The Apostolic Rules for Speaking in Tongues

hand-on-biblePaul then closes this chapter with rules for orderly worship. I note eight apostolic rules for speaking in tongues in church.

  1. Let all things be done for building up the church. “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26).
  1. Only two or three will speak in tongues in church, and no more than three. “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three” (v. 27).
  1. Each must speak in tongues in turn, not all at the same time. “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn” (v. 27).
  1. Let someone interpret each tongues speaking. “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret” (v. 27).
  1. If no one will interpret, let each one keep silent in church. “But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church” (v. 28). To keep silent is to stop speaking in tongues in church.
  1. While he is silent, let him speak to himself and to God—silently. “But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God” (v. 28) It means silent speaking or silent praying.
  1. Women should keep silent (or not speak in tongues) during the evaluation of tongues. “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says” (vv. 33-34; cf. vv. 29-31).
  1. Do not forbid speaking in tongues—so long as it is done God’s way. (Oster) “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (v. 39; cf. v. 26).

Sadly, many churches disregard and disobey these apostolic rules. Yet the true Spirit-filled church is the Word-obeying church (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16).

Some say that the prohibition in Rule 7 applies only to women prophesying, according to the immediate context (vv. 29-33). But the general context is speaking in tongues.

More, tongues speaking may involve prophesying. Peter called the speaking in tongues prophesying at Pentecost (Acts 2:17-18). Tongues speaking was a medium of revelation. It revealed God’s Word. The interpretation of tongues may itself be a prophecy. Thus, the rule against women speaking may apply to women prophesying in tongues.

Paul said do not forbid speaking in tongues (v. 39). But he also said that if there is no interpretation of tongues, the speaker must stop speaking in tongues (v. 28). To stop the speaking in tongues is to forbid it in effect. Is Paul contradicting himself?

The answer is, no. Paul wants to stop the speaking in tongues without interpretation. Yet he does not forbid the speaking of tongues with interpretation. So long as there is the interpretation of tongues and it builds up the church, they should not forbid it. But if there is no interpretation of tongues, Paul himself forbids it (v. 28).

Further, God’s Word was not yet complete at Paul’s writing. The Spirit spoke God’s Word through tongues and prophecy. Tongues speaking and prophesying were channels of revelation of God’s Word at the time. Hence, to forbid the speaking in tongues was to forbid the revelation of God’s Word in effect. So that they will not hinder the revelation of God’s Word through tongues, they were not to forbid it.

Nonetheless, God’s special revelation is now complete in its final form—the Scriptures. Thus, there is no more need to speak in tongues or prophecy, since we now have the full revelation of God’s Word—the Bible. The Bible is the more sure word of prophecy–our sufficient guide for faith and practice. Peter wrote, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; to which you do well that you take heed,” the “prophecy of the Scripture” (2 Pet. 1:19-20, KJV 2000).

What does Paul aim to achieve with these rules? He wants to fulfill the fundamental purpose of spiritual gifts—to serve the common good, the spiritual growth of the church.

Let us use our spiritual gifts for one central purpose—to build up the body of Christ. What is your spiritual ability? Use it to build up the church. Use it to edify others in the church. Use it for the common good.

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