Adam Clarke Commentary
1 Corinthians 14
We should earnestly desire spiritual gifts; but prophesying is to be preferred, because it is superior to the gift of tongues, 1 Corinthians 14:1, 1 Corinthians 14:2. Prophesying defined, 1 Corinthians 14:3. How to regulate this supernatural gift of tongues, in teaching for the edification of the Church, 1 Corinthians 14:4-13. In praying and giving thanks, 1 Corinthians 14:14-17. Those who speak with tongues should interpret that others may be edified, 1 Corinthians 14:18-22; What benefit may accrue from this in the public assemblies, 1 Corinthians 14:23-28. How the prophets or teachers should act in the Church, 1 Corinthians 14:29-33. Women should keep silence in the church, 1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Corinthians 14:35. All should be humble, and every thing should be done in love, 1 Corinthians 14:36-40.
Follow after charity - Most earnestly labor to be put in possession of that love which beareth, believeth, hopeth, and endureth all things. It may be difficult to acquire, and difficult to retain this blessed state, but it is essential to your present peace and eternal happiness. This clause belongs to the preceding chapter.
Desire spiritual gifts - Ye are very intent on getting those splendid gifts which may add to your worldly consequence, and please your carnal minds - but labor rather to get the gifts of God's Spirit, by which ye may grow in grace, and be useful to others - and particularly desire that ye may prophesy - that ye may be able to teach and instruct others in the things of their salvation.
For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue - This chapter is crowded with difficulties. It is not likely that the Holy Spirit should, in the church, suddenly inspire a man with the knowledge of some foreign language, which none in the church understood but himself; and lead him to treat the mysteries of Christianity in that language, though none in the place could profit by his teaching.
Dr. Lightfoot's mode of reconciling these difficulties is the most likely I have met with. He supposes that by the unknown tongue the Hebrew is meant, and that God restored the true knowledge of this language when he gave the apostles the gift of tongues. As the Scriptures of the Old Testament were contained in this language, and it has beauties, energies, and depths in it which no verbal translation can reach, it was necessary, for the proper elucidation of the prophecies concerning the Messiah, and the establishment of the Christian religion, that the full meaning of the words of this sacred language should be properly understood. And it is possible that the Hebrew Scriptures were sometimes read in the Christian congregations as they were in the Jewish synagogues; and if the person who read and understood them had not the power and faculty of explaining them to others, in vain did he read and understand them himself. And we know that it is possible for a man to understand a language, the force, phraseology, and idioms of which he is incapable of explaining even in his mother tongue. We shall see, in the course of these notes, how this view of the subject will apply to the illustration of the apostle's words throughout the chapter.
Speaketh not unto men, but unto God - None present understanding the language, God alone knowing the truth and import of what he says: -
In the spirit he speaketh mysteries - Though his own mind (for so πνευματι is understood here by many eminent critics) apprehends the mysteries contained in the words which he reads or utters; but if, by the spirit, we understand the Spirit of God, it only shows that it is by that Spirit that he is enabled to speak and apprehend these mysteries. See the note on 1 Corinthians 14:19.
But he that prophesieth - The person who has the gift of teaching is much more useful to the Church than he is who has only the gift of tongues, because he speaks to the profit of men: viz. to their edification, by the Scriptures he expounds; to their exhortation, by what he teaches; and to their comfort, by his revelation. - Whitby. I must here refer to my sermon on this text, intitled, "The Christian Prophet and his Work," in which I have endeavored to consider the whole of this subject at large.
He that speaketh in an unknown tongue - In the Hebrew for instance, the knowledge of the depth and power of which he has got by a Divine revelation, edifieth himself by that knowledge.
But he that prophesieth - Has the gift of preaching.
Edifieth the Church - Speaketh unto men to edification, exhortation, and comfort, 1 Corinthians 14:3.
I would that ye all spake with tongues - The word θελω does not so much imply a wish or desire, as a command or permission. As if he had said: I do not restrain you to prophesying or teaching though I prefer that; but I give you full permission to speak in Hebrew whenever it is proper, and when one is present who can interpret for the edification of the Church, provided yourselves have not that gift, though you understand the language. The apostle said tongue, in the singular number, 1 Corinthians 14:2, 1 Corinthians 14:4, because he spoke of a single man; now he says tongues, in the plural number, because he speaks of many speaking; but he has the same meaning in both places. - Lightfoot.
Greater is he that prophesieth - A useful, zealous preacher, though unskilled in learned languages, is much greater in the sight of God, and in the eye of sound common sense, than he who has the gift of those learned tongues; except he interpret: and we seldom find great scholars good preachers. This should humble the scholar, who is too apt to be proud of his attainments, and despise his less learned but more useful brother. This judgment of St. Paul is too little regarded.
Speaking with tongues - Without interpreting.
What shall I profit you? - i.e. I shall not profit you;
Except I shall speak to you either by revelation - Of some secret thing; or by knowledge, of some mystery; or by prophesying, foretelling some future event; or by doctrine, instructing you what to believe and practice. - See Whitby. These four words are taken in different acceptations by learned men. The general sense of the terms is that given above: but the peculiar meaning of the apostle is perhaps not easily discerned.
And even things without life - I may, as if he had said, illustrate this farther by referring to a pipe or harp; if these were to utter mere sounds without order, harmony, or melody, though every tone of music might be in the sounds, surely no person could discern a tune in such sounds, nor receive pleasure from such discords: even so is the person who speaks in an unknown tongue, but does not interpret. His speech tends no more to edification than those discordant and unmeaning sounds do to pleasure and delight.
If the trumpet give an uncertain sound - If, when the soldier should prepare himself for the battle, the trumpet should give a different sound to that which is ordinarily used on such occasions, the soldier is not informed of what he should do, and therefore does not arm himself; consequently, that vague, unintelligible sound of the trumpet, is of no use.
Likewise ye - If ye do not speak in the Church so as to be understood, your labor is useless; ye shall speak into the air - your speech will be lost and dissipated in the air, without conveying any meaning to any person: there will be a noise or sound, but nothing else. Gifts of that kind, thus used, are good for nothing.
There are, it may be - Ει τυχοι, For example.
So many kinds of voices - So many different languages, each of which has its distinct articulation, pronunciation, emphasis, and meaning; or there may be so many different nations, each possessing a different language, etc.
If I know not the meaning of the voice - Την δυναμιν της φωνης, The power and signification of the language.
I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian - I shall appear to him, and he to me, as a person who had no distinct and articulate sounds which can convey any kind of meaning. This observation is very natural: when we hear persons speaking in a language of which we know nothing, we wonder how they can understand each other, as, in their speech, there appears to us no regular distinction of sounds or words. For the meaning and origin of the word barbarian, see the note on Acts 28:2.
For as much as ye are zealous - Seeing ye affect so much to have spiritual gifts, seek that ye may get those by which ye may excel in edifying the Church.
Pray that he may interpret - Let him who speaks or reads the prophetic declarations in the Old Testament, in that tongue in which they were originally spoken and written, pray to God that he may so understand them himself, and receive the gift of interpretation, that he may be able to explain them in all their depth and latitude to others.
For if I pray in an unknown tongue - If my prayers are composed of sentences and sayings taken out of the prophets, etc., and in their own language - my spirit prayeth, my heart is engaged in the work, and my prayers answer all the purpose of prayers to myself; but my understanding is unfruitful to all others, because they do not understand my prayers, and I either do not or cannot interpret them. See the note on 1 Corinthians 14:19.
He that occupieth the room of the unlearned - One who is not acquainted with the language in which you speak, sing, or pray.
Say Amen - Give his assent and ratification to what he does not understand. It was very frequent in primitive times to express their approbation in the public assemblies by Amen. This practice, soberly and piously conducted, might still be of great use in the Church of Christ.
This response was of the highest authority and merit among the Jews; they even promised the remission of all sins, the annihilation of the sentence of damnation, and the opening of the gates of paradise, to those who fervently say Amen. And it is one of their maxims that "greater is he who says Amen than he who prays." See many testimonies of this kind in Schoettgen. Now, allowing that this was of so much consequence in the time of St. Paul, it was a very serious matter for a person to be in a congregation where prayer was offered, who could not say Amen, because the prayers were in a language which he did not understand.
Thou verily givest thanks well - Because he felt gratitude, and, from a sense of his obligation, gave praise to God; but because this was in an unknown tongue, those who heard him received no edification.
I speak with tongues more than ye all - He understood more languages than any of them did: and this was indispensably necessary, as he was the apostle of the Gentiles in general, and had to preach to different provinces where different dialects, if not languages, were used. In the Hebrew, Syriac, Greek, and Latin, he was undoubtedly well skilled from his education; and how many he might understand by miraculous gift we cannot tell. But, even literally understood, it is very probable that he knew more languages than any man in the Church of Corinth.
Yet in the church - As the grand object of public worship is the edification of those who attend, five words spoken so as to convey edification, were of much more consequence than ten thousand which, not being understood, could convey none. By the word γλωσση, tongue, to which we add unknown, I suppose the apostle always means the Hebrew, for the reasons offered in the note on 1 Corinthians 14:1.
One of the greatest difficulties, says Bishop Pearce, in this epistle is contained in the words πνευμα and νους, spirit and understanding, which are frequently used in this chapter; and fixing the true meaning of these words will solve the difficulty. In this verse the apostle explains λαλειν τῳ νοΐ, to speak with the understanding, by ἱνα αλλους κατηχησω, that I might teach others; so that the sense of νους, understanding, seems to be, that understanding which the hearer has of what is said; and this sense will agree well with, I will sing with the spirit, and with the understanding, 1 Corinthians 14:15.
He observes also that πνευμα spirit, and νους, understanding, have a sense opposite to each other; so that if νους is rightly rendered, the understanding which another has of what is said; then πνευμα will signify a man's own mind, i.e. his own understanding of what he himself speaks; and this sense agrees well with 1 Corinthians 14:2; : In the spirit he speaketh mysteries.
Be not children in understanding - There are three words here to which we must endeavor to affix the proper sense.
But in understanding - Τελειοι γινεσθε, Be ye perfect men, whose vigor of body, and energy of mind show a complete growth, and a well cultivated understanding.
In the law it is written - But the passage quoted is in Isaiah 28:11. Here is no contradiction, for the term תירה torah, Law, was frequently used by the Jews to express the whole Scriptures, law, prophets, and hagiographia; and they used it to distinguish these sacred writings from the words of the scribes.
With men of other tongues - Bishop Pearce paraphrases this verse as follows: "With the tongues of foreigners and with the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people; and yet, for all that, will they not hear me, saith the Lord." To enter into the apostle's meaning we must enter into that of the prophet. The Jewish people were under the teaching of the prophets who were sent from God; these instructed, reproved, and corrected them by this Divine authority. They however became so refractory and disobedient that God purposed to cast them off, and abandon them to the Babylonians: then, they had a people to teach, correct, and reprove them, whose language they did not understand. The discipline that they received in this way was widely different from that which they received while under the teaching of the prophets and the government of God; and yet for all this they did not humble themselves before their Maker that this affliction might be removed from them.
Wherefore tongues are for a sign - The miraculous gift of tongues was never designed for the benefit of those who have already believed, but for the instruction of unbelievers, that they might see from such a miracle that this is the work of God; and so embrace the Gospel. But as, in the times of the prophet, the strange Babylonish tongues came in the way of punishment, and not in the way of mercy; take heed that it be not the case now: that, by dwelling on the gift, ye forget the Giver; and what was designed for you as a blessing, may prove to you to be a curse. For if, because ye have the gift of tongues, ye will choose for your own aggrandizement to use them in the public congregation where none understands them, God may curse your blessings.
Prophesying - Teaching the things of God in a known language is of infinitely more consequence than speaking in all the foreign tongues in the universe.
Will they not say that ye are mad? - So they well might, finding a whole assembly of people talking languages which those who had most need of instruction could not understand.
But if all prophecy - If all those who teach do it in the tongue which all understand; if an unbeliever, or one who knows nothing of the sacred language, come in and hear things just suited to his own state, he is convicted by all, and he is judged by all.
And thus are the secrets of his heart - As these, who were the prophets or teachers, had often the discernment of spirits, they were able in certain cases, and probably very frequently, to tell a man the secrets of his own heart; and, where this was not directly the case, God often led his ministers to speak those things that were suitable to the case before them, though they themselves had no particular design. The sinner, therefore, convinced that God alone could uncover the secrets of his heart, would be often obliged to fall down on his face, abashed and confounded, and acknowledge that God was truly among them. This seems to be the plain meaning of the passages before us.
How is it - every one of you hath a psalm, etc. - Dr. Lightfoot understands this in the following manner: When the congregation came together, some were for spending the time in psalmody; others in explaining particular doctrines; others in reading, praying, or speaking in the Hebrew tongue; others were curious to hear of farther revelations; and others wished to spend the time in the interpretation of what had already been spoken. This may be specious, but to me it is not satisfactory. It seems more likely that, when the whole Church came together, among whom there were many persons with extraordinary gifts, each of them wished to put himself forward, and occupy the time and attention of the congregation: hence confusion must necessarily take place, and perhaps not a little contention. This was contrary to that edifying which was the intention of these gifts.
Speak in an unknown tongue - The Hebrew, as has already been conjectured.
Let it be by two; or at the most by three, and that by course - Let only two or three in one assembly act in this way, that too much time may not be taken up with one exercise; and let this be done by course, the one after the other, that two may not be speaking at the same time: and let one interpret for all that shall thus speak.
But if there be no interpreter - If there be none present who can give the proper sense of this Hebrew reading and speaking, then let him keep silence, and not occupy the time of the Church, by speaking in a language which only himself can understand.
Let the prophets - Those who have the gift of speaking to men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort; 1 Corinthians 14:3.
Two or three - As prophesying implied psalmody, teaching, and exhortation, Dr. Lightfoot thinks that the meaning of the place is this: Let one sing who has a psalm; let another teach who has a doctrine; and let a third exhort, or comfort, who has a gift of that kind.
And let the other judge - The other prophets, or qualified persons, judge of the propriety of what had been spoken; or let them discern, διακρινετωσαν, how the revelation under the new covenant confirmed and illustrated the revelation granted under the Old Testament. It appears to have been taken for granted, that a man might pretend to this spirit of prophecy who was not sent of God; and therefore it was the duty of the accredited teachers to examine whether what he spoke was according to truth, and the analogy of faith. For the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets; every man's gift was to be judged of by those whose age, experience, and wisdom, gave them a right to decide. Besides, though the person who did speak might do it from an impulse of God, yet, if he was not sufficiently known, his testimony ought to be received with caution; and therefore the aged prophets should judge of his gift, lest false doctrines should slide into the Church.
But all these provisions, as Schoettgen justly observes, were in imitation of the practice in the Jewish synagogues; for there it was customary for them to object, interrogate, judge, refute, etc.
Be revealed to another that sitteth by - Probably those who were teachers sat on a particular seat, or place, from which they might most readily address the people; and this may be the meaning of sitting by. If such a person could say, I have just received a particular revelation from God, then let him have the liberty immediately to speak it; as it might possibly relate to the circumstances of that time and place.
For ye may all prophesy one by one - The gifts which God grants are given for the purpose of edification; but there can be no edification where there is confusion; therefore let them speak one by one.
And the spirits of the prophets, etc. - Let no one interrupt another; and let all be ready to prefer others before themselves; and let each feel a spirit of subjection to his brethren. God grants no ungovernable gifts.
For God is not the author of confusion - Let not the persons who act in the congregation in this disorderly manner, say, that they are under the influence of God; for he is not the author of confusion; but two, three, or more, praying or teaching in the same place, at the same time, is confusion; and God is not the author of such work; and let men beware how they attribute such disorder to the God of order and peace. The apostle calls such conduct ακαταστασια, tumult, sedition; and such it is in the sight of God, and in the sight of all good men. How often is a work of God marred and discredited by the folly of men! for nature will always, and Satan too, mingle themselves as far as they can in the genuine work of the Spirit, in order to discredit and destroy it. Nevertheless, in great revivals of religion it is almost impossible to prevent wild - fire from getting in amongst the true fire; but it is the duty of the ministers of God to watch against and prudently check this; but if themselves encourage it, then there will be confusion and every evil work.
Let your women keep silence in the churches - This was a Jewish ordinance; women were not permitted to teach in the assemblies, or even to ask questions. The rabbins taught that "a woman should know nothing but the use of her distaff." And the sayings of Rabbi Eliezer, as delivered, Bammidbar Rabba, sec. 9, fol. 204, are both worthy of remark and of execration; they are these: לנשים ימסרו ואל תורה דברי ישרפו yisrephu dibrey torah veal yimsaru lenashim, "Let the words of the law be burned, rather than that they should be delivered to women." This was their condition till the time of the Gospel, when, according to the prediction of Joel, the Spirit of God was to be poured out on the women as well as the men, that they might prophesy, i.e. teach. And that they did prophesy or teach is evident from what the apostle says, 1 Corinthians 11:5, where he lays down rules to regulate this part of their conduct while ministering in the church.
But does not what the apostle says here contradict that statement, and show that the words in chap. 11 should be understood in another sense? For, here it is expressly said that they should keep silence in the church; for it was not permitted to a woman to speak. Both places seem perfectly consistent. It is evident from the context that the apostle refers here to asking questions, and what we call dictating in the assemblies. It was permitted to any man to ask questions, to object, altercate, attempt to refute, etc., in the synagogue; but this liberty was not allowed to any woman. St. Paul confirms this in reference also to the Christian Church; he orders them to keep silence; and, if they wished to learn any thing, let them inquire of their husbands at home; because it was perfectly indecorous for women to be contending with men in public assemblies, on points of doctrine, cases of conscience, etc. But this by no means intimated that when a woman received any particular influence from God to enable her to teach, that she was not to obey that influence; on the contrary, she was to obey it, and the apostle lays down directions in chap. 11 for regulating her personal appearance when thus employed. All that the apostle opposes here is their questioning, finding fault, disputing, etc., in the Christian Church, as the Jewish men were permitted to do in their synagogues; together with the attempts to usurp any authority over the man, by setting up their judgment in opposition to them; for the apostle has in view, especially, acts of disobedience, arrogance, etc., of which no woman would be guilty who was under the influence of the Spirit of God.
But - to be under obedience, as also saith the law - This is a reference to Genesis 3:16; : Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. From this it is evident that it was the disorderly and disobedient that the apostle had in view; and not any of those on whom God had poured out his Spirit.
For it is a shame for women to speak in the church - The Jews would not suffer a woman to read in the synagogue; though a servant or even a child, had this permission; but the apostle refers to irregular conduct, such conduct as proved that they were not under obedience, 1 Corinthians 14:34.
Came the word of God out from you? - Was it from you that other Churches received the Gospel? Are you the mother Church? that you should have rules, and orders, and customs, different from all others; and set yourselves up for a model to be copied by all the Churches of Christ?
Or came it unto you only? - Are you the only Church of God? Are there not many others founded before you that have no such customs, and permit no such disorders?
If any man think himself to be a prophet, etc. - He who is really a spiritual man, under the influence of the Spirit of God, and capable of teaching the Divine will, he will acknowledge that what I now say is from the same Spirit; and that the things which I now write are the commandments of God, and must be obeyed on pain of his displeasure.
But if any man be ignorant - If he affect to be so, or pretend that he is ignorant; let him be ignorant - let him be so at his peril.
Covet to prophesy - Let it be your endeavor and prayer to be able to teach the way of God to the ignorant; this is the most valuable, because the most useful gift of the Spirit.
And forbid not to speak with tongues - Let every gift have its own place and operation; let none envy another; nor prevent him from doing that part of the work to which God, by giving the qualification, has evidently called him.
Let all things be done decently - Ευσχημονως· In their proper forms; with becoming reverence; according to their dignity and importance, Every thing in the Church of God should be conducted with gravity and composure, suitable to the importance of the things, the infinite dignity of the object of worship, and the necessity of the souls in behalf of which those religious ordinances are instituted.
And in order - Κατα ταξιν· Every thing in its place, every thing in its time, and every thing suitably.
Let all things be done decently and in order, is a direction of infinite moment in all the concerns of religion, and of no small consequence in all the concerns of life. How much pain, confusion, and loss would be prevented, were this rule followed! There is scarcely an embarrassment in civil or domestic life that does not originate in a neglect of this precept. No business, trade, art, or science, can be carried on to any advantage or comfort, unless peculiar attention be paid to it. And as to religion, there can be absolutely none without it. Where decency and order are not observed in every part of the worship of God, no spiritual worship can be performed. The manner of doing a thing is always of as much consequence as the act itself. And often the act derives all its consequence and utility from the manner in which it is performed.
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