This study is pertaining to the true spiritual gift of TONGUES
in the context of divine worship services, the rules of how this
gift is to be used as laid down by the apostle Paul in his letter
to the Church of God at Corinth.
I recommend you read 1 Corinthians 14 as found in AMPLIFIED
BIBLE. I believe this translation gives the intent of the Greek,
especially the word " prophecy."
I want you to grasp the OVERALL point of what Paul is
concerned with when it comes to the use of tongues in the public
worship assemblies, in comparison with "prophecy."
I will start with the last words of Paul in this chapter.
Whatever the gifts of the Spirit, to Paul there was NEVER AT ANY
TIME TO BE DISORDER OR CONFUSION (see also verse 33) IN THE
CHURCH ASSEMBLY. To him, any disorder or confusion was NOT from
God. If such was not of God, then it left only two other sources
from where it came - 1)carnal human nature, and/or 2) the demonic
I am not saying the gift per se was of demonic power (yet we
must remember that demons can copy the gifts of the Spirit and
thereby deceive many) but using it wrongly and disorderly could
be influenced by the forces of the evil one.
Let me make this crystal clear with this illustration and
example. I have the God given gift of being able to YODEL. I have
control over this gift, I can choose to yodel or not yodel.
This gift does not control me but I control it. When in Church
worship services I still have complete control over this gift. I
can be joyful and very enthusiastic or quiet and meditative,
my gift of being able to yodel is under my control, never does it
control me. I can at any time I choose start to yodel. There is a
time and place to use this gift. If I should rise and start to
yodel in the middle of the sermon, it would be disorder. It may
also lead to someone else thinking they could stand and say or do
something, and before you know it there is confusion on every
Paul STRESSED very clearly that all things were to be done in
ORDER and CONTROL.
To Paul the exercising of the gift of PROPHECY in the worship
service was far more important than the gift of tongues.
The gift of tongues was not to be disallowed BUT PAUL HAD
GIVEN SPECIFIC RULES AND COMMANDS AS TO HOW AND UNDER WHAT
CONDITIONS THIS GIFT COULD BE USE IN THE CHURCH ASSEMBLY.
Please NOTE, the things Paul had instructed, ruled, and laid
out to be followed were NOT his suggestions, but were THE
COMMANDS OF THE LORD (verse 37).
We do well to TAKE HEED and UNDERSTAND the things said by
Paul in this 14th chapter of Corinthians. I have found that VERY
FEW of the ministers, let alone the members, of the Church of
God, understand Paul's teaching of the use of tongues in the
worship services, which in turn leads to a breaking of the
commandments of the Lord.
PAUL'S OVERALL THEME
Note again all the sections I have underlined. Verse one -
"especially that you may prophesy."
Verse three - "prophesies.......speaks to men for their
upbuilding and constructive spiritual progress and encouragement
Verse four - "....but he who prophesies edifies and
improves the church...."
Verse five - "....so that the church may be edified and get
good out of it."
Notice verse twelve - ......concentrate on striving to excel
and abound (in them) in ways that will build up the church."
Verse seventeen - "....but the bystander is not edified - it
does him no good."
Then there is verse nineteen - " Nevertheless, in public
worship, I would rather say five words with my understanding, and
intelligently in order to instruct others, than ten thousand
words in a (strange) language."
Verse twenty four - "But if all prophesy.......outsiders come
in, he is told of his sin and reproved and convinced by all."
Look at verse twenty six - "What then, brethren, is (the
right course)? When you meet together.......(But) let everything
be constructive and edifying and for the good of all."
Verse thirty one - ".......so that all may be instructed and
all may be stimulated and encouraged."
The main concern and theme of Paul in this chapter regarding
the church assemblies, should now be clearly seen. Church worship
to him was for EDIFYING, for INSTRUCTION, for CONSTRUCTIVE
TEACHING, for CONVINCING SINNERS AND UNBELIEVERS TO
REPENT, for the UNDERSTANDING and GOOD of ALL.
To Paul, those that spoke in tongues (without any
interpretation, and obviously that was happening in the church at
Corinth) were speaking only TO GOD, while no one else UNDERSTOOD
or was EDIFIED by it (verse 2, 9, 11, 16).
This practice of speaking in tongues in church AND NO ONE
BEING EDIFIED BUT THE ONE DOING IT, WAS TO PAUL COMPLETE
SELFISHNESS THAT HE COMMANDED NOT TO BE DONE BUT PRIVATELY
BETWEEN THE INDIVIDUAL AND GOD.
The important theme of worship services to Paul was
EDIFICATION! If anything was done that did not impart
understanding, knowledge, and/or conviction of sin and Godliness,
for EVERYONE PRESENT, it was not to be engaged in, it had no
place within divine public worship.
OTHER DRAWBACKS TO TONGUES NOT INTERPRETED
Besides it being only a selfish type of "good" to the
individual using the gift of tongues where no interpretation was
given so all present could be edified, there was a deeper and
darker drawback to this happening in public worship services.
Paul elucidates on this darker side in verses 6-11, 23.
For those outside the church, not knowing the word of the
Lord, not understanding the doctrine of the gifts of the Spirit,
those outsiders coming into the assembly and hearing people
uttering things none understand or can interpret, they will think
the people of God are MAD!
Truly this would be a natural reaction from outsiders, and
Paul knew it. It would bring shame upon the Church of God, it
would cause the wrong kind of talk about the people of God. You
can imagine words being spread around like, "Those people are out
of their mind" or "They are a bunch of mad-men" or "What a
lunatic house that is."
Paul could have no part with this and laid down rules that
became the commands of the Lord.
The first edification rule laid down by Paul is in regards to
the situation where some in the church have the gift of tongues,
but there is no one with the gift of interpretation. He covers
this situation in verses 12 to 19.
This MUST be talking about when there is no person in the
assembly with the gift of interpretation of tongues, otherwise
there would be no need to raise the question and give the
answer, if Paul knew that there would ALWAYS be an interpreter
when someone had the gift of tongues.
Paul had already made it clear in chapter 12 to the
Corinthians, that the gifts of the Spirit were not given to
everyone, but to those whom God chose, as He chose, and when He
It was not promised that all churches would have these gifts,
nor how many a church congregation would have, if it had any. The
gifts were individual and not necessarily given in pairs. They
were personal, given as God directed. Paul knew there could be
some in a congregation who had the gift of tongues yet not one
person in the same assembly had the gift of interpretation. So,
the question could be asked, "What can be done about that
Paul gives ONE answer to that question in verse 13,
"Therefore, the person who speaks in an (unknown) tongue SHOULD
PRAY (for the power) to INTERPRET AND EXPLAIN what he says."
Paul knew that any given congregation, its regular members,
WOULD KNOW EACH OTHER - THEY WOULD KNOW WHO HAD WHAT GIFTS OF THE
SPIRIT, especially in a congregation like Corinth, where there
was many spiritual gifts evident. Spiritual gifts are to be used
in the proper way and opportune time within the order of the law
of God, for the furthering of the gospel. A congregation would
know who had what spiritual gift, it would not be hid. An
individual would know what spiritual gift they had been given.
Those within a church group who had the gift of tongues, but
there was no one with the gift of interpretation, could do
something, they COULD PRAY TO GOD THAT HE WOULD ALSO GIVE THEM
THE POWER, THE GIFT TO INTERPRET AND EXPLAIN WHAT HE HAD SAID, IN
EASY TO UNDERSTAND LANGUAGE FOR THE EDIFYING AND UP-BUILDING OF
ALL IN THE ASSEMBLY.
If there was no edifying to all present then no one could say
Amen. No one will receive any good for none will know what has
been said by the speaker of tongues, and to Paul that was USELESS
WITHIN THE CHURCH ASSEMBLY, because the "bystander is not
So if there was no interpreter (and people would know who had
that gift in a congregation) the one with the gift of tongues
could ask God to give them also the gift of interpretation, yet
if God chose not to give them or any one that interpretation
gift, then Paul clearly instructed (which was a command of the
Lord): "Nevertheless, in public worship, I would rather say five
words with MY UNDERSTANDING and INTELLIGENTLY in order to
INSTRUCT OTHERS, than ten thousand words in a (strange)
People with the gift of tongues but did not have the gift to
interpret (and they and the congregation knew of no one with the
gift of interpretation in their midst), those persons should NOT
EXERCISE that gift of tongues as it would edify not one single
soul outside of themselves.
Paul, who had the gift of tongues above them all, would not
have used that gift unless he could have interpreted, or he knew
someone in the group DID HAVE the gift of interpretation. He
would have asked or inquired before hand from the leaders of the
congregation if any did have the gift to interpret before he
would have used his gift of
This is what I clearly see from how Paul wrote, the words he
used, the emphasis he put on EDIFICATION and having all
UNDERSTAND what God wanted to say during church worship services.
He would have been happy to only say a few words that all could
understand than ramble off in a tongue that none understood and
were not one wit edified by.
As the gift of tongues need not be used in a congregation
where all understand each other within their common language,
Paul would have gone the extra mile to make sure he would
not appear vain, selfish, or a "chance taker" (just taking a
chance that someone was there who could interpret). Paul is
teaching that tongues should only be used in public worship IF
the one using tongues KNEW they could also interpret, or KNEW
there was someone there present who could interpret. Making sure
this was possible would then EDIFY everybody, otherwise it was
pointless and useless within public worship, except for the
negative of unbelievers among the assembly of the church thinking
such are mad, and silently laughing to themselves.
In verse 20 Paul asks them to be MATURE in THINKING, in their
MINDS. They were not to be BABES in their reasonings.
I believe the mature thinking of what Paul is teaching in this
chapter so far discussed, IS WHAT HAS BEEN SAID IN THIS ARTICLE
Paul did not want one word said in the public worship assembly
that could not be understood by all present. His reasoning:
Public worship was for edifying, teaching godliness, building-up,
convincing of sin, and bringing unbelievers to repentance.
The use of tongues to Paul, in the public service, was of no
value unless interpreted by the user or another, as they would
only be speaking into the air. The sound of the Trumpet is
only edifying if those listening UNDERSTAND the sound they hear.
The tongue and sounds produced by it is edifying if those
listening understand with their minds what is being voiced.
I find that many who use "tongues" in public assembly worship,
and KNOW they cannot interpret, and KNOW there is no person
present with the gift of interpretation, are either
lacking in the ability to grasp what Paul is teaching in 1
Corinthians 14, not willing to acknowledge the command of the
Lord through Paul, and/or just wanting vain public atten-
tion. It can also be due to out and out uncontrolled emotions
that can be manipulated by the world of the Adversary. Not that
the gift is not from God (as my gift to yodel is from God)
but the using of it can be at the wrong time or outside the
boundaries God has laid down
pertaining to public worship.
Those who say, "Well maybe there was someone present who could
have interpreted, so I took the chance to use tongues." I answer:
Paul is MUCH TO STRONG on his teaching for EDIFICATION in public
worship (that all words spoken should be for all to learn the
truths of God, nothing said that is speaking into the air, or
having some think the church is mad) TO TAKE ANY CHANCES.
If time is not taken to enquire who if anyone has the gift of
interpretation within a congregation (a few seconds of inquiry
from the ministers or deacons would answer it) then I believe
Paul would call tongue users who only have THEMSELVES in mind,
immature children in polite language, and much stronger language
if he felt they were willfully rebelling against the commands of
STILL FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS TO THE TONGUES USER
In verse 26 Paul starts to lay down some specifics, some rules
and regulations, which later he says are the commands of the
Lord. Again he is concerned with everything being done in a
constructive, edifying, instructive manner.
Verse 27 is very clear. The number of persons who may speak in
tongues during public assemblies must NOT EXCEED THREE. Notice
also what is said, "and each one (taking his) turn, and LET ONE
INTERPRET AND EXPLAIN (what is said)."
Paul did not say, "If there is someone who can interpret, let
them do so," or "We will hope there is someone in the assembly
who can interpret."
Paul was quite emphatic in his statement and instructions -
LET ONE INTERPRET!
From what he has already told them, as previously discussed in
this article, it is natural he would be dogmatic and very clear
with his words to them that an interpretation in understandable
language for the edifying of all would be A MUST. His following
words make this VERY PLAIN if any thought differently.
"But if there is no one to do the interpreting, LET EACH OF
THEM KEEP STILL IN CHURCH and talk to himself and to God."
The argument of some is: A person is allowed to talk in
tongues in the assembly, and all will wait to see if there will
be an interpretation given by the speaker or someone else. The
argument continues: How do we know if there is an interpreter in
our midst unless someone speaks in tongues first.
Such reasoning goes on: If there is no interpreter the
speaker in tongues will be asked to be silent if they want to say
This is to some extent a "wait and see" a "chance we'll take"
a "hit and miss" conduct and proceeding of divine public worship.
To which Paul in his writing to the church at Corinth WOULD NOT
GIVE NOTION TO IN ANY MANNER OR FORM. He is expounding that, "all
things should be done with regards to DECENCY and PROPRIETY and
in an ORDERLY fashion" (verse 40).
The very wording of verse 28 shows that Paul had in mind
NOTHING CLOSE TO THE ARGUMENT ABOVE, namely, one is allowed to
speak in tongues UNTIL no interpreter is found, or one is allowed
to use tongues TO SEE IF there is someone with the gift of
Paul is predisposing NOTHING OF THE KIND, but contrary, that
KNOWLEDGE among the assembly is the natural ORDER of the day and
the gifts of the Spirit are known among them, who has them, and
what gifts they are, especially the VERBAL gifts.
There was no "chance taking" with Paul. This is proved by
the VERY WORDING OF VERSE 28.
Notice it carefully, "But if there is NO ONE to do the
INTERPRETING" are words that carry with them BEFOREHAND ORGANIZED
KNOWLEDGE that such was the situation. This is clearly what Paul
was saying with these words as shown by what he said next.
".... let EACH OF THEM KEEP STILL."
He did not say that after the FIRST one had spoken with
tongues and there was found to be no interpreter (no one with the
gift of interpretation among the assembly) the OTHER one or two
were to keep silent and not use their gift of tongues as they
were planning to.
ALL OF THEM - EACH OF THEM - FROM THE FIRST ONE TO THE SECOND
ONE TO THE THIRD ONE were to be still, be SILENT and keep their
gift of tongues in the public assembly to themselves and God.
To Paul, the very FIRST person who wanted to use tongues in
the public worship service, was to REMAIN SILENT, not even START,
keep it to themselves, between them and God only, IF THERE WAS
NOT AN INTERPRETER!
All this shows that Paul had no thought WHATSOEVER in his mind
about public church services being "hit and miss" or "taking a
chance" type of assemblies. Everything done and SAID was to be
for the edifying, understanding, upbuilding, instruction,
teaching and correcting of ALL PRESENT, which the speaking in
tongues, WITHOUT AN INTERPRETATION, did not fulfil, was useless
for others, as none could say Amen. And it was speaking into the
air, purely vain selfishness, which could lead some unbelievers
to think the people of the Church of God were mad.
Paul in verse 28, was saying that NOT EVEN THE FIRST of the
two or three should START with their gift of tongues, unless
there was an INTERPRETATION to be given by themselves or another
who had that gift to interpret.
All this shows that Paul taught and believed that ANY local
congregation would have KNOWLEDGE BEFOREHAND of the gifts within
its midst. That they would possibly INQUIRE from those visiting
if any had the gift of interpretation, prophecy, tongues, or
revelation, IN-ORDER that services would be conducted with
decency, propriety, and with no confusion.
Why should this seem strange to some today? Possibly because
they have not meditated upon and understood what Paul is teaching
in this chapter of 1 Corinthians, and/or, because the practice of
their church is very much in contradiction to all or nearly all,
that Paul instructs to the church at Corinth.
Any church, with its Elder/s and Deacons, together with its
local members, would have enough inter-action to know who had
what gifts of the Spirit.
With a church like that at Corinth where many had various
spiritual gifts, there would need to be KNOWLEDGE and ORDER
especially emphasized or utter confusion would prevail, as it
apparently did, so Paul had to correct them and set rules to
In such a church they would probably have to enquire with a
public announcement before services began, if there was any one
present with the gift of interpretations of tongues. If there was
NOT, then those with the gift of tongues WOULD KNOW TO KEEP STILL
AND BE SILENT WITH THAT GIFT AS IT WOULD NOT EDIFY OR IMPART
UNDERSTANDING TO ANYONE PRESENT IF USED WITHOUT AN
To Paul there was no such thing as "well I just could not help
myself, the Spirit made me do it."
It was not in the theology of Paul that the gift of the Spirit
was in control of the individual. To him it was always the other
way around. The person always had control of their gift, as he
said, "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets"
(verse 32). Because of that, God's order of divine public
worship services was NEVER confusion, but PEACE and ORDER, verse
WOMEN TO REMAIN SILENT?
I have covered this teaching of Paul elsewhere in some depth,
notably in my article called WOMEN'S WORK (now in two parts). I
will not here restate all that I have previously written on it.
But I will give an overview.
Paul's context is TEACHING INSTRUCTION TO EDIFICATION AND
UPBUILDING OF THE CHURCH IN PUBLIC WORSHIP. To that intent all
gifts of the Spirit could to be used in public services. And with
all that, Paul's instruction (which was the command of the
Lord - verse 37) was that "women should keep quiet in the church,
for they are not AUTHORIZED to speak, but should take a secondary
and subordinate place, just as the LAW SAYS" (verse 34).
As the gifts of the Spirit could be given to ANYONE - male and
female, with what Paul had already said it would have been a
natural question to have asked: So is it true that women can use
their gift to TEACH and EXPOUND the oracles of God to all (men
and women) present in public worship assemblies.
Paul anticipated such a question and GIVES THE INSPIRED ANSWER
in verses 34 and 35.
Women are not permitted to use their special gifts of the
Spirit in and during public divine worship.
What this amounts to in our specific study is this: Even if
there is someone with the gift of interpretations of tongues in
the assembly. A woman CANNOT use that tongues gift in public
worship, as it constitutes TEACHING THE ORACLES OF GOD, which
during public services she is not authorized to do. She is in
such services to take a secondary and subordinate role as
required and taught by the law from the Lord.
The public worship service was to Paul a time of TEACHING and
LEARNING for all present. That duty fell upon the MEN of the
congregation to the point that Paul said if any woman has a
question on anything said, they had to note it and ask their
husbands at home concerning it, and not to bring up their
question in worship services.
All this outlines, underlines, and follows through with God's
order as he created, that man is head of the woman. The spiritual
conduct of the Church of God in public worship services was to
reflect that order of creation as instituted by the Eternal God
who established that headship and order at creation.
In verses 36-38 Paul pulls no punches as they say. Anyone
claiming some spiritual gift or special power from God, will
KNOW, Paul says, that what he has spoken IS THE TRUTH OF THE
MATTER - IS THE COMMAND OF THE LORD. Those that disregard it,
will not acknowledge this truth, then Paul puts them in with a
group that shall not see the favor of the Lord.
Again let me say, this question of "women speaking in the
assembly" is covered fully in another two part study of mine,
which will be sent free to anyone who requests it, please ask
for the article called "Women's Work?"
Then I also recommend the book (300 pages) by Dr.Samuele
Bacchiocchi, entitled "WOMEN IN THE CHURCH - A Biblical Study of
the Role of Women in the Church."
Chapter 6 will be of special interest with regards to our
study in this article of mine.
For those interested in obtaining this book, you can write to
Dr.Sam (as he likes to be called)
Biblical Perspectives, 4569 Lisa Lane, Berrien Springs, MI
Written June 1995.
All articles and studies by Keith Hunt may be copied,
published, e-mailed, and distributed as led by the Spirit. Mr.
Hunt trust nothing will be changed without his consent.