Fifteen Regulatory Principles of the Spiritual Gift of Tongues

The Prayer for Interpretation

  13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.

Regulatory Principle 1

A person who speaks in a tongue, or language, must pray that he may interpret, or translate. An interpreter is needed, translation is needed, because what is being said is unintelligible. What is being said is a known language because no one can interpret, or translate, gibberish, or an ecstatic utterance.

A Spiritual Prayer that is Meaningless

14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

Paul acknowledges even if he prayed in a tongue, or language, he did not previously know, without understanding, it is unfruitful. The argument that praying in tongues is a sign that the spirit is praying, misses the larger point, such a prayer is unfruitful without understanding. Once more, Charismatics emphasis the wrong facet of the message Paul is trying to teach. A praying spirit without understanding is fruitless, futile, and meaningless. If a person cannot communicate the truth given to him, then there is no spiritual fruit.

What Must Be Done?

  15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

Regulatory Principle 2

All prayer is to be offered with the Spirit and with understanding. Paul declares what he will do in order to be an apostolic example to other believers. He will pray with the spirit, but he will also pray with understanding. He will sing with the spirit, but he will also sing with understanding. There is to be no praying in tongues, or singing in tongues, without understanding to self and to others, otherwise no one can be in agreement, or give God glory.

  16 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?

The unlearned refers to the uniformed. The uninformed will not be able to say, “Amen”, which is a word that means, “something to believe.” When we say, “Amen,” we are saying, “I believe”, or, “So be it.” This is an example of Jewish influence in the Christian church.

  17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

   18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:

Paul spoke many tongues, or languages. He spoke Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Aramaic. He might have spoken other languages too, and yet he does not glory in this ability, natural and supernatural, nor does he demand that others speak in tongues. He de-emphasizes its importance.

Paul spoke Greek. “And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek?” (Acts 21:37)

Paul spoke Hebrew. “Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defense which I make now unto you. 2 (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,)” (Acts 22:1-2)

Paul spoke Latin. His very name, Paul, is from the Latin, Paulus, meaning, “small”, “little”, or “humble.” He lived in Rome for two years, and ministered to those who came to him. “And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, 31 Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.” (Acts 28:30-31)

Paul spoke Aramaic. He refers to Peter in his letters as “Cephas”, which is the original Aramaic form of “Rock.” In 1 Corinthians 16:12 he used the word “Maranatha”, which is Aramaic for “Come, Lord.” As a Pharisee of the Pharisees, and a student of the Torah, he would be required to know Hebrew, and probably Aramaic, for that is the language in which the Talmud was ultimately written.

Five Words with Understanding

   19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

The church is the place for doctrinal teaching to take place. Therefore, there must be understanding. The mind must be used. With his mind engaged, Paul declares he would rather speak five words that he might teach others. What five words did Paul have in mind, if any? It is only speculation. but Paul might have had in mind the word, “Jesus, Christ, God’s Son, Saviour.” These words form an acrostic in the Greek, I CHTHUS, which, when translates into English as the word fish. (I – Jesus, CH – Christ, TH-God’s Son, S-Saviour)

Tongues as a Sign of Divine Discipline

  20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

  21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.

The apostle Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah to make the theological argument that the manifestation of Gentiles preaching the gospel is a sign of God’s divine judgment upon the nation Israel. “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.” (Isaiah 28:11) Unbelieving Jews refused to believe that God would use the harsh sounding language of the Gentiles, which included Aramaic, Chaldean, Latin, and Greek, to replace the poetic Hebrew language in disseminating the gospel.

  22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.

Paul taught that the ability of Gentiles to proclaim the gospel was a sign of divine discipline upon Israel, and signaled the approaching military judgment that would finally take place in AD 70 with the fall of Jerusalem by Roman forces. The judgment that Isaiah warned would happen to the Jews in the southern kingdom of Judah, at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC, became a sign to another generation of similar judgment.

The Jews that did not believe the gospel could remember the sign given by the prophet Isaiah. Meanwhile, the church could enjoy and benefit by the spiritual gift of prophesying, or telling forth the good things of God. Speaking in tongues was not given as a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The power to see souls saved was the sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as Acts 1:4-5 and Luke 24:49 teach. “And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, you have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5) “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

The Limitation of Tongues

  23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?

Paul is concerned that when the church meets for worship, there be structure, and order, lest people accuse Christians of being mad. Therefore, divine regulations are placed on the use of spiritual gifts, especially the gifts of tongues and prophecy. Of course Satan wants people to think Christians are mad. Satan wants to destroy all true worship. We are to worship God in spirit and in truth. However, if a sensual form of worship can be found to prevail, then intelligent appreciation and adoration of our glorious God can be diminished, and then dismissed.

  24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:

   25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.

   26 How is it then, brethren? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

Everything in worship is designed to edify, or strengthen the believer in spirit and in truth. Ignorance of truth leads to two types of error: heresy and fanaticism. Heresy comes from insufficient understanding of the Bible. Fanaticism comes from a willingness to suspend the mind, and let the emotions have full sway.

  27 If any men speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.

Regulatory Principle 3

Only two, and at the most three men are to speak in tongues, or a foreign language in a service.

Regulatory Principle 4

Those who speak in tongues, or a foreign language, must do so in an orderly manner and not all at once.

Regulatory Principle 5

If a person is to speak in a tongue, or foreign language, someone else must be present to interpret.

  28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.

Regulatory Principle 6

If there is no one to interpret the person speaking in tongues, which refers to a foreign language not previously known, then that person must keep silent in the church.Let such a person pray to himself, and to pray to God. To speak to self and to God does not mean that permission is being given for a person to speak in tongues, but to speak to self and God in prayer, or quiet mediation. The ecstatic utterance that people make today is not “speech,” but a guttural sound, much like that of an infant or an animal. Nowhere in Scripture is such noise authorized. In fact, such sounds are associated with the occult. “And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? For the living to the dead?” (Isaiah 8:19)

  29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.

Regulatory Principle 7

A judgment is to be made on the exercising of spiritual gifts. A person who is willful, unruly, or indecent, must be stopped from being an exhibitionist. Surely the apostle would never have tolerated a laughing revival, being slain in the spirit, or barking like a dog.

  30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.

Regulatory Principle 8

Humility is to be present, and preferring others before self.

  31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.

Regulatory Principle 9

A common purpose must be maintained by all, and that is for the church to learn, and to be comforted. Selfish verbal expressions in public, manifested in gibberish, and then ascribed to be a heavenly language, does not help the church to learn, nor is anyone comforted by such an unruly display of behavior.

  32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

Regulatory Principle 10

A person who speaks in tongues must be able to control their behavior, just like those who prophesy. The reason for self-control is this: God is not the author of confusion and unseemly behavior. The idea that speaking in tongues is an experience that overwhelms a person so the individual has no control over the experience, is contrary to sound doctrine, and falsified Christian experience.

  33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

   34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

Regulatory Principle 11

Women are not to speak in tongues in the church, or in any official capacity. They are to keep silent. This is plainly stated in Scripture to be the will of the Lord. It is a matter of structure and authority, not ability. This limitation does not take away from godly women in the church having great spiritual gifts. Some have the gift of utterance and may be a teacher of other women, or children. They are not permitted to teach in the meeting of the church. They are not permitted to usurp authority over the man. But they may use their spiritual gifts in the work of the ministry.

  35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

   36 What? Came the word of God out from you? Or came it unto you only?

   37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.

 Regulatory Principle 12

Let those who speak in tongues, thinking they are spiritual, and those who prophesy submit to the apostolic regulations, and so be obedient to the commandments of the Lord.

Five Authorized Functions

  38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.

Regulatory Principle 13

Let a person who will not be instructed, remain ignorant. Five functions were authorized in the worship service: psalms, the singing of hymns; doctrine, the teaching of the Word of God; tongues, as a means of evangelizing the lost; revelation, the exercising of the gift of prophecy in order to clarify the will of God, and; interpretation, the ability to interpret, or translate the foreign languages spoken. If a person violated the use and regulation of these gifts, and still thought himself spiritual, then there was only one recourse left, “let him be ignorant.”

  39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.

 Regulatory Principle 14

Do not forbid the exercising of the gift of tongues. However, brethren, covet to prophesy in order to edify the church. Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said, “I am afraid that many of my ministerial brethren must imagine that when Scripture tells them to feed my sheep, it means feed my giraffes for they put the food so high that people would have to be giraffes to reach it.” Those who speak in tongues so that no one is edified, place spiritual food so high the sheep of God cannot enjoy eating. One day a lady introduced her grandson to Dr. H. A. Ironside who said something a little amusing. The little boy said, “Why, Grandmamma, he’s not a great preacher. I can understand every word he said.” Dr. Ironside took that as a compliment, as indeed he should have. Oh brethren, seek to edify. Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

  40 Let all things be done decently and in order.

Regulatory Principle 15

Everything, including speaking in tongues and prophesying, is to be done in a decent and orderly manner. Chaos and random openness is not to characterize the worship service.

To Speak in Tongues is Never Commanded

Here is the conclusion of the matter. While it is a gospel duty to regulate the use of tongues, and while it is a duty to be filled with the Holy Spirit, it is not a duty to speak in tongues. The duty to be filled with the Spirit is plainly commanded. “And be not drunk with wine, in which is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:18) “The very aim and purpose of drunkenness is unwittingly shared by charismatics, when they renounce their rational self-control, and launch themselves like surfers on to the waves of emotions, ecstasies involuntary speech, random impressions, visions, hallucinations, messages in the head, fictional, fantasizing, and so on.” (Peter Masters) God does not want this behavior in His people, or in the church.

Therefore, there is no command for every Christian to lose their self-control and to speak in tongues. Nowhere is speaking in tongues said to be a duty, a necessity, or even a privilege. It is, after all, the least of the gifts. Only the flesh will exalt speaking in tongues to be among the greatest of the gifts.

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