to God (1 Corinthians 14:21; cf. Isaiah 28:12).
Paul interprets the significance of tongues in the light of the Isaiah passage. Foreign tongues (notice these are known languages) serve as a sign to disobedient and unbelieving people. Prophecy, on the other hand, is for believers.204 Yet Paul does not mean to say that tongues is the better means of winning the lost. His citation says otherwise: “… and even so they will not listen to me” (verse 21). Signs normally do not save the lost. That is what our Lord said in Matthew 12:
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answer Him, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:38-40).
For this same reason Abraham said to the rich man in Hades, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
The fact that signs are intended for unbelievers doesn’t prove that signs save unbelievers. If the Corinthians thought that tongues were an effective evangelistic tool, Paul’s words in verses 23-25 would correct this misconception. For the moment Paul assumes that either tongues or prophecy will completely dominate the church meeting. He says that if an unbeliever attends a meeting where only tongues are spoken (without interpretation) he will go away convinced that Christians are crazy (verse 23). If, however, the meeting is solely prophetic utterance, the secrets of their hearts will be exposed, they will be convinced of their sin, and they will declare that God is present in the meeting (verses 24-25).
In evangelism as well as in exhortation, the gift of tongues is normally inferior to prophecy. It is true that tongues are a sign to unbelievers, but they are a sign of condemnation. The Israelites had rejected the clear teaching of the prophets. By the time God spoke through the foreign tongues of other nations, it was too late. The same principle applied when Jesus began to speak to the Jews in parables (Matthew 13:1ff.; Mark 4:1ff.). He did not use parables to make His message clear, but to make it obscure:
As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God; but those who are outside get everything in parables, in order that while seeing, they may see and not perceive; and while hearing, they may hear and not understand lest they return again and be forgiven” (Mark 4:10-12).
This quotation by our Lord was also from the book of Isaiah, chapter 6. Parables were not given to make the gospel clear, but to veil the truth from those who had plainly and repeatedly heard the claims of our Lord, yet rejected His offer of salvation (cf. Mark 3:20ff.). Tongues were a sign, but a sign of God’s impending judgment, not salvation. This is the force of Joel’s prophecy, which was quoted by Peter in Acts 2. While many were saved, most of the Jews persisted in their rejection of the Messiah. God’s plans and promises for the nation Israel would have to be set aside for a time. This was the conclusion Paul had reached (Acts 28:23ff.; cf. Roman 11).
Did the Corinthians believe that exercising the gift of tongues proved them to be more spiritual? Such was far from the case, according to Paul’s teaching in chapters 12-14. Did they suppose that the measure of a mature church was the predominance of tongues? Paul said that the Old Testament indicated that tongues were proof of carnality, even unbelief. They spoke not of spirituality, but of impending judgment. Once again the carnal Corinthians were ignorant.
I want to conclude by focusing on three principles, which are the foundation for Paul’s teaching in the first half of the chapter.
Principle One: Your mind matters. John R. W. Stott has written an excellent booklet entitled Your Mind Matters. In it he decries the mindless Christianity of our time. He cites three forms of this error. First is Catholicism, which has meaningless ritual. Second is radical Christianity, which stresses ecumenicalism and social action without regard to doctrinal essentials. Third, he says, is the charismatic movement, which has divorced Christianity from rationality.205
Paul tells us that edification is hardly possible, other than in a very minimal way, without the active participation of the mind. That is why tongues must be interpreted in order to edify. That is also why all must judge when a prophet speaks (14:29-31). Many Christians seem to think that spirituality has little to do with the mind. And yet Paul tells us in Romans 12:1-2 that it is the renewing of our minds that is key to Christian growth and worship. In the next verse in Romans 12 Paul used the Greek word for “think” four times. Our minds are essential to godly living.
Charismatic Christians have seriously erred when they have selectively focused on the statement of Paul, “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Paul is not setting knowledge against love; he is showing the danger of knowledge without love. Elsewhere Paul indicates the danger of love without knowledge (Philippians 1:9-11). So often I hear it said, “We worship Jesus, not the Bible.” Well and good, but which Jesus do you worship? The Jews of Jesus’ day believed they worshipped the true God, but in chapter 8 of the Gospel of John our Lord informed them otherwise (cf. verses 19, 42). Repeatedly the Lord told His opponents that they were ignorant of the Scriptures (cf. Matthew 22:29). One test of a follower of God is his obedience to the Word of God (John 8:32ff.). It is only by carefully studying the Scriptures that we can know God and serve Him as we should. Jesus said in His high priestly prayer, “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
A common characteristic of the cults is their emphasis on emptying the mind. Many forms of cultic meditation have the “worshipper” focus upon some simple object, emptying the mind of all else. Frequently simple, supposedly meaningless words are repeated. Worship that disengages the mind is exceptionally dangerous.
No long ago I heard a prominent Christian leader sharing about his devotional life. He said that he would go into a dark room, empty his mind, and then open himself to God’s speaking to him. What came to his mind he took to be divine communication. Now I realize that I have oversimplified what he meant, but that is dangerous. If we wish to know what God has said to us, let us study His Word. God can speak to us audibly, but He has most often chosen not to do so. Let us not sit in dark rooms, but let us open our Bibles and use our minds to worship Him.
In this regard, unbelief can be seen to be senseless. The atheist, the agnostic, and the religious pagan would have us believe that Christianity is foolish and that they are wise. But this is not true. The psalmist wrote, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no god’” (Psalm 14:1). It is the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom (cf. Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, etc.). Men and women do not reject Christ because the evidence is insufficient. People do not go to an eternal hell because faith is irrational. Ultimately, Christianity is not an intellectual problem, but a moral one. Men will not believe because they choose not to; it is not for lack of knowledge. God has said that you are a sinner, worthy of eternal death. He has sent His Son to die in your place, to forgive your sins and to give you eternal life. Will you trust in Him? That is the choice God requires of you for salvation.
Principle Two: Spiritual gifts must be measured and governed by the principle of edification. The Corinthians had overestimated the importance of the gift of tongues because they had measured its significance in terms of its spectacularity. While it may be true that tongues are more spectacular than other gifts, the way they were practiced only edified the speaker, not the congregation. Gifts were primarily given “for the common good” (12:7). Without interpretation, those in the congregation were, at best, spectators, not participants in the worship of the speaker (14:16-17). In such situations the tongues speaker might become proud and his speaking profitless.
While the principle of edification was applied specifically to the gift of tongues, it also applies to the exercise of all other gifts. In 14:29-33 it will be applied to the gift of prophecy. Whenever the only person who gains is the one exercising his gift, the principle of edification is likely to have been violated. I know of instances where it appeared that a man participated publicly in worship only for the self-gratification of being heard. That violates the principle of edification. I know of times where a person has spoken and no one understood what he meant. That violates the principle, too. Everything that is done in the meeting of the church must be regulated by this principle. While a person may be personally edified, others may not be. Let us always be guided by the principle of edification.
Principle Three: Tongues may be an evidence of carnality, not spirituality. Paul has already warned us of the danger of attempting to assess one’s spirituality by the gift he possesses. The gifts we possess have been sovereignly bestowed by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:11), and we are stewards of them (1 Peter 4:10). We cannot take pride in them for they are a manifestation of divine grace (Romans 12:6; Ephesians 4:7). Those who would desire to measure the maturity and spirituality of a church by the presence of the gift of tongues should be warned by Paul’s words in verses 20-25, for it was immature thinking that led to this conclusion. Historically, tongues signified carnality and judgment. In point of fact, Paul has indicated that this was also the case in Corinth. Not only were the saints there carnal (3:3), but they were being judged for their unspiritual conduct (5:1ff., 11:27ff.).
May God enable us to desire the best gifts and to exercise them for the edification of the church, to His glory.
198 1 Corinthians 14 (Lessons 33 & 34) is from an earlier series.
199 The addition of the word “unknown” in verses 2, 4, 13, 14, 19 by the translators of the King James Version is unfortunate and without support in the original text. It seems to assume that the tongues of this chapter are not a foreign language.
200 “Verse after verse shows that speaking in foreign languages cannot be meant. Tongues were used in communing with God, and of course this was good for those who did so (verse 4).” Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1971 [reprint]), p. 306. Morris also agrees when he writes, “No man understandeth him makes it plain that the gift spoken of here is different from that in Acts 2, where all men understood.” Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1966), p. 191. I must say that Morris’ argument is the weakest. In Jerusalem there were many Hellenistic Jews present from foreign lands, whose native tongue was foreign. They heard the “mighty deed of God” (Acts 2:11) in their own native tongue. In the Corinthian assembly we would not expect a large contingency of foreigners, such as in Jerusalem at Pentecost. Hearing anyone speak in a foreign language would mean that the Corinthian Christians would not comprehend the message. Why does this necessitate, as Morris suggests, that the language spoken not be a language? A language foreign to the listener is no less confusing to him than a non-language.
201 “The difficulty was in the language used, not in the absence of meaning, or in the fact that inarticulate sounds were employed. This verse, therefore, contains nothing inconsistent with the commonly received view of the nature of the gift in question. … The prophet spoke in the native language of his hearers; the speaker with tongues in a foreign language.” Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980, [reprint]), p. 280.
202 I do not mean to go so far as to suggest that the one who speaks in tongues privately gains nothing without the gift of interpretation. To some extent this person edifies himself (verse 4). But without the ability to interpret what he is saying, the tongues speaker cannot fully participate in what he is doing. Our Lord once summarized the first of the two great commandments this way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). To the extent that we worship God without our heart, our soul, or our mind, our worship is adversely affected. This is Paul’s point precisely.
204 In my estimation the expression in verse 22, “is for a sign,” supplied by the NASV, is unfortunate. Paul specifically says that tongues are for a sign. Prophecy is for believers, who do not need signs.