The gifts of the Holy Spirit

 

 

Tongues plus interpretation is equal to prophecy

 

 

Most Pentecostal Churches teach that tongues plus interpretation is equal to prophecy. The late Donald Gee, a well known Pentecostal teacher, in his book Concerning spiritual gifts, wrote: ‘It is distinctly affirmed that when these twin gifts of Tongues and Interpretation were exercised in proper order in the church, they equaled the gift of Prophecy (1 Cor. 14:5); and it is generally conceded that, since such is the case, they provide an equivalent method by which the Holy Spirit can cause His voice to be heard in the church. It should always be borne in mind, however, that the revealed purposes of the gift of Tongues are chiefly devotional, and we do well to emphasize the fact. The normal spiritual gift for a ‘message’ is the gift of Prophecy, unless the Lord has a special purpose in using the gift of Tongues as a ‘sign’ (Donald Gee, Concerning Spiritual Gifts, pages 58-59). In other words, God sometimes speaks to the church through the combined gifts of tongues and interpretation. The first gift, tongues, arrests the attention and reveals that God is trying to communicate with the audience. The second gift, interpretation, discloses the actual message that God wishes to convey. In the light of this teaching, therefore, when someone speaks in tongues in the midst of the congregation of the saints, he is speaking to the whole congregation or to a person in that congregation, and the gift of interpretation enables that person or someone else to proclaim the meaning of the utterance directed toward the whole congregation or a single person. That’s why most Pentecostals use the expression ‘message in tongues’, for they believe that tongues which are interpreted are a message to the Church. The biblical passages cited to support this teaching are 1 Corinthians 14:5: “I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification” (NKJV); and 1 Corinthians 14:21: “In the law it is written: With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me” (NKJV).

 

Confutation

 

Tongues speaking is directed toward God

 

The apostle Paul said to the Corinthians: “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1 – NKJV). As you can see, Paul exhorts the saints not only to pursue love but also to desire spiritual gifts, for he knows that it is God’s will that the saints should desire spiritual gifts. Somewhere else in the same epistle Paul says: “Earnestly desire the best gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31 – NKJV). Paul says also that the saints must desire especially that they may prophesy. Why did Paul, who was a servant of God who could affirm that he spoke with tongues more than all the Corinthians, say that we must desire especially that we may prophesy? He explains the reason immediately after when he says: “For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church” (1 Corinthians 14:2-4 - NKJV). As you can see, Paul explains why we must desire especially that we may prophesy and why the gift of prophecy is greater than the gift of tongues; we must desire the gift of prophecy for he who prophesies speaks to men, while he who speaks in tongues speaks to God for in the spirit he speaks mysteries; and moreover he who prophesies edifies the church, while he who speaks in tongues edifies himself.

Now let me dwell upon the expression of Paul “he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God.” If Paul says that he who speaks in tongues does not speak to men but to God, that means that tongues speaking is directed toward God. What does he who speaks in tongues say to God? Paul says that in the spirit he speaks mysteries.

Let us look at some other biblical passages which confirm that tongues speaking is directed toward God and not toward men.

● Paul says a little further: “For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also” (1 Corinthians 14:14-15).

As you can see, Paul is talking about praying in other tongues (or praying with the spirit), and since we know that prayer is directed toward God and not toward men, that confirms that tongues speaking is directed toward God. As for praying with the spirit – which is mentioned by Paul also in the epistle to the Ephesians when he says: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit …” (Ephesians 6:18 – NKJV), and by Jude in his epistle when he says: “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God … “ (Jude 20-21) – I remember you that it refers to the intercession made by the Spirit of God for the saints, as it is written: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27 – NKJV). Therefore, he who prays in an unknown tongue asks God through the Spirit to do certain things for us and for the other saints who are on earth. It is evident that since the Spirit of God, who knows all the things we have need of, makes intercession (in an unknown tongue) for us and all the other children of God, the things He asks of God are mysteries to us, that is, secret things. I will give you an example: if the Spirit of God is making intercession for some unknown brothers who are in Africa who need a particular thing right now, we will never know that the Spirit was asking God for that particular thing unless one interprets by the Spirit what the Spirit is saying. Obviously in this case we will know the mysteries through the gift of interpretation of tongues.

● Paul says: “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” (1 Corinthians 14:15). To sing with the Spirit means to sing spiritual songs to God through the Spirit. Therefore, it follows that he who sings in a tongue speaks to God and not to men.

● Paul says: “Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.” (1 Corinthians 14:16-17). The following expressions “when thou shalt bless with the spirit” and “thou verily givest thanks well” confirm that he who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God for he blesses and thanks God.

 

Tongues speaking in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, at the house of Cornelius, and at Ephesus

 

Let us examine now those cases recorded in the book of the Acts of the apostles wherein some believers spoke with tongues, in order to see whether their tongues speaking was directed toward men or God.

● On the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem: “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” (Acts 2:4-11).

As you can see, according to what Luke wrote, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples they began to speak in other tongues. However their tongues speaking was not addressed to men. There is no slight hint that they spoke to men. Some say that they preached in tongues to the outside crowd, but they are wrong for when the tongues speaking began, the crowd had not yet assembled. It was only after there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and the disciples began to speak in tongues, that the crowd gathered, as it is written: “Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together ….” (Acts 2:6). Some others have come to the conclusion that, once the crowd gathered, the gospel was preached to them through supernatural tongues speaking. But they too are wrong, for according to Luke the tongues speaking which had started before the crowd arrived simply continued on, and when the onlookers (who understood what they were saying) inquired as to what the strange phenomenon meant, Peter preached the Gospel to them in a tongue common to himself and to all of them (cf. Acts 2:14-36). In the light of what the Scripture says, then, we come to the reasonable conclusion that in their tongues speaking they were addressing God as they spoke of “the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11).

● While Peter was preaching the Word to Cornelius and his household, it came to pass that “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God” (Acts 10:44-46 – NKJV). In this case also we can’t affirm that tongues speaking was addressed to men, for there is no slight hint that such thing happened. So Cornelius and his household spoke to God.

● When the Holy Spirit came upon those disciples Paul had met at Ephesus “they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6). Note that the prophesying is cited separately from the speaking in tongues for he who speaks in tongues does not prophesy, that is, he does not speak edification and exhortation and comfort to men, but he speaks to God. Note also that Luke does not say that they were speaking in tongues and interpreting, but they spoke with tongues (in spirit they spoke mysteries) and prophesied (that is, they spoke in a known tongue edification and exhortation and comfort to men). That excludes that those believers ‘prophesied interpreting’ or ‘prophesied in tongues’. It is evident that the tongues speaking was not addressed to men but to God, for those believers both spoke with tongues and prophesied. Since they prophesied it makes no sense to believe that the tongues speakers addressed each other in their new unknown tongues or even that they addressed Paul.

 

Explanation of the passages cited by some to hold that he who speaks in tongues speaks to men

 

● Paul says to the Corinthians: “I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification” (1 Corinthians 14:5 - NKJV).

Paul wished that all the saints of Corinth had the gift of tongues, even though he knew that not all have this gift (as it is written: “Do all speak with tongues?” 1 Corinthians 12:30 – NKJV), but even more that they all prophesied, for he who speaks in a tongue edifies only himself (unless what he says is interpreted), while he who prophesies edifies the church for he speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. However Paul did not mean that he who speaks in tongues cannot edify the church, for he who speaks in tongues edifies the church when his words are interpreted. Why does tongues speaking edify the Church when it is interpreted? Because in this case he who speaks in tongues does not speak into the air, that is to say, because the words uttered in an unknown tongue can be understood by all through the gift of interpretation. Therefore, since the listeners can understand what the Spirit has asked God to do for Tom and Dick and Harry, since the listeners understand the giving of thanks made by the Holy Spirit, and they understand the words of the spiritual song sang to God in other tongues, they are made partakers of the knowledge of these mysteries and thus they can say ‘Amen’, that is, ‘So be it,’ for they have understood the meaning of those words uttered in other tongues. And this is exactly what has happened many times in many churches all over the world: some brothers prayed to God, thanked God and sang to God in other tongues and through the interpretation all the listeners were edified for they understood what was said. In the light of the above mentioned explanation, then, it is evident that Paul by those words did not mean that tongues plus interpretation is equal to prophecy, but simply that if tongues speaking is not interpreted it edifies only him who speaks in tongues, while if it is interpreted it edifies the Church also, for the listeners understand what was said to God. Thus when tongues are interpreted the saints are edified just as when one prophesies, even though the interpretation of tongues is addressed to God for the utterance is directed toward God. Paul by those words did not mean that tongues plus interpretation is equal to prophecy, for according to Paul speaking in tongues was always directed toward God (“For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God …” 1 Corinthians 14:2 – NKJV), and as a consequence the interpretation of it cannot be addressed to men but to God, that is, to say, the interpretation of it cannot be a prophecy. The interpretation of tongues does not change the direction of the original utterance. If the speaking in tongues is addressed to God and not to men, then the interpretation of it should be addressed to God, not to men.

● “In the law it is written: With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me.” (1 Corinthians 14:21 - NKJV).

By these words Paul did not mean that the Lord would cause someone to speak to the Jews through the gift of tongues, for the speaking in tongues is addressed to God and not to men, but he meant that the Lord would speak to the people of Israel by the sign of tongues. Do you remember what happened on the day of Pentecost? Is it not true that God spoke to those Jews from every nation under heaven through some Galileans? Is it not true that God astonished those Jews through the sign of tongues speaking, even though the speaking in tongues was not addressed to those Jews? Of course it is true, for Paul says that “tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14:22 – NKJV). So God through tongues spoke to those Jews who came together on the day of Pentecost, for He astonished and marvelled them. Signs speak for themselves. They testify of the greatness and presence of God. One day Jesus said to the Jews: “But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish – the very works that I do – bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me” (John 5:36 – NKJV), and when God commanded Moses to perform certain signs in the presence of the elders of Israel that they might believe that He had appeared to him, He said to Moses: “Then it will be, if they do not believe you, nor heed the message of the first sign, that they may believe the message of the latter sign” (Exodus 4:8 – NKJV). Note the expressions ‘the message of the first sign’ ‘the message of the latter sign’ for they make it clear that the signs of God speak for themselves. Therefore, since tongues speaking also is one of the signs of God to unbelievers, we conclude that God speaks to unbelievers through tongues (that is to say, through the sign of tongues and not through the so called ‘messages in tongues’). That’s what has happened during the Pentecostal Revival which started in the last century, for some Jews turned to Jesus Christ through the sign of tongues, that is, after they heard some Gentiles, who did not know Hebrew, praying or singing in Hebrew.

 

Conclusion

 

Brothers in the Lord, there is no doubt that in the light of the Holy Scriptures the teaching according to which tongues and interpretation is equal to prophecy is not true, so I urge you to reject it. I realize that you may find it very difficult to reject it for you have held it for many years, but that’s the right thing to do. I myself accepted this wrong teaching for a certain period of time after my conversion, but one day I had to reject it for I found out that it contradicts God’s word.

 

 

 

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