Troublesome Topic: Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 14:26-28

1 Corinthians 14:26

Translation

Then what is it,

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Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. All [of it] must be done to build up!

Paraphrase

What should we conclude then, brothers? Here it is: whenever you come together for worship, each of you is given something different to bring to the gathering; one may be given a spontaneous song by the Holy Spirit, another may be given a depth of understanding for teaching and the insight to know what the congregation needs at that time, another may be given a special revelation from God specifically for the people present at that time, another may be given a message in an unknown language for unbelieving foreigners who need God to show Himself to them, another may be given the gift of telling the congregation what the message for the unbelievers was and how that fits God’s great plan. The main point is that all of these must be done for the edification of others.

WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF INTERPRETATION?

My idea of interpretation is this – God sometimes gives people the ability to understand what was being communicated through the unknown language, even if none of the locals know that language and even if none of the foreigners can communicate well enough with the locals to explain the message to them. I think that in most of the cases in which this was done, it was for the Jews present who didn’t believe in Jesus as Messiah, or did not believe that the Gentiles should be allowed into the fellowship of His followers.

Therefore, in this verse, the tongue is to convince foreigners to follow Jesus, and the interpretation is to convince Jews to accept the foreigners.

I have come to believe that, in the case of Acts chapter 2 (Pentecost), Peter’s sermon was the interpretation. The sermon he preached was very similar to what the other disciples were preaching, but his was directed at the local Jews who had crucified Jesus. In the meeting at Cornelius’ house, a verbal interpretation was not needed because the way they were praising the Lord made clear that they had experienced a heart change.

1 Corinthians 14:27

Translation

If anyone speaks in an [unknown] tongue, [keep it] down to two, or at the most three, and up by portion;

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and one must interpret.

Paraphrase

If the Holy Spirit causes some to speak in the proper public form of tongues which is for unbelievers who speak foreign languages, it will not be everyone doing this at the same time, as you do with your counterfeit; it will be just a few, probably only two or three will be necessary, and they should not speak on top of each other, but take turns. Also, God has shown me that, in your case, because of your abuses of tongues, it is necessary for someone to interpret the tongues for the sake of the local believers; this will serve as a confirmation that you are not coming up with another type of counterfeit.

SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS DUE TO THEIR ABUSE OF TONGUES

Corinth was not Pentecost. At Pentecost there were people present from 14 different regions outside of Judea. At a meeting of the local congregation in Corinth it was not likely that they would have people who needed assistance understanding the message of the Gospel because of their language or dialect. Paul knew there would not be enough foreigners present who needed to be evangelized through public tongues to warrant all of them speaking in tongues at every meeting.

1 Corinthians 14:28

Translation

However, in the assembly of the called-out ones, if there is no interpreter, he

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must keep silent; and he must speak to himself and to God.

Paraphrase

But when the church is gathered for worship or prayer, if no interpretation is given by God, the one or ones who claim to be speaking in the proper form of public tongues should stop because, in your case, the interpretation is needed to confirm that the speaking in tongues is authentic and not a counterfeit. Instead, the person who wants to speak in tongues should choose the private type of tongues in which he communicates with God through groans, sighs and tears and no one hears it except God.

WHY WAS AN INTERPETER ALWAYS NEEDED IN CORINTH?

An interpreter was needed in the meetings of the church in Corinth in order to allow the local believers to confirm the message if there was the claim that their speaking in tongues was for the benefit of the foreigners present. Here Paul was anticipating them saying that an interpreter is not always needed, which is true in other settings where everything is being done properly, but in Corinth, it was important to avoid further abuses. Paul would not require an interpreter in other situations, unless similar abuses were present. I believe Paul had been informed by God that the Holy Spirit would provide the interpretation if true public tongues were given by the Holy Spirit in Corinth in order for everyone to know it was the real deal.

The next lesson in the Full Series on Tongues is Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 14:29-31

The next lesson in the Mid Length and Short Series on Tongues is Precepts about Tongues from I Corinthians 14:33

Footnotes

1

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”?

2

The idea being communicated here is what we call “taking turns, or in turn.”

3

The antecedent of “he” in this verse is “if anyone speaks in an unknown tongue” from the previous verse.