Should Someone “Speak in Tongues” in Church and Provide their own Interpretation?

The Apostle Paul set guidelines in 1 Corinthians 14:27-28 for tongues-speaking in Corinth. He makes it clear that no-one should speak in tongues in church unless an interpreter is present. Speaking in tongues should be strictly monitored so that it is understandable and edifying.

Paul doesn’t say who the interpreter should be. He only says that each of the limited incidents of tongues-speaking (two or three) should be immediately interpreted. There doesn’t seem to be an absolute prohibition of the same person who speaks in tongues providing the interpretation, but we need to be careful here. The ancient commentator Ambroaster noted that “Paul does not want…people to take up the whole day and leave insufficient time for expounding the Scriptures”, and Chrysostom says “(Paul) insists that it be kept under control and used for the edification of the whole church”. If someone takes an inordinate amount of time they will be violation of Paul’s instruction. Even worse, such “tongues-speaking” may not be genuine at all. It may just been an emotional display done for self-gratification.

Severian of Gabala declared that “the person who speaks in the Holy Spirit speaks when he chooses to do so and then can be silent, like the prophets. But those who are possessed by an unclean spirit speak even when they do not want to. They say things that they do not understand.”1

The Apostle John said to test the spirits to see whether they are of God (1 John 4:1-4). Although we do not believe that tongues-speaking today doesn’t appear identical to the supernatural occurrences of Acts 2, the apostle Paul instructed us in 1 Corinthians 14:39, “. . . do not forbid speaking with tongues.” Although we shouldn’t forbid people from doing what they consider to be speaking in tongues, we are wise to scrupulously apply the guidelines of 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 to all incidents to be sure they meet Paul’s standards for intelligibility and edification.

  1. Studies of the Eastern religions and Spiritism show that they often involve an ecstatic tongues phenomenon parallel to that which occurs in Charismatic and Pentecostal circles. In addition, careful studies of tape recordings have demonstrated that such non-language tongues-speaking may be governed by universal psychological and linguistic factors, excluding the possibility of their being similar to the miraculous occurrences described in Acts 2. Back To Article
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