- 3. “Speaking mysteries” (1 Co 14:2): As stated before, the word “unknown” is not in the Greek text of 1 Corinthians 14:2. Therefore, Paul was not talking about some language that was not known by man. The word “mystery” in the verse does not refer to ecstatic sounds of gibberish. Paul was simply using the word “mystery” as it was commonly used to denote spiritual truth that is communicated to man by God (See Rm 16:25; 1 Co 2:7; Cl 1:25-29; Ep 3:3-5).
The phrase “in the Spirit” refers to inspiration. As previously discussed, a consistent understanding of this phrase as it is used in the Bible would lead us to understand that inspiration to speak in a language by the Holy Spirit is under discussion in the context of 1 Corinthians 14:2. Therefore, it was by inspiration of the Spirit that the Corinthians spoke the mysteries of the truth (See Ep 3:3-5).
In the context of 1 Corinthians 14:2, no one understood what the speaker was saying simply because there was no one present who had the gift of interpreting the specific language that was being spoken. This is why Paul made the exhortation of verse 13: “Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.” This is also why Paul prohibited one from speaking in tongues when there was no interpreter present. “But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the assembly, and let him speak to himself and to God” (vs 28).
The phrase, “does not speak to men but to God,” does not assume that the speaker cannot understand what he is saying. 1 Corinthians 14:28 emphasizes the fact that if there were no interpreter present, then the individual was speaking to himself and to God. Therefore, he did understand what he was saying, though those around him did not. This is why Paul gave the instruction that this person should keep silent if there were no interpreter present. In other words, he should not disturb the assembly of the disciples for his own benefit.
Almost all of the disciples of the New Testament to which a Christ-sent apostle went exercised the use of the miraculous gifts if they had previously come into contact with an apostle. Because of the problems that prevailed in Corinth, confusion arose concerning the use of the gifts. The confusion that was occurring among the Corinthians led to Paul’s writing of the instructions of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14.
a. The Corinthians were speaking without consideration for one another. The gift of tongues was being used in Corinth without brotherly love. They were speaking in foreign languages in the assembly without respect to foreigners who did not understand the particular language that was being spoken. Because no interpreter was present, therefore, those in the assembly could not understand.
b. The Corinthians were speaking in confusion. Those who were speaking were speaking at the same time. They were thus causing confusion in the assembly by exercising a gift that was meant to edify instead of manifesting pride.
c. The Corinthians were speaking out of order. Those exercising their gifts were not respecting the orderliness by which the gifts were to be used in the assemblies. In 1 Corinthians 14:2, therefore, Paul gave them instructions concerning an orderly manner of using the gift of languages.
The point is that those who were speaking, were speaking mysteries because they could not be understood by the audience. They were only manifesting their pride by speaking. And in this way, they were speaking in a manner that caused confusion in the assembly. Paul exhorted them to check both their attitudes and the manner by which they used their gifts. 1 Corinthians 14:26-35 includes Paul’s instructions to correct the disorderly practices of those who were causing confusion in the assembly. They had been ignoring these courteous procedures because of their pride and divisive spirits.
4. “He edifies himself” (1 Co 14:4): Some have used this statement to prove that those who spoke should be seeking to edify only themselves, and not the assembly. But in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14, the edification of the entire assembly was under consideration. The use of speaking in languages was to be for the benefit of the assembly, not any particular individual in the assembly.
1 Corinthians 14:5 states that the assembly was not edified if there were no interpreter present who could translate the language that was spoken. Verse 6 states that there was no profit to the assembly unless there was communication of the teaching that was spoken.
Verses 7-11 affirm that such speaking was useless unless it could be understood by the entire assembly. For this reason, Paul exhorted, “Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret” (1 Co 14:13). What Paul was saying to the Corinthians in the context was that if there were no understanding, then there was no edification. If ecstatic or hysterical gibberish is what was being discussed in the context, then the meaning of what is said must be understood in order to edify both the individual and the assembly. But if the assembly could not be edified by what was said, then neither can the one who is gibberish sounds. This is why we must affirm that ecstatic gibberish was not in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14. Ecstatic gibberish cannot be interpreted. It is simply unintelligible sounds made by an individual who is either emotionally out of control at the time, or is simply making gibberish sounds to draw attention to himself.
Paul did not address speaking in tongues as something that was self-edifying. But what was spoken in a language must edify. The action of speaking was not what edified. In other words, the gift of languages was not meant to be for the benefit of the one who was speaking simply because he was inspired with the ability to speak. This would also be true of the one who would utter ecstatic gibberish. If his actual speaking such sounds was meant to be for himself alone, then the one speaking has missed the purpose for which the gift of languages was given in the New Testament. He was speaking for himself, and thus not using his gift to minister to others.
All gifts were given for the purpose of ministering to the needs of others. No gift was given for the purpose of one to edify himself or to manifest pride before others. The gifts were given to individuals for the purpose of aiding the individuals in their ministry to others. Therefore, any gift that was used in the assembly that did not function in edification of the entire assembly, according to Paul’s instructions, must be silenced.
[Next in series: Oct. 24]