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1 Corinthians 14

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Verse 1

1Co 14:1

1 Corinthians 14:1

Follow after love;—With eager efforts they were to seek to realize this wonderful grace of love by resisting temptations to any course of conduct that would hinder it and by using every opportunity to further it.

yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts,—He now shows that there is no incompatibility between seeking after love and the help of spiritual gifts while they remained. Indeed, they were given to help forward the attainment of love.

but rather that ye may prophesy.—He exhorts them that they should earnestly desire these gifts of the Spirit, but rather that they might prophesy. Prophesying after the apos­tolic was the highest gift. It enabled them to foretell things to come, and to teach the word of God to the people. When they sought this gift, they qualified themselves to receive and practice its teachings.

Verses 1-5

1Co 14:1-5


It might be well to refresh our memory: chapter 12 enumerates the spiritual gifts, chapter 13 shows their duration, and chapter 14 gives their regulation in the assembly. Since all spiritual gifts have ceased (the temporary has been superseded by the permanent, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13) and there are now no assemblies where they are exercised, the regulations imposed can be applied now only in principle. Obviously, if we have no spiritual gifts, the instructions for their regulation in an assembly do not apply to us. However, all do not accept the plainly taught fact that miracles ceased with the completed revelation. This is especially true of the modern glossolalia movement, which makes the claim that the gift of tongues in this chapter is the gift of ecstatic utterance (rather than a language). But if this were true (and it is not) it would necessitate two gifts of tongues, one that of language (as is seen throughout the book of Acts and strongly implied in chapters 12 and 13) and the other that of ecstatic utterance. But by what reason or logic are we to conclude that the Corinthians received a gift not mentioned a single time in Acts, the history of the church? In my judgment, the only possible reason to conclude that Paul here has in view ecstatic utterances would be if the context was such as to force this conclusion. But the fact is to the contrary: the context forces us to the exact opposite conclusion when what is actually said is observed. Notice: (1) tongues are listed with the other spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:28-30), everyone of which was practical and served a purpose in the development of the Christian system. The language of ecstasy serves absolutely no purpose (except to give an emotional charge to the receiver). (2) They were to be done away (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). The gift of language has ceased. (3) They could be interpreted or translated (1 Corinthians 14:5; 1 Corinthians 14:13-17). Ecstatic utterance has no meaning and can not be interpreted except as the supposed interpreter imposes his own meaning upon it (and no two interpreters have even been known to give the same interpretation of ecstatic utterance under controlled conditions). (4) Tongues have a distinction in sound (1 Corinthians 14:6-8). The ecstatic has no distinct sound for a distinct meaning. (5) Tongues are connected with the understanding (1 Corinthians 14:10-12). No one understands ecstatic gibberish. (6) Tongues are connected with the voice (1 Corinthians 14:10-12), which has significance here because it means the voice of speech (1 Corinthians 14:11). Ecstatic utterance has no speech significance. (7) Paul himself spoke in tongues more than all the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:18-20). Since his speaking in tongues was in the context of Acts (where it is always the gift of language), and since he traveled widely preaching the gospel in many different nations, we can be absolutely certain that he exercised the gift of language, not a useless utterance. (8) Other tongues of the law (1 Corinthians 14:21) means other languages, such as is recorded in Acts. Anyone who can look at these eight facts, which comprise the context of tongue speaking in this chapter, and then conclude that Paul is speaking about a language of ecstasy has the capacity to conclude anything he wishes: for he will not permit reason, and truth to get in his way. But consider further: those who practice this physical phenomenon (and here they tell us the truth: for it is an ecstatic utterance, not a language known to anyone on earth) claim that such enables them to more adequately praise God. Yet they tell us that it is not of their own doing, not an act of man, but the Spirit taking control and working through them. They not only do not know what they are saying, they also claim that it is wholly of God - the Spirit taking complete control of their vocal cords and speaking through them. It is thus the Spirit, not the man, speaking. But if this is true, it is not man praising God, it is God praising Himself through an instrument whose will is not exercised and who has no idea as to what is being said. It is God speaking to and praising Himself, not man willingly praising God from his own heart and under his own power. (Incidentally, they have never bothered to inform us why it is more glorious to praise God in a "language" one does not understand than it is in one’s own tongue!) If God had wanted such praise it seems to me that He would have made Himself a tape recorder instead of a man. But God made man a free moral agent, one with the power and right to choose, and it pleases Him when His creatures choose to praise Him. What would it mean to God to mechanically use man as a means through which to praise Himself? Thus if ecstatic utterance is a means of praising God (and the glossolalist could not prove, even if the salvation of the whole world depended upon it, that he is not praising Satan instead of God), it is not the tongue speaker who is doing it is not the man himself praising God; it is God praising Himself through a will-less machine.



1 Corinthians 14:1-5

1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow after charity, - Make love your aim (RSV) or pursue love constantly (by practice). As a Christian, I suggested that one read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 substituting his own name for that of charity. Even though love will not be ab­ sent from one’s heart, this will enable him to see how far short he falls of the ideal and it will emphasize the need to grow in love or constantly pursue it all the days of his life. No one ever graduates from the school of love. and desire spiritual gifts, Be eager to have the gifts of the Spirit (Beck). The miraculous gifts as listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. Thus the desire for the gifts was not wrong per se. It was wrong only when the desire became so great that it put the gifts ahead of the more important (or permanent) aspects of Christianity (e.g., love) or when sought and used for the wrong purpose (for selfish reasons rather than for the edification of others). but rather that ye may prophesy. Especially the gift of prophecy (NIV). Throughout this section (12-14) prophecy is seen as the highest in the order of gifts. Thus Paul instructs them to aim for spiritual gifts, but especially the gift of prophecy because it would enable them to unerringly impart to others the divine revelation they had received. Tongues had a tendency to limit edification (1 Corinthians 14:2; 1 Corinthians 14:4), but prophecy expanded it (1 Corinthians 14:3-4). The gift of prophecy is therefore superior to the gift of tongues.

1 Corinthians 14:2 The reason why the gift of prophecy is to be desired over that of tongues is now advanced. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue---For one who speaks in a tongue (RSV) or a foreign language, a tongue unknown to those to whom it is addressed. This is shown by the fact that it must be interpreted before it is understood (1 Corinthians 14:5; 1 Corinthians 14:13). The word unknown is supplied by the translators and should be dropped (as is done by the ASV and most other translations). If it is a tongue, that is, if it is speech, someone somewhere knows it. speaketh not unto men, His address cannot be under­ stood by men who are hearing it. The purpose of speech is to communicate (and thus to edify), but there is no communication when the hearers do not under­ stand what is said. but unto God: What he is saying can be understood only by God (when no one present understands it). for no man understandeth him; - No one in the assembly to which he is speaking. It should be obvious that an interpreter could understand him and translate what he said for the audience (if one was present) and were one present whose natural tongue was being spoken, he could understand. Paul’s statement is limited by the context to no one in that particular assembly. howbeit in the spirit - Nevertheless by the Spirit (MacKnight). While a majority of translators and commentators hold that the KJV is correct here in rendering it the man’s spirit, I believe the context demands that we understand that he is speaking under the power and directions of the HS. Otherwise his speech is natural, not miraculous, as it was on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). But furthermore, what he speaks indicates that the contents are from the Spirit. he speaketh mysteries. He is speaking secret truths (Williams) or matters of divine revelation. That is, he speaks things from God, things that would edify if they could have been understood. The word mystery in the NT means the things of God which were once hidden but are now manifest. While hidden, they were a mystery; when revealed, they became the revelation of the mystery. Paul’s point here is that tongues are inferior to prophecy because in the assembly they serve no useful purpose in edifying others. At best, they are only a private communication with God (which could as effectively be done in one’s native tongue).

1 Corinthians 14:3 But - On the other hand (RSV). he that prophesieth - Delivers divine revelation under the power and influence of the HS. speaketh unto men The prophet addresses man in understandable words. That is, he makes known the will of God to them in their own language. This is in contrast to the one who speaks only to God in a language unknown to those assembled (v. 2). to edification, He speaks words which builds them up or helps them grow spiritually (2 Peter 3:18). and exhortation, - Encouragement (Williams) or admonition. and comfort. - Consolation in times of distress. The last two words, exhortation and comfort, come from two Greek words with almost identical meaning. Perhaps the distinction can be seen in this (if indeed Paul had a distinction in view): the prophet offers both courage to face and conquer objective enemies (such as persecution) and comfort for subjective distresses and sorrows (such as results in time of death).

1 Corinthians 14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue - See note on 1 Corinthians 14:2. edifieth himself; - He builds up none but himself. Here we run into a problem, to which I know no easy solution. It can be presented by the following question: Did the one speaking in tongues understand what he was saying? If the answer is yes, then why did he need to pray that he might interpret (1 Corinthians 14:5; 1 Corinthians 14:13)? Or why would someone else have to interpret for him (1 Corinthians 14:28)? (There is an escape from this by saying he understood the tongue but he did not understand the language of the assembly. And while there is a possibility that he did understand when he spoke in a tongue, it is unlikely that he did not speak the language of the assembly, since Paul was addressing the Corinthian church which was undoubtedly made up of Greek-speaking people.) If on the other hand he did not understand the tongue, how was he edified or built up by speaking it? On this problem I offer three observations: (1) the emphasis is not the edification of the man himself. Rather it is a contrast between the value of self­ edification and assembly edification. This is not to deny that he was edified; he was. But the contrast is between the prophet who edifies others and the tongue speaker who edifies only himself. The value of the former is far superior to the latter. That is the point here. (2) From the whole context I conclude that the man was not exercising his for the purpose of teaching (or to confirm the fact that he was engaged in the work of God) but rather as an act of public demonstration. He was just showing off his gift. Thus he was using the gift for the wrong purpose. The gifts were not designed as something with which to entertain an audience or for the receiver to demonstrate what he could do. All miracles, including the gift of tongues (v. 22), were given for the purpose of revealing, confirming, and delivering the word of God (Mark 16:17-20; Hebrews 2:1-4). No gift was given for the benefit of the receiver alone. But here it was used as a demonstration of the speaker’s skill to an audience (who could not understand what he said). (3) While the audience was not edified as it would have been with prophecy (or if they had understood the speaker’s words) this demonstration was in some sense an edification to the speaker, but not necessarily in the sense that he would be learning from what he said. He may or may not have understood the words he spoke in a foreign tongue, but the fact that he was speaking under the power and influence of the Spirit would have encouraged him and thus built him up. The demonstration did not have the same effects on the assembly. but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. - By speaking the revelation of God in an understandable language, the prophet builds up the church. He does more than just edify himself. he edifies the whole assembly (cf. v. 26).

1 Corinthians 14:5 I would that ye all spake with tongues,--Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues (NASV). The fact that some used the gift for the wrong purpose (v. 4) does not argue against the value of the gift itself when properly used. but rather that ye prophesied: - Deliver revelation in understand­ able words (v. 3). for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, - The one who prophesies has a greater or more important function than he who speaks in a tongue when the tongue is not understood by his audience because he edifies the church (1 Corinthians 14:2-4). It is far better for one to edify the whole church than to edify himself alone. That is the difference in value in prophecy and in tongue speaking (when no one in the assembly understands). The prophet is thus greater because he does more good. except he interpret,--Unless he translates what he says into the language of the people. This (and 1 Corinthians 14:13) shows that one could have both the gift of tongues and the gift to interpret If he spoke in a tongue and then explained the meaning of what he had said, he would, as the prophet, edify the assembly, not just himself alone. In this case, his gift would be useful. that the church may receive edifying. - So that the congregation might receive instructions or be built up.

Verse 2

1Co 14:2

1 Corinthians 14:2

For he that speaketh in a tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God;—Speaking in unknown tongues was the most striking of these gifts, and from Paul’s repeating its inferiority to other gifts, it must have been sought after to the exclusion of the higher and the more helpful gifts.

for no man understandeth;—He that speaks in a tongue un­known to his hearers does not speak to them, since they do not understand him, but he speaks to God.

but in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.—He speaks mys­teries, things unknown to the people who cannot understand him.

Verse 3

1Co 14:3

1 Corinthians 14:3

But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification, and exhortation, and consolation.—He who, by the gift of prophecy, makes known the will of God instructs, strengthens, builds up, and comforts Christians in their temptations, trou­bles, and distresses.

Verse 4

1Co 14:4

1 Corinthians 14:4

He that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself;—He speaks the truths of God that will build up and strengthen himself.

but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.—The church can understand him, and he instructs and strengthens it.

Verse 5

1Co 14:5

1 Corinthians 14:5

Now I would have you all speak with tongues,—Since it helps him who speaks in an unknown tongue, he would be glad for all to do so.

but rather that ye should prophesy:—Prophesying helps both the prophet and the church, and for that reason he would rather they prophesied.

and greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues,—He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, because he does more good than he who speaks in tongues.

except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.— This is the only way to instruct and build up those who hear those who speak in an unknown tongue.

Verse 6

1Co 14:6

1 Corinthians 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,—Paul now transfers the matter to him­self—that if even he, though he was an apostle, came speaking with a tongue, they would receive no profit unless he inter­preted the words of the tongue as conveying some revelation received from God.

or of knowledge, or of prophesying, or of teaching?— Knowledge, as here conceived, is the matter ordinarily com­municated by teaching. Some who spoke in tongues could not interpret what they spoke.

Verses 6-9

1Co 14:6-9


1 Corinthians 14:6-9

1Co 14:6--Now, brethren,--Introduces some arguments to further show the uselessness of uninterpreted tongue speaking. if I come unto you—If he as an apostle should come to them speaking with tongues,--Languages they could not understand, what shall I profit you?—The answer is nothing. There would be no profit at all unless he communicated the divine message to them in understandable words. except - Unless (ASV). I shall speak to you In a language they understood. either by revelation, By way of revelation (ASV), The means by which the mind or will of God was disclosed to chosen men. To make known a revelation, the spokesman had to communicate it to his hearers. or by knowledge, - By means of the gift of knowledge (see note on 12:8). or by prophesying, Delivering the divine message under the direction of the HS (inspiration). or by doctrine? - Or of teaching (ASV). The imparting of revelation. While it is difficult to distinguish between the four words here, it seems to me that Paul is emphasizing the necessity of communication in revelation as the means of disclosing the con­ tents of the divine mind; in knowledge as the means of retaining that which was disclosed; in prophesying as the means of delivering revelation (by inspiration); and in teaching as the means of instructing in or imparting of the contents of revelation. That is, they would profit (be edified), not by the speaking in tongues, but only if he spoke by way of revelation, knowledge, prophecy, and teaching. For him to speak in foreign tongues would frustrate the whole process.

1Co 14:7 And even things without life giving sound,---Inanimate or lifeless things, such as the following instruments. whether pipe or harp, ­ The pipe (flute) was a wind instrument, the harp a stringed. except they give a distinction in the sounds, - Music is the combination of successive tones intelligibly connected to create rhythm, melody, and harmony. If there were no distinction in the sounds, it would be impossible to determine the music intended. how shall it be known what is piped or harped? It cannot be. And that is the very point illustrated concerning tongues. If one does not speak in an understandable language, a language where to those addressed each sound has a distinct meaning, no one can determine what is said, in which case, the speech (as far as results is concerned) is nothing more than a useless noise.

1Co 14:8 A second illustration on the same point is now added (to that of v. 7). For if the trumpet - Bugle (NASV). The instrument used by the military to give signals, such as to prepare for battle, to advance, or to retreat. give an uncertain sound, - Does not sound a clear call (Goodspeed). Only a distinct sound can give a distinct signal. who shall prepare himself to the battle?--The effectiveness of the signal, whether to prepare, to advance, or to retreat, depended upon its distinction in sound. And so it is with speech: every sound must bear a distinct meaning. Thus the futility of speaking in a language not understood a language in which the sounds had no certain meaning to those who heard it.

1Co 14:9 So likewise ye, So it is with you (NIV). Just as in the examples (1Co 14:7-8), unless the sound has meaning no one knows whether to prepare, attack, or retreat, so it is with foreign tongues: the sounds are absolutely meaningless unless there is communication, that is, understandable speech. Except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, Unless you speak in words which have precise meanings, unless the words convey a distinct thought, no message is delivered and no edification occurs. how shall it be known what is spoken? - Unless the words are understood, unless they have a certain sound (v. 8), no one knows what is being said and the speech therefore serves no useful purpose. for ye shall speak into the air. You might just as well be talking to the air (Williams) or addressing empty space. Speech that is not understood is as useless as any other noise that has no purpose and dies out on the air (1Co 13:1).

Verse 7

1Co 14:7

1 Corinthians 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 the lifeless instru­ments, if they are to speak in the language of music, and af­fect the feelings and passions of those who hear them, must give a distinction in sounds. That is, be subject to the laws of tone and rhythm, to the interval of scale and measure. This illustration is to show the uselessness of making sounds which are not understood. And it is plain from what follows, as well as from the whole context, that the point of analogy is that as we cannot know what is piped or harped, or be bene­fited by it unless we can discriminate the sounds emitted, so we cannot be benefited by listening to one who speaks in a language which we do not understand. The point is, not the folly of the gift, but the use made of it.]

Verse 8

1Co 14:8

1 Corinthians 14:8

For if the trumpet give an uncertain voice, who shall pre­pare himself for war?—Since in all ages the advance and re­treat of armies have been directed by the sound of a trumpet, it is indispensable that the notes expressing each should be sufficiently distinct, the one from the other, and easily under­stood. Otherwise they would never know when to make ready for battle or for other duties.

Verse 9

1Co 14:9

1 Corinthians 14:9

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.—So also unless the teachers spoke in words easy to be understood, the hearers cannot know what is said, such will be speaking into the air [without conveying any meaning to any person. There will be noise, but nothing else. Gifts of that kind, used without interpretation, are good for nothing. It may well be observed that there is much of this same kind of speaking now, where unintelligible terms are used, or words are employed that are above the comprehen­sion of the people. All preaching should be plain, simple, and adapted to the capacity of the hearers.]

Verse 10

1Co 14:10

1 Corinthians 14:10

There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and no kind is without signification.-—[All languages are significant, so the languages used by those who spoke with tongues were significant. The difficulty was not in the language used, but the ignorance of the hearers. The argu­ment is that as all the languages that are in the world are for utility, and none are used for the sake of mere display, so it should be with those who had the power of speaking them in the church. They should speak them only when they would be understood.]

Verses 10-13

1Co 14:10-13


1 Corinthians 14:10-13

1 Corinthians 14:10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world (NIV). Here (and in v. 11) Paul varies his expression (from tongues to voices) but the thought is the same, namely, there are many different tongues spoken throughout the world. and none of them is without signification. Not one is without its own meaning (Williams). In every language the sounds (or words) are attached to certain concepts. And without that meaning communication is impossible. In my judgment, this irrefutably shows that Paul had in view known tongues (languages) throughout this section (the tongues were unknown only because they were spoken before an audience which did not understand them). Paul’s point may be stated: There is no voice that is voiceless or (perhaps better) no language that is not a language.

1 Corinthians 14:11 Therefore - If then (ASV). if I know not the meaning of the voice, If the sounds had no meaning to him he could not understand what was said. I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, - To the Greeks in NT times, one was a barbarian (a foreigner) who did not speak the Greek language (and who was ignorant of Greek culture). The point is, if one does not understand the language spoken, it is to him nothing but unintelligible sounds-- sounds which convey absolutely no meaning. And he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.--And to my mind he will be talking gibberish himself (Moffett), that incoherent meaningless sounds which make no sense at all to the ones addressed.

1 Corinthians 14:12 Even so ye, ---And you are in a similar situation (By). That is, if you speak in tongues so that no one understands, you will be as a foreigner to those addressed (1 Corinthians 14:10-11). forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts,-- Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit (RSV), that is, since you are ambitious for miraculous gifts. Gifts is a supplied word, but the context makes it obvious that this is Paul’s point. The Corinthians seemed to prefer tongues over all other gifts, but Paul has just shown their uselessness in a congregation when they are not understood. Gifts were not given for the purpose of entertaining an audience, but as a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22). Thus, since they were greatly disposed to seek the gifts, Paul urges them to be practical and seek for the ones which would be useful to edification. seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. Seek the gifts so that you may abound in building up the church through edification. Tongues not understood had no power to edify. Prophecy did. Thus they were to desire the gift of prophecy (v. 1) and other practical gifts.

1 Corinthians 14:13 Wherefore - For this reason (NIV). A conclusion drawn from what has been said about the uselessness of tongues when they are not understood. let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue--A language unknown to those to whom it is addressed. For the futility of such, see 1 Corinthians 14:6-11 along with the notes. pray that he may interpret. - Pray that he may also have the gift of interpretation so that when he speaks in a tongue he may interpret it for the hearers and thereby be able to edify them. If there is no interpreter, he is to silent (v. 28). It is my firm conviction that spiritual gifts came only by the laying on of apostolic hands (Acts 8:17; Romans 11) and not directly as an answer to prayer. This verse does not conflict with this view. One could then pray for the gift of interpretation and God could answer his prayer through the imposition of the hands of an apostle, while the apostles were still on earth. But since there are now no living apostles, and since the means of receiving the gifts are no longer available, one’s prayer to receive them now would be in vain.

Verse 11

1Co 14:11

1 Corinthians 14:11

If then I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian,—If he who hears does not know the meaning of the language spoken, the hearer will be a barbarian to the speaker.

and he that speaketh will be a barbarian unto me.—The speaker will be a barbarian to the hearer. Neither will be profited by the other in speaking or hearing the language that is not understood. The Greeks used the word barbarian of any foreigner ignorant of the Greek language and the Greek culture.

Verse 12

1Co 14:12

1 Corinthians 14:12

So also ye, since ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may abound unto the edifying of the church.—Since they were zealous of spiritual things, let them seek above all else those who would abound to the edification of the church.

Verse 13

1Co 14:13

1 Corinthians 14:13

Wherefore let him that speaketh in a tongue pray that he may interpret.—Let him pray that he may have the gift of in­terpreting what he says in the tongue, else he will not profit those who hear.

Verse 14

1Co 14:14

1 Corinthians 14:14

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my un­derstanding is unfruitful.—[If he uses words in a tongue un­known to the congregation in a prayer to God, he realizes in his own spirit what he says to God, but his understanding is not fruitful because he has not the benefit which he ought to have from every spiritual exercise.]

Verses 14-17

1Co 14:14-17


1 Corinthians 14:14-17

1 Corinthians 14:14 Here he gives the reason why one who speaks in tongues should pray that he may interpret (1 Corinthians 14:13). For if I pray in an unknown tongue, - If he prayed in a language not understood by those in the assembly. To speak in a language one did not know was of necessity done by the power of the HS. A useless babble, such as characterizes the Pentecostals today, can be imitated by almost anyone (and they freely admit that there are frauds among them), but only under the power of the Spirit could one speak in a language he did not know. my spirit prayeth, - Even though he prayed to God in a tongue, he was still addressing God with the heart (in spirit, John 4:23-24). but my understanding is unfruitful. His understanding did not produce the desired fruit of edification (cf. v. 17). That is, it did not help anyone but himself. In my judgment, he has reference not to his own personal understanding of the prayer (although it seems to imply that he did understand it), but rather to the understanding which it should produce in others (and would produce if he spoke in a known tongue) (cf. v. 16). While there is unquestionably some dif­ ficulty here, I believe it can be correctly paraphrased as follows: If I pray in a foreign language I am still worshiping God in spirit but my engagement in prayer does not edify others because they do not understand what is being said.

1 Corinthians 14:15 What is it then? ---So what shall I do? (NIV) in view of the problem presented in v. 14. I will pray with the spirit,--Here we encounter another problem: does Paul mean he will pray in spirit (as in v. 14), that is, in his own heart, or does he mean that he will pray under the power of the HS, that is, pray when he speaks in a tongue? It seems to me that the results demand that we understand it as the latter. The contrast is between speaking (in tongues) only for one’s own benefit and in speaking (in an understandable language) for the edification of others. When he was speaking (praying or singing) in a tongue not understood in the assembly he spoke to God only for himself (v. 2), but when he spoke in a language understood by others, he aided their understanding also. Thus he is saying, "I will pray even when I speak in a tongue" - pray when not interpreted and consequently not understood. and I will pray with the understanding also: He would also pray when understood by all. I will sing with the spirit, - Same as praying with the spirit, except here it is singing. and I will sing with the understanding also. - Sing in words that could be understood. This is in contrast with singing in tongues. Two observations: (1) While this v. does not directly deal with praying and singing as acts of public service, indirectly it does show beyond any question that both were engaged in when the NT church assembled for worship. (2) Some have tried to justify the use of instrumental music in Christian worship by the word psallo, which is here translated sing. They say that psallo means to sing to the accompaniment of an instrument (or harp). But, while this was true of the word as used in pre-NT times and in other contexts, in the NT, as Thayer says, it means "to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praise of God in song." Robertson (WP) says, "Psallo originally meant to play on strings, then to sing with an ac­ companiment ... and here apparently to sing without regard to an instrument. "

1 Corinthians 14:16 Else--Since or otherwise. when thou shalt bless with the spirit, - Same as praying in the spirit of v. 16. how shall he that occupieth the room How shall he that filleth the place (ASV). Not a certain room or place in the assembly but the position of being unlearned pertaining to the tongue spoken. of the unlearned - One who is illiterate, uneducated, un­ trained, or unskilled in the subject matter at hand. say Amen - Give positive assent to, approve of, or agree with what is said; to say amen is to say, "Let it be so." at thy giving of thanks, - Thanksgiving in prayer (1 Timothy 2:1). seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? - For he does not know what you are saying (Williams). The point is, if one does not understand what is said in a prayer, how can he join in or participate by giving his approval?

1 Corinthians 14:17 For thou - The one praying in a tongue. verily givest thanks well, You are giving thanks well enough (Goodspeed), but the other The unlearned or the one who does not understand what is being said (v. 16). is not edified. Is not helped or built up by the prayer. One can properly and privately address God in tongue but he cannot edify a congregation which has no knowledge of what is being said.

Verse 15

1Co 14:15

1 Corinthians 14:15

What is it then?—What shall I do 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.—Here the same thought is presented and the idioms of the Greek and the English languages require a change of expression to bring out the thought. Neither the Authorized Version nor the American Revised Version does this as the connections show. The thought evidently is: “I will sing as the Spirit directs or inspires, and I will sing in a language that those who hear can understand.” This expres­sion is often quoted in connection with song service in a sense in which it was not used. The following verse shows clearly that Paul’s meaning is: “I will pray and sing by the inspira­tion of the Spirit, and in a language that they will understand to their profit.”

Verse 16

1Co 14:16

1 Corinthians 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,—It was customary in prayer and thanksgiving for the hearer to approve and adopt the spoken prayer as his own, by saying, Amen.

seeing he knoweth not what thou sayest?—But if it is not spoken in language that he can understand, how could he say, Amen?

Verse 17

1Co 14:17

1 Corinthians 14:17

For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.—As it was expressed in a tongue which he did not un­derstand, he was not edified. [It is impossible to join in prayers uttered in an unknown tongue. This proves that the speaker must have understood what he said. For if the unintelligible is useless, it must be so to the speaker as well as to the hearers. If it was necessary that they should understand in order to be edified, it was no less necessary that he should understand what he said in order to be benefited.]

Verse 18

1Co 14:18

1 Corinthians 14:18

I thank God, I speak with tongues more than you all:— Paul as an apostle spoke more languages than all the Corin­thians. His travels and labors among so many different peo­ples made this necessary, and it was with him a subject of thanksgiving that this power had been bestowed upon him.

Verse 19

1Co 14:19

1 Corinthians 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.—In the assembly of the church Paul would not speak in foreign languages, where its only use would have been display; but he chose to speak in such a way as to convey instruction that would benefit others. As the ob­ject of public worship is the edification of the church, five words spoken so as to edify were of far greater value than ten thousand, not being understood, which could convey none. No higher estimate than this was ever put on practical wisdom. The best and profoundest utilitarian is the man who advocates utility on this high ground. Paul argued so warmly in behalf of the understanding because he felt so deeply the importance of benefiting others.

Verse 20

1Co 14:20

1 Corinthians 14:20

Brethren,—It seems that strife had arisen over these gifts, as to which was the greater and the more honorable. He pleads with them as brethren, insisting that it was the part of wisdom to desire to so speak that others would be profited, and that there should be no strife or bitterness over these questions. So he turns aside to reprove them.

be not children in mind:—Be not weak and attracted by the sound and show of tongues like children who are pleased with anything that will amuse, and at little things that afford them play and pastime. The Corinthians had displayed a childish disposition in estimating the gift of tongues above the more useful and important gifts, and in using it when it could an­swer no good purpose.

yet in malice be ye babes,—In malice and bitterness, be free from all malicious thoughts and actions as little children who cannot cherish such.

but in mind be men.—[As to judgment in approving those things which are excellent, be full-grown persons, by attaining of the maturity of the calling in Christ Jesus.]

Verse 21

1Co 14:21

1 Corinthians 14:21

In the law it is written,—The whole of the Old Testa­ment Scripture is called the law, because it was written dur­ing the reign of the law, and was intended to uphold and en­force it. [This we might naturally expect from Paul’s manner of regarding the whole Mosaic dispensation as a progressive order of things having its completion in Christ (Romans 3:19; Galatians 3:23-24). John uses the word in the same manner. (John 10:34; John 12:34; John 13:25).]

By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers will I speak unto this people;—Here Paul shows that the gift of tongues had little or no value except as an evidence of unbe­lievers, and illustrates it by this quotation from Isaiah 28:11-12. In that passage Isaiah tells the drunken priests, who scornfully imitated his style, that since they derided God’s message so delivered to them, God would address them in a very different way by the Assyrians, whose language they did not understand.

and not even thus will they hear me, saith the Lord.—Since the Jews had refused to hear the prophets speaking their own language, God threatened to bring upon them a people whose language they could not understand. This was a mark of dis­pleasure designed as a punishment, and not for their conver­sion. [From this it was intended to teach the Corinthians that it was no mark of the divine favor for them to have teachers whose language they could not understand. They were turning a blessing into a curse. The gift of tongues was designed, among other things, to aid Christians in proclaiming the gospel to the various peoples in their own language. When used for this purpose it was a blessing; but to employ it for the sake of vain display, in addressing those who could not understand the language employed, was to make it a curse.]

Verses 21-25

1Co 14:21-25


1 Corinthians 14:21-25

1 Corinthians 14:21 In the law--The OT. it is written, A summary from Isaiah 28:11-12. With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; - Other tongues in Isaiah was the tongues of the nations in which Israel would be held in bondage. Thus they can mean nothing but foreign languages spoken by foreign people. Since Paul makes application of this to tongue speaking in Corinth, there is simply no way to be honest with the text and not conclude that he has in mind unknown languages rather than ecstatic utterances. and yet for all that - And not even thus (A~V). Paul’s application means not even with the miraculous manifestation of speaking in a foreign language. will they not hear me, saith the Lord. - The application is obvious: the Lord was speaking to them (another positive demonstration that it was not the gibberish of ecstatic utterances) in tongues, a miraculous manifestation, and yet they would not hear Him or believe the divine message of truth. Barnes states my view exactly: "The passage in Isaiah has no reference to the miraculous gift of tongues, and cannot have been used by the apostle as containing any intimation that such miraculous gifts would be imparted. It seems to have been used by Paul, because the words which occurred in Isaiah would appropriately express the idea which he wished to convey that God would make use of foreign languages for some valuable purpose. But he by no means intimates that Isaiah had any such reference; nor does he quote this as a fulfillment of the prophecy; nor does he mean to say, that God would accomplish the same purpose by the use of foreign languages, which was con­ templated in the passage in Isaiah. The sense is, as God accomplished an important purpose by the use of a foreign language in regard to his ancient people, as recorded in Isaiah, so he will accomplish important purposes still."

1 Corinthians 14:22 -Wherefore tongues are for a sign,--A miraculous sign (Mark 16:17-20; Hebrews 2:1-4) to confirm that the gospel preached by the speaker was from God. not to them that believe, - The congregation or those who already believed in the divinity of Christ and His saving message. This positively shows that tongues were not given for the benefit of the believer per se, that is, to help the believer or him some kind of emotional life or a spiritual ad· vantage in praising God. but to them that believe not:--The miraculous manifestation enabled unbelievers (as on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:1-13) to see that it was a supernatural gift and that God was working in them to reveal His wilL but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. - But prophesying is a sign, not to the unbeliever, but to them that believe (ASV). The effect of prophesying is the opposite of that of speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:23-25). The design of prophecy was to edify the believer by delivering to him God’s will. To fill its design, it had to be understood. This is not to say that believers did not profit in any way by tongues or that unbelievers received no benefit at all by prophecy. Paul’s point is to show that speaking in tongues is useless before a congregation of believers who do not understand what is said. Tongues were a sign that God was revealing His will; but prophecy made known that will.

1 Corinthians 14:23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, - The assembly of the whole congregation (ef. 1 Corinthians 11:33; Acts 20:7). and all All who have the gift of speaking in tongues. This does not mean that they all spoke at once (1 Corinthians 14:28-31), but in a proper order. speak with tongues,--foreign languages not understood by the assembly or those coming into it. and there come in --Come into the assembly where Christians are gathered for worship and edification. those that are unlearned, - Ignorant of what is happening; illiterate in the language being spoken. or unbelievers, - A heathen or a Jew who did not yet believe in Christ and the saving message of His gospeL will they - The ignorant and unbelieving. not say that ye are mad? - Indeed, they would. The only reasonable conclusion they could reach would be that the Christians were insane, having taken leave of their senses (cf. Acts 2:13). Or as Robertson (WP) puts it, "They will seem like a congregation of lunatics."

1 Corinthians 14:24 But if all prophesy, - If all who have the gift of prophecy speak in proper order the revealed will of God (under the power and inspiration of the HS), then all can understand. and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, - See note on v. 23. he is convinced of all, - He sees the truth and is convinced or convicted of his sins by the word of God which is being spoken (ef. John 16:7-11). This conviction should lead to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10; Acts 17:30). he is judged of all: He is called to account by all who speak. The judgement is not that of condemnation but that of examination, and probably means that he will be brought by the teaching of the word to examine his own heart and life and thus see his lost condition. The contrast is between speaking in tongues (v. 23), which have no useful effects upon the assembly, and in speaking the word of God in an understandable language, with the desired effects of reaching and teaching the unbelieving and the unlearned. The conclusion: prophecy is of greater worth than speaking in tongues.

1 Corinthians 14:25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; - The secrets of his heart are disclosed (RSV). The real condition of his heart would be brought to light by the preaching of the word (Hebrews 4:12). One of the purposes of preaching is to bring men to a knowledge of God as the Creator and Ruler. The word will prick the heart and cause one to cry out, "What must I do to be saved?" See Acts 2:36-38. and so falling down on his face he will He will be converted -become a believer in God and worship Him as God. and report - Declare or exclaim. that God is in you of a truth. God is certainly here among you (Beck) (Daniel 2:47). Thus speaking in tongues had the effect of making public worship look foolish; prophesying on the other hand had the effect of bringing the unbelieving and ignorant to a saving knowledge of the gospel (John 8:32).

Verse 22

1Co 14:22

1 Corinthians 14:22

Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that be­lieve, but to the unbelieving:—Speaking in unknown lan­guages was to reach the unbelieving nations and thus teach them the gospel. For people to hear strangers speak in their own tongue, never having learned it, as was done on Pente­cost, attracted attention, convinced the people that the power of God was with them, and prepared them to hear and believe the truth.

but prophesying is for a sign, not to the unbelieving, but to them that believe.—This was instructing them in the truths of the gospel, in a language they understood, which would help and profit the believers; but would not profit those who be­lieved not.

Verse 23

1Co 14:23

1 Corinthians 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?—If unbeliev­ers who do not understand the languages come into the as­sembly, it will seem like senseless jargon. They will be as barbarians to each other (verse 11). The difference between these and those in the preceding verse is that the unbelievers understood the language spoken, in this they do not.

Verse 24

1Co 14:24

1 Corinthians 14:24

But if all prophesy, and there come in one unbelieving or unlearned, he is reproved by all,—If all prophesy or teach by the Spirit and use the gift in a language all understand, and one comes in that understands, but believes not, and by the spiritual gift his thoughts are laid bare, he is convinced that God is with them, he is convicted or condemned as a sinner.

he is judged by all;—Some think this means that he was ex­amined by those who discerned spirits and that the things he needed were taught him; but it is more in harmony with the context and scope of the passage to say that he was made to know his true condition.

Verse 25

1Co 14:25

1 Corinthians 14:25

the secrets of his heart are made manifest;—As he heard the prophets, one by one, he would be reproved by all, and his real character and moral state would be made known to him. His conscience would be awakened, and he would see that it was evil. And it is possible that he would suppose that the speakers were aiming directly at him, and revealing his feelings to others; for such an effect is often produced. Prophetic preaching must have had great power to make men feel that they stood face to face with God, for even faithful preaching today lays bare the sinner’s heart, and often causes him to feel that the preacher particularly intends him, and wonders that he has such acquaintance with his feelings and his life.]

and so he will fall down on his face and worship God, de­claring that God is among you indeed.-—Being thus smitten with their divine knowledge and mission, he would fall down and worship God, and report that God was in them enabling them to know the secrets of the heart. [This description of the effect of prophecy upon the unbeliever is in no way con­trary to the assertion in verse 22. There the apostle is speak­ing of a sign to attract the attention of the unbeliever; here his attention is already attracted. He has come to the assem­bly of the church, and is listening to the words spoken there in the name of Jesus Christ. And as faith comes by hearing there will be no need of signs to induce him to become a be­liever.]

Verse 26

1Co 14:26

1 Corinthians 14:26

What is it then, brethren? When ye come together,— [How are these gifts to be exercised? The principle governing their exercise is edification. This principle is now applied to the orderly exercise, particularly of the gift of tongues and prophecy. A graphic picture is given of the assembled church, eager to contribute, each his part, to the services.]

each one hath a psalm, hath a teaching, hath a revelation, hath a tongue, hath an interpretation. The directions which follow, with the statements made in verses 32, 33, indicate that they attempted all these things at once and created dis­cord and confusion in the services.

Let all things be done unto edifying.—The edification of the church should be the object aimed at in the exercise of these gifts. It was not enough that a man felt himself a subject of spiritual influence; or that acting under it would be agreeable or even profitable to himself, he must remain silent unless the exercise of his gift would benefit the church as a worshiping assembly.

Verses 26-33

1Co 14:26-33



1 Corinthians 14:26-33

1 Corinthians 14:26 How is it then, brethren? - Then what is the right course, brothers (Goodspeed)? In view of what was said in 1 Corinthians 14:22-25, what was the order or rule to follow when they are assembled? when ye come together,­ When you meet together as a congregation for worship and edification. every one of you - Not literally everyone, but everyone who has a gift may contribute his part to the edification of the assembly. That is, each one has his part to contribute. hath a psalm, A song or hymn. The context is set in the miraculous; consequently the song (psalm) is probably one given by the Spirit; hence an inspired song (d. the son of Deborah in Judges 5). It is difficult to escape the strong implication here that in apostolic times it was customary for one person to sing for the edification of the whole congregation. hath a doctrine, - Something to teach (Williams). That is a lesson, a discourse, or instructive words. hath a tongue, - Speak in a foreign language. It was thus not to be concluded from what Paul had said that there was no place for tongues in the public worship. They were proper under the controlled conditions of vv. 27-28. hath a revelation, - Some truth from God (Beck). Revelation is the manifestation of the will of God the mind of God made known to the mind of man; hence the setting forth of heretofore unrevealed truths. It was given by the HS (1 Corinthians 2:9-14; John 16:13) to those selected for that purpose. Those who received the revelation, and spoke it by inspiration, are probably the same as the prophets spoken of elsewhere in this chapter. hath an interpretation. ­ The gift to interpret foreign languages. Let all things be done unto edifying. - Whether it be a song, a lesson, a language, a revelation, or an interpretation, the right course to follow in the assembly is to edify or build up the saints.

1 Corinthians 14:27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue,--A foreign language, unknown in the sense that it was not understood in the assembly. "Unknown" is a supplied word. let it be by two, or at the most by three,--To maintain an orderly worship, those permitted to speak in tongues at any one service were limited to two or not more than three. and that by course;--One after the other or each taking his turn. They were not all to speak at the same time but rather one following the other. and let one interpret. ­ Someone must interpret (NIV). That is, it was imperative that someone translate for the audience what was said in tongues. No one was to speak in a tongue unless there was an interpreter present (v. 28).

1 Corinthians 14:28 But if there be no interpreter,--If there is no one present with the gift to interpret tongues (1 Corinthians 12:9). let him. The tongue speaker of v. 27.--keep silence in the church; He is not to speak, even once, in the congregational meetings. Nothing is to be done in public worship that does not edify, and to speak in a tongue not understood by an audience in no way edifies it. and let him The tongue speaker. speak: to himself, and to God. Speak only to himself and to God. See note on v. 4.

1 Corinthians 14:29 Let the prophets - Those who impart divine revelation. speak two or three. - Let two or three of them speak in turn, as with those who spoke in tongues (v. 27). That is, let one at a time speak and no more than two or three in a single service. and let the other The rest (Williams). This may have reference to the audience but more likely to the other prophets (cf.v. 30), those who had the gift to discern spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10). judge. Discern (ASV). That is, let them discern whether the prophet is true or false, whether the revelation is from God or from human imagination.

1 Corinthians 14:30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, - But if a revelation be made to another who is seated. That if one of the prophets who are waiting their turn to speak (see v. 29) receives a revelation, probably in conjunction with his judging or discerning what the speaker says, he is to be given the floor. This has reference to true revelation (a manifestation of the mind or will of God as a direct work of the HS), and what was said was authoritative (just as much so as the Scriptures are today) and eternally bound upon man. Many today claim to receive new revelation but few, very few, make the claim that what they receive and deliver has the binding nature of Scripture. But why not? The word of God is the word of God, regardless of whether spoken or written. And Jesus said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away" (Matthew 24:35). Thus any man who claims to speak new revelation ought to claim the same authority for what he delivers as adheres in the Scriptures themselves. Furthermore he ought to write it down as the inspired word of God bound upon all men for all time to come ... or else he ought to cease making his false claims. let the first The prophet currently speaking. hold his peace. - Keep silent (NASV). Let him stop and give place to the one who receives the revelation.

1 Corinthians 14:31 For ye may all - All who have the gift of prophecy. prophesy one by one, - All would have an opportunity to speak, one following another, but not more than three at a single service (v. 29). that all All those assembled for worship. may learn, - Be instructed or edified (v. 26). and all may be comforted. - Be encouraged (Williams) or admonished. Thus every prophet would be permitted to deliver the revelation he had received to the assembly. Some truths would be revealed to one while other truths would be revealed to others, but all truth was needed and all was equally authoritative so that what one had to say was no more vital than what another had to say. All truth (necessary for the man of God to be complete, 2 Timothy 3:17) was eventually brought together into the completed revelation (the NT). When this occurred, that which was perfect had come (1 Corinthians 13:8-13) and that which was in part (miraculous manifestation of truth bit by bit) was done away.

1 Corinthians 14:32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.--The prophet is in control of his own action while exercising his prophetic gift. While the HS reveals the message to him and guides him in delivering it, and while he is passive as far as the contents are concerned (2 Peter 1:20-21), he may cease to speak (or speak as the case may be) at will. He was not so controlled by the Spirit that he could not restrain himself or at any time give place to another prophet (v. 30). And the one seated, who received a revelation, was not so pressed that he could not wait to speak until the first surrendered the floor. Or to say it another way, they were in command of their spiritual gift. Just because the HS is working through a man, in a miraculous way, does not mean that he loses his own responsibility or that he becomes less than a free moral agent. As Willis says, "Any person who was unable to control his spirit was not under the influence of the Holy Spirit."

1 Corinthians 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion,--The kind of disorder which would have resulted had more than one prophet spoken at the same time. but of peace,--Order (v. 40) or harmony. as in all churches of the saints. - As in all local assemblies made up of God’s people. Nearly all modern translations and scholars connect this to v. 34, giving it the sense, as in all churches of the saints, let your women keep silent in the churches (assemblies), This appears to me to be the most likely view,

Verse 27

1Co 14:27

1 Corinthians 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:—To correct this confusion, he gives directions that if any should speak in an unknown tongue, that not more than two or three should speak at one meeting; these one at a time, and one should interpret.

Verse 28

1Co 14:28

1 Corinthians 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 were none present who could interpret, those who spoke in tongues were to keep silent. It is useless to speak in an as­sembly in a language unknown to all. The profit of what is spoken depends on its being understood. He and God could understand, and so he might be profited to speak to God, not to others.

Verse 29

1Co 14:29

1 Corinthians 14:29

And let the prophets speak by two or three, and let the others discern.—The prophets or teachers likewise should speak not more than two or three at a meeting and the other inspired men including him who speaks in a tongue judge of what is spoken.

Verse 30

1Co 14:30

1 Corinthians 14:30

But if a revelation be made to another sitting by, let the first keep silence.—If while one is speaking an important truth is revealed to another, let him make it known, and let him that was speaking conclude his discourse, so that there be no confusion arising from two persons speaking at the same time.

Verse 31

1Co 14:31

1 Corinthians 14:31

For ye all can prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be exhorted;—All having gifts may prophesy, one at a time, so that all might know what had been revealed to each and all. The same things were not revealed to the differ­ent prophets. This was true of the apostles. Some things were revealed to one, other things revealed to another. A conference of all was needful that the full revelation of God might be known. So of these prophets or gifted persons, each should hear what was revealed to the others. So that each would learn all that was revealed to all and to be comforted thereby.

Verse 32

1Co 14:32

1 Corinthians 14:32

and the spirits of the prophets are subject to the proph­ets;—This no doubt was said in view of the claim fre­quently made that, as they were under the guidance of the Spirit, they could not restrain themselves; but the influence was not of such a nature as to destroy the self-control of those who were its subjects. The prophets of God were calm and self-possessed. This being the case there was no necessity why one should interrupt another, or why more than one should speak at the same time. The one speaking could stop when he pleased; and the one who had received the revelation could wait as long as he pleased.

Verse 33

1Co 14:33

1 Corinthians 14:33

for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.—God does not give the gifts of the Spirit to produce confusion, but peace. Any feeling, impulse, or desire of the heart, however religious in its character, that leads man to disregard a command of God, is another spirit than the Spirit of God.

As in all the churches of the saints.—The majority of the best critics, including the distinguished scholars who prepared the American Revised Version, decide that according to the sense, this clause should stand connected with verse 34. So it reads: “As in all the churches of the saints, let the women keep silence in the churches.” It is therefore evident that at the time Paul wrote the propriety of the prohibition was recognized and practiced by all the churches.

Verses 33-35

1Co 14:33-35


All women, whether it be wife, mother, or daughter, whether in possession of spiritual gifts or not. keep silence - Be silent. Utter no words in tongues or in prophecy. in the churches: - In the assemblies when the congregation is gathered for public worship (1 Timothy 2:11-12), It seems to me that Paul four reasons for this imposed silence on women: (1) It is not permitted; (2) the law teaches obedience or subjection; (3) they can ask their husbands at home, that is, outside the assembly; (4) it is a shame. This is set in the context of a service where the miraculous gifts of tongues and prophecy were being excused (consequently the instructions are for women to keep silent in the assemblies as far as tongue speaking and prophesying are concerned, that is, they were not to exercise these spiritual gifts in public worship. Now since some early Christian women had gifts, or at least the gift of prophecy (Acts 21:9), and since they are here prohibited from exercising them in the public assembly, we must conclude that they were to exercise them only in an informal or private setting. This would take care of our exegesis of this imposed silence if we were not faced with some additional questions relating to the extent and purpose of the imposition. Does the principle here bound apply to all public worship services of the church, even those of today? Certainly the context is concerned only with a service in which miraculous gifts are being exercised, but based upon the whole section (1 Corinthians 11:2 to 1 Corinthians 14:40) and 1 Timothy 2:11-14 it appears that the principle of subjection is so involved that it necessitates a universal application. This is strengthened by the concept that the latter part of v. 33 should be the first part of v. 34, thus reading, "As in all the churches of the saints, let your women keep silent." Was the imposed silence given because of cultural or social customs which at that time regulated women to an inferior position? This undoubtedly would be the most attractive and popular way to explain it, but all available evidence (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:11) points to it being based in the Scriptures rather than custom (or at least part of the reasons are based on Scripture; perhaps others are on custom). If a custom (similar to the covering of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16) was it bound only on women of that day and time? Unlike the veil, the holy kiss, and other customs regulated by inspired instructions, this has all the appearance of being more than a custom it is rooted in the order of creation (1 Timothy 2:11-14), the curse placed upon woman because she was the first to sin, and is a command of the law. But if all this is true, if women are universally bound to silence in the public worship of the church, why would she be prohibited from speaking in the assembly but per­ mitted to speak in political rallies, teach in public schools (even in Christian col­ leges), and serve in offices of authority over the man, such as legislators, judges (even on the Supreme Court), and scores of other such authoritative positions? Here in my judgment we reach the crux of the matter. If I have not missed the whole thrust of the section, Paul is simply applying the principle of subjection to women’s role in the public worship of the church (for a discussion of the role of women under the man, see notes on 1 Corinthians 11:3 and the section comments on 1 Corinthians 11:4-16). While the context is an assembly where the spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy were being exercised, and thus limited to that as far as direct teaching is concerned, it seems to me (based on 1 Timothy 2:11-14) that the principle is to be universally applied. If so, Paul is saying that leadership in public worship is the domain of the male. That is, God has placed man over the worship just as He has placed a husband over the wife or a father over the son. A son can never serve in the role of a father over the father (although he may have to serve in place of his father if the father is absent). Just so, a woman can never serve the role of a man in the public assembly of the church over the man. In the absence of men, she may be forced to serve in his place, but not over him. For example, I heard of one church which was made up of seven members, all women. They met together for worship, praying, teaching one another, singing, taking the Lord’s Supper, and giving of their means. One of them had to take the lead (the role of a male) in each act. But were they serving over the man? Indeed not. They were serving in the place of the man but not over him. But turn that around. Suppose there were men in the congregation capable of serving and the women still took the lead. They would then be serving in the place of man over him. All this assumes that God has assigned to men the lead in public worship - that the leadership in worship is the role of man and not the role of woman. But this assumption is based on a strong implication running through this whole section (1 Corinthians 11:2 to 1 Corinthians 14:40) and I believe plainly stated in 1T 2:11-14. The role of woman then is to be in subjection to (or under) the man. Thus in the public worship she is to be silent. It is certain, however, that this rule did not apply in informal or private gatherings (Acts 18:24-26; Acts 21:9). for They are not allowed to speak (NIV). That is, speak in the sense of speaking in tongues or prophesying. It could not mean that she could not utter a sound in any way. If so, she could not sing or in any other way participate in the service vocally. Thus in the context it is a prohibition of speaking in tongues and prophesying, but in principle the prohibition of women addressing the assembly in the place of a man over the man. but they are commanded to be under obedience, --They must take a subordinate place (Williams) or be in submission (Ephesians 5:22; Ephesians 5:24; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1-6). They are to recognize, acknowledge, and respect the role of men over them. as also saith the law. - The OT (Genesis 3:16).

1 Corinthians 14:35 And if they will learn any thing, - If there is anything they desire to know (RSV). That is, if they have questions they wish to have dis­ cussed, let them not disrupt the worship, either by speaking or by raising ques­ tions in a disorderly way (v. 40). I doubt that Paul was restricting them from asking questions under all circumstance (e.g., suppose the speaker called for questions from the audience) but rather they were not to interrupt with brash­ ness nor in their forwardness disregard the man’s role. let them ask their husbands at home: - Let them ask their husbands outside the assembly. (Incidentally, this indicates the role of man over the home.) It seems to me that Paul has in view women in general, but he uses a wife to represent them all. If so, the principle is, let them ask their males (whether father, husband, brother, elder, etc.) in a more private setting than the public worship. for it is a shame - A disgrace. A disgrace because it violates the divine injunction for women to be in subjection (v. 34). for women to speak in the church. To speak (or even to raise questions) in the assembly. This final reason for the imposed silence could conceivably have overtones of the social attitude and customs of the time. And were it the only reason given it could, with some degree of probability, be argued that it was thus a violation of social propriety and bound only as a custom for that time and locality (as was the veil in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16). But if my conclusion is correct, that it is a shame because it violates God’s injunction of subjection to the male rather than the violation of modesty imposed by society, the disgrace would adhere "in all churches of the saints," both then and now.

Additional note on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 : These are unquestionably difficult vv., not dif­ ficult to understand what they say but difficult to apply. I have dealt with them as honestly as I know how and have given my views as best I can. Yet I am painfully aware of the fact that I have not considered all the problems nor have I given much help for their application in modern times. And besides that I have taken a slightly different approach than anyone I know (or have read) on the subject. Some of the difficulties can be seen by the following: First, making application of the principle to modern times when women are considered in most countries the equal of men, having the same rights, privileges, and obligations. Second, lines between a formal and an informal setting (necessary to my own exegesis) are not as distinct as one would like for them to be. Third, women throughout the Bible play an active role in public as well as in private. Deborah was a judge and a prophetess (Judges 4:4). Huldah served Israel as a prophetess (2Kg 22:14). Joel’s prophecy foretold the fact that both sons and daughters would prophesy in the Christian age (Joel 2:28), which according to Peter came to pass (Acts 2:14-18). Anna, a prophetess, served in the temple at the time of Christ’s birth (Luke 2:36-38). Philip had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9). Fourth, society and custom in most of the ancient world, at the time Paul wrote, considered women inferior and bound them to many restrictions unknown to most countries in this century. Fifth, then the vast majority of women were illiterate ordinarily no formal education was provided for them; now the literacy of women, in many respects, equals or surpasses that of men. Sixth, then most women (all except widows and a very few others) were under almost complete control of men (father or husband) who made all major decisions for them (Saul who was supposed to give his oldest daughter to David as wife but instead gave her to another, 1 Samuel 18:17-19; he gave his youngest daughter instead, 1 Samuel 18:30-30, but later took her back and gave her to another man, 1 Samuel 25:44); now women are for the most part independent, making their own decisions. It can thus be seen that in respect to women the situation in the modern world is entirely different than in the first century.

If I am correct in my exegesis, the principle of subjection still demands silence in the public assembly of the church - the principle has not changed, nor will it as long as the world stands. While we may not know why God gave the leadership role to men in the public worship of the church and thus made it the place where women’s subjection is on display for all to see, we can be all but certain that this is the case and that as His creatures we ought to humbly submit to the role He has assigned to each of us, whether we be male or female. This imposed silence, tied up with her submission to and recognition of the role of man, does not restrict women from performing great and mighty works in the kingdom of God. They can serve the Lord with honor and distinction, as many of the ancient women did (1 Peter 3:1-6; Romans 16:1-5), but they must do so within the role assigned to them by God and not by assuming the role of man over the man.

Verse 34

1Co 14:34

1 Corinthians 14:34

let the women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak;—[No instruction in the New Testament is more positive than this; it is positive, explicit, and universal; and however plausible may be the reasons which are urged for disregarding it, and for suffering women to take an active part in conducting public worship, yet the authority of the inspired apostle remains positive and his meaning cannot be misunderstood. He looks at it from every viewpoint, forbids it altogether, and shows that from every consideration it was to be regarded as improper for them to take any active part in conducting the public service.]

but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law.—This was ordained by God in the beginning when he said unto the woman: “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Genesis 3:16). It was required all through the Pa­triarchal and Jewish dispensations. Sarah was subject to Abraham calling him lord. (1 Peter 3:5-6). Rebekah veiled her face when she approached Isaac, and during the whole ministry of Christ and the apostles, no record is given of a woman leading in public service, although some of them were spiritually endowed and required to teach in private. (Titus 2:3-4).

The following command to Timothy was given to guide him in setting in order the churches of Christ: “Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness. For Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression.” (1 Timothy 2:11-14). Here are two reasons given: (1) Adam was first created, and the prece­dence, the right to rule and lead, was given him; (2) the woman was deceived and led into the transgression. Both reasons are universal in their bearing, showing clearly that the rule is universal. I do not see how God could have made it clearer and more certain than he has done. The reasons given for this command apply to every woman in the world alike. There is not the least difficulty in explaining all the passages in harmony with these, if we will recognize what is true—that God intended the great burden of praying, teach­ing, exhorting, and admonishing to be done in private, not in public. Woman has free access to this great field. We have perverted this; we do our preaching, teaching, exhorting, and, I fear, praying often in public; so interpret the Scriptures by our practices, and not by the will of God.

The truth of the whole matter is that many of the churches are infected more or less with a spirit of modernistic infidelity that does not hesitate to set aside any order of God when it stands in the way of their fancies. The habit of women preaching originated in the same hotbed with easy divorce, free love, birth control, repugnance to childbearing and child rearing.

Verse 35

1Co 14:35

1 Corinthians 14:35

And if they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home:—She should not ask questions as leading to the teaching. She should ask her own husband concerning the things she would learn.

for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church.—It is shameful because it does not comport with propriety and her womanly modesty, which in all nations is her shield and power. It is contended that, since there is no specific law for­bidding women taking public part in the service under the law of Moses, Paul is wrong in forbidding her doing so in the church. But to assign all duties to men and none to women is to prohibit their performing such duties. It shows that such a thing as their taking active part was never considered. This epistle was not addressed to the Corinthians exclusively, but “unto the church of God which is at Corinth, even them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2), showing clearly that it was writ­ten for the guidance of all Christians in every place and for all time.

This cannot be interpreted as meaning that it is improper for women to speak or to pray in meetings of their own sex, assembled for prayer or Bible study.

Verse 36

1Co 14:36

1 Corinthians 14:36

What? was it from you that the word of God went forth? or came it unto you alone?—[They had acted in the matter of allowing women to preach as if they were the au­thors of Christianity—as if, because of their manifold spiritual gifts, the word of God had gone forth from Corinth, instead of from Jerusalem. He reminds them that instead of such being the case the word of God was brought to them by himself. They had received all from him.]

Verses 36-40

1Co 14:36-40


1 Corinthians 14:36-40

1 Corinthians 14:36 What? came the word of God out from you? Or did God’s message get its start from you (BV)? The gospel had not originated with them--they had not made the rules by which they were to live and conduct themselves in public worship. or came it unto you only? - Or were you the only ones to whom it came (Beck)? The word of truth had not originated with them (it came to them from God through His chosen messengers) nor were they the only ones unto whose trust it had been delivered. The truth of God is subject to universal proclamation and practice.

1 Corinthians 14:37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, - If anyone claims to speak for God or regards himself as a prophet. That is to say, his attitude toward Paul’s writings, whether he considered them inspired or not, would determine whether he was a true or a false prophet. or spiritual, Or in· spired (BV). If he claims to receive and deliver revelation by the power of the Spirit (or be inspired 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 along with my notes there). Some think this means one who has a spiritual gift of any kind (e.g., Willis). MacKnight thinks that it means one who has the gift to discern spirits. But it seems to me that Paul uses spiritual here in the same sense he did in 1 Corinthians 2:15, where it is in contrast with the natural or uninspired man; hence, one who is inspired. let him acknowledge Let him recognize or understand. If one was a prophet or spoke by inspiration then he would know that what Paul wrote was from God. that the things that I write unto you - Contextually the things pertain­ ing to spiritual gifts and the role of women under the man in public worship, but in principle, everything Paul wrote under the direction of the Spirit (2 Timothy 3:14-17; 2 Peter 3:15-16). are the commandments of the Lord. Is the Lord’s command (Williams). He was making known the will of God to man (d. 2 Corinthians 5:19-20; Galatians 1:6-12). Thus when the Bible speaks, it is God speaking. Some years ago I had a conversation with a liberal who had lost his faith in the Bible as the word of God. One of the arguments by which he sought to justify his rejection of the Scriptures was that the writers had no idea that what they wrote would someday be considered the word of God, an authoritative rule of faith and practice. He was simply saying that neither the writer nor the receiver was aware of such a concept. That was a concept that was later added. In reply, I quoted this v. from Paul. In my judgment it totally refuted his argument and established beyond question that what Paul (and the other writers of the Bible) wrote was not only the inspired, infallible, eternal word of truth, originating with God, delivered by inspired men, and received as heaven’s message, but was also written in full knowledge that it was the word of God.

1 Corinthians 14:38 But if any man be ignorant, - But if anyone does not recognize this (RSV). If anyone professing to be a prophet or a spiritual ignores or fails to recognize the fact that Paul speaks the commandments of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37), and is thus inspired, his own ignorance of God’s means of revealing His will to man is manifest. let him be ignorant. - Pay no attention to him (Goodspeed). That is, recognize his ignorance and disregard what he has to say. There is a textual variant here (represented by the KJV and RSV) and the correct reading at present cannot be certainly established. I have given what I believe is the true sense, even though I may have commingled the two readings.

1 Corinthians 14:39 Wherefore, brethren, - To sum up, my brothers (Moffett) or to conclude (BV). covet - Desire (12:31) or be eager (NIV). to prophesy, ­ See 1 Corinthians 14:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:31. and forbid not - Do not prevent or hinder. to speak with tongues. - Throughout this chapter Paul has forbidden the abuse of tongues (speaking in tongues for no higher purpose than to display a spiritual gift) but he does not prohibit their use. To be able to speak in a language never studied was a gift from God and no gift of God is to be forbidden when properly used.

1 Corinthians 14:40 Let all things be done decently and in order. - But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way (NIV). In the public assembly everyone and all things should appear proper, appropriate, and in good taste; everyone should conduct himself in an orderly manner, that is, without confusion, discord, or strife. This is a rule that applies to all assemblies of the saints, then, now, and forever. God is great and when one approaches Him in worship, his decorum should be fitting to the occasion and the manner of his actions both blameless and a good example for all to follow. One’s appearance and demeanor in worship reveals his attitude toward and respect for God and holy things.

Verse 37

1Co 14:37

1 Corinthians 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.—Having given these rules regulating the use of the spiritual gifts showing that they were liable to be misused and abused, he lays down this rule by which all claims to prophetic or spiritual powers were to be tested. Doing this he will, of course, be regulated by these rules. If he refused to do this he might know, and others too, that he had no gift of the Spirit.

To accept and obey the commandments of God as revealed in the Scriptures is the rule for all at this day by which to test their claims to spirituality. Men are probably more liable to deceive themselves as to whether they are spiritual in the sense of being led by the Spirit than they were in reference to miraculous gifts of the Spirit. The rule is good for all ages.

Verse 38

1Co 14:38

1 Corinthians 14:38

But if any man is ignorant, let him be ignorant.—Since Paul wrote under the direction of the Spirit, any one filled with the Spirit would be guided to recognize his words as of divine authority, for the Spirit would not say one thing to Paul and a different thing to another. Therefore if any one denies Paul’s claims to inspiration, he does it willfully and let him remain in his ignorance and suffer the consequences.

Verse 39

1Co 14:39

1 Corinthians 14:39

Wherefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.—In consideration of all the matters written, let all earnestly desire to prophesy— teach, exhort, strengthen, and comfort one another. While recognizing this as the highest and best gift, do not despise the lower and humble gifts.

Verse 40

1Co 14:40

1 Corinthians 14:40

But let all things be done decently and in order.—Let all things be done in an appropriate and becoming manner; regularly, without confusion, discord, or tumult as becomes the worship of God.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/1-corinthians-14.html.
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