8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
(1 Corinthians 12:8-10, KJV)
My family and I have just finished reading about the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 guided mainly by “Chapter 53: Gifts of the Holy Spirit (2): Specific Gifts” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994) in our after-breakfast Bible reading time. In this post I’ll report on our reading about the gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues.
The Greek word glossa can mean either “tongue” or “language,” and the NLT calls the two gifts “the ability to speak in unknown languages” and “the ability to interpret what is said.” Although those names may describe the gifts better than the names in the KJV and most other versions, the names used in the latter are too well established to be replaced.
Grudem defines the gift of tongues as “prayer or praise spoken in syllables not understood by the speaker” (page 1070), indicating that it is (1) primarily prayer or praise directed to God (2) given in a language unknown to the speaker. In support of his definition he cites 1 Corinthians 14:2, “ For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God;  for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit” (ESV; all Biblical quotations except the opening one are from the ESV). Although the speaking in tongues on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11) was in languages known by others present, 1 Corinthians 14 indicates that speaking in tongues is generally in languages unknown by those present and 1 Corinthians 13:1 suggests that it may even be in an angelic rather than in a human language.
Some points that Grudem makes about the gift of tongues are:
– It is prayer with the spirit, not with the mind. “If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also” (i Corinthians 14:14-15).
– It is not ecstatic but self-controlled. “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only one or two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each one of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God” (1 Corinthians 14:27-28).
– It should not be used in church unless someone known to have the gift of interpretation of tongues is present. 1 Corinthians 14:27-28 (quoted above). However it can (and should) be used in private without interpretation. “The one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself…Now I want you all to speak in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:4-5).
– With interpretation, it is as valuable to the church as prophecy and edifies the church. “The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:5). However it serves a different function than prophecy, its generally being communication from humans to God whereas prophesy is communication from God to humans.
Interpretation of Tongues
This is the gift of giving the meaning of a message in tongues and may be given to the person who gives the message in tongues or to someone else. Those who give messages in tongues are encouraged to pray for the gift of interpretation. “One who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret” (1 Corinthians 14:13). As noted above, messages in tongues should not be given in church unless someone known to have the gift of interpretation is present.
Interpretation of tongues is required only for communications made in tongues by exercising the gift of tongues. It is not required for speaking in tongues as the initial sign of the baptism in the Holy Spirit or for speaking in tongues in one’s private devotions. See my April 23 post, “Baptism in the Holy Spirit – Speaking in Tongues,” on the three functions of speaking in tongues.