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Multi-Functioning of Gifts in the Body
In I Cor. 14, we find some very special outcomes of the spiritual gift situation, in terms of a body. The body is Christ's and He is the head, and within that body are diversities of gifts, as already noted by Paul - tongues, administration and the like.
Now as to tongues, we see elsewhere in A Question of Gifts, the numerous restrictions and the manner in which they are to be conceived. However, a particular question is this: Can someone with tongues be his/her own interpreter? The world does not wait gasping for an answer to such a question, but it may be worth addressing, since it brings out a number of principles of useful application.
Take I Cor.14:27... if only ONE is to interpret as many as THREE tongues speakers (the maximum permitted), then MAY that one be one of that three ? If so, then the ONE would be a dual performer, first speaking gibberish (as far as the understanding is concerned) and then speaking comprehensible words - YET this person would also be INTEPRETING the tongue spoken not only by others, but for his/her own part! Is THAT permissible?
The body is a co-operative co-functionality. It has parts, members which are so made that they blend. Here however we would have a "part" of the "body" which could NOT co-operate; for if conceivably it could in one case out of three, interpret itself, yet in the other two cases out of the three, it could not. "Let ONE interpret..." The generic nature of the gifts is at once abolished. ANYONE with both gifts could not at will use them for the joint good. It is not a question of being able to interpret as a simple matter of the will, and doing so if one wills. The categories of tongues and interpretation in public performance do not match in this, that if one interprets and has already done so, then no one else can speak with tongues AND interpret what he she says, even if the gift of interpretation were present. Someone else has already used it. And the limit of such? One.
They are not now to be seen as members which with love and unity co-operate, but rather may be mutually invasive. If a tongue speaks, then the use of the gift of interpretation - which is being proposed, for discussion purposes, as able to be in the same person in the formal service situation: this is abolished in other tongues speakers at this point. It MAY not operate EVEN IF the person has it and wants it to do so.
In character these gifts therefore would be in line to CLASH. There would be a dislocation in their joint presence in such a case; but tongues, for their part, MAY be present to that number. About to interpret, a second tongues speaker following an auto-interpreting exhibition, would have to abort. The free assumptions underlying such a concept of dual gifts being publicly operative in this case, therefore, are not of the character of Paul's presentation.
On the contrary, the body which he presents in I Cor.12 is one which involves mutual serviceability and help, and not invasion and muting. The principial perils do not disappear by considering various cases. In fact, so great is this principle of co-operative mutuality, that people who prophesy have to be ready (functionally) to disappear while the next speaker unburdens his mind (I Cor. 14:30).
Much more than this, moreover, may
be said to the topic.
The principle of TESTING would be voided just as the principle of co-operation would be invaded. In I Cor.14:29, even of prophesying, we find that one by one they may speak, but "let the others judge"*1. I Thessalonians 5:21 instructs us: "Test all things. Hold fast what is good..." How could you hold fast what is good if it is not even known what it IS! Gibberish interpreted by the gibberer, or to speak more Biblically from Isaiah, babbling interpreted by the babbler is EMPHATICALLY NOT tested.
Even prophets whose words are perfectly
comprehensible have, says the apostle, to be HEARD and then TESTED, or
JUDGED. Thus it may be seen whether they are sound, whether the message
is spiritual (or perhaps heretical or mischievous or the work of a false
prophet or a quasi-prophet who does not really have the gifts - there are
many possibilities - cf. Acts 20:29). How much more is the work of the
babbler in the public place - one intended to honour God and edify His
saints, to move sinners to Him and proclaim truth in His name: to be tested!
HOW could the elders discern the comfort and the teaching if it is incomprehensible
by definition! THEY would be short-circuited in THEIR gifts AND in their
responsibilities (I Cor. 14:9).
Let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. THIS is the efficient, the co-operative and the edifying development.
Paul for his part (and he IS an example as he states expressly) indicates that he will pray with his spirit, but he will ALSO pray with his understanding. That this is not a matter of sequence in the church, but simultaneity is clear, since he of course has within him, both a tongue and a spirit, both understanding and capacity to speak in tongues. He does NOT say, 'I will pray with the spirit, I will also pray with interpretation.' The word is 'understanding' (I Cor. 14:15). He is not talking of doing things that are possible but of things which permanently and necessarily reside jointly within him. He is invoking a co-operation within his own body, which is seemly when one is assembled in the body of Christ. It is true that understanding must be present if interpretation is to be present, but for whatever reason, the point is this: Paul HAS understanding and in public he will BY ALL MEANS USE IT.
"WHAT IS IT THEN ?", asks Paul in I Cor. 14:15 - that is to say, "therefore" in logical terms: "I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also." What however is it that leads to this result ? This: "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding in unfruitful"...And what preceded THAT ? "Let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret."
What do we then conclude ? That BECAUSE
a tongue per se is unfruitful in public, and SINCE the tongue speaker should
pray that he may interpret, and since Paul for his part has understanding,
he who would rather speak 5 words with his understanding than 10,000 in
a tongue in this public place: that THEREFORE he DOES speak his words with
the understanding and encourages all others to do the same. If however
anyone DOES speak with a tongue, and the limit is severe, then ONE must
Let us now formally identify the next principle.
Interpretation of course leads to the sort of thing which is or should be 'prophetic' exposition, as shown in our discussion on 'prophecy' in the I Cor. 14 context: and where this has been achieved - for interpreters are people as surely as are those with the gift of healing or of prophecy - then the minimisation program which Paul's 5 and 10,000 words contrast implies is under way (I Cor. 4:19). Without this, the potential tongues-speaker may find him/herself in a situation of having to speak the 'tongue' silently within or to God, as we shall see. Tongues can be of value but their use is exceedingly and explicitly very restricted. They can be a spring-board, but without bounce. Interestingly, Paul actually confirms this analysis, in that in I Cor. 14:5. He who prophesies is GREATER (in function, serviceability) than the tongues speaker UNLESS the latter inteprets. This implies that IF he does interpret, then what he performs, prophecy being the greatest under love*2, IS prophecy*3. It follows with cogent necessity from Paul's categorisation.
The principles therefore now in view (3-4) are these: If at all possible, avoid tongues in the public scene, and help by interpreting within what you would have done without the mind, using your mind, and present edification. Be followers of Paul as he of Christ, as he says, and note how the apostle himself deals with the matter. If not, then ONE may interpret, and ONLY one: one obviously WITH THE GIFT of interpretation.
Otherwise you would be speaking into the air, as he says, with only presumption to govern you, assuming someone would turn up to interpret for you when in fact the rest of the meeting may be as void of this particular gift as the tongue speaker in his/her practice of tongue speaking.
Thus when in I Cor.14:28, it says "let one interpret", Paul proceeds to cover the case of no such person being present. He says in 14:29: "But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God." An interpreter is a person as clearly as a healer (cf. Romans 11:29, with 12:1, the latter preceded by "therefore"); and he is either there or he is not. It is not an episode but a function, and it resides in the functionary whose presence is knowable. If such a person is therefore not known to be present, you may not speak but rather "keep silent".
There is thus an enormous stringency on this tongue, a minimisation program, on the one hand, and an enhanced interpretation procedure on the other. ONE interpreter MUST be present and IF someone about to speak publicly in tongues IS such a person, then interpret he must, and use his MIND or his UNDERSTANDING as Paul requires, so that tongues in this case do not appear. PAUL does so, relegating to oblivion the use of tongues as far as his own desire goes - and he is instructing as a master-builder in the church, in COMPARISON with speaking 5 words with his understanding.
Again, to fortify principle 1 above, you could have another confusion if this tongues-speaking were considered as autonomous. You could have someone with the power to speak tongues wanting to do so in a church service, but being unable even if he/she had the power to interpret and was in fact an interpreter: some OTHER interpreter having spoken already. Does someone with hands ask someone else with hands to help, when he could use his own hands ? I, says Paul, will pray also with my understanding - he HAS understanding, it is DESIRABLE that it be used and he will USE it.
He has no intention of having his understanding unfruitful, but every intention of using it; and use it he does. He does not have the power to be edifying and abandon it for help he does not need. He does not say, If I pray in a tongue my understanding WOULD BE unfruitful UNLESS I added my own edifying interpretation. He says, "If I pray in a tongue... my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also..." (colour added). SINCE it statedly would in fact be unfruitful in his case if he spoke in a tongue in this place, therefore he will utilise what will prevent that situation, since it resides in him. He will at all times in public use his understanding.
He declines to nullify his understanding, covets its operation as we have seen (principle 4) to the point of a ludicrous comparison: will not abort it so as to create an unfruitful situation in the church. That is the undoubted flow of his discourse, since he is speaking explicitly about himself, what would be and how it will be overcome in terms of what he possesses to the purpose.
If someone else is without what is required, then an interpreter MUST be present.
These principles are four, and they agree in one: that you do NOT speak in tongues, that is, act without what you in this case have - the power to interpret: and then super-add use of your interpretive gift after speaking what is unfruitful for edification, in tongues. It is unnecessary, counter-productive, untestable and a sort of paralysis of function which Paul excludes. The body is not made for such action and what is there acts in its place by nature: here by nurture as well.
*1 The prophets who inscripturate have an entirely different role, as shown in the material available by hyperlink here: see pp. 90, 99-100 supra for several. See also pp. 103 ff. in A Question of Gifts.
*2 Love of course is not in these terms a 'gift', but has transcendent priority over all gifts (I Cor. 13); and rejoices in the truth (I Cor. 13:6).
*3 In parallel with this, Paul says in I Cor. 14:1: