In Christian circles there are a couple topics which always come with a measure (at least) of difficulty. There are certain ideas that have been driven into to us since before we can recall. Other have little or no idea what is being spoken of at all.
In this instance I’m referring to the speaking in tongues. What does it mean? where and how should we expect this spiritual gift to work? Lets take a look.
The term “Tongues” is the same in the Greek γλῶσσα, ης, ἡ 1100 the definition of which is (the tongue, a language, nation) one time in 1 Corinthians the word has a very slight different meaning ἑτερόγλωσσος, ον 2084 meaning (speaking another language; subst: one who speaks another language.) one who speaks what is utterly strange and unintelligible to others unless interpreted see what is said about ‘speaking with tongues’
in both instance the word is heteroglóssos, a combination of two Greek words. heteros another, different and glóssa: the tongue, a language
Paul seems to recognize the idea of speaking on tongue’s he identifies it as a gift of the spirit, he likewise identifies the interpretation of tongues as being a separate gift. That being said however he doesn’t seem to care for it. He speaks at length about how Tongues is not as good a prophecy and how he’d rather prophecy in the church than tongues because the gift of tongues is “no help” as he says to the church unless there be an interpreter available. It sounds as though it was similar to today in that while many claims to speak in tongues, not many ever claim to be able to interpret.
From the various scriptures regarding the gift of tongues
Acts 2 the Pentecost where the apostle spoke in the actual languages of those present
1st Corinthians 12:30-31 where Paul identifies it as being a gift but also identifies it as being something not all have
1st Corinthians 12:27-29 speaks about the gift of tongues being but one of the several different gifts of the spirit and that each person has their own specific gifting. In other words NOT ALL will have the gift of speaking in tongues and or interpreting them,
1st Corinthians 13 speaks generally about having the gift of tongues in context of it being of no consequence if the possessor doesn’t have love as well
1st Corinthians 14 Where Paul speaks the whole chapter regarding the value of tongues versus prophecy and speaks in favor of prophecy.
Mark 16:17-19 where it lists speaking in tongues as a sign of a true believer, however this is listed alongside several different possible signs. Most of which boil down to the concept that the true believe is bold and doesn’t fear the world as he is backed by God. Alongside speaking on tongues this where it talks about drinking poison and not dying and handling snakes and so forth.
Romans 8:26-27 talks about how the spirit prays intercession over us when have not the words or the ability to pray. With groanings too deep for words. An idea of the holy spirit praying within you. Not you are praying with the holy spirit but that the holy spirit prays within you and for you
Ultimately there seems to be three ideas intertwined.
The 1st Speaking in Tongues (Speaking in new tongue’s, speaking in other tongue’s) as in acts where what is mean is that you speak in a language that is not your own. And a language that you are not familiar with.
The 2nd Speaking in tongues or in the heavenly language which Paul talks about in 1s Corinthians. About this he says that the heavenly language is of not help to the church Unless there be someone who can translate it. That he would rather have people who prophesy that speak in tongues because that prophecy was, in his eyes, more valuable being that the church could benefit without the need of an interpreter.
The 3rd meaning is praising and worshiping in tongues. For this there is no need for interpretation because the words are from your lips to God’s ears and his alone there is no outward meaning it is you and God alone.
Though identified as a gift of the spirit it is clearly explained by Paul as being a gift that only some have just like gifts of prophecy healing, teaching, preaching, etc. A person can pray in tongues which Paul’s says should be permitted because it doesn’t need an interpreter. If however a person is trying to speak a message to the church that comes through in tongues, then there has to be a person present with the gift of interpreting tongues otherwise they should remain silent at least at that time. Additionally the ability to speak in a language that is not known to you but may in fact be an actual language is also included.