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Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 14

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verse 1

Follow after love; yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. [From the discussion of spiritual gifts Paul turned aside in the last chapter to show that love is superior to all gifts. Having finished his digression, he now resumes the subject of gifts, and proceeds to show that the pursuit of love, as of supreme importance, does not exclude the desire of gifts, as of secondary importance. Having thus brought the subject of gifts again into discussion, he asserts that prophecy is superior to the gift of tongues, and proves his assertion by showing that it is the more useful in the edification of the church. Incidentally his argument shows that though the Spirit gave the gift of tongues to men, that men abused the gift; and so the Spirit, through Paul as its instrument, reproves and corrects this abuse. Prophecy, as here discussed, means preaching under divine guidance, and the gift of tongues was not a gift of the knowledge of, but of the use of, foreign languages. The one having it could declare God’s will in a foreign tongue, and could sometimes even interpret what he had declared; but he could not use the language for business conversation, or any personal or worldly purpose.]

Verse 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.

Verse 3

But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification, and exhortation, and consolation.

Verse 4

He that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. [The apostle here lays the groundwork of his argument. Prophecy is superior to the gift of exercising his spiritual gift (Revelation 1:10), might indeed speak the divine truths or mysteries of God; but, speaking them in a foreign language, he would be understood only by God and himself, and so would only edify, etc., himself. On the other hand, the prophet, declaring the same or kindred mysteries in the vernacular, would be understood by all present, and thus he would transform the mysteries into revelations, which would benefit the church, either edifying it, so as to enlighten its ignorance; or rousing its latent energies, so as to dispel its sluggishness; or comforting it, so as to remove its sorrows. In short, tongues might excite wonder (Acts 2:12), but preaching brought forth fruit (Acts 2:36-42) and the Corinthian church had need to be more fruitful, since it was not eminent for its holiness or its works. Paul does not mean to say that no man living could understand the tongues, or that they were mere jargon. He means that no man present in the usual Corinthian assemblies understood them. Had speaking with tongues been mere hysterical "orgiastic" jargon, it certainly would not have bodied forth the mysteries of God, nor would it have edified the one speaking, nor could it have been interpreted by him or by others as Paul directs. Those who belittle the gift by construing it as a mere jargon approach dangerously near making Paul (and themselves likewise) criticize the Holy Spirit for giving such a senseless, abnormal gift. But those who read Paul correctly find that he is only censuring the abuse of the gift and not the nature of it. It was useful to the church while engaged in missionary work in foreign fields. But it became a source of vanity and vainglorious display when used by a church sitting idly at home. To the missionary it was a splendid addition to the gift of prophecy; but to the Corinthian preachers exhorting in their home church, it was a sad subtraction from that gift. The fruits of the Spirit in the Christian life are far enough from being "orgiastic"-- Galatians 5:22]

Verse 5

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

Verse 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? [The gift of tongues had a subordinate use in the church of God, as an evidence of the presence of the Spirit of God. Moreover, it was a reserve of power, liable to be brought into active use at any time by the scattering of the church through persecution. For these reasons, and also to show that he writes in a spirit of generous good-will, Paul expresses a wish that all the churches in Corinth might be endowed with this gift. But, as a more practical wish, he prefers that they shall be able to prophesy, since the church would not be edified by the use of the gift of tongues, unless the foreign language used was interpreted. If Paul came to them as a visitor or missionary, his profit to them would not lie in his speaking with tongues (even though he, a Jew, spake to them miraculously in their own Greek language); but it would lie in the subject-matter of his utterance, in the edification which he conveyed. Paul names the four ways in which men may be edified by the use of words, and all these four manners were as much at the command of prophecy as they were at that of the gift of tongues. Revelation is the unveiling of divine truth to a prophet, and prophecy is the impartation of that truth to others. Knowledge is the divine illumination of the mind as to the bearing and significance of a truth, and doctrine is the impartation to another of the truth thus grasped. These are all matters of sense, and not of sound only. But speaking with tongues in the presence of those not understanding the language spoken, is sound without sense, and fails to convey any prophecy, doctrine, etc. Paul goes on to show that sound without sense is not only profitless, but may even be baneful.]

Verse 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?

Verse 8

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

Verse 9

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

Verse 10

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

Verse 11

If then I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian [a foreigner- -Acts 28:2], and he that speaketh will be a barbarian unto me.

Verse 12

So also ye, since ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may abound unto the edifying of the church. [If there be any place where sound without sense is apparently valuable, or profitable, argues Paul, it will be found in the use of musical instruments. But even here there are laws of cadence, modulation, harmony, etc., which form a veritable grammar of tongue-language, which, when obeyed, give to music what we may call a tone-sense, analogous to the intellectual sense embodied in language. Hence one may play an instrument so as to make it meaningless, and if he does he makes it profitless. Moreover, some instruments, such as the trumpet, because of the fixed and established laws of tone, are used to convey a language as well defined and unmistakable as that of the voice. Thus certain notes on the trumpet command a charge, others the joining of battle, and yet others the retreat, etc. Now, if the trumpet or trumpeter fails to produce this tone-language intelligibly, the army is thrown into confusion. Spiritual guidance uttered in an unknown tongue was like a blare of the trumpet which gave no order. Both disappointed the expectation of the listener. Both spoke idly into the air, instead of profitably into the ear. There are many sounds in the world, but they only become voices when they convey some form of sense. Thus we speak properly enough of the "voice of the trumpet," when it is blown, but no one speaks of the voice of the boiler when it is being riveted. Sense, meaning, signification, are the very essence of voice--the qualities which distinguish it from mere sound. If you use your voice to speak a foreign, and hence a meaningless, language, you degrade it, so that to your hearer it becomes a mere profitless sound. This you should not do. Since you earnestly seek gifts, you should seek them for practical purposes; viz.: for the abundant edification of the church.]

Verse 13

Wherefore let him that speaketh in a tongue pray that he may interpret.

Verse 14

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

Verse 15

What is it then? [What is the conclusion of the argument?] 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.

Verse 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?

Verse 17

For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. [The one who was so under the influence of the Spirit of God as to speak with tongues, produced words and sentences with little or no intellectual effort. His spirit, being in accord with the Spirit of God, uttered the exhortation or the prayer with his spirit rather than with his understanding. Therefore, taking the case of prayer as an example, Paul advises that the understanding be kept as active as the spirit, and that a man so control the flow of prayer as to pause from time to time that he might interpret it, thus making his understanding as fruitful as his spirit. If he does not do this, he prays with his tongue indeed, but his understanding bears no fruit in the congregation where he prays. For this reason the apostle made it his rule to pray with his spirit and interpret with his understanding, and to sing also in like manner. If the speaker did not do this, how could one who was not gifted to interpret say Amen to the petition offered, seeing that he knew not what it was? Thus, no matter how ably the gifted one might pray, the ungifted one would not be edified. Amen was then, as now, the word of ratification or assent to an expression of prayer or praise, of blessing or cursing (Deuteronomy 27:15; Nehemiah 5:13; Revelation 5:14). Justin Martyr (Ap., c. 65, 67) describes the use of the Amen, after the prayer at the communion service. It is to that or some similar use that Paul refers. Doddridge justly says that this passage is decisive against the ridiculous practice of the church of Rome of praying and praising in Latin, which is not only a foreign, but a dead, tongue. Moreover, it shows that prayer is not a vicarious duty done for us by others. We must join in it.]

Verse 18

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

Verse 19

howbeit in the church [congregation] I had rather speak five words with my understanding [so as to be understood], that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. [Paul was thankful for the gift of tongues because of its utility, but especially lest any should think that he disparaged the gift because he did not have it, and assigned it a subordinate place from envy. His disparagement is most emphatic. "Rather half of ten of the edifying sort than a thousand times ten of the other," says Besser. "There is a lesson here," says Johnson, "to preachers who are so learned in their utterances that the people can not understand them."]

Verse 20

Brethren, be not children in mind: yet in malice be ye babes, but in mind be men. [The apostle here reiterates the thought at 1 Corinthians 13:11 . To desire showy and comparatively worthless gifts was to be like children, pleased with toys. But as Paul exhorted them to be wise as men, the words of the Lord seem to have flashed through his mind (Matthew 10:16) so that he parallels men with serpents and babes with doves. "Yet in malice be ye babes" is a parenthesis added by way of fullness. It has nothing to do with the line of argument, for there was no possible malice in the use of tongues.]

Verse 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.

Verse 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. [The Old Testament generally is often called the Law by New Testament writers (John 10:34; John 12:34; Romans 3:20). Therefore the reference here is not to the Pentateuch, but to Isaiah 28:11-12 . There the prophet tells how Israel murmured at the quality of the teaching which God gave them, and states that as a consequence God would soon teach them by the tongue of foreigners; i. e., the Assyrians would lead them away captive and they should be instructed by the hardships of captivity. When the captivity came, the necessity to understand and speak a strange tongue was a sign that God was teaching them, and yet a sign which they did not heed. From this incident Paul apparently draws several conclusions. 1. It was no especial mark of divine favor to have teachers who spoke an unknown tongue. 2. Tongues were for unbelievers and prophecy for believers. 3. Tongues were a sign that God was teaching, but the teaching itself was better than the sign. 4. Tongues, unless understood, had never been profitable; i. e., had not produced conversion. It must be remembered that Paul has in mind the abuse rather than the proper use of tongues. He illustrates his meaning by a hypothetical case.]

Verse 23

If therefore the whole church be assembled together and all speak with tongues, and there come in men unlearned [not having the gift to interpret tongues, and not being educated in foreign languages] or unbelieving [and hence having no faith in the works of the Spirit], will they not say [because of the queer and unintelligible sounds which ye are making] that ye are mad?

Verse 24

But if all prophesy, and there come in one unbelieving or unlearned, he is reproved by all, he is judged [literally, cross-examined] by all;

Verse 25

the secrets of his heart are made manifest [being exposed by the cleaving sword of the Spirit-- Hebrews 4:12; James 1:23-24; comp. John 4:19; John 4:29]; and so he will fall down on his face [The Oriental mode of showing deep emotion (Isaiah 45:14; 1 Samuel 19:24). Here it indicates feelings of submission and self-abasement] and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed. [Paul supposes the case of one who dropped into the meeting out of curiosity. If he heard many people speaking at once in an unknown tongue, he would regard the gathering as little better than bedlam (Acts 2:13), and the more he heard speaking at once, the worse it would be. Therefore the meeting would be to him void of blessing from God, and the sign without any signification, for he would hear his fellow-citizens addressing him in a foreign tongue, which was to him a mere jargon, instead of hearing foreigners address him in his own tongue, similar to the miracle at Pentecost. If, on the other hand, he heard all his fellow-citizens prophesying in his own tongue, he would be reproved by all, and the secrets of his heart would be laid bare as though he had been cross-examined by a skillful attorney. This would lead to his conversion, and so be of profit to him, and would make him a witness to the divine nature of the church, instead of one who looked upon it as a hive of fanatics. Prophetic preaching must have had great power to make men feel that they stood face to face with God, for even the faithful preaching of our day lays bare the sinner’s heart. He feels that sermons are aimed at him, and is often convinced that some one has been tattling to the preacher because the life is so fully exposed by his words. It should be observed that if truth is more potent than signs, much more is it more efficacious in revivals than mere excitement or pumped-up enthusiasm.]

Verse 26

What is it then, brethren? [See comment on 1 Corinthians 14:15] 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.

Verse 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:

Verse 28

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

Verse 29

And let the prophets speak by two or three, and let the others discern.

Verse 30

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

Verse 31

For ye all can prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be exhorted;

Verse 32

and the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets;

Verse 33

for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace. [Since those who spoke with tongues were not understood, they could all speak at once without any loss. Thus confusion was fostered and encouraged, and those who came with other contributions to the service, such, as psalms, teachings, revelations, etc., were prevented from conferring any benefit upon the congregation. The apostle, therefore, orders the babel of tongues to be suppressed, that the congregation might be edified by these other contributions. Those who spoke with tongues were not to monopolize the meeting. In a large church like Corinth, where there would be plenty to take part in the exercises with psalms, teachings, interpretations of what had been said in tongues, etc., there was the opportunity for great variety. Hence Paul forbids more than three to speak with tongues in one exercise, and these must not speak all at once, but in turn, and they must pause and let some one gifted as interpreter translate what they had said for the edification of the church. If there was no such interpreter present, then the man gifted with tongues must keep silence, and worship within himself for the edification and benefit of his own soul. Moreover, not more than three prophets must speak in a meeting, and the others present must give heed, especially those competent to discern between true and false prophecies (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21; 1 John 4:1; 1 Corinthians 14:37). If a fresh revelation was given to a prophet while another prophet was speaking, the one speaking was to give place and keep silence, for the reception of a second revelation at such time would indicate authoritatively that the first revelation had been sufficiently explained. Therefore, the one speaking must desist, lest two should speak at a time, which would defeat the ends of instruction and exhortation. To enforce this rule of silence the apostle asserts the truth that prophets can control their spirits while under the prophetic influence. This guarded against the possibility that any speaker should pretend to be so carried away by the prophetic influence as to be unable to stop. God does not so overcome and entrance men as to make them produce confusion and disorder, for he is the God of order and of peace. God has not changed, and hysteria and frenzy, though they may exist in his churches as they may have done in Corinth, are not from him, nor according to his will. Even in the church at Corinth, where men were endowed with the gifts of the Spirit, all disorders were abuses of the spiritual gift and without excuse.] As in all the churches of the saints,

Verse 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. [Genesis 3:16; Numbers 30:3-12]

Verse 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 is usually regarded as a very difficult passage, but the difficulties are more seeming than real, if we regard it as a general rule. Paul gives two reasons why the women should keep silence: 1. The Old Testament law made her subject to her husband, and hence not a teacher, but a pupil. 2. The customs of the age made it a shameful thing for a woman to speak in public. Of these, of course, the first is the weightier, and yet we find exceptions to the rule in both dispensations. There were several prophetesses who exercised their gifts in public (Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Isaiah 8:3; Nehemiah 6:14; Luke 1:41-42; Luke 2:36-38; Acts 21:9). Moreover, the fullness of prophetic endowment granted to the New Testament church was matter of prophecy (Acts 2:17), and Paul himself gives directions as to the attire of women when exercising the prophetic office in the church (1 Corinthians 11:5). Paul’s rule, then, admits of exceptions. Some would do away with the rule entirely as obsolete on the ground that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28); but this is undoubtedly unwarranted, for while the gospel emancipated woman, it did not change her natural relation so as to make her the equal of man. The powers of woman have become so developed, and her privileges have been so extended in gospel lands, that it is no longer shameful for her to speak in public; but the failing of one reason is not the cessation of both. The Christian conscience has therefore interpreted Paul’s rule rightly when it applies it generally, and admits of exceptions. The gift of prophecy no longer exists in the church, but, by the law of analogy, those women who have a marked ability, either for exhortation or instruction, are permitted to speak in the churches. Moreover, the apostle is speaking of the regular, formal meeting of the church; and it is doubtful if his law was ever intended to apply to informal gatherings such as prayer-meetings, etc. There is some weight to the comment that to understand the apostle we should know the ignorance, garrulity and degradation of Oriental women. Again, women are indeed subject to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 2:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1). The law is permanent, but the application of it may vary. If man universally gives the woman permission to speak, she is free from the law in this respect.]

Verse 36

What? [An exclamation of indignation] was it from you that the word of God went forth? or came it unto you alone? [Becoming puffed up by the fullness of their spiritual gifts, the Corinthians were acting as if they were the parent church and only church. They were assuming the right to set precedent and dictate customs, when it was their duty to conform to the precedents and customs established before they came into existence. Their pretensions needed this indignant rebuke. Others were to be considered besides themselves, others who had sounded out the word which they had received-- 1 Thessalonians 1:8].

Verse 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.

Verse 38

But if any man is ignorant, let him be ignorant. [Since Paul’s words were dictated by the Spirit of God, any one filled with that Spirit would be guided to recognize his words as of divine authority, for the Spirit would not say one thing to one man and another to another. But if any man was so incorrigibly obstinate as to refuse to be enlightened by what the Spirit spoke through the apostle, there was no further appeal to be made to him (Matthew 15:14; 1 Timothy 6:3-5). Paul’s test is still of force. Whoso professes to be inspired, yet contradicts what the Spirit of God has already said in the New Testament, is self-convicted. These verses mark the division between Catholics and Protestants. The former say in effect that the Spirit-filled prophets at Corinth could modify, alter, and even deny what was spoken by the Spirit-filled Paul; for they hold that the pope can change the Scriptures to suit himself. But Protestants hold that a man shows himself to be led of the Spirit of God when he assents and conforms to that which has been spoken by men of undoubted inspiration.]

Verse 39

Wherefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.

Verse 40

But let all things be done decently and in order. [Paul concludes with a recapitulation. The higher gift is to be sought and the lower gift is not to be prohibited. But as a caution against the abuse of the lower gift, he lays down that rule of order and decorum which the church has too often forgotten to her sorrow.]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/1-corinthians-14.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.
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