Tongues Without an Interpreter

Tongues Without an Interpreter

The gift of being able to speak in languages that one had not previously known is called the gift of tongues. There are only 5 references to this: Mark 16:16-20; Acts 2; Acts 10; Acts 19; and the longest one in 1 Cor. 12 - 14. That such was a language is seen in Acts 2 where ‘tongue’ and ‘language’ are used interchangeably in verses 4, 6, 8, and 11. Such is indicated in 1Cor. 13:1 as Paul speaks of ‘tongues of men and of angels’ - languages of men and angels. Even in 1 Cor. 14, while he uses ‘tongues’ repeatedly, he then speaks of the many different languages in the world and ALL have meaning.  

The problem in Corinth was the misuse of such gift of languages. They were using it even when there was no one that could understand and when they had no interpreter to translate the meaning of what was said. They were speaking in tongues when they came together, but they were doing so 1) many at the same time, 2) without an interpreter,  and 3) to impress others with the ACT and not with the information which would edify the congregation.

vs 2  When THEY spoke in a tongue, they spoke to God and not man for without an interpreter, no one but God would understand. Hence when they spoke without an interpreter, they were not speaking to man (for no one understood) but to God (for He was the only one that understood). While they spoke in such languages in front of men and to impress men, their wrongful way of doing it (without an interpreter) meant that they didn’t speak TO men at all. This is similar to Paul’s statement in chapter 11 that they came together ‘not to eat the Lord’s supper’ (vs. 20).  They WERE, but because of the way they were doing it, it invalidated the whole thing. So here, they did speak ‘to’ men, at least to impress men, but in effect they spoke to no man for no one understood. Hence speaking in a language that is not intelligible means that 1) no one will know what is said, and 2) you will be ‘speaking into the air’. 

vs. 4 – In what way does the act of speaking in a language that no one present is able to understand build up the speaker himself? It is not in knowledge and understanding. Rather by the very experience of doing this, even though there was no knowledge or information, the speaker experienced the gift of God. 

vs 5 - Prophesy is greater UNLESS there is an interpreter (i.e., the way they were doing it made tongues the lesser gift).

vs. 6 - Thus, speaking in tongues (as they were doing it - without an interpreter) is of no benefit.. but WITH an interpreter there would be revelation, knowledge, prophecy, or teaching. 

vs 7-8 -   Unless there is a particular sound (an identifiable and knowable sound) - instruments are nothing.

vs. 9 – EVEN SO, tongues without an interpreter leaves people without knowing what was said. 

10 - All languages have meaning, even languages of angels… but vs. 11

11 - As with any foreign language, speaking without an interpreter is unintelligible and edifies no one.

13 - Therefore the speaker in tongues should pray that he may interpret FOR…   

14  - Even prayer to SELF, without understanding, leaves the MIND unfruitful.

15 - Therefore will pray with the mind - understanding - in a language that I understand.

17 - Thus those that hear are NOT built up (edified) - unless there is an interpreter.

22 - This gift was NOT for the believer’s benefit, but was a sign to the unbeliever. 

23 - But if all speak in tongues (and there is no interpreter) - visitors will just think you are all crazy. 

26 - 28

            when come together

            each (i.e., various individuals have various gifts)

            IF one speaks in a tongue

            ONLY 2 or 3 per meeting

            ONLY one at a time

            AND there MUST be an interpreter OR the tongue speakers remains quiet. 

32 - Not only is it implied that the person can control the use of this gift (thus fulfilling the rules that Paul taught), but as with ALL gifts, the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 

This was not about private prayer language that even the speaker didn’t understand. This was about languages used in the assembly that were supposed to edify the hearers but because no one understood what was said, it didn't. All exercises of this gift were done in public and people DID understand what was said. In Acts 2 they knew they were “telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (vs. 11). In Acts 10 they heard them ‘extolling God” (vs. 46). All things are to be done unto edification (26).  

Hugh DeLong