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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 14

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

This verse sums up what Paul had just written about love, and it resumes the thought in 1 Corinthians 12:31 by restating that exhortation. In contrast to some of the milder advice he gave in this epistle, Paul urged his readers strongly to follow the way of love. This imperative advances the thought by urging the readers to seek the gift of prophesying in particular. This indicates that, while spiritual gifts are sovereignly bestowed, God does not necessarily grant them all at conversion. One may strongly desire a gift.

"At the end of chap. 12, where he had been speaking specifically of the gifts themselves as gracious endowments, he told them, ’eagerly desire the greater charismata.’ Now in a context where the emphasis will be on the activity of the Spirit in the community at worship, he says, ’eagerly desire the things of the Spirit [ta pneumatika].’" [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 655.]

Verses 1-5

The superiority of prophecy to tongues 14:1-5

The apostle began this discussion of tongues by comparing it to the gift of prophecy that the Corinthians also appreciated (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 13:8). He urged the Corinthians to value prophecy above tongues because it can edify and lead to conversion since it involves intelligible "inspired" speech.

Verses 1-25

4. The need for intelligibility 14:1-25

"Paul had discussed the gift of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, and the graces of the Spirit; and now he concluded this section by explaining the government of the Spirit in the public worship services of the church. Apparently there was a tendency for some of the Corinthians to lose control of themselves as they exercised their gifts, and Paul had to remind them of the fundamental principles that ought to govern the public meetings of the church. There are three principles: edification, understanding, and order." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:612.]

Paul went on to elaborate on the inferiority of the gift of tongues that the Corinthians elevated so they would pursue more important gifts. His point was that intelligible speech (i.e., prophecy) is superior to unintelligible speech (i.e., tongues) in the assembly. He argued first for intelligible speech for the sake of the believers gathered to worship (1 Corinthians 14:1-25). In this whole comparison Paul was dealing with the gift of tongues without the gift of the interpretation of tongues.

Verse 2

Glossolalia (speaking in tongues) by itself is not edifying to other people, but prophecy is. This statement again raises a question about what speaking in tongues involved.

On the day of Pentecost people spoke in tongues and other people who knew the languages spoken received edification because they heard of God’s mighty deeds in their native languages (Acts 2:1-11). Interpreters were unnecessary on that occasion (cf. Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6). Evidently what was taking place in the Corinthian church was different from what took place on the day of Pentecost. In Corinth, and perhaps in other early churches, people spoke in tongues among people who did not understand the languages. An interpreter was necessary for those present to understand and benefit from what the tongues-speaker was saying in a strange language (1 Corinthians 14:5; 1 Corinthians 14:13). Paul used "tongues" and "languages" interchangeably in this passage (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:2; 1 Corinthians 14:10-11; 1 Corinthians 14:13, et al.). This is an important proof that tongues were languages.

Some Christians have suggested another distinction. They have claimed that the tongues in Acts were foreign languages but the tongues in Corinthians were ecstatic utterances, not languages but unintelligible speech. [Note: E.g., Robertson and Plummer, pp. 301, 306.] There is no basis for this distinction in the Greek text, however. The terminology used is the same, and the passages make good sense if we take tongues as languages wherever they occur. In 1 Corinthians 13:1 Paul wrote "of the tongues of men and of angels," evidently two types of languages. [Note: See Keener, pp. 112-13, and S. Lewis Johnson Jr., "The Gift of Tongues and the Book of Acts," Bibliotheca Sacra 120:480 (October-December 1963):310-11.]

If someone spoke in an unknown language and no one could interpret what he was saying, the person speaking was not speaking to men. God knew what he was saying even though no one else did, including the person doing the speaking. In his human spirit the speaker was uttering mysteries (Gr. mysteria, things hidden or secret from the understanding of those in the church who were listening). Obviously Paul’s concern was the edification of the church. He did not disparage the gift of tongues itself, but he put it in its rightful place.

Paul described the spirit as distinct from the mind (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:14-19).

"Contrary to the opinion of many, spiritual edification can take place in ways other than through the cortex of the brain. Paul believed in an immediate communing with God by means of the S/spirit that sometimes bypassed the mind; and in 1 Corinthians 14:14-15 he argues that for his own edification he will have both. But in church he will have only what can also communicate to other believers through their minds." [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 657.]

Verse 3

In contrast to the foreign speech uttered by tongues-speakers, those present could understand what a prophet spoke in the language of his audience. It benefited the hearers by building them up, encouraging them, and consoling them. "Edification," "exhortation," and "consolation" set forth the primary ways in which prophecy (preaching) builds up the church. Its main purpose as a gift was not to predict events in the future but to build up believers in the present.

Official ApostlesThe Twelve and the Apostle Paul
Functional (unofficial) apostlesChurch planters and missionaries
Official ProphetsCommunicated new revelation
Functional (unofficial) prophetsCommunicated edification, exhortation, and consolation

Verse 4

The person who spoke in tongues in church edified himself or herself. He or she praised God and prayed to God while speaking in a tongue. He or she also benefited from realizing that the Holy Spirit was enabling him or her to speak a language that he or she had not studied. This would have encouraged the tongues-speaker, but that one did not edify himself or herself in the sense of profiting from the message the Holy Spirit had given. He did not know what his words meant unless he also had the gift of interpretation, but in this discussion Paul left that gift out of the picture almost entirely (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:5). Had he known what he was saying he could have communicated this to those present in their language. That is what a prophet did. Prophets did not just foretell the future or announce new special revelation from God. They also delivered statements or messages in praise of God, or a word of instruction, refutation, reproof, admonition, or comfort for others. [Note: See my note on 11:4.] Paul’s point was that edifying the church is more important than edifying oneself. He did not deny that speaking in tongues does edify the tongues-speaker (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:14-15; 1 Corinthians 14:18-19).

"Though he himself would not comprehend the content of that praise, his feelings and emotions would be enlivened, leading to a general exhilaration and euphoria. This was not a bad thing. Paul certainly was no advocate of cold, dispassionate worship. The gifts where not given for personal enrichment, however, but for the benefit of others (1 Corinthians 12:7; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:24; 1 Peter 4:10). Personal edification and exhilaration were often natural by-products of the legitimate exercise of one’s gift, but they were not the main reasons for its exercise." [Note: Lowery, "1 Corinthians," p. 538.]

Verse 5

Paul acknowledged the value of the gift of tongues even though it also required an interpreter. Nevertheless he made it clear that the ability to prophesy was more important. The issue, again, is private versus public benefit. Since Paul depreciated speaking in tongues without interpretation so strongly, it seems very likely that this is what the Corinthians were doing in their meetings. The real issue was not a conflict between tongues and prophecy, however, but between unintelligible and intelligible speech.

In this whole discussion "prophecy" evidently refers primarily to an impromptu word that someone would share in a service in which congregational participation was possible more than to a prepared sermon.

Verse 6

This verse sets the scene for what follows in this pericope. "Revelation," "knowledge," "prophecy," and "teaching" are all intelligible utterances. These words probably refer to a new revelation (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8), an insight into truth, a word of edification, exhortation, or consolation from the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:3), and instruction in the faith.

Verses 6-12

Supporting analogies 14:6-12

Paul illustrated his point that hearers do not benefit at all from what they do not understand. He used musical instruments as examples and clarified more about foreign languages.

Verses 7-8

Even the sounds people make using inanimate musical instruments need to be intelligible to profit anyone. This is especially obvious in the case of a call to battle. If the bugler blows a confused tune, the army will not know whether to attack or retreat. The harp and the flute, as well as the bugle, were commonplace in the Greco-Roman world.

Verse 9

Incomprehensible speech may be personally satisfying to the one talking, but it profits only a little those who are listening. The only profit would be entertainment. For example, in church when a foreigner sings a solo in his or her native language, almost everyone enjoys the song because of its beauty. Yet we do not receive edification from it since the words are unintelligible to us.

Verses 10-11

Clearly Paul was speaking about languages, not gibberish, even though the Greek word translated "languages" (phone) means "sounds" or "voices." The context shows he had languages in mind. A non-Greek was a foreigner (Gr. barbaros, barbarian) to a Greek. The word barbaros is onomatopoetic, meaning the foreigner’s language sounded like so much "bar bar bar" to the Greek. Paul’s point was that for communicating, the tongues-speaker who did not have an interpreter was no better than an incomprehensible barbarian. Even though his speech may have had meaning to the speaker, it had none to the hearers.

Someone may enjoy watching and listening to an Italian or other foreign language opera occasionally. He or she may like to listen to the music for its own beauty even if he or she may not be able to understand the words. However, when the foreign words being sung are translated into English with captions above the stage or on the screen, the listener can enjoy it even more. Then one can profit from following the story, which he or she cannot do if all that one takes away from the performance is the memory of beautiful sounds.

Verse 12

In view of this the Corinthians who were zealous for spiritual gifts would be better off pursuing the gifts that would enable them to build up the church. They should value these rather than the gifts that gave them some personal satisfaction when they exercised them but did not edify others. The Corinthians were zealots when it came to spirits (Gr. pneumaton). The English translators often interpreted this word as synonymous with pneumatikon (spiritual gifts, 1 Corinthians 14:1), but it is different. Probably Paul meant that they were zealous over a particular manifestation of the Spirit, what they considered the mark of a truly "spiritual" Christian, namely, the gift of tongues (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:14-15; 1 Corinthians 14:32).

"Utterances that are not understood, even if they come from the Spirit, are of no benefit, that is, edification, to the hearer. Thus, since they have such zeal for the manifestation of the Spirit, they should direct that zeal in corporate worship away from being ’foreigners’ to one another toward the edification of one another in Christ." [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 666.]

Verse 13

The Corinthian who already had the gift of tongues should ask the Lord for the ability to interpret his or her utterances so the whole church could benefit from them (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:5). Note that Paul did not say that they should abandon this gift, but their practice of it needed correcting.

Verses 13-19

Application in view of believers 14:13-19

Paul continued his argument by clarifying the effect that unintelligible speech has on believers gathered for worship.

Verse 14

Public prayer is in view here, as it is in this whole chapter (1 Corinthians 14:16), but some may have been praying in tongues privately as well. While praying in a tongue might give the person doing so a certain sense of exultation in his spirit, his mind would not benefit. He would not know what he was saying without interpretation. The "spirit" (Gr. pneuma) seems to refer to that part of the person that exercises this spiritual gift. It is separate from the mind obviously (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:4). The person’s spirit prays as the Holy Spirit gives him or her utterance.

Verse 15

Paul advocated praising and praying to God with both the spirit (emotions) and the mind (understanding). The spirit and the mind are both receptors as well as expressers of impressions. Music without words can make a real impression on us even though that impression is not intellectual. One reason tongues is an inferior gift is that in it the reason has no control.

Sometimes modern Christians who believe they have the gift of tongues wonder if they should speak in tongues in private even though they do not know what they are saying. Some of them claim that doing so edifies them (1 Corinthians 14:4). Let us assume they are speaking some language that they have not studied, which is what the tongues-speakers in the early church were speaking. This, by the way, eliminates most modern tongues-speakers since most modern tongues-speakers simply repeat gibberish. A pastor friend of mine who used to "speak in tongues" (gibberish) said he had taught many Christians to "speak in tongues" and could teach anyone to do so. According to him it just requires learning a few phrases, getting oneself into the proper emotional state, and releasing one’s inhibitions. Paul did not discourage speaking unknown languages in private. Nonetheless the relative value and profitability of such an experience are so minimal that its practice seems almost foolish in view of the more edifying options that are open to Christians. Perhaps the current preoccupation with feeling good, in contrast to having to work hard with one’s mind to edify the church, is what makes this practice so attractive to many today.

"It is, of course, impossible for anyone to prove experimentally that speaking in tongues cannot occur today. It may be demonstrated, however, that speaking in tongues is not essential to God’s purpose now, and that there are good reasons to believe that most if not all the phenomena which are advanced as proof of modern speaking in tongues is either psychological or demonic activity." [Note: John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, pp. 185-86.]

If the New Testament gift of tongues were still in the church today we would expect that missionaries with this gift would not have to go to language school to learn the language of the people they were preparing to minister to. But this is not the case.

Verses 16-17

Paul used the word "bless" for pray here. When we praise God in prayer we say a benediction on Him, a word of blessing. Those believers (Gr. idiotes) who do not understand what the person praying in tongues is saying are unable to add their affirmation at the end of the prayer. "Amen" means "so be it." Whenever we lead in public prayer we should do it so the other people praying can join us and affirm our words (cf. 1 Chronicles 16:36; Nehemiah 5:13; Nehemiah 8:6; Psalms 106:48). It is clear in 1 Corinthians 14:16 that Paul was speaking about a public worship situation. Giving thanks in public worship is important even if no one else joins in, but it is even more important that other believers can join in.

Verses 18-19

Corinthian tongues-enthusiasts could not reject Paul’s instruction because he did not have the gift himself and so failed to appreciate its value. He believed in the validity of the gift but did not value it highly. [Note: See Chadwick, p. 269.] He almost deprecated it. Edifying instruction was 10,000 times more important than personal private exultation for the building up of the church gathered for worship. This is another use of hyperbole, which was common in antiquity. [Note: Keener, p. 114.] The edification (building up) of the body is, of course, God’s great purpose for Christians today (Matthew 16:18).

Paul affirmed the gift that the Corinthians apparently regarded as the sign of genuine spirituality, but he did so by correcting their thinking about what was really important in their meetings. Worship should never be selfish, and it should always be intelligible. [Note: Barclay, The Letters . . ., p. 145.]

Verse 20

Thinking that tongues-speaking demonstrates spirituality evidences immaturity.

"Children prefer what glitters and makes a show to what is much more valuable; and it was childish to prefer ecstatic utterance to other and far more useful gifts." [Note: Robertson and Plummer, p. 315.]

"Some people have the idea that speaking in a tongue is an evidence of spiritual maturity, but Paul taught that it is possible to exercise the gift in an unspiritual and immature manner." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:614.]

There is a sense in which it is good for Christians to be childlike, namely, in our innocence regarding evil. Still, in understanding, we need to be mature (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1-2). The Corinthians were not innocent in their behavior any more than they were mature in their thinking.

Verses 20-25

Application in view of unbelievers 14:20-25

Uninterpreted tongues did not benefit visiting unbelievers any more than they edified the believers in church meetings. Prophecy, on the other hand, benefited both groups.

Verse 21

The "Law" refers to the Old Testament here since the passage Paul cited is Isaiah 28:11-12 (cf. Deuteronomy 28:49; Isaiah 29:10-12; Isaiah 30:9-11; Isaiah 33:19). The context of this passage is the Israelites’ refusal to accept Isaiah’s warnings concerning the coming Assyrian invasion. God said because they refused to listen to the prophet’s words He would "teach" them by using their foreign-speaking invading enemy. Nevertheless even then, God said, they would not repent. Isaiah preached repentance to the Israelites in their own language, but they did not repent. Then God brought the invading Assyrians into Israel. Still His people did not repent even though God "spoke" to them of their need to repent by allowing them to hear the foreign language of this enemy.

Verse 22

The "then" in this verse anticipates what is to come rather than drawing a conclusion from what has preceded. Tongues-speaking in the church signified to visiting unbelievers that the Christians were mad (1 Corinthians 14:23). [Note: See Zane C. Hodges, "The Purpose of Tongues," Bibliotheca Sacra 120:479 (July-September 1963):226-33; J. Lanier Burns, "A Reemphasis on the Purpose of Tongues," Bibliotheca Sacra 132:527 (July-September 1975):242-49; and Harold W. Hoehner, "The Purpose of Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:20-25," in Walvoord: A Tribute, pp. 53-66.] Prophecy signified to the believers that God was present and speaking.

Verse 23

Paul painted a picture of the Corinthian church assembled and engaged in a frenzy of unintelligible tongues-speaking. Two types of individuals walk in. One is a believer untaught in the matter of spiritual gifts and the other is an unbeliever. To both of them the worshippers appear to be insane rather than soberly engaged in worship and instruction. The church meeting would resemble the meetings of a mystery cult in which such mania was common.

"It was strange that what the Corinthians specially prided themselves on was a gift which, if exercised in public, would excite the derision of unbelievers." [Note: Robertson and Plummer, p. 317.]

Verses 24-25

If, on the other hand, someone in the church was prophesying and the congregation was receiving instruction, both visitors would gain a positive impression from the conduct of the believers. More importantly, what the prophet said would also convict them (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14-15). Paul’s description of the visitors’ response came from Isaiah 45:14 (cf. Zechariah 8:23) and contrasts with the unresponsiveness of the Israelites to messages God sent them in foreign languages. Prophecy would result in the repentance of visiting unbelievers, but tongues-speaking would not. These verses summarize the effects of good Christian preaching on unbelievers.

"The gift of prophesying, however successful, is no glory to the possessor of it. It is the Spirit of God, not the preacher’s own power, that works the wonderful effect." [Note: Ibid., p. 318.]

Paul did not mean that every individual in the church would either speak in tongues or prophesy (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:23). He meant that if one of those gifts dominated to the exclusion of the other the stated results would normally follow.

"The Corinthians tend to shut their ears to prophecy because they gain more satisfaction from listening to tongues than from hearing their faults exposed and their duties pointed out in plain rational language." [Note: Barrett, p. 324.]

To summarize, Paul permitted only intelligible utterances when the church gathered for worship because they edify believers and bring the lost to conviction of their need for salvation.

Verse 26

The apostle did not want any one gift to dominate the meetings of this richly gifted church. Again his list of utterance gifts was limited and selective. Many Christians could make a variety of contributions to the general spiritual welfare of the congregation. He permitted the use of tongues but not their exclusive use and only if someone provided an interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:27).

"That many in Corinth exercised their gifts in the interests of self-development and even of self-display can hardly be doubted; this was contrary to the law of love which regulates all Christian behaviour." [Note: Barrett, p. 327.]

Verses 26-33

The ordering of these gifts 14:26-33

The apostle now began to regulate the use of tongues with interpretation, and he urged the use of discernment with prophecy.

"St Paul has here completed his treatment (xii.-xiv.) of pneumatika. He now gives detailed directions as to their use." [Note: Robertson and Plummer, p. 319.]

Verses 26-40

5. The need for order 14:26-40

The Corinthians’ public worship practices not only failed to be edifying and convicting, but they also involved disorderly conduct. Paul proceeded to deal with this additional need to help his readers value these qualities over the pseudo spirituality that they associated with glossolalia.

Verses 27-28

Paul laid down three guidelines for the use of tongues in public worship. First, the believers should permit only two or at the most three interpreted tongues messages. This is in harmony with the inferior contribution that tongues make compared with prophecy. Second, the speakers should give them consecutively rather than concurrently to minimize confusion. The Spirit does not overpower the speaker but is subject to the speaker, and the Spirit leads speakers to contribute in appropriate times and ways. The Spirit’s leading of the Old Testament prophets to speak at appropriate times and settings illustrates this. Third, the Christians should not allow tongues without interpretation in the church services, though Paul did permit private tongues-speaking (1 Corinthians 14:2; 1 Corinthians 14:4; 1 Corinthians 14:27). However remember that tongues were languages, and Paul valued private tongues-speaking quite low (1 Corinthians 14:2; 1 Corinthians 14:10-11; 1 Corinthians 14:13-14, et al.).

Verse 29

Likewise the prophets should minister in an orderly fashion and limit themselves to two or three messages at a service. The others in the congregation (not just other prophets) should pay attention to what they said. The Greek word diakrino means "pass judgment" (NASB) or "weigh carefully" (NIV). In 1 Corinthians 12:10 it reads "distinguish." Here it probably means to evaluate it carefully and, if need be, to reject it if the ministry was not in harmony with Scripture.

"The apostle does not instruct the churches to sort out the true and false elements in any particular prophecy. Rather, he instructs them to sort out the true and false prophecies among the many they would hear." [Note: R. Fowler White, "Does God Speak Today Apart from the Bible? in The Coming Evangelical Crisis, p. 84. This essay is a rebuttal of the teaching of Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, pp. 133-43, 209-15; and Grudem, The Gift . . .; idem, Systematic Theology, pp. 1049-61, on this subject.]

Verses 30-31

Here we seem to have an example of two of the different kinds of prophesying that took place in the early church conflicting with each other. What Paul seems to have envisioned was one person-both men and women could prophesy in this sense (1 Corinthians 11:4-5)-sharing a word from the Lord. This type of prophesying was open to almost anyone in the church. While this person was speaking, another prophet received a revelation from the Lord. This appears to be a more direct revelation than just the desire to address the congregation that had moved the first speaker to minister. In such a case the first speaker was to give preference to the person making the new revelation. Presumable the first speaker could finish what he was saying later if he or she desired to do so. An example of this happening is in Acts 11:28; Acts 21:10-11, when the prophet Agabus made revelations to the Christians in Antioch and Caesarea respectively.

"There was obviously a flexibility about the order of service in the early Church which is now totally lacking. . . . Everything was informal enough to allow any man who felt that he had a message to give to give it." [Note: Barclay, The Letters . . ., p. 150.]

Verses 32-33

Prophets were to control themselves when speaking, even when giving new revelation (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:27-28). The nature of this gift was that it did not sweep the prophet into a mindless frenzy. Pagans who received demonic revelations frequently lost control of themselves. Inability to control oneself was no evidence that the prophet spoke from God. On the contrary, it indicated that he was not submitting to God’s control because God produces peace, not confusion.

"The theological point is crucial: the character of one’s deity is reflected in the character of one’s worship. The Corinthians must therefore cease worship that reflects the pagan deities more than the God whom they have come to know through the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:2-3). God is neither characterized by disorder nor the cause of it in the assembly." [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 697.]

Again the apostle reminded his readers that what he was commanding was standard policy in the other churches (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 7:17; 1 Corinthians 11:16; 1 Corinthians 14:36). This reminds us again that this church had some serious underlying problems.

Confusion and disorder in church services are not in keeping with the character of God and so dishonor Him.

Verse 34

The word translated "silent" (Gr. sige) means just that, namely, to keep silent or to hold one’s tongue. However in 1 Corinthians 11:5 Paul spoke as though women prophesying in the church was a common and acceptable practice. I think the best explanation of this apparent contradiction comes out of the context, as is usually true. Paul had just permitted others in the congregation to evaluate the comments that a prophet made (1 Corinthians 14:29). Now he qualified this by saying the women should not do so vocally in the church meetings, as the men could. The teaching of the Law on this subject appears to be a reference to woman’s subordination to the authoritative man in her family (Genesis 3:16). The "Law" then would refer to the Old Testament, as in 1 Corinthians 14:21.

"Although some philosophic schools included women disciples (and Jesus seems to have allowed them, Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:1-3; Luke 10:38-42), most schools, whether Jewish or Gentile, did not, and society expected men rather than women to absorb and question public lectures." [Note: Keener, p. 119.]

". . . ancient society rarely allowed teaching roles to women." [Note: Idem, "Women’s Education and Public Speech in Antiquity," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50:4 (December 2007):759.]

Verses 34-35

The ordering of the women 14:34-35

Paul had formerly acknowledged that women could share a word from the Lord in the church meetings (1 Corinthians 11:4-16). Now he clarified one point about their participation in this context of prophesying.

Verse 35

Rather than calling out a question in the middle of some male or female prophet’s message, a woman was to wait and ask her husband about it at home after the service. Presumably unmarried women would ask their fathers or some other man in the church after the service. Men could raise questions or make comments, but too much of this could ruin the order of the service and the edifying value of the message. Consequently Paul asked the women, evidently in harmony with their position of subordination, to refrain. It is improper for a woman to speak in church meetings in the situation Paul addressed in the context. That situation is the questioning and perhaps challenging of what a prophet said who was sharing something he or she believed God had given him or her to pass on to the church. [Note: Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, pp. 136-37; Morris, pp. 201-2; Robertson and Plummer, p. 325; James B. Hurley, Man and Woman In Biblical Perspective, pp. 188, 190; the NET Bible; et al.]

"To suggest that the women should learn by asking their husbands at home (1 Corinthians 14:35) would sound repressive to most of us today (at least where questions can be asked in public meetings), but probably seemed comparatively progressive in Paul’s environment (and in some traditional cultures today)." [Note: Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, p. 119.]

There have been many other explanations of this apparent contradiction. The view that women should not speak at all in the church, under any circumstances, has a long history. [Note: One fairly recent advocate was James Greenbury, "1 Corinthians 14:34-35: Evaluation of Prophecy Revisited," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51:4 (December 2008):721-31.] But it does not resolve the apparent contradiction. Richard Lenski assumed that all of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:26-32 applies only to men and that he added 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 as an appendix to deal with women’s participation. [Note: Lenski, p. 614.] However this does not harmonize with 1 Corinthians 11:4-5. William Barclay believed at this point Paul was not able to rise above the spirit of his age that said women should not participate in intellectual activities on a par with men. [Note: Barclay, The Letters . . ., p. 151.] This view fails to appreciate the implications of Paul’s inspiration by the Spirit as he wrote as well as his high regard for women that he expressed elsewhere in his writings. G. Campbell Morgan seems to have regarded Paul’s prohibition as necessary in view of conditions unique in Corinth. [Note: Morgan, pp. 180-81.] C. K. Barrett believed Paul did not write 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. He presumed some other person added them to the text later when Christians thought good order was more important than the freedom of the Spirit. [Note: Barrett, pp. 332-33.] Gordon Fee also argued that these verses are inauthentic. [Note: Fee, The First . . ., pp. 699-702.] Harry Ironside believed the occasions at which women could speak were different from the official meetings of the church at which they were to be silent. [Note: Harry A. Ironside, Addresses on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, pp. 454-55. Cf. Wiersbe, 1:616.] David Lowery wrote that Paul wanted the married women whose husbands were present in the meeting to be silent, but that other women could speak if properly covered. [Note: Lowery, "1 Corinthians," p. 541.] S. Lewis Johnson Jr. seems to have felt women could never speak in the church meetings except when they prayed or prophesied. [Note: S. L. Johnson Jr., "The First . . .," p. 1255.] H. Wayne House concluded that women could not speak if others considered that what they said was authoritative. [Note: H. Wayne House, "Caught in the Middle," Kindred Spirit 13:2 (Summer 1989):14; idem, "The Speaking of Women and the Prohibition of the Law," Bibliotheca Sacra 145:579 (July-September 1988):301-18.] Anne Blampied said Paul told the women to keep silent because they were violating the principle of order in the church, not because they were women. [Note: Anne B. Blampied, "Paul and Silence for ’The Women’ in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35," Studia Biblica et Theologica 18:2 (October 1983):143-65.] Andrew Spurgeon interpreted the imperatives as permissive; he believed that they expressed Paul’s approval of what the Corinthian women were doing. [Note: Andrew B. Spurgeon, "Pauline Commands and Women in 1 Corinthians 14," Bibliotheca Sacra 168:671 (July-September 2011):317-33.]

The most common view is that Paul forbade some form of inappropriate speech, not all speech. [Note: E.g., Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, p. 135.] The second most popular interpretation is that Paul forbade some form of "inspired" speech other than prophecy, perhaps contradicting the prophets or speaking in tongues.

"Paul’s long response to the Corinthians’ enthusiasm for tongues is now finished. The basic issue is over what it means to be pneumatikos (’spiritual’); and on this issue Paul and they are deeply divided. They think it has to do with speaking in tongues, the language(s) of the angels, the sure evidence that they are already living in the pneumatic existence of the future. For this reason they have great zeal for this gift (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:12), including an insistence on its practice in the gathered assembly. Apparently in their letter they have not only defended this practice, but by the same criterion have called Paul into question for his lack of ’spirituality.’ Hence the undercurrent of apologetic for his own speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:6; 1 Corinthians 14:15; 1 Corinthians 14:18.

"Paul’s response to all this has been twofold. First, they are to broaden their perspective to recognize that being Spirit people by its very nature means a great variety of gifts and ministries in the church (chap. 12). Second, the whole point of the gathered people of God is edification, the true expression of love for the saints. Whatever they do in the assembly must be both intelligible and orderly so that the whole community may be edified; thus it must reflect the character of God, which is how it is (or is to be) in all the churches of the saints (1 Corinthians 14:33)." [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p. 709.]

Verse 36

In this verse Paul reminded the Corinthians that they did not set the standard for how the church meetings should proceed. Their arrogance evidently drew this warning. The Corinthian church was not the mother church nor was it the only church to which the gospel had come (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:16; 1 Corinthians 14:33 b). Therefore the Corinthian readers should submit to the apostle’s direction (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1-23).

Verses 36-40

Concluding confrontation 14:36-40

Paul concluded his answer to the Corinthians’ question concerning spiritual gifts (chs. 12-14) and his teaching on tongues (ch. 14) with a strong call to cooperation. He zeroed in on their individualism (1 Corinthians 14:36; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33) and confronted them on the issue of who indeed was spiritual (1 Corinthians 14:37). As a prophet of old he warned anyone who disagreed with his instructions (1 Corinthians 14:38) and finally summarized his argument (1 Corinthians 14:39-40; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:18-21).

Verse 37

Anyone could easily validate a Corinthian’s claim to being a prophet or spiritual. He could do so by seeing if he or she acknowledged that what Paul had written was authoritative because he was an apostle of the Lord. Submission to apostolic authority was the test, not speaking in tongues. Submissiveness to the apostles and their teaching was an expression of submission to the Lord Himself (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:10; 1 Corinthians 7:25). It still is.

Verse 38

The Corinthians should not recognize as a prophet or as a person under the control of the Holy Spirit anyone who refused to acknowledge the apostle’s authority. Failure to recognize the Lord as the source of Paul’s teaching would lead to that person’s failure to be recognized (i.e., acknowledged with approval) by the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:2-3)

Verse 39

"Therefore" signals a summation of the entire argument on spiritual gifts. "My brethren" sounds a loving note at the end of this very stern discussion (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10). "Desire earnestly to prophesy" repeats the imperative with which Paul began (1 Corinthians 14:1). "Do not forbid to speak in tongues" concedes the legitimacy of their favorite gift. Paul heartily encouraged the exercise of the gift of prophecy, but he only permitted the gift of speaking in tongues with certain qualifiers.

As time passed, God no longer gave prophets revelations concerning the future. The apostle John was evidently the last person to function as a prophet in this sense (cf. Revelation 22:18). They also no longer received new revelation from the Lord. We can see this passing away even during the history of the church that Luke recorded in Acts. Much of the revelation contained in the books of the New Testament was of this type. In this sense the gift of prophecy was foundational to the establishment of the church and has ceased (Ephesians 2:20). Nevertheless people continued to speak forth messages from the Lord, the basic meaning of the Greek word propheteuo (to prophesy). In the more general sense this gift is still with us today (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:3).

Paul said his readers were not to forbid speaking in tongues. He meant they were not to do so provided they followed the rules he had just explained for the exercise of the gift. Certainly if someone has the New Testament gift of tongues, he or she should observe these rules today as well. However, many Christians seriously doubt that anyone has this gift today. Christians involved in the charismatic movement believe the gift does exist today. Nevertheless the differences between tongues-speaking as practiced today and what took place in first-century churches has led many believers to conclude that these are very different experiences.

Verse 40

The foundational principles that should underlie what takes place in church meetings are these. Christians should do everything in a decent and orderly manner, everything should be edifying (1 Corinthians 14:26), and a spirit of peace should prevail (1 Corinthians 14:33).

This chapter on speaking in tongues is extremely relevant because of current interest in the charismatic gifts of the Spirit. If believers followed the teaching in this chapter alone, even in charismatic churches, there would be far less confusion in the church over this subject.

"In these three chapters (xii.-xiv.) the Apostle has been contending with the danger of spiritual anarchy, which would be the result if every Christian who believed that he had a charisma were allowed to exercise it without consideration for others." [Note: Robertson and Plummer, p. 328.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-corinthians-14.html. 2012.
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