Are Uninterpreted Tongues Worthless?

Jason Dulle


My husband and I have studied tongues over and over again.. I can say that we do believe tongues to be a real spiritual gift. However, it can and should be interpreted either by the speaker if used for self-edification or by an interpreter for the good of everyone hearing the spoken tongue. If there is not an interpretation then it is worthless and nothing more than noise.



I have trouble seeing where Paul indicates that tongues must always be interpreted, or that uninterpreted tongues are worthless. Paul said, "For he that speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not unto men, but unto God: for no man understands him; howbeit in the spirit he speaks mysteries" (I Corinthians 14:2). Speaking mysteries in the spirit to God is far from worthless. Notice that Paul does not indicated that these tongues are interpreted. Interpreted tongues would not be a mystery. Even when Paul addressed uninterpreted tongues in I Corinthians 14:27-28 he says that if there is no interpreter, the tongues-speaker is to keep silent in the church, but he can still speak quietly to himself and to God. Although Paul could be simply referring to speaking in his native tongue quietly, there is no reason to assume this. It seems that Paul is allowing the person to continue speaking in tongues to God, but not in public address. Uninterpreted tongues may not profit the church, but they do profit the individual. Paul indicated that one can pray and sing in tongues without understanding (meaning without an interpretation). This is good for the individual, but not for the church as a whole because they would not understand (I Corinthians 14:14-17). Those who pray and sing in tongues do "give thanks well" (I Corinthians 14:17). Since Paulís concern was the edification of the whole body, he put a check on the exercising of uninterpreted tongues directed toward the church, but still allowed and even encouraged uninterpreted tongues for private edification (I Corinthians 14:4-5, 13, 17). Paul thanked God that he spoke in tongues more than any of the Corinthians (I Corinthians 14:18). He did admit that he would rather speak 5 words in a known language than 10,000 in tongues, but this was not because he thought uninterpreted tongues to be worthless, but because he wanted to edify the body as a whole, and not just himself (public worship). I would conclude that uninterpreted tongues may be meaningless to other humans, but it is not meaningless to the individual speaking in tongues, nor are tongues meaningless to God who perfectly understands the language being spoken. Uninterpreted tongues are permissible in the right context, and even encouraged.

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