By Larry Ray Hafley
From Hawaii: `All the teaching I have heard concerning speaking in tongues seems to be that the apostles were given this gift to spread the gospel. If the tongues were languages in every instance, why were interpreters needed? If the tongue had to be interpreted why did not the apostles just speak in the language necessary? “
By Way Of Introduction
First, the apostles (but not the apostles only) were given the ability to speak in tongues in order “to spread the gospel.” At least, that seems a fair implication from the events of Acts 2. Second, where the gift of tongues was employed and the hearers did not understand, interpreters were required, “But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church” (1 Cor. 14:28). As far as the record reveals, the apostles never spoke so as to necessitate an interpretation, but those on whom the apostles laid hands did so speak. Hopefully, this shall be clear from what follows.
Those Who Spoke In Tongues
The apostles were given the ability to speak in tongues or languages they had never learned (Acts 2:4, 6, 8, 11). Paul, an apostle, spoke “with tongues” (1 Cor. 14:18), but this ability was not restricted to the apostles as our querist’s remarks seem to imply. The gift was conferred to others by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:18; 19:6; 1 Cor. 14). There are no apostles today. Consequently, none today speak in tongues by the power of the Spirit as they did then.
“What about Cornelius?” someone asks. His was an extraordinary case. His was an exception, if you will, that sustains the general rule. Cornelius spoke in languages. He was not an apostle, nor had apostolic hands been laid upon him. However, the gift of the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius’ household fell “as” it had upon the apostles “at the beginning.” The purpose was specific, definitive. It occurred one time for all time. It is never to be repeated or duplicated (Acts 10:47, 48; 11:18; 15:7-11, 14-18).
Again, tongues speakers, those who spoke languages they had never learned or studied, were limited to the apostles and those upon whom the apostles laid their hands (Acts 2:4-11; 8:18; 19:6; 1 Cor. 14).
“The Language Necessary”
Unwittingly, our querist has made the assumption that the apostles did not speak “in the language necessary,” that is, the language of the hearer. Can one find a passage where an apostle ever spoke a language the hearer could not understand? When the apostles spoke in tongues, they always spoke the language of the hearer. “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding (that is, being understood by my audience-LRH), that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue” (1 Cor. 14:19).
But if the Corinthians, or anyone with the gift of tongues, exercised their gift where the audience did not understand the language, an interpretation was required, else they were to “keep silence in the church” (1 Cor. 14:28).
Now, our questioner might rephrase his inquiry thusly: “If the tongue had to be interpreted, why did not the Corinthians just speak in the language necessary?” Because tongues were for a sign to unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:22), one need not speak the language of the hearer; however, there had to be an interpreter for the exercised gift to be a sign or indicator. The Corinthians were speaking in languages which were not understood, nor were they being interpreted. It was confusion!
Paul’s argument is that they were misusing their gift of tongues by speaking without understanding or comprehension on the part of their hearers. He says that all such utterance is without profit, speaking “into the air,” barbaric, unfruitful, void of edification, and madness (1 Cor. 14:6, 9, 11, 14, 17, 23). If there be not interpretation of the tongue, if none comprehend, then “keep silence.”
Consider A “For Instance”
For example, if a Corinthian could speak “in the speech (language) of Lycaonia,” he was to keep silence, “except he interpret.” What use was it to speak “ten thousand words in” a language no one understood? “It is pointless,” argues Paul in effect. This gift was given “for a sign” to unbelievers. So, why display it when it is of no benefit or profit? Why use it when none understand it? If no Lycaonians are present, or if there be no interpreter, “keep silence in the church.” The tongue was a sign to the unbeliever. One did not have to speak Lycaonian to see the miracle, but it failed its purpose if there was no interpretation. With interpretation, it could properly be used as a sign to the unbeliever. That is why the Corinthian did not “just speak in the language necessary.”
Truth Magazine XIX: 52, p. 818
November 13, 1975