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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 14

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

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Verses 1-40

Talking in Tongues

1 Corinthians 14:1-40


1. The need for spiritual guidance in the matter of tongues. The church of today is beset by a group of people who very dogmatically assert that Speaking in Tongues is the sole sign of being filled with the Spirit. The godliest of saints, whose very presence is charged with a sense of God, and whose knowledge of the Bible is beyond question, are therefore set aside by this group as not Spirit-filled, because, forsooth, they do not speak in tongues.

We, therefore, approach the Holy Spirit's message on "Tongues," as given in the fourteenth chapter of First Corinthians, with heads and hearts bowed, that we may get the mind of the Spirit, and act according to His Word.

2. Excesses and abuses do not set aside the true speaking in tongues. Of one thing we may assure ourselves, the Spirit well wrote His final word in 1 Corinthians 14:1-40 , about Tongues, when He said: "Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues."

It is useless to contend, therefore, that there are no tongues in this age. The Word is plain, and without any age-boundary "Forbid not to speak with tongues." Even if there are many falsifications, sad imitations, and counterfeits, in Tongues, there may also be the "genuine."

A wholesale negation of all tongues is unjust and unscriptural. If we must try the spirits, whether they be of God; may we not also try the "tongues," whether they be of God? In an unprejudiced way, and with an open mind, let us listen to the inerrant Word of God concerning these matters.

3. The Holy Spirit forseeing the present day confusion relative to "Tongues" evidently gave specific instructions both to the churches in Corinth, and to us, in the fourteenth chapter of First Corinthians. We need not err in this matter if we accept the admonitions of the Lord. To set aside the divine regulations, set forth in plain and positive scriptures, bespeaks unspiritual and disobedient saints. If God has spoken, let us heed His Word. We dare not set up counter and contra regulations of our own, neither dare we disavow His. As we see it, much of the present disorder that characterizes certain "tongues" meetings, is due to an utter disregard or, perhaps, an utter ignorance of the Lord's own Word relative to this matter.

4. The Corinthians were carnal although they spoke in tongues. In chapter one we read: "It hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, * * that there are contentions among you."

In chapter three it says: "I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes; * * For ye are yet carnal."

It matters not what spirituality we may claim, wherever there is envying, and strife, and divisions; saints are carnal, and walk as men.

It was to such a church that God wrote, through Paul, first as to the fornication, they had allowed in their midst; then, as to their failures concerning their marriage vows; then, as to their eating things offered to idols; next, as to their need to shun idolatry; after that, as to their abuse of the Lord's table; then, as to their misconception concerning spiritual gifts; and, finally, as to their unscriptural "talking in tongues."


1. A plain statement "Rather that ye may prophesy." Here are the exact words of the verse: "Desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy."

What a divine assault is this against the false contention that speaking in tongues is God's supreme gift ; or, that it is God's supreme test as to whether saints are Spirit-filled. Remember that the tongues at Pentecost, and the tongues in I Corinthians fourteen, are not the same. Remember, also, that there is nothing to show that the Pentecostal saints continued daily to speak with tongues.

At Pentecost, "They all heard them speak in their own language"; in the tongues of I Corinthians, they who spoke were as barbarians to those that heard. Besides, there is no record, and no proof that talking in language tongues, or any other "Tongues," always followed as a sign of the filling of the Spirit.

In Acts 2:38 , there is nothing to show that the "gift of the Holy Ghost" was to be followed by speaking in tongues.

In Acts 4:31 ; They were "all filled with the Holy Ghost, and spake the Word of God with boldness;" but there is no record of any speaking in tongues.

In Acts 5:32 , The apostles gave witness concerning Christ; and so also did the Holy Ghost, "whom God hath given to them that obey Him." No suggestion of tongues, is here.

In Acts 6:3 , Men "full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom" were appointed over the business of the church. No tongues are here.

In Acts 7:55 , Stephen "being full of the Holy Ghost" saw into heaven, etc. No tongues are mentioned.

In Acts 8:15-18 , The apostles laid their hands on certain Samaritans, "and they received the Holy Ghost." No tongues are found here.

In Acts 9:17-20 Ananias said that the Lord Jesus had sent him, that Saul might, "be filled with the Holy Ghost." What happened? did Saul begin to talk in tongues? Nay! "And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues."

In Acts 9:31 the churches of Judea and Galilee, and Samaria walked "in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost." Not a word about "tongues."

In Acts 11:24 Barnabas "was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost, and faith." Nothing is said of "tongues."

In Acts 13:52 , "The disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost, and joy." Again there is not a word about "tongues."

In Acts 15:8 , Peter, speaking of the conversions of the Gentiles, said "God * * bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost even as He did unto us." No tongues are recorded.

Let the ones who contend that language tongues as giv-en in Acts 2:4 at Pentecost: in Acts 10:46 at Caesarea; and in Acts 19:6 at Ephesus; always followed, when the saints were filled with the Spirit, explain the lack of any such sign in the scriptures above. Let them also explain why none of them, today, talk in language tongues, as they did at Pentecost.

2. A second statement "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, exhortation and comfort."

This statement establishes that "tongues" is not a matter of helpfulness to others. They neither edify, exhort, or comfort others. The second verse distinctly says as much: "He that speaketh in a tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him."

3. A third statement: "He that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself, but he that prophesieth edifieth the church."

In scriptural tongues there is a personal blessing; therefore, "tongues" are generally for private devotions, and never for public confusion.

How is any public service profitable, unless it be that others are edified. It is written, "Let every one of us please his neighbor, for his good unto edification."

4. A fourth statement, Paul in the Spirit said plainly, "I would that ye all spake with tongues, BUT RATHER THAT YE PROPHESIED."

If "speaking in tongues," is the supreme sign of the Filling of the Spirit; it must rank as pre-eminent in Christian experience, and therefore as paramount in the gifts of God. Then, also, "speaking in tongues," would mark a greater Christian, both as to his personal attainment, and also as to his possible personal accomplishments.

Men may crown "speaking in tongues" as greatest; God crowns "prophesying."


1. Tongues are profitless to others unless spoken by revelation, knowledge, or doctrine. "If I come unto you, speaking in tongues, what shall I profit you, except I speak unto you by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine."

We, who preach, should remember that our sermons are profitable only to the extent that the people get and grasp our message. It is not what we say, but what the people take in, that makes our deliverances valuable.

If I preach in Portuguese, what will it profit an American audience which understands only English?

2. Tongues are profitless to others even as instruments of music, which give no certain sounds, are profitless. I can sit down at the piano and make a noise by striking the keys in wild disorder, but who would enjoy it? My daughter, to the contrary, can sit down and strike the same keys producing an order and rhythm that carries a message of praise. Those who hear her, marvel at her music, and delight in its worshipful message.

I can take the bow and violin and make an audience rush to the doors by the harsh madness of my jargon; my son can take the same bow and violin, play one of the great old hymns, and the audience will worship, and praise God with joy. Let us, therefore, seek to edify.


1. Words spoken into the air are useless. Now we come to verse nine: "Except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air."

God's command is that we speak words easy to be understood. Christ excelled in placing great truths, in simple language. The gospel of John, which unveils such profound and eternal truths, majors in monosyllables.

2. Words easily understood are helpful. Let us, therefore, seek to excel, not in oratorical flights; not in unknown tongues; but in simple illustrative preaching, putting the food down where even the wayfaring man, though a fool, may be able to grasp it.

3. A stranger language makes no impression on the hearer. Read verse eleven.

When I went to Brazil a brother came to greet me, and talked In Portuguese; frantically. I said, "My brother, I do not know one thing you are saying," However, as he did not know what I said, he went on talking even more energetically. A missionary, at last, came to my rescue. I have just been in Havana, and how unintelligible was their Spanish to me; how profitless!

IV. WHAT SHOULD BE THE CHRISTIAN'S QUEST? (1 Corinthians 14:12-17 )

1. Saints should seek to excel in edifying the church. Verse twelve says: "Seek that ye may excel unto the edifying of the church." There is little good in mere noise and excitement which may be very little more than carnal; and, there may be much harm therein. This certainly is true when it is exercised wholly apart from divinely commanded directions.

We have no record that Paul ever went into any church and prayed that they might talk with tongues; nor that he, in any of his epistles, ever urged that the saints might excel in the gift of tongues. He wanted them to excel in edifying.

2. Saints should pray with both the Spirit and with the understanding. In the prayer life, where "tongues," evidently, held their rightful place, the apostle said: "If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful."

3. Saints should sing with both the Spirit and the understanding. It is right to sing with spiritual fervor, making melody in our hearts unto the Lord.

We may hum tunes of psalms, or hymns, or spiritual songs, profitably to ourselves; we cannot acceptably "hum" or mumble tunes to others who cannot connect the words to the tunes.

4. Saints should both pray and sing so the unlearned may say, "Amen!" It is easy to detect in all of these things the Spirit's emphasis on doing all things unto edification.

We are sure that this should change much, in certain circles, besides the public talking in tongues. Anything which tends to the arousement of exitement and humor, to the detriment of the effective presentation of the Gospel in its sublime power and simplicity of understandable truth, should be set aside.

V. TONGUES IN THE CHURCH (1 Corinthians 14:18-22 )

1. In private Paul spoke in tongues more than they all. Beyond doubt Paul spake in tongues more than they all more than the Corinthian Christians; however, he did not speak in tongues as they spake. Paul desired that they all might speak in tongues; however, he desired that they speak, with certain divine limitations. He also desired, the rather, that they should prophesy.

2. In the church, Paul would rather speak five words with his understanding, than ten thousand with an unknown tongue. We dare not even to say that "tongues" is the sign of a Spirit-filled life. God says, "By their fruit ye shall know them." And, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace," etc.

The disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost, but which, if any. spoke with tongues, after Pentecost?

What have we sought to demonstrate? Certainly not that there was no such a thing as "tongues" in the early church. We have sought to show that speaking in tongues held no important place in the early church records. The book of Acts, which recounts the story of the early church, as far as the Spirit desired us to know that history, speaks only three times of the saints speaking with tongues: whereas "prophesying" holds a prominent place throughout.

3. Tongues spoken in the church will cause people to say, "Ye are mad." The Holy Spirit is very definite. He says, "If the whole church be come together in one place." Thus we are brought into the public assembly of the saints. If some came in, who were unlearned or unbelievers, and they heard the saints talking in tongues, they would say, "Ye are mad." Not so, when prophecy is being spoken. Then they would be ''convinced of all," "judged of all."


1. The first regulation safeguards against confusion and disorder in the public assembly.

(1) "Let it be by two, or at most by three, and that by course. The church need not be so formal and proper that there is no liberty, no power, no freedom of spirit. God does not ask for a lifeless, inanimate people, who sit like so many immovable rocks. Neither does God want a surging, foaming, leaping sea of disorder.

(2) "Let one interpret." This command of the Spirit plainly intimates that, if there is no interpreter present in the public assembly, there must be no talking in tongues. In saying this, we are not seeking to make talking in tongues impossible in the churches of Christ; we are seeking to deliver God's message and to enforce it. The command is His, not ours.

2. The second regulation prohibits a man from speaking in tongues in the church, unless an interpreter is present. Here God gives no mere intimation, but a command. Someone may argue that there is no prohibition in this against the woman speaking, with or without an interpreter.

The Holy Ghost does not even so much as recognize a woman, when it comes to talking in tongues in the public assembly. This is fully set forth in a following Scripture.

3. The third regulation prohibits a woman from speaking in tongues in the church under all circumstances. Verse twenty-eight told us the man must keep silence under certain conditions. Verse thirty-four says: "Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak."

In considering this prohibition relative to women, we must not take it out of its setting. The verse is evidently given in order to enforce the inference, in verse twenty-eight, which left the woman entirely out of consideration, and inferred that she was not to speak in tongues in the church. Now the Spirit speaks emphatically, and His command concerning the woman's silence, has to do with talking in tongues, and with the creating of confusion in the church of God.

The Holy Spirit in another Scripture plainly states that a woman is not suffered to teach or to usurp authority over the man.


1. The Word came to us not from Paul only, but from God. Paul spoke most marvelous things about the ministry of many noble Christian women. He wrote of Priscilla, and of Mary, and of Junia, and of Narcissus, and of others. He told of how they were "helpers in Christ Jesus." He told of how they laid down their own necks in his behalf; of how they bestowed much labor upon him. Some of these women were fellow prisoners with him, and all of them were of note among the apostles.

All we have said does not, however, eliminate the command of God that a woman must neither talk in tongues in the church, nor create confusion; she must be in silence. She must not ask questions, but abide the time when she may ask her husband questions in their own home.

2. The spiritually minded will give heed to God's command. Let the one who ruthlessly throws aside this message in 1 Corinthians 14:1-40 , relative to tongues, remember that he is ignorant and willfully so. God has spoken things easy to be understood, and He has spoken words that should be obeyed.

3. Three final conclusions.

(1) Covet to prophesy. This should be the Christian's great quest. Let our readers always place the emphasis on those gifts where God places it, and let them not seek to make tongues, which is one of the lesser gifts, if not the least, the sole sign by which a man's spirituality is to be judged.

(2) "Forbid not to speak with tongues." We have many good brethren who do not even hesitate to break this commandment. They go so far as to say that talking in tongues, under any and all conditions, is of the devil. They seek to bolster up their position by quoting a Scripture in 1 Corinthians 13:8 , "Whether there be tongues, they shall cease," They are forgetful of the fact that the same verse says, "Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail." It also says, "Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away."

No interpreter of Scripture has a right to eliminate "tongues" from the other two statements, allowing the two to continue, while the one, by their fiat, must cease. A deeper study of the Scripture before us, shows that all of these things merely "fail" or "cease" or "vanish away" even as the knowledge of a child passes away, into the greater knowledge of manhood. The one passes into the other, the same as the little green apple passes into the full grown and ripened fruit.

(3) "Let all things be done decently and in order." These words do not inculcate a cold formality, nor a set routine, or ritual, in the services of the church. They do teach an orderliness in the conduct of all public ministrations. Whenever tongues enter into the realm of "a worked up, noisy frenzy," they are certainly not of God, for God, is a God of order, and of decorous conduct; and, "The Spirit giveth a sound mind."

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/1-corinthians-14.html.
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