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Tuesday, July 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 14

Dunagan's Commentary on the BibleDunagan's Commentary

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I. In The Assembly: Prophecy Is Preferable To Tongues: 14:1-12

II. The Need For Interpretation In The Assembly: 14:13-19

III. Tongues Are A Sign To Unbelievers: 14:20-25

IV. The Regulation Of The Gifts In The Assembly: 14:26-40


A. While Chapter 12 introduced the "more excellent way" (12:31), and Chapter 13 defined it. Chapter 14 reveals the practical demonstration of it. "This chapter shows that love for others will influence one to choose in preference to tongues, the more edifying gift of prophecy.." (Erdman p. 143) The way of love will always direct Christians to select the gift which results in the most edification for the congregation. (14:3-5,12)

B. Many religious groups view the tongues described in this chapter as different from the tongues mentioned in Acts chapter 2:4-11. Barclay defines the popular view as follows: "In it a man because worked up to an ecstasy and a frenzy and in that state he poured out a quite uncontrollable torrent of sounds in no known language." (p. 142) And yet there exists no compelling reason to distinguish the tongues of Act_2:4-11 (or 10:45-46; 19:6 or Mar_16:17 ) from the tongues of 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14. Points to Note:

1. All the evidence points to the conclusion that the all these passages refer to the same gift. (a) The same name is given to this gift in all the passages cited. (b) The Holy Spirit was the source of the gift mentioned. (c) The purpose of the tongues, as a sign for unbelievers ( 1Co_14:21 ), fits the purpose of Act_2:4-11 . (d) The gift in 1Co_14:1-40 , included the possible ability to speak in more than one "tongue" (14:18). This also fits Act_2:4-11 . (e) Contrary to what Barclay said, Paul reveals that the tongue-speaker wasn't in an uncontrolled state of frenzy. (14:27-32) (f) The tongues of this chapter are clearly described as being languages. (14:9-11, 21)

2. The passage that gets people off track in this chapter is 14:2. Many people read this passage and automatically conclude that the tongue-speaker spoke in a language that nobody upon this planet would understand.

'Morris misses the point here. It's unintelligibility he argues, "makes it plain that the gift spoken of here is different from that in Act_2:1-47 , where all men understood." But, in the first place, it was understood there because there were people of all those different languages there, whereas, in this assembly (the context of chapter 14), Greek was the language spoken. And, secondly, it isn't true that all men there understood the tongues. Some mocked because they couldn't understand ( Act_2:13 ) (or because they didn't bother to listen for the Apostle who was speaking in their own native tongue.) Some of the people spoke Arabic and when they heard Arabic from ignorant Galileans, they were smitten. But what happened when they heard others speak Persian or Coptic or Latin?' (McGuiggan p. 179)

3. The point is that Paul is dealing with the abuse of this gift in the assembly. The whole context of this chapter is discussing the exercise of these gifts in an assembly (14:3-5,12, 13-19, 23-40) And in such an assembly, like this one that existed in Corinth, the vast majority all spoke the same language. To get up and exercise your gift of tongues (speaking in a foreign language which you have never learned-and neither had your Corinthian brethren), in an assembly where nobody knew that language, would result precisely in what is mentioned in 14:2 "for no one understands."

'The circumstances of a person speaking in a foreign language before people who do not understand that language meet all of the necessary requirements. Most commentators use these verses to make some condemnatory statements about the former practice of the Roman Catholics of conducting their mass in Latin rather than the vernacular language. Either their usage of this passage against the Catholics was an abuse of this passage or they must admit that the situation of a man speaking in a foreign language before an audience which does not know that language will meet the necessary requirements for giving a proper exegesis of this chapter.' [Note: _ Willis p. 476]


Verse 1

1Co_14:1 Follow after love; yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.

'Follow after love' -'As if a veritable chase.' (Robertson p. 181) 'Signifies to prosecute to its goal.' (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 902) 'Hotly pursue this love' (Mon); 'Make love your great quest' (Ber) 'Lit., pursue, strive for, seek after, aspire to..in Paul it is a favorite metaphor for spiritual effort ( 1Th_5:15 ; Rom_12:13 ; Rom_14:19 ; 1Ti_6:11 ; 2Ti_2:22 ). The present imperative implies continuous action, "keep on pursuing love."' (Fee p. 654)

Especially necessary when we remember that "without love", the most talented and gifted among the people of God, amount to nothing in God's estimation. (13:1-3) **Talent never can make up for a poor attitude.** There is never a point in our lives that we can stop pursuing the love described in 1Co_13:4-8 .

'yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts' -while the gifts were to be operational, the Corinthians are encouraged to seek them. (12:31; 1Th_5:19-20 ; 1Ti_4:14 ) After all, God gave them for a reason, and they had great benefit for the church when exercised properly. (14:3) Love isn't placed in opposition to the gifts, but rather, love opens up the true way for the proper exercise of every spiritual and natural gift.

'but rather' -'and above all' (NEB); 'and especially' (Gspd)

'that ye may prophesy' -Inspired preaching in the language of your audience.

Points to Note:

1. In certain situations, various gifts were "greater" than others. (12:31)

'It must be borne in mind that Paul is discussing these two gifts (prophecy and tongues) in relation to assembly worship . The whole chapter presupposes this and at times this is explicitly spelled out. To compare a steak-knife to a wood-chisel and claim the knife is superior makes no sense unless you have cutting steak in mind. Each is geared well for its own job. ' (McGuiggan p. 178)

In an assembly, where everyone spoke the same language, prophecy was the better gift, seeing that the prophet spoke in the common language of his audience.

2. Those who pursue love will always edify others around them, whether they have a spiritual gift or not!

Verse 2

1Co_14:2 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.

'For' -This and the next verse begins to explain why prophecy is particular gift to seek in relation to the assembly of the church.

'unknown' -(KJV). This word was added by the translators of the KJV. It has no equivalent word in the Greek text to justify it's insertion here.

'speaketh not unto men' -But the tongue-speakers were speaking to men and wanting recognition. (14:11, 14-17 "but the other man is not edified." 14:28) Hence this verse must be God's perspective. In reality, since no one in the Corinthian congregation knew the foreign language that the tongue-speaker was using, the only one in that assembly who understood the message was God.

'for no man' -'"No one understands" does not mean absolutely no one, for one who has the gift of interpretation, i.e. who is conversant with the particular foreign language used, would understand. Paul himself speaks about the possible presence of an interpreter, 27-28; in fact, the speaker himself may be able to act as an interpreter, 5,13.' (Lenski p. 577) In addition, there were other people in the world that understood that dialect. But the point is, as the fact's are, presently no one in the Corinthian assembly understood that language.

'but in the spirit' -'but in his spirit' (NASV) 'his', being in italics, indicates that it was supplied by the translators. 'he is no doubt inspired, but he speaks mysteries.' (NEB) 'to speak "in" or "by" the Spirit, is an established Scriptural phrase, meaning to speak under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.' (Willis p. 477)

'mysteries' -'there is something worth hearing..mystery in Scripture is the correlate of revelation; here is stops short of disclosure.' (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 902)

Points to Note:

1. The tongue-speaker isn't speaking gibberish. Rather he is revealing Divine truth. The word 'mystery' isn't speaking about 'mysterious things', but rather, Divine truth that was once hidden. ( 1Co_2:7 ; 1Co_4:1 ; 1Co_13:2 ; Eph_3:3-4 ; Eph_3:9 ; Rom_16:25 '..the revelation of the mystery..')

2. The tongue-speaker did reveal the will of God. ( Act_2:11 ; Act_10:46 ) The message he spoke was intelligent. Unfortunately, seeing that the church in Corinth wasn't composed of people who spoke that tongue (dialect/language), the message remained a mystery.

Verse 3

1Co_14:3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification, and exhortation, and consolation.

'But' -in contrast to the tongues. In a congregation where everyone spoke the same language, prophesy, inspired preaching in the common language of the audience was the more useful gift.

'edification, and exhortation, and consolation' -'is speaking to his fellow men words that will build up faith' (TCNT); 'they stimulate and they encourage.' (NEB)

'edification' -3619. oikodome oy-kod-om-ay'; feminine (abstract) of a compound of 3624 and the base of 1430; architecture, i.e. (concretely) a structure; figuratively, confirmation: -building, edify(-ication, -ing).

Much of this letter has stressed the need to pursue those things which promote spiritual growth in others. (8:1; 10:23)

'exhortation' -3874. paraklesis par-ak'-lay-sis; from 3870; imploration, hortation, solace: -comfort, consolation, exhortation, intreaty. 'calling to one's side' (Robertson p. 181) This word can mean encouragement, comfort or exhortation (appeal).

This was the aim of inspired preaching, it is also the goal of "regular" preaching. ( 2Ti_4:2 ) God wants balanced preaching. Preaching that promotes spiritual growth, that exhorts (including encouragement, rebuke and admonition) and that offers comfort.

The gift of prophecy offered all these things to the people that heard the prophet speak, for the very simple reason that prophets spoke in the common language of the audience they were addressing.

Verse 4

1Co_14:4 He that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.

'edifieth himself' -Note: All tongue-speakers didn't necessarily understand what they had just said. (14:5,13-14)

Points to Note:

1. Some have a problem with the above. But no problem should exist concerning this concept. Those who insist that the tongues were heavenly languages or ecstatic utterances are faced with the same conclusion concerning what they believe the tongues to have been. Both views of the tongues run into the same wall.

Whatever the tongues were, all must come back to the same conclusion, i.e. that not all tongue-speakers understand what they had just said.

2. It would be a miracle to be able to speak fluently in a language you had never previously studied. But would it not be another miracle (or take another miracle) to be able then to understand what you had just said?

3. But people will say, 'how can you say something, without mentally comprehending what you said?' Someone could sarcastically respond 'people do it all the time'. But such does happen in the natural world, i.e. children say words before they understand what those particular words mean. And if that happens without a miracle, then certainly God can cause you to fluently speak in a foreign language, without the demand that you comprehend what you just said.

4. But then someone will say, 'But what benefit would it be to have the preacher preach a message to people that the preacher didn't understand himself. I mean, if the preacher didn't understand the content of his sermon, they how can he properly field any questions that his listeners might have?'

This problem I think is based on a misconception concerning the tongues. Apparently the tongues existed for the purpose to attract the attention of those listening. ( Act_2:4-12 '..they continued in amazement and great perplexity..') But we might be under the wrong impression if we think that the tongues were used to reveal whole sermons. In the First Century, the universal language was Greek, which was spoken almost anywhere. The tongues weren't necessarily needed to preach to people. Rather, they were used to attract the attention, to move people to enquire about the meaning of this event, i.e. here you are, an obvious foreigner, and yet you are speaking fluently in the local dialect. After the speaker had gained the attention of his audience, he would then preach to the people in a language that both of them understood.

'edifies himself' -Even the tongue-speaker who couldn't intrepet would be spiritually built up, just knowing that God was using him as an instrument in the effort to save unbelievers. (14:22)

'edifies the church' -and this is the question that love always asks, 'will it edify the church?' (10:23-24)

Verse 5

1Co_14:5 Now I would have you all speak with tongues, but rather that ye should prophesy: and greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.

'Now I would have you all speak with tongues' -Indicating that Paul isn't against the gift of speaking in tongues. Rather Paul is against a loveless and selfish use of tongues, i.e. using your gift when others don't benefit from it.

Point to Note:

This is yet another verse that reveals that all Christians in the First Century didn't speak in tongues. (12:30; 14:16) These two verses contradict the claim made by some Pentecostal groups that all "real" Christians receive a baptism of the Holy Spirit after conversion and as a evidence of that baptism, they speak in tongues.

'As opposed top to those who regard tongues as the indispensable mark of having received the Spirit or spiritual maturity.' (McGuiggan p. 180)

What do these two passages say about religious groups that gather around a new convert for hours in the attempt to "force" them to speak in tongues? What would the apostle Paul say about that practice? Who he commend them for such? (11:17)

'greater is he that prophesieth' -"Greater" in the sense of congregational benefit. (14:4) The Prophet, seeing that he speaks in the common language of the assembly benefits (14:3) more people. With one exception:

'except he interpret' -Which would put the message revealed by the tongues into the common language of the assembly in Corinth, and hence in this insistance such would be equal with the gift of prophesy. Under this condition and this condition only , were tongues allowed into the assembly. (14:27-28)

Point to Note:

"Greatness" is determined by "usefulness". Jesus even pointed out that "greatness" in the kingdom, would be determined by "usefulness" in serving others. ( Mat_20:27-28 )

Verse 6

1Co_14:6 But now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation, or of knowledge, or of prophesying, or of teaching?

'This verse begins a series of arguments designed to show the uselessness of uninterpreted tongues.' (Willis p. 481)

'But now' -'For suppose' (Phi) 'What the Apostle has said touching the criterion for edification, he applies to his own approaching visit.' (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 903)

'if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you' -'And now brethren, let me bring this matter still more closely home to you. You know that I intend to come to you. (4:18-19; 11:34) Very well; suppose I came speaking only in tongues, what would I profit you?...In order to see Paul's point the Corinthians need only to think of his coming visit and of his speaking to them only with tongues throughout that visit. What profit would they have from that visit?' (Lenski p. 582)

'unless' -the only speech that is profitable is speech that the audience understands! Preachers and teachers need to keep this in mind.

'either by way of revelation..knowledge..prophesying, or of teaching?' -All these refer to means and or gifts of revealing truth in the language of your audience. 'Revelation comes through the prophet, knowledge through the teacher.' (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 903)

Verse 7

1Co_14:7 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?

'Even things without life' -'This is only common sense. Even in the realm of instruments this makes sense.' (McGuiggan p. 180)

'giving a voice' -'producing a sound' (NASV)

'whether pipe or harp' -'The two instruments, flute and harp, are commonplace in the Hellenistic world..were played individually..and were used in various settings: dance, drama, pagan worship, etc..' (Fee p. 664)

Point to Note:

The restraint that the N.T. church had in reference to instrumental music being added to the worship services is amazing. Especially, in light of the following facts: (1) The O.T. had commanded them to be used in worship, and Christians possessed and read the O.T. ( Rom_15:4 ; 2Ti_3:15-16 ) (2) The religions surrounding them (Jewish and Pagan) used them. (3) They were popular in their own culture. (4) Something very strong must have prevented their use in the worship services during the first 600 years of Christianity. The only logical conclusion is that when Christians read the Scriptures, then must have reached the same conclusion members of the Lord's Church reach today, i.e. that their use in worship is unscriptural. ( Eph_5:19 )

'if they give not a distinction in the sounds' -'if they do not produce a distinction in the tones' (NASV); 'unless the notes are quite distinct.' (TCNT)

'how shall it be known what is piped or harped?' -The point being that even in the realm of "lifeless things", the need for intelligent communication is necessary, if any profit is to be derived.

'To sit down at a piano and haphazardly punish those keys is to be a pain in the neck. Having done that, could you expect sane people to appreciate it?' (McGuiggan p. 180)

Verse 8

1Co_14:8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain voice, who shall prepare himself for war?

'uncertain voice' -'an indistinct sound' (NASV) 'There were sound patterns made on the trumpet which called people to arise and fight. What if the trumpeter blew without making any recognizable pattern? Would the people know to rise to battle? Well, that's how foreign languages sound to the native. He gain nothing because he doesn't know what is being said.' (McGuiggan p. 180)

In this case, an unclear trumpet blast, might result in defeat and lives lost unnecessarily. The abuse of the tongues in the assembly, had definitely resulted in a failure to spiritually build up other Christians. Edification had been lost!

Verse 9

1Co_14:9 So also ye, unless ye utter by the tongue speech easy to understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye will be speaking into the air.

'So also ye' -'In the same way' (Beck); 'You too must use a language that men can understand' (Nor). If clarity in communication is necessary in "lifeless" things, how much more in the area of human communication.

'speech easy to be understood' -'language that men can understand' (Nor) 'Well-marked, distinct, clear.' (Robertson p. 182)

Again, preachers and bible class teachers need to take seriously the principle that is being stressed in these passages. Language that doesn't get the point across, language that the student doesn't understand or comprehend, is useless in that particular situation.

'for ye will be speaking into the air' -'a proverbial expression for ineffectual speech, like our "talking to the wind."' (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 905) 'Wasting your breath'.

Points to Note:

The tongues under consideration in this chapter: (1) Were languages. (2) Were public. These are not some sort of private prayer tongues! (14:5)

Verse 10

1Co_14:10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and no kind is without signification.

'voices' -'a great many kinds of languages in the world' (NASV)

'without signification' -'without meaning' (NASV). Every language in the world conveys meaning. 'That is means something to somebody...the Greeks love these paradoxical expressions' (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 905) 'and not one of them fails to convey meaning.' (TCNT)

Verse 11

1Co_14:11 If then I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh will be a barbarian unto me.

'I know not the meaning of the voice' -i.e. the meaning of the language being spoken. A situation identical to what was occuring with the abuse of tongues in the Corinthian congregation.

'barbarian' -'a favorite racial slur cast by Greeks on non-Greek speaking people.' (McGuiggan p. 181) 'For all ignorant of Greek language and culture.' (Robertson p. 182)

'Where's the advantage to being able to speak all of the languages of the world if the people you are speaking to don't understand them?...Does the tongue-speaker think people will think him wonderful because he can speak all these languages? If people are bombarded with language they don't understand ( especially when they're looking for edification ) they'll think the speaker is a barbarian..Not only will that create poor relations between the hearer and the speaker, it will work back the other way. The speaker will look down on those who can't appreciate what he is doing..The pride-filled tongue-speaker can't understand why these "peons" don't appreciate him and the listeners can't abide his parading (what to them is) his babbling.' (McGuiggan p. 181)

Verse 12

1Co_14:12 So also ye, since ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may abound unto the edifying of the church.

'So also ye' -This demonstrates that the tongue-speakers were no exception to the rule laid down in the preceding verses. They couldn't claim an "exemption" for their spiritual gift.

'since ye are zealous of spiritual gifts' -'eager for gifts of the Spirit.' (NEB); 'ambitious for spiritual endowments' (Gspd) Paul is not against "zeal for spiritual gifts", rather Paul is attempting to direct such zeal towards gifts that edify the congregation. 'Paul's present concern is to capitalize on their zeal, or more accurately, as before, to redirect their zeal.' (Fee p. 666)

'seek that ye may abound' -'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.' (Fee p. 666)

'be eager to excel in such as will build up the faith of the Church.' (TCNT)

'the edifying of the church' -Which infers that the benefit of the body is more important than the praise that might come upon one individual in the body. Spiritual gifts were not designed to elevate individuals, rather they were designed to edify the body.

Verse 13

1Co_14:13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in a tongue pray that he may interpret.

'Wherefore' -the logical conclusion. The only way in which the church can receive such edification from the tongue-speaker, is if the speaker or another can interpret. (14:5)

'pray that he may interpret' -indicating that some tongue-speakers possessed both gifts. (12:10) Which also infers that some Christians may have possessed more than one spiritual gift. It seems logical that the apostles possessed all of them. ( 2Co_12:12 ; taking all in consideration the wide range of miraculous events attributed to Paul in the N.T.)

Verse 14

1Co_14:14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

'For' -'Paul now applies the point..to their..worship by indicating the specific effect unintelligibility has on gathered worshipers.' (Fee p. 668)

'pray in a tongue' -This isn't a private prayer tongue. (14:16-17) While verse 13 was a prayer in your native tongue, here in verse 14 the prayer is made in a tongue or a foreign language.

'my spirit prayeth' -I know that I am praying to God, I know that the Holy Spirit is using me, I know that I am uttering spiritual words and thoughts. This isn't uncontrolled ecstasy. For the tongue-speakers did have control. (14:28)

'my understanding is unfruitful' -'but I don't know what I am saying' (Tay) Hence, the great need seen for the gift of interpretation.

Verse 15

1Co_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.

'What is it then?' -'So what shall I do?' (Fee p. 670) 'What then is my conclusion.' (TCNT)

'I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also' -'He will pray in a language he understands. That way he will gain understanding as well as the pleasure of communing with God..Not only will he make it his practice to pray in a language he understands, he will sing that way too.' (McGuiggan p. 181)

Points to Note:

1. This seems to indicate that some in Corinth had been exercising their gift of tongues while leading congregational prayers and in singing during the public worship.

2. Paul was a man who wanted the full benefit of prayer and singing. Worship that was beneficial was more important to him than a worship service that displayed his gifts. He simply wanted to worship God, he wasn't interested in calling attention to himself.

3. Public singing formed part of the worship found in the New Testament church.

Verse 16

1Co_14:16 Else if thou bless with the spirit, how shall he that filleth the place of the unlearned say the Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he knoweth not what thou sayest?

'Else' -'Otherwise' (NASV) He will go on to argue in verses 16-17 that praying in a tongue, not only doesn't benefit himself, neither does it benefit the minds of others either.

'bless with the spirit' -using your gift of tongues to offer a public prayer in the congregation.

'unlearned' -'ungifted' (NASV). Unskilled in the particular tongue that you are speaking. Some suggest that this word refers to non-Christian visitors who are expressing interest in becoming Christians. While such individuals are considered in 14:23, this verse seems to be refering to members who are unlearned in the tongue of the speaker, and hence cannot voice agreement with his prayer.

'Amen' -281. amen am-ane'; of Hebrew origin [543]; properly, firm, i.e. (figuratively) trustworthy; adverbially, surely (often as interj. so be it): -amen, verily.

-'So be it, truly' (Willis p. 492) 'Amen is the transliterated Hebrew word for "truth" or "verity" and used in the Greek as now in many languages in order to express full and decided assent.' (Lenski p. 594) ( Neh_5:13 ; Neh_8:6 ; 1Ch_16:36 ; Psa_106:48 )

'seeing he knoweth not what thou sayest' -indicating that one cannot "Amen" a prayer that they: (1) Believe is unscriptural. (2) Can't understand. (3) Can't hear.

Verse 17

1Co_14:17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

'verily givest thanks well' -'you are giving thanks well enough' (NASV) The prayer is excellent. Paul isn't running down the gift of tongues or even using your gift in prayer. Rather he is correcting an abuse. Exercising your gift when praying, when nobody in the congregation understands the language that you are praying in.

Point to Note:

In these passages we have learned that the gift of tongues under consideration could be used to express a prayer to God and to sing a psalm. Clearly, the tongues aren't gibberish.

'but the other is not edified' -and that is the problem. 'Such worship is sincere, but it is unprofitable to the hearers.' (Erdman p. 145)

Verse 18

1Co_14:18 I thank God, I speak with tongues more than you all:

'I do not underrate the gift of tongues; I myself possess the gift in the highest degree.' (Erdman pp. 145-146)

'I thank God' -far from thinking lightly of this gift, Paul thanks God for it.

'more than you all' -Some at Corinth may have discarded the views of all Christians who didn't speak in tongues. (12:21) Paul outmanoeuvrers the Corinthians here. He beats them to the punch. They can't discard his view of tongues, because he speaks in more tongues than any of them!

Verse 19

1Co_14:19 howbeit in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

'howbeit in the church' -'in the assembly' (Alf). Again, 'the public assembly of the congregation for worship' is the context of this chapter. In such a setting, where everyone spoke the same language, uninterpreted foreign languages were unprofitable.

'five words with my understanding' -'five words that can be understood.' (Beck); 'five intelligible words' (NEB)

'that I might instruct others' -the implication being that they should wish to do the same. 'All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. ' (10:23)

'ten thousand' -'the largest word for numbers available in Greek.' (Fee p. 675)

Verse 20

1Co_14:20 Brethren, be not children in mind: yet in malice be ye babes, but in mind be men.

'be not children in mind' -'do not be children in your thinking' (NASV); 'Do not be content to think childish thoughts' (Knox)

'in malice be ye babes' -'be babes in evil' (RSV); 'Keep the innocence of children.' (Knox)

'in mind be men' -'be grown-up in your thinking' (NEB)

Points to Note:

1. Obviously this verse infers that children aren't born in sin or inherently depraved.

2. Loveless action is "childish" action. Wanting to use your gift of tongues in the assembly, regardless of the fact that it doesn't result in edification, is behavior that Paul labels as "childish". The same application must be made to those who insist on their right to engage in certain activities (gambling, social drinking, smoking, dancing, etc..) regardless of how many Christians and non-Christians are turned away from the faith. When I only think about myself, I am engaging in "childish" thinking.

3. 'This verse must be read with a sigh to get its significance. And stress the word "brethren" as you read it. Does all this talk offend them? Does it upset them to hear him "put down" their "toy"? Are they going to huff and hold if against him? Are they going to get their way in the assembly no matter what Paul says? This would be an expression of malice.' (McGuiggan p. 182)

4. Christians should only be childlike in their freedom from evil.


Verse 21

1Co_14:21 In the law it is written, By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers will I speak unto this people; and not even thus will they hear me, saith the Lord.

'In the law it is written' - Isa_28:11-12 . Yes, the book of Isaiah was God's "law" also. Actually the whole O.T. was called God's law. (14:34; Joh_10:34 ; Rom_3:19 )

'The setting is clear. The people won't hear the words of the prophet (who speaks to them in their own language) so God will speak to them in the language of the Assyrians (if you think Israel is in view) or Babylonians (if you think Judah). Had they listened to the prophets they wouldn't have needed foreign chastizement. But they wouldn't listen so they will go into captivity. And in captivity they will be reminded of their unbelief by the daily "babbling" (of foreign dialects) going on all around them. It was unbelief that necessitated the lesson of the foreign language.' (McGuiggan p. 182)

Verse 22

1Co_14:22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to the unbelieving: but prophesying is for a sign, not to the unbelieving, but to them that believe.

'Wherefore' -based on the previous O.T. precedent.

'tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe' -'That means they weren't meant for, geared for, assembly use.' (McGuiggan p. 183)

'but to the unbelieving' -Tongues were intended by God to catch the attention of unbelievers. Which they did. ( Act_2:4-11 ; Mar_16:17-20 ...'The tongues came to Cornelius as a sign to convince the Jews who were with Peter that God had accepted the Gentiles. ( Act_10:46-48 ). The tongues which came to the Ephesians showed God's endorsement of the rebaptism of the disciples of John. ( Act_19:1-6 )' (Willis p. 497)

Point to Note:

The tongues that the unbelieving Jews heard following Isaiah's day were foreign languages. Even thou they were called "Strange tongues", i.e. strange to those hearing them. This is simply another bit of evidence in this chapter that points to the tongues of 1Co_14:1-40 as being foreign languages.

'prophesying..to them that believe' -Now prophesy did benefit the unbeliever. (14:24-25) 'He simply wishes to assert that its central thrust is for believers.' (McGuiggan p. 183)


'Verse 23 shows the disastrous impression which the exercise of the Tongues, carried to its full extent, must make upon men outside.' (Gr. Ex. N.T. p. 910)

Verse 23

1Co_14:23 If therefore the whole church be assembled together and all speak with tongues, and there come in men unlearned or unbelieving, will they not say that ye are mad?

'whole church...all speak with tongues' -after all, this is what the Corintians seemed to desire. 'It is because all of the Corinthians loved and admired tongues above all other gifts. So in his supposition Paul grants them their wish..Interpretation is, of course, disregarded.' (Lenski p. 602)

'and there come in men' -First Century congregations had their "vistors" too.

'unlearned or unbelieving' -Some feel that the "unlearned" in this verse refers to individuals who are expressing interest in Christianity.

The Corinthians thought that their uncontrolled tongue-speaking was impressive. Paul gives them a more real picture.

'will they not say that ye are mad?' -the visitors are not impressed!

What would be your reaction of entering a congregation, in which you were bombarded with one foreign language after another? Even if you heard your own dialect among them, the effect would be lost on you as other languages continued to pour out. Here is the logical end result of the misuse of this gift in Corinth. Every member just up exercising his gift, without considering anyone else. Zero edification for the assembly and potential converts are turned off!

Verse 24

1Co_14:24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one unbelieving or unlearned, he is reproved by all, he is judged by all;

'if all prophesy' -The visitor is convicted by the preaching of the prophet(s), because the prophet spoke in the language of the assembly, which would of also been the language of the city and it's inhabitants. The visitor is convicted because he/she understands the preaching.

'reproved by all' -'convicted by all' (NASV) 'called to account..Lying behind the word "convicted" is the OT view that one is exposed before the living God through the prophetic word '; inherent in such "exposure" is the call to repentance, the summons to have one's exposed sins forgiven by a merciful God.' (Fee p. 686) ( Joh_16:8 ; Eph_5:11 ; Eph_5:13 ; Tit_1:9 ; 2Ti_4:2 )

'judged by all' -'Examined..the word implies inquiry rather than sentence.' (Vincent p. 271) 'Question after question strikes home and reveals his sin and his guilt to him.' (Lenski p. 604) 'all these sermons will convince him of the fact that he is a sinner, and his conscience will be pricked by everything he hears.' (Tay)

Point to Note:

Here is Paul's view of the type of preaching and or teaching that needs to be found in the assembly of the saints. Lessons that would convict the hearts of men. If a sinner goes away feeling good and yet still in his sins, the lesson failed to accomplish God's desire.

Verse 25

1Co_14:25 the secrets of his heart are made manifest; and so he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed.

'secrets of his heart are made manifest' -The inspired word of God digs deep into this man's life. ( Heb_4:12-13 ) Lesson after lesson, speech after speech, inspired utterance after inspired utterance reveals to this man that the things he has tried to hide (secret sins, impure motives, sins that he has rationalized or justified) are going to condemn his soul. And hopefully the following will happen. After all, some did hear prophesy, and yet refused to yield. ( Act_24:25 )

'fall down on his face and worship God' -the outward manifestation of such inward conviction.

Points to Note:

1. I'm not sure if the above verse is saying that the prophets specifically reveal sins that this man has committed, or that, the inspired preaching hits upon all the various categories of sin that this man has been involved in.

2. 'No wonder the Corinthians preferred tongues; it not only gave them a sense of being more truly "spiritual" BUT IT WAS SAFER! 'i.e. no one felt bad, since no conviction of sin took place.

3. Modern Application: We can see why various religious groups have strayed away from biblical preaching. Most people tend to move towards what is comfortable and enjoyable. Worship services filled with stirring testimonals, healing services, concerts, plays, dramas, etc...are much more comfortable, then listening to preaching that convicts us of our sins.


'The basic problem Paul has with the Corinthian's singular zeal for the gift of tongues has now been addressed..because the gift is unintelligible, it neither edifies saints nor converts sinners . But that is not the only concern...Apparently there was a degree of disorderliness to their speaking in tongues as well...the argument of this section suggests that more than one of them was accustomed to speaking forth at the same time. Thus there appears also to have been a high degree of individualized worship in their corporate gatherings..' (Fee p. 688)

Verse 26

1Co_14:26 What is it then, brethren? When ye come together, each one hath a psalm, hath a teaching, hath a revelation, hath a tongue, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

'What is it then' -'What is the outcome then' (NASV); 'Then what is our conclusion' (Wms); 'Then what is the right course' (Gspd)

'He will now encourage them to allow each other to contribute to the edification of the assembly.' (McGuiggan p. 183)

'When ye come together' -'whenever you meet' (Phi). 'Present..whenever ye come together.' (Robertson p. 184) This rule or principle applied to every worship service. Note: The Church assembling is often found in this letter. (11:18,20, 33-34) Paul didn't picture that one could be a Christian and not meet with other Christians. ( Heb_10:24-25 )

'each one' -there existed plenty of opportunity and time in the assembly for the exercise of various gifts.

'The passage does, however, emphasize the involvement of many members in the activities of the public worship services. The idea of a clergy-laity distinction is unknown among the New Testament churches.' (Willis p. 504)

This verse points to the absence of a clergy that performed all the rites of worship for the congregation.

'psalm' -( Eph_5:19 ); 'with a song of praise' (Wey). Fee seems to think that this could also include a hymn that one would pray. Seeing that other passages connected with singing stress a mutual benefit quality ( Eph_5:19 ; Col_3:16 ); I would tend to shy away from saying that this passage allows soloists in the assembly.

'teaching' -'a lesson' (RSV). Any biblical piece of instruction. This could be uninspired teaching, since the idea of inspiration isn't inherent in the meaning of the word rendered "teaching". God saw the importance of worship that included "teaching", i.e. instruction in doctrine. ( 1Ti_4:13 ; 1Ti_4:16 )

'revelation' -a disclosure of divine truth. The type of messages that prophets delivered.

'Let all things be done unto edifying' -the rule that governed all that was done in the worship service. The same rule exists today.

Modern Applications:

When prayers are offered in the assembly they need to be heard. The preaching that is done needs to be on the level of those listening. The songs selected by the song leader should be songs that most in the assembly already know.

'Notice that both miraculous spiritual gifts and non-miraculous abilities were present in the assembly.' (Willis p. 505)

Verse 27

1Co_14:27 If any man speaketh in a tongue, let it be by two, or at the most three, and that in turn; and let one interpret:

'by two, or at the most three' -'One cannot be sure whether this means "at any one service" or "before there is an interpretation". In favor of the former is the phrase "at the most", plus the overall concern of the chapter that tongues not dominate the assembly.' (Fee p. 691)

'and that in turn' -'and each in turn' (NASV) 'This suggests they may have had many tongue-speakers and that they may have been speaking simultaneously.' (McGuiggan p. 183)

'let one interpret' -(14:6,13). From the standpoint of "orderliness", it would seem to make the most sense for the intrepretation to immediately follow each tongue-speaker, rather than the interpretation of all three utterances being given at once. Especially, in light of the visitors (14:23), or if the tongue-speaking happened to take the form of a prayer. (14:16)

Verse 28

1Co_14:28 but if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.

'if there be no interpreter' -implying that the tongue-speakers were required to know ahead of time if an interpreter was present. This demands that tongue-speaking wasn't a gift that "overwhelmed" one. Neither was it something that couldn't be predicted. The tongue-speaker could speak in tongues whenever he wanted! The gift could be exercised at will. So don't let any so-called tongue-speaker today weasle out of "proving their gift", by the excuse that "they just don't know when the Spirit is going to move them."

'let him keep silence in the church' -'Clearly, then, the tongue-speaker wasn't "overwhelmed" by the Spirit. Not only was the prophet in control of himself (32), the tongue-speaker was too.' (McGuiggan p. 184)

Remember this verse when someone says, "The Spirit is moving me and I can't help myself." Notice also. In those whole discussion on spiritual gifts, nothing is said about the Corinthians "rolling on the floor, going into convulsions, fainting, passing out, yelling, jumping up and down, or clapping hands." Evidently, some Charismatic groups are prone to worse abuses in the assembly, than even the Corinthians!

'let him speak to himself, and to God' -i.e. use the gift in private outside of the assembly?

Verse 29

1Co_14:29 And let the prophets speak by two or three, and let the others discern.

'by two or three' -two or three period (for the whole service). Or two or three in a row? Personally I lean towards the two or three period. Paul didn't consider a longer worship service to be a more spiritual worship service.

'let the others discern' -'pass judgement' (NASV); 'weigh what is said' (Gspd). ( 1Jn_4:1 ; 1Th_5:20-21 ; Act_17:11 ).

'The church was obligated, not to blindly accept anything any prophet taught, but to test what was taught to see if it harmonized with the rest of God's word.' (Willis p. 508)

How much more do we need to weigh carefully the messages delivered by uninspired teachers and preachers. During the day and age of inspiration God created a checks and balances system within the church. There were prophets, but there also existed prophets who examined the messages of the prophets. (12:10)

This verse infers that a person who had the gift of prophecy could teach false doctrine, i.e. the selfish person with the gift of prophecy could apparently disregard what the Spirit was revealing.

The teacher of truth is never offended when people question or scrutnize the teaching which they have just delivered. If fact, God commands such scrutiny.

Verse 30

1Co_14:30 But if a revelation be made to another sitting by, let the first keep silence.

'let the first keep silence' -'round off his speaking and stop. This he is to do on the assumption that God wouldn't reveal something to the prophet at that point unless it had priority over what was now being said.' (McGuiggan p. 184)

This verse also reveals that a truly inspired speaker was also in control of his gift. Seeing that the prophet could stop his lesson (even though he wasn't finished), and sit down in silence to listen to another man, reveals that nobody was rolling on the floor or out of control when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

Verse 31

1Co_14:31 For ye all can prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be exhorted;

'one by one' -'one after another' (Beck)

'all may learn..all may be exhorted' -God felt that even inspired men needed to listen to sermons and be exhorted. The instruction in these passages manifest the wisdom of God. (1) Nobody, even a prophet wasn't allowed to "hog" the assembly. (2) All truth was never revealed through "one man". (3) Everybody needed to sit and listen. (4) This system kept all the gifted people on an equal basis.

Verse 32

1Co_14:32 and the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets;

'subject' -'Remember that a person who has a message from God has the power to stop himself and wait his turn.' (Tay) 'The gift of prophecy does not take from the prophets the control of their own spirits.' (Con)

'Nor can this "keeping silence" be a problem for the prophet, because he is in control of his spirit. He isn't bowled over by the storm of inspiration.' (McGuiggan p. 184)

'In the New Testament Paul lays down the principle that, in true prophecy, self-conciousness, and self-command are never lost.' (Vincent p. 272)

In the Apostle Paul prayed that he might speak God's word as he should. ( Eph_6:19 ) The Apostles prayed for boldness to preach God's word. ( Act_4:24-31 ) Timothy was told to abandon the tendency to be timid. ( 2Ti_1:6-7 ) All this reveals that inspiration didn't override free-will. An inspired man could back down. ( Eze_3:18 )

This verse and the others in the context find themselves in conflict with the modern Charismatic Movement. In which people claim to be "lost" in the Spirit.

Verse 33

1Co_14:33 for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints,

'for' -The reason behind the instruction found in the previous verses.

'God is not a God of confusion' -'disorder, unruliness, disruption..a state of confusion, conflict and disorder.' (Willis p. 511)

Points to Note:

1. It is the character of God that determines what is proper worship. The worship of the idols in Corinth was characterized by frenzy and disorder..'The Corinthians must therefore cease worship that reflects the pagan deities more than the God whom they have come to know..God is neither characterized by disorder nor the cause of it in the assembly.' (Fee p. 697)

2. Therefore God doesn't cause people to roll on the floor, faint, or lose control in the worship.

'but of peace' -'harmony' (Mof). 'Orderly reverence is a mark of the churches.' (Robertson p. 185)

'As in all the churches of the saints' -these rules that governed the public worship applied to all congregations.


While Paul is regulating the tongue-speakers and prophets, he sees the need to regulate the conduct of some ladies in Corinth. Apparently, not only was the worship services being disrupted by selfish prophets and tongue-speakers, it had also been disrupted by a certain group of women.

Verse 34

1Co_14:34 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 saith the law.

'keep silence' -the same word is also used in 14:28,30. So right away we know that this word doesn't mean "absolute silence" in all things. In this chapter the silence has applied to a specific area, i.e. remaining silent in the realm of addressing the public assembly. (14:28,30)

'not permitted unto them to speak' -again, this must refer to a specific realm of speaking. To make this a blanket command covering all and any speaking in the assembly, a Christian woman couldn't even sing ( Eph_5:19 ) in the assembly, or confess Jesus before being baptized. ( Act_8:37 )

'let them be in subjection' -obviously then, the abuse that this verse is designed to correct, involved women speaking in the assembly in a manner that violated her subjection. A woman singing doesn't violate her subjection, neither would a woman giving an answer to a bible question when called upon by the teacher.

Since this whole section has dealt with abuses caused by those who insisted on their rights to address the public assembly. It seems that the congregation in Corinth was also faced with a group of women who were insisting upon their rights to either address or use their spiritual gifts (women did possess them- Act_21:9 ) in the assembly.

We should note that the New Testament Church possessed a member of talented and gifted women. And yet, Paul shut the door on such women addressing the assembly. Therefore, the argument often presented, that the talents that some women possess demand that the church allow them to become preachers, elders, deacons or teachers in a mixed adult class fails in light of Scripture. If women, women who could speak by inspiration were forbidden from addressing the assembly of the church, then such a rule must apply to all women in all ages and cultures since this day and age of the miraculous. If the greatest gift doesn't authorize it, then neither can all lesser gifts or talents.

'as also saith the law' -probably Gen_3:16 , if any particular verse is meant. In 1Ti_2:11-14 , Paul will make the same type of argument on material found in the early chapters in Genesis.

Verse 35

1Co_14:35 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.

This verse may be addressing another problem among the women in Corinth. Some may have been interupting the assembly with a constant string of questions. 'If she really wishes to learn (rather than assert her right to teach/lead) she can ask her man (not necessarily husband--I am assuming that this writer feels that in the case of a single woman, "her man" at home, would be her father, i.e. the man that she is in subjection to) at home. There is to be no excusing the lady taking the lead.' (McGuiggan p. 184)

'shameful' -these verses are specifically dealing with speech from women in the assembly that would be "shameful". A woman singing isn't shameful, a woman confessing Jesus in the assembly prior to her baptism isn't disgraceful. But a woman taking the lead in the assembly, or a woman interupting the speakers would be.


Verse 36

1Co_14:36 What? was it from you that the word of God went forth? or came it unto you alone?

'Some wouldn't like like that. And some would suggest (maybe argue) that Paul wasn't the only prophet. He had no right to settle the matter. And Paul responds to that kind of attitude in 36.' (McGuiggan p. 185)

'was it from you that the word of God went forth?' -'did God's message to the world originate with you.' (TCNT) The truth of course was that Paul had brought the word of God to them.

'or came it unto you alone?' -'or that you have a monopoly of God's truth' (Phi) Paul in this letter has repeatedly reminded them of the consistent teaching and practice found in all congregations of God's people (4:17; 7:17; 11:16). They were acting like some "elite" congregation that could make up their own rules. They were acting as if God's truth had ONLY come to them.

These verses imply that the Corinthians thought everyone else was "out of step", when the truth of the matter was, they were the congregation that was acting "out of line." If the Corinthians were expected by an Apostle to bring their practices into line with the practices of other NT congregations. Then the letters sent to these congregations are intended as a pattern or blueprint to be followed by other congregations of the Lord's church.

Verse 37

1Co_14:37 If any man thinketh himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him take knowledge of the things which I write unto you, that they are the commandment of the Lord.

'If any man thinketh himself' -'If anyone thinks he speaks for God or has the Spirit.' (Beck) Clearly, this was the attitude of many Corinthian Christians.

'let him take knowledge' -'recognize' (NASV); 'let him prove it by recognizing.' (Knox)

Points to Note:

1. People that are truly spiritual, recognize that Paul wrote the commands of God. Spiritually is in part determined by how we respond to the writings of the Apostles.

2. Paul clearly understood "what" he was writing.

3. Nothing is lost in the inspiration process. What was written down was just as much the "commandment of the Lord", as what Paul preached verbally.

'If a person fails to see the Divine nature of Paul's writings, the proof is conclusive, that this man is no prophet, that he really has no spiritual gift.' (Lenski p. 621)

4. Pride and arrogance could even blind those who possessed spiritual gifts!

5. The person, who is truly being led by the Spirit, acknowledges the Divine inspiration of Paul's letters.

Bibliographical Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". "Dunagan's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dun/1-corinthians-14.html. 1999-2014.
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