What is the “Interpretation of Tongues” Spiritual Gift? Discover Its Purpose and How to Activate It

“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit… to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”

—1 Corinthians 12:7-11 (emphasis added)

Have you read 1 Corinthians 12:10 and asked, “What is the ‘the interpretation of tongues’ spiritual gift?” You aren’t alone. First, know that every good gift is from the Father above. Every gift is given to bring life, encouragement, and a deeper relationship and reliance on the Lord. Every good gift is intended to be used to glorify God.

The Word of God promises that the Spirit helps you when you don’t know what to pray for (Romans 8:26) and gives you the words to say at the moment when you need them (Luke 12:12). Holy Spirit searches your heart and knows the mind of God and intercedes for you before the Righteous Judge.

With that being said, you can better understand the interpretation of tongues, and its purpose, and have the heart to desire it because it is to help you better connect and know the Father’s heart.

Why You Need to Understand the Spiritual Gift of the Interpretation of Tongues

In the end times, our prayer life will need to be supercharged by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is the activator of God’s Word. We know we do not war against flesh and blood but against powers of darkness. Therefore, our armor and offensive weapons must be aligned with the Spirit of God–the Lord of Angel Armies–if we intend to have victory in this coming season.

The best offensive weapons in warfare are the Word and prayer.

Paul tells us to “pray always in the Spirit.” When we pray in the Spirit, we might pray in tongues or our unique prayer language. The Holy Spirit knows what we are praying and will give us the “mind of Christ” to interpret what we are praying. This grows our intimacy with the Father.

On other occasions, the Holy Spirit may give someone a word in a heavenly language and give another the gift of interpreting the tongue–or that heavenly language. This is also a way to connect to the Father-heart of God.

Ask the Lord to give you and instruct you in the interpretation of tongues–His heavenly language–to better know His heart for His people so that He will receive the glory.

The Gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12

First Corinthians 12:7-10 lists nine gifts of the Spirit. It is important to remember that the Holy Spirit imparts gifts to Believers as He wills.

  • “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”—1 Corinthians 12:11 (emphasis added)

The Holy Spirit is our Intercessor and Advocate. He distributes the interpretation of tongues spiritual gift according to His plan. It is not given to us because we’ve earned it, but we can activate the gift, and God wants us to ask for it and steward it well. He wants us to seek the Father’s heart and understand and explain His revelation to us and others. He wants us to explain His promises to others, knowing His covenant promises are true. The Holy Spirit permanently resides within you, and God intends you to use this gift to unlock your Kingdom destiny.

For this gift to operate in your life, you must know how it manifests and what purpose it serves for the Church in our modern age. Let’s examine what God’s Word reveals about the spiritual gift of interpretation of tongues.

What is the Interpretation of Tongues?

The interpretation of tongues is a supernatural ability—distributed by the Holy Spirit who dwells in you—to decipher and interpret a language that is otherwise unknown to the person operating in the gift.

This is not a translation, meaning there is no word-for-word explanation for the unknown language. Rather, there is the ability to recognize the intent and message of the language being spoken.

The apostle Paul gives a detailed description of the gift of interpretation of tongues in his letter to the Corinthians…

“In the law it is written: ‘With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,’ says the Lord.

“Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all.”

—1 Corinthians 14:21-24

Paul is quoting Isaiah 28:11-12 here, which recounts Assyria (a people who spoke a language not understood by Israel) defeating the rebellious Israelites. Based on this, speaking in another tongue is a sign to unbelievers, while the gift of prophecy is for Believers.

In other words, in this passage, the gift of the interpretation of tongues is to discern and reveal God’s truth to unbelievers.

It is important to note that this gift comes and goes as the Holy Spirit distributes it. Meaning that just because you have been able to interpret different kinds of tongues in one situation does not always mean that you will in the next situation.

What is the Purpose of the Interpretation of Tongues?

Man holding up a microphone, talking about the gift of interpretation of tongues.

The purpose of all spiritual gifts is for the edification of the Church. The interpretation of tongues accomplishes this by affirming God’s ultimate power and authority to unbelievers. The gift is also used in prayer as the Holy Spirit reveals the heart behind what you are praying.

“And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.”

—1 Corinthians 14:25

Does the Interpretation of Tongues Operate with Other Gifts of the Spirit?

Yes, the gift of interpretation of tongues always operates in agreement with the gift of speaking in different kinds of tongues. However, it also operates in tandem with many other gifts.

Quite often, you will see the interpretation of tongues reveal a word of wisdom or a word of knowledge, witnessing to Believers and strengthening their faith.

Ways to Activate the Interpretation of Tongues

The key to activating this spiritual gift is to earnestly desire it, then petition the Lord for the gift to manifest in your life. However, if you feel that you have been diligently seeking this spiritual gift and it is not manifesting in your life, consider asking the Spirit to reveal what is blocking it. Expect Him to reveal this knowledge to you for a purpose.

As He exposes the obstacles that may be standing in the way, be ready to A.C.T.—apply, change, and transform.

  • A- Apply: Apply the truths that the Spirit revealed to you. Have confidence in HIs guidance. Ask Him for wisdom and discernment as you spend time in His presence. Finally, repent for anything that feels unresolved.
  • C- Change: Make the necessary changes in your life that will allow your spiritual gift to manifest. Ask God to reveal any roadblocks that may be getting in the way of your ability to operate in in the gift of interpretation of tongues.
  • T- Transform: Petition the Holy Spirit to resolve any doubt and make you a vessel of truth. Be mindful of opportunities to develop and strengthen your gifts through obedience.

The Takeaway

The interpretation of tongues is a supernatural ability to decipher and interpret a language that is otherwise unknown to the person. This gift can be given to the same person that is operating in the gift of different kinds of tongues or to a different Believer.

The manifestation of this gift is variable and is only distributed through the Holy Spirit. Its purpose is to reveal God’s true character to unbelievers by serving as a witness of His absolute power and authority over all things.