An answer to a question about the gifts of the Holy Spirit here states

"The ones in the middle react to the abuse done by some who take verses about Languages/tongues out of context and in some Pentecostal churches, there can be 10, 15, or 40 or more people, all praying in tongues at once and with no interpretation- both explicitly violating Paul's teaching on use of tongues in the church."

which is a reference to 1 Corinthians 14:27-28, in which St. Paul says

"If anyone speaks in a tongue, two, or at most three, should speak in turn, and someone must interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, he should remain silent in the church and speak only to himself and God."

How do Pentecostals or other Charismatics whose services have many people speaking simultaneously in 'tongues' without interpretation respond to the sort of criticism above?

Note: I am putting aside the question of whether people in these Pentecostal or Charismatic services are speaking in what St. Paul meant as tongues or rather gibberish here.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Ken Graham
    Aug 1, 2021 at 6:26
  • I was really hoping for an answer. Nigel never did get what you were saying in this particular case. But he just wrote one of the best things ive seen on se: christianity.stackexchange.com/a/84291/54533
    – Al Brown
    Aug 1, 2021 at 6:31
  • My understanding is that some denominations point to obvious giftings, such as tongues, as "proof" of salvation. I have personally known people who were taught in a classroom setting how to speak in tongues. Aug 1, 2021 at 12:41
  • What does the Bible say about interpretation of tongues, and how canyou "put aside... what St. Paul meant as tongues or rather gibberish"? Define gibberish, according to the Bible.
    – Lesley
    Aug 7, 2021 at 18:39
  • @Lesley Why would I have to define gibberish according to the Bible? Gibberish means "meaningless or unintelligible talk or writing." Aug 7, 2021 at 19:05

2 Answers 2


I found a thread on Christian Forums titled "Speaking in Tongues Corporately Without Interpretation" which has some interesting posts addressing exactly the question you ask.

In short, Pentecostals seem to distinguish between at least two different functions of the gift of tongues:

  1. Tongues for self-edification in the form of prayer or worship to God (see 1 Cor 14:13-15 about praying and singing in a tongue).
  2. Tongues that require interpretation for the edification of the church, making them equivalent to a prophecy (see 1 Cor 14:5).

Pentecostals would concede the criticism in those cases where people start speaking in tongues for self-edification (function 1) in a chaotic manner, becoming a source of distraction for others and disrupting the normal flow of the service. If you are going to attract the attention of others to yourself, you should only do so in an orderly manner and provided that someone interprets, so that everyone is edified (function 2).

However, Pentecostals would not concede the criticism in the special case of corporate worship and prayer. These would be special moments during a service in which everyone agrees to pray and worship God out loud, either in a tongue or in their everyday language. No one is in the spotlight, no one is disrupting the service, because everyone is on the same page. And, therefore, there is no need for interpretation. You can think of it as a corporate self-edification: each one is edifying themselves simultaneously.

Below a few quotes from the thread (emphasis mine):

I tihnk often people have the misconception that a tongue always has to have interpretation to be valid and biblical. Not at all. Paul himself said that the person is edified when they speak in a tongue; nowhere does he prohibit tongues though. In 1 Cor.14 he says that if there is no interpretation a person is to sit down and speak (natural reading: in tongues) to themeselves. Nowhere does he say he was wrong to speak and not have an interpretation (how could he know) and in saying he could speak to himself, Paul implies that a tongue can be used biblically without interpretation.

Remember the context of 1 Corinthians - "in the church" as Paul says several times in ch.12-14. He is speaking of a specific setting where tongues are used for the edificatoin of the church. Now when a tongue is intended for the church, it should be interpreted. In it is for the church and no-one understands it is unloving and confusing and separates the church into the tongues-speakers and non-speakers. But not all tongues are for the church. Paul used them all the time, and he never rebuked the fact that tongues-speakers would edify themselves when speaking in tongues, even though they do not understand what they are saying. That means whenever you use tongues in a way that is not intended for the church's edification, you can use it, e.g. praying in tongues during individual worship, singing in tongues during corporate worship (it's directed to God, not to others), praying corporately in tongues (each person is praying between them and God, not to each other).

I think that if you are praying in tongues in a group that is fine...if you are speaking in tongues as a form of prophecy then it needs to be interpreted.

2 completely different circumstances...

Most prayer is done singularly, while everyone else either listens or trys to pray along with the person praying.

Corporate prayer where everyone prays and intercedes together to God can be and in fact is very powerful prayer, and should not be discarded as confusion.

Many times during my quarter century as a charismatic, have I been in a local service where during praise and worship, innumerable tongue speakers went off into a praise--usually monotone of sorts--corporately in tongues, and it was as if we were all transported to Heaven for a moment and were listening to the Heavenly angels worshipping before the throne. In fact, on some charismatic praise and worship cd's, it is not uncommon for such a thing to happen at the tail end of a song or during an instrumental part. Glory!

Let us not put God in a box, especially when we make His written Holy Word to have a broader--or narrower--application than what was intended.

  • "In 1 Cor.14 he says that if there is no interpretation a person is to sit down and speak (natural reading: in tongues) to themeselves." Any idea what verses this is referring to here? Is it 28? That verse says he should remain silent - the only way that is possible is by speaking to himself sub-vocally. Aug 11, 2021 at 5:24
  • 1
    @OneGodtheFather - Yes, I think it refers to verse 28. And I see two options: either sub-vocally as you indicate, or at home or some other private setting (this reading is also possible because the verse says "silent in church", meaning that outside of church the restriction would not apply).
    – user50422
    Aug 11, 2021 at 6:30

In agreement with Spirit Realm Investigator's answer, I would like to add the following:

At least some Pentecostals and Charismatics recognize two more uses for tongues.

  1. Tongues for deep intercession (like personal edification, this is generally done in private rather than in a corporate gathering; I have, however, seen this type of tongues occur in a prayer meeting attended exclusively by tongue talkers.)

  2. A language that is known by the listener but not the speaker. This appears to be the phenomenon we see in Acts 2 and should be distinguished from tongues for interpretation in the church. Both the tongue and interpretation in a church setting are supernatural events, while a tongue that is understood by a native speaker is supernatural only on the speaking side.

As to the question of many Pentecostals or Charismatics gathering together and all speaking in tongues simultaneously, I have this to say. In 1 Cor. 14:23 (NIV), Paul makes the statement, "So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?"

Clearly, this argues against the practice. However, the stricture is there because some uninformed or unbelievers may be present. By implication, the opposite can also be considered to be true. If it is known that there are no unbelievers or non-tongue-talking Christians present, there should be no restriction on speaking in tongues for personal edification, worship, intercession, or whatever.

  • +1 "If it is known that there are no unbelievers or non-tongue-talking Christians present" How would this ever be known at a typical Pentecostal service? Aug 11, 2021 at 21:18
  • 1
    Perhaps not at a typical Pentecostal service unless the church is small and everyone knows each other well. A more common occurrence might be during a Pentecostal intercessory prayer meeting as in my answer.
    – RobJarvis
    Aug 11, 2021 at 21:22

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