Tongues and the Book of Isaiah

In today’s YouTube video, Rudy Ross suggests that insight into 1 Corinthians 14.20-25 can be accomplished by reading chapters 25-28 of the Book of Isaiah.

Let’s first look at Corinthians and then turn to Isaiah.

1 Corinthians 14.20-25Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults. In the law it is written,

“By people of strange tongues
and by the lips of foreigners
I will speak to this people;
yet even then they will not listen to me,”

says the Lord.

Tongues, then, are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers.

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

But if all prophesy, an unbeliever or outsider who enters is reproved by all and called to account by all.

After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, “God is really among you.”

It is easy to see how speaking in tongues would cause an “outsider” to believe that they are “out of your mind.”

Corporate speaking in tongues is a tall hurdle for outsiders to overcome when they experience it in worship.

A more difficult question to answer is how can tongues be a sign for unbelievers?

Rudy Ross believes that chapters 25-28 of Isaiah point us to an answer. I have selected a few verses from Isaiah in an attempt to give an answer.

Isaiah 25

“What sort of God can allow this war to happen,” said a Ukrainian woman on television today.

Both Isaiah and Paul have an answer for all who suffer in this life.

Isaiah points to the goal of history, as does 1 Corinthians 15. This is the future for those who cling to God in the midst of pain and suffering.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.

And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.

Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.

It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
(Isaiah 25.6-9)

This is Isaiah’s message to Israel, but I believe it can be applied to everyone who trusts in the Lord.

First Corinthians 15 corrects the Corinthian understanding that happiness in the present moment is all a person can hope for.

First Corinthians and Isaiah both point to the goal of history, which is the blessedness of a new heaven and a new earth.

Isaiah 26

Throughout history, “outsiders” have displayed self-sufficiency rather than trust in God.

Right-living (righteous) people trust in God and experience his well-being (peace.

Open the gates,
so that the righteous nation that keeps faith
may enter in.

Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
in peace because they trust in you.

Trust in the Lord forever,
for in the Lord God
you have an everlasting rock.
(Isaiah 26.2-4)

There are people who are willful “outsiders.” They don’t understand the things of God, whether they are spoken in tongues or in intelligible speech.

My soul yearns for you in the night,
my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.
For when your judgments are in the earth,
the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.

If favor is shown to the wicked,
they do not learn righteousness;
in the land of uprightness they deal perversely
and do not see the majesty of the Lord.
(Isaiah 26.9-10)

Isaiah 27

Humans are responsible for their ability to understand what God is doing in the world.

For this is a people without understanding;
therefore he that made them will not have compassion on them,
he that formed them will show them no favor.
(Isaiah 27.11)

The Letter to the Romans expands on the “outsider’s” inability to understand what God is doing.

Romans 1.21 For though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.

Isaiah 28

The text in 1 Corinthians 14 is a quote from this chapter in Isaiah. The people in Isaiah’s day refused the message of the prophet.

Like the futile and senseless minds in the first chapter of Romans, these people resisted obedience and trust in God.

Their state of mind prevented them from understanding Isaiah’s message.

Truly, with stammering lip
and with alien tongue
he will speak to this people,
to whom he has said,

“This is rest;
give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
yet they would not hear.

Therefore the word of the Lord will be to them,
“Precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little;”
in order that they may go, and fall backward,
and be broken, and snared, and taken.
(Isaiah 28.11-13)

Judgment falls on the outsider because they refuse to hear. Tongues in corporate worship put the “outsider” in the same position as Isaiah’s listeners.

Judgment and Grace

Earlier in chapter 14, Paul advocated on behalf of the “outsider.”

1 Corinthians 14.16-17Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying?

For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up.

Paul definitely wanted the person distant from Christ to hear the gospel and develop a relationship with Jesus. After all, he was first and foremost a missionary.

Paul also knew that some people would resist the good news of Christ. Neither tongues nor intelligible speech would help those who refused the gospel.

YouTube Video

Rudy Ross has a good explanation of this passage in today’s YouTube video. It can be seen on the Bob Spradling channel.

Please email your prayer requests to or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood prayer team will pray for you.

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