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Interpretation of Tongues:
What it's for and How you can to do it!

Interpreting Tongues
1 Cor 14:1-40
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Why we have the Manifestation of Interpretation of Tongues

The reason you would interpret tongues in a believers meeting is found in 1 Cor 14:16. You are including others in praying along with you so they can say “amen” to your prayer.

When you interpret, others are built up by what you are saying in praise to God through the spirit. They are built up by being part of their worship to God along with you. This builds a sense of family and community.

Interpretation of tongues is not something that someone other than the one who speaks in tongues can do.

If one person speaks in tongues and someone else “interprets” then what that other person is doing is actually prophesying a new message from God to the people, not interpreting another person’s message to God.

1 Corinthians 14:5 (“unless he interprets”), and verse 13 (“that he may interpret”) makes it very clear that the one who speaks in tongues is the only one who can bring forth the interpretation of that particular message.

A whole chapter in the bible is dedicated to Interpretation of Tongues, Let’s take a deeper look at it: 1 Corinthians 14:1-40

1) Follow (Greek word should be translated “pursue”. Definition is “to follow in order to overtake”. Follow is too weak of a word in this case. Merely following means to stay behind and never really catch up. We are to pursue, chase down and overtake love, not just follow it around and look at it from a distance) after charity (apage, the same type of love that Christ has for us), and desire spiritual gifts (the word “gifts” is in italics in the KJV because that word is not in the greek text. It should be translated as “spiritual things”. Calling it spiritual gifts has been the cause of mass confusion about what the gift of holy spirit really is and has resulted in Christians calling the manifestations “gifts” when what they really are is things that you have along with the main gift. 1 Cor 12, where it talks about spiritual gifts and diversities of gifts… to one gift is given, to another is given… this passage is also another major stumbling point but we’ll go over that chapter really well in another separate teaching), but rather that ye may prophesy.

2) For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.

3) But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.

4) He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.

5) I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. (This verse can use a little clarification. Paul is not contradicting himself here where he talks about edifying. In the previous verse he says that Prophecy is for edification. That is to say edification from God to the people. Keep an eye on the direction of the flow of information. But earlier he also said that tongues are also for edification. That is your personal edification as you are built up by the spirit and encouraged by praising God. You feel good when you are saying nice things about other people right? The direction of this flow is from God through tongues telling you what to say when speaking to God. So when you interpret, others are built up by what you are saying in praise to God through the spirit. They are built up by being part of their worship to God along with you. This builds a sense of family and community.)

6) Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? (Notice Paul does not say “lest I interpret”. Because interpretation of tongues is meant for a multitude of believers all sharing in worshiping God together, not just one on one conversation. However, there are exceptions to this rule from time to time as God gives you revelation concerning a certain instance.)

(Skipping down to verse 11...)

11) Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. (The use of the word “barbarian” here is not meant as an insult. In this case it not a derogatory term referring to someone who is a savage or an uncivilized person. In this context it simply means a “foreigner”, somebody who is not from that region and who does not understand the language or the customs.)

12) Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts (things), seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. (The Corinthian church was very well known to be “over the top” in its charismatic style. That is what prompted Paul to write this letter known as 1 Corinthians in order to reprove their behavior.)

Okay, the Next Verse is REALLY IMPORTANT:

13) Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. (That same person, not one person speak in tongues then someone else interpret. That would be prophecy from the other person. Once again, scripture is very clear on this point.)

14) For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

15) What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

16) Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit (speaking in tongues), how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned (uninstructed) say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?

17) For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified (built up).

18) I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: (A better translation is: “I thank my God with speaking tongues more than all of you”. The NIV wrongly translates this verse as “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” Paul is not boasting or trying to put anyone down. Read correctly, he is describing what he is doing when he speaks in tongues. He is thanking God; and he does it more often than any of them are. He is just stating a fact. When read in context it makes much more sense.)

19) Yet in the church I had rather speak (better translation is: Yet in the church I desire) five words with my understanding, that by my voice (understanding) I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. (So what Paul is saying is that speaking in tongues in private is great, as a matter of fact he does it more than all of them combined. But speaking in tongues out loud in church is worthless unless you interpret the meaning so others know what you are saying.)

(Skipping down to verse 22...)

22) Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.

This next verse is also VERY IMPORTANT
We should not all be speaking in tongues at the same time:

23) If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues (everyone all at the same time), and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad (crazy)?

24) But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:

25) And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report (declaring) that God is in you of a truth (that God is indeed, truly among you).

26) How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

27) If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. (Is this a contradiction? Nope, it’s an error in translation. The Greek word “heis” translated as “one” should be translated “the same one”. At first glance, 1 Corinthians 14:27 might seem to contradict that, but a close look at the verse shows that it says the same thing as the above verses. The NIV misses the point with its translation of “...someone must interpret.” The KJV reads: “...and let one interpret,” which isn’t much better. When we dig a bit deeper, we see that the Greek word for “one” is heis, which can mean “the same one,” and, according to the context, is how it should have been translated so that it agrees with verses 5 and 13.)

28) But if there be no interpreter, (no one willing or able to speak in tongues then interpret; keeping in context) let him (Who? The one speaking in tongues) keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. (He is to speak in tongues quietly to himself in prayer. Not out loud in church.)

29) Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.

30) If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.

31) For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.

32) And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

33) For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints...

(Skipping down to verse 39...)

39) Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.

40) Let all things be done decently and in order.

Interpretation of Tongues: How to do it

It works just like speaking in tongues, in that you must open your mouth and speak, and when you do, God gives you the words. When you speak in tongues, the words God gives you are in a language of men or of angels.

It is very clear from scripture that the one who is speaking in tongues is also the one, the only one, who follows with the interpretation.

When you interpret, the words will be in English or whatever is the prevailing language of that particular body of believers. So, you open your mouth and speak in tongues for however long you choose, maybe 20, 30, or 60 seconds, as you are inspired, and when you stop speaking in tongues, you immediately speak the first English (or whatever) words that are “on the tip of your tongue,” and they will be there, because God is faithful in his promise.

Then just keep speaking the words that come to you. And you know that the words will be in the category of praise and thanksgiving to God.

Try to not get caught up in listening to what you are saying or worse yet, trying to think about or anticipate what you will be saying next. Just let it flow. Disengage your mind and engage your heart. That’s where it’s at.

If you have been taught that the interpretation of tongues is a message from God to people, and you are in the habit of doing it like that, here’s a tip that will help you more easily make the transition from speaking in tongues and then prophesying to the actual interpretation of tongues.

While you are speaking in tongues before you interpret, your mind is not involved in that, so tell yourself to start the interpretation with ‘My Father’ or something else addressed to God. Do not begin the interpretation with “My children”. Then your first words will be like it says in 1 Cor 14:2 “not to men but to God,” and you will find that the rest of what you say will be in that same vein.

So next time you are in a believers meeting and God puts tongues with interpretation on your heart, and you are given the opportunity to speak then I encourage you to manifest believing and go for it, and then immediately follow with the interpretation. The words will be there for you and it will be a blessing to God as well as a blessing to those around you. 

Remember: Believing = Receiving. God bless you!

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Daniel Sweet, President of God's Word First Christian Ministry

Daniel Sweet is the President and founder of God's Word First Christian Ministry. He is an Ordained Minister, Biblical Scholar, Teacher and an expert author on the subject of Leadership. Daniel Sweet and his wife, Debbra Sweet, have overseen the growth and development of multiple in home fellowships and have been instrumental in helping many people come to the knowledge and truth of God’s Word.


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