Below is Galyn Wiemers’ comments on John MacArthur’s teaching on tongues and First Corinthians 14.  John MacArthur is a trained, skill and accurate Bible teacher.  In this instance Galyn disagrees with MacArthur and those that hold to a similar position.  MacArthur’s notes are used as an example since he does an outstanding job of explaining these verses from his position.  Galyn will express his views in this color in Arial text.  MacArthur’s notes will be in black Times New Roman text.  Note: Not every disagreement is noted nor does Galyn disagree with everything MacArthur writes here.

Speaking in Tongues

The Truth about Tongues--Part 2

John MacArthur
All Rights Reserved

(A copy of this message on cassette tape may be obtained by calling 1-800-55-GRACE)
1 Corinthians 14:6-19   
     Tape GC 1872

(Galyn Wiemers’ Comments in Dark Red, Arial
John MacArthur’s comments in Black Times New Roman)


A. A Charismatic Confrontation: The Motive

Let me begin by saying that I do not approach this text with an ulterior motive. My only motive is to understand what Paul is saying. I am not attempting to direct these messages on 1 Corinthians 14 to speak against the current Charismatic movement. I'm simply trying to teach what the text is saying, and then to make application. Now I know that it's hard for some people to accept the fact that I'm not personally attacking individuals who believe as the Charismatics believe. However, I am only endeavoring to give a clear understanding of the things that are in the Word of God regarding the phenomena of speaking in tongues and how it applies to us today.

With that in mind, let's look at 1 Corinthians 14.

B. The Corinthians' Carnality: Its Manifestation

First Corinthians 14 brings us to the issue of tongues in the Corinthian church--another manifestation of their carnality.


The true, biblical presentation of the gift of languages (or tongues) can be seen in Acts 2:6 when the disciples spoke in tongues and the people heard them speaking it spoken in their own languages. First mistake is to assume tongues is a “gift of languages” or “foreign languages” since in Acts 2 those who heard “them (plural)” speaking in their language heard all of those speaking in tongues in their own language.  Acts does not say the believers from the upper room came out speaking a variety of human languages that they did not know.  It says they spoke in “other” (heterosanother  not of the same nature or class) languages as the Spirit enabled them.  The miracle was in the fact that each member of the crowd heard it in their own personal dialect.  They did not hear one or two speaking their homeland dialect, they heard “them all” speaking their own dialect.  The result was the crowd said, “What does this mean?” (2:12)

·        2:6 “each one heard them speaking in his own language”;

·        2:8, “Then how is it that each of us hears them (“ekastos”) in his own native language”;

·        2:11, “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues.” 

The true gift of tongues is the miraculous ability to speak a foreign language (Not true.  They did not speak foreign languages in Acts 2.  Nowhere in the Bible are tongues a human, foreign language.  It was “heard” as a known language.) which is unknown to the speaker, in order that he might communicate the truth of God (They declared the wonders of God but did not teach the truth of God nor did they preach the gospel.  This did not happen until they stopped speaking in tongues and Peter “raised his voice” not the gift of tongues and addressed the crowd and shared the gospel with them.)  in the language of someone present.  (This never happened in scripture or in ancient church history.  No one every preached the gospel in tongues to a group or to an individual in tongues.) It also acted as a sign that God was present (A sign to Jews but not to unbelievers.  Unbelievers would think “you are out of your mind” 1 Cor. 14:23), by virtue of its miraculous element, and it authenticated the message that was being proclaimed (When did this happen?  Tongues never validated anything or any message.  In Acts 2 it was a sign and a sign is to cause people to ask “What is the meaning of this?”  A sign in the Bible causes people to look beyond the miracle for the truth.  The Jews in Acts 2 looked beyond the miracle of tongues and asked “What does this mean” but a typical unbeliever, according to Paul in 1 Co. 14:23 will simply conclude “you are out of your mind” when he hears tongues.  MacArthur has not yet taught any scripture but is establishing his preconceived ideas as the basis of interpretation.  This is called eisogesis but usually MacArthur practices exegesis. But, not in this case.)

Now, there is no reason to think that the clear definition and purpose for the gift of languages ever changed. (I agree, but MacArthur says it was always a foreign, human language but exegetically I see it as not a foreign, human language.) The Greek terms that are used in 1 Corinthians 14 are the very same words that are used in Acts 2. There is no new definition given. In other words, the gift of tongues in Acts 2 is the same gift that is mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14. (I say “amen” and I agree.) It was still a Holy Spirit-given, miraculous ability to speak a foreign language (No.) that was unknown to the speaker, in order to authenticate (No.) the message to someone who does know that language. (This never happened in all of recorded scripture and ancient church history.  This is simply what MacArthur wants it to mean.  Acts 2 is not an example of this.)

(Galyn Wiemers’ Comments in Dark Red, Arial
John MacArthur’s comments in Black Times New Roman)


The confusion about tongues comes because the Corinthians had corrupted this very simple and clear gift by misusing it and by mixing it with the heathen concept of speaking in ecstatic gibberish (How does he know this?  Where does it say it wasn’t ecstatic in Acts 2?) common to their culture. It was relatively easy for Satan to counterfeit the true gift of tongues (If this is true then the tongues of 1 Co. 12-14 are demonic.  Where does Paul say clearly they are demonic in 1 Cor. 12-14? Or anywhere else?)  because of the pagan ecstasy that was so common to the Corinthian culture. But the true gift was uniquely of God--actual languages which could be understood. (No.)  In the Corinthian assembly, they had counterfeited the real gift of tongues and had turned it into the ecstatic speech of the pagans. (If the tongues of Corinth are demonic why does Paul waste time talking about it and explaining it.  Why doesn’t he make a clear break with it like he does with the pagan temples, the sacred meals, the temple prostitutes, etc?) With its concomitant emotional excesses (Hold on, MacArthur and I have both seen modern churches get into “emotional excesses” and it is a problem, but where in 1 Corinthians 12-14 does “emotional excess” come up.  It is not good enough to say the Corinthians were probably emotionally out of control just like they were out of control in so many other areas because “emotional excess” is not the topic of 1 Co. 12-14.  MacArthur might as well say “With its desire for political manipulation . . .” which is probably a true problem but not explicit in this text nor applied directly to tongues.  So far MacArthur is still assuming and laying the foundation for how he wants to approach these verses.) , it had begun to dominate the Corinthian assembly. So Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 14 to separate the worship of false gods and the personal objective of self- satisfaction, from the worship of the true God and the objective that reached out to others. Paul wanted the Corinthians to use whatever gift they had (if it was really a true gift) to minister to others (When was tongues used to minister to others? Not Acts 2, it only made the crowd wonder.  Tongues did not bless the crowd on the day of Pentecost.  Peter’s sermon in Greek or Aramaic was for the crowd.) --not to use it selfishly to minister some special, ecstatic blessing to themselves.

Alexander Hay sums it up with the following statement: "These believers, in their heathen days, had believed that when they spoke in a tongue not understood by men, not even by the worshiper, they were speaking secrets or mysteries with their god. They believed it was their spirit speaking. The benefit was received by the worshiper alone; no one else understood. (Here 1 Cor. 14 is not exegeted but eisogeted) The worshiper profited through the ecstasy of feeling aroused (What? How does he know this?  He is making it up.  There is no text.) and the sense that he was really participating with the spirits in the inner circle. He had no thought for the building up of the other worshipers. Paul contrasts this selfish objective with the Christian objective. The purpose of the manifestations of God's Spirit is that the whole congregation be edified" (True!)  ("Counterfeit Speaking in Tongues," What Is Wrong in the Church?, Vol. 2, [Audubon, N.J.: New Testament Missionary Union, n.d.] p. 32).

Are there two kinds of tongues?

Charismatics and Pentecostals realize that there is a difference between the tongues of Acts 2 and what is going on in 1 Corinthians 14, and they explain the difference by saying that there are two kinds of tongues. They say that the tongues of Acts 2 are real languages (Wrong!) and the tongues of 1 Corinthians 14 refer to an ecstatic, private, devotional speech which one speaks in an unknown tongue to God personally and privately for self- edification. They recognize a difference and resolve the difference by saying there are two gifts of tongues.

I also recognize a difference, but I resolve it by seeing the true use of it in Acts 2 and the false use of it in 1 Corinthians 14. First Corinthians 14 doesn't talk about another gift; it talks about a perversion of the intended gift and its mixture with the heathen counterfeit. The Bible doesn't teach that there are two kinds of tongues speaking--one a language and one an ecstasy. In fact, the same term describes the gift in Acts 2 and in 1 Corinthians 14. So if God wanted to make a distinction, He would have used another term--but He didn't. It is the very same word. (Exactly! Good.) It is the normal Greek word for language.  (Language doesn’t mean “human” language especially since Paul introduced the Jewish concept of the “language of angels” in 1 Co. 13:1) There is no reason to justify the selfish use of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 as if it were some new, special gift. (True.)

To say that what the Corinthians had was the true gift of tongues, being truly exercised, is to counter-argue against the most basic truth of spirituality. The Corinthian church could never have been manifesting a true gift in the spiritual state that they were in. They were worldly, divisive, opinionated, cliquish, carnal, fleshly, envious, strife-ridden, argumentative, puffed up, self- glorying, smug, immoral, compromising with sin, defrauding each other, fornicating, depriving in marriage, offending weaker Christians, lusting after evil things, idolatrous, fellowshiping with demons, insubordinate, gluttonous, drunken, selfish toward the poor, and desecrating the Lord's Table. How could they be expressing a true gift of the Holy Spirit? Well, the answer is obvious. It would defy every single principle of spirituality if that were true. A believer either walks in the flesh or he walks in the Spirit. There is no argument about what the Corinthians were doing. They were walking in the flesh. And when you are walking in the flesh you are not manifesting a true gift in the true power of the Holy Spirit. It can't happen.  (Not every believer was like this in Corinth.  What about those from Choloe’s house 1:11.  What about Gaius and Stephanas?   It can not be said there were no gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Corinthian church.  Why would tongues not be there when clearly prophecy and other gifts were manifesting?  Again MacArthur is not using complete thoughts here.)

(Galyn Wiemers’ Comments in Dark Red, Arial
John MacArthur’s comments in Black Times New Roman)


As you come to 1 Corinthians 14, you must not conclude that the Corinthians were exercising the true gift of tongues, or you will violate every basic truth about spirituality and how the gifts operate. (This is very important for MacArthur’s argument, but it is wrong. There were Holy Spirit gifts in the church and there were some faithful, mature believers there.  See note above.) The only possible thing that could have been happening here was a misuse of the true gift. Why? Because everything else was wrong in their lives. Paul wrote the first thirteen chapters of 1 Corinthians to correct the errors in their assembly, and he wrote chapter 14 because their selfish, pagan use of ecstatic speech was being justified as the gift of languages given by the Holy Spirit. Apparently, even those who had the true gift had perverted it, and were using it to speak in their own private way, as well as in the assembly when unbelievers weren't even present. (What?  Paul did not want unbelievers present, 1 Cor. 14:22, because they will not understand and conclude the church is crazy.  Result, the unbeliever will not stick around to hear the gospel or the truth of God proclaimed.)  They used the gift of tongues as a way to lift themselves up to a level of spiritual superiority. The Corinthian church had let every system in the world engulf them. Why would it be any different with the world's approach to religion?



A. Prophecy Edifies The Entire Congregation (vv. 1-5)


"Follow after love, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy."

Why are we to desire prophecy? Because prophesying edifies the whole congregation. In seeking the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit in your assembly, you're to seek that which will edify the whole congregation--the best gift. Now, I want to point out something that I didn't mention in our last lesson. Here in verse 1, Paul is not speaking about an individual Christian seeking an individual gift. He is talking about the assembly. He is saying, "When the assembly meets together, you should seek the manifestation of the gift of prophesying from whoever has that gift." This view is apparent from the context of the chapter. From chapters 11-14, Paul deals with the meeting together of the assembly of the Corinthian church. None of it has reference to a private time or a personal relationship with God. It all speaks to how they were to behave in the assembly. For example, chapter 11 talks about how women were to behave in the assembly. Chapter 11 also talks about how they were to take care of the Lord's Table and the love feast when they met together. Chapter 12 talks about how they were to minister their gifts in the assembly. Chapter 13 talks about how they were to manifest love to one another when they met together. And chapter 14 talks about how they were to use the gift of languages when they met together. The whole context of chapters 11-14 is how to behave in the assembly of the church. So, when Charismatic and Pentecostal people take chapter 14 and make the gift of tongues relate to a private devotional language, they are taking that totally out of the context in which it exists in the book. What Paul is saying is this: "When you come together, instead of wanting the ecstatic manifestations that you are involved in, seek that you may see someone prophesy, so that God may speak to you out of His Word."

(Galyn Wiemers’ Comments in Dark Red, Arial
John MacArthur’s comments in Black Times New Roman)


"For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue [ecstatic speech] speaketh not unto men, but unto God [lit. `a god']; for no man understandeth him; however, in the spirit he speaketh mysteries."

In the last lesson, I mentioned an interesting possibility that occurs here in chapter 14. I'm not going to be dogmatic on this, but the more I study it the more I like it. The possibility is this: Whenever the singular term "tongue" appears, Paul may well be referring to the ecstatic gift. And when the plural term "tongues" appears, he's referring to the true gift. (Please notice the underlined words in bold.  MacArthur is not convinced of this point but in a few paragraphs uses it as a basis to advance his argument.  Here MacArthur is simply suggesting the idea, but later he builds doctrine on it.  Not a good idea and if a charismatic, word of faith preacher does it I consider it deceitful teaching.  MacArthur is not a deceitful teacher.  He is well trained and a clear thinker.  But, not here.) Now, the reason I say that is because only real languages can be plural--gibberish cannot. There aren't many different kinds of gibberish, there is only one kind--gibberish! You can't say, "What kind of gibberish do you speak?" There aren't any kinds! This may well be why the King James translators put the word unknown in whenever the word tongue is used in the singular.

Perhaps they recognized this nuance in Paul's writing.

So, perhaps what Paul is saying here in verse 2 is, "He that speaks in this ecstatic gibberish, speaks not unto men, but unto a god. For nobody understands him, including the true God. That's not His kind of talk. However, in his spirit he is speaking mysteries." (Remember, the term mystery was a big word in all the pagan mystery religions.) (Hold on.  The word “mystery” is a big word for Paul which he uses several places in the New Testament but also in the next chapter, 15:51, when Paul uses it again in a positive, Christian sense, “Listen, I tell you a mystery:   We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed . . .”) In other words, "When you speak in your ecstasies, you are not speaking to anybody." Right there is the first perversion of the gift of tongues, because all gifts were intended to build up somebody other than yourself. If they're not used to speak to men, they are perverted.


"But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort."

Here, Paul contrasts their pagan, ecstatic speech with prophesying--which truly speaks the truth of God to the hearts of people. That's a tremendous contrast, isn't it? Then Paul continues on and hits the issue of their selfishness in verse 4.


"He that speaketh in an unknown tongue [i.e., gibberish] (See.  Above he considers it a possibility, now he is putting it in his translation which is not a translation but an interpretation) edifieth himself, but he that prophesieth edifieth the church."

I pointed out to you in the last lesson, that the self- edification mentioned in this verse is not a good thing. In 1 Corinthians 8:10, we looked at an illustration of a bad kind of edification--building somebody up to a position where he will fall. We also saw that in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 Paul says, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own [edification] , but every man another's [edification]." So, since self- edification and the wrong kind of edification are already in Paul's vocabulary as negatives, I think it's easy to see it here. What he is saying is somewhat caustic and sarcastic-- pointing out their self-centeredness. He's saying, "He that speaks this gibberish is only building himself up, but the one who prophesies truly builds up the church. So in the assembly, there's no place for this kind of ecstatic speech."

(Galyn Wiemers’ Comments in Dark Red, Arial
John MacArthur’s comments in Black Times New Roman)

b. The Use of Language (vv. 9-11)

1) It Must Be Easy to Understand (v. 9)

"So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air."

Paul's point is that there is absolutely no signification for gibberish...ever. Why? Because nobody is ever able to understand it. The only significant time for the use of the true gift in the apostolic era (What is his text verse?  Give an example of this!  It is not in scripture but in modern theology.)  was when somebody was present who understood the language. If it occurred in the assembly of believers, it would be translated in order that the believers might also be edified by it. But if it wasn't understandable, they were just blowing into the air.

Paul is really drawing some sarcastic pictures for the Corinthians, isn't he? Musical instruments that are so out of tune they can't be recognized, and an army bugler so incompetent that the army has no idea what's going on. Then he says, "That's about what's going on in the Corinthian assembly--pure confusion and chaos." Paul is trying to get these believers to recognize and realize that the purpose of the gifts of the Spirit is to proclaim the gospel to the unsaved and to teach the truth to God's people--and in some cases, to authenticate those who would do both of those things. And that can only be done through intelligible words. So with irony, and some sarcasm, and much patience, and great illustration, Paul is trying to break through the barrier of ignorance, emotion, and superstition that exists in the Corinthian church.

2) It Must Have Meaning (vv. 10-11)

"There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices [lit. `sounds'] 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."

Paul says, "If you don't talk in something I can understand, we're two barbarians trying to talk to one another." Do you know what a barbarian is? To the Corinthians, a barbarian was a foreigner who didn't speak Greek. So he's simply saying, "If you talk in that kind of stuff, we're just going to be incommunicado. We would be like two barbarians--neither of whom have a common language."

The word "barbarian" (Gk. barbaros) is onomatopoetic. It is a word that sounds like what it refers to, like buzz, zip, and hiss. An onomatopoetic word simply repeats a sound. Well, the word barbaros comes from the repetition of the sounds "bar, bar, bar." In other words, Paul is saying, "If you speak in unintelligible languages, I won't know the meaning of what you're saying. It will be nothing more than saying, `Bar, bar, bar, bar' to me."

The whole point, then, is the uselessness of their unintelligible language of pagan gibberish. It had absolutely no signification whatsoever. And, according to verse 10, it was contrary to all the laws of sound and meaning. Everything has meaning, except for what they were doing. All languages communicate, except for their kind. And remember, they could have been indicted for the misuse of the true gift by speaking a language as if it were some great spiritual accomplishment and doing it when there was nobody around who would even understand it.

So, no spiritual ministry can ever be accomplished with that kind of confusion. Unbelievers coming into their assembly would look around and say, "These people are mad!" (14:23). In other words, they would see that the frenzy of the Corinthians wasn't any different than the frenzy of the worshipers of Diana. They would see that the Corinthians were going through the same kind of ecstasy that the pagans were engaging in. Consequently, they would see no difference between the Christian church and the temple of Diana.


"Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church."

Paul says, "Since you're so zealous of spiritual gifts, and you so want the manifestation of the Spirit, seek that which will be the true manifestation to truly edify the church. Incidentally, this is how Paul ended the first part of this chapter in verse 5 when he said to seek "that the church may receive edifying." In fact, this is the way he ends each of the various sections of this chapter because he's dealing with their selfishness. When the Corinthians came together, all of them were seeking this ecstatic, sensual experience. And we still have that today. Charismatics and Pentecostals are all seeking a personal, ecstatic experience of speaking in tongues. But that is the antithesis of all spiritual gifts--gifts that are designed to edify the body.

So, the position of tongues is secondary because, first of all, prophecy will edify the church. A second reason why tongues are secondary is that tongues are unintelligible and consequently have a very limited use. Incidentally, that limited use was limited to the Apostolic Age. A third reason why tongues are secondary is...

C. The Effect Of Tongues Is Emotional Rather Than Mental (vv. 13-19)


a. Praying for an Interpretation (v. 13)

"Wherefore, let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue [i.e., `gibberish'] pray that he may interpret."

This is a very difficult verse to interpret. What does Paul mean when he says, "Let him that speaks in gibberish pray that he may interpret"? Well, let's look at it.

1) The Meaning

As we know from our study already, the Corinthians were speaking in a private kind of ecstatic communication with a pagan god and thinking that they were praying to the true God. But praying in gibberish was never the intention of the gift of tongues--it was the perversion. What Paul is saying is this: "Look, the one praying in gibberish ought to pray with the purpose of interpreting what he's praying." In other words, I think Paul is being a little sarcastic and saying, "Hey, you that are so busy praying in your gibberish, why don't you pray for something that will have some meaning to somebody?"

In case you think that's forcing the issue, read carefully through 1 Corinthians. You'll find that such sarcasm and irony is introduced on many, many occasions. In other words, "Let the one who is so anxious to pray in his private little language, pray instead for the gift that's intelligible. Let him ask God for something that the rest of the body can be benefited by, because what he's doing is so very selfish."

2) The Misunderstanding

Somebody is probably saying, "You really pushed that interpretation into that verse." Well, there's only one other way to interpret it. The other alternative is this: "Wherefore, let him that speaks in an unknown tongue, pray that he may receive the gift of interpretation." Now if we interpret it that way, the verse is saying that we can seek certain gifts, right? It's saying that if we want the gift of interpretation, or any other gift, all we have to do is pray for it. Well, is that true? No! First Corinthians 12:11 says that the Holy Spirit gives the gifts to whomever He wills. And in 1 Corinthians 12:30 it says, "...Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" What is the answer implied by the Greek construction? No! God never said that we can pray for any gift we want or that we can seek for any gift we want. Therefore, this verse can't be saying that we ought to seek the gift of interpretation.

(Galyn Wiemers’ Comments in Dark Red, Arial
John MacArthur’s comments in Black Times New Roman)

Another reason why verse 13 can't be interpreted as advocating the seeking of the gift of interpretation is seen in verse 28. Paul says, "...if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church...." In other words, if somebody was going to use the true gift that an unsaved person in their midst would understand, he shouldn't use it unless he knows that there is an interpreter present who will interpret it for the church. Consequently, I also believe that they knew who among them had the gift of interpretation. The true gift was so limited, then, that they couldn't even exercise it in the assembly if the person with the gift of interpretation wasn't there.

There is no way, then, that verse 13 can be exhorting an individual to seek the gift of interpretation. So, the only other alternative is that Paul is being sarcastic and saying, "While you're jabbering, why don't you pray something intelligent, like asking God for something that will benefit everyone else."

b. Praying Mindlessly (v. 14)

"For if I pray in an unknown tongue [ i.e., `gibberish'], my spirit [Gk. pneuma= `breath, wind'] prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful."

(Watch MacArthur take “spirit” or “pneuma” and change it to mean “exhaling air from the lungs”.  This is pretty far out of context and the stretch in the Greek language requires an Olympic quality linguistic gymnastic routine.  It is very hard to accept but for MacArthur’s argument to continue it is a linguistic stunt he must perform.  Notice his conclusion of this section.   When Paul says, “If I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prays”,  MacArthur says Paul means, “If I pray with mindless emotion.”)

In other words, Paul is saying, "If I pray in gibberish, do you know what I'm doing? I'm just blowing air into the air. That's all." You see, the word pneuma can be translated "spirit," "breath," or "wind." Some would even say it refers to the inner feelings. Charismatics, however, make the word pneuma, here, refer to the Holy Spirit. It doesn't say the Holy Spirit, though. It says, "my spirit." And even though it could be argued that the Holy Spirit is our spirit, it's compared, in this verse, with our understanding. So if the human understanding is on one end of the comparative, the human breath or spirit must be on the other end. They must be balanced.

So Paul says, "If I'm praying in gibberish, my wind may be praying, but my mind is unfruitful." In other words, there is nothing beneficial occurring. There is no fruit bearing. The gibberish of ecstatic tongues praying, then, is mindless. "If I pray in an unknown tongue," says Paul, "I'm just blowing air into the air like the heathen. I won't understand what I'm saying, and neither will you." So, the counterfeit gift just set up an emotional experience. It had no mental benefit at all!

Beloved, you know as well as I do that there is never a time in the Word of God when God wants us to be mindless. God never sets a premium on your brain being turned off...never. There is never a time when God wants us to function on pure emotion without understanding. What was going on in Corinth, then, was wrong. They engaged in mindless, emotional experiences that had no meaning. In fact, in Matthew 22:37, Jesus said, "Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." To pray or sing in a tongue is useless--useless to you and to anybody else. It is mindless emotion.


a. Praying with Understanding (v. 15a)

"What is it, then? [i.e., `What is my conclusion?'] I will pray with the spirit [or `breath, wind, or inner being'], and I will pray with the understanding also..."

Paul says, "When I talk to God, it's going to come from inside of me. I'm going to use my breath (or my wind), but I'm also going to use my brain."

b. Singing with Understanding (v. 15b)

"...I will sing with the spirit [or `breath, wind, inner being'], and I will sing with the understanding also."

Apparently, the Corinthians used to sing in ecstatic languages as well as pray in them. Modern Charismatics sing in tongues, too. But Paul says, "I don't do that. What purpose does that serve, except to show off to everybody that I have a private prayer language that hooks me up to God in a special way? Well, I'm not going to do that. I'll pray with my breath and my mind, and I'll sing with my breath and my mind--not mindlessly."

When we pray in English, God understands. And when we sing in English, God understands. That's far superior than talking to God in some kind of gibberish--no matter what anybody tells you. God doesn't need that.

Should musical instruments be allowed in the church?

The word "sing" in 1 Corinthians 14:15 originally meant "to play the harp." Through the years it came to mean "to sing to the accompaniment of the harp." Now there are some people who say that the church shouldn't have musical instruments, but that can't be supported biblically. In the New Testament and in the Septuagint, the word sing was understood to mean "to sing to the accompaniment of a harp." So, we can, and do, use musical instruments in the church.

(Galyn Wiemers’ Comments in Dark Red, Arial
John MacArthur’s comments in Black Times New Roman)


a. The Inability to Say Amen (v. 16)

"Else, when thou shalt bless with the spirit [without your mind], how shall he that occupieth the place of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?"

Notice the phrase "the place of the unlearned." In the Greek the word is idiotes. Here, the word means "ignorant," and simply refers to somebody ignorant of the language being spoken. In other words, if you speak in tongues, the person who occupies the place of ignorance about the meaning of what you said, can't even say, "Amen," at the giving of your thanks. Why? Because he doesn't understand what you're saying.

Now, amen is simply a Hebrew adjective that means "True, say it, brother!" or "So let it be," or "I'm with you." And in the Jewish synagogue, saying amen was so important that you could hardly get your lesson done because of all the amening. Let me give you some quotes from the rabbis:

"He who says amen is greater than he who blesses." Here's another one: "Whoever says amen, to him the gates of Paradise are opened." Here's another one: "Whoever says amen shortly, his days shall be shortened; whoever says amen distinctly and at length, his days shall be lengthened." Consequently, do you know what happened in a synagogue? It was a contest to see who could amen the most to get into the Kingdom.

This was also common in the early church--though much more genuine. So Paul says, "Look, if all you have is blind, emotional ecstasy going on, nobody can even agree because nobody knows what's happening." Do you get the point? When we come together, our spiritual gifts are for everybody's benefit. And whatever you do that leaves somebody else out is wrong.

b. The Inability to Edify Others (v. 17)

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

You might be doing a great job. And if you happen to have the true gift, in your own heart you might be thinking, "Boy, am I thankful to God." Unfortunately, nobody else is edified, which makes the use of your gift wrong because you've missed the point of the assembly. You've missed the point of coming together.

Now somebody might say, "That's just why we teach that speaking in tongues is to be done in private." But that still misses the point of the gift, because it was never a gift to be used in private. The gift of tongues was always to be used in the presence of somebody who spoke the language. What good would it do to speak in tongues in private? Well, here in verse 17, Paul says that even if speaking in tongues is done in public, it doesn't do any good unless somebody there understands what you're saying.


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

Here, Paul does the same thing that he did earlier in the chapter. Basically, he says,"I've been kind of hard on this subject of tongues, and I don't want you to get the wrong idea. I do believe it's a true gift, and I thank my God I speak with languages more than all of you." In a sense he's saying, "If you're wondering why I'm a little on the outside and don't quite understand all of this ecstatic phenomena, I just want you to know that I've probably spoken in tongues more than any of you."

Paul had the true gift of tongues. Since he was an Apostle, he had the gifts of an Apostle (2 Cor. 12:12). He exercised those gifts, no doubt, as he traveled around. You say, "Well, how did he use this gift?" Well, first of all, I'm sure he didn't use it as a private prayer language. Second, I'm sure he didn't use it in Christian meetings to show he was spiritual. And third, I'm sure he didn't use it for his own benefit.

(IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH MacArthur turns to complete fiction to describe Paul’s ministry and his use of tongues in a way that MacArthur considers acceptable.  Realize that non of the paragraph below is in scripture.  And notice the last line of the paragraph, MacArthur admits the same thing when he says Paul “doesn’t give an illustration of when he used it.”  This is because it never happened like this.  If this next paragraph is true then: 1) What is the gift of interpretation used for if those who heard tongues understood it?  2)  Why was the early church busy translating the scriptures into foreign languages?  3) Why are there no examples of someone getting saved after hearing an apostle or anyone speak in tongues?  4)  The only places Paul preached were Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, other locations in the Mediterranean world and possibly Spain .  In each of these cases Alexander the Great's Koine Greek language was used fluently or Paul could have spoken Hebrew, Aramaic or Latin.  Basically, Paul never needed the gift that MacArthur calls tongues.  This is because MacArthur started down the wrong track when he began this teaching.  MacArthur’s conclusion is wrong because his understanding in this area is wrong.  NOW READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH . . . )

Now, let me tell you how he did use the gift of tongues. He used it when he traveled to a place where there were people who spoke a foreign language that he didn't know. In that kind of situation, he was given the ability by God to speak that language, so that they might know God was present and a miracle had happened. (Why would someone speaking your language appear to be a miracle?  This happens to me all day long.  People I don’t know walk up to me and speak English.  I never think, “Wow! That is a miracle!  This person in my country speaks English!”) Then he would speak the truths of God and they would be given the opportunity to be converted. Paul was a missionary to the Gentiles, so he might (“Might”?) have had many instances in his missionary travels when he could have used this gift. It's interesting to me, though, that he ranked the gift of tongues so very low. In fact, in all of his writings, he never refers to using this gift (that is because he did not use it this way, no one did.) ...except here in 1 Corinthians 14:18. And even here, he doesn't give an illustration of when he used it.


"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."

Paul says, "The true gift of tongues is fine for evangelizing pagans in a language they understand, and for showing them that God is present and that God is speaking. But in the church, I'd rather speak five words that I understand, so that I might teach others, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."

Now I want you to see something interesting. Five words to ten thousand words is not the ratio. The Greek word translated "ten thousand" is murioi. And the reason that this word is used here is that it was the largest number in Greek mathematics for which there was a word. For example, in Revelation 5:11, it talks about the angels and says, "...and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands." Well, in the Greek, it just keeps repeating the word murioi because it was the word that represented their biggest number. In the English, verse 19 would be more accurately translated, "I would rather say five words with my understanding than quintillion words in gibberish." In other words, there isn't even a comparison. Why? "Because nobody is going to learn and I want to use my voice to teach others also."


A. The Charismatic Repetition of the Problems

Does this passage tell us how to govern tongues in the church? No, because the gift of tongues has ceased. You say, "Well, what does this passage teach us?" First of all, it shows us that the modern Charismatic movement is simply repeating the same old Corinthian problem all over again. Now, I say that with love and great concern--but I believe that it's true. They use tongues in their assemblies today, they speak in gibberish, they do it for private self-edification, they seek the emotional experience rather than the intellectual understanding, they sing in tongues, they are absorbed in their own experiences, they glory in the unintelligible as if it were some secret communion with God, they do it among believers, and their missionaries do not have the true gift to reach people with different languages. So what I see in the modern Charismatic movement is a mirror of the Corinthian problem.

(Galyn Wiemers’ Comments in Dark Red, Arial
John MacArthur’s comments in Black Times New Roman)

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