Why We All Need An Interpreter

Have you ever been in a country where you didn’t speak the language? Maybe you were travelling for business or you were a tourist and you found yourself in a situation where no one could understand you and you couldn’t understand them either.

Years ago, my wife and I went to visit our new niece in Montreal who had just been born. I was feeling a little nervous and even guilty that as a Western Canadian, I hadn’t thought it was that important to be bilingual and learn French when I was in school.

Once we arrived, I found myself falling in love with the city – the people, the music, the food and the culture. I kept asking myself, “Why didn’t I learn French?” In Montreal it wasn’t too bad because almost everyone was okay with switching to English for us, but when we got deeper into Quebec, in the Eastern Townships, we struggled sometimes to even order a meal because the servers couldn’t speak English. We would have to find someone in the restaurant who could interpret for us. At that time, preserving French language and culture was a hot topic in Quebec, so some people were less than thrilled that we didn’t know the language.

Language barriers are a huge challenge.

This can’t be overstated. Language barriers impact our ability to connect and have relationships with people. They create an awkwardness and isolation that no one enjoys. A language barrier effectively divides people and makes it nearly impossible to experience unity and togetherness.

In Genesis 11, when God had to confuse the people’s languages at the tower of Babel, they could no longer work or even live together and ended up being scattered all over the earth. There wasn’t anyone in Babel who understood multiple languages who could interpret for them.

Whenever there is a language barrier, you need an interpreter.

In The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, a man named Christian discovers he needs help on his journey from someone named Interpreter. He’s travelling from his hometown, the City of Destruction (earth) to the Celestial City (heaven) but he doesn’t yet understand the language, the customs or the ways of the City he’s travelling to. When he arrives at the Interpreter’s house, he’s shown several pictures to help him understand the spiritual things of heaven that are still foreign to him. These pictures empower Christian to continue in his journey.

When Jesus was with His disciples, He knew that His time on earth would be temporary. He knew that all His followers would need a Helper on their faith journey, so He sent the Holy Spirit to be heaven’s Interpreter for us. He would translate heaven’s language so we could understand everything God has given us in Christ.

“I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth…”  John 14:16-17a CEB

“I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now. However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak on his own but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come. He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and proclaim it to you.”  John 16:12-14 CEB

As the Third Person of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), one of the Holy Spirit’s roles on earth is to be God’s Interpreter who takes whatever He hears from the Father and the Son in heaven and speaks it to us in a way we can understand.

What qualities should an interpreter have?

The United Language Group[1] identified five qualities that every interpreter should have and when we look at this list, we see that the Holy Spirit is more than eminently qualified to be an Interpreter. In fact, this list is too easy for the Holy Spirit:

1. Amazing Language Skills. Not only is the Holy Spirit fluent in every language in heaven and earth, He also has the ability to speak to us in pictures – in visions and dreams.[2] And we know a picture is worth a thousand words.

2. Specialty Knowledge. To be a successful communicator, an interpreter should be very knowledgeable on the subject and ideally, the speaker they’re interpreting for.

Not only does the Holy Spirit know the Father and the Son, He has intimate knowledge of us too. This allows Him to be the best communicator between heaven and earth. Also, the Holy Spirit is omniscient. There isn’t a study or a field that the Holy Spirit would not have complete understanding of. When He speaks to us, there is nothing getting lost in translation.

Often when God speaks directly to us, we remember exactly when it was and where we were when He spoke. There is nothing vague or unclear when the Holy Spirit speaks to us. His words will burn in our hearts.[3]

3. Accreditation. To have confidence that your interpreter isn’t making mistakes or even making stuff up when translating, you want to know that the interpreter has credibility and is certified. Jesus Himself put His stamp of approval on the Holy Spirit coming to earth in place of Him – to speak to us on His behalf. So we can have full and ultimate confidence in the Interpreter.

4. Soft Skills. There are many intangibles that make a good interpreter such as empathy, listening, sensitivity, warmth and even humour. These give an interpreter the ability to read the room and are qualities that an app such as Google Translate or even an AI computer can’t have. Isn’t it great to know that the Holy Spirit is a Person not just an “energy” or an AI robot or a computer app?

5. Cultural Competence. In addition to knowing more than one language, an interpreter needs to know the culture they’re translating into.

Think of the hundreds, possibly thousands of cultures around the world and how God knows just how to speak the gospel to each one of them. Even here at Coastal, we see how the Holy Spirit has brought so many cultures and languages together in one church family. The Holy Spirit has given us an incredible sense of unity together that overcomes any cultural or language barrier.

Can the Holy Spirit help us interpret the Bible?

Have you ever had a hard time reading the Bible? Many of us when we pick up a Bible for the first time find ourselves struggling to understand it. That’s because we need the Holy Spirit to help us understand and interpret it.

Sometimes you’ll hear people say that there are so many ways the Bible could be interpreted, that we could never know it’s true meaning. The truth is that the Bible is not up for human interpretation. Only the Holy Spirit gets to interpret it for us.

“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:20-21 NKJV

An important tip for our spiritual journey.

Whenever you’re reading your Bible, pray first and ask the Holy Spirit to be your Teacher and to give you understanding of what you’re reading. You will notice a marked difference when you recognize your need for the Holy Spirit to give you illumination and when you acknowledge Him as your Teacher and Interpreter.

Enjoy the Journey!