Preoccupation with Tongues

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From the various gifts mentioned in chapter 12, the apostle selects three for discussion in this chapter. These are (1) prophecy, (2) speaking in tongues, (3) and interpretation of tongues. Paul compares the Corinthians’ preoccupation with tongues and their apparent disinterest in prophecy.  They apparently were quite proud of the fact that they could speak in tongues and were using it as a sign of spiritual superiority. Paul shows this gift is less important than others, and that it is not to be used in public at all, unless certain requirements are met. We should not exercise them to make ourselves feel good. “He that speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but he that prophesizes, edifies the church” (v. 14).

It is well to remember that Paul regarded tongues as the least to be desired of all the gifts of the spirit and found it necessary to warn the Corinthian Christians against the abuse of this gift. It is unfortunate that our translators have inserted the word “unknown” into the text. The word “unknown” is in italics, meaning that it is not to be found in the original Greek text of the New Testament. Paul refers here to one who can “speak in a tongue.” Other references to this gift are to be found only in Mark 16:17, Acts 2, Acts 10, and Acts 19. On the day of Pentecost, the disciples spoke not in “unknown” tongues, but in actual languages.

Wolvoord and Zuck in their “Bible Knowledge Commentary” have this to say about the meaning of the word: “Whether it was used literally of the physical organ or figuratively of human language, it nowhere referred to as ecstatic speech. If it is unreasonable to interpret the unknown with the help of the known, the obscure by the clear, then the burden of proof rests with those who find in this term a meaning other than human language.” Warren Wiersbe says, “From the very beginning of the church, tongues were known languages. The tongue would be unknown to the speaker and to the listener, but it was not unknown in the world.”


I should never exercise any spiritual gift just to make myself feel good.

I Corinthians 14:1-9 (English Standard Version)

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