Spiritual Gifts- Interpretation of Tongues

interpretation of tongues

The gift of interpretation of tongues is closely connected with the gift of speaking in tongues. Obviously where there is no message in tongues, no interpretation is needed.

When the twin gifts of tongues and interpretation work together they form a kind of prophecy.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul gives guidelines about the use of tongues in a public meeting. His aim is to ensure that there is some sort of order in the proceedings, but above all that people are edified by what goes on.

He says that anybody who prays in tongues should pray for the ability to interpret what has been said (14:13). This seems like a good procedure to follow. A message in tongues is of little value in itself, and if God is speaking to me in tongues I should ask Him also to speak to me in English.

Paul also suggests that the number of tongues speakers should be limited to two or three, speaking one at a time. Each message must be interpreted, and if there is no one present to give the interpretation, then the the tongues speakers must remain silent (14:27-28). This may suggest that there were people who were known to exercise this gift, and if they were for some reason not present at the meeting the protocol was that if you had no interpretation with the tongue then you had to remain silent.

I have had a number of experiences of this gift in action, both as an interpreter of my own tongue and as an interpreter of someone else’s message. It is a strange experience for me, as my ears hear one set of words while my brain hears, more or less simultaneously a different set of words.

One of the strangest experiences of this gift happened at a Uniting Church Synod meeting. These meetings are not known for the use of spiritual gifts. At the start of each morning session that year, a member of an ethnic group within the denomination was invited to pray in their native tongue with an interpreter giving an English translation afterwards. On one particular morning, a South Korean pastor led the prayer, and as he started praying the Lord gave me a very clear interpretation, a strong prophetic word. The translation that was given was different to the words that I heard. Did I stand up and give the spiritual interpretation? No, it seemed inappropriate on that occasion.

This brings me to the final thought in this series on spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit never forces us to say or do anything. All of these gifts are subject to the judgement of the people involved. You don’t have to blurt out every word of knowledge, you don’t have to pray for every dead person to be raised. The operation of the gifts is according to the faith and the judgement of the person.