The Gifts of Tongues and Interpretation

The following is a summary outline of chapter 7 from Dennis and Rita Bennett’s The Holy Spirit and You (1971):

  • Speaking in Tongues Privately. Private tongues do not need interpretation, because their purpose is speaking to God, and communion with the Spirit, “uttering mysteries in the Spirit” (1 Cor. 14:2); for the “one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” (1 Cor. 14:4, NASB):–this is using tongues as a spiritual, mystical prayer in God’s presence, a private prayer language:–I want to add here, that in Augustin Poulain’s first part of The Graces of Interior Prayer, where he discusses contemplation, the first phenomenon associated with contemplation is “God’s Presence Felt.” Speaking in tongues is a contemplative prayer experience, with full concentration of the mind on God, and all distractions put out of the mind (of course, intense concentration on God doesn’t have to be there in order to speak in tongues, but it needs to accompany it, if “praying in the Spirit” is going to yield the full benefits of feeling God’s presence, and being absorbed in the “Cloud of Unknowing”, so that there may be “joy unspeakable and full of glory”—1 Peter 1:8).
  • Speaking in Tongues Publicly. Public tongues need interpretation; this is what Bennett calls “the gift of tongues,” because it is not only a blessing to the personal Charismatic Christian, but as a prophetic utterance, becomes a gift to the whole church congregation. 1 Corinthians 14:27-28: “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.” Verse 28 indicates, however, that in Charismatic worship, a Spirit-filled believer is at full Biblical liberty to praise and worship God through tongues, as the overflow of the Holy Spirit pours out of him or descends on him, provided that his tongues are controlled enough to be considered “keeping quiet in the church” and “speaking to himself and to God.” This is often how I worship during Sunday church services: “declaring the wonders of God” in an unknown tongue (Acts 2:11). Bennett says, “It is preferable that tongues and interpretation should not be used in groups of unbelievers or even uninstructed believers, without an explanation of what they are—either before or after the manifestations” (p. 85)—that is, no loud, outspoken tongues during a Sunday church service?; he shows a preference for exercising spiritual gifts during charismatic prayer meetings in small groups or at church (on Wednesday or Thursday nights?) (p. 88).
  • Interpretations of Tongues Can Convert Unbelievers. Sometimes a tongue and interpretation can have a mind-reading revelation that causes an unbeliever to realize that God is real, and often leads to their conversion. Isaiah 28:11: “With stammering lips and another tongue will He speak to this people”; 1 Corinthians 14:21: “It is written, ‘With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people’”; 1 Corinthians 14:22: “Tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not” (Bennett sees this last verse in reference to using the interpretation of tongues in a public church service where unbelievers are present—yet he generally recommends against it, maybe because most Charismatics have not learned the knack of interpreting tongues). If God enables a Charismatic to miraculously speak in a foreign language (happening as a matter of course, just as they are normally praying in tongues), and an unbeliever nearby hears and understands what is being said, it can take on the nature of a first-person prophecy from God to the individual, or may contain specific revelation about details in that person’s life that humbles him, and convinces him “that God is real, alive, and concerned about him” (p. 86). During a Pentecostal prayer meeting, a Buddhist woman from Japan overheard a woman praying in tongues, and it turned into Japanese, saying, “You have tried Buddha, and he does you no good; why don’t you try Jesus Christ?” The woman was amazed and converted that moment! (p. 86). 1 Corinthians 14:25: “As the secrets of their hearts are laid bare…they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” Acts 2:7-11: “Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!””
  • Tongues and Interpretation of Tongues Usually Happen in a Charismatic Prayer Meeting, with: (1) Praying for Someone, (2) Praying in Tongues, (3) Followed by an Impression, Inspiration, or Sense of Interpretation of What the Spirit is Saying to the Person You’re Praying for In Tongues (p. 88).
  • Singing in the Spirit. “The one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying?” (1 Corinthians 14:13-16). This passage teaches that tongues can be used to sing praise and thanks to God in worship, as is commonly done by Pentecostals and Charismatics (like myself); but it also says, if that’s all you’re doing, it won’t be beneficial to someone you’re standing beside in church service; so, do it in English too! “At times when an entire group joins in ‘singing in the Spirit,’ allowing the Holy Spirit not only to guide individual voices, but to blend them together, such harmony is produced that it sometimes sounds like the angelic choir itself!” (p. 89).
  • Interpretation of Tongues Defined. It is “bringing the meaning of what has been said through the gift of tongues at a public meeting. A person feels moved to speak or sing in tongues, and either he or another is given by the Holy Spirit the meaning of what has been said. He or she cannot understand the tongue. It is not a translation but an interpretation, giving the general meaning of what was said. The gift of interpretation may come directly into the person’s mind, in toto, or just a few beginning words may be given, and as the interpreter trusts the Lord and begins to speak, the rest of the message comes. In this way it resembles speaking in tongues—‘You speak, the Lord gives the words.’ Interpretation may also come in pictures or symbols, or by an inspired thought, or the interpreter may hear the speaking in tongues, or part of it, as though the person were speaking directly in English. Interpretation will have the same result as a prophetic utterance, that of: ‘edification, exhortation, or comfort’ (1 Cor. 14:3-5).” (p. 90). So, to break down Bennett’s view of the gift of the interpretation of tongues: (1) It happens at a public church service, usually. (2) Someone speaks in tongues. (3) Either that same tongues-speaker or someone else “interprets” the general meaning of what was said in the tongue; this is basically the exact same thing as inspirational, or even ecstatic prophecy. Although the tongues are not understood on a rational level, the Holy Spirit gives the message or the revelation of what was uttered in the tongue. This works in various ways psychologically through the person interpreting the tongue: (4) The entire interpretation, whether a phrase or sentence, immediately pops into the person’s mind, and he just speaks it out in the hearing of the church. (5) Or, in a more ecstatic fashion: “a few beginning words may be given, and as the interpreter trusts the Lord and begins to speak, the rest of the message comes. In this way it resembles speaking in tongues—‘You speak, the Lord gives the words.’” This may be more ecstatic, involving intense concentration and avoiding distractions, with the eyes closed:–the interpreter hears a couple words or two in his mind, speaks them out, then hears more words in his mind, and speaks them out, and hears more words in his mind, and speaks them out! This kind of interpretation is the traditional Pentecostal style of interpretation of tongues. I saw this once at a rural Church of God (Cleveland, TN) camp meeting in 2007; I know this is how the interpretation was given, because I went up and spoke with the tongue interpreter after the service, and asked her what it was like. This kind of interpretation was even recorded by the stenographers of early Pentecostal preachers Smith Wigglesworth and John G. Lake, and the interpretations would sometimes be up to 2 or 3 paragraphs long! (6) Interpretation may also come through closed visions, pictures, or random mental images that pop in the mind, mixed with a feeling of what the prophetic symbolism of the mental picture means. (7) A random inspired thought. (8) A miracle of hearing may occur like in Acts 2, where you hear the tongues speaker speaking in English! (This would only apply to people like missionaries hearing people who don’t speak in English normally). Two classic books which illustrate experiences of this are Stanley Frodsham’s With Signs Following and John Sherrill’s They Speak with Other Tongues. (p. 94)–I want to add here that Stanley Frodsham wrote other books on early Pentecostal spirituality, and could be counted one of the original “mystical theologians” of early Pentecostalism.
  • Decency and Order. “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). If the apostle Paul were speaking to modern-day Charismatics, he would say: “My dear brethren, I am so delighted to hear and see the wonderful gifts of the Spirit manifested among you. I couldn’t understand where they had gone when I was with those other churches—but please! Did that brother have to shout quite so loudly? I saw someone walk out of the meeting when he did! You had a public meeting and invited unbelievers, and then all of you spoke in tongues at the same time with no explanation! Did that show love and concern for your visitors? I am sure some of the people you were trying to reach thought you were crazy! Remember that the ‘spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet’ (1 Cor. 14:32), won’t you?” (p. 96).

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