Tongues at Corinth: Languages, Not Ecstasies

By Rev. Prof. Dr. Francis Nigel Lee,
Queensland Presbyterian Theological Hall,
Brisbane, Australia, May 1990.

TONGUES AT CORINTH: Languages, not Ecstasies!
by Dr. N. Lee

The Character of the Corinthian Tongues

Scripture itself suggests that these Corinthian tongues -- just like those on Pentecost Sunday -- were not incommunicable ecstatic utterances. They were clearly linguistic -- that is, spoken in translatable and recognised human languages. Compare I Cor. 14:21f and Isa. 28:11f with Acts 2:4-11. As Dr. W.B. Godby rightly observes in his Commentary, cosmopolitan ancient Corinth was "really a mammoth mongrel of all nationalities."

The international ancient trading city of Corinth had a very unusual location -- on the slender isthmus in Central Greece, between the two much larger land-masses of Northern Greece and Southern Greece, and also between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas to the west and the Aegean Sea to the east. Corinth's location there was thus similar to that of Panama City in the new world --on the thin waist of Central America, between the two great continents of North America and South America, and also between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.

In the international trading centre of Panama City today, at least twenty different languages are regularly spoken. So too in ancient Corinth. There, none of those various foreign languages was to be spoken during worship in the Corinthian Church --unless translated. If so used, those foreign languages were always to be translated into the Corinthian dialect -- so that all present could understand the message concerned.

According to the earliest extant comments -- those of the 185 A.D. Irenaeus and the 190f A.D. Clement of Alexandria -- the Corinthians tongues were clearly linguistic (and therefore not ecstatic). So too Origen, Eusebius, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianze, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil, Hilary, Jerome, Chrysostom, Epiphanius, Augustine, Theodoret, Vincent, Leo, and Gregory the Great. Likewise Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. So too Matthew Henry, Lange, Plumptre, Meyer, Alford, Buswell, E.J. Young, Morton H. Smith, Robert Reymond, Richard Gaffin, Leonard Coppes, and Francis Nigel Lee. Indeed, even some (Neo-)Pentecostalists themselves -- such as Harald Bredesen, Carl Brumback, Howard Carter, David J. DuPlessis, Donald Gee, Harold Horton and Oral Roberts -- also concede this point.

The Protestant Reformation's John Calvin was quite the greatest of all post-apostolic Presbyterians. States Calvin, in the introductory Theme of his Commentary on First Corinthians: "It is well-known that Corinth was a rich and a famous city of Achaia.... It was near the Aegean Sea on one side, and the Ionian Sea on the other, and...on the isthmus linking Attica and the Peloponnesus."

Situated on the Grecian isthmus in perhaps the greatest international trading centre of the ancient world, Corinth -- continues Calvin -- was a truly multilingual citadel of "bombastic language" and "chattering speechmakers." Yet the Christian congregation there "had gone wrong in the use of spiritual gifts." Many demeaned the most excellent gift of prophecy, and "thought that tongues were more valuable." So Paul "condemns the fault of holding forth noisily in unknown tongues" -- alias languages unknown to the listeners.

Certainly there was some miraculous language-speaking occurring in the Apostolic Church, and perhaps also at Corinth --until the completion of Scripture (probably around 70 A.D.). On the other hand, in those days too, even the Apostles themselves sometimes needed interpreters. I Cor. 14:5,27-28. For even the multilingual Paul (and Barnabas) apparently did not understand the Lycaonian dialect. Acts 14:11-14. Indeed, Peter too apparently sometimes used Mark as his interpreter. I Pet. 5:13 (cf. Eusebius's Hist. Eccl. III:39:15).

Upon the inscripturation of the last book of the Bible, God's special revelation terminated. This means that all miracles --which had indeed always been focussed toward and upon the completion of Holy Writ! -- had then served their purpose. Thenceforth and until Christ's Second Coming, "those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people" are "now ceased!" Thus the Westminster Confession of Faith 1:1f --doctrinal standard of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches worldwide.

Holy Writ was then completed. Now, "the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary...is either expressly set down in Scripture or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture." Thus, to completed Scripture -- "nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men." Westminster Confession 1:6m.

The Westminster Confession (21:1b) later warns that God "may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men or the suggestions of Satan." The Confession further insists (1:8u) that the word 'tongues' -- in I Cor. 14:6,9,11,12,24,27,28 -- uniformly refers to popular vernacular alias "the vulgar language of every nation. Indeed, it also insists (21:3m) that the command not to 'pray in an unknown tongue' -- in I Cor. 14:14 -- requires Christians who utter "vocal" or audible prayer, to do so only "in a known tongue."

Rev. Dr. Albert Barnes, former pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, states in the Introduction to his famous Commentary on First Corinthians: "The merchandise of Italy, Sicily and the western nations "was landed at Lechaeum on the west; and the islands of the Aegean Sea, of Asia Minor, and of the Phoenicians and other oriental nations at Cenchrea on the east. The city of Corinth thus became the mart of Asia and Europe....

"Its population and its wealth was thus increased by the influx of foreigners.... Public prostitutes...were supported chiefly by foreigners.... Individuals -- in order to ensure success in their undertakings -- vowed to present to Venus a certain numbers of courtesans, which they obtained by sending to distant countries [for shipment to Corinth]... Foreign merchants were attracted in this way to Corinth."

Paraphrase of I Corinthians 12:8-30

Paul made it clear in I Cor. 12:8-30 that not all but only some Christians had the gift of (lingual or multilingual) tongues. Indeed, even the gift of speaking in tongues was quite distinct from the different gift of interpreting tongues.

Explained Paul: "To one is given by the Spirit...diversities of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the selfsame Spirit keeps on working all of these, distributing to each his own -- as He [the Spirit] wills.... God has set some in the church...[to exercise] diversities of tongues.... Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?" No! I Cor. 12:8-11,28-30.

Chrysostom on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 12:8-30

The exegesis of the Early Church Fathers is faithfully reflected by the great theologian John Chrysostom. Around 400 A.D. and in his relevant Homilies, he wrote what is probably the earliest extant commentary on Paul's Epistles to the Corinthians.

Explains Chrysostom: "One person knew what he spake himself, but was unable to interpret to another. While another had acquired both these [gifts], or the other of the two."

To Chrysostom, the language-speakers at Corinth knew exactly what they were talking about! Yet even so: "Do you not see where He [God] has set this gift, and how He everywhere assigns it the last rank?" I Cor. 12:10,11,28,30.

Calvin and Hodge on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 12:8-30

Comments Calvin (on I Cor. 12:10): "The 'interpretation of tongues' was different from the 'knowledge of tongues.' For those who had the latter gift, often did not know the language of the people with whom they had to have dealings. Interpreters translated the foreign languages into the native speech."

The learned Presbyterian Rev. Prof. Dr. Charles Hodge, sometime Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, wrote in his excellent commentary on First Corinthians that 'kinds of tongues' in I Cor. 12:8-10 means "the ability to speak in languages.... What was spoken with tongues, was intelligible to those who understood foreign languages....

"What was uttered, were articulate sounds -- the vehicle of prayer, praise and thanksgiving. I Cor. 14:14-17.... They were edifying, and therefore intelligible to him who uttered them. I Cor. 14:4,16.... They admitted of being interpreted, which supposes them to be intelligible..... Though intelligible in themselves and to the speaker, they were unintelligible to others...not acquainted with the language used" -- unless translated for them. "The folly which Paul rebuked -- was speaking in Arabic to men who understood only Greek!"

The gift of interpretation was distinct from that of speaking with tongues.... The word gloossai ('tongues') must here mean languages.... Greek was the language of educated persons throughout the Roman empire, but it had not superseded the national languages in common life.... The gift of tongues, however, was not the ability to speak all languages. Probably most of those who received the gift, could speak only in one or two....

"The man using a foreign language, was able to understand it. See 14:2,4,16." Thus, he also "may have had the gift of interpretation in [close]

connection with the gift of tongues." Yet even though he would "understand the language which he used, he needed [another] distinct gift to make him the organ of the Spirit in its interpretation." Naturally, if speaking with tongues were to have been "speaking incoherently in ecstasy -- it is hard to see how what was said, could admit of interpretation! Unless coherent, it was [or rather would have been] irrational. And, if irrational -- it could not be translated!"

Finally, observes Hodge, the gift of 'diversities of tongues' refers to "persons having the gift of speaking in foreign languages. This is put last [I Cor. 12:28-30] -- probably because it was so unduly valued and so ostentatiously displayed by the Corinthians."

Barnes on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 12:8-30

In commenting on I Cor. 12:10, Barnes distinguished "the power of speaking various languages" from "the power of interpreting foreign languages -- or of interpreting the language which might be used by the 'prophets' in their communications.... This was evidently a faculty different from the power of speaking a foreign language....

"In an assembly made up of those who spoke different languages, a part might have understood what was uttered" -- but the rest, not. So, "it was needful that an interpreter should explain it.... Some had the talent of speaking different languages, or of interpreting.... Others had not!"

Paraphrase on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 13:1

Paul next explained the necessity of using the various gifts (such as those of tongues) -- lovingly, alias considerately. Remarked Paul: 'Although I were to speak with the tongues of men and even of angels -- if I do not have love, I have become echoing brass or a noisy cymbal!' (Our own word 'noisy' here translates alalazoon, 'to keep on ringing out' -- to keep on uttering the war-cry 'alala'!)

Here, Paul was not claiming that there are indeed 'angelic languages' -- still less, even if there were, that he or any other human being had spoken or could speak in such tongues. Indeed, Paul was not even claiming to have spoken in all the 'tongues of men' alias every human language.

It is true Paul knew more languages than any multilinguist among the Corinthians -- and possibly more than all of them put together (I Cor. 14:18). Yet we know that -- though an accomplished multilinguist (Acts 21:40f) -- there were some languages he apparently did not know (Acts 14:11-14).

Chrysostom, Hodge and Barnes on 'tongues' in I Cor. 13:1

The 'tongues of men' here, comments Chrysostom, means those "of all nations in every part of the world.... He did not mention 'tongues' -- but 'the tongues of all mankind.'"

Hodge comments: "'The tongues of men' are the languages which men speak.... The gift of tongues was the gift of speaking foreign languages..., 'all languages human.'"

Barnes comments that this means: "Though I should be able to speak all the languages which are spoken by men. To speak foreign languages was regarded then, as it is now, as a rare and valuable endowment.... Among the Corinthians, the power of speaking a foreign language was regarded as a signally valuable endowment."

Paraphrase on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 13:8f

Paul then went on to remind the Corinthians that love or considerateness will abide forever -- long after tongues in general (and apparently the various miraculous language-gifts in particular) -- would cease! 'Love never fails [or falls down].... But tongues shall cease' of their own accord. 'For...when maturity comes, then what is incomplete shall be done away with' -- or put itself out of gear.

We are not in this article out to prove that the various miraculous gifts (such as those of miraculous healings and miraculous tongues-speakings etc) would disappear during the apostolic age, upon the completion of the inscripturation of Holy Writ. However -- this is indeed the stated position of Augustine II, Luther, Calvin, the Westminster theologians, Owen, Voetius, Chas. & A.A. Hodge, Edwards, Godet, Shedd, Warfield, Kuyper, Hughes and Lee.

Nor will we here argue that I Cor. 13:10's "what is perfect" is the completion of Scripture, around A.D. 70 -- by which time I Cor. 13:8's miraculous gifts of "tongues" etc. would therefore "cease." This has been so argued by Edwards, Dabney, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, Pink, Reymond, Unger, Du Toit, Gaffin, Judisch and Budgen. Indeed, we ourselves have so argued -- in our own work thereon, called Miracles -- What and When?, Brisbane, 1985, especially pp 35-40.

Here, however, we are concerned simply with the need to translate all foreign languages spoken in the congregation. This translating was needed in the past -- even when those languages were sometimes spoken miraculously! Similar translation is still needed at the present -- wherever foreign tongues might (non-miraculously) be spoken during public worship or public prayer meetings.

Paraphrase on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:2-5

Declared Paul: 'He who keeps on speaking in a tongue [viz. a language], is not speaking to men but to God [and to himself]. For nobody [else] understands him, even though in spirit he is speaking hidden things (musteeria).... He who keeps on speaking in a language, edifies himself.... I would that you all spoke in languages, but rather that you prophesied. For greater is he who prophesies, than he who speaks in languages --except he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.'

Note here that these 'mysterious things' are not hidden to his own spirit (pneumati), but only to the spirits of other Christians. The word pneumati here means his own spirit, and not the Holy Spirit. For in this sentence --there is no 'Holy Spirit' [Hagiooi Pneumati]; no 'Spirit' [Pneumati]; nor even a definite article 'the' [or tooi] before this man's spirit [pneumati]!

The 'hidden things' are therefore mysteries -- but only so, to the foreign spirits of others who may be listening. For none of the language-speaker's listeners -- nobody (oudeis) --then understands him. Nobody -- unless his tongue-speakings are translated, for the listeners' benefit!

Quite different to such untranslated public language-speakings, however, are 'prophecies' or forthtellings of God's Word --whether spoken directly into the Corinthian dialect, or whether translated thereinto from some other language. On the character of prophecy, see my other article Revival Through Prophesying (Brisbane, 1990). Here, however, we would only establish that even untranslated language-speaking was very edifying to -- and therefore thoroughly understood by -- the language-speaker himself!

Chrysostom on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:2-5

Comments Chrysostom: "As in the time of building the tower [of Babel], the one tongue was divided into many -- so then" with this Corinthian language-speaking. "The many tongues frequently 'met' in one man [cf. I Cor. 14:18]....

"The same person used to discourse both in the Persian, and the Roman, and the Indian, and many other tongues.... The gift was called 'the gift of tongues' -- because he could...speak divers languages." Paul "is speaking of them who understand what they say -- understand it themselves!"

Calvin on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:2-5

Calvin comments: "The Corinthians were giving undue attention to the gift of tongues, because it was more showy. For it is the case that, when people hear somebody speaking in a foreign language, they are unusually moved to wonderment.... It means a foreign language.... 'Mysteries'...I interpret...as unintelligible, baffling, enigmatic sayings. As if Paul had written, 'Nobody understands a word he says'....

"In our own day...there is a crying need for the knowledge of tongues.... Since the Holy Spirit has bestowed undying honour on tongues..., it is easy to deduce what sort of spirit moves those critics who make strong attacks against the study of languages....

"Paul is referring to all languages...which were such a great help in proclaiming the Gospel among all the nations.... On the other hand..., present-day critics are condemning the languages from which the pure truth of Scripture is to be drawn....

"Do not, however, imagine that Paul is here allowing anybody to waste the time of the Church by muttering foreign words. For how ridiculous it would be to proclaim the same thing in many languages, when there is no need to do so!"

Hodge on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:2-5

Hodge comments: "If a man comes to me speaking a language which I cannot understand, no matter how polished or significant that language may be -- he is a barbarian to me, and I to him [I Cor. 14:] vs. 10-11.... He who had the gift of tongues, should pray for the gift of interpretation -- as without the latter gift, however devotional he might be, his prayers could not profit others [I Cor. 14:] vs. 13-14.... The gift of tongues...was the gift...of speaking in foreign languages.... The speaker with tongues was in a state of calm self-control. He could speak, or be silent [I Cor. 14:]14,28.... What he said was intelligible to himself, and could be interpreted to others....

"He who speaks with tongues, speaks not to men but to God.... 'No man understandeth' him...does not imply that the sounds uttered were in themselves unintelligible, so that no man living (unless inspired) could understand them.... The meaning is not that no man living, but no man present could understand. It is not the use of the gift of tongues that he censures, but the use of that gift when no one was present who understood the language employed....

"Mysteries mean divine truths...which God has revealed.... To make the word mean 'things not understood'...is contrary to the usage of the word.... The difficulty was in the language used, not in the absence of meaning.... The implication is that these tongues were foreign to the hearers.... Therefore it is said, 'no man understands him'....

"The prophet spoke in the native language of his hearers; the speaker with tongues, in a foreign language.... The speaker with tongues did not edify the church, because he was not understood. He did edify himself, because he understood himself! This verse, therefore, proves that the understanding was not in abeyance, and that the speaker was not in an ecstatic state....

"'That the church may receive edification'...proves that the contents of these discourses delivered in an unknown tongue, were edifying and therefore did not consists in...enigmas and dark sayings. This passage also proves that the gift of interpretation, although distinct from that of tongues, might be -- and doubtless often was -- possessed by the same person, and consequently that he understood what he said!"

Barnes on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:1-5

Comments Barnes: "It was necessary to correct an erroneous estimate which they [the Corinthians] had placed on the power of speaking foreign languages.... He [Paul] then proceeds to set forth the advantage of speaking in intelligible language.... Though Paul himself was more signally endowed than any of them, yet he prized far more highly the power of promoting the edification of the church, though he uttered but five words, if they were understood -- than all the power which he possessed of speaking foreign languages [I Cor. 14] ver. 18-19....

"They were not most earnestly and especially to desire to be able to speak foreign languages, or to work miracles. But they were to desire to be qualified to speak in a manner that would be edifying to the church. They would...highly prize the power...of speaking foreign languages.... [Yet] the ability to speak in a plain...manner so as to edify the church...was a more valuable endowment than...the power of speaking foreign languages....

"The faculty of speaking intelligibly, and to the edification of the church, is of more value than the power of speaking a foreign language.... He did not undervalue the power of speaking foreign languages when foreigners were present; or when they went to preach for foreigners. See [I Cor. 14] ver. 22... It was only when it was needless, when all present spoke one language, that he speaks of it as of comparatively little value."

Paraphrase on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:6-9

Continued Paul: 'If I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you -- except I shall speak to you either by revelation or by knowledge? ... Even lifeless things which give off sounds, whether pipe or organ, unless they give off a distinction in the sounds -- how shall what is piped or harped be known? For if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound -- who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise you, unless by the tongue you utter words easy to be understood -- how shall that which is being spoken, be known? For you shall be speaking into the air!'

Calvin and Hodge on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:6-9

Calvin comments: "Paul takes himself as an example.... He therefore asks them what use it would be to them if he were to employ strange languages when speaking to them.... Paul is speaking here about sounds which are products of a certain technical skill. As though he said -- 'A man cannot give life to a harp or flute, except by producing sounds which are adjusted in such a way that they can be picked out! How absurd then that actual men, endowed as they are with intelligence, should utter indistinguishable and unintelligible sounds!'"

Comments Hodge: "The obvious design of the illustration, is to show the uselessness of making sounds which are not understood.... The simple point of the analogy is that, as we cannot know what is piped or harped, or be benefited by it, unless we can discriminate the sounds emitted -- so we cannot be benefited by listening to one who speaks a language which we do not understand."

Barnes on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:6-9

Barnes comments: "If he [Paul] should come among them [the Corinthians] speaking foreign languages -- it could be of no use unless it were interpreted to them.... Paul had the power of speaking foreign languages [I Cor. 14] ver. 18. But he did not use this power for ostentation or display, but merely to communicate the gospel to those who did not understand his native tongue....

"Foreign tongues spoken in their assembly would be just as useless in regard to their duty, their comfort and edification --as would be the sound of a trumpet, [unless] when it gave one of the usual and intelligible sounds by which it was known what the soldiers were required to do. Just as we would say that the mere beating on a drum would be useless -- unless some tune was played by which it was known that the soldiers were summoned to the parade....

"To apply the case. If you use a foreign language -- how shall it be known what is said, or of what use will it be, unless it is made intelligible by interpretation? ... The practice of the papists accords with what the Apostle here condemns -- where worship is conducted in a language not understood by the people!"

Paraphrase on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:10-12

Declared Paul: 'There are, it may be, very many kinds of sounds in the world. But not one of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the sound -- I would be a barbarian to him who keeps on speaking [in his own foreign language].

'And he who keeps on speaking [in a tongue foreign to me] --would be a barbarian to me. So too you. Inasamuch are you do keep on being zealous about spiritual gifts -- seek to excel, to the edification of the church!'

Chrysostom and Calvin on 'tongues' in I Cor. 14:10-12

Chrysostom comments that there were "so many tongues" in the Apostolic Church. He specifies further: "So many 'voices' of Scythians, Thracians, Romans, Persians, Moors, Indians, Egyptians, [and] innumerable other nations."

Calvin comments: "Our speech ought to be the reflection of our minds.... It is therefore pointless and absurd for a man to speak in a gathering of people, when the hearer understands not a word of what he says and cannot even catch the slightest inkling to show him what the speaker means. Paul is therefore quite right in regarding it as the height of absurdity that a man should prove to be a 'barbarian' to his audience, because he talks away in an unknown language....

"The Greeks, who looked upon themselves as the only people who were good speakers and had a refined language, called all the other peoples barbarians -- because of their rough and boorish way of speaking. But in fact, no matter how cultivated a language may be, even it can be described as 'barbarous' -- when nobody can understand it!"

Hodge on 'tongues' in I Cor. 14:10-12

Hodge comments: "'There are ever so many...languages in the world'.... The context...shows that the reference is to human speech. Therefore, the words genee phoonoon should be translated 'kinds of languages.' Gen. 1 & 11. And no one of them 'is without signification' -- i.e., inarticulate. The phrase is phoonee aphoonos -- 'a language which is no language' --that is, without significancy (which is the essence of a language)! The very point is that as all languages are significant, so the languages used by those who spoke with tongues were significant. The difficulty was not in the language used, but in the ignorance of the hearer....

"The sounds uttered, are significant.... The man does not make a mere senseless noise, but speaks a real language. Therefore, if I know not the meaning of the voice (i.e., the language) -- I shall stand in the relation of a foreigner to him, and he to me. Otherwise, it would not be so! If a man utters incoherent, inarticulate sounds which no man living could understand -- that would not make him a foreigner. It might prove him to be deranged, but not [to be] a stranger! The word barbarian means simply one of another country.... In this passage...barbarian means simply 'foreigner.' Comp. Rom. 1:14; Acts 28:24; Col. 3:11.

Barnes on 'tongues' in I Cor. 14:10-12

Comments Barnes: "Paul meant to indicate that there were perhaps, or might be, as many languages as the Jews supposed -- to wit, seventy [compare Genesis chapter ten. Calvin's successor] Beza and others suppose it means that there may be as many languages as there are nations of men. Bloomfield renders it, 'Let there be as many kinds of languages as you choose.' Macknight, 'There are, no doubt, as many kinds of languages in the world as ye speak'....

"The argument is, that as all the languages that are in the world, however numerous they are for utility, and as none are used for the sake of mere display -- so it should be with those who had the power of speaking them in the Christian church. They should speak them, only when and where they would be understood....

"The meaning of the voice [refers to]...that language that is uttered.... What I say, will be unintelligible to him [the foreigner]; and what he says, will be unintelligible to me. We cannot understand one another any more than people can who speak different languages.... A barbarian...means one who speaks a different or a foreign language."

Paraphrase of I Corinthians 14:13-14

Declares Paul: "He, therefore, who speaks in a foreign language [while in the congregation] -- let him pray that he himself may translate it [for the benefit of his otherwise-uncomprehending 'foreign' listeners]! For if I pray [publically] in a foreign language [known to me but not known to my foreign listeners], my spirit then indeed prays" -- even though the spirits of my foreign listeners do not. Isa. 28:11-12 cf. I Cor. 14:21-22.

"For my own spirit knows my own home language, when I pray in it." Isa. 26:9 cf. Lk. 1:47 & Rom. 8:16. "But 'my understanding' is 'unfruitful'" -- if I pray publically in my own home language. Because I should have realized that the spirits of my 'foreign' listeners would not be able to follow me in my own home language, unless translated for them. For I should have had the 'understanding' to have anticipated that, when 'foreigners' have to listen to me praying, they themselves can listen to me only un-fruit-fully -- if I pray publically in my own home language inaccessible to my 'foreign' listeners!

The Westminster Confession (21:3m) refers to this text I Cor. 14:14. It does so to prove that "prayer is by God required...to be made..., if vocal, in a known tongue" -- alias a humanly recognized language.

(Neo-)Pentecostal Misinterpretation of I Corinthians 14:13-14

Both Pentecostalists and Neo-Pentecostalists claim Paul here means the following: "Whenever I pray supernaturally in a tongue or ecstatic utterance, it is really the Holy Spirit down within me Who is then doing the praying! It is not my own conscious understanding which is doing the praying at that particular time. No, at that particular moment -- my own understanding is quite 'un-fruitful' and uncomprehending!

"This is so, because I do not then understand what the Holy Spirit is praying through me. At that time, I am only praying 'spirit-ually' -- but not understanding-ly! For then, I am merely a non-understanding alias a mind-less tool of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it is not really me at all that is then doing the praying. But it is the Holy Spirit Who is then praying -- in me, and through me, and in spite of me."

Oral Roberts's misinterpretation of I Cor. 14:13-14

Oral Roberts was a world-famous Classic Pentecostalist leader at the time he turned Neo-Pentecostalist and joined the liberal Methodist Church. Declares Roberts: "When one uses his new tongue through the Spirit's utterance, he cannot speak in his own normal tongue at the same time. Paul gives us the sense of this in I Corinthians 14:14, 'For if I pray in an unknown tongue my spirit prayeth but my understanding is unfruitful.' Paul indicates here that when one prays in tongues..., his intellect relinquishes active control of the speech centers....

"Paul continues...: 'I will pray with the spirit' [viz. in tongues].... 'I will sing with the spirit' [viz. in tongues].... I Corinthians 14:15.... When a believer speaks in tongues, he is either praying or singing or giving thanks to God with his spirit, rather than with his intellect. This is in harmony with Paul's explanation in I Corinthians 14:2.... When one is praying 'in the Spirit,' he is praying or speaking in tongues. Paul uses this term again, in Ephesians 6:18....

"Speaking in tongues...may cause such emotions as rest, peace, quietness, soft inner glow -- as well as [alternatively] ecstatic joy.... The intellect relinquishes...its absolute control.... Paul reached a point where he had to bind his intellect.... He had to quit talking in his own language, and quit thinking in his own mind. He simply prayed in tongues. Thus Oral Roberts: The Baptism with the Holy Spirit, Tulsa, 1964, pp. 22f,31,42 cf. p 28.

(Neo-)Pentecostals DeVilliers & Cockburn misuse I Cor. 14:15

M.M. DeVilliers declares: "No Christians can pray and praise the Lord, like those [viz. the (Neo- )Pentecostalists] who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit.... The person who has already tried to laud and praise God without being baptized in the Holy Spirit -- but who then tries again, after he receives the full baptism -- knows that Pentecostalists are able to glorify God only through the power of the Holy Ghost.... Sometimes the loveliest songs of praise and other spiritual songs in strange tongues, are heard -- through the Holy Spirit -- in the services of despised and persecuted Pentecostalists....

"In Bartleman's How Pentecost came to Los Angeles, we read that... 'the Spirit dropped the heavenly chorus into my soul.... No one could understand it.... It was indeed a 'new song' in the Spirit.... The singing in tongues was exercised, as the Spirit moved the possessors.... It was sometimes without words; other times in tongues.... People fell under the power of God, danced, and did lots of other things.'

I Cor. 14:15 states: 'I will pray with the spirit' and 'I will sing with the spirit.' Yet from this, DeVilliers has jumped to the conclusions of 'dancing' and 'doing lots of other things.' Indeed, DeVilliers even calls this 'dancing in the Spirit' and 'doing lots of other things in the Spirit!' See M.M. DeVilliers: Let My People Go! (Paarl Publishers, South Africa), n.d., pp. 59-63.

The Neo-Pentecostalist Cockburn is not to be outdone. For he enjoins: "Sing aloud whatever notes come to you, together with the accompanying syllables or words, as the Lord gives them to you. I Cor. 14:15.... Once you have spoken in tongues (by the Lord's enabling), you may do so whenever you wish. I Cor. 14:27,28,32. The more you use your 'tongue' -- the more you will be edified.... Use it daily!" Thus I. Cockburn: The Baptism in the Spirit, Logos, Plainfield N.J., 1971, p. 32.

However, God's Word warns us: "The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. It defiles the wholy body..., and is set on fire by hell!" Jas. 4:6.

Results of (Neo-)Pentecostal abuse of I Cor. 14:13-14

The above (Neo-)Pentecostal misinterpretation of I Cor. 14:13-14, is thoroughly unscriptural! Sadly, it is also a most dangerous aberration. For it reduces (Neo-)Pentecostalistic 'tongues-speaking' almost to the level of spirit-istic medium-ism at forbidden seances! Could this not often be demonic? I Tim. 4:1-2 & I John 4:1-6. Indeed, even Neo-Pentecostalist Oral Roberts states that one "exercising a gift of tongues is really possessed...." Op. cit., pp 48 & 55-57. Compare: Deut. 18:10-12; I Sam. 28:7-20; Isa. 8:19-20; 29:4.

Spiritism is a very grave danger to man, and an abomination to the Lord. It is a very wicked sin. Certainly, all Christians in particular should firmly avoid even the appearance of such an evil! See I Thess. 5:22-23.

Classic-Pentecostal misuse of I Cor. 14:13-14 untenable

The two consecutive verses I Cor. 14:13-14 make both the Classic-Pentecostal view as well as the Neo- Pentecostal view of Paul's teaching quite untenable. The two verses must, of course, be read together. For they are linked to one another (at the beginning of verse 14) by the conjunction "for" (or gar).

Now the two verses cannot mean what the Classic-Pentecostalists suggest they. They say the verses mean: 'Let him who speaks in tongues in public, pray that someone else there present, should try to explain those utterances. For the tongues-speaker himself does not then understanding what the Holy Spirit is then praying through him.'

In actual fact, however, the two verses can only mean: "If a man speaks publically in his own foreign language, let him first pray that he himself may be enabled to interpret it!" For the Greek itself has -- "ho laloon gloosseei proseuchesthoo hina diermeeneueei!

"For, if I pray in my own foreign language while in public, my own spirit is indeed praying." Indeed, I myself right then certainly understand what I am praying at that time. "But my understanding is unwise" to pray thus, publically, in my own foreign language -- unless I translate [or get someone else to translate] my prayer. For my prayer would then need to be translated out of my own foreign language, and into the different language of the listeners (so as to benefit them too)!

Neo-Pentecostalistic misuse of I Cor. 14:13-14 untenable

The two consecutive verses I Cor. 14:13-14 cannot consistently be interpreted in the Classic-Pentecostalist way. However, still less can they consistently be interpreted in the way Neo-Pentecostalists try to do. For the two verses cannot possibly mean what Neo-Pentecostalistic 'closet tongues-speakers' would wish them to mean.

Neo-Pentecostalists misinterpret the passage as if it meant: 'let him who prays ecstatically in private, not even try to see to it that the meaning of the utterance be explained there and then! After all, the human understanding even of the language-speaker is uncomprehending -- throughout all such ecstatic prayer.'

In actual fact, however, the two consecutive verses themselves very clearly insist that the language-speaking must be interpreted. Indeed, the verses even say the tongue-speaker himself must interpret his own utterance -- or hina diermeeneueei.

Moreover, the particular language-speakings mentioned here were all uttered publically (and not privately in one's own closet)! Indeed, they were all uttered with the greatest openness. For they were all uttered in the very bosom of the Church at Corinth, during her congregation meetings. See I Cor. 14:4-6,9,11,13,16- 17,19,21,23,27-28.

Refutation of (Neo-)Pentecostal misuse of I Cor. 14:13

The verse I Cor. 14:13, even by itself, clearly implies these tongues were linguistic. By and large, this alone refutes what most (Neo-)Pentecostalists claim it teaches.

For the verse does not say: 'Let him utter non-linguistic ecstatic sounds!' Let him do so either publically, or privately, or both! Let him utter sounds which he himself does not understand.' No! Instead, the verse actually says: 'Let him who speaks in a foreign language, pray that he may be enabled to interpret it [to others]!"

Further, the verse does not say: 'Let the ecstatic sound-utterer pray that someone else present, may interpret the utterer's sounds.' No! Instead, the verse actually says: 'Let the one who speaks in a language, pray that he may be enabled to interpret it [to others]!"

Again, the verse does not say: 'Let the sound-utterer pray that someone else present may try to explain his utterances.' No! Instead, the verse actually says: 'Let the foreign language-speaker [before speaking publically, first] pray that he [himself] might be enabled to translate" what he could say, into the language of his listeners!

Refutation of (Neo-)Pentecostal misuse of I Cor. 14:14

Similarly, even the next verse, I Cor. 14:14, does not at all teach what (Neo-)Pentecostalists claim it does! For, firstly, the verse does not say: 'Whenever I pray in ecstatic utterances, it is really the Holy Spirit Who is praying [through me].' No! Instead, the verse actually says: "If I pray in a foreign language -- my [own] spirit is praying."

Secondly, the verse does not say: 'Whenever I pray in ecstatic utterances, my own spirit is simply swept along uncomprehendingly.' No! Instead, the verse actually says: If I pray in a foreign language, my spirit [consciously] prays."

Thirdly, the verse does not say: 'My own understanding is disengaged, whenever I pray in ecstatic utterances which I myself cannot then understand.' No! Instead, the verse actually says: "Let the one who speaks [publically] in a foreign language, pray that he might be enabled to translate it! For [otherwise] -- although my own spirit would then indeed itself be praying -- my understanding would be unfruitful or unwise. For my own untranslated foreign language message, would then bear no fruit in the lives of my uncomprehending listeners!

Calvin on I Corinthians 14:13

What does Paul mean when he says: 'Let a man who speaks in a foreign language, pray that he may translate it?' Comments Calvin: "Here Paul is replying, by way of anticipation, to a question which could easily have been put to him [namely]: 'Does that mean, then, that if anyone knows a foreign language, his gift will be useless?'"

'Does that mean that he who speaks best in a foreign tongue, cannot be of any benefit to the congregation of Christ's Church in Corinth?' Answers Calvin: "Paul provides the remedy. 'Let him ask God for the gift of interpretation also! If he does not have that -- let him refrain, in the meantime, from giving an ostentatious performance!'" Alternatively -- let others interpret it for him, instead!

Hodge on I Corinthians 14:13

Paul's argument here, comments Charles Hodge, "was designed to show how useless it is to speak in a language which no one present understands." Apparently anticipating the (Neo-)Pentecostalistic misinterpretation of I Cor. 14:13f, Hodge here rightly rejects "the assumption that the gift of tongues was exercised only in prayer and praise; in other words, that it consisted in an ecstatic but unintelligible and unintelligent pouring out of the heart to God.... This whole assumption is not only gratuitous, but contrary to Scripture!

"The gift of tongues was, according to Acts 2:5-11, exercised in declaring the 'wonderful works of God.' It is also apparent from what is said in this chapter, [I Cor. 14] vs. 22-25 and v. 27, that the gift in question was not confined to acts of devotion" in private, but was also being exercised especially in public worship! See I Cor. 14:4-6,9,11,13,16-17,19,21,23,27-28.

Barnes on I Corinthians 14:13

What does Paul mean by: 'Let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue, pray that he may interpret?' He means, comments Barnes, the following. "The power of speaking foreign languages, and the power of conveying truth in a clear and distinct manner, were not always found in the same person. The one [gift] did not of necessity imply the other."

These two distinctly different gifts of tongues-speaking and tongues-interpretation, however, "were bestowed on men in some such way as ordinary talents and mental powers are now conferred.... They became in a similar sense the characteristic mental endowments of the individual, and of course were subject to the same laws [as still operate today].... And as it now happens that one man may have a peculiar faculty for acquiring and expressing himself in a foreign language who may not be by any means distinguished for clear enunciation, or capable of conveying his ideas in an interesting manner to a congregation -- so it was then.

"The apostle therefore directs such, if any there were -- instead of priding themselves on their endowments, and instead of always speaking in an unknown tongue which would be useless to the church -- to pray for the more useful gift of being able to convey their thoughts in a clear and intelligible manner in their vernacular tongue. This would be useful."

For those who "had the power of speaking with eminent ability in a foreign language -- they ought to desire to be able to interpret, so that they would be intelligible to the people whom they addressed in the church." For "the power of speaking foreign languages and the power of interpreting, were not always united in the same person -- as appears from chap. 12:10."

What I Corinthians 14:14 really means

What does Paul really mean in I Cor. 14:14? We believe he means the following: 'If I pray in public in a language well-known to myself but foreign to most of my listeners, my mind is unfruitful. For then my mind has not grasped that my listeners, who do not understand that foreign language I just prayed in, are deriving no benefit from my recent untranslated prayer. My mind is "unfruitful" in that it did not -- while my spirit was praying -- proceed to translate my own foreign words into the Corinthian dialect, for the benefit of my listeners.'

Note that Paul does not say: 'If I pray in a tongue, even I do not understand it!' But, as the famous Scottish Presbyterian Bible Translator Rev. Prof. Dr. James Moffatt rightly renders the phrase, Paul here actually meant: "If I pray with a tongue, my spirit prays, no doubt; but my mind is no use to anyone" -- that is, to anyone else!

In such a situation, this kind of prayer -- unless translated --is of no use to anyone else then present. For no one else then present, is able to understand the language in which I just prayed. Because those listeners had never previously learned that language -- nor were those listeners then experiencing a miracle in their ears, enabling them suddenly to understand the language in which I just prayed.

Calvin on the word 'tongue' in I Cor. 14:14

Comments Calvin: "The Corinthians...went wrong" -- by publically praying each in his own foreign tongue while in the congregation. "Just as they were in the habit of speaking in foreign languages, so they were also using them in [public] prayers.... The meaning of 'praying in a tongue' is clear from the preceding verses of the chapter, viz. to express a prayer in a foreign language....

"It is in-credible...that there were any people who spoke, [even] by the influence of the Spirit, in a language they did not know themselves! For the gift of tongues was not bestowed merely for the purpose of making a noise, but rather for the purpose of communication, of course! For how laughable it would have been, had the tongue of a Roman been directed by the Spirit of God to utter Greek words -- when he himself [even while speaking in Greek] had no knowledge of Greek whatever! He would have been like the parrots, magpies and crows which men train to make human sounds!"

Calvin on the word 'unfruitful' in I Cor. 14:14

Calvin now actually anticipates the (Neo-)Pentecostalistic objection to the above correct equating of 'tongues' with foreign but real human languages. Opponents, says Calvin, object: "But if somebody endowed with the gift of tongues, [always] spoke sensibly and intelligently" -- so that at least he himself could understand his own words -- then "it would have been pointless for Paul to say that 'my spirit prays, but the understanding is un-fruitful!'"

Replies Calvin: "My answer to that is, that for the sake of illustration, Paul is taking a purely hypothetical situation, as follows. 'If the gift of speaking in a tongue is kept distinct from the understanding -- so that the speaker is a foreigner to himself as well as to others -- what good will he do by stammering along like that?'" No good at all.

No, that could not be! "Let us therefore remember, that things which are really bound together" in the language-speaker --namely 'speaking' and 'understanding' -- "are kept separate here, for the sake of teaching -- and not because it can...fall out that way!"

Calvin on the word 'understanding' in I Cor. 14:14

Comments Calvin: "Paul thinks it a great fault if the understanding takes no part in prayer. No wonder! For what else do we do in praying, but pour out our thoughts and desires before God?"

"Spiritual prayer is a means of worshipping God. What is more out of keeping with its very nature -- than its coming only from the lips, and not from the innermost recesses of the soul?" For then, it is "the devil" who has "deprived the world of its senses" -- if "men believe that they are praying properly, when they [only] make their lips move!"

Calvin: I Cor. 14:14 opposes Papist Latin!

In Calvin's own day, comments the Reformer, "the Papists are so obstinately stupid.... They make excuses for praying without understanding....

"They also prefer the ignorant to mutter and murmur in words that are unknown to them." It is just like the ridiculous phenomenon, concludes Calvin, where "a Spaniard curses God in German" -- when nobody present even understands German!

Westminster on the word 'tongue' in I Cor. 14:14

The Presbyterian Westminster Confession faithfully reflects the Presbyterian Calvin's own understanding of the correct meaning of the word 'tongue' in First Corinthians chapter fourteen. For the Confession (21:3m) insists that the Biblical verse I Cor. 14:14 prohibits "pray[ing] in an unknown tongue" --whether in public, or -- if audible -- even when in private!

Now this Biblical verse, states the Confession, means that all prayer, "if vocal" or audible, is to be made only "in a known tongue." This means a tongue which is the known common or "vulgar language" of a specific "nation." (See West. Conf. 1:8u.)

It means a real language known to the language-speaker while he so speaks in that tongue. It also means a real language knowable by the language-listeners. The language could be know-able by them, because already known to them. Or it could be knowable to them, because translatable into another tongue already known to them. It could then be translated, immediately after being uttered by the language-speaker.

However, the tongue is always linguistic! It never means a glossolalic utterance unknown even to the language-speaker -- nor an untranslatable utterance, and thus unknowable by the language-listeners!

Hodge on 'praying in a tongue' in I Cor. 14:14

Said Paul: 'If I pray [in public] in a foreign language, my spirit indeed prays -- but my understanding is unfruitful.' On this 'praying in a tongue' Hodge comments: "The speaker with tongues should pray for the gift of interpretation. Unless he interprets -- his prayer [in his own foreign language] can do no good" to others.

There must, then, be translation. Otherwise, continues Hodge -- "as the same idea is expressed in vs. 16-17" (which see!) -- "those who are unlearned, cannot join in.... 'Praying' with a tongue is specified, by way of example, as one mode of 'speaking' with tongues.... The general meaning of this verse, is thus plain."

Hodge on the words 'my spirit' in I Cor. 14:14

Comments Hodge: "What does Paul mean by saying [that] his 'spirit' prays? ... This verse [I Cor. 14:14] and those which immediately follow, are the principal foundation of the theory that the speaker with tongues was in a state of ecstatic excitement in which his understanding was not exercised, so that he knew not what he said or did. How inconsistent this theory is with the facts of the case, has already been shown. This view of the passage, therefore, cannot be admitted....

"Each man has his own 'spirit'...[and] his own spiritual gift. Compare [I Cor. 14] verse 12.... Paul means to say, that when a man prays in an unknown tongue, his spiritual 'gift' is indeed exercised...but others are not profited. The speaker with tongues...should not exercise his gift where it can do no good to others."

Hodge also comments (on I Cor. 12:10), that the passages in I Cor. 14:14-15, "naturally mean only that the understanding of the speaker was unprofitable to others" -- if his uttered message was not translated for them. "Paul in I Cor. 14:14-19 does not place speaking with tongues and speaking in one's own language in opposition.... 'Speaking with tongues' was not an involuntary, incoherent, ecstatic mode of speaking!"

Hodge on the word 'unfruitful' in I Cor. 14:14

Declares Paul: 'If I pray in a foreign language, my own spirit indeed prays; but my understanding is unfruitful.' Comments Hodge: "What is meant by saying, 'my understanding is unfruitful?'" There are those, comments Hodge (on I Cor. 14:14), who says that these words mean: 'my understanding is not profited; gains no fruit' -- that is, I do not understand what I say!'

Hodge himself, however, insists that this (Neo-)Pentecostalistic misunderstanding of I Cor. 14:14 "contradicts all those passages which teach that the speaker with tongues did understand himself [cf. I Cor. 14:2,4,16,29]. The words, therefore, must be understood to mean 'my understanding produces no fruit' -- i.e., it does not benefit others.

"This is in accordance with all that precedes, and with the uniform use of the word" ['unfruitful'] in "Eph. 5:11, Tit. 3:14, II Pet. 1:8, Matt. 13:22." Finally, "those speaking in tongues, were not parrots or ravens! The expression in the text -- 'my understanding is unfruitful' consequently cannot mean: 'I do not myself understand what I say!" So too Rev. Drs. Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer.

Barnes on 'my spirit' and 'my understanding' in I Cor. 14:14

Paul declares: 'If I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth.' Comments Barnes: "It is probable that the word 'spirit' refers to the will; or to the mind, as the seat of the affections and emotions; i.e. to the heart, desires, or intentions. The word spirit is often used in the Scriptures as the seat of the affections and emotions and passions of various kinds. See Matt. 5:5; Luke 10:21; Luke 1:17; Acts 18:25; Rom. 12:11; Mark 3:12; John 11:33; 13:21; Acts 17:16; Luke 9:55; Rom. 8:15.

"Here [in I Cor. 14:14] it refers...to the heart, the will, the disposition, the feelings -- as contradistinguished from the 'understanding.' And the sense is: 'my feelings find utterance in prayer; my heart is engaged in devotion; my prayer will be acceptable to God Who looks upon the feelings of the heart; and I may have true enjoyment. But my understanding will be unfruitful -- that is, will not profit others.'"

Paraphrase of I Corinthians 14:15

Continues Paul: "What, then, is to be done? I will pray with my spirit!" See too I Cor. 14:14a. "But I will also pray, using my understanding!" See too I Cor. 14:14b. Especially foreign Christians residing in Corinth, needed to use their 'understanding' or their 'mind.'They in particular needed to be 're-mind-ed' to pray in the language of those listening. Or alternatively, they needed to arrange for what they prayed in their own home language, to be translated immediately into the language of those 'foreigners' then listening in.

"I will sing psalms with my spirit!" See too I Cor. 14:14a. "However, I will also sing psalms while using my understanding: or my mind! See I Cor. 14:14b. For especially Christians from elsewhere, residing in Corinth, needed to be 're-mind-ed' to sing the psalms in -- or to have their psalm-singing translated into -- the language of their 'foreign' listeners then listening to them sing.

Chrysostom on I Corinthians 14:15

Chrysostom comments: "If a man should [while in the Corinthian congregation] speak only in the Persian, or in any other foreign tongue and not understand what he is saying, then, of course, to himself also he would be a barbarian [and] not only to another -- from not knowing the meaning of the sound."

That, however, would be quite absurd! "For there were of old many who had also a gift of prayer, together with a tongue. And they prayed, and the tongue spoke -- praying either in the Persian or Latin language."

All of the various extant patristic fragments [except some in Tertullian II alone], here agree with Chrysostom. See The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: First Series, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1969, XII, p 211 n 1.

Of all the Early Church Fathers, Tertullian alone misunderstood these 'real language gifts' in Corinth -- as if they were ecstatic utterances. Indeed, even Tertullian took this view --only in the second or Semi-Montanist phase of his three periods of doctrinal understanding (or misunderstanding).

According to Augustine, Tertullian later repudiated his sympathies toward the semi-pagan ecstatic utterances of the Semi-Montanists, and again became orthodox. See Aug.: On Heresies 6; Schaff: History of the Christian Church, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1970 ed., II p 421 & n 1; Gromacki: The Modern Tongues Movement, Presb. & Ref. Pub. Co., Philadelphia, 1967, p 14. On Montanism in general, and especially on its (semi-)pagan roots, see my booklet Pentecostalism: New Outpouring or Ancient Heresy?, Commonwealth, Rowlett Texas, 1986, especially pp 27f.

To Chrysostom and to all of the other Early Church Fathers, then -- with the solitary exception of the Semi- Montanistic Tertullian II -- the Corinthian 'praying in the spirit' never involved mindless ecstasies. To them, it always involved utterances in real foreign languages!

Calvin on 'pray[ing] in the spirit' in I Cor. 14:15a

What does Paul means by: 'I will pray with the spirit?' Paul means, comments Calvin: "It is certainly in order to pray with the spirit, so long as the mind -- i.e. the understanding -- is also brought into play.

"He therefore allows and approves of the use of the spiritual gift in prayers. But he insists that the mind should not be inactive. And that, of course, is the main point."

Barnes on 'pray[ing] in the spirit' in I Cor. 14:15a

Barnes comments that Paul means: "I will endeavour to blend all the advantages which can be derived from prayer. I will unite all the benefits which can result to myself and to others. I deem it of vast importance to pray with the spirit in such a way that the heart and the affections may be engaged.... 'And I will pray with the understanding also,' so that others may understand me."

Hodge on 'understanding' in I Cor. 14:15b

Paul says he will use his understanding when praying in public. He says he will deliberately pray in the language of those listening, so that they too will understand. Hodge here comments: "The sense is, 'I will not only pray in the exercise of my spiritual gift, but [pray] so as to be understood by others!" That is, [I will pray] not only spirit-ually, but I will also pray intelligibly.

"If tooi noi ('with the understanding') may mean, as the moderns say it does, 'with a view to interpret' (Meyer) -- it certainly may mean 'with a view to be understood.' That is, this is what is implied and intended in what the apostle says. When a man spoke...tooi noi, 'with the understanding' --the 'understanding' was that controlling principle.... The man could so speak -- as to be intelligible to others."

Calvin on 'sing[ing] in the spirit' in I Cor. 14:15c

Comments Calvin: "When he [Paul] says 'I shall sing the Psalms' or 'I shall sing' [or psaloo], he is speaking specifically.... The Psalms had as their themes the praises of God. He [Paul] uses 'singing psalms' [psallein] for blessing or giving thanks to God.... From this verse, we also gather, however, that at that time the custom of singing was already in use among believers. That is also established by Pliny.

Pliny was the Governor of Bythinia in what is now the northwest of Turkey. See Acts 16:7 and I Pet. 1:1. Writing about forty years after the death of Paul, Pliny -- observes Calvin -- "tells us that the Christians were in the habit of singing hymns to Christ before daylight. And indeed, I have no doubt that -- from the very beginning -- they adopted the usage of the Jewish Church in singing the Psalms!"

Barnes on 'sing[ing] in the spirit' in I Cor. 14:15c

What does Paul mean by: 'I will sing with the spirit?' Comments Barnes: "It is evident that the singing which occurred in prayer...might be in a foreign language, and might [then] be unintelligible to others" if the necessary safeguards are not insisted upon.

"This passsage proves: (1) that the praises of God are to be celebrated among Christians, and that it is an important part of worship; (2) that the heart should be engaged in it...; and (3) that it should be so done, as to be intelligible and edifying to others. The words should be so uttered, as to be distinct and understood....

"The design of sacred music in the worship of God is not only to utter praise. But it is to impress the sentiments which are sung, on the heart, by the aid of musical sounds and expression --more deeply than could otherwise be done. If this is not done, the singing might [just] as well be in a foreign language! Perhaps there is no part of public worship in which there is greater imperfection, than in the mode of its psalmody!"

Paraphrase of I Corinthians 14:16-17

In public, you should pray not just with your understanding or mind, and not just with your [own] spirit, but also with a view to your listeners and their spirits! "Otherwise," declares Paul, "if you pray blessings" only with your own understanding or mind, and only "with your spirit" [see I Cor. 14:14a] -- how could he who is present but ignorant [of your own 'foreign' home language you would then be praying in], say 'Amen!' to your blessing? For he would not know what you would be saying! For you would indeed be thanking God well [for yourself]. But the other [person] would not be receiving edification!"

Even in I Cor. 14:15, there is no way a man could 'pray with the understanding' or 'pray with the mind' (tooi noi), without at the same time being engaged to 'pray with his own spirit.' For "the body without the spirit, is dead." Jas. 2:26. In Corinth, the one praying and speaking in his own foreign tongue "gave thanks well" -- or perfectly understood what he himself was saying. But the "unlearned" listener could not comprehendingly say 'Amen!' For the listener, being "unlearned" in the tongue being spoken in, did not and could not understand what the praying person was saying. I Cor. 14:16-17.

I Cor. 14:17 -- the language-speaker "gives thanks well"

The language-speaker indeed "gives thanks well." I Cor. 14:17. He is able to do so, precisely because he understands what he is saying! But the language-listeners, if they are "unlearned" in the tongue just prayed in, do not understand it. They do not then rationally comprehend it. And, not comprehending it, they should not in that case say: "Amen!" -- as if they had indeed comprehended it!

In actual fact, they do not comprehend that tongue. This is so, precisely because they had never previously learned that language of the language-speaker. Or alternatively, this is so because they had not then heard the language-message translated [to them as those "unlearned" in that foreign language, so that they could then understandingly say 'Amen!'"

Chrysostom on 'tongues' in I Cor. 14:16-17

Chrysostom again reflects the massive consensus in the Early Church Fathers, as to the true meaning of I Cor. 14:16-17. Says he: "By the [word 'ignorant' or] 'unlearned,' he [Paul] means the layman." Paul here "signifies that he [the layman] also suffers no little loss -- where he is unable [comprehendingly] to say 'Amen!'

"What he [Paul] says, is this: 'if you shall bless in a barbarian tongue [yet] not...be able to interpret [that foreign language] -- the layman cannot [comprehendingly] respond 'Amen!'" In such a case, "'you are indeed giving thanks well' -- since you are speaking, while being moved by the Spirit. But the other, hearing nothing [comprehendingly] --nor knowing what is being said -- stands there receiving no great advantage by it!"

Calvin on 'tongues' in I Cor. 14:16-17

In his own Commentary on First Corinthians, Calvin follows Chrysostom and the Early Church Fathers' correct consensus on the intepretation of these verses. Comments Calvin: "If the man who composes and says prayers on behalf of the people, is not understood by the congregation -- how will the ordinary people share in it properly, and be able to indicate at the end that the prayer includes what they themselves want? For people do not participate in prayers -- unless they are all in complete agreement....

"Paul now says: 'If in public prayer you use a foreign language which is not understood by the uneducated and ordinary people in whose presence you are speaking -- nobody will share in your prayer, and your prayer or blessing will no longer be public.' [Asks Calvin:] Why? '[Because] nobody,' Paul says, 'can add his Amen! to a prayer or a psalm -- unless he understands it'.... What is plainer than this prohibition: 'Thanksgivings or prayers should not be repeated in public -- except in the language everyone understands...?'"

Calvin's Institutes on I Corinthians 14:16-17

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion (III:20:33), Calvin adds the following: "Public prayers are not to be couched in Greek among the Latins, nor in Latin among the French or English..., but in the vulgar tongue [alias the common language] -- so that all present may understand them." Such public prayers "ought to be used for edification of the whole Church -- which cannot be in the least degree benefited by a sound not understood!

"Those who are not moved by any reason of humanity or charity, ought at least to be somewhat moved by the authority of Paul.... I Cor. 14:16-17. Who, then, can sufficiently admire the unbridled audacity which the Papists have had, and still have?" For those "Papists" -- contrary to the prohibition of the Apostle -- chant and bray in a foreign and unknown tongue [Latin].... For the most part, they do not understand one syllable, and...they have no wish that others understand!"

Hodge on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:16-17

If someone prayed (or sang) in a foreign language while in the congregation -- how could a listener ignorant of its meaning voice his own approval? Comments Hodge: "Men cannot assent to what they do not understand -- because assent implies the affirmation of the truth of that to which we assent! It is impossible, therefore, to join in prayers uttered in an unknown tongue.

"The Romish church persists in the use of the Latin language in her public services -- not only in opposition to the very idea and intent of worship, but also to the express prohibition of the Scriptures. For the very thing here prohibited, is praying in public in a language which the people do not understand.

"It is indeed said that words may touch the feelings which [words] do not convey any distinct notions to the mind. But we cannot say 'Amen!' to such words [and mean it] -- any more than we can [truthfully say 'Amen!'] to a flute. Such blind, emotional 'worship' -- if such it can be called -- stands at a great remove from the intelligent service demanded by the Apostle!"

Even if none of the listeners understood a worshipper praying or singing publically in his own untranslated foreign tongue -- that worshipper himself, said Paul, would nevertheless be praising God satisfactorily on his own behalf (and in his own foreign tongue which he himself understands). For he himself would indeed be "giving thanks well" -- or, himself, "understanding perfectly." I Cor. 14:17. However, he should not have prayed or sung in that foreign tongue publically, without a translator!

Comments Hodge: "This proves that the speaker must have understood what he [himself] said.... If it was necessary that they [the listeners] should understand, in order [for them] to be edified -- it was no less necessary that he [the speaker] should understand what he said, in order [for him] to be benefited [or 'edified']!

"This verse is therefore decisive against all theories of the gift of tongues which assume that those who used them, did not understand their own words. The Scriptures recognize no unintelligent worship of God!"

Barnes on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:16-17

What does Paul mean by the 'unlearned' language-listener? In Acts 4:13, 'unlearned' (and 'ignorant') apparently means 'unschooled' or 'untutored.' On the same word 'unlearned' in I Cor. 14:16f, Barnes comments: "Here it means one who was unacquainted with the foreign language spoken by him who gave thanks. It ['unlearned'] properly denotes...a man who is ignorant and unlettered, as such men generally were....

Barnes further asks how the 'unlearned' can then pronounce the Amen! -- and "express his assent" comprehendingly? For then, as Paul explained, 'you [the language-speaker] truly give thanks well -- but the other [or the "unlearned" language-listener] is not edified!'

This means, comments Barnes, that you 'give thanks well' when you verbally express an audible thanksgiving -- even if you use a foreign language [which you yourself understand]. You do it with the heart! And it is accepted by God as your offer-ing. But the other, who cannot understand it, cannot be benefited by it!"

Paraphrase of I Corinthians 14:18-20

Continues Paul: "I praise God that I [Paul] speak in languages [such as Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Cilician, Greek, Latin, etc.] more than all of you do!" Many of you are foreigners, although you are now living (and trading) in the international commercial city of Corinth. And many of you who are foreigners do, of course -- especially in you own homes or houses in Corinth -- still speak the tongue of the particular foreign country in which you were born. Compare Acts 2:6-11. Also, most of you naturally speak your own foreign tongue even better than you speak the Corinthian dialect [which you have also learned to speak, at least after a fashion].

I, Paul, am in a somewhat similar position. But while in the congregation [at Corinth], I would rather use my mind and speak five words [in the Corinthian dialect] -- thus thoroughly instructing others too -- than [I would want to speak] ten thousand words in a foreign language [while in the Corinthian congregation]!" Indeed, as the Westminster Larger Catechism (159p) itself observes -- this texts means that preachers should speak "plainly."

Continues Paul: "Brethren, don't become childish in your thinking!" However, "do become like babies as regards evil things! But, in your understanding -- be men!" In your thinking, grow up! Intellectually, be mature!

Calvin on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:18

Calvin comments: "Paul did not want to give the impression that he is decrying the gift of tongues through ill-will or jealousy.... So he anticipated a suspicious attitude of that sort -- by saying that he himself stands out above them all!

"He says: 'You should realise that what I am saying, ought not to give you grounds for suspicion -- as if I would depreciate something that I personally lack. For if we had a contest about languages, not one of you would be able to hold a candle to me! But while I could make a good showing in that sort of thing, I am more concerned about upbuilding!'"

Barnes on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:18

Said Paul: I thank my God that I speak with tongues more than all of you do!' Barnes comments: "Paul here shows that he did not undervalue or despise the power of speaking foreign languages. It was with him a subject of thanksgiving that he could speak so many.... 'I am able to speak more foreign languages than all of you' [said Paul].

"How many languages Paul could speak, he has nowhere told us.... He had been commissioned to preach to the Gentiles, and it is probable that he was able to speak the languages of all the nations among whom he ever travelled. There is no account of his being under a necessity of employing an interpreter wherever he preached!" Compare, however, I Cor. 14:5,18-19,27-28 with Acts 14:11-14 & I Pet. 5:13!

Hodge on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:19

What does Paul mean, where he says: 'I speak with tongues more than all of you do?' Hodge here rightly comments: "The common doctrine as to the nature of the gift [of 'tongues'], is the only one consistent with this passage.

"Paul says that...he could speak in foreign languages more than the Corinthians. [Yet] he would rather speak five words...so as to be intelligible [in the Corinthian Church] -- than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue!"

Barnes on I Corinthians 14:19-20

Comments Barnes: "It is probable that in the Christian assembly, usually, there were [only] a few who understood foreign languages. Paul, therefore, would not speak in a foreign language -- when its only use would be mere display.

"Says Paul: 'Brethren, be not children in understanding!' Here, continues Barnes, it is as if Paul had said: "Your admiration of a foreign language, and of the ability to speak it, is of as little solid value as the common sports and plays [or games] of boys!"

Indeed, explains Barnes: "The meaning may be thus expressed. 'Your admiration of foreign languages is like the sports and plays of childhood. In this respect, be not children (paidia). Be men! Lay aside such childish things! Act worthy of the understanding which God has given you!'"

Paraphrase of I Corinthians 14:21-22

Continues Paul: "In the Law, it has been written that 'I will speak to this people [of Israel] with other languages, and with other lips [or 'with the lips of other peoples' such as the Assyrians]! Yet, even then, they [the Israelites] will not listen to Me!' -- says the Lord."

This was written by Isaiah (28:11-12), about the unbelieving Israelites of his own day and age. Yet the same applied to the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday. Acts 2:12-15. Indeed, the same also applied to the unbelievers in Corinth --just a few years later. I Cor. 14:23f.

"So then," continued Paul, "foreign languages [like Assyrian] are a sign not to those who believe, but to the unbelievers!" See Acts 2:4-15. "But prophecy is not for unbelievers, but for those who believe." Compare I Cor. 14:22a.

Paul was here no doubt thinking of the unbelieving Jews at the time of the Assyrian captivity. Yet he was doubtless also referring here to the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday (Acts. 2:13-15) -- as well as to the unbelieving Jews in Corinth. Acts 18:1,5,6,12f.

Scripture on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:21

Paul declared God had predicted He would speak to unbelievers through "other languages." Here, the Apostle used the Greek word hetero-gloossois. The prediction Paul was referring to, is found in Isa. 28:11-12. That stated (in the third-century B.C. Greek Septuagint translation) that the Assyrians -- while speaking their own language! -- would speak to God's covenant people through another tongue than that of the Israelites themselves. For: 'dia gloossees heteras hoti laleesousion tooi laooi.' Isa. 28:11 LXX.

There is a similarity in Ezk. 3:5-6, where the threefold reference to a "strange tongue" is indisputably to a then- spoken human language. There too, the Septuagint again translates this with the Greek word gloossa.

Moreover, this same word gloossa is again used to described the Pentecost Sunday tongues' phenonomen. There, the inspired Luke himself tells us, it refers to the then-spoken languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judaeans, Cappadocians, Pontians, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Cyrenians, Romans, Cretians, and Arabians. Acts 2:8-11. The conclusion, then, is overwhelmingly convincing. Even in I Cor. 14:21, the word gloossa again means a spoken foreign language -- and not a meaningless ecstatic utterance!

Calvin on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:21-22

Calvin comments: "Tongues were useful in many ways. They met the needs of the actual situation, so that the difference in languages did not prevent the Apostles from spreading the Gospel throughout the whole world. There was therefore no nation to which they could not communicate it."

Nevertheless, the Corinthian Christian people were "afflicted with...blindness and folly.... When God spoke to them, they understood Him no better than they would [understand] any barbarian or foreigner making unintelligible sounds in an unknown language. And that was a dreadful curse!"

Hodge on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:21-22

Hodge comments: "The Jews had refused to hear the prophets speaking their own language, and God threatened to bring upon them a people whose language they could not understand. This was a judgment -- a mark of displeasure designed as a punishment, and not for their conversion....

"Sending foreigners among the Hebrews was a mark of God's displeasure!" Yet this is precisely what God did to the Jews, also during the first century A.D. Indeed, He then did so in the scattered 'diaspora' such as at Corinth - - as well as in Palestine, at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70! Jas. 1:1; I Pet. 1:1; Mt. 24:15-28f.

Barnes on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:21

Said Paul: "In the Law it is written, 'With men of other tongues and other lips, will I speak to this people. And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me!' -- says the Lord."

Comments Barnes: "This passage is found written in Isa. 28:11-12.... This passage...means that God would teach the rebellious and refractory Jews submission to Himself by punishing them amidst a people of another language." God would do so, "by removing them to a land -- the land of Chaldea -- where they would hear only a language that to them would be unintelligible and barbarous....

"This passage in Isaiah had no reference to the [later] miraculous gift of tongues... It seems to have been used by Paul, because the words which occurred in Isaiah would appropriately express the idea which he wished to convey" --the idea "that God would make use of foreign languages for some valuable purpose."

This is Paul's meaning: "God accomplished an important purpose by the use of a foreign language in regard to His ancient people, as recorded in Isaiah. So will He [also] make use of foreign languages to accomplish important purposes still....

"What the design of making use of foreign languages was in the Christian Church, the Apostle immediately states -- ver. 22,23." However, "the power of speaking foreign languages did not of necessity secure obedience. It might [indeed] be that this power might [well] be possessed -- and yet they be a sinful people!"

Judisch on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:21

Rev. Prof. Dr. Douglas Judisch, the modern Lutheran scholar, wrote an important book with the title An Evaluation of Claims to the Charismatic Gifts (Baker, Grand Rapids, 1978). There, he makes the following valuable remarks about I Cor. 14:21. "If Israel were to prove disobedient to her divine King, she was to be cursed in the city and in the field; cursed when she came in and when she went out. Deut. 28:16,19.... He would punish her by means of those whose language she could not understand. Deut. 28:49....

"When Isaiah rebuked Israel's drunken leaders for disobeying the words of God's prophet -- refusing tribute to Assyria and making league with Egypt, Isa. 28:7-8...., the covenant curse...was destined to fall with full force upon the rebellious vassal: 'Nay, but by men of strange lips and with an alien tongue the Lord will speak to the people.'" Isa. 28:11.

"At a later time, moreover, Jeremiah thundered forth the message that God was about to impose His covenant curse on Israel even more forcefully.... 'Behold, I am bringing upon you a nation from afar, O house of Israel, says the Lord. It is an enduring nation; it is an ancient nation; a nation whose language you do not know. Nor can you understand what they say.' Jer. 5:15....

"When the time came for God's final rejection of Israel as a nation -- due to her rejection of His last Word, in the person of His own Son -- we should be very surprised if Israel had not been forced to listen to God addressing her in alien tongues once again! The speaking in unlearned tongues during the apostolic age was, then, a signal of God's alienation from the Jewish nation and its replacement by the Gentiles.

"Indeed, this is exactly the point Paul made in I Corinthians 14:21-22.... At Pentecost in Acts 2, each of the Jews did -- to be sure -- hear the Apostles speaking in his own language. This fact necessarily implies, however, that each of these Jews heard a number of other languages alien to him. This God-inspired utterance in Gentile tongues was a signal of the end of the special relationship between God and Israel... Clearer signs of judgment on unbelieving Israel occurred when the Holy Spirit evoked strange languages from Gentiles themselves (Acts 10:45), and from people in places as remote from the holy city as Ephesus and Corinth. Acts 19:6; I Cor. 12:28.

"God's rejection of the Jewish nation qua [or 'as a'] nation came to completion, however, in the terrible razing of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70.... Speaking in unlearned tongues, then, fulfilled a valuable role in the apostolic period. But, like that of the apostolate itself, it was only a temporary role.... Since the specific purpose of speaking in unlearned tongues was to signal God's alienation from Israel, we should rightly expect these tongues to pass away quietly with the smoke that arose from the temple afire" in 70 A.D. Thus Judisch's op. cit. pp 39-43.

Barnes on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:22

Said Paul: 'Tongues are a sign not to them that believe, but to them that believe not.' By 'tongues' is meant -- comments Barnes -- "the power of speaking foreign languages." And 'tongues' are a 'sign' primarily "designed to convince them [the unbelievers] of the truth of the Christian religion."

Yet tongues-speaking, where understood, also had a secondary purpose -- a purpose benefitting such believers as understood those tongues, or into whose language(s) those tongues-messages were translated. For "at the same time, the truths conveyed by a message" given in a foreign language and "the consolations administered by it, might be as clear evidence to the church of the attending power and presence and goodness of God -- as the power of speaking foreign languages might be to infidels!"

Paraphrase of I Corinthians 14:23-25

Continued Paul: "Therefore, when the whole congregation meets together in the same place, if all were to speak in foreign languages, and if unbelievers or un-learn-ed persons were to come in -- would they not say that all of you were mad? However, if all [of you] were to prophesy, and if a certain unbeliever or an un-learn-ed person were [then] to come in -- he would be convinced by all [of you]; the hidden things of his heart would be brought to light; and thus, having fallen down on his face, he would worship God and announce that God was truly in your midst!"

If the 'un-learn-ed' visitor would not [and could not] understand the various forein languages spoken by the foreign members of the congregation, it is obvious that the 'learned' [could and] would! This implies that the various languages spoken, had themselves been 'learned' -- whether very rapidly and miraculously, or more slowly and non-miraculously -- by the language-speakers themselves.

Those languages could, in time and with sustained study, also be 'learned' even by many of the [at that stage] still-uncomprehending language-listeners. This again evidences that the 'tongues' were real and 'learn- able' languages of communication. They were not at all non-linguistic ecstatic utterances!

Barnes on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 14:23

Said Paul: 'If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues....' Here, comments Barnes, Paul meant -- if "all speak with a variety of unknown tongues; [if] all speak foreign languages."

Continues Barnes: The various members of "the church would usually speak the same language, [when speaking] with the people among whom they dwelt.... If they made use [or were to make use] of foreign languages...unintelligible to their visitors -- it would leave the impression that the church was a bedlam!"

What kind of an impression, asks Paul, would that then make on 'un-learn-ed' persons visiting the church? By 'un- learn-ed' --comments Barnes -- Paul here meant "those that are un-acquaint-ed with foreign languages, and to whom, therefore, what was said would be unintelligible." Indeed, "the honour of Christianity should have led them [namely such Christians who could speak foreign languages] to abstain from the use of such languages in their worship when it was needless."


Chrysostom, the first extant commentator on First Corinthians (14:24f), rightly concludes that public "prophecy...is both free from reproach among the unbelievers -- and hath very great credit and usefulness." Public tongues-speaking, however, is quite different! For "it is not the same thing for any one to come in -- and see one speaking in Persian, and another in Syrian!"

So then, all tongues-speaking, all praying in the Spirit, and all singing in the Spirit -- at Corinth or wherever -- was never a matter of ecstatic utterances. Whenever it occurred, it always did so -- only in clearly recognizable spoken languages!

-- (Rev. Prof. Dr.) Francis Nigel Lee,
Queensland Presbyterian Theological Hall,
Brisbane, Australia, May 1990.

This material may be reproduced and circulated, providing written credit is given to its author, Rev. Prof. Dr. Francis Nigel Lee, of the Queensland Presbyterian Theological Hall in Australia. (within Emmanuel College, Upland Road, St Lucia, QLD, Australia 4067). Phone: Intl. +61 7 3266 1688.
The right of (re)publication by the author in any different way is hereby reserved.
Converted by
R. J. Long , of Dominion Data using routines developed by Oblong Software Products

[ Top | Eschatology | Bible Studies | Classics | Articles | Other Articles | Sermons | Apologetics | F.A.Q. | Forum ]