Calvin and Hodge on 'tongues' in I Corinthians 12:8-30
Comments Calvin (on I Cor. 12:10): "The 'interpretation of tongues' was different from the 'knowledge of tongues.' For those who had the latter gift, often did not know the language of the people with whom they had to have dealings. Interpreters translated the foreign languages into the native speech."
The learned Presbyterian Rev. Prof. Dr. Charles Hodge, sometime Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, wrote in his excellent commentary on First Corinthians that 'kinds of tongues' in I Cor. 12:8-10 means "the ability to speak in languages…. What was spoken with tongues, was intelligible to those who understood foreign languages….
"What was uttered, were articulate sounds — the vehicle of prayer, praise and thanksgiving. I Cor. 14:14-17…. They were edifying, and therefore intelligible to him who uttered them. I Cor. 14:4,16…. They admitted of being interpreted, which supposes them to be intelligible….. Though intelligible in themselves and to the speaker, they were unintelligible to others…not acquainted with the language used" — unless translated for them. "The folly which Paul rebuked — was speaking in Arabic to men who understood only Greek!"
The gift of interpretation was distinct from that of speaking with tongues…. The word gloossai ('tongues') must here mean languages…. Greek was the language of educated persons throughout the Roman empire, but it had not superseded the national languages in common life…. The gift of tongues, however, was not the ability to speak all languages. Probably most of those who received the gift, could speak only in one or two….
"The man using a foreign language, was able to understand it. See 14:2,4,16." Thus, he also "may have had the gift of interpretation in [close]
connection with the gift of tongues." Yet even though he would "understand the language which he used, he needed [another] distinct gift to make him the organ of the Spirit in its interpretation.” Naturally, if speaking with tongues were to have been “speaking incoherently in ecstasy — it is hard to see how what was said, could admit of interpretation! Unless coherent, it was [or rather would have been] irrational. And, if irrational — it could not be translated!"
Finally, observes Hodge, the gift of 'diversities of tongues' refers to "persons having the gift of speaking in foreign languages. This is put last [I Cor. 12:28-30] — probably because it was so unduly valued and so ostentatiously displayed by the Corinthians."