Tongues Must Be Interpreted

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Paul’s statement gives us good reason to believe that he was referring to known languages and not some “heavenly” language (vv. 10-11). Each known language is different and yet it has its own meaning. No matter how sincere a speaker may be, if I do not understand his language, he cannot communicate with me. No one can be understood unless their messages are communicated in a manner that is meaningful to the listener. 

Paul reminds the Corinthians that it is better to be a blessing to the church than to experience personal “spiritual excitement (vv. 12-15).” If a person can speak in a tongue (language) he is not familiar with, his spirit (inner person) may share in the experience, but his mind is not a part of the experience. Paul states that anyone who has the gift of speaking in tongues should also pray for the gift of interpretation so he could tell people what has been said (v. 13). The word “spirit” does not refer to the Holy Spirit, but to the inner person (vv. 14-15). If the speaker is to be edified personally, he must understand what he is saying, and this requires an interpreter.

There is a proper place for the intellect in Christianity. In praying and singing, both the mind and the spirit are to be fully engaged (v. 15). When we sing, we should think about the meaning of the words we are singing. When we pour out our feelings to God in prayer, we should not turn off our capacity to think. Even if a person should bless the Lord by speaking a language that he doesn’t already know it would be impossible for anyone else to join in because no one would know what he is saying (vv. 16-17). True Christianity is neither barren intellectualism nor thoughtless emotionalism.


This is a reminder to me that when I speak, I need to say things in such a way that they can easily be understood, whether to my wife, my children or to those that I encounter.

I Corinthians 14:10-17 (English Standard Version)

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