Troublesome Topic: Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 14:13 & 15

1 Corinthians 14:13


Therefore, the one who speaks in a tongue

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let him pray that he may interpret.

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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?”


Paul continues to drive home the rule that gifts from the Holy Spirit were intended to enrich the entire believing community. I believe verse 13 can apply to the proper kind of either public or private tongues. Paul’s point was that, in order for either form of tongues to be a direct blessing to the congregation of believers, there needed to be interpretation. This is because public tongues were for the unbelieving foreigners, while the interpretation was usually for Jews who did not accept Gentiles. If these Jews were also believers in Jesus, the interpretation would fit the criterion of enriching the body of Christ. The use of private tongues was eventually a blessing to others, but that only came after there was clarity, interpretation, Urim. In contrast, their counterfeit was of no value to others.

1 Corinthians 14:15


What is it then?

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

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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.


Apparently, some of those in Corinth also claimed they were speaking 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. He did not buy their argument that doing something “in the spirit” (i.e. ecstatically and mindlessly) was sufficient justification in itself.

It is not mentioned anywhere else that I know of, although it may be hinted at elsewhere, but there is 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. 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.

The next lesson in the Short Series on Tongues is Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 14:22&23


1: 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.

2: 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.