If any man speak in an unknown tongue
He begins with the gift of tongues, with speaking in an unknown tongue, as the Hebrew language, because this they were desirous of: and the rule for this he would have observed is,
let it be by two, or at most by three, and that by course.
The Arabic version reads it, "let him speak to two, or at most three, and separately"; as if it respected the number of persons he was to speak to at a time, and that in a separate and private manner: but the apostle's sense is, that two such persons as had the gift of speaking in an unknown tongue, or three at most, should be only employed at one opportunity, lest too much time should be taken up this way, and prevent a more useful and edifying exercise; and that these should speak not together, which would be a mere jargon and confusion, and make them took like madmen, and render them entirely useless indeed; but in course, one after another, that so an interpreter might be able to take their sense, and render what they said, and express it in a language the people understood: for it follows,
let one interpret
what the two or three had said. This practice seems to be borrowed from the Jews, who had such an officer in the synagogue as a "Methurgeman", or "an interpreter". The rise of which office, and the rules to be observed in the performance of it, are as follow, delivered by Maimonides F19:
``from the times of Ezra it has been customary that an interpreter should interpret to the people what the reader reads in the law, so that they may understand the nature of things; and the reader reads one verse only, and is silent until the interpreter has interpreted it; then he returns and reads a second verse: a reader may not raise his voice above the interpreter, nor the interpreter raise his voice above the reader. The interpreter may not interpret until the verse is finished out of the mouth of the reader, and the reader may not read a verse until the interpretation is finished out of the mouth of the interpreter; and the interpreter might not lean neither upon a pillar, nor a beam, but must stand in trembling, and in fear; and he may not interpret by writing, but by mouth: and the reader may not help the interpreter; and they may not say the interpretation written in the law; and a little one may interpret by the means of a grown person, but it is no honour to a grown person to interpret by the means of a little one; and two may not interpret as one, but one reads (Mgrtm dxaw) , "and one interprets" F20.''An interpreter might not interpret according to his own sense, nor according to the form of the words, or its literal sense; nor might he add of his own, but was obliged to go according to the Targum of Onkelos F21, which they say was the same that was delivered on Mount Sinai. The place they stood in was just before the reader; for so it is said F23,
``the interpreters stand before the wise man on the sabbath days, and hear from his mouth, and cause the multitude to hear.''And elsewhere it is said F24,
``the interpreter stands before the wise man, the preacher, and the wise man (or doctor) whispers to him in the Hebrew language, and he interprets to the multitude in a language they hear,''or understand. And sometimes these sat at his side, and only reported what the doctor whispered privately. So
``it is said F25, that when the son of R. Judah bar Ilai died, he went into the house of Midrash, or the school, and R. Chaniah ben Akabia went in and sat by his side, and he whispered to him, and he to the interpreter, and the interpreter caused the multitude to hear.''And they never put any man into this office until he was fifty years of age F26. Several of the Jewish Rabbins were interpreters, as R. Chananiah before mentioned, and R. Chutzphit, and others F1.
F19 Hilchot Tephilla, c. 12 sect. 10. ll.
F20 Vid. T. Bab. Roshhashana, fol. 27. 1. & Megilla, fol. 21. 2.
F21 T. Bab. Kiddushin, fol. 49. 1. & Maimon. Hilchot Ishot, c. 8. sect. 4.
F23 T. Bab. Pesachim, fol. 50. 2. Gloss. in ib.
F24 Gloss. in T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 20. 2.
F25 T. Bab. Moed Katon, fol. 21. 1.
F26 Juchasin, fol. 44. 2.
F1 Ib. fol. 42. 1. & 44. 1, 2.