We left off last week with Paul questioning the usefulness of tongues if such tongues do not bring about some revelation, knowledge, prophecy or word of instruction.  In 1 Corinthians 14:7-8 he goes on to show how sound coming from a musical instrument is useless unless there is a distinction in the sounds the instrument makes.  He then says something very instructive as to this issue of tongue.

       1 Corinthians 14:9-13: So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church. For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says.

       This is a very revealing passage of Scripture in regard to the issue of speaking in tongues.  Paul begins by saying, “Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying?” You will just be speaking into the air.”  The Greek translated “intelligible” appears just this one time in the NT and it means “easy to understand” and is so rendered in some other translations.  Paul is saying that unless what you are saying is easy to understand, of what value is it?  Then Paul says something very interesting.

       Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me (verses 10-11 {NIV}).

       The Greek translated “languages” here in the NIV is phoneePhonee has the basic meaning of sound, tone, noise and voice.  This word appears 141 times in the NT and is rendered as “voice” in many NT translations.  It is instructive that Paul, in addressing the speaking in tongues issue, says there are a lot of voices in the world and they all have meaning.  In saying this, Paul is saying to the tongues speakers that what they speak has meaning but that meaning can only be grasped if someone interprets what is being spoken.  

       For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says (verse 13).

       Paul understands that the tongues being spoken have meaning and when someone having the gift of speaking in a tongue does so, he or someone else with the gift of interpretation should interpret so that the tongues spoken can be understood by those in hearing range, including the speaker.

       Some in the modern tongues speaking community argue that even though modern day tongues don’t correspond to any know language spoken in the world, it is divine language that is being spoken and this language has meaning that can be interpreted by someone having the gift of interpretation.  Some see Paul's allusion in 1 Corinthians 13:1 to speaking in the tongues of angels as indicative of speaking in a non-human language which can be interpreted by someone having the gift to do so.  Such interpretation can be given in the interpreter’s native language so others of that same language can understand what the divine language is saying. In such cases, the divine language is not being translated into a known human language but is simply having its meaning interpreted.

       There is some difference between translation and interpretation. Translation involves taking a word in one language and finding a corresponding or equivalent word in another language that best matches it in meaning.  While some interpretation is involved here, the goal of translation is to find equivalency of meaning between words of two different languages.

       Interpretation, on the other hand, is applying meaning to what is expressed in language but doesn’t necessarily involve finding a word for word equivalency. Therefore, modern day tongues speakers believe that speaking in tongues doesn’t have to be a known human language in order to have meaning.  Since modern day tongues is considered a Divine language, its meaning can be revealed to someone who has been given the gift of interpretation and such interpretation can be expressed in the interpreters native tongue without there being a word for word translation.

       Interpreters of modern day tongues speakers believe the Spirit of God is providing them with the meaning of what is spoken by the tongues speaker. Therefore, it is believed their interpretation is not their words but the words of God delivered through them.

       Is this what Paul is talking about when he discusses the tongues issue in his letter to the Corinthian church?  Is Paul talking about Divine language being spoken that does not correspond to a human language but has meaning which God provides through someone gifted to receive and express such meaning in a known language?

       The Greek word translated "interpret" in 1 Corinthians 12:30, 14:5, 14:13 and 14:27 is diermeenuo (dee-er-main-yoo'-o). Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines this word firstly as to unfold the meaning of what is said, explain and expound and secondly to translate into ones native language. The Arndt/Gingrich Greek Lexicon defines this word firstly as to translate and secondly as to explain or interpret. It is apparent this word can be used to indicate either translation or interpretation.  An example of its use to mean translation is found in Acts 9:36

       Acts 9:36:  In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated (diermeenuo), is Dorcas ), who was always doing good and helping the poor.

       Tabitha is an English rendering of the Aramaic word טביתא which in Aramaic means gazelle. Tabitha in English means gazelle. Dorcas is the English rendering of the Greek word Ταβιθα which in Greek means gazelle.  This passage is an example of translation where a word in one language is matched to a word in a different language that has the same or similar meaning. The Aramaic, Greek and English words all mean "gazelle"

       In Luke 24:27, diermeenuo is used to describe interpretation.  Here Jesus is not translating from one language to another but simply explaining (interpreting) to His disciples the meaning of language found in OT Scriptures that relate to Him.  

      Luke 24:27: And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained (diermeenuo) to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.  

       As a point of interest, there is also what is called transliteration. Transliteration is the taking of letters in one alphabet and matching them to letters in a different alphabet. For example, in Acts 9:36 above, the English word diermeenuo is used which is made up of letters from the English alphabet that are equivalent to the letters in the Greek alphabet that make up the Greek word διερμηνευομένη.  Letters from the Greek alphabet that make up this word are matched (transliterated) to letters in the English alphabet. Pronunciation of the transliterated word will approximate the sound of the pronunciation of the Greek word διερμηνευομένη.

      Transliteration allows for the pronunciation of words in one language to be pronounced in another language but does not provide their meaning. Meaning is provided by translation or interpretation.

       So what is Paul saying?  Is he talking about human languages being translated into other human languages? Is he talking about a Divine language being translated into a known human language? Is he talking about a Divine language not being translated into a known human language but having its meaning interpreted with such interpretation expressed in a known human language?

       Paul talks about there being many voices in the world and they all have meaning. He relates this to tongues speaking in the church.  He talks about speaking intelligible words when speaking in tongues.  Nothing Paul says provides any reason to believe he is talking about interpretation of Divine language.  Everything he says appears to be in the context of human language and the translation of human language.  Everything he says appears to relate to translating one human language into another human language as opposed to translating or interpreting a Divine language.      

       When Paul uses the Greek word διερμηνευομένη (diermeenuo), he appears to be using it to designate translation and not just interpretation. That Paul is dealing with known human languages is strongly indicated by his reference to something Isaiah said as recorded in Isaiah 28-11..

       1 Corinthians 14:21-22: In the law it is written, With men of other tongues (Greek glossa) and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not... (KJV)

       Paul is reflecting on Isaiah saying that God would speak to the unbelieving Israelites of Isaiah's day through men of others tongues and lips of foreigners. The context of Isaiah 28 is a coming judgement upon faithless Israel facilitated by those speaking a foreign language, namely the Assyrians. These Assyrians were not speaking a Divine language but the Assyrian language which would have sounded like gibberish to the Israelites who did not understand the Assyrian language. 

       Paul is using what Isaiah said to instruct the Corinthians that speaking in a foreign language can and should be used as a sign to unbelievers just as was the case with ancient Israel. The passage from Isaiah demonstrates that extant human language is under consideration and not ecstatic speech as is practiced in modern day tongues speaking.

       Paul’s use of the Isaiah passage appears to provide sound evidence that it is human languages he is discussing and not some Divine language or ecstatic speech that cannot be matched to any known human language.

       On the day of Pentecost in A.D. 31, God spoke to the unbelieving Jews through men speaking in foreign languages. Many believed but others did not. The languages spoken by the tongues speakers were readily understood by those who spoke those languages. There apparently was no need for anyone to translate what the tongues speakers were saying. It is unclear whether those speaking in these foreign languages understood what they were saying.

      When Paul writes of tongues speaking in the Corinthian church, he is talking about those speaking in a tongue not understanding the meaning of what is spoken.  The speaker does not understand what he is saying unless he is given the gift of translation/interpretation or what he says is translated or interpreted by someone else who has been given this gift.       

       1 Corinthians 14:14-16: For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying?

       Paul appears to be saying that when he prays in a tongue, he is only praying with his spirit and not his mind and this is unfruitful.  Neither he nor anyone who hears him knows what he is saying.  He does not understand what he is saying and others that hear him won’t understand what he is saying either.  The solution for Paul is to pray with his spirit and his mind.  In other words, Paul is saying he needs to translate the tongue he is praying in so that he understands what he is praying and anyone who hears him understands what he is praying as well.

       In reading through 1 Corinthians 14, it is apparent that Paul’s main focus regarding the  tongues issue is on tongues spoken in public.  Paul is concerned with how speaking in tongues will impact the church.  Paul makes it clear that he wants tongues that are spoken in the church to be translated and if they cannot be translated they are not to be spoken in the church but restricted to being spoken privately.

       1 Corinthians 14:19, 28: But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

       Verse 28: If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.

      All indications are that when Paul writes about speaking in tongues he is writing about speaking in a known human language that one has not learned. Paul insists that in a public setting, such as a church meeting, tongues must be translated or they are not to be spoken.  Paul appears to allow for non-translated tongues being spoken in private but even here indicates it is better to speak not only with the spirit but with the mind. In other words, it is better to understand what you are speaking.       

Tongues as a witness to receiving the Holy Spirit:

      The NT Scriptures report that the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the Apostles on Pentecost and by others on several other recorded occasions was accompanied by speaking in tongues. Such tongue speaking appears to have taken place for the purpose of giving witness to having received the Holy Spirit. Was such witness limited to the occasions reported in the NT or were tongues to continue as a witness to receiving the Holy Spirit for all those who come to Christ throughout Church history?  

       On the day of Pentecost in AD 31, Peter told his audience to repent and be baptized and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is reported that around 3000 were baptized that very day. We can assume they received the Holy Spirit as Peter promised. Did they receive the Holy Spirit at the time of baptism?  If they did, nothing is recorded about any of these nearly 3000 speaking in tongues. 

       When Saul was blinded, the disciple Ananias was sent to Saul to lay hands on him so he would receive the Holy Spirit. Nothing is said about Saul speaking in tongues at the time hands were laid on him (Acts 2:17-18).  However, sometime after Saul's name was changed to Paul, he does inform us that he spoke in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:18).

       Paul told the Ephesian Church that after having believed, they were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Nothing is said here about tongues being a witness to their being sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)

       Paul told the Corinthians that they were all baptized by one Spirit into one body and were all given the same Spirit. Here the Spirit appears to be the baptizing agent.  There is no mention here of tongues being spoken as a witness to this baptism. 

       1 Corinthians 12:13: For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

       As can be seen, there are times when tongues are seen as accompanying the giving of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost, house of Cornelius, the Ephesian men and possibly the Samaritans) and at other times tongues are not mentioned where receiving of the Holy Spirit is discussed. 

       Both prior to and after saying they were all baptized by one Spirit into one body; Paul discusses the issue of spiritual gifts. One of these gifts is tongues.

       1 Corinthians 12:8-11: For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things (NET).

       1 Corinthians 12:27-31: Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.

       The clear indication is that different gifts are given to different people and not all receive all the gifts. It is evident that tongues are not a requirement for receiving the Holy Spirit.  If it were a requirement, then all these Corinthians would have had to have this gift.  Yet Paul clearly teaches that tongues, as is true of all the other gifts, are selectively given by the Spirit.  Not all had the gift of tongues and yet all had been baptized by the one Spirit into the one body. 

       Therefore, tongues cannot be seen here in Corinthians as associated with being a witness to receiving the Holy Spirit.  These Corinthian converts had already received the Holy Spirit at some time prior to Paul's letter to them. Paul could not have told them they had all been baptized by one Spirit into one body if they had not already received the Holy Spirit. Paul is here dealing with the assignment of spiritual gifts after having received the Holy Spirit. Tongues are one of those gifts. 

       As cited earlier, Paul says, “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers” (14:22). Paul sees tongues being for the purpose of being a sign to unbelievers. This is exactly how they were used in the Pentecost and Cornelius events.  At Pentecost, tongues were a sign that led to thousands of unbelieving Jews becoming believers. Cornelius was not a believer until Peter preached the gospel to him. Tongues then confirmed to the skeptical Jews that had come with Peter that Gentiles were to be equal recipients with the Israelite's as to salvation through Christ.  More often than not, modern day tongue speaking is done by believers in the presence of other believers with the total absence of unbelievers.   

       It appears that speaking in unlearned tongues was a gift given to some first century Christians to serve as a means of turning unbelievers into believers. Those having this gift appear to have been misusing it at times and that is why Paul had to provide guidance as to how this gift was to be used. Speaking in unlearned tongues in the presence of unbelievers was seen of value only if they were translated into languages understood by those unbelievers hearing the tongues.  


       All evidence points to speaking in tongues as seen in the NT church as the speaking of known human languages.  This being the case, modern day tongues speaking is not what was practiced in the NT church as it has been demonstrated that modern day tongues speaking does not correspond to any extant human language. Therefore, the tongues spoken by tongues speakers today does not appear to be the spiritual gift of tongues seen in the NT.  

       Furthermore, it’s been demonstrated that the kind of tongues speaking presently practiced within the Christian community is no different than that practiced by some non-Christian peoples.  This being the case, one has to question what dynamics are involved when non-Christians speak in the same kind of tongues as is seen among modern day Christians who engage in this practice.  Why would God’s Spirit facilitate tongues speaking in Buddhism or Hinduism?  Tongues speaking, as practiced by some Christians, can be found in both these religious systems.      

       As we have discussed, it is evident that speaking in tongues is not a necessary witness to having received the Spirit of God.  Speaking in tongues is not what designates one as a Christian. By and large, modern day Christians who speak in tongues or seek to speak in tongues agree with this assessment.  They don't believe you must speak in tongues to receive the Holy Spirit.  They believe they receive the Spirit of God upon repentance and accepting Christ as savior.  Their seeking of the Holy Spirit witnessed by speaking in tongues is considered an additional blessing enabling them to live a more profound Christian life.

       The problem with this perspective is that the Scriptures don't teach any such thing. As previously discussed, there is nothing in Scripture teaching we should seek speaking in tongues as a sign of being given a greater presence of the Holy Spirit or being given a special blessing so we can live a better Christian life.  While there are exhortations in Scripture to stir up the Spirit of God, there is nothing in Scripture suggesting this is done or witnessed by speaking in tongues. 

       While it is true Paul exhorted the Corinthians to eagerly desire spiritual gifts of which tongues was one of them, Paul also made it clear that tongues, like other gifts of the Spirit, was a gift given to some and not to others.  While Paul appears to see this gift being used in private communication (prayer) with God, Paul teaches that its primary purpose is to edify the Church and function as a sign to bring unbelievers to Christ. Paul clearly instructs that unless tongues spoken in public are translated/interpreted, they are not to be spoken.

       In modern day Pentecostalism, tongues are commonly spoken in public gatherings such as church services, prayer meetings and other group meetings.  While at times there is "interpretation" of such tongues, often there is no interpretation. You will find dozens of people all speaking in different tongues with no one knowing what is being said. This would appear to be in direct violation of Paul's instruction as to how tongues are to be used. 

        Historically, tongues, as the speaking of unlearned but extant human languages, has not been seen in Christianity over the past 2000 years.  While over the past 2000 years there have been periodic outbreaks of the ecstatic speech kind of tongues seen in segments of present day Christianity, the expression of ecstatic speech has always been a minority practice among Christians and appears largely limited to charismatic groups.     

       Christian tongue speakers claim their tongue speaking is generated by the Holy Spirit in the same manner as in the days of the early Church. This simply cannot be the case since the tongues generated by the Holy Spirit in NT times is not the tongues we see in the Church today. 

       If the Holy Spirit is generating modern day tongues speaking, it is generating a type of tongues speaking quite different from what is seen in the NT.  If this is the case, one must ask what is generating speaking in tongues in non-Christian religious systems.  Some modern day tongues speakers will argue that tongues spoken by non-Christians is a Satanic counterfeit of what Christians are doing.  Others will argue that tongue speaking among Christian charismatics is a satanic counterfeit of first century tongues speaking. 

       There has been a great deal of psychological, sociological and theological investigation into the dynamics associated with modern day tongues speaking.  In view of all the research that has been done, it appears modern day tongues speaking is a humanly generated worship language directed to the divine. For the non-Christian it is a worship language directed to whatever it is that the non-Christian believes to be the divine.  To the Christian, it is worship language directed to the Christian God. 

      Modern day tongues speaking cannot be shown to be actual extant human language. Therefore, when supposed interpretation of modern tongues occurs, there is no way to validate it.  As covered in an earlier sermon in this series, interpretation of tongues has been shown to be very inconsistent, unreliable and virtually fraudulent. This makes interpretation of modern day tongues as practiced by charismatics highly problematical.

       To this day I remember various "prophecies" being made when interpreters purported to interpret what was said by a tongues speaker in the church I attended as a youth.  Such prophecies often were of events about to occur including an imminent return of Christ.  I don't remember a single one of such prophecies ever coming true including the obvious non imminent-return of Christ. 

       In view of the evidence presented in our discussion of the issue of speaking in tongues, I do not see modern day speaking in tongues and the supposed interpretation of such tongues as being generated by the Holy Spirit. If this were the case, there would have to be a high level of validity to the interpretations given to tongues.  Such validity is greatly lacking as research and simple observation shows.   

       This all being said, I do not believe modern day speaking in tongues is a satanic counterfeit as some believe.  I do not believe it is some evil to be condemned.  I believe it is a humanly generated worship practice among a number of other worship practices developed and performed by Christians and non-Christians alike and for those that engage in this practice, it may have some value as a protocol for interacting with the Divine.