1 Corinthians 14:26-28 (NIV) says:

26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.

If there is no interpreter around, verse 28 recommends to stay quiet in the church and instead to speak to oneself and to God. What I don't understand is, if we have to stay quiet in the church in the absence of interpreters, where are we supposed to "speak to ourselves and to God" then? In a private setting?

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    You seem to be gradually arriving at a conclusion I can agree with : that speaking in other (earthly) languages was a sign, temporarily, regarding the inauguration of the gospel and its proclamation to the whole world, beyond Israel. Once the inauguration was accomplished, the sign ceased and Paul regulates matters in the church, accordingly. (Up-voted +1.) – Nigel J Jan 5 at 9:47

The purpose of the spiritual gift of tongues is stated in 1 Cor 14:22 -

Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers. Prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.

Earlier in the same chapter, Paul discourages the use of the gift of tongues in the usual congregational setting. However, the need for the gift of tongues come to the fore when an apostle, like Paul, is confronted with a group of unbelievers who do not speak the same language as the evangelist.

Under these circumstances, the person with the gift of tongues can immediately, by the miraculous power of the imparted spiritual gift, speak to the unbelievers and tell them the Gospel message. This is what occurred at Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2.

  • How is "preaching to unbelievers" = "speaking to oneself and to God"? Doesn't preaching require you to be speaking to other people (i.e. not to yourself)? – Spirit Realm Investigator Jan 5 at 9:25
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - yes it does, agreed. That is the point Paul is making - they are using a gift designed to reach unbelievers, in the church setting where it was NOT designed to be used. Thus, if they speak an unknown language (to the hearers) then clearly the only person they are speaking to God as only He can understand it. – Dottard Jan 5 at 9:27
  • If that's the case, shouldn't verse 28 have said instead "If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and instead go preach the gospel in tongues to unbelievers who happen to speak that tongue too"? – Spirit Realm Investigator Jan 5 at 9:32
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - perhaps but Paul would allow people to fellowship and evangelize at different times. In any case, that is effectively what V22 actually says. – Dottard Jan 5 at 9:37
  • Actually, V23-25 seem to recommend prophecy instead: 23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” When dealing with unbelievers, Paul seems to recommend prophecy instead, not "preaching in tongues". – Spirit Realm Investigator Jan 5 at 9:43

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