Paul’s rhetorical question, “All do not speak with tongues, do they?” (1 Cor. 12:30) to which the obvious answer is “No,” must be harmonized with the rest of the New Testament. His question is found within the context of his instruction about the spiritual gifts, which are all manifested only as the Spirit wills (see 1 Cor. 12:11). Paul was specifically writing about the spiritual gift of “various kinds of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:10) which, according to Paul, must always be accompanied by the spiritual gift of the interpretation of tongues. This particular gift could not have been what the Corinthians were always manifesting in their church, as they were speaking in tongues publicly without there being any interpretation. We should ask, Why would the Holy Spirit impart the gift of tongues to someone in a public assembly without giving someone the gift of interpretation? The answer is that He wouldn’t. Otherwise, the Holy Spirit would be promoting something that is not God’s will.
The Corinthians must have been praying in tongues out loud during their church services, without there being any interpretation. Thus, we learn that speaking in tongues has two different uses. One is praying in tongues, which Paul said should be done privately. That usage of speaking in tongues is not accompanied by interpretation, as Paul wrote, “My spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful” (1 Cor. 14:14). Obviously, Paul didn’t always know what he was saying when he spoke in tongues. There was no understanding on his part; neither was their interpretation.
There is also, however, a use of speaking in tongues that is for the public assembly of the church, which is always accompanied by the gift of the interpretation of tongues. That occurs when the Holy Spirit moves upon someone as He wills, giving him that gift. That person speaks out publicly, and then there is an interpretation given. God, however, doesn’t use everyone like that. That is why Paul wrote that not all speak in tongues. Not all are used by God in the sudden, spontaneously-given gift of tongues, just as God doesn’t use everyone in the gift of the interpretation of tongues. That is the only way to reconcile Paul’s rhetorical question, “All do not speak with tongues, do they?” with the rest of what Scripture teaches.
I can speak in tongues any time I desire, just as Paul could. So obviously neither Paul nor myself would say that whenever we speak in tongues it is “only as the Spirit wills.” It is as we will. So what we are doing whenever we desire cannot be the gift of speaking in tongues that only occurs “as the Spirit wills.” Furthermore, Paul, like me, spoke in tongues privately without understanding what he was saying, so that cannot be the gift of tongues of which he wrote in 1 Corinthians, which he said would always be accompanied by the gift of the interpretation of tongues.
It is only on rare occasions when I’ve spoken in tongues in a public assembly. That is only when I’ve sensed the Holy Spirit move upon me to do so, although I could (just like the Corinthians were doing) pray in tongues out loud anytime I wanted to in church without there being any interpretation. When I’ve sensed the Holy Spirit move upon me with that gift, there has always been an interpretation that has edified the body.
In conclusion, we must interpret the Bible harmoniously. Those who conclude, because of Paul’s rhetorical question found in 1 Corinthians 12:30, that not all believers should speak with other tongues, are ignoring many other scriptures that do not harmonize with their interpretation. Because of their error, they are missing a great blessing from God.