Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul spoke of singing in tongues. Interestingly, I hear few Pentecostals do so. Do you? If so, do you tend to sing new and unknown songs, or mimic the tune and tempo of known songs?

For all you tongues-speakers out there, can you speak in tongues at-will, or do you have to be in prayer for it to happen? In the days after I first received the Spirit, I had to be in prayer before I could speak in tongues again. But as time went on that was no longer the case. I could start and stop speaking in tongues at-will. But I know not everyone experiences this. What has your experience been?

I would like to keep our attention focused on the passage discussed in my last post. Not only is there the question of 2-3 interpretations per service versus per judgment, but there is also a question of whether there are to be 2-3 messages in tongues followed by a single interpretation, or 2-3 successive couplets of tongues and interpretations. In other words, did Paul mean 2-3 people should give messages in tongues, followed by a single interpretation of those messages, or did Paul mean there should only be 2-3 tongues each accompanied by a separate interpretation?

In support of the single interpretation view, notice that Paul says “someone” (singular) must interpret. That may mean Paul had a singular interpreter and interpretation in mind. Of course, even if we granted that Paul had a single interpreter, it does not resolve the question at hand, for it could be that Paul envisioned a single person interpreting each message individually, so that one person is giving 2-3 interpretations.

In support of the more traditional understanding that there are to be 2-3 interpretations accompanying the 2-3 messages, Paul may have been using “someone” generically to convey the notion that these tongues must have corresponding interpretations, not necessarily one interpretation by a single individual. In support of this view, notice that Paul used “someone” two times in verse 27. He said, “If someone speaks in a tongue, it should be two, or at the most three, one after the other, and someone must interpret.” Clearly the first use of someone does not refer to a single individual or single message, because Paul went on to speak of 2-3 different messages, and noted that they were consecutive. If the context makes it clear that Paul’s first use of the singular “someone” does not preclude multiple messages and speakers, there is no reason to think his second use of the singular “someone” precludes multiple interpreters and interpretations.

Of course, we might even ask whether the question at hand is pushing the text too far. Indeed, one could make the case from this passage that the interpreter should not be one of the individuals who gave a message since Paul makes a personal distinction between the speaker and interpreter in verse 28. But when we look at 1 Cor 14:5 and 13 it appears that the ideal situation is one in which the speaker provides the interpretation. Which is it? I would argue that either is acceptable, and that we only see a contradiction when we try to squeeze hard and fast rules out of passages that are not meant to communicate as much.

So maybe we should not be reading the text with a fine tooth comb, thinking we can glean a hard and fast rule for how many interpretations we should expect. Maybe experience can be our guide in this area, given the obscurity of the text. And when it comes to experience, some people have experienced multiple tongues followed by a single interpretation, while others have experienced 2-3 couplets of tongues and interpretations. If both are the work of the Holy Spirit, then so be it.

What do you think?