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Tongues, Prophecy and Parables

I'm not including this in Sunday's sermon on Mark 4:1-20 but it's been a thought I've had along the way about these three forms of verbal communication, all of which take their foundations from the ministry of Isaiah.
"22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 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 minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you." (1 Corinthians 14)
Tongues without interpretation are a sign for unbelievers of their hardness and judgement. When an outsider comes into a Christian meeting and hears an uninterpretted tongue they walk away saying Christians are crazy. This is not a good outcome.

When tongues are given an interpretation they surely operate like prophecy as a sign for believers. A sign pointing towards belief - to repentance. A sign that, because the prayer or prophecy is gospelicious, leads to conviction of sin, repentance, worship and awareness of the presence of God. This is a very good outcome.
"11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.” (Mark 4)
Parables lurk somewhere in between tongues and prophecy. In the way they function in relation to the human heart. They're a language that can be understood but they stop people from perceiving and understanding spiritually (since real spiritual understanding is a matter of heart not of thinking). They do this to stop the hard hearted and spiritually dead from repenting, instead hardening them for judgement. Whereas for the soft hearted a parable sown brings the secret of the kingdom, the fruitful gospel of Jesus.



  1. know its useless for short term, but reading Daniel 11-12 this week i noticed the wisdom literature there (a la Psalm 49, Ecclesiastes 2), and it surprised me how often Jesus talks about calling someone a "fool" (Matthew 7 foolish builders, mt 25 foolish virgins, luke 7 wisdom proved by hger children, Luke 24 how foolish you are...) Strikes me perhaps the link between all three is wisdom (the theme of corinthians)?

    Proverbs 1:6
    "for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise."

    psalm 78:2
    "I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old"

  2. I'm inclined to think wisdom is a broader and important category than we tend to think - loved five weeks in Ecclesiastes with Relay this year.
    I know the Sermon on the Mount is read as law, but I think it might be wisdom... And yeah parables as a kind of wisdom, revealing "things from of old" (gospel?).

  3. I always read that passage in Mark as a kind of sifting process for Jesus.

    There was a huge crowd, all buzzing with the hype of this new teacher, and Jesus spoke in parable to sift them, leaving only the soft hearted behind. At least in that instance he did.

    I suppose it's a little tricky to see how parable work for unbelievers, because when you read them as a believer you can discern their meaning, you can see the gospel shining through them. But when an unbeliever reads or hears a parable what happens exactly? If they don't see the gospel within then at best they hear a nice story, and at worst they could totally misunderstand the point and derive some completely wrong ideas about God from them.

    How easy it is to take the gospel for granted when we read the Bible, and completely ignore how complex and difficult these things are!

  4. Hi Dave, just a little thought:

    I understand 1 Corinthians 14:2-3 to delineate prophecy and tongues a bit more than the spectrum like analysis implied above.

    Tongues speaking (v2) is "not to men but to God" whereas
    Prophecy on the other hand (v3) is "to people"

    If I were trying to think about parables I'd say they were more like prophecy in that sense because people are the primary audience in view.

  5. I suppose my thought is to do with content and effect.

    I guess, I'm arguing that an interpretted tongue can be similar in content to prophecy, though I agree it's words to God heard by people, rather than words to people. So, an interpretted tongue can make you cry out "Amen" and be build up in your faith, a prophecy can ultimately achieves the same effect.

  6. The parable of the sower is about different reactions to parables - parables (rather than the simplistic answer of making it easier to understand) are about sifting a reaction (which he gets various shades of in the end of chapter 3) - true belief, shallow belief (in two forms) or flat out rejection.

    It's interesting that Jesus has to interpret the parable to the disciples - that's something to note. I think you're on to something, but it's not yet fully developed (where are the second and third patches of soil - they accept the word, but it isn't allowed to grow - misunderstanding the parable, rather than rejecting it or understanding it?)

  7. agreed!

    Very insightful - and straightforward, thanks.

  8. Some of our specialised "Christian" language might just as well be tongues for those not already in the know. Perhaps a warning here to explain ourselves in ways others might stand a chance of understanding?

  9. Yeah, that's certainly an implication to learn.


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