Languages (F)

  1. 5.“Pray that he may interpret” (1 Co 14:13): This statement is made to affirm that one should pray for the gift of interpretation. In the case here, it is made in reference to those who already had the apostles’ hands laid on them in order to receive the gift of languages or some other gift.

We must remember that it was the Spirit who distributed the particular gifts (1 Co 12:11). Therefore, those who already had hands laid on them were to pray that the Spirit might give them the additional gift of interpretation if they had already received another gift, specifically the gift of languages.

We cannot assume that Paul was teaching here that they pray for a miraculous gift if they had not had the apostles’ hands laid on them. It took more than praying to receive the gift of tongues. This gift did not come simply in answer to prayer. The Corinthian situation proves this. They were in a situation where there was no interpreter of the various languages that were being spoken. If prayer was the only thing necessary in order to receive the gift of interpretation, then there would never be a situation where an interpreter is not present, for one could simply pray and receive the gift from God.

God would give the gift of interpretation in order to stop the confusion. But in this case in Corinth, there were lan­guages being spoken without an interpreter of the lan­guage being spoken. Paul’s instructions in this case are mentioned in verse 28. If no interpreter was present, then the one who was speaking in a language that could not be under­stood by the assembly, must be quiet.

Other contexts prove that more than prayer was needed in order to receive a miraculous gift. If prayer alone were the only prerequisite for receiving a gift, then why did Paul desire to go to Rome in order that he might impart to them some spiritual gift (Rm 1:11)? Could he not simply have instructed them through the Roman letter to pray for gifts to be added among the Roman Christians? Why did the apostles Peter and John have to go from Jerusalem to Samaria in order to lay hands on the newly converted disciples in order that they receive miraculous gifts (See At 8:18)? Could not Philip have instructed them to pray for the gifts?

The answer to the preceding questions is simple. It was only through the laying on of the apostles’ hands that the gifts could be given. Prayer concerning the gifts was for the purpose of receiving from the Spirit another gift of personal choice, since it was the initial choice of the Spirit to distribute the gifts according to His will (1 Co 12:11).

Prayer for the gift of interpretation would be necessary because the gift of languages did not assume that one would also be blessed with the gift of interpretation. Languages was a gift of confirmation before unbelievers. For evangelistic purposes, those who spoke in languages to unbelievers did not need the language they spoke to be interpreted because the particular group of unbelievers to whom they preached the gospel already knew the language. It was their native language. In fact, the gift of speaking in languages to the foreign unbelievers was for the purpose of communicating the gospel to the foreigner in his own language. No interpretation was needed. Because of his mission to many language groups, Paul could say to the Corinthians, “I speak with languages more than you all” (1 Co 14:18).

But in the case of a mixed assembly of believers, and possible unbelieving foreigners, the spoken language of the assembly needed to be translated for the local Christians, or the visiting unbelievers. This is another point to prove that the assembly about which Paul was addressing in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14 was a special biannual assembly of all the Christians throughout Achaia who came together in Corinth for the Isthmian Games that were conducted in the city. In this assembly, the women were to keep silent, and the gifted prophets and language speakers were to sort themselves out in order that the possible participants of the Games who possibly attended this occasional biannual assembly not think that the assembly of Christians was an assembly of madmen.

We must keep in mind also that 1 Corinthians 14:13 addressed the brother who already had the gift of languages. Paul said that he must then pray that he interpret for the visitors. Therefore, he had already had hands laid on him to receive the gift of languages. His prayer would be that the Spirit also distribute to him the gift of interpretation (1 Co 12:11). Since one could possess more than one gift, then we assume from what Paul meant was that one should pray for other gifts if he had already had hands laid on him by a Christ-sent apostle.

1 Corinthians 14:13 could refer to one praying that an apostle be able to be present in order that one receive a spiritual gift (At 18:8). One should “desire spiritual gifts,” and pray that the medium through which they were distributed would come into his or her presence.

One who had not had hands laid on him by an apostle could not receive a spiritual gift simply by praying for it. A Christ-sent apostle had to be present in order that the gift be imparted by the laying on of his hands. Only if one had already had hands laid on him could he pray for another gift. Since there are no Christ-sent apostles today, it would be futile to word a prayer for a miraculous gift. This would be asking for more than what God has promised for us today. It would be a direct attack against the sufficiency of the inspired word of God that God says is sufficient to supply us unto all good works (See 2 Tm 3:16,17).

There is a practical argument concerning praying for the gift of interpretation that must also be considered in order to understanding what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 14:13. The one who was speaking in tongues was speaking the word of God. So it would be today if one stands up in an assembly and preaches in a language no one understands. If we have the miraculous gift of interpretation today, then certainly a brother could immediately pray for this gift, and thus, translate into the common language the meaning of what was being said. In this way, we could understand the message. If the speaker spoke in Mandarin Chinese, some brother could pray for the gift of interpretation in order to translate Mandarin into the common language of the assembly. The fact that this does not happen proves that we do not have the gift of interpretation today. In a practical sense, it proves that the gift of interpretation could not be arbitrarily received by the Corinthians.

6. “Understanding is unfruitful” (1 Co 14:14): This statement is misunderstood by some to refer to one not understanding some gibberish sound the speaker was supposedly speaking. Those who make this unfortunate interpretation affirm that they do not have to understand what they are saying. The fact is that if they are speaking gibberish they do not and cannot know what they are saying themselves. However, this is not what Paul is discuss­ing in 1 Corinthians 14:14.

Such interpretations of the context of 1 Corinthians 12 – 14 are certainly beneath the dignity of the Scriptures and certainly outside logical reasoning concerning the work of God. And above all, such interpretations make God use men as talking toys for His own amusement. The Holy Spirit does not work in a way to make God speak to Himself through the medium of men. God does not use the occasion of our assemblies to talk to Himself.

What Paul means is if the audience does not understand what is being prayed in a language, then there is no fruit produced from the prayer of those in the audience. If the audience does not understand the communication in prayer, then the prayer is useless to them.

The entire context of 1 Corinthians 14 is centered around the edification of the church in the assemblies (1 Co 14:26). The prayers that are under discussion refer to those prayers that are made in the assembly of the church. The church is not edified, therefore, if the prayers are in a language that cannot be understood by the assembly. This is why Paul said, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding (1 Co 14:15). In other words, if God’s revelation flows through the inspired individual, but straight back to God, then the assembly benefits nothing. It was not the work of the Spirit in the first century to inspire people to speak to God in public prayer in a language that could not be understood by the audience. This would be God speaking to Himself.

7. “Strange tongues” (1 Co 14:21): This statement in the original King James Version is also used to read the practice of speaking gibberish utterances into the context of 1 Corinthians 14. From the English word “strange,” it is assumed that the language that was spoken was unknown by any man. However, Paul was here quoting from Isaiah 28:11. In the context of Isaiah 28:11, Isaiah referred to the language of the Assyrians who took Israel into captivity in 721/722 B.C. He was not referring to ecstatic utterances, but to a specific language that was known by man.

The fact that Paul used the quotation of Isaiah 28:11 is proof that he was discussing the known languages of men in 1 Corinthians 14. Isaiah referred to languages when he wrote Isaiah 28. The same meaning must be carried with the quotation into the context of 1 Corinthians 14.

The “strange tongues” about which both Paul and Isaiah spoke were “foreign languages” to the Jews. In fact, this passage is better translated in recent versions to read “other” tongues or languages. The Revised King James Version reads, “With men of other languages and other lips I will speak to this people.”

[Next in series: Oct. 26]

Leave a Reply