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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 14

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

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Verses 1-40

(e) Spiritual Gifts

In the early Church various powers, faculties, and graces were bestowed on individual Christians by the Holy Spirit. Some of these were distinctly miraculous, such as prophecy, tongues, power to work miracles; others were less extraordinary gifts, such as teaching or wisdom; or special graces of Christian character, such as love. The Apostle does not distinguish between these classes; all alike come from the same Source, and are to be exercised for the good of all. The Corinthians were inclined to overvalue the more showy gifts, especially that of tongues. Those possessing this gift were tempted to use it for mere display; those not possessing it envied these others, and undervalued their own gifts.

St. Paul first (1 Corinthians 12) shows that all these gifts come from the same Spirit, and all alike contribute to the well-being of the Church. But love (1 Corinthians 13) surpasses them all; without it they are of no avail. Of these gifts, prophecy (i.e. inspired preaching, revelation of God’s will) is better than tongues because it builds up the Church, and produces a better effect upon unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14). But the exercise of both gifts must be so regulated that all things may be done, (a) ’to edifying’; (6) ’decently and in order.’

Verses 1-40

(e) Spiritual Gifts

(iii) The Gift of Tongues subordinate to Prophecy

The Apostle in this chapter deals with the abuse of the gift of tongues which characterised the Corinthians, and declares that it is inferior to the gift of prophecy, though valuable enough in itself if kept in proper control. Speaking with tongues is a phenomenon we meet with in the NT. only here and in the Acts of the Apostles. The gift as recorded in Acts 2 seems to have been the power to speak in foreign languages. We are told that Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, as well as dwellers in Asia Minor, Egypt, Rome, Crete, and Arabia heard their own languages spoken by the disciples on the day of Pentecost. In the Corinthian Church the gift of tongues seems to have been manifested in a different way. It took the form of ecstatic utterance. Those who possessed it often burst forth during public worship in a rhapsody of words, unintelligible to others and often to themselves. There were others who had the gift of interpreting these utterances and explaining them to the congregation. But often there was no interpreter present; and the unedifying spectacle was witnessed of several worshippers speaking at once, and no one understanding a syllable of what was said. This gift, too, as it attracted attention and appealed to the Greek belief in prophetic ecstasy and love of display, was held in high estimation and anxiously sought after: but as the results proved, it was capable of grievous abuse.

The Apostle here points out that the gift of tongues while it is of value to the person who possesses it (1 Corinthians 14:4), and of importance as-attracting the notice of unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22), is of no benefit to the Church, because it provides no edification (1 Corinthians 14:2, 1 Corinthians 14:5, 1 Corinthians 14:11-12). On the other hand, the gift of prophecy is a benefit to others, for by it the Church receives edifying; because the speaker declares the secrets of God’s dealing with men and reveals to men their need of God’s grace, speaking so that all can understand him. Therefore the Apostle, though himself possessed of the gift of tongues in a high degree (1 Corinthians 14:18) and desiring that others should have it also (1 Corinthians 14:5), declares that prophecy is a far higher gift, because far more useful to the Church (1 Corinthians 14:5, 1 Corinthians 14:22, 1 Corinthians 14:24-25).

1-19. The gift of prophecy is better than that of tongues, because it edifies believers.

1. Follow after charity] Seek a loving spirit before all things. And desire] RV ’yet desire earnestly’ (cp. 1 Corinthians 12:31); do not neglect other gifts. But rather that] and more especially that. Prophesy] inspired preaching; declaring God’s mind. A prophet in Scripture does not simply foretell the future; he tells forth the mil of God, and speaks for God as His mouthpiece.

Paraphrase. ’(2-4) One who has the gift of tongues speaks only to God; he does not communicate to others the mysterious truths of which he is conscious; he cultivates only his own spiritual life. But a prophet builds up the spiritual life of the Church by his words of exhortation and encouragement. (5) I do not disparage tongues; I should like you all to possess that gift; but it is inferior to prophecy unless the speaker can interpret and so build up the Church. (6) I myself could do you no good by speaking in a tongue, unless I added interpretation and teaching. (7) The melody played upon a musical instrument cannot be recognised unless the notes are distinct; (8) the bugle-call must be clear if it is to bring men to battle. (9) Similarly, unless it is possible to understand what you say, of what value are your words? (10, 11) Every language in the world has a meaning; but the hearer must understand the speaker’s language, if they are to communicate with one another. (12) Seek then for the spiritual gifts which are most useful in edifying the Church. (13) Let him who has the gift of tongues seek also the gift of interpretation, (14, 15) so that his understanding may have its part in his prayer and praise, as well as his spirit. (16, 17) How can the ordinary worshipper say “Amen” when you give thanks, if he does not understand what you say? Your thanksgiving may be earnest and heartfelt, but it is valueless for his comfort and encouragement. (18, 19) I am thankful that I am highly endowed with this gift; but I would rather in your gatherings for worship say five words that would be helpful to your spiritual life than ten thousand which no one could understand.’

2. An unknown tongue] RV omits ’unknown’: so throughout the chapter In AV it is in italics, merely added as an explanation or interpretation.

4. Edifieth (RM ’buildeth up’) himself] by conscious communion with God.

6. Except I shall speak to you] i.e. in addition to (or instead of) speaking with tongues. A rhapsody of praise imparts little truth to others.

9. By the tongue] i.e. with your tongue, the instrument of speech.

10, 11. Kinds of voices] i.e. languages. Barbarian] i.e. foreigner.

12. Excel] RV ’abound,’ i.e. in these gifts.

13. Pray that he may interpret] i.e. pray for the ability to make known to others the meaning of the impassioned words in which he has poured out his spirit.

14. Is unfruitful] is of no use to myself or to any one else.

16. Bless.. giving of thanks] Probably no special reference to the Eucharist. It is clear that public worship was largely at least extempore. Every member who was moved to do so, contributed to the edification of the congregation, by psalm, or prayer, or exhortation, or explanation: cp. 1 Corinthians 14:26.

Occupieth the room (RV ’filleth the place’) of the unlearned] RM ’him that is without gifts’; probably here, ’any one not understanding your “tongue.” The (RV) Amen] the close of prayers and thanksgivings among both Jews and Christians, expressing the assent of the congregation (Nehemiah 8:6; Psalms 106:48.)

19. In the church] i.e. at a Church assembly. St. Paul insists upon Church worship being really ’common prayer,’ each worshipper joining intelligently in what is said.

20-25. Prophecy is better than ’tongues’ for convincing unbelievers.

Paraphrase. ’(20) Do not reason like children, but like grown men: it is only in regard to knowledge of evil that I wish you to be childlike. So do not overestimate the more pretentious gift. (21) The histoiy of God’s dealings with Israel suggests a lesson regarding the use of unintelligible speech. The warning of impending judgment was brought home to the people of Judah when they heard the strange accents of the Assyrians among them. (22) And what is suggested to us is that the utterances of those who have received this gift are a sign to attract the attention of unbelievers and warn them of the presence of the Spirit: whereas, on the other hand, prophecy makes its appeal rather to believers. (23) But if an unbeliever comes into your assembly and hears only words uttered in ecstasy without interpretation, will he not suspect you all of madness? (24, 25) Whereas if he comes in and finds you prophesying, he is likely to be impressed and converted.’

20. Be not children] who seek the showy rather than the useful: cp. Matthew 10:16; Romans 16:19.

21. In the law] i.e. the OT. (Isaiah 28:11-12). As God confounded the unbelieving Jews who rejected Isaiah’s plain warnings as folly, by bringing upon them invaders (Assyrians) of unintelligible speech, so tongues are meant to impress unbelievers, as a sign of the existence of spiritual influences; but, as of old, many will be confirmed by them in their unbelief.

22. Tongues] were valuable to unbelievers as a sign of the Spirit’s presence, but not for believers, who already were convinced of it, and who could appreciate prophecy.

23. All speak with tongues] Not necessarily all at once, but one after another, leaving space for nothing else. Unlearned] cp. 1 Corinthians 14:16 any one not understanding this gift.

24. He is convinced of all] ’His conscience is aroused and awed by this united testimony to truth’ (Massie).

25. In you of a truth] ’among you indeed.’

26-33. Regulations for the exercise of the various gifts.

Paraphrase. ’(26) Now, brethren, I hear that there is much disorder in your worship, each of you being eager to utter his psalm, or lesson, or rhapsody, or interpretation, or exhortation, and apt to interrupt the other. Let this disorder cease, and everything be done with a view to strengthening your faith and deepening your spiritual life. (27, 28) Let no more than two or three speak with tongues at any meeting, and let them speak in succession, what they say being interpreted. But if there be no one present to interpret, let them engage in silent prayer and worship. (29-31) So also with the prophets: let two or three speak in succession; and if some one be moved to speak at any time, let him who is addressing you make way. In this way, you will all get an opportunity of edifying and being edified by one another. (32, 33) The prophet who is truly inspired is to be recognised by his self-restraint; for God does not inspire men to bring disorder into the Church, but prompts them to do the things that make for peace.’

26. Every one of you] The right of taking the lead in public worship was practically unrestrained at Corinth; and the need of regulation is here made very manifest. Hath a psalm] i.e. to sing (cp. Ephesians 5:19); either from the OT., or else impromptu: cp. the Magnificat, Benedictus, Nunc Dimittis. Doctrine, revelation] cp. 1 Corinthians 14:6, 1 Corinthians 12:28.

27. By two] i.e. two or, at most, three may speak in succession, if there is an interpreter.

28. Speak to himself, and to God] i.e. use this gift at home, not in public worship.

29. Let the other (RV ’others’) judge] whether the speakers have a message from God: cp. 1 Corinthians 12:10.

30. Be revealed to another] The speaker is to conclude if he perceive another has received a sudden revelation.

31. Comforted] i.e. encouraged, exhorted.

32. The spirits of the prophet, etc.] So let none maintain he must speak, or cannot stop. 33. The author] RV ’a God.’ Not confusion, but peace, is to His mind: cp. Romans 15:33. As in all churches of the saints] i.e. all Christian communities. This clause belongs to the whole preceding paragraph, ’Such arrangements are in force elsewhere, and you also ought to adopt them’: cp. 1 Corinthians 11:16; 1 Corinthians 4:17 note.

34-36. Women are not to speak in Church assemblies: cp. 1 Corinthians 11:3-16; 1 Timothy 2:11-15. In 1 Corinthians 11:5; St. Paul seems to allow, provided the head be covered, what he forbids here. Either (a) on second thoughts he now forbids it altogether; or, (b) here he is thinking of public services; there, of more private gatherings: cp. Acts 18:26, where Priscilla is associated with Aquila in the teaching of Apollos See also 1 Corinthians 16:19.

34. As also saith the law] Genesis 3:16: cp. 1 Timothy 2:13-14;

35. If they will learn any thing] Perhaps some had expressed their own opinions under cover of seeking information. Their husbands] Most would be married; speaking would be still more unsuitable for the unmarried.

36. Came the word of God out from you?] RV ’Was it from you that the word of God went forth? or came it unto you alone?’; i.e. you are neither the original nor the only Church; what are you that you diverge from the general practice and set up a standard of your own? The Apostle here falls back again on the weapon of sarcasm.

37-40. Conclusion of subject.

Paraphrase. ’(37) To sum up, then, let those who claim to have these spiritual gifts attend to these regulations, for they express the will of the Lord. (38) But if any one, refuse to learn, let him just abide in his ignorance. (39) Do not forbid the exercise of ecstatic utterance; but encourage prophecy. (40) See that aboye all you have all orderly and seemly worship.’

37. Spiritual] i.e. possessing spiritual gifts.

Let him acknowledge] If their claim to have the Spirit is true, they will recognise the authority of these regulations. The commandments of the Lord] cp. 1 Corinthians 7:10 contrast 1 Corinthians 7:25, 1 Corinthians 7:40.

38. Let him be ignorant] RM ’If any man knoweth not, he is not known,’ i.e. God does not recognise him. But perhaps the Apostle means, ’If any man will not learn, then he must just abide in his ignorance, with all its inevitable loss’: cp. Revelation 22:11.

39. Covet to prophesy] This is to be ’earnestly desired’ (RV); tongues are merely allowed.

40. Decently] i. e. in a becoming and proper way.

The principles St. Paul keeps steadily in view are, (1) Public worship must be edifying to all; (2) it must be conducted in good order.

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/1-corinthians-14.html. 1909.
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