Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

I have always heard this verse interpreted as a reference to praying in tongues.  This seems unlikely, however, since tongues can hardly be described as “groanings,” and tongues are “uttered.”  So what is Paul talking about?  I’ve heard people groaning before, but even those groans are uttered.  I can’t even make sense of an unutterable groan.

And who is doing the interceding?  It’s commonly understood that the Spirit is interceding through human beings, but as I read the text, the Spirit makes intercession “for” us, not “trough” us.  If so, what does it mean to say the Holy Spirit groans?

Does anyone have any insight on the meaning of this passage they would like to share?

In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul spoke of singing in tongues. Interestingly, I hear few Pentecostals do so. Do you? If so, do you tend to sing new and unknown songs, or mimic the tune and tempo of known songs?

For all you tongues-speakers out there, can you speak in tongues at-will, or do you have to be in prayer for it to happen? In the days after I first received the Spirit, I had to be in prayer before I could speak in tongues again. But as time went on that was no longer the case. I could start and stop speaking in tongues at-will. But I know not everyone experiences this. What has your experience been?

I would like to keep our attention focused on the passage discussed in my last post. Not only is there the question of 2-3 interpretations per service versus per judgment, but there is also a question of whether there are to be 2-3 messages in tongues followed by a single interpretation, or 2-3 successive couplets of tongues and interpretations. In other words, did Paul mean 2-3 people should give messages in tongues, followed by a single interpretation of those messages, or did Paul mean there should only be 2-3 tongues each accompanied by a separate interpretation?

In support of the single interpretation view, notice that Paul says “someone” (singular) must interpret. That may mean Paul had a singular interpreter and interpretation in mind. Of course, even if we granted that Paul had a single interpreter, it does not resolve the question at hand, for it could be that Paul envisioned a single person interpreting each message individually, so that one person is giving 2-3 interpretations.

In support of the more traditional understanding that there are to be 2-3 interpretations accompanying the 2-3 messages, Paul may have been using “someone” generically to convey the notion that these tongues must have corresponding interpretations, not necessarily one interpretation by a single individual. In support of this view, notice that Paul used “someone” two times in verse 27. He said, “If someone speaks in a tongue, it should be two, or at the most three, one after the other, and someone must interpret.” Clearly the first use of someone does not refer to a single individual or single message, because Paul went on to speak of 2-3 different messages, and noted that they were consecutive. If the context makes it clear that Paul’s first use of the singular “someone” does not preclude multiple messages and speakers, there is no reason to think his second use of the singular “someone” precludes multiple interpreters and interpretations.

Of course, we might even ask whether the question at hand is pushing the text too far. Indeed, one could make the case from this passage that the interpreter should not be one of the individuals who gave a message since Paul makes a personal distinction between the speaker and interpreter in verse 28. But when we look at 1 Cor 14:5 and 13 it appears that the ideal situation is one in which the speaker provides the interpretation. Which is it? I would argue that either is acceptable, and that we only see a contradiction when we try to squeeze hard and fast rules out of passages that are not meant to communicate as much.

So maybe we should not be reading the text with a fine tooth comb, thinking we can glean a hard and fast rule for how many interpretations we should expect. Maybe experience can be our guide in this area, given the obscurity of the text. And when it comes to experience, some people have experienced multiple tongues followed by a single interpretation, while others have experienced 2-3 couplets of tongues and interpretations. If both are the work of the Holy Spirit, then so be it.

What do you think?

When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church. 14:27 If someone speaks in a tongue, it should be two, or at the most three, one after the other, and someone must interpret. 14:28 But if there is no interpreter, he should be silent in the church. Let him speak to himself and to God. 14:29 Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said. 14:30 And if someone sitting down receives a revelation, the person who is speaking should conclude. 14:31 For you can all prophesy one after another, so all can learn and be encouraged. (1 Corinthians 14:26-31, NET Bible)

As a matter of practice, I have never heard more than three tongues and interpretations in the course of a service. This passage is usually cited to explain why. But does a proper interpretation of this passage limit the number of tongues-interpretations in a service, or does it merely limit the number of tongues-interpretations that can be given prior to an evaluation (judgment) of what was said by the body? The latter seems more probable given the context, and given common sense.

While Paul does not specifically mention a time for judging the interpreted tongues, he does mention a time for judging prophecies. Since Paul equated prophecy and interpreted tongues (1 Cor 14:1-5), and since both are revelatory speeches from God, and since Paul spoke of both in the same context, it stands to reason that the body must judge the content of both. Once the body has judged the content of the interpretations, however, why couldn’t more be given?

Logically speaking I don’t see why interpretations would be limited to a particular service. It seems rather arbitrary. If God provided us three tongues-interpretations, and we break for ½ lunch, and then return for more church, does the clock start over? Given the traditional interpretation of this verse, the answer would be yes. But that seems silly. Paul’s emphasis is not on how many interpretations can be given per se, but how many interpretations can be given before somebody evaluates their revelatory worth. After such an evaluation has been made, more could follow.

If you disagree with me, I’d be interested to hear your reasoning.

Have you ever had doubts about your own experience of speaking in tongues? Have you ever wondered if it was truly God, or just you making up sounds? What about others? Have you ever heard someone speaking in tongues, but doubted that it was the real deal? How do we tell the difference between fake and authentic tongues?

There are two ways we can test the validity of tongues. Both can be used to test the validity of our own personal tongues, while only one can be used to test the validity of others’ tongues.

Scripture teaches us that tongues are genuine languages. They are not meaningless sounds, or ecstatic gibberish. Languages employ a variety of sounds to compose a variety of words. If, when you speak in tongues, you find that you are repeating the same few sounds over and over and over again, it may indicate that you are not truly speaking in tongues. This same criterion can also be used to help us judge whether others’ use of tongues is legitimate or contrived.

Secondly, and more importantly, we learn from Scripture that it is the Spirit who enables us to speak in a new, and unlearned language (Acts 2:4). The words we speak have their origin with God, not man. We do not invent the language, and thus we do not invent the “sounds” that we speak.

In 1 Corinthians 14:14-15 Paul contrasted speaking in tongues with praying in his native tongue, saying the former prayer was with his spirit whereas the latter prayer was with his mind. He made the point that when his spirit prays, his mind is unproductive. This means our minds are not involved in the speaking process. Speaking in tongues is not something we have to think about. Contrast this to our native language. First we think about what we are going to say, and then we say it—in that order. The language of the Spirit, however, is not connected to the mind, but rather ensues from the spirit of man. That means we don’t think about what we are going to say in tongues and then say it, but rather we speak the words in tongues, and then upon hearing what we have spoken we think about the words or sounds we just heard. It is just the opposite of learned speech.

There have been many occasions in prayer in which I found myself thinking about things such as what I was going to do when I was finished praying, all the while speaking in tongues. Shame on me for not having my mind on prayer, but the fact that I could think on one thing while speaking another proves that the mind is not the source of tongues. If you find yourself having to think about what sounds you will speak next, that is a good indication you are not truly speaking in tongues. I hope such is not the case, but it is better to recognize this and seek the true experience than it is to persist in a false belief and experience, mistaking it for the true.

Neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania have placed speaking in tongues under the microscope. Their conclusion: brain scans confirm the sort of experience described by the practitioners. The area of the brain associated with volition and language was relatively inactive, while the consciousness region of the brain was not. Check out the article (free registration required).

Thanks go to Max for bringing this article to my attention.