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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 14

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-40

XIV 1-25 Comparison between two Charismata — Prophecy and Languages—The term prophecy seems to have a wide sense, including a miraculous insight into doctrine, morality, and perhaps the thoughts of other men. Ancient Jewish prophets had the same powers. As regards the charisma of ’tongues’ (i.e. languages—one word for both in Greek) by far the best view is that it was the same gift as the Apostles received at Pentecost: the miraculous power of speaking languages not previously learnt. Its purpose, as Paul says in v 22, was the conversion of unbelievers, and to make it a frequent part of Christian worship, as had been done at Corinth, was an abuse. This is, in brief, the complaint that Paul makes. There are two other views about the gift:

(1) That it was the sort of unintelligible utterance which we hear of in certain sects, Christian and otherwise, caused by unwholesome religious excitement—in fact, gibberish. In that case Paul would not merely have restricted it, but would very certainly have banned it.

(2) That it was the use of unusual words (obsolete, poetical, dialectical, etc.) to give an impression of a lofty style. Objections: (a) We cannot believe God would inspire eccentricity and affectation; (b) It would not be unintelligible— its drift at least would be understood; (c) It would be entirely different from the gift of Pentecost, yet Paul uses precisely the same term as is used in Ac.

1-6 Prophecy is Superior because It benefits Others— 1. ’Rather’: ’especially’.

2. ’Heareth’: ’underU+00AD stands’. ’By the Spirit i.e. by inspiration. The word spirit in this chapter seems sometimes to mean ’spiritual gift’ or ’inspiration’ especially in v 12.

3. ’Edification’: cf. 8:1. ’Exhortation’: ’encouragement’.6. ’Unless . . .’: compressed, according to Greek idiom. In full: ’I shall profit you only if I speak . . . in revelation . . .’. ’Doctrine,: ’teaching’. Revelation and prophecy seem to mean the same thing, and so with knowledge and teaching. He seems to be thinking of the gifts of the prophet and the teacher, cf. 12:28.

7-13 Sounds are Useless unless their Meaning is understood —He argues from music and ordinary speech.

7. ’Distinction . . .’ Or perhaps ’a definite arrangement of notes’. ’How . . .’: i.e. how can the tune be known or recognized?

9. ’Tongue’ here probably means the organ itself. ’Speaking . . .’: i.e. wasting your breath.

10. Probably ’There are, I suppose, so many kinds of speech in the world, and nothing is speechless’, i.e. no race (or perhaps: no living creature) is without its language or utterance.

11. ’Power’: ’meaning’. ’I shall be a barbarian to him who speaks’. ’Barbarian rather a contemptuous word applied by Greek-speakers to all who did not speak Greek, cf.Acts 28:2; Romans 1:14.12. ’Spirits’: i.e. spiritual gifts, cf. note v 2. ’To abound in them but in such a way that the church may be built up’ (knit together, strengthened)—for which purpose the gift of languages is useless.

13. ’Pray . . . interpret’. From this and 5 it seems that sometimes the speaker in a language could not translate what he said.

14-20 Among Christians themselves (whether in praying or preaching) all Incomprehensible Speech is out of place —His argument is that as the human intellect is not exercised, the benefit cannot be communicated.

14. ’My spirit’: either ’the inspiration within me’ or ’the innermost part of my soul’. ’Without fruit’: unfruitful, i.e. unprofitable to others. A truth may be grasped by some sort of intuition, but cannot be communicated without intellectual activity.

15. What is the conclusion?’ or ’What is to be done then?’ I will pray . . .’: i.e. he will welcome every divine inspiration in his (public) prayer, but by the exercise of his intellect he will put his prayer into ordinary Greek words. ’I will sing’: Compose songs or hymns (probably), cf. 26.

16. ’Otherwise, if you pronounce a blessing in the spirit only (i.e. in an unknown language) how are those who fill the place of ordinary members to say Amen to your thanksgiving?’ The ’ordinary member is the Christian who has no charisma or who does not understand the language used. The words blessing and thanksgiving were often used of the consecration at Mass (10:16) and may mean that here, but may also refer to the grace said at the preceding supper.

18. ’I thank God that I can speak (strange) languages better than any of you’.

19. ’In the church’, i.e. in a gathering of Christians.

20. ’In sense’: ’in mind’. The gross misuse of ’tongues argued a silliness worthy of children. ’perfect’: ’grown-up’.

21-25 The Gift of Languages is ’a Sign to Unbelievers’ —21. ’The law’: often used loosely for the whole OT, cf.John 10:34. ’In other tongues . . .’: ’through men of foreign language and through the mouths of foreigners I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to me’. A paraphrase of Isaiah 28:11: as the Jews had refused to listen to Isaias, God says he will send the foreign-speaking Assyrians to attack them—the strange language will be, as it were, a Divine voice calling them to repentance. God has given the charisma of languages for a similar purpose.

23-25. He now seems to go a step further and to argue that even for unbelievers the prophetic gift is more beneficial than that of languages.

23. ’Unlearned’, i.e. ungifted, cf. v 16. 24f. ’Convinced . . .’: he is convicted by all. . . examined by all’. The prophetic gift enables them to penetrate into his thoughts and to awaken his conscience without necessarily betraying his secrets to others.

26-40 Rules for Orderly Services —We should naturally suppose that he is referring to Mass, and therefore to the first part of it, devoted to Scripture reading, exposition and exhortation, but some think another service is meant. Evidently great liberty of action had been allowed to members endowed with charismata, but we must remember that some of these were priests or deacons. Paul suppresses four abuses:

(1) Too many gifted members had spoken at one service.

(2) Members had spoken in strange languages without any interpretation given.

(3) Several gifted members had spoken simultaneously on the ground that inspiration could not or should be checked.

(4) Women endowed with charismata had been allowed to speak.

26. ’How . . .’: ’the same phrase as in v 15. ’Every one’, i.e. each of the specially gifted ones, or perhaps: ’individuals’, cf. 11:21; 12:7. ’Psalm’, which he had been inspired to compose, see v 15. ’Doctrine’: ’something to teach’: he had the teacher’s charisma. ’Revelation’: the prophetic charisma, cf. v 30.

27. ’Two or . . . three’: at any one service. ’In course’: ’In turn!’. ’One’: ’someone’.28. ’Him’: the member who wishes to speak in a strange language. ’Hold his peace’: a drastic change in Corinthian practice.

29. ’Two or three’ in turn at any one service: this is obvious from v 27. ’The rest’ seems to refer loosely to all who had the gift of ’discrimination of spirits’, 12:10.

30. ’The first’, i.e. the prophet who is at the moment speaking.

31. ’All prophesy’: seems to contemplate the possibility that the majority might possess the prophetic charisma.

32. ’The spirits’: ’the inspiration is under the control of the prophet’. Therefore there was no need for him to insist on speaking here and now. The same could be said about the gift of languages. For this meaning of’ spirit’, see vv 2, 12.

33. ’Dissension’: ’disorder’. The best texts omit ’also I teach’. ’Saints’, i.e. Christians, as in 1:2, etc. 34-35. This seems to be inconsistent with 11:2-16, where we hear of women praying and prophesying. See note there. Either ch 11 refers to more private devotions, or ’speak’ here means preaching or instructing and does not include prayer and inspired utterances at the meetings.

34. ’Churches’: ’assemblies, meetings’. ’Subject’: ’in subjection’. Women are not to exercise any authority in the church. Among men some authority, formal or informal, seems often to have been connected with certain charismata. (See 12:28.) ’The law’: perhaps refers to Genesis 3:16.35. ’It is disgraceful in a woman . . .’

36-38. These stern words refer to all the regulations just given in 26-35. They are aimed at possible objectors and opponents.

36. The Corinthian church has no right to set itself up as a pattern in opposition to other churches. ’Did the gospel originate with you? (i.e. were you the first Christian church?) Or are you the only ones who have received it?’

37. ’Whoever claims to be a prophet, or to have any spiritual gift, let him I recognize that what I write to you is the commandment of the Lord’. If he disputes that, his claim to inspiration is false.

38. ’Know not’: that Paul’s words are the commandments of Christ. ’Shall . . .’: better ’Is not known’—by God, cf. 8:3.

39. Prophecy is encouraged, but the public use of languages is only tolerated.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/1-corinthians-14.html. 1951.
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