Troublesome Topic: Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 14:11-17

1 Corinthians 14:11


Therefore, if I do not see the power and ability

Go to footnote number

of the sound  _______,

Go to footnote number

I will be a barbarian

Go to footnote number

to the one speaking, and the one speaking will be a barbarian to me.


If I come to one of your meetings and hear someone praying in what he calls a “prayer language,” I will not be able to perceive the capability of the sound of the person’s voice to produce meaning, (and meaning is what we should seek), therefore I will seem like an uncultured foreigner to the one speaking, and he will seem that way to me.


Paul seems to have been saying something like this: “Because you say that the form of tongues you have made up is a “prayer language” and yet you insist on using it in a public setting, you have created a conundrum and tied yourself in knots. The problem with what you are doing is that all gifts of the Spirit are intended for the benefit of others; public tongues should be used to help convince unbelievers to believe, while private tongues should be used to work through a God-given burden until it results in helping others get closer to God. What you are doing means nothing and helps no one. You are expecting us to accept your meaningless babble as valid communication; if we accepted it, we would all turn into ignorant oafs.”

1 Corinthians 14:12


Thus, since you boil with zeal for spiritual _______, you must also zealously desire that they abound for the edification of the called-out-ones.


Therefore, since you desperately want to have and use spiritual gifts of grace, you absolutely must accompany that desire with a second desire and its corresponding commitment, specifically, that the spiritual gift you are given will overflow with benefits to the body of Christ and that you will only use it for the benefit of others. If you do not do this, you are out of step with God’s purpose for all the spiritual gifts of grace.


Once again Paul states clearly the rule that the spiritual gifts are always given for the benefit and edification of the body of Christ. He stated it clearly in 12:7 and is repeating it clearly here in 14:12. He will say it one more time in 14:26. What’s more, there are many statements in this passage which are built on this rule; without this rule, this chapter makes no sense.

1 Corinthians 14:13


Therefore, the one who speaks in a tongue

Go to footnote number

let him pray that he may interpret.

Go to footnote number


You may say, “What we are doing could easily fit the rules if the person who prays in tongues can also share an interpretation. So, all we need to do is seek an interpretation, and everything will be fine. Right?”

So why did Paul tell the person to pray for the interpretation also?

First of all, Paul was anticipating that their defense of their style of tongues would be that if a person received the interpretation of his own tongue, it would become a blessing to others and thus fit the rules. Here Paul mimicked what he thought their defense would be in order to expose the ridiculousness of what they were doing. That the troublemakers in Corinth would receive some kind of interpretation from the Holy Spirit was impossible because they were not engaged in a true form of tongues given by the Holy Spirit. A true interpretation of a false tongue is an oxymoron. The only option left for the troublemakers was to keep quiet. But that was not an acceptable option in the minds of those using the counterfeit because it would mean no glory for the glory-seekers.

1 Corinthians 14:14


For if I happen to pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.


For if I happen to pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.

1 Corinthians 14:15


What is it then?

Go to footnote number

I will pray in the spirit; I will also pray with my mind. I will make music

Go to footnote number

with the spirit; however, I will also make music with my mind.


What will I choose to do that properly fits this situation? Unlike your repetitious babbling that you call tongues, I will pray privately over an unutterable burden because it engages my mind as well as my innermost being; unlike your ecstatic singing, shouting and dancing that is based only on emotion, I will have an attitude of joyful singing that starts with a deeply settled peace that nothing can rattle and I will also use my mind to sing real songs with words and melodies in contrast to your expressions of tongues which have no meaning.


He does not want us to do things mindlessly, but that is exactly what some of the Corinthians had been doing, according to the letter Paul received. What about praying for an unutterable burden? The fact that one cannot clearly articulate the burden does not mean the mind is disengaged. The mind is doing all it can to understand and articulate the burden, even though at the moment there is no clarity and the full picture cannot be seen.


Verses 14 and 15 clearly demonstrate that Paul was using this passage to address something that was not mentioned in the book of Acts even once. While other verses in this chapter hint at private tongues, or can only be explained in terms of private tongues, these two verses make their reality exceedingly clear.


Apparently, some of those in Corinth also claimed they were singing in tongues as a special way to give special gratitude and praise to God. So Paul addressed this also.

He did not argue against the possibility, instead he said that he does that sometimes too, but whenever his singing took him to an ecstatic state, his mind was still engaged and functioning. He saw no reason for doing things in a mindless way as the Corinthians were reported as doing.

There appears to be a type of praise to God that corresponds with private tongues. While the private version of praying in tongues involves groans and tears, the private, God-inspired, sometimes miraculous form of private praise will usually involve quiet expressions such as tears (once again) and chuckles, and it may sometimes involve louder expressions such as laughter and shouting.

The reason this type of praise should be kept private is that in private it is obviously intended for an audience of One. But in a public gathering of the church, it is much more difficult to forget about everyone around us and make our expressions of worship only for our audience of One; usually we are afraid of having others see us, or we do want others to see us, both of which are wrong. If we are alone with God and find ourselves so overwhelmed by gratitude and praise to Him that we express our gratitude in strange ways, it is obvious to us and to God that we are genuine; however, if we produce strange sounds in a church meeting, there is no way for others to know if we are genuinely communicating with God or simply trying to get attention.

1 Corinthians 14:16



Go to footnote number

if you speak well

Go to footnote number

of (something or someone) in spirit, how will the one filling the place of one’s own self

Go to footnote number

say Amen to your giving of thanks,

Go to footnote number

since he does not know what you are saying?


If there were no interpretation, and, in an ecstatic state you spoke words of blessing or praise, how would the one who does not know how to understand spiritual things agree to your ecstatic statement of thanks, for he cannot understand the sounds you are making?

1 Corinthians 14:17


For indeed, you are giving thanks commendably, but the other one is not built up.


You may be offering excellent praise to God, but the problem with what you are doing is that the others around you are not edified. You know the rule that everything done in the gathering of the believers should be done to edify others; therefore, keep private things private!

The next lesson in the Full Series on Tongues is Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 14:18-21


1: "power and ability":

This is the Greek word from which we get our words “dynamite and dynamic.” It means “power” in the sense of “the ability to get things done, energy, efficacy, even miraculous power.”


It seems best to assume that something was left out of the original, intended for the reader to supply. I prefer this over twisting the meaning of the word “power” to make it fit here. What is lacking is probably something about the “meaning” of the sounds being produced and heard.


This is where we get our word “barbarian” from. It meant someone who did not speak Greek (or Latin), “someone who was so uncivilized that the did not even speak Greek or follow the Greek culture.” A major emphasis of this word is the lack of culture, specifically Greek culture.

4: Which type of tongues is Paul talking about?

Is Paul talking about public tongues, proper private tongues, or the counterfeit? He is talking about the counterfeit because verses 14, 16 and 17 are a continuation of this thought and clearly refer to their practice of praying out loud in tongues at a meeting of the congregation.

5: Why did Paul say "Let him pray that he may interpret"?

I know it does not sound like Paul was ridiculing them; it sounds like he was simply stating a fact. But that is true of this entire passage; he never indicated clearly when he was mimicking or ridiculing what they were saying and when he was speaking truth. That is one of the things that makes this passage so difficult to interpret. But when we apply the clearly stated rules that govern spiritual gifts, we can discern when Paul was speaking truth and when he was mimicking their falsehood for the sake of argument. In this case, I am convinced that something akin to ridicule is the only proper interpretation because what they were doing was a violation of God’s rules over such things. A true interpretation of a false tongue is an oxymoron.


This phrase can also be rendered, “what then takes place? How then does the matter stand in the context of what preceded it? What should follow”?


The word “to make music” comes from a word meaning “to pluck, to strike” as when one plays a stringed instrument. It can also refer to other types of music such as singing, if the context calls for it.

8: "Otherwise"

There is a two-verse parenthetical statement between there and here. Therefore, “otherwise” means “if there is no interpretation.” Paul now continues to paint a picture of an impossible situation, given that a Spiritless tongue will never produce a Spirit-filled interpretation.


“to speak well of” was their way of saying “to bless or to praise” someone or something.


“One’s own self”: Although this word has the literal meaning of “one’s self,” or “one’s own,” it is not referring to the person speaking or writing, rather it was used of “a person who lacks education, status, intelligence, learning, or refinement.” It also meant “someone who is unskilled, an amateur, an illiterate person, a rude person.” It sounds like our English word “idiot,” and indeed we do get that English word from this Greek word.

11: “giving of thanks”:

This is where we get our word “eucharist,” which has as its first meaning “to give thanks, or show gratitude.”