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My daily Bible reading took me to 1 Corinthians 14 this morning. This is Paul’s chapter on prophecy, tongues, and order in the gathering of the church. I noticed something I hadn’t grasped before related to tongues and interpretation I want to share with you. Here is the passage:

1 Cor 14:13-19 (ESV) Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. For 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 will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 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, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

For some reason, I separated speaking/singing with our minds from speaking/singing with our spirits in my thinking. I was reading this to mean we should spend some time speaking/singing with our native language and we should spend some time speaking/singing in tongues, and had based my private prayers times on this notion. I had ripped these statements from the context in which they were made. Paul’s guidance is about interpreting tongues in the gathering of the church.

Years ago I wrote a post on interpretation of tongues, having been assigned this chapter in my Greek 3 seminary class. I find I understood this connection at that time, but hadn’t internalized it.

The practice of churches coming out of the Assembly of God tradition seems to be exclusively shaped by 1 Cor. 12:10 “… to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” As I said in my previous post on interpretation, the supposed implications of this verse shouldn’t be allowed to override how Paul says the process does work. I included the disclaimer “usually” in the title to allow room for 1 Cor 12:10, but want Paul’s explicit guidance to shape our practice. Since people usually have an Assembly of God-like process in mind – someone speaks in tongues during the singing portion and you wait for someone else to call out the interpretation – when thinking about interpretation of tongues, it is worth quoting Paul’s guidance on the interpretation in chapter 14:

1 Cor 14:5 “The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be built up.”

1 Cor 14:13 “Therefore, let the one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.”

1 Corinthians 14:15 “What is the outcome then? I will pray with my spirit and I will pray with my mind also; I will sing with my spirit and I will sing with my mind also.”

1 Cor 14:27-28 “If someone speaks in a tongue, let only two or at the most three speak in turn, and let the one who speaks interpret. But if he is not an interpreter let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.” (Standard English translations do strange things here for some reason, probably copying the RSV. I address this in my previous post, linked above.)

As you can see, when Paul talks about the person who is to interpret tongues in worship, it is always the person who speaks or sings the tongue that is to interpret. We need to take Paul’s instruction into account in our churches.