VII. Interpretation and Prophecy of Speaking in Tongues





“Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy.  One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up” (1 Cor 14:5).


In 1 Corinthians, Apostle Paul encourages the believers to speak in tongues but more so to interpretation of tongues or prophecy.  According to Paul, speaking in tongues builds up an individual spiritual relationship with God, but interpretation of tongues and prophecy help build up the church.


Among spiritual gifts, there are some gifts for individual benefits and other gifts for the benefit of the whole church.  The gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers—are all for building up the church.  The Lord Jesus has focused more on edifying his church, though he cared deeply for building up individuals, and the apostles devoted themselves to various ministries with the sole purpose of building up God’s church (Mat 16:18, 28:19-20).


One reason for many problems prevalent in today’s churches is due to the church’s ministry chiefly focusing on programs for the individual salvation and growing the membership instead of gearing towards spiritual gifts and works to build up the church.  How then could we build up the church through interpretation and prophecy of speaking in tongues?


As explained in 1 Corinthians 14, interpretation and prophecy of speaking in tongues should encourage and comfort the individual believers (1 Cor 14:3) as well as be reproved, judged and bow down before God as their sins are revealed (1 Cor 14:24-25). 

That is, instead of individual believers actively giving their opinions and claiming their rights in the church, passively they will be led to be judged, reproved and humbly to bow down before God, completely surrendering themselves to God.  This radically shows the difference between the work of the Holy Spirit and the teaching coming from the humans.  Since the Holy Spirit is the spirit of destroying the strongholds, it breaks down the individual human opinions and thoughts.  Moreover, this leads us to surrender ourselves to the Christ (2 Cor 10:4).


“For the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:4-5).


However, the knowledge without the work and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, even if it is the knowledge of Bible, will only make men arrogant and cause them to show off themselves, love to get into arguments for the sake of justifying themselves, and will make them to attack others verbally (1 Cor 8:1; 1 Tim 1:5-6).  In the Bible Pharisees and scribes used to belong to this group of people (Luk 11:52).

Even in today’s churches, many conflicts are brought about by longtime seasoned church members with lots of Scriptural knowledge and spiritual gifts.  To deal with hardened spirits, arrogant and lazy, the churches would need the spirit of repentance.  After having committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, without the words of Prophet Nathan David would not have knelt and repented before God (2 Sam 12:7).

Like the trend in today’s society, at that time of the church in Laodicea people were corrupt and focused solely on their self-interests (Rev 3:17); thus, the churches would need the spiritual gifts working in people, which will reprove and discipline and lead them to repent (Rev 3:19-20).  Now I will share in detail of interpretation and prophecy of speaking in tongues.


“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom 8:26-27).


Speaking in tongues is the prayer the Holy Spirit prays for us, and it is the prayer or blessings the Spirit offers according to the will of God.  Thus, interpretation of tongues is not to interpret the sound of people speaking in tongues but the prayer of the Holy Spirit praying inside that person.  People ask, “Why is it that some people pray in tongues by the same sound over and over again; yet, why interpretation of tongues is offered in various ways?”  For those asking such questions, following is my explanation:


When speaking in tongues continued, the thoughts of this world and of men dwelling in us will begin to disappear.  The reason we do not hear the voice of the Holy Spirit immediately is because of the thoughts of other people dwelling within us; consequently, they have confused our minds, and as a result we do not understand the will of the Lord.


“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4).


The devil confuses the minds of people or tempts even believers.  Though Peter believed in the Lord, he was confused by Satan (Mat 16:23).  That is why it is necessary for us to stay alert and pray.  At all times, we would need to keep the bowl of our hearts clean.  Then our minds would always be filled with the thoughts of the Spirit, and we would be believers always evaluating things through the mind of the Lord (1 Cor 2:16).


When you keep praying in tongues experientially, after a while you would be able to interpret tongues, as well.  You would then understand through your mind your prayers in tongues as well as that of others.  When we are alone, not too many things come to our minds of other people; yet, when in conversation with others, we can grasp the flow of our dialoguing with other people.  Likewise, when we listen to other people speaking in tongues, we do not understand in the human language, though we may understand the thoughts processed during speaking of tongues.  That is why the thoughts processed in our minds while listening to tongues is reiterated into Korean (English).


How, then, can we know whether that is how it genuinely has happened?  Since tongues is a prayer about oneself, he would readily know whether that is true or not.  Reflecting on the author’s recollection of interpreting, not just one or two prayers offered in tongues, but more than hundreds and even nearly thousands, interpretation of tongues aided by the Spirit truly speak of people’s actual settings.  The Lord stated that we can tell every good tree from bad trees by its fruits (Mat 7:18-20).


Through interpretation of speaking in tongues, if we build up the church of God by such activities as repentance, judgment, comfort and encouragement, then we will be bearing the spiritual fruits. 


From the author’s experience of interpreting many tongues over the years, I have come to discover one common spiritual principal.  First of all, the Spirit prays for one’s individual soul (mind).  Moreover, each individual spirit begins to repent of his sins (Rom 14:10-11).  While listening to one’s prayer through interpretation of speaking in tongues, we develop an understanding what we would need to repent of.  At the next stage of interpretation, one is guided to pray acknowledging of receiving God’s grace and spiritual gifts, giving credits to God for his many blessings (1 Cor 12:7).


Interpretation of tongues further helps us know the kinds of spiritual gifts, powers along with spiritual duties we have received from God (Act 13:2).  As the next step, our prayers are then to acknowledge God’s grace given to our families and situations and consequently, giving thanks to God for all his blessings.  This agrees to God’s blessings mentioned in 1 John 3:2, where we receive God’s blessings on our spiritual wellbeing and our all things plus our health.


As the concluding stage of praying in tongues, the prayers are offered for the churches, their pastors and the world missions, or the ministers pray the prayers of giving glory to God.  For the souls being spiritually nurtured and matured, it is pointed out in the Bible that they are given the spiritual duties of helping the churches and ministers (Eph 6:18-19).  Therefore, the spiritual duties for building up the churches are given by the Holy Spirit to the spiritually mature believers (1 Cor 12:28), not given as artificial church positions to anyone. 


Many churches today wrestle with much conflict stemming from carelessly setting up leaders in their ministries for human reasons instead of evaluating their prospective spiritual leaders based on their spiritual maturity or ecclesiastical duties.  To avoid such conflicts, the churches should pay attention to the spiritual guidance of God and establish the people God has chosen.  The believers with the call from the Lord will bear many spiritual fruits on earth and be given the crown of righteousness in heaven (2 Tim. 4:8).


Prophecy is given to build up the church (1 Co. 14:4), upbuilding, encouraging and consoling the others (1 Co. 14:3) as well as reproving, judging and revealing the secret sins in one’s heart to lead them to repent before God (1 Co. 14:24).  Based on Paul’s words encouraging the believers to desire for the gift of prophecy, everyone could receive this special gift of prophecy. 


“Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy” (1 Co. 14:1).


In Scripture, Phillip the evangelist is known to have four unmarried daughters with the gifts of prophecy (Act 21:9), and the believers in the church at Ephesus were known to have prophesied, as well (Act 19:7).   Moreover, Agabus, one of prophets in Jerusalem gave a prophecy of a severe famine (Act 11:28), and in the church at Antioch, while worshipping and fasting, the prophets heard the voice of the Spirit, and in response they laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas and sent them out (Act 13:1).


Reflecting on the aforementioned activities in the Bible, it can be safely assumed that the early churches did not only do the teaching of the Word, but also evangelists and other believers used the gift of prophecy in building up the churches.  To the people in the church at Corinth, apostle Paul said, “Brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I speak to you in some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?” (1 Cor 14:6)


Prophecy, certainly, is not mixed up in teaching of the Word.  According to the words of Paul above, prophecy, revelation and teaching are all distinctively different from one another.  Furthermore, though apostle Paul gave a stern warning of telling women to be silent in churches (1 Cor 14:34), he talked of women having to veil their heads when they spoke in tongues (1 Cor 11:5).  Phyllis’ daughters spoke in prophecy while being unmarried, and clearly they were not given the positions of teaching in churches.


As a step further, prophecy was a gift everyone could do in churches, and people were instructed that, if revelation was given to another person sitting nearby in the gathering, the first person should keep silence, letting the next person to prophesy.  This process further points out that prophecy was not part of the teaching program in churches.  Therefore, along with teaching of the Word, prophecy was a gift given to the churches and exercised by the believers to build up the churches by comforting and reproving the believers as well as judging and leading them to repentance before God.  Today the gift of prophecy is treated almost like a superstition, and the main cause for this misunderstanding stems from the churches not following it biblically.


“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.  If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent” (1 Cor 14:29-30).


Nowadays, instead of building up the churches prophecy is used like a fortune telling for the benefits of individual persons.  Regarding prophecy, Scripture clearly states that prophecy should be done in the sense of plural forms, that is, the whole congregants doing it, or two or three people prophesying with the others weighing what is being said (1 Cor 14:29).  For this reason, prophecy is only done in part (1 Cor 13:9-10), and it can easily be misled due to human weakness.


Thus, the Bible reminds us of the following:  “Do not despise the words of prophets” (1 The 5:20) and “Test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil” (1 The 5:21-22).  This is further to say that we should not despise prophecy and carefully discern them through our faith by reflecting on the words of God (Rom 12:3, 6).


The reason the gift of prophecy has been tainted with that of fortune telling is because we do not faithfully adhere to the words of God.  Furthermore, by ignoring and blindly criticizing the gift of prophecy, today’s churches have been losing more than gaining.  Since Bible studies in our churches focus chiefly on knowledge-related Bible studies, we do not provide people with opportunities where the individuals come to genuinely reflect or be judged on their sins personally, have themselves be reproved and consequently repent for their sins before God.  As the churches concentrate more on honoring individual views not to upset them, instead of upholding the will of God they create more and more programs to appeal to the contentment of the crowd and lose the order of the churches and spiritual creativity in the end.  Moreover, as the churches do not nurture and raise up the potential spiritual leaders with their spiritual gifts, they are forced to be driven out of their churches and stay outside the churches as if they are “gangsters of spiritual gifts.”


Now it is a high time to raise up the spiritual prophets who can help build up the churches of God and guide the believers to repent and help them to return to God.  The author will talk more in detail on this topic in the near future. 


The author now will explain the difference on prophecy and interpretation of tongues.  As explained in the previous pages, interpretation of tongues is the praying inspiration of the Holy Spirit praying directly to God through our spirits, and this spiritual gift is understood through the consciousness (mind) of men.  Thus, interpretation of tongues is first to listen to speaking in tongues, and then whatever is understood inwardly should be reiterated through the lips of people doing the interpretation in the same manner a foreign language is being interpreted.  On the other hand, prophecy lets out the decipherable words in the way speaking in tongues occur.  Words stem from our minds.  When we put the things of our minds into words, we feel “relief” and “refreshed” inside. 


The Bible tells us that we have the mind of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 2:16).  From this mind of Jesus Christ within us, words are formulated, and these words in turn are delivered through our tongues, and we refer this as “prophecy.”  Thus, as if God directly speaks to us, prophecy is spoken of in the first singular form.  When observing the conversation between two people involved in prophesying and listening to its prophecy, it may appear to be odd, because two sinful human beings dialogue with one person, talking as if God is speaking at the moment, and the other person, kneeling on his knees, listening to the words of the other as if receiving the words of God at the same time.  However, when we prophesy in faith or accept the words as if directly coming from the Lord, prophecy will lead people to repentance and console them.  In the end, this obedient act will build up the churches (Rom 12:6).


As mentioned previously, prophecy should be done in the form of plural context with other people involved through discernment or weighing the contextual situation.  Thus, the safest way to receive the prophetic prayer is to pray directly to God through the guidance of the Spirit and receive the returned prophecy.  Then ask for two or three people with the gift of prophecy and reflect on their guidance in comparison to the Bible and prayerfully evaluate and discern them.  This procedure is at least one way trying to be faithful to the Scriptural guidance (Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 14:24-25, 29-30; 1 The 5:20-22).


“But if all prophesy, an unbeliever or outsider who enters is reproved by all and called to account by all.  After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, “God is really among you” (1 Cor 14:24-25).