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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 14

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

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Verses 1-33



1 Corinthians 14:1-33.

This discussion is devoted to 1 Corinthians 14, and is the conclusion of the discussion of the miraculous spiritual gifts conferred in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I will take all of the chapter down to 1 Corinthians 14:33. The rest of the chapter I reserve for a separate discussion. It is with reference to woman’s place in the church, and I will combine that closing paragraph, touching the woman, with another paragraph in the same letter, and with a corresponding paragraph in the letter of Timothy; and so we will just go to 1 Corinthians 14:33:

"Follow after love." The word "follow" has a strong meaning. It means to pursue, to chase, not just to saunter along after it, but to pursue it, to chase it; "yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts," that is to say, notwithstanding the comparison that he has instituted between faith, love, and hope on the one hand, and the spiritual gifts on the other hand, he doesn’t discount the spiritual gifts. "Earnestly desire them, but rather that ye may prophesy," that is, select that one as the one that is most profitable. Desire that one. To prophesy, in the Bible, does not necessarily mean to foretell future events. That may be included, but it means to speak for God under the inspiration of the Spirit, so that what one says is as if God said it. Whether you are stating a fact or foretelling a future event, is immaterial. The meaning of the word "prophesy" is to speak for God under the impulse of God’s Spirit. He goes on to explain why the gift of prophesying is superior to the gift of speaking in unknown tongues: "For he that speaketh in a tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God; for no man understandeth; but in the Spirit he speaketh mysteries." Mark that clause, "He that speaketh in a tongue speaketh not unto men but unto God; for no man understandeth." Notice 1 Corinthians 14:4: "He that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself." Then 1 Corinthians 14:14: "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful."

We have to combine those three passages: "He that speaketh in a tongue speaketh unto God; he that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself; he that prayeth in a tongue his understanding is unfruitful." Those three expressions have given rise to a controversy that I suppose will not be settled until the judgment day. Upon them many distinguished scholars take the position that to speak in a tongue is to speak ecstatically ; that the man himself is, in a measure, unconscious, as if some mighty power had seized upon him causing him to mutter and say things, and that when he comes from under the influence of that power he cannot recall what he said. Conybeare and Howson strongly present that argument. They say that to speak in unknown tongues is simply to speak ecstatically, as if in a trance. A person going under the influence of chloroform talks, but he doesn’t remember what he says. Though that position is taken in the Pulpit Commentary and in Conybeare and Howson’s book, the author utterly dissents from it. I do not like to put myself in antagonism with distinguished men, but there are more distinguished men on my side than on the other side of the question.

Let me show that this speaking in tongues meant to speak in a language that a man had not acquired, and had not studied. Turn to Acts 2, where this gift is first manifested and commence at 1 Corinthians 14:6: "When this sound was heard, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speaking in his own language. And they were all amazed and marveled, saying, Behold, are not all these that speak Galileans? And how hear we, every man in our own tongue wherein we were born? Parthiana and Medes and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, in Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and sojourners from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them speaking in our tongues the mighty works of God." A man must have more brass on his face than was ever in the brazen gates of Babylon to assume that that doesn’t refer to speaking in different languages.

Here came a man from Cyrene over in Africa; there came a Roman; here a Cretan; there an Arabian; and they heard these men under the influence of the Holy Spirit speaking in the tongues in which they were born.

My second argument is based on 1 Corinthians 14:14: "If I pray in a tongue . . . my understanding is unfruitful." I don’t know what the words mean, but if it was an ecstasy that language would not be so applicable. I have no doubt that when God gave power to Balaam’s beast to speak audibly, his language was not understood by him. He spoke in a language that he himself didn’t understand.

Let us make a third argument. In olden times at the Tower of Babel, where it is expressly said that the people were all of one lip, one speech, spoke the same language (and speaking the same tongue enabled them to hold together better, but they were holding together for evil) God came down and confused their speech, and a man up there putting down the sundried brick could not understand what the fellow with the hod said to him. It was in an unknown language. By the confounding of speech, nations arose.

The different languages didn’t arise from the different nations, but different nations arose from different languages. The philological miracle around the Tower of Babel produced the different nations. Those that could understand one another would go together and they would become a nation, speaking one language of their own.

It was the intent that, as the human race was dispersed through the confusion of language, at Pentecost that should be reversed, and they should be brought together and united by giving the power to speak in the language of all the nations.

Take these three arguments and notice the objection that is made. The first objection is that he speaks to God, and no man understands him. Let us see how that applies. We will assume that we are present in that church at Corinth and one man, having the power to speak in different languages, speaks the Parthian tongue. Nobody understands him, for nobody speaks that tongue, and he can’t understand himself, and he is, as it were, speaking unto God.

We can harmonize it with the theory that they were speaking different languages, but we cannot harmonize the effect by saying it was an ecstatic utterance like that given when under the influence of chloroform. However, I am not dogmatic as to this interpretation.

Let us advance again in the argument in this issue. Paul says, "If I speak in an unknown tongue which the people cannot understand, what good will it do unless I translate?" That shows that it was an unknown language. If we send a missionary to a foreign country and he does not know their speech and they don’t know his speech, and a particular man knows both theirs and his, that man is asked to be an interpreter. The missionary says a few words, and then the interpreter speaks these words in the language of the people addressed. He understands. "Now," says Paul, "what good does it do to speak in unknown tongues unless you interpret?" He shows again that this is the thought. He says, "If you give thanks in an unknown tongue, how shall he that is unlearned say, ’Amen,’ to your giving thanks, since he does not understand what you say?" And how powerfully the reformers quoted that against the Roman Catholics whose public services were conducted in Latin whether anybody understood Latin or not. The reformers quote this passage and say, "How is that going to help the people? Speak it if you want to, but tell them what the Latin means."

I was making a reply once to a man who was going outside of the line in which he had knowledge, to criticise something that he knew nothing about. I pointed my finger at him and said, "Ne sutor ultra crepidam." I thought everybody would understand, but some fellow said, "Interpret." "Let not the shoemaker go beyond his last." "The shoemaker is a judge of the shape of the foot, but let him not criticise a painter’s landscape," which became a parable. So you might say, "A mole is a good judge of earthworms, but he is not expert on landscapes." Notice again that he says here, and the language is very remarkable in its bearing, "Even things without life, giving a voice, whether pipe or harp, if they give not a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain voice, who shall prepare himself for war?"

I used to be a soldier, and every morning there was a certain bugle-sound called "reveille," which means "get up quick"; then a certain other sound of the trumpet meant, "saddle up," and a certain other sound meant, "mount," another very lively one meant, "Forward march." "Now," said Paul, "if a man just gets up and blows a noise out of a trumpet that doesn’t signify anything, how can anybody prepare himself for battle?" Therefore he says, "I would rather speak five words to the church with my understanding than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."

Some people like it because they think it sounds big. A politician said to General Jackson, "When you get up to make a speech throw in a little Latin." And so Jackson, at the close of the speech said, "E Plunbus unum, ultima thule – ne plus ultra – potestatem deditùne sutor ultra crepidam, potens Cypri, Sic fratres Helenae, Sidera Ludda, Quandem Catalina nostra patientia abutere?" And the people just went wild in their cheering. Where it is just thrown in for the sound it has an exciting effect, but suppose we wanted to know what General Jackson was saying, what good would all that Latin do us if we did not know the Latin?

I leave it to the reader as to whether I have made out my case, that the speaking with tongues means the speaking in languages that a man had not known, or that was unknown to him. If I spoke in Parthian and there was a Parthian present the Parthian could understand, but the Cretans and Arabians could not; if I were saying good sense, in whatever language, God would understand. I would be speaking to God, and even if I couldn’t understand, I could tell the mighty impulse of the Spirit. That would make me feel good, but it wouldn’t edify other people.

This is a great chapter. We find in it something that ought to benefit us as long as we live. "Even things without life, giving a voice, whether pipe or harp, if they give not a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound who shall prepare himself for war? So also ye, unless ye utter by the tongue speech easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye will speak into the air." There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and no kind is without signification. No word is without some meaning, but if I don’t know the meaning of the word I shall be ’’to him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian to me."

A critic who criticised everybody at a Baptist Convention, criticised my sermon by saying it had too many big words in it. I saw him when he made the note, and here are the words I used, staling the different places the people came from: "Oriental, occidental, austral, septentrional." I supposed that crowd of picked preachers would know the meaning of those words. I started out with "Oriental," which means eastern; the "occidental," that means the opposite from the eastern, or western; "austral" means southern, and "septentrional" means northern. I wrote him that generally I tried to use words that anybody could understand, but occasionally I wanted to increase the vocabulary of the people that I spoke to.

If every man hears in his own tongue, he hears them speak in the tongue that he was born in, not that they spoke Hebrew and the hearer heard it in Parthian. That would make the hearer the subject of the baptism; that would be putting the discriminating power to his ear. There were a great many speaking, one in Parthian, and another in Persian; one in Latin and another in Greek. Now all the Greek people would understand their own language because they were familiar with it. The hearers comprehended, though it was spoken in the language that the speaker knew nothing about.

Let us go on, taking up 1 Corinthians 14:15: "What is it then? I will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also. I will sing with the Spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also." In other words, a great deal of emphasis in religious matters must be put upon the understanding, and if the good pray, they want not only to be prompted spiritually to pray, but want to understand what they are praying about, and if I am praying in a language I don’t know and know that somebody is listening, he may catch the spirit of the prayer, but it won’t touch the spirit of his understanding. I want to hear the words.

One night at church the singing was just about as the seven stars above me. I was told by an expert that it was fine, but the screech in it didn’t use any distinction in words. I couldn’t tell what it was. If I had bad a book before me I might have made out something of what they were trying to say.

When a man sings I want to hear the words. I don’t want him just to sound his voice out in ascending and descending scales. They may be harmonious, but it isn’t intelligible to me. I will put it plainer. When one goes to feed the cattle, he doesn’t out the fodder so high that they can’t reach it. It may be good fodder to look at, but a cow would rather have it lower where she can reach it. That was the power of Christ’s speech. He spoke words easily understood. He illustrated with a hen and chickens, a sparrow, the lilies of the field, the sheep, and the goat. The people could not find fault, because his words were simple and had meaning to them.

I remember when I was very small my father, who was a preacher, was sitting on the gallery and one of our smartest Negroes, Aunt Sarah, came up and was telling about her new preacher. Father asked how she liked him. "O, he is fine." "What do you mean by fine?" "Well, he does speak such big sounding words." "What words did he use?" "Well, I remember the word ’fecundity.’ " "Well," father asked, "do you know what that means?" "O no, and I don’t care whether I does or not; it’s a mighty big word and it just thrilled me." Her understanding was not profited at all. That cow couldn’t reach the fodder.

I am going to give another proof of the correctness of the position that I took on these languages: "In the law it is written, By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers will I speak unto this people." Where do we find that in the law? It is in Deuteronomy 28, and we find one very much like it in Isaiah 28, and that is this: "You get drunk, you men that represent God, and you say words that convey no meaning. Now because you have dishonored your power, I will speak to you in the language of a foreign nation, and you won’t understand this language, and thus bring against you the Assyrian and the Babylonian." I have said that these baptismal gifts were for attesting, accrediting, and this proves it: "Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to the unbelieving." A sign is a miracle ’intended to accredit the one speaking as having power and authority. That day at Jerusalem when that big crowd of many nations came together, these men that could speak only one language, were heard – these ignorant and unlearned men that had never been to school – speaking in the different languages of the world. "Some great power is here," they said. "It is a sign to you unbelievers, but prophesying is for a sign, not to the unbeliever, but unto them that believe." Suppose I am a believer and we stand upon the same plane, and all at once some mighty power descends on me, and I get up with a new spirit and speak with all the authority of God. That carries conviction to the soul of the believer. It is a sign to him that God’s Spirit is on me.

We come now to the strongest part of the chapter, and one that I have preached many sermons on. I preached a sermon on it in Kansas City and S. J. Porter, now at San Antonio, was pastor of the church. When I got through with that sermon there was a stir in the congregation equal to Pentecost. I never saw such a sight in my life. My theme was, "How the Church Shall Convict Sinners of Sin." It reads as follows: "If therefore the whole church be assembled together and all speak with tongues [every one speaking in a different language], and there come in men unlearned or unbelieving, will they not say ye are mad [i. e., you are crazy?]. But if all prophesy, and there come in one unbelieving or unlearned, he is reproved by all, he is judged by all; the secrets of his heart are made manifest [that is, to him] and so he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed."

I started out on this line: Where the congregation of God’s people assemble there will likely step in some ignorant man or some skeptic, and one of two things is going to happen – either they will convict that man of sin or he will convict them of sin. If the character of the services is such that they seem to be mere fanaticism or a sanctified row, one man praying while another is singing, and another is talking, and everything is confusion, all jumbled up, will he not say that they are crazy? And when he goes away he will carry the report about them, and his report is, "those so-called Christian people are simply mad; it is a delusion." Suppose, on the other hand, that when that ignorant man takes his seat and all of the services are so simple that notwithstanding his ignorance he can understand; the words are easy to be understood; he gets hold of the preaching or singing or praying, he is convicted by all. Convicting power rests upon the whole congregation, and that man sees the sins of his heart.

The secrets of his heart are manifest, and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and go away and report that God is with that crowd of people. Then how careful we ought to be at church to ask the question, "Is there any ignorant soul here today that I can so put the truth before that even his simple mind can see it? Is there not some skeptic here today who, by the order, instructiveness, the fervor, and the pathos of the service may see himself to be a sinner in the sight of God?"

I have seen all of this. I have seen my old church in Waco when convicting power rested on every member of the congregation. There was something in each song, in each prayer, in each exposition of the Word of God, and in each word based on the exposition that went right home to a man’s heart like a feathered arrow from the bow, and it got to be the talk of the town that no infidel could attend three of these services and not be converted. One of them accepted the challenge, and I saw him when he came in the church. I was about a third of the way through my sermon. Conviction seized him, and before he got halfway down the aisle he was converted. He came right up to the front, whirled around, and related his Christian experience, and I just let him do the talking. That was such fine preaching I just stopped.

I am now going to give out a secret. When Moses came down from the mountain where he had been communing with God, "Moses wist not that his face was shining," i.e., Moses didn’t know it was shining.

When one becomes conscious that he is shining, he quite shining. The most effective conviction of sinners ever wrought has been wrought by people that didn’t know they were doing it.

The first time I was ever convicted of sin, the one that convicted me of sin had no idea of it. I had run away from home to go to a big barbecue and political speaking, and I was only thirteen years old, and I started home through a big pine forest, and when those pine trees began to moan at night and it got dark, it was not very comforting to a runaway boy. In the heart of the pine forest I saw a light. It was the light of a camp meeting, in a big shed, with platforms erected, dirt piled up on the platforms and pine knots laid on the dirt; that illuminated the shed and all around it, and illuminated it well, too; not like electric lights perhaps, but very well. When I got within about 100 yards of the meeting I heard somebody singing; evidently it was a woman, a sad woman, but yet a Christian woman, and as she kept up that song, so full of tears, I was convicted of sin from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet. The secrets of my heart were made manifest to me. When I got up closer, there she sat on the outside of that congregation holding her dead baby in her lap. It had just died, and her heart was broken, but her Christian soul surrendered the baby to the Lord and submitted to his will, and she had commenced singing, "O love divine, all love excelling," and that song convicted me of sin. She didn’t know that she was convicting me of sin. If she had been an actress, and had tried to sing like a woman whose baby was dead, there would have been no power in it to convict.

I will name three books that I studied on the conviction of sinners of sin. They have never ceased to benefit me. The first book is the Bible. I commenced at Genesis and read straight through until I found a case of conviction of sin, and so I wrote that case down i.e., who was convicted of sin here, and how this conviction was brought about. For instance, the case of Joseph’s brothers. When the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack their guilty consciences said to them that their sin had found them out: "We are every one guilty concerning our brother’s blood." Then I came to David. He had murdered Uriah, having debauched his wife, and had no compunctions of conscience, going to the Temple and singing praises to Jehovah with them, and occupying the chief seats among the saints. After & while he was convicted of sin. Nathan comes to him and tells him a story about a man that had one ewe lamb, and it was all that he had, and a rich man had a large flock, and a traveler came to stay with the rich man, and he spared his flock, but took by violence the one ewe lamb of the poor man. David listened to the story and just got madder and madder, and finally cried out, "Whoever has done this shall die!" Nathan said, "Thou art the man!" David says, "I have sinned." He was convicted. And what took place on the day of Pentecost when they were preaching to them was conviction. Then at another time the jailer says, "What must I do to be saved?" Thus I went through the Bible and made a study of it.

Then the next book that I took was my own experience. I went back over my life just as far as I could remember, and just as honestly as I could; I recalled every time in my life that I became sensible that I was a sinner and I asked myself, "What brought it about?"

And the third book that I read was the book of observation. One day a Mr. Sherwook preached a sermon in a big meeting in Georgia, and 4,000 grown men and women were converted. I never studied anything as I studied these three books – the Bible cases on conviction of sin, the cases of my own experience of conviction of sin, and the great historic cases of conviction of sin. That is the subject I discussed in Kansas City. The message was that God had appointed the church to convict sinners and lead them to salvation.

Paul now says, "How is it that every one hath a psalm, everyone a hymn?" In other words, "When you get together each man is so anxious to parade what he knows that one talks Greek, another talks Parthian; this one preaches, that one prays; another is singing, and the services are a confusion. God is not here. You will make a wrong impression by a service of that kind." Some may call that a "sanctified row," if they want to. It is in reality a row without the "sanctified." The most powerful conviction comes in a still meeting, where one can hear a pin drop. The sinner’s conviction is signal, as if in a great electric storm the lightning had struck and riven hundreds of trees and they are falling right and left, and yet no voice is lifted – not a whisper. It is the stillness of profound attention and emotion.

The point is that God intended the gifts in the baptism of the Spirit for a certain purpose, and these Corinthians were using them for other purposes, and they were doing harm rather than good. They had lost sight of their mission to convict sinners and lead them to Christ. Ignorant people came, and went away uninstructed; skeptics came, and went away confirmed in their skepticism; they went away and reported that there was nothing in that crowd; that if that was religion they didn’t want to see any more of it. Maybe the preacher was conceited as to his part and would use the biggest words that he could, until they would think he was some great one, and when the choir would sing they would screech and get as far away from singing a song that one could understand as possible; everything perfunctory, but God was not in the songs, nor in the prayers, nor in the sermon, and the day was lost, and souls were lost.


1. Why did the author omit the latter part of 1 Corinthians 14 for the time being?

2. What does "Follow after love" (1 Corinthians 14:1) mean, and what Paul’s application here?

3. What is the most profitable gift of the Spirit, and what is meant by prophesying?

4. Why is the gift of prophesying superior to the gift of tongues?

5. What three passages furnish the basis of the teaching by some that to speak in a tongue means to speak ecstatically, and where may the argument be found?

6. What is the author’s first argument to show that to speak in & tongue meant to speak a language one had never learned?

7. What is his second argument?

8. What is his third argument?

9. What is the first objection to this argument, and the reply?

10. How does Paul show further that the author’s interpretation is correct?

11. What text used especially by the reformers and how?

12. What illustration from the author’s experience?

13. How does Paul illustrate the thought, and what the author’s parallel illustration from his war experience?

14. What illustration of the effect of big sounding words on a popular audience given by the author?

15. Was the speaker or the hearer the subject of the baptism is Holy Spirit? Illustrate.

16. What statement here shows Paul’s emphasis on the "understanding" in religious matters, and what the application to modern singing? Illustrate.

17. What is the author’s proof of the correctness of his position from the references to the law and to prophecy?

18. What is the direct proof that tongues were to attest? Illustrate.

19. What text here shows how a church may convict a sinner?

20. What illustration of this from the author’s life?

21. What is the author’s secret respecting Moses, and the present-day application of it? Illustrate.

22. What are three books given by the author on the conviction of sin, and how did he study them?

23. What is the condition where there is the greatest convicting power?

24. What is the main point of all this discussion by Paul, and the application by the author?

Verses 33-40



1 Corinthians 7:1-40; 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 1 Corinthians 14:33-40.

It will be recalled that we have been treating 1 Corinthians topically, and hence when we take hold of a subject we take in everything bearing on that subject and pass over some things. Heretofore we have left untouched 1 Corinthians 7:1-40; 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 1 Corinthians 14:34-40. So that the scope of the present discussion is the three passages – all of 1 Corinthians 7; 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, and 1 Corinthians 14:33-40. The general topics embraced in these parts of the first letter are Marriage, Divorce, and the Position of Women in the Public Assemblies, all exceedingly delicate questions, and therefore my reserve in treating the matter. I don’t suppose there is much help in studying this letter in the commentaries. I myself had never reached a very satisfactory conclusion on some points involved until recently.

Before we take up the serious matter of marriage, divorce, and the whole question of sexual relation, there are certain antecedent matters to consider, and the first is, that whatever is here said by the apostle Paul is an answer to a letter that the Corinthian church wrote him. He commences 1 Corinthians 7 with a reference to that letter. He says, "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote." So we see that he answers questions propounded to him. The next antecedent thing is that we must never forget the mixed, ethnic composition of this church. "Ethnic" means of many nationalities. The mixed, ethnic composition of this church and the particular distressed conditions existing at the time that he wrote, are matters of great importance. This church was composed of Greeks, Romans, and other Orientals, besides Jews.

Upon the subject of marriage, divorce, and the position of women, the Jews, Romans, and Greeks widely differed. Each nation had its own fixed custom or customs upon all of these points, and they were all converted in this big meeting, some from all these peoples. And they naturally wanted to know what was the bearing of the new religion upon this subject of marriage, divorce, and the position of women, slavery, and things of that kind.

Among the Jews divorce was granted for a very slight cause. Moses did permit divorce in this form, viz.: that no man could put away his wife without giving her a bill of divorcement; he could not put her away and leave her as goods and chattels that he was not responsible for. He must give her a bill showing that he claimed nothing from her in the future. Christ explained, that on account of the hardness of their hearts, divorce was allowed by Moses, who did ameliorate it, but didn’t give the highest law on divorce, because they were not in condition to hear it. Following that custom, Josephus tells us frankly that he put away his wife because she didn’t please him, and he assigned no other reason, and went before no court. It would be very hard to please some men, even some of the time, and very hard to please them all the time; and it wouldn’t be best to please them all the time, for much of the time they would be wrong. Among the Greeks and Romans divorce could be had for almost any reason. Moreover, the Orientals believed in the seclusion of women. They kept them in harems guarded by a eunuch; but the Romans had much broader views than the Greeks, and the Greeks were much in advance of the Orientals. A lady at Rome had great liberty without being subjected to invidious criticisms. This is the mixed ethnic condition of this church.

But another thing must be considered which is expressed in 1 Corinthians 7. Paul says, "I think therefore that this is good by reason of the distress that is upon us." There was a particular distress bearing upon the people at that time that modified the answers that he gave to some of their questions, and we can’t understand this 1 Corinthians 7 and the other paragraphs in 1 Corinthians 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 without keeping in mind that broad statement – "the distress that is upon us." That refers to the condition of the church at that time when all Christians were persecuted. No Christian knew one day what would be his financial status the next, for everything of his might be confiscated. He could not know one day whether he would be out of prison the next; he couldn’t know one day whether he would be banished the next. Day by day they were practically taking their lives in their own hands. If a man is living in a prosperous time ’it wouldn’t be proper to answer him on the question of marriage as if he were living in unsettled conditions. In other words, what would be expedient in prosperous times, would be inexpedient in unprosperous times.

The third important antecedent thought in the understanding of those passages is the people’s misconception of the results of regeneration. Paul had said to them, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold they are become new." They did not know how far to carry this thought. For instance, if a married man was not converted yesterday, but became a convert today, did his marriage pass away? I will show how that this is a very practical question before we get through with this discussion. A man was a slave yesterday and unconverted; he hears the gospel of freedom preached to him, that is, that if the Son makes him free he is free indeed. He hears that in Christ Jesus there is neither bond nor free, therefore today he, being a new creature, what conclusion shall he draw from this new relation as to his slavery?

Again, the gospel was preached to them as individuals, without regard to age, sex or previous condition of servitude, and it was distinctly stated that in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female, Barbarian, Scythian, bond, free, Jew, nor Gentiles. If that be true, has not every Christian precisely the same privileges in the public assembly, whether man or woman? If there be neither male nor female in Christ Jesus, may not a woman preach as well as a man? If they stand on the same footing when they join the church, what effect does it have on the old commandment that a child should obey his parents, or that the wife is subject to her husband? It may seem that this is all a little overstrained, but the history of the world shows that these are intensely important questions.

Take the case of the "mad men of Munster," who argued from the fact that Jesus had come to establish a kingdom upon the earth, and that that kingdom was to overcome all other kingdoms of the earth. They said, "Therefore, if I be a member of the kingdom of Jesus, that absolves me from my allegiance to any kingdom of this earth." There were no subordinates in the land where they lived, as they were free from the law of the nation. They reasoned that if they had the liberty of a Christian, might they not take two or three wives? Hence the leader of the Munsterites did not stop until he got fourteen, but that was not quite so far as Brigham Young went. They went on, "Do we, being the children of Jesus Christ, have to pay tribute or taxes? If I be a member of the kingdom of Jesus Christ that absolves me from any kingdom of this earth, why not set up a purely religious kingdom?" One of these men was made king, and the whole power of the German Empire had to be invoked to put down this movement. Yet a great many people were converted people – enthusiasts misconstruing the teaching of God upon the results that would follow our becoming new creatures.

Yet again, this gospel taught that the citizenship of a Christian is up yonder, not down here, and that up yonder neither marrying nor giving in marriage takes place. Upon this they reasoned thus: "Does not that obligate me to lay down the work of this world? Why talk about farming, merchandising, and the dull, heavy round of earthly occupations?" Just so the Thessalonians went wild, because they expected Christ to come "day-after-tomorrow," and therefore there could be nothing for them to do except prepare their ascension robes. In other words, "Up there they don’t marry, and what effect does that have on me, since I am married? I have become a citizen of heaven, where they do not marry. Ought I not to abjure this marriage? Ought I not to go and live in a monastery and leave my wife and children on the care of the world? If I have never married, should I not become a sister, and enter into the nunnery?" Such were their reasonings.

The last great things that we are to consider in chapter 7 is the point that we have just presented: "If I contracted marriage before I was converted, was it dissolved when I became a new creature, and old things passed away? If I have not contracted a marriage, shall I avoid it?" The apostle answers it, first, from the viewpoint of the present distress that he refers to, i.e., in view of the present condition, when their property might be swept away in a day, when they must be silent or be in banishment. He takes the position that in this particular stress and under these conditions it was well not to marry. But we must not forget the old-time law that God instituted marriage as the only way to carry out the commandment of God to multiply and replenish the earth. Therefore, Paul says, "My advice to you is to let every man have his own wife, and every woman her own husband." It was impossible for him to take a position against the necessity of marriage, but he said that in view of that distress it might be best not to marry, but if they did marry notwithstanding the distress, they committed no sin, and if governed by the distress not to marry this was no sin, but as long as we are in this world and the sexual distinction exists, we cannot get away from that primeval law of God that marriage is honorable in all.

We know that another question was presented because of the answer given. Suppose one is already married when converted? In the middle ages this question became one of the biggest that ever occupied man’s mind. It was a common thing for a man at his conversion to say, "In view of the fact that I am now under a higher law of God, I will give up my wife and children, go from home and shut myself up in a monastery." Hundreds and thousands of men and women took the vow never to marry. There are many cases where the men took the vows of celibacy, trying to live a life like the angels. That is the most seductive form of temptation that ever came to men, and it led to the building of monasteries and nunneries all over Europe and a greater part of Asia and North Africa, where women would seclude themselves and vow not to marry, and even married men would abandon wives and children and shut themselves up in monasteries. Paul says, "If a man is married let him not put away his wife, and let not the woman put away her husband. Your being converted does not change the law of God in regard to marriage." So the question comes in another and different form. Under the old law of the Jews, a Jew could not marry a heathen, unless a proselyte, without the penalty of excommunication, and the ground was, that to marry a heathen puts him in danger of becoming an idolater. In Nehemiah we learn that when some of the Jews had violated that law, he put before them the alternative of either keeping the Jewish law or being excluded from the Jewish communion. Knowing what the law was on that subject, they put the question, "Here is a man who is converted and his wife is a heathen; shall the Christian put away his heathen wife?" That is very different from the original question, "Ought a Christian to marry a heathen?" which law holds now that it is best for believers to marry believers, but Paul answers that question emphatically, "No; the marriage relation is a divine institution and there is nothing in such a case to justify that man to put away his wife."

Then the question comes in another form: "Suppose when a woman joins the church that the heathen husband makes it a ground of disfellowship and refuses to live with her, what then?" Paul said, "In such a case, if the unbeliever depart, let him depart. You have done nothing wrong and are willing to stand by your marriage contract." But what does he mean by saying, "The husband or wife is not in bondage in such a case?" Does it mean that a voluntary separation totally abrogates the marriage tie so that the one left is at liberty to marry somebody else? That question comes up in our own civil law. Blackstone comments on it, saying, "You may grant divorce ’Amensa et toro,’ " which means, "Divorce from bed and board." In other words, people can separate; the man doesn’t have to live with that woman, and the woman doesn’t have to live with that man. But the law is emphatic that such separation is not breaking the marriage bond. It permits a possible separation. That is intensely practicable.

When I was a young preacher I was called into a council. A preacher’s wife had left him. She refused to live with him, left him, and went back to her father, and he afterwards married again, and his plea was that abandonment justified remarriage. He quoted that passage, "A husband and wife are not in bondage in such cases." The question for that council to decide was, "Would it be a wise thing to put a man into the ministry who lived under a cloud of that kind?" One of the oldest and most distinguished Baptists that ever lived took the position that such a one was free to marry again, but I, a young preacher, dissented from him, and do still. It does not break the marriage tie so as to permit one to marry again. I quoted the declaration of Paul where he says, "The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives," and he certainly couldn’t contradict himself in the same chapter. Then he says, "If her husband be dead, she shall be permitted to marry again." That settles that question.

Paul does not discuss the only cause that does thoroughly break the marriage bond, if one is disposed to plead it, which is the case of infidelity to the marriage vow discussed by our Lord. Hence my contention is that what is here said does not discuss all of the law on the subject of marriage and divorce.

Let us take up the question, "Ought widowers and widows to remarry?" There he states that a widower under the law of Christ may marry again, though it is not mandatory. There was at one time the question raised of putting a special tax on bachelors. The Greeks and Romans had a law to that effect. It is nothing to smile at; it comes from the idea that the state is more important than the individual. They carried that law further, and forbade a bachelor to Inherit; if he remained unmarried he must turn over his property to the state.

When I was a little boy we had a kangaroo court, and a candidate for the legislature was telling what he would do if he were elected. He said, "I would change the pronoun ’them’ for the word ’um,’ so all the common people could say grammatically, ’I love um,’ and I would have a law passed that would draw a tooth from an old bachelor’s head for every year he remained unmarried."

But how does Paul answer that question? He says, "If you take this present distress into consideration, it is not favorable for contracting marriage. If you want to marry, do so, but you will have trouble in view of this distress." But he says that it is lawful for a widow to marry again, and in the case of young widows, as in the letter to Timothy, he makes it a very urgent recommendation.

Let us take the next question: Does regeneration change the natural subordination of woman to the man, and the sphere in which each moves? The gospel preached was that in Christ Jesus there was neither male nor female. So in chapter II he answers, "I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man. . . . Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled, dishonoreth her head; it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven [that was a sign of an infamous life]. . .. But if it is a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled. For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man: for neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man." The angels of God were hovering round watching over the assemblies of God’s people, and it grieved them to see the law of God violated. Paul goes on; he ’is not only arguing from that old law, but he is arguing from nature: "Is it seemly that a woman pray unto God unveiled? Doth not even nature itself teach you that if a man have long hair, it is a dishonor to him?" I once knew a young fellow who was really pretty. He had great long curls that he spent a long time each day in combing and twisting and anointing with oil, and brushing. And I took the New Testament, marked this passage, and sent it to him. It made him very indignant.

Paul’s answer is that becoming a new creature, so that "old things are passed away and all things become new," does not mean that all old things, viz.: that God’s law of order has passed away. When we get to heaven we will live as the angels live, but while we live on earth the laws of order instituted in paradise must stand.

That question comes up in a little different form in 1 Corinthians 14:33: "God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, let the women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also sayeth the law. And if they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church." Now they are meeting that by saying that the word of God had come to women. And it is unquestionable that the spirit of prophecy did come to women. But Paul teaches that that spirit of prophecy was subject to the person that had it; that it was not given him to violate order; and that if the spirit of prophecy did come to them, let them remember that it came to other people also.

North of the Mason and Dixon’s line we occasionally come upon a church with a woman for a pastor – a Baptist church at that. I was both cheered and hissed for a statement I made when I preached in Chicago. I don’t know which was the louder, the cheering or the hissing. I started out expounding this passage of Scripture,. 1 Timothy 2:8: "I desire therefore that the men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and disputing. In like manner that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly raiment; but (which becometh women professing godliness) through good works. Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over man, but to be in quietness. For Adam was first formed, then Eve." Adam saw Eve and said, "Issha," woman; it means that woman is derived from man; that she got her soul and her body from Adam. She is as much a descendant of Adam as we are. I read the scripture, and took the position that there are two distinct spheres, the man’s sphere and the woman’s sphere; that the man’s is more public; that the woman shall live in her children. When a worldly woman came to visit Cornelia and paraded her fine jewels that blazed on her head and arms and her ankles before her, Cornelia, drawing forward her two sons, Gaius and Tiberius Gracchus (the Gracchi), said, "These are my jewels, and I am going to live in these. My sphere is my home and my boys."

There is one other question – that of the slave. They said, "If I am a freedman of Christ, shall I be a slave to man?" But Paul answers that Christianity does not propose to unsettle the established order of things. Its object is to develop the inner life: "Let each one of you abide in the law you were in when God called you." In other words, if he was circumcised, let him not try to efface his circumcision. If he was a slave when God called him, let him be satisfied with being Christ’s freedman, and with knowing that his master if Christ’s servant, and let him in his position of slavery illustrate that the truth and the power of the Christian religion is in serving, not with eye service, but showing that Christianity can come to any form of life and glorify ’it. In yet other words, being converted and becoming a new creature, we should not disregard the established order of things which God has appointed for this world. When we get up into the other world we can adapt ourselves to conditions there.


1. What is the scope of this chapter, and what are the several topics?

2. What is the first important antecedent matter in 1 Corinthians 7?

3. What is the second antecedent matter, and of whom was the church at Corinth composed?

4. What is the position of Jews, Romans, and Greeks, respectively, on marriage and divorce, and the woman question in general?

5. What is the difference between the Orientals, on the one hand, and the Greeks and Romans, on the other hand, with respect to this question?

6. What condition at the time Paul wrote this letter greatly modified his answers to some of their questions?

7. What is the third antecedent thought essential to an understanding of these scriptures?

8. How did their application of this thought affect their earthly relations? Illustrate fully.

9. What was Paul’s answer to their inquiry as to whether one who was not married should marry, and what its bearing on the primal law of marriage?

10. What question arose about those who were converted after marriage, what Paul’s answer to it, and what the results of this misconception of the Corinthians as practiced in the Middle Ages?

11. Ought a Christian to marry an unbeliever?

12. What is the Christian wife or husband to do in case the unregenerated husband or wife makes it a ground of disfellowship, and refuses to live ill the marriage relation?

13. What does Paul mean by saying, "The husband or wife is not is bondage in such a case"?

14. What illustration of the author’s interpretation from his own experience?

15. What is the only cause which breaks the marriage bond, and where do we find the statement of it?

16. What is the law of marriage in the case of widowers and widows, and what legislation against bachelors?

17. What is the bearing of this subject on the relation between man and woman in the sphere in which each moves, what Paul’s teaching on this, and what his arguments for it?

18. What is the form of this question as treated in 1 Corinthians 14, how do some people meet Paul’s argument here, and what does Paul teach that settles the question beyond all dispute?

19. What is the author’s experience on this line in Chicago, and what is his interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15? Illustrate.

20, How did this subject affect the relation, of the slave and his master, and what Paul’s answer to their reasoning on the subject?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/1-corinthians-14.html.
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