spirits, tongues, and interpretation

spirits, tongues, and interpretation February 11, 2021

Sometimes the discerning of spirits seems difficult to comprehend.  One of the reasons is because the discerning of spirits is thought to be associated with spiritual warfare.  It does not have to be that complicated.

This is the third in a series on the Gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12.  I’ll offer a quick recap.  These Gifts are unique in three ways (and there are more).

First of all, Pentecostals and Charismatics generally agree that these Gifts are in operation in the corporate worship service.  They’re not necessarily Christian personality traits.

Second, as corporate worship Gifts, these are temporary.  So the Spirit uses them as needed in a gathering, and in the moment.

Third, anyone can operate in any of the Gifts as the Holy Ghost empowers and as the person is willing.

To read more about the Gifts of the Spirit and how they operate, take a look at the previous two articles.

  • Joseph Castleberry and others on the spoken word CLICK HERE
  • on the energetic working of the Spirit CLICK HERE

Now let’s focus on the final three Gifts of the Spirit in this list.

to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12.10, NRSV

vii. Discerning of Spirits

Dennis Bennett says, “The discerning of spirits is a kind of ‘police’ gift, to keep the enemy’s influence from causing serious problems in the fellowship.”[1]

The Gift discerning of spirits has wide applications including judging prophecy and other spoken words from the Lord.  This Gift is especially useful in judging the exercise of the Gifts, words from the Lord, and people in specific situations.

Stanley Horton says, “The word translated ‘distinguishing’ involves forming a judgment and is related to the Greek word used of judging prophecy.  It involves a supernaturally given perception, differentiating between spirits, good and evil, true and false, in order to make a decision.”[2]

In effect, we can discern between the Spirit of God, Christians, sinners, angels, and demons.

Sometimes the discerning of spirits seems difficult to comprehend

One of the reasons is because the discerning of spirits is thought to be associated with spiritual warfare.  It does not have to be that complicated.  The Apostle Paul gives us an example of how to discern in this Passage.  This is at least one place to start.

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.  1 Corinthians 12.3

Similarly, the Apostle John offers another clue for the discerning of spirits.

Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; . . .

Robert Allmann | Jesus Christ clinic | pixabay | 07.24.17

any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!  2 John 1.7

Jesus is Lord!  Jesus Christ most certainly came in the flesh, suffered a horrendous crucifixion, died for our sins, and now lives again!

The discerning of spirits does not have to be so difficult to understand.  To apply the words of Paul and John today, all the major world religions recognize Jesus.  However, the question is . . . What do they teach about Jesus?  Paul and John offer a couple ways that we can test the spirits.  How do you know if someone truly believes or not?  What do they confess about Jesus Christ?

viii. Kinds of Tongues

Paul Brooks is the Vice President for Academics at SAGU.  He states, “Biblical tongues may be human languages or even angelic languages.”[3]

To speak in tongues requires surrender.  Someone yields to the Holy Spirit.

“When we pray in tongues our spirit prays, since our spirit is the medium through which the gift operates, and thus involves yielding our spirits and our wills to God as well as our tongues and vocal organs for the operation of the gift.”[4]

There are three types of tongues in Scripture.

  1. There are tongues as a heavenly language or prayer language – between me and God.  This is for everyone, and is the initial evidence or sign of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
  2. We can speak in tongues, and unknowingly speak another human language.
  3. Speaking in tongues can also be a Gift of the Spirit, which always leads to an interpretation, as stated in this Passage.

Classical Pentecostalism makes this key distinction

The prayer language is something entirely different than tongues that are meant for interpretation in a corporate worship service.

In fact, the Apostle Paul makes this very distinction in the middle of an amazing chapter focusing on prophecy and tongues in the corporate worship service (1 Corinthians 14).  Although he is offering guidelines for utterances in the gathering, he suddenly makes a very personal statement.

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you; nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.  1 Corinthians 14.18-19

Paul does not forbid speaking in tongues.  On the other hand his prayer life is filled with the phenomenon.  However, in the congregation the edification of the believers is the priority.  Nonetheless, his statement about praying in tongues stands apart in this chapter.  In a way, it challenges us to incorporate tongues into our everyday prayer life.  Furthermore, Paul’s statement presupposes that any Christian can pray in tongues.

Nonetheless, in a worship service, we pair tongues with an interpretation.

ix. Interpretation of Tongues

Paul Brooks states, “The understanding is common that interpretation of tongues is not a translation of tongues.”[5]

This is important to bear in mind.  An interpretation is not typically a literal translation.  Rather, the meaning of what was spoken in tongues is given.

In public worship, interpretation of tongues follows a message in tongues.

“A step of faith may be required also in that the Spirit very often gives only a few words of the interpretation at first.  Then, when these are given in faith, the rest comes as the Spirit gives the interpretation.”[6]  Just as speaking in tongues requires surrender to the Holy Spirit, it’s also an act of faith to offer the interpretation, especially if only the first couple words are revealed at first.

There is a purpose for tongues and interpretation.  Paul says they are a sign for unbelievers, a phenomenon that captures their attention.

Tongues, then, are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers.  1 Corinthians 14.22

Closing Prayer

Precious Holy Spirit, He who bestows Gifts on the people of God, thank You for operating in mysterious and miraculous ways.  Teach us to focus on surrender rather than power . . . and on the Giver above the Gifts . . . so that we may be positioned to participate with You in renewal and the good work.  Be glorified among us and through us sweet Spirit.  Amen

Joseph Castleberry and others on the spoken word CLICK HERE

on the energetic working of the Spirit CLICK HERE

Meet Jared


[1] Dennis J. Bennett, Holy Spirit And You (Orlando, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1987), 146
[2] Stanley M. Horton, What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit, Rev. ed. (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2005), 277.
[3] M. Paul Brooks, “Charismatic Utterances: Prophecy, Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues,” in Pentecostal Gifts in a Postmodern Era, ed. James K. Bridges (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2004), 108.
[4] Horton, 278-279.
[5] Brooks, 110.
[6] Horton, 279.

Browse Our Archives