Not a Flat Prohibition

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #172

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. 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. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” (1 Cor. 14:34–36).

Paul has been addressing the use of spiritual gifts in the church, but his real subject was the need for decorum and order in their worship services. And so here, when he shifts to the question of how their women are to behave in church, he is not really changing the subject.

The prohibition of v. 34 appears to be a flat prohibition, but this is only if we forget what was laid out a few chapters earlier. There Paul required any women in the service who prayed or who prophesied to do so in a manner that showed tangible respect to their husbands (1 Cor. 11:5, 10). Now in order to be able to show respect to your husband by how you pray or prophesy in church, it is necessary to be allowed to pray or prophesy there. It further means that this prohibition here is contextualized—women are to be “under obedience,” as the law required. An instance of what a disorderly speaking might look like is then given—an impromptu Q&A is out, for example.

If anyone is prepared to dispute any of this—and we have lots of people like that in our day—Paul wants to know if they are the source of the Word of God, or if they were the only ones who received it. Since the answer to both rhetorical questions is no, then we see the Pauline refutation of modern feminism long before it arose.

When the Spirit Says to Put a Sock in It

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #172

“Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (1 Cor. 14:29–33).

Paul has already taught us that no more than two or three people can speak in tongues in the course of a worship service, and, if they do, then the words they spoke must be interpreted. This implies that they need to go one at a time so that the words can be made out distinctly, and translated for the congregation. Some might want to represent this as a view of mine, in which I am seeking to quench the Spirit. It is actually the view of the Spirit, working through Paul, in order to quench us. Quenching ego-babbling is not the same thing as quenching the Spirit.

The same principle applies to any words of prophesy that are given. Two, or at the most three, may speak words that the Spirit inspires. The first principle noted here is that the prophets must be accountable for what they say. The others sit to judge and review what is said. No one gets to speak for God on their own authority. The second principle is that courtesy and deference apply even here. When a word comes to another prophet, the first prophet gives way. Spiritual inspiration does not bring in bedlam. One at a time, with three messages as the most. The result is that everyone learns, everyone profits. The result is that all are comforted. If any are tempted to resist this word because “inspiration cannot be denied,” Paul says no. That’s not right. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, meaning that it possible to put a sock in it. Consider that each prophet is capable of restraining himself, and each prophet is to be subject to the other prophets. The alternative to this is disobedience, which would result in confusion instead of peace. And the Spirit’s work is to create order and peace, as in all the churches of the saints, and not disorder and chaos.

Unambiguous Instruction

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #171

“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. If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.” (1 Cor. 14:26–28).

When the body gathers together, those with different gifts bring different things. One man has a psalm to sing, another man has a teaching, yet another has an utterance in a tongue, and a fourth and fifth man have a revelation and an interpretation. The principle is not that everyone gets to present what they have brought. Rather, the principle is that the body as a whole must be edified and built up. If the man who brings a tongue has an unknown tongue (that is, unknown to the congregation), then Paul sets down an explicit and defined rule. No more than two or three may present, they must go in order, one at a time, and everything that is spoken in an unknown tongue must be translated. If no interpreter is available, then the person with an unknown tongue must keep all the good stuff to himself, praying silently to God.

If this is the rule for genuine languages, miraculously acquired, how much more does it need to be the rule for jumbled up syllables? Those utterances which have a meaning must have that meaning rendered to the congregation. Those utterances which have no meaning at all cannot be so rendered, and so are prohibited.

Tongues as the Back of Our Hand

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #170

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? 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: 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” (1 Cor. 14:23–25).

Paul has just finished telling us that to have a bunch of people chattering in a language that you don’t understand is represented by Isaiah as a sign of judgment. He then moves on into application. If an unbeliever or an untutored person comes into your assembly, you should want the service to be edifying to them. But if everybody is speaking in tongues, the ungifted or unbelieving will simply dismiss you as being crazy. But this dismissal would indicate that they are under judgment—as we see with the people who dismissed the Christians on Pentecost as being drunk. But Paul does say that for the believers to pray in tongues in church together is a provocation—and that is not our calling.

On the other hand, if the words spoken in the service of words of intelligible prophecy, then unbeliever comes under the judgment of his own conscience, which is the way we avoid coming under the judgment of God. The secrets of his heart are laid bare by intelligible speech, and causes him to confess that God is indeed present.

This is why an assembly of Christians all speaking together in an unintelligible way is simply a way of telling non-Christians to go to Hell. And while a worship service is not structured in order to cater to non-believers, it should anticipate their presence, and not place needless obstacles in front of them.

Tongues as Pending Judgment

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #169

“Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. 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. 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.” (1 Cor. 14:20–22).

We now come to a place in the New Testament where it is really important to let the testaments speak to one another. Paul starts by saying that we must not be childish in our thinking, but instead we should be mature. When it comes to malice we should not be mature, but in our theology we are called to maturity.

With this exhortation, Paul then quotes Isaiah 28, and cites it as his reason for encouraging them to speak intelligibly in their worship services. The context of Isaiah’s warning is a context of judicial blindness, where Isaiah’s warnings to the hard-hearted were all yammer yammer yammer.

“For with stammering lips and another tongue Will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; And this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. But the word of the Lord was unto them Precept upon precept, precept upon precept; Line upon line, line upon line; Here a little, and there a little; That they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, And snared, and taken.” (Isaiah 28:11–13).

This is the passage Paul quotes when he is explaining why tongues is a sign (of judgment) on unbelievers. Isaiah taught them plainly, but they taunted him in return, mocking his simplistic teaching—line on line, precept on precept, sing-songy ABCing to the widdle Sunday School kids. Very well then, Isaiah says, if you treat the plain Word of God as gibberish, what you will get is gibberish. You don’t listen to God when the prophet speaks, and so maybe you will understand it when your streets are full of Babylonian soldiers speaking a strange language. The end result is that they go and fall backward, are broken, snared and captured.

The same thing is promised in the law.

“The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand;” (Deut. 28:49).

Tongues speaking was therefore given as a sign of judgment. When the streets of Jerusalem were filled with the praises of God in multiple languages, this was a great blessing to those who were speaking those praises, along with those who heard them and entered into the praise But it was simultaneously (and more importantly) a sign of judgment on the residents of Jerusalem who did not know what was going on. Those who accused them of drunkenness were being handed over to the judgment of God, a precursor to the Latin-speaking soldiers who would be on them within a generation. It is not a good thing.

Tongues are a sign of pending military judgment, and they were an ominous sign given to the obdurate and unbelieving. So why should such a practice be emphasized inside a Christian worship service? Prophesy—intelligibility—is for the community of faith. Why? Because we are not under condemnation, not under judgment.

Straight to the Meaning

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #168

I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 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” (1 Cor. 14:18–19).

Paul distinguished praying in tongues for private edification from speaking in tongues in the assembly. He prays in tongues himself more than anybody, but in the church he would rather speak five intelligible words than ten thousand words that are unknown to the rest of the people there. As we will see a few verses down, unintelligible speaking in church is a sign of God’s judgment, not of His blessing. And if you fix that problem by translating what is said, you remove the element of judgment, but you have not removed the middle man. Why not just go straight to the interpretation? Why say something in church that nobody understands, then translate it, when you could just go straight to the meaningful talk?

Essential Translation

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #167

Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. 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: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. 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 Cor. 14:12–17).

When it comes to the public meeting of the church, the apostle Paul privileges the mind over the heart. This is not the same thing as privileging the intellect over love because the reason he is doing it is because he wants us to excel in the edifying of the church (v. 12). The Corinthians were zealous for spiritual gifts, but he wants them to press on beyond that—with the edifying of the body in mind. A man who speaks in tongues should (as far as public worship is concerned) pray for the gift of translation (v. 13). Genuine tongues that are untranslated are therefore excluded from public worship. How much more would untranslatable sounds be excluded?

Praying in tongues is a blessing to the spirit, but not a blessing for the mind. As far as the mind is concerned, the whole thing is “unfruitful” (v. 14). Why choose? Paul says that he will pray in the spirit and he will pray with his understanding as well (v. 15). If he does not do this, then someone who is ungifted or unlearned is in no position to say amen when the whole thing is over—which means that it must not be done (v. 16). You had a good time, but your brother was not edified (v. 17). What was the point?

We can see here a distinction between an emotional “blessing” and real edification. As the proverb goes, nothing dries more quickly than a tear. You can have all kinds of sensations, but when the sensation is passed, nothing is different. But when you build an edifice, when the project is done, the building is still there. That is what it means to be edified—the listener is built up, and changed from that point on. It is like adding a wing to your house. When you are done, the wing remains.

When the sermon series is completed, the congregation is transformed. It is like taking a journey—with a good map. When you get there, you have arrived somewhere. Speaking in tongues without true translation is like running in place.

Babel and Pentecost

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #166

There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me” (1 Cor. 14:10–11).

The miracle at Pentecost was a reversal of Babel, which meant that it was a unifying miracle. When God confused the tongues at Babel, the result was that men scattered, divided by their different languages. When God gave different languages at Pentecost, the intent was to move men in the opposite direction, to gather them all to Christ. At Babel, the different languages scattered. At Pentecost, the different languages gathered. They all heard, in their own tongues, “the wonderful works of God” being declared (Acts 2:11).

God has set the direction, and so our worship services should continue to move in that same direction. There are many voices in the world and all of them, Paul says, have specific signification. There is a meaning there, but if I don’t know the meaning, what effect does that have? It has the effect of making the speaker a barbarian to the listener, and the listener a barbarian to the speaker. But God’s purpose in the church is to make us all members of the same household, the same holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9). We are not supposed to be foreigners to one another.

The word barbarian came from this idea of what alien chatter sounds like. When someone is a foreigner talking away aimlessly in my presence, I am going to tag him with an onomatopoeic label – they sound like they are saying nothing other than bar bar bar bar. And so, Paul says, don’t do that to your brothers in church. And if you withhold from your brother the signification of what you have said, that is exactly what you are doing. You are exiling your brother, who ought to live right next door to your meaning, and you are exiling him to a distant and barbarous land.

When you do this in church, you are introducing the tongues of Babel, and not the tongues of Pentecost.