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Series Theme: The Gifts of the Spirit



















































1. Paul's Teaching

2. So what is it?












1. Paul's Teaching

2. So what is it?

Title:   10. The Gift of Interpretation of Tongues


A Series that considers the Gifts given by the Holy Spirit to Believers


This page is one of a number that seeks to provide basic study material for the Christian who wishes to see what the Bible says about the gifts of the Spirit.

Because, in practice, there so often seems to be confusion about the gift of interpretation, we will add this additional note to the general notes on tongues and interpretation. So often in practice we hear the “interpretation” being given in the form of a prophecy, which is quite the opposite of what the Scriptures indicate it is.

Whatever we do in our practices as “church” we should seek to be guided by Scripture. In this area, there is plenty of guidance.  We should do all we can to ensure we are careful in our interpretation of God's word.



1. Paul's Teaching in 1 Corinthians 14

v.2 anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God .

  •  it is very clearly speaking TO God

v.3 everyone who prophesies speaks to men

  •  prophecy therefore comes from God to men

v.4 he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself but he who prophesies edifies the church

  •  tongues blesses the individual, prophecy the church

v.5 unless he interprets so that the church may be edified

  •  interpretation can edify or bless the church

v.6 if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?

  •  at first sight, this verse and this verse alone gives a possible sense that the interpretation could be a) revelation from God, b) knowledge from God, c) prophecy from God or d) a word of instruction from God
  •  we have emphasised in each case “from God” because each of those things must be from God. In verse 26 they are shown to be distinct from interpretation.
  •  yet everything in all the surrounding verses (as we've already noted above, and will go on to note in the following verses) says that tongues is towards God.
  •  to now say, therefore, that the “interpretation” of the tongue is from God makes a mockery of the word “interpret”.
  •  rules of hermeneutics suggest that if there appear two possible understandings of a verse, and one understanding goes contrary to the context, we should therefore accept the understanding that is in harmony with the context.
  •  rather than apply the meaning of this verse in a manner that completely reverses all that Paul has said and is going on to say, an alternative interpretation of it could be arrived at by simply adding the implied word at the end of the verse, “as well”. An even better understanding is suggested at the end of these notes.

v.7-12 musical illustration

  •  Paul then goes on to emphasise the point he has been previously making. If you want to edify or build up the church you do need to do it in a language everyone understands, and tongues doesn't do that.

v.14 for if I pray in a tongue

  •  against note direction - pray - to God

v.16 if you are praising God with your spirit

  •  again - praising - towards God

v.17 you may be giving thanks… but the other man is not edified

  •  again - giving thanks - to God

v.26 everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation

  •  here Paul lists a variety of things that people can bring in the gathering, a list of different things
  •  tongues and interpretation are therefore listed as distinctly different from a word of instruction or a revelation, to confirm what we've said in verse 6.

v.27-31 Listing particular applications

  •  to confirm the point made immediately above, in these verses Paul makes particular comment of the various gifts and covers tongues (v.27), interpretation (v.27,28), prophecy (v.29) and revelation (v.30).
  •  therefore, again, prophecy and revelation are set against and distinct from interpretation.

The whole chapter

  •  throughout Paul is distinguishing between prophecy and tongues
  •  for the “interpretation of the tongue” to be prophecy blurs his whole argument,
  •  the tongue is clearly towards God and to make the “interpretation” from God makes a mockery of language. [Vines Expository Dictionary : interpretation = to explain fully the meaning of words in a different language. Not to change the meaning. Interpretation declares the meaning of the prayer, praise, thanksgiving that comes via the spirit.]

Tongues at Pentecost - Acts 2:4,11

  •  tongues, when understood as literal foreign languages here is heard to be praises of God - towards God.

Tongues for the Gentiles - Acts 10:46

  •  tongues again were heard to be praising God - towards God.



2. So What is the Interpretation?

  •  From all that has gone before we see that tongues, as distinguished from prophecy, is prayer to God.
  •  The interpretation must, therefore, be an interpretation of a prayer.
  •  Now we know that when we pray we often find ourselves being inspired in the way we pray, and our prayer may have a revelatory edge to it, a prophetic edge, or even an edge of knowledge about a situation, but it is still prayer.
  •  Because the communion of the Holy Spirit with our spirit is at the innermost or deepest level of our being, the expression of this communion frequently has a most beautiful aspect to it.
  •  When that innermost prayer is revealed through interpretation, the impact on the listeners is indeed edification, but not merely through the mind, but to the spirit as well.  When brought “in the right direction” the interpretation of tongues can add a new beautiful dimension to our times of worship.
  •  This, we would suggest, is the beauty of interpretation, which is so often missed when, through misunderstanding of Scripture, the “interpreter” turns it round and turns it into prophecy.
  •  As with any gift, increased use of the gift brings greater understanding of it and greater expression of it. By this the church will be blessed and built up and hopefully God will be glorified in a greater way than is normally seen in many worship meetings.


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