The Interpretation of Tongues
July 17th, 1966 @ 8:15 AM
THE INTERPRETATION OF TONGUES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 14:1-13
7-17-66 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Gift of the Interpretation of Tongues.
In the twelfth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, Paul lists nine gifts of the Spirit [1 Corinthians 12:8-10]. And in verse 10, he says: “To some are given the gift of working of miracles; to others prophecy; to others discerning of spirits; to others kinds of tongues; and to others, the interpretation of tongues” [1 Corinthians 12:10]. These, along with the gifts of healings [1 Corinthians 12:9, 28], are the four sign gifts of the primitive church. And we have spoken of the gifts of miracles and the gifts of healing [1 Corinthian 12:9-10].
And last Sunday, the gift of tongues [1 Corinthians 12:10]. And the message this morning is the concluding part and a discussion of the gift of tongues, The Interpretation of Tongues.
Now this to us is so, for the most part, so out of the orbit of our Christian life until it demands a minute discussion that otherwise would not be necessary. We are familiar, most of us, with prayer, with Bible reading, with the commitment of our lives in devotion and adoration to our blessed Lord. But this is something else.
Now what is this interpretation of tongues [1 Corinthians 12:10], one of the gifts of the Spirit in the primitive church? If the tongue that is spoken was a normal language, to interpret it by someone who knew it would be no gift at all. An infidel could do it. An unbeliever could do it. If it were the Greek language and a bilinguist who knew Greek and Latin interpreted it, from Greek into Latin, that would be a common and daily and normal procedure.
It would not be a charisma. It would not be a gift: a charismatic gift. So it did not refer to a language that was spoken normally and interpreted by someone who knew it, into another language.
What is this gift of the interpretation of tongues? [1 Corinthians 12:10]. If it is, by the speaking in tongues, one spoke a language that he didn’t understand, it was unknown to him, but a real language, unknown to him, then, to interpret it by someone who did not know that language would be a double miracle. It would be a miracle for someone to speak a language that he did not know. And it would be a miracle, another one, for someone to interpret a language that he did not know. And this would be a very strange and round about way to edify the church. If, in the third place, if the unknown tongue was a series of ejaculations and disjointed syllables and sentences, then the gift of interpretation would comprise, taking those disjointed ejaculations and making them mean something to the church, to an understanding and intelligible ear.
So this interpreter would be one of two kinds. In the fourteenth chapter of the Book of  Corinthians, Paul says: “If a man speaks in one of these unknown tongues”—And he describes the tongue in verse 2—“for no man understandeth him” [1 Corinthians 14:2]. If a man were to speak in an unknown tongue, then it ought to be that he interpret, verse 5. “Greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret” [1 Corinthians 14:5]. So the man who spoke in that unknown ejaculation might have the gift of interpretation in which he himself would interpret what he said. In verse 13: “Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret” [1 Corinthians 14:13]. So the gift of the interpretation of tongues was sometimes possessed by a man who had the gift of unknown tongues. He himself interpreted what he said [1 Corinthians 14:13].
Then in verses 27 and 28, we learn that there were those in the congregation who had the gift of the interpretation:
If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.
But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church . . .
[1 Corinthians 14:27-28]
So there was the possibility that the man who spoke in these ejaculations would have the gift of interpretation and he would interpret what he said [1 Corinthians 14:13].
Then there were those in the congregation of the Lord who had the gift of interpretation. That’s what they did. And when the man who had the gift of tongues, spoke in those ejaculations, this man over here would interpret [1 Corinthians 14:27-28].
Now, there are two or three things to be said about these passages here regarding the interpretation of tongues. One: the man who had the gift of interpretation was known. And he was in the congregation. And whoever he was, all of the people knew him. And when a man stood up to speak in that unknown tongue, first it had to be determined that that interpreter was there. And if the interpreter was not there, then the man could not speak [1 Corinthians 14:28].
That’s the first thing we notice. The interpreter, the gift of interpretation of unknown tongues, the man who possessed that gift was known to all of the congregation. And he had to be present before anyone could speak in an unknown tongue in order to interpret. If he were not there, the unknown language, the unknown ejaculation, the sentences could not be uttered [1 Corinthians 14:28].
All right, a second thing that I noticed, and that is this: the same interpreter could interpret for all of those who spoke in unknown tongues [1 Corinthians 14:27]. It did not take an interpreter for this speaker and another one for this one and another one for this one. But the same interpreter was the interpreter for all of those that spoke in tongues [1 Corinthians 14:27].
Third thing I notice is this: that there could not be two interpreters, interpreting the same series of ejaculations and unknown tongues. And the reason for that is very apparent. In the verse before, in verse 26, it says that all of these people who came together, “somebody had a psalm, somebody had a doctrine, somebody had a tongue, and somebody had an interpretation.” Then he says, “Let all things be done unto edifying” [1 Corinthians 14:26]. So what happened is very plain: if a man spoke in an unknown tongue, and one man over here stood up to interpret, that had to be it, because, if there were another man there who had the gift of interpretation, and he stood up, they would be two different interpretations of the same unknown tongue, and you have got troubles in the church.
So Paul said, in order to cut out all of that bickering and arguing, when they spoke in unknown tongues, let there be one to interpret [1 Corinthians 14:27]. Then, of course, what he said was it. Nobody knew any difference. But if they had two interpreters, you have a problem on your hands. The whole situation, as you read it—the whole situation emphasizes and reemphasizes the tremendously significant observation I made in the sermon last Sunday morning: that all of it was a problem, and Paul is wrestling with it with all of his might.
So this morning, in the interpretation of tongues, we are going to apply it to us. First of all, we are going to look at Paul’s interpretation of tongues. Then I have a summation that shall close the sermon, looking at it through all time, and all history, and all the Bible, and all of the experience of this present hour.
All right, we are going to start with Paul’s interpretation of tongues. Next Sunday morning, this will be the whole sermon: the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. The passage on glossolalia, speaking in unknown tongues, is 1 Corinthians, chapter 12 and chapter 13 and chapter 14 [1 Corinthians 12-14]. And chapter 13, the beautiful “love chapter” [1 Corinthians 13:1-13], is as much as a discussion of glossolalia as the twelfth chapter and the fourteenth chapter [1 Corinthians 12-14].
Now Paul’s interpretation: first of all, let it resound in our ears that Paul said—1 Corinthians 14:19: “In the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue” [1 Corinthians 14:19]. Then Paul’s summation of the speaking in tongues—1 Corinthians chapter 13, verses 8, 9, and following:
Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
We know in part, we prophesy in part.
But when that which is complete is come, that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child—the tongues—I understood as a child—the prophecy—I thought as a child—the gift of knowledge; but when I became a man, I put away the babyhood of my life.
1 Corinthians 13:8-11]
These things belong to the childhood, to the babyhood, of the church.
Now let us go back to verse 8—verse 8. There is a most significant thing here in verse 8, that you would never see in the English translation: “Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail” [1 Corinthians 13:8]. In the English translation, you would think those verbs are just the same: “fail.” “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away” [1 Corinthians 13:8]. But Paul’s use of those verbs is not followed here, in the King James Version, out of which I read. So let’s look at exactly what Paul wrote: “Love never faileth,” ekpiptō. Piptō is the word in Greek which means “to fall.” And ek is “away from.” So, ekpiptō: to “fall away.” Love will never disintegrate. Love, true love, will never fail. It will never fall. It will never come to naught. It will never cease. Love never “faileth,” and that’s a good translation of ekpiptō. It is all right. “Love never faileth” [1 Corinthians 13:8].
But, “whether there be prophecies, they shall katargēthēsetai.” That is quite different from the ekpiptō, isn’t it? Whether you know Greek or not, you can tell the difference between ekpiptō and katargēthēsetai. Yet, both of those words are translated “fail” here in this King James Version. But, “whether there shall be prophecies, they shall katargēthēsetai” [1 Corinthians 13:8].
All right, now, the second of those triads there: “Whether there be tongues, they shall pausontai…” You get a different word there, pausontai—and, “whether there be knowledge, it shall katargēthēsetai” [1 Corinthians 13:8]. Now recognize that one because that is the same verb he used with regard to prophecies [1 Corinthians 13:8].
All right, now, let’s look at all of those three verbs, because he’s talking about prophecies. He’s talking about tongues. And he’s talking about knowledge. He’s talking about the gift of knowledge. He’s talking about the gift of tongues. And he’s talking about the gift of prophecy [1 Corinthians 13:8].
Now what does katargēthēsetai mean? Katargeō means “to be made useless,” katargeō, the Greek word, “to make useless.” Katargēthēsetai is the future passive of that katargeō. So the English translation of katargēthēsetai would be, “these prophecies shall be made useless” [1 Corinthians 13:8]. They have no meaning anymore. And he describes that.
Then he says, “the gift of knowledge katargēthēsetai,” the same thing: a future passive. They shall be made useless [1 Corinthians 13:8]. Now it does not mean that they are made useless in the sense that the prophecy failed, or that the gift of knowledge did not come to its fruition. What he’s talking about is, when a prophet speaks and the thing comes to pass, why, the prophecy is fulfilled. It has no other pertinence. It is done.
If I say, like one of those prophets did to his false enemy—“This time tomorrow, ye will die” [2 Kings 7:1-2, 17]—when you fall dead, brother, that’s it. There is no use for that prophecy anymore. Well, that’s what Paul is using here by the word katargēthēsetai, when the prophecy is made and it is fulfilled, well, there is no need for it anymore. It has become useless.
Now what does the word refer pausontai to? “Whether there be prophecies, they shall be made uselessness.” “Whether there be the gift of the knowledge, it shall also be made useless” [1 Corinthians 13:8]—don’t need them anymore.
For a man to come to the church today and say, “I have a revelation from heaven; I’m going to add a twenty-ninth chapter to the Book of Acts.” Or, “I am going to write a twenty-third chapter to the Book of Revelation.” And that’s what they tried to do back there in the Montanist heresy. Why, today, we would stand up and say, “But, my brother, this Bible is finished. God said so. And you are not to add to it and you are not to take away from it [Revelation 22:19]. So whatever your vision is, whatever your prophecy is, whatever your gift of the knowledge is, it has no use any longer, for the mature has come, the teleios, the complete, the perfect has come. I’ve got the Bible here in my hand, and we don’t need the vision. We don’t need the revelation. We don’t need that twenty-third chapter that you want to add to the Revelation, for it is complete—katargēthēsetai. The gift is rendered useless. It has no more permanency, no more need” [1 Corinthians 13:8].
Now Paul changes the verb when he speaks of tongues. And he does it in a way that is amazing. Pausontai is future middle indicative, and not passive. The other two verbs are passive: future passives. But this is a future middle indicative.
So what that word pausontai means is this: pauō means “to make to cease, to make to cease.” Now the middle: pausontai literally means that tongues shall make themselves cease. Or they shall automatically cease of themselves. They will just stop [1 Corinthians 13:8]. It will just stop of itself.
And in the next verse, which is verse 9, they have already ceased: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is complete is come . . .” [1 Corinthians 13:9]. The Bible is written, and the word “someday, shall personally, appear, then that which is in part shall be done away” [1 Corinthians 13:9-10].
So in verse 9, they’ve already ceased [1 Corinthians 13:9]. They’re not anymore. He doesn’t mention tongues. He did mention the gift of prophecy, which continued until the end of the Bible, until the Bible was written. He did mention the gift of the knowledge, that also continued until the Scriptures were written. But he does not mention tongues, for they shall automatically cease of themselves: pausontai.
Oh, by the way, I want to read Phillips’ translation of that, this verse 8 and 9: “For if there are prophecies, they will be fulfilled and done with”—katargēthēsetai: fulfilled and done with—“If there are tongues, the need for them will disappear”—Literally, they will automatically disappear themselves—“If there be knowledge, it will be swallowed up in truth”—If you have a little piece of knowledge, then you get the whole piece. You don’t think of the fragment anymore, for our knowledge is always incomplete and our prophecy is always incomplete [1 Corinthians 13:8-9]—“But when the complete comes, that is the end of the incomplete” [1 Corinthians 13:10]. That’s the way Phillips translates these verbs—which is fine, fine.
Now I want you to look at the apostle Paul, for we are talking about his interpretation of tongues. He says here that tongues will automatically cease, of themselves [1 Corinthians 13:8]. Now you look, this first Corinthian letter was one of the first letters that was written. It is preceded only by 1 and 2 Thessalonians. So Paul wrote this first Corinthian letter, and he said in that first Corinthian letter that speaking in tongues would automatically cease of themselves [1 Corinthians 13:8]. After he wrote 1 Corinthians, he wrote 2 Corinthians. Then, he wrote Romans. Then he wrote Galatians. Then he wrote Ephesians. Then he wrote Philippians. Then he wrote Colossians. Then he wrote 1 and 2 Timothy. Then he wrote Philemon.
All of those epistles, practically all of Paul’s epistles, he wrote after he wrote 1 Corinthians. But not one time did he ever mention tongues—never again. He closed it out in this passage here: “Tongues shall cease of themselves” [1 Corinthians 13:8].
It was a sign gift—and I haven’t opportunity to re-preach the sermon of last Sunday morning—It was a sign gift. And to the Jewish nation, God said: “I will speak in a language they do not understand”—in Isaiah 28:11. And Paul took that prophecy and applied it to Pentecost, and to Ceasarea [Acts 10:34-48], when God, as a sign, sent “a sound as of a rushing mighty wind” and sent a sign, as a fire parting, tongues of fire, and sent a sign of the gift of languages [Acts 2:2-8].
But there’s no need for the sign any longer. And tongues, one of those signs, ceased of itself. It just passed away [1 Corinthians 13:8]. As Paul describes, the signs belong to the babyhood of the church: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child [1 Corinthians 13:11]: but when I became grown, I do not need a baby rattler any longer. I do not need a sugar teat any longer. I do not need a pacifier any longer. I do not need a sign any longer. We are grown up now. The churches are growing up. We are growing up, and all of the authentications of signs have passed away” [1 Corinthians 13:8-11.] That’s what Paul writes.
Now I wish I had about five hours. I want to sum up now these things: the interpretation of tongues. First: the basic doctrine that lies back of speaking in tongues is altogether unscriptural and unbiblical. The basic doctrine that lies back of speaking in tongues is this: speaking in tongues is the sign of the filling. They called the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Is that true? That is not biblical. It is not scriptural. Now just for a minute, 1 Corinthians12:13, Paul says: “For by one Spirit are all we all baptized into one body.” By one Spirit are we all baptized.
Every one of us has received the baptism of the Holy Spirit—every one of us. If you are saved, if you are a Christian, if you are converted, if you have been born again, if you go to heaven when you die, you have been baptized by the Holy Spirit. You have been added to the body of Christ. All of us, he says: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” [1 Corinthians 12:13].
Now when I turn the page, and the conclusion of the chapter, Paul says: “Are all apostles? No. Are all prophets? No. Are all workers of miracles? No. Have all the gifts of healing? No. Do all speak with tongues?” [1 Corinthians 12:29-30]. No. No. But we all have been baptized by the Holy Spirit—all of us [1 Corinthians 12:13].
So the doctrine is basically wrong: that the sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. And if you haven’t spoken in tongues, you haven’t received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. That is not true. That is not scriptural. It is not according to the Word of God.
All right, second: I have read through the years of my life the autobiographies and the stories of the great giants of the faith. And not one time in my reading have I ever found or ever stumbled into or ever met that a great man of God spoke in tongues—not one time in my life, not once, not once.
I read of John Wesley’s experience at Aldersgate, one of the great spiritual transformations of history, of all Christendom. But I never met in that mighty experience that kind of helped change the whole course of the world and certainly delivered England from the bloody revolution that bathed France in crimson, I never read that John Wesley spoke in tongues, never.
In that incomparable autobiography of Charles G. Finney—and I think that every preacher that ever lives ought to read Finney’s autobiography—he speaks of those fillings of the Holy Spirit that he cried aloud for God. Yet in that marvelous autobiography I never met Charles G. Finney speaking in tongues.
In that incomparable experience of Dwight L. Moody, walking down Wall Street in New York City, asking for money to help rebuild those great institutions that had been destroyed by the vast Chicago fire—he had prayed for the in-filling of the Spirit and that experience came upon him, walking down Wall Street. And he went to a room of a friend, and great waves of the love of God overflowed his soul, until he also, like Finney, cried aloud, “I cannot bear it longer. I have not strength, O God, lest I die.” Yet in that great experience of Dwight L. Moody, I have never read that he spoke in tongues.
In that marvelous experience that R. A. Torrey—and he doesn’t use the right nomenclature. He speaks of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Bible speaks of the filling of the Holy Spirit. And he wrote a book on this. And with all of the tremendous scholarship and devotion and ministerial success that attended the way of R. A. Torrey, yet he vigorously pulls away from speaking in tongues. I cannot find it in the lives of great men of God.
Paul said they would cease of themselves [1 Corinthians 13:8]. And they did. When the sign was completed, its use was no more pertinent.
All right, again, in reading church history, and I am just saying this because it is a part of the truth of history, wherever the tongues movement has appeared, it has been looked upon by Christendom as a heresy. There is no exception to that. Wherever, in those first centuries, or in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the great mass of Christendom, the churches look upon glossolalia as a heresy.
Now my own attitude toward it: glossolalia, as it developed today, is an amazing development to me. I have studied it. I have read. I have looked at it. I have heard it. And it is an amazing thing to me.
Now I want to read to you from a tract that I received a day or two ago, “How Can I Receive the Holy Ghost”:
All you have to do, if you are saved, is to raise up your hands toward heaven, and turn your head up to heaven, and begin praising God just as fast as you can, and let your tongue go and let the Holy Ghost come in. Thousands of people receive the Holy Ghost this way. You can receive it, too, if you will just let the Holy Ghost speak through your tongue.
Then I read one of the great leaders today—I read his instructions how to receive the Holy Ghost: “Raise up your hands”—as this tract said—“and lift up your eyes and face to heaven. And then, begin talking. And talk louder and faster and faster and louder and faster and louder and faster and louder, and by and by, you have received it. You have been baptized with the Holy Ghost.”
And in one of the instructions that I read, they have an after-meeting for seekers. And the man who leads it takes the jaw of the seeker for the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and he loosens the jaw—and he shakes the jaw to loosen it. And then he says to the one that seeks the baptism of the Holy Ghost: “Now, you repeat after me, ‘Abba, abba, beta, beta, abba’—[speaking gibberish]—and keep on doing that, and you have got it. You have received the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
I am just saying in all honesty, modern glossolalia is a bewildering development to me. These things that I have just described, which are everywhere, they’re not unique or separate. These things, which are everywhere, are an astonishment to me. Is this the power and the unction of God?
Oh, oh, oh! Now they have made tape recordings of glossolalia, speaking in tongues. They took some of those recordings one time before the Toronto Institute of Linguistics. And after they studied and studied and studied, the Toronto Institute of Linguistics said, “It is no human speech.”
Christianity Today—which is a marvelous bi-monthly periodical—Christianity Today took tape recordings of these speaking in unknown tongues, and they took them to Washington before the linguistic geniuses of the American government, and played those recordings before them. And they said there is no human speech.
Now what is the effect of glossolalia? I could stand here by the hour and recount to you my own observation and experience.
This last February, I went to one of the great cities of the North. And I preached through the state evangelistic conference for that state, which conference was held in that city and in the largest church of our Baptist communion in that city. And while I was there, I said, “I did not know our Southern Baptist people had such a church as this.” It is the oldest Southern Baptist church in that northern state, in the capital city, and a most spacious, beautiful auditorium.
Why, I was delighted. Oh, I was encouraged! Then one of the deacons in the church came and took me out to dinner, he and his wife. And he recounted to me one of the most sorrowful situations. My heart literally bled. Glossolalia, speaking in tongues, had entered that great church and had divided it and split it and atomized it. And the church is a little fragment of what it was, struggling to carry on. In a sea of paganism, and in a sea of heathenism, where hardly anyone attends a Protestant service, and that glorious church, like a lighthouse on a hill, cut down, divided. For what? For speaking in tongues.
I have one other little word. I saw a great university movement fragmented, atomized by this speaking in tongues. A tremendous program of our Baptist people, in revival on the university campus, for that section of the world—I saw it fragmentize.
And I was appealed to for help in the tragic situation. And there came up to me here in Dallas, the leader of that movement. And he said thus and so and thus and so. And I said to him, out of a long conversation—I said to him, I said, “Young man, had you driven these many miles up here to Dallas to say to me, ‘Oh, pastor, I have been baptized’”—as I use his word. What he should have said: “I have been filled.” But we will use his word—“I’ve been baptized by the Holy Ghost.” He was a very wealthy young man, out of a very wealthy family.
“Had you come all these miles up here to Dallas and said to me, ‘Pastor, I have been baptized with the Holy Ghost. I am going to give ninety percent of what I have to missions and ten percent I am going to live on myself,’ I would have said, ‘Glory to God! Hallelujah! Oh, praise the Lord! Had you driven all these miles up here to Dallas and said to me, “Pastor, I have been baptized by the Holy Ghost. I am going to pray six hours every day on my knees, I would have said, ‘Praise God, hallelujah!’ Had you driven those miles up here to Dallas and said to me, ‘Pastor, I’ve been baptized by the Holy Ghost; I’m going to win at least three souls to Jesus every day,’ I would have said, ‘Praise God, hallelujah.’ But when you drive these miles up here to Dallas and say to me, ‘Pastor, I have been baptized by the Holy Ghost. I speak in tongues all over the place,’ I say, ‘Oh, oh, oh!’” I said, “It’s the most divisive thing in the experience of Christendom.”
And he said, “Not so!”
Why, I said, “This great university campaign has been fragmented, why? Because of you and your leadership.”
Wherever that glossolalia enters, wherever—here, yonder, in Africa, in South America, in China, in Indonesia—wherever glossolalia enters there follows a concomitant and a corollary, it will divide and tear up.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
It is like the dew on Mount Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there did God command the blessing, even life forevermore.
Dear people, after these years of the best studying of which I am capable, I tell you truly; Paul was right in his judgment when he said, “Tongues pausontai, they will cease of themselves” [1 Corinthians 13:8]. It was a sign in that primitive church, and it is no longer needed. It is no longer seen authentically, truly. Strong in the faith therefore and in the commitment of our lives to God, let us give ourselves to the great work as Paul on Areopagus, standing, speaking intelligently [Acts 17:19-34]. With my mind, all of the resources of my mind, and my soul, all the devotion of my soul, and my life, all of the commitment of my life, plainly, intelligently, understandably so that those who listen, maybe they will turn and be saved. God grant it for them, and the blessing to us.
Now we must stand and sing our invitation hymn. And while we sing our song, somebody you, give himself to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]; put your life in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; however the Lord might speak the word, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.