The Ministry of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament Church

Course:  The Gifts of the Spirit

Lesson 10

Lesson Title:  Interpretation of Tongues


Text: '…to another the interpretation of tongues:' 1 Corinthians 12:9.


Introduction:  What is the gift of the interpretation of tongues?

The gift of interpretation of tongues is given to bring understanding when the gift of tongue is in operation in the church. 

The word interpretation means to interpret fully or to explain.


In Acts chapter 2 the tongues were recognised by the people listening and so there was no need for interpretation.


At the beginning of the 20th century some people believed that the gift of tongues would be given for evangelism.

Charles Parham associated speaking in tongues with an end time move of the Spirit that provided supernatural ability to preach in unlearnt foreign languages (xenolalia).

Attempts were made to preach in tongues by their efforts were farcical, and they soon realised that it was still necessary to learn the languages of those they sought to reach.


But there are times when the Holy Spirit will speak to people through the operation of tongues 


Introductory Story:  Here is an interesting account of how Christians were protected by a manifestation of the Gift of Tongues.

Pentecostal Mission in China (1937). 

W G Hathaway tells the story of a miraculous deliverance through the gift of tongues at the time when the Japanese invaded China in 1937.

Speaking in tongues – a word of warning to the Japanese.

In their invasion of China, the Japanese troops came to a mission station where there were a number of devout people, some of whom were rejoicing in the Pentecostal experience.  The native Christians had barricaded themselves in their compound and soon there was a loud knocking on the gates as one of the Japanese officers sought immediate admission, calling upon them to open the door before they burst it in.  

Eventually the door burst open, and in rushed the Japanese soldiers taking hold first of one of the company of Chinese, a native evangelist.  He was about to kill him when the man burst into an utterance of tongues in the power of the Spirit.  The soldier stopped and after a moment or two said: “Why did you not tell me there were Japanese here?”  He was told there were no Japanese in the compound, but he insisted that there were Japanese, and said this man had just told him in Japanese that if any harm were done to the compound or its inhabitants the judgment of God would fall upon him and his fellow soldiers. 

As a result of that incident none of the believers in the compound were harmed and shortly afterward a revival broke out among the Chinese in the district and many were brought to Christ.

W.G.Hathaway, ‘A Sound from Heaven’ Victory Press: London, 1947, pp.49-50.



Main Points 

1.   The Gift of ‘Interpretation of Tongues’ in Scripture.


Why does the Holy Spirit use tongues and interpretation of tongues?

Speaking to people in tongues without interpretation has no benefit to people listening.

Paul says that tongues was a sign to unbelieving Israel when they were taken into captivity by nations they did not understand.  See Isaiah 28:11

I Corinthians 14:21 ‘In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, says the Lord.’


Paul told the Church not to use the Gift of Tongues as a sign against unbelievers.

Tongues have not been given as a sign of judgment. 

The gifts are given to glorify Jesus. 

In the meeting this means a message in tongues must be interpreted.


Question:  What about worship in tongues and singing in tongues?

When believers meet together then it is wonderful when everyone worships in tongues.

When there are unbelievers then common sense must be used.


Why is there no mention of ‘Interpretation of tongues’ in the Acts of the Apostles?

When tongues were spoken on the Day of Pentecost the people understood without interpretation.

But the Acts of the Apostles does not tell us everything that happened when believers met together.

Acts is the story of how the New Testament Church began and how the message spread through the ministry of Paul.

We would not be aware of the gift of ‘interpretation of tongues’ if Paul had not written about it to the Corinthian Church.


1 Corinthians 14:27

Let one interpret.

Interpret means to unfold the meaning – doesn’t have to be a direct translation.



2.   Testimonies concerning the operation of the gift.


Personal Story:  Tongues and interpretation after preaching.

When I was at Bible College, I sometimes preached at the Sunday evening meeting.  An old lady who used to come to the meetings would always give two messages in tongues as soon as the preaching ended.  The messages were always interpreted by one of the pastors.  I do not know if this was genuinely tongues and interpretation because it always happened, but the interpretation (or prophecy) was uplifting and encouraging, and the messages in tongues produced a tremendous excitement that helped to lay focus upon the message that had just been preached.



3.    Why is this gift necessary today?


The gift is necessary when a message in tongues is given in a meeting. 

Tongues and interpretation will produce expectation and excitement in a meeting. 

They will place focus on the scriptures and on the message preached. 

They will always glorify the Lord Jesus.


God is not boring.  God is exciting.  The Gifts of the Spirit are given to us ‘to profit’ because God is an exciting God.   



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