1 Corinthians 12

Paul presents church truth in 1 Corinthians 12 in a most helpful and practical way. The assembly is said to be the body of Christ, with each member functioning according to the working of a sovereign God. It is imperative that this body maintain a state of health. When each believer is edified, the body will be healthy. (Compare Colossians 1:28, which emphasizes that "every" member must be healthy!) When the body is healthy, the life of Christ will be manifested, and God will be glorified as He displays Himself in and by means of the local assembly.

In making provision for the health and proper functioning of the body, God has gifted each and every believer according to His sovereign choice and will (1 Corinthians 12:7,11). In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 Paul gives us a list of gifts classified into three categories. This deliberate grouping into three classes is not obvious in the English text, but it is explicit in the Greek. The word translated "another" in verses 8-10 is most often the word allos, but the word heteros is used twice (in verses 9 and 10). Heteros is used in these verses to introduce a new and different class or grouping. Allos merely gives subdivisions of the same class. The gifts are classified in this way:


1 Corinthians 12:8-10
Category 1
Verse 8

to one
to another (allos)
  the word of wisdom
the word of knowledge

Category 2
Verses 9-10

to another (heteros)
to another (allos)
to another (allos)
to another (allos)
to another (allos)
gifts of healing
working of miracles
discerning of spirits

Category 3
Verse 10

to another (heteros)
to another (allos)
  kinds of tongues
interpretation of tongues

Tongues are listed in this third category of gifts. Thus the gift of tongues is grouped together with the gift of interpretation. The two go together. The one gift demands the other. Where there are tongues there must also be the interpretation of tongues (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:13, 27-28).

Consider first the gift of tongues. Verse 10 lists this gift and uses the expression "kinds of tongues" (gene glosson). This same expression is used in verse 28, "diversities [kinds] of tongues." The word "kinds" means "classes" and this indicates that tongues are classified into different kinds. Any linguist knows that there are many classes or kinds of languages. In fact, 1 Corinthians 14:10 makes mention of this very fact: "There are, it may be, so many kinds [gene] of voices in the world."

On the day of Pentecost it was evident that there were various kinds of tongues being spoken (Acts 2:7-11). Just as there are different kinds of reptiles (turtles, snakes, lizards, crocodiles, etc.) and yet they are all reptiles, so there are different kinds of tongues (Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, etc.) and yet they are all languages.

The complementary gift listed in verse 10 is "the interpretation of tongues" (hermeneia glosspn). The word translated "interpretation" is the Greek word from which comes the English word "hermeneutics," the art and science of interpreting the Scriptures (explaining, giving the sense, giving the meaning). When someone in the assembly spoke in a tongue, the immediate response would be something like this, "What does it mean? Please explain. I do not understand!" In other words, interpretation necessitates meaning!

Meaningless utterances cannot be interpreted. One cannot give the meaning of something that has no meaning. The Scriptures can be interpreted because the words and sentences mean something! It is impossible to give sense to "nonsense syllables." As an example, consider these two well-known Christmas carols:

"Gloria in Excelsis Deo"
                        ("Angels We Have Heard on High")

                        ("Deck the Halls")

The first of these can be interpreted or translated. It means, "Glory to God in the highest!" The second cannot be interpreted. It is meaningless.  It is senseless syllables.  It is merely the emotional expression of a person who is jolly.

Related to this noun is a verb (hermeneuo) which means "to interpret." It is often used in the sense of translation from one language to another (see John 1:38,42; 9:7; Hebrews 7:2).

Another listing of gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 12:28-29. Here the gifts are listed according to their edificational priority (some gifts edify the assembly more than others):

First – Apostles )
Second – Prophets )       Foundational Gifts--Ephesians 2:20
Third –Teachers )

Last on the list--"kinds of tongues"

In 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 a series of questions is asked, and Paul, in a helpful way, answers his own questions. The Greek construction demands a negative answer to each of these questions. Are all apostles? The answer implied in the text is "No [me]!" Only a few specially chosen men were gifted and sent forth as apostles. Are all prophets? No! Only some were gifted as prophets. Are all teachers? No! Are all workers of miracles? No! Have all the gifts of healing? No! Do all speak with tongues? No!

Not every believer was gifted with the God-given ability to speak with tongues. Some, not all, had this gift! Do all interpret? No! This word "interpret" is a strengthened form of the word which was discussed in verse 10. Here in verse 30 is the word "hermeneutic" with a prefixed preposition (dia) which serves to strengthen the verb. Thus the word diermeneuo means "to interpret fully, to thoroughly give the meaning of what is said."  Thayer gives for one of the meanings of this verb, "to translate into one’s native language."   [Joseph Henry Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Associated Publishers and Authors Inc., n.d.), p. 147.]   Such a usage is found in Acts 9:36 (NASV): "there was a certain disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas)."

"To interpret" means "to give the meaning of what is said." When something is said in a foreign language, then the interpretation takes the form of a translation, because in order to give the meaning of a foreign language, one must translate. Thus when a foreign missionary who knows no English comes to a church to speak, he must be accompanied by an interpreter, and this interpreter actually functions as a translator.

The Middletown Bible Church
349 East Street
Middletown, CT 06457
(860) 346-0907
Back to Table of Contents, God's Gift of Tongues
More articles under Doctrinal Studies