Speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues and prophesy are the gifts of the Spirit Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 14. He begins by referring to what he taught in chapter 13—pursue love and in chapter 12—desire earnestly spiritual gifts, then urges, “but especially that you may prophesy.” Then he shows the purpose of the gifts—edify—edification, how the Spirit works them in and through us, how to use them when we come together before God and proper decorum in such a gathering.
Edify is the action of building up ones self and one another in love (Ro 14:19, 1 Th 5:11) which results in edification, (Rom 15:2, 1 Cor 14:3, 1 Cor 14:12, 1Co 14:26, Eph 4:29).
Prophesy is inspired by the Holy Spirit and spoken in the tongue/language of those assembled together. “One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church” (1 Cor 14:4). Prophesy is for edification, exhortation and comfort. The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus ( Rev 19:10). The testimony of Jesus is what we call the New Testament, especially what Jesus said while He was on this earth. Everything in Jesus proclaimed while on this earth is the testimony of Jesus. Even the works He did testified He was the promised Messiah (John 10:25).
Peter urges: If you speak, say what God says. “Serve one another, each with the gift he received, as good managers of the various gifts of God. If you speak, say what God says. If you serve, do it with the strength God gives you so that in every way you glorify God through Jesus Christ. His is the glory and the power forever”! (1 Peter 4:10-11 AAT). John wrote: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev 2:7 NKJV).
The gift of tongues is speaking a language unknown to the speaker. It may be a tongues of men or of angels (1 Cor 13:1). “One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself”(1 Cor 14:4). “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also” (1 Cor 14:14-15).
Interpretation of tongues is speaking forth the gist of what has been spoken in tongues. Paul counts tongues with interpretation as prophesy (1 Cor 14:26-28).
1 Corinthians 14
The role of prophecy and tongues in a church gathering.
1 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.
Tongues without interpretation do not edify a church gathering.
6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? 7 Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? 8 For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9 So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. 11 Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me. 12 Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. 13 Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. 16 Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? 17 For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.18 I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; 19 yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Tongues are for a sign to unbelievers. Prophesy is for a sign to believers. But it convicts unbelievers and brings them to worship God.
20 Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. 21 In the law it is written: “With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,” says the Lord. 22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. 23 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. 25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you
We assemble for mutual edification through orderly flow in the Spirit. This flow is not limited to prophesy.
Here Paul includes, “each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation.” In Ephesians, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19 NKJV). In Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16 NKJV).
26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
Tongues are limited to two or three and each in turn and one must interpret.
Prophesy is limited to two or three prophets and the others judge. Prophesy must be evaluated because, while the Spirit prompts, the mind forms the word of prophecy. Sometimes what the Spirit is saying doesn’t come across right. The prophet is not clearly saying what God is saying (1 Peter 4:11). In that case, one who understands what the Spirit is saying may add to or modify what has been prophesied. This is done in love, so as to minimize embarrassment. Sometimes someone will give what is purported to be a word of prophecy with subversive motives (Acts 20:28-30). That is why we are to test the spirits (1 Jn 4:1). That person should be called down as a false prophet.
“The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” This makes for orderly flow int the Spirit rather than rude interruptions with ecstatic outbursts of the flesh.. It also shows we are not controlled by the Spirit as some Bible translations put it. Further, it illustrates the lack of understanding most charismatics have about prophets. In America, one is not generally considered a prophet until he or she becomes a nationally known celebrity.
Here Paul wrote, “Whenever you come together.” The saints came together in agape/love feasts hosted primarily in homes, like that of the church that met in Aquila and Priscilla’s home (1 Cor 16:19). At the most, a huge home could accommodate 100 saints. Yet Paul taught that in a come together, “Let two or three prophets speak” and the rest should judge. That means Paul taught even a local church gathering of under 100 saints had at least 3 prophets and the rest of the prophets evaluated the words of prophecy,
Women’s role in a church gathering.
“Let your women keep silent in the churches.” On the face of it, that is a hard word. To understand it we must consider Paul was not saying women should not participate in the flow of the Spirit. Earlier he wrote: “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Cor 12:7). “I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification” (1 Cor 14:5).
Peter said of the outpouring of the Spirit: “But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:16-18 NKJV).
Both Greek and Roman as well as Jewish custom forbade the public appearance of women, especially their participation in public speaking. It seems that the Christian women of Corinth had a wrong idea of the meaning of Christian liberty, assuming that the ancient distinction made by God had been abrogated. But this rule made by God, that man is the head of woman, holds good for all time and under all circumstances. It is not a question of superiority or inferiority, but of headship and of government in the affairs of the church. Let women keep silence in the congregations; they shall take no part in public teaching in the church, they shall not be given authoritative direction. The public speaking and teaching in the congregation on the basis of the Word of God is a ruling and governing which is at variance with the position which God has given to woman, not only since the Fall, but before as well. And a Christian woman, knowing the high esteem in which she is otherwise held according to the Word of God (Eph. 5:22-33), will not attempt to break this rule, Gen. 3, 16, but will gladly acquiesce in His will, knowing that it is not permitted her to be a teacher in the public worship of the congregation (1 Tim. 2:12), but to be under obedience, leaving the leadership, the teaching, and the government to the men. Kretzman, 1924
34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
Paul’s conclusion of 1 Corinthians 14
36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.
39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
All scripture here is from NKJV unless otherwise noted.