Is Prophecy Inferior to Tongues?
NCW 1, August 1992
Q. Since tongues is a superior gift to prophecy, why does the Church almost totally ignore tongues?
I am astonished at your interpretation of 1 Cor.14:1-5 since it says the opposite of what you say. Verse 5, which I am taking from the Amplified Version, says:
If I may paraphrase Paul, the apostle is saying that:
"Now I wish that you might all speak in tongues, but more especially (I want you) to prophesy. He who prophesies is greater (more useful and more important) that he who speaks in tongues, unless he should interpret (what he says), so that the church may be edified and get good out of it."
It is quite wrong to interpret tongues as ever being greater than prophecy. This is made clear in the next verse (v.6):
1. Prophecy is superior to (greater than/more useful than) tongues;
2. Tongues without interpretation is inferior to prophecy;
3. Tongues without interpretation is of benefit only to the tongue speaker;
4. Tongues only becomes useful to the body (edifying) -- and therefore equal to prophecy, if there is an interpretation, because the body is edified by the interpretation not by the speaking in tongues itself.
What is important is not that a man is animated by an invisible power but by the fact that a word of revelation (revealment) is given that will edify him. Since a man cannot (and would not wish to) speak in tongues 24 hours a day, it can only of limited benefit, especially if he has no idea what is going on. But divine revelation -- heavenly knowledge -- is working on him all the time.
"Now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in (unknown) tongues, how shall I make it to your advantage unless I speak to you in either revelation -- disclosure of God's will to man -- in knowledge or in prophecy or instruction?"
If there was no tongue speaking in the OT, and tongues is a superior gift to prophecy, how is it that the cities of Enoch and Melchizedek were taken to heaven whereas no such Christian community has ever reached such a stage of sanctification? Who would be said to be the greater of the two communities, since one is now in heaven and all the others died as mortals on the earth?
"Tongues" is just a medium of communication -- how can the medium be greater than the message? I may enjoy the senstion of flying in an aeroplane but of what use is it to me if the aircraft doesn't take me where I want to go? The exhilaration of flying is all very nice but it isn't the main thing -- the main thing is to get me from A to B. It is a question of sensation vs. practical use.
What is, after all, the object of our search in this mortal sphere? To get eternal life. How do we get it?
How do we come to a knowledge of God? Let's see what Jesus Himself says: Through righteousness (Matt.25:46). Gathering the fruit of a righteous life (John 4:36). By losing one's life in the service of others (John 12:25).
"THIS is life eternal, that they (us) might KNOW THEE the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent" (John 17:3).
Knowing the Word and applying it for the salvation of others is what counts. The gifts are incidental. Arguing over whether prophecy is greater than tongues or not is really secondary, like when the disciples argued over whether they were "of Paul" or "of Cephas".
I've heard tongues spoken and interpreted. The messages have been puerile and quite obviously man-inspired. Our own souls can speak in tongues too! There are human "tongues", Holy Spirit tongues, and demonic "tongues". Who can discern between them?
Most people I have spoken to who have experienced tongues cannot control the gift, which is contrary to the nature of the Holy Spirit.
My conclusion is that Paul was a gifted speaker in many languages, thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit, owing to the many regions in which he preached. Speaking in "tongues" in the Pentecostal denomination sense originated in Corinth as an imitation of the pagan Delphic oracle until Paul came and sorted it out.
1 Cor.14:14-15 -- "unknown" tongues
1 Cor.14:14-15, where Paul speaks of praying in an unknown tongue, is interpretated by Pentecostals to mean that this is acceptable even though there is no mental understanding. But read carefully, Paul is not advocating this kind of behaviour.
Consider the background. Paul is trying to sort out a problem in Corinth where tongue-speaking has got out of hand. The people are not only speaking in foreign languages (with translation) for the edification of the saints, but are now speaking gibberish. He has already said that no interpretation is useless to the body. He then continues in his typical argumentative style, asking people to consider various questions so that they can work it out for themselves. Understanding Paul's form of argument is very important as otherwise his illustrations -- hypothetical situations -- can be interpreted as literal. He likes the "What if...?" approach. He uses it in his great discourse on Grace. Again, a knowldge of Greek forms is important.
Do you see how the meaning changes when you understand Paul's argument form? To make it clear, he goes on to say:
The person who prays in strange tongues, then, MUST PRAY FOR THE GIFT TO EXPLAIN WHAT HE SAYS (because otherwise it's useless -- otherwise it doesn't benefit anyone and build up the church -- see v.12). What if (for the sake of argument) I pray in this way (i.e. in talking in an unknown tongue), (that is) my spirit prays, but my mind has no part in it? What should I do then? (But) I will (not only) pray with my spirit, BUT I WILL SING ALSO WITH MY MIND (1 Cor.14:14-15, GNB)
Thus Paul concludes his argument of "let's suppose talking in strange tongues is OK..." by saying that in the end it is useless because INSTRUCTION is the main thing, i.e. coming to a knowledge of Jesus Christ as living Saviour.
...I would rather speak FIVE WORDS that can be understood, IN ORDER TO TEACH OTHERS, than speak thousands of words in strange tongues (v.19).
Mystical experiences don't save people. Tongues don't save people. Pagans experience the same thing and that's why Paul was so worried. The people were imitating the Delphians (see my course material).
God is a God of intelligence and order. He has never said in the scriptures that our minds should be dissociated from our spirits. That is what the New Age teaches. The Christian Gospel testifies, as I do, that mind, heart, and spirit are all functioning together as ONE, because GOD IS ONE. We are not pawns in the hands of a power that wishes us to remain ignorant. The Pentecostal interpretation of tongues contradicts just about everything else Paul says about the Gospel, which is one of active intelligence -- mind and heart. Every pagan system I have investigated involves surrending understanding for a mystical experience. And many aspects of Pentecostalism are of that same New Age spirit.
Follow after the life of the Spirit and rejoice in it but never surrender your mind and heart to any unseen incomprehensible power. In God you will always be self-conscious, always be aware. That is the nature of the Holy Spirit -- powerful, gentle, never forcing, always leaving when man wishes it. Not as I have heard some say when they speak in tongues for they cannot bring them to an end.
This page was created on 18 April 1998
Last updated on 18 April 1998
Copyright © 1987-2008 NCCG - All Rights Reserved