Speaking in Tongues: Let’s Play Detective

by: Rev. Ed Schneider

First things first….this is one of my favorite subjects to teach. I have researched this topic for countless hours over the last 30 years. I have taught on this subject 100’s of times….to 1,000’s of people…and it never ceases to amaze me why the “basic” information listed below is not common knowledge by now. I am also endlessly annoyed by completely unaware “teachers” parading around as experts on this subject.

In an attempt to help enlighten those interested in “speaking in other tongues,” I will offer the following up-to-date scholarship while using detectivelanguage that just about everyone can follow. In fact, the previous sentence has a lot to do with the context of what I am about to share.OK…let’s get started!

I am only going to refer to two sections of scripture; Acts 2 & 1 Corinthians 14. Get your bibles out and do two things….read both thoroughly and keep them open so you can refer back to them as we move through this information.
corintoHistorical reality CLEARLY shows us that both the Jews who were from Palestine and the migrating Diaspora Jews shared the same foundational languages of Aramaic and Greek. The early Jewish followers of Christ depicted in Acts 2 would have naturally expected to experience the “holy” HEBREW  “tongue,” which was for them the proper language of temple worship.  Instead of Hebrew the disciples of Jesus, when filled with the Spirit proclaimed the wonders of God’s miracles and majesty in…at the very least….their own foundational languages of Aramaic and Greek….or in other words, “other tongues.” By doing so, it could have easily been understood as a violation of standard Jewish custom.Again, it’s essential to understand that Luke, the writer of Acts, designates these languages as “other tongues,” or in other words… languages other than Hebrew. 

Because of its geographical location and commercial prosperity, the city of Corinth in Paul’s time was a highly multilingual environment. This means that for many in Corinth, Greek was not their first or foundational language. Rather, they verbally communicated in a non-Greek language.  Greek was a second language for them….as well as in number of other languages they may have spoken.

Like all churches…then and now…a church generally reflects the environment it is placed within. Ancient-Corinth-Reconstructed_WCW5533-XLBecause the city of Corinth was a profoundly multilingual environment, it would be reasonable to conclude this multilingual environment was reflected in the local church. To support this rather simple and reasonable historical assumption all one would have to realize is Corinth was a major seaport of its day and because of this fact the city would have had a constant influx and varied mix of visitors, travelers, temporary residents, slaves, and those who used to be slaves. These groups of people provided multiple sources for many human languages. All of the different visitors, travelers, and even temporary residents would quite naturally arrive from all over the Roman Empire bringing their non-Greek foundational (native) languages with them.

Now…keeping all this as a contextual backdrop….

Now as you read through the next series of observations I want you to start “playing detective” concerning the clues associated with what the nature of “differing tongues” at Corinth could have caused and what Paul was specifically referring to in the life of church in Corinth AT THE TIME OF THIS WRITING. Consider the following inferences derived either from common understanding about Corinth.

REMEMBER, like most the stuff in the Bible, it is far more beneficial to understand “context” and fundamental “meaning” rather than just the words written on the page. Broader context is an absolute key when discerning the deeper meanings and truth of Biblical witness. This subject matter is certainly one of those examples. These next several items will greatly enhance your awareness. 

  1. The foundational language of the city of Corinth was Greek (common understanding).
  2. Prophesying/Preaching (in the New Testament Prophesying and Preaching the vast majority of the time were equivalent) would have been in the Greek language (common understanding).
  3. Preaching-Testifying (being in Greek) was understood by all who were present at the service (common understanding).
  4. Preaching-Testifying was edifying to all (14:3) because it was understood by all (refer back to #3).
  5. The “problem tongue” at Corinth was not the Greek language (common understanding).
  6. The problem (other) tongue(s) were primarily spoken to God (14:2). A good example of that is here at Trinity Community Church where we have 5 languages spoken all the time. It is typical when I am praying in English that there are several individuals offering prayers to God in their native…or first language learned.
  7. The problem (or other) tongue(s) were not known or understood by most of the CorinthianTongue-282x300 congregation (14:2,14,16).
  8. The other (non-Greek) tongue when interpreted was interpreted into the Greek Language (common understanding).
  9. The other tongue (even when not interpreted into Greek) built up the tongue-speaker (14:4,16-17).
  10. Paul desired that all of the Corinthians have the freedom to engage in other tongues (14:5, 39).
  11. Paul preferred prophesying-preaching-testifying in Greek to non-interpreted tongues (14:5).
  12. Preaching-preaching-testifying in Greek was superior to speaking in non-interpreted tongues (14:5).
  13. Another logical reality is that the “tongues” referred to in this section of scripture could be interpreted (14:5, 13, 27).
  14. If the problem arising from the act of speaking in other tongues was then actually interpreted, it then became no longer inferior…or a hindrance…or interfering with….the process of prophesying-preaching-testifying (14:5).
  15. This next one is so logical to grasp….The bible clearly indicates that the person speaking in “tongues” could sometimes interpret what they were saying in “another tongue” by themselves. Given the multicultural…Multilanguage environment that was common place at the time, this is perfectly reasonable. (14:5,13, 27).
  16. Sometimes the tongue-speaker could not interpret the problem tongue (14:28) and would have to rely on others to accomplish the interpretation.
  17. Once interpreted the other tongue ceased to be a problem tongue because it was being relayed within a common understanding.
  18. An non-interpreted other tongue consisted of actual words (14:19).
  19. An non-interpreted tongue could not convey revelation, knowledge, prophecy, or teaching (14:6).
  20. When an other tongue was uttered (without interpretation), the tongue-speaker’s Spirit acts, but his mind or UNDERSTANDING does not produce fruit (14:14).
  21. The other tongue was used by the tongue-speaker for worship or devotional purposes: for prayer (14:14, 15, 16,17); for singing (14:15); for blessing/praising God (14:16); and for giving thanks to God (14: 16-17).
  22. Paul spoke in tongues outside of the church meetings (14:18).
  23. Paul preferred “five intelligible words” to “countless, myriads of words” in an non-interpreted tongue (14:19).
  24. Paul told the Corinthians that they must use their physical organ of speech (i.e., tongue) to produce intelligible speech. If they do not, they will be speaking uselessly into the air (14:9).
  25. Paul asserts that there are many voices in the world, and yet none is meaningless in itself (14:10).
  26. Paul asserts that if people do not understand each other’s voices, they become “barbarians” to each other (14:11).
  27. If all of the Corinthians engage in other tongues simultaneously (without interpretation), this leads the unlearned and unbelieving visitors to conclude that they are just “raving” (14:23).
  28. If all of the Corinthians prophesy, the unlearned and unbelievers overhear and could possibly be converted to the Christian faith (14:24-25).
  29. Multiple individuals at the Corinthian worship service brought multiple other tongues (14:26).
  30. If someone speaks in a particular other tongue (singular), this should be limited to two or at most three per meeting (14:27).
  31. One tongue-speaker should speak at a time; many should not speak simultaneously (14:27).
  32. One of the tongue-speakers must interpret the particular other tongue that is used (14:27).
  33. If there is no person capable of competently interpreting a other tongue (neither among the tongue-speakers nor among the interpreters), the tongue-speaker should keep this particular tongue out of the public service (14:28).

Being a biblical detective is sooooo much fun….when you love discovering new things!  So, beloved, I trust you can have fun while thinking deeply about the meanings found within this journey of discovery.

More to come later. Peace.


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