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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 14

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentZerr's N.T. Commentary

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Verse 1

1Co 14:1. The reader should keep in mind that the subject of the preceding two chapters and the present one, is the spiritual gifts that were possessed by disciples in the first years of the church. Paul is showing the proper purpose and use of the gifts, and is trying to correct the many abuses that had crept into the church in Corinth in the exercise of them. This chapter, therefore, was not written for information concerning "the duties and privileges of women in the church," as it is so frequently claimed. Such a use of the chapter is a perversion of it, for it has no connection with that subject. Instead, it has to do with the conduct of the church when assembled, showing the proper procedure in the exercise of spiritual gifts. Follow after charity is in line with the preceding chapter which shows that charity is the greatest of all graces. If it had been in effect through all of their proceedings, the abuses would not have occurred which the apostle is trying to correct. Rather . . . prophesy, because it is "more serviceable" as was stated in chapter 12:31.

Verse 2

1Co 14:2. Speaking with tongues manifests miraculous power, but it does not contribute as much benefit to the brethren as does the gift of prophesying, when the latter is done after the manner described in the next verse.

Verse 3

1Co 14:3. This verse gives the practical form of prophesying, that w hich edifies, exhorts and comforts men.

Verse 4

1Co 14:4. Being the possessor of the gift of tongues, this man will be benefited by its use, but the church as a whole would not be benefited as it is by prophesying. 1Co 14:5 1Co 14:5. Paul did not begrudge any man his possession of the gift of tongues, and he was not conducting the present discussion from that motive. He had a practical reason, however, for preferring the gift of prophesying, namely, it edifies the church (verse 4). Except he interpret. I believe this is correctly translated, and hence that at least some men were given two gifts, that of speaking in a foreign tongue, and also of interpreting it; otherwise he could not "edify himself" (verse 4). Verses 13, 14 also indicates that the same man may possess both gifts.

Verse 6

1Co 14:6. If I come. The apostle uses himself only as an example as if he said, "suppose I come," etc. To speak with tongues would not profit the church unless they were so used as to bestow upon it some of the following results. Revelation means a communication of some new truth; knowledge denotes the super natural kind that had not been previously recorded; prophesying refers to the kind described in verse 3; doctrine means teaching in general.

Verse 7

1Co 14:7. Without life, giving sound, means things that do not have life yet that give off sounds, such as the pipe or harp. Give a distinction. These instruments should be so used as to conform to some accepted code, else they would mean nothing to a hearer. The blasts of a locomotive would mean nothing to railroad men, if they were not made according to the code in use by the company.

Verse 8

1Co 14:8. The same illustration is used in Num 10:1-9, where a nonliving trumpet is used as a signal device. Certain blasts were to indicate a corresponding action. If the "code" was ignored, the soldier would not know whether to line up for action or remain in his tent.

Verse 9

1Co 14:9. Paul makes the application of his illustration in this verse. He means for them to make such a use of their gift of tongues as will contribute beneficial information to the hearers.

Verse 10

1Co 14:10. Voices is from the Greek word PHONE. and Thayer defines it at this place, "speech, 1. e., a language tongue." It is true that several different forms of language are in use in the world, and each has its own significance according to the vocabulary of the people speaking with it.

Verse 11

1Co 14:11. But unless the hearer knows the meaning of the word when it is spoken to him, he will receive no exchange of thought from the speaker. Barbarian is from BARBAROS, and Thayer's definition in this passage is as follows: "One who speaks a foreign or strange language which is not understood by another." Hence the word does not necessarily mean a term of reproach in the New Testament. But when used with regard to language between different people, it does always mean they are barbarians to each other, if there is not a mutual understanding of the speech that it uttered.

Verse 12

1Co 14:12. The desire to excel merely from the motive of rivalry over others is wrong. The word in this verse is in the intransitive form, and is defined by Thayer "to abound in." The thought is that each member of the congregation should wish to abound in that gift that would best edify the church.

Verse 13

1Co 14:13. Wherefore means a conclusion in line with the exhortation in the preceding verse. Pray that he may interpret is commented upon at verse 5, regarding the possession of two gifts by the same man.

Verse 14

1Co 14:14. My spirit refers to the spiritual gift possessed by the one who is praying, while my understanding pertains to the one hearing the prayer. If a man prays with an unknown tongue, the hearer who does not understand that tongue will not get any benefit from the prayer.

Verse 15

1Co 14:15. The first half of this verse is explained in the preceding one. The second half is generally misapplied today. A song leader will arise before the congregation and try to get it in condition for some good singing. He will probably tell the people to wake up and sing as if they meant it, then remind them that Paul said to "sing with the spirit and with the understanding," as if he was conducting a "pep meeting." He may continue his erroneous use of the passage by telling them to study the words of the song so as to understand what they are singing, else they could not "sing with the understanding as Paul commands." The passage as it reads and is quoted did not apply to congregational singing in Paul's day even, much less does it so apply today. It was a part of the exercise of miraculous gifts, and the spirit that is named is the Holy Spirit, given to Christians in such measure that they could speak and sing with words that had not yet been revealed to others. In selecting his words, the singer was instructed to use those that the audience (not himself only) could understand. The term "my understanding" has reference to the ability of the hearer to understand what he hears.

Verse 16

1Co 14:16. To bless means to praise the Lord for his blessings. One man may be expressing thanks in the audience of disciples, which is supposed to represent the sentiments of the hearers. Occupieth the room is a figurative expression that means one who is unlearned, or not educated in the various languages. It is also defined in the lexicons as a private person in contrast with one who is in public life. Say amen. The manner of Paul's question implies that it was taken for granted the audience would use this word after the public prayer of one speaker, thus making his sentiments their own. Doubtless the Lord expects the disciples to do the same thing after a public prayer today. No one can pray with a spiritual gift now, but all should express their prayers in such a manner that the congregation may hear and understand them. If a man mumbles a prayer in an undertone, or drops his chin upon his chest, it will make it impossible for others to know what he says, and hence an "amen" after such a prayer would be as unscriptural as the prayer. I never say amen to a prayer unless I have heard every word of it, and also believe it was a scriptural prayer.

Verse 17

1Co 14:17. A prayer uttered in a foreign tongue could be well formed, but it would not edify the unlearned man.

Verse 18

1Co 14:18. Being an apostle, Paul could speak in a multitude of tongues, which was a necessary qualification for one who was to preach the Gospel in various parts of the world. He was grateful for the gift, but also was considerate of the church in the exercise of it in any established congregation.

Verse 19

1Co 14:19. My understanding means the hearers could understand his words (verse 14). Paul's motive for preferring a few of these words to ten thousand of the others was an unselfish one; it was because it would give more teaching to others.

Verse 20

1Co 14:20. The brethren at Corinth had behaved so foolishly over their spiritual gifts, the apostle likened them to children. He was willing for them to be as free from malice as children, but in understanding (activities of the mind) he wished them to be as men. They certainly had shown malice toward each other, when they had be- come contentious among themselves over their spiritual gifts. It was like children quarrelling with each other over whose mechanical toy would do the best performances. No wonder Paul thought it necessary to give this subject three whole chapters, and parts of some others.

Verse 21

1Co 14:21. The quotation is from Isa 28:11-12, which shows that the term the law includes the prophetic writings of the Old Testament. The connection shows that Isaiah was writing about conditions just previous to the captivity of Israel by the heathen. Israel had refused to listen to the law of the Lord even when it was spoken to them in their own tongue. Hence He said he would cast them into the midst of a nation speaking a tongue foreign to the people of Israel. Therefore, the use of tongues was not primarily for the purpose of instruction to believers, but as an evidence to unbelievers, to convince them of the existence of supernatural power. In view of this truth, Paul makes the point that the brethren made a mistake in trying to impose their gift of tongues onto the whole church to the extent they were doing.

Verse 22

1Co 14:22. On the basis of the preceding verse, the brethren should give the use of tongues a comparatively small consideration in the assembly, and make greater use of prophesying since it would edify the church.

Verse 23

1Co 14:23. We are sure the Bible does not contradict itself; but when the language seems that it does so, there is always a reasonable explanation possible. Verse 22 says tongues are a sign for the benefit of unbelievers, while the present verse says that tongues will cause them to regard the church as a group of madmen. The word unlearned is from IDIOTES, and Thayer's definition in this verse is one who is "not a prophet; destitute of the gift of tongues." The key to the question is in the word all, for an unbeliever would not require that a whole group in an assembly be able to speak in a foreign tongue to be convinced of the presence of supernatural power; one or two would be sufficient. Therefore. if the whole group did so, it would naturally seem to this "outsider" that the crowd was beside itself.

Verse 24

1Co 14:24. All is the key word again, for it is applied to prophesying which was the gift that imparted the most edification or instruction. Convinced and judged are used in viritually the same sense, meaning that the informa tion imparted by this general display of the gift of prophecy, would have a beneficial influence upon this man who was previously an unbeliever.

Verse 25

1Co 14:25. Secrets of his heart are the thoughts produced by the edifying prophesying just heard. See the note at Mat 2:2 for the meaning of worship.

Verse 26

1Co 14:26. How is it then is an introductory expression, as if the apostle had said, "How about it, brethren?" Every one of you means "each one of you has something to contribute to the services." The general program was approved, with the stipulation that it be so conducted as to edify the church. The items named were to be in the line of spiritual gifts. Psalm as used here is defined by Thayer, "a pious song." Doctrine is defined, "teaching, instruction." Tongue is from the Greek word GLOSSA, which occurs 50 times in the New Testament, and is always translated by this one word. It means the language of any people that is expressed by the natural tongue. Revelation is from a word that means a making known some truth that was hitherto not known. Interpretation denotes an explaining of a foreign word or sentence that has been spoken by some other person.

Verse 27

1Co 14:27. Man in this verse and the pronoun in the next being singular, indicates the terms two and three refer to the number of words or sentences that were to be spoken in any given assembling. By course means he should utter them in turn with the interpreter. That is, he should speak one of the words or sentences and then let the other man interpret it. Next speak another word and let the other interpret, and after the third word or sentence, he should cease his speaking.

Verse 28

1Co 14:28. The speaker in tongues was subject to a further restriction, namely, that there be an interpreter present. If none were in the assembly then he was to keep silence, and the word is from the very same Greek original as the one in verse 34. So here is an instance where even a man was to keep silence, a truth that is ignored by the extremists on the "woman question."

Verse 29

1Co 14:29. The prophets were a preference as to the gifted men (verses 1, 2), hence the apostle is not as specific in his restrictions on them as he is about the speaker with tongues, where he adds the words at the most (verse 27). Two or three would be sufficient for any one gathering, and others were to judge or discern the meaning of their words.

Verse 30

1Co 14:30. Verse 26 shows that certain ones might come into an assembly with a communication to be offered to the church. After coming together, however, the Lord might see fit to make a special revelation to another. In that case the first one was to give way to the one receiving the later revelation.

Verse 31

1Co 14:31. All of the men who had the gift of prophecy were to be given opportunity to speak in their turn, since prophesying was so highly esteemed (verses 1, 2), so that all might be comforted.

Verse 32

1Co 14:32. Spirits of the prophets means the spiritual gifts that they possessed. These men were not compelled to speak unless they so willed, hence there would be no excuse for their being disorderly in the exercise of the gift.

Verse 33

1Co 14:33. God is not the author of confusion. This is a reason for the foregoing instructions about the proper conduct of the prophets, as well as of other men wtih spin itual gifts. As in all churches of the saints. I see no importance in the question whether this phrase belongs with the present verse, or should be attached to verse 34. The point in both verses (as it has been throughout the chapter), is to have the exercises of the assembly so conducted as to edify the church in an orderly way. The Lord desired such a result in all of the congregations but the one in Corinth seemed to be in special need of the instruction.

Verse 34

1Co 14:34. If the reader has carefully followed the teaching that has been offered from chapter 12:1 down to this verse, he will see that it has nothing to do with the subject of "woman's duties and privileges in the church," as that is considered today. The extremists on that question will ignore all of the context, and settle upon this one passage, because they think it justifies their unholy restrictions against a part of the body of Christ. Such a use of the verse is as gross a perversion as any sectarian ever committed against Act 2:38. This verse is just another item in the attempt of Paul to restore order in the public assembly when exercising the spiritual gifts. Notice it says your women, which shows it was not said to women in general, but to the wives of the gifted men. The perversionists try to dodge this by saying the pronoun refers to the church as a whole. That will not do for the next verse shows these women had husbands, so the attempt at perversion fails again. To say this verse is of general application and in force today, makes it contradict Eph 5:19, where the word "speak" is from the same Greek term as the one in our verse. Yet no one denies that the women have the right to sing, and when they do they are "speaking" according to the apostle's command. Obedience is from a word that denotes "subjection," and it does not always require that any specific command has been given. The wives of the gifted men were to be in subjection in that they remain quiet while their husbands were performing their spiritual gifts.

Verse 35

1Co 14:35. Since it is the wives of gifted men who were commanded to keep silence, it follows that the things they might wish to learn about are those pertaining to the gifts of their husbands; wish to know n.ore details about them. Otherwise they could not hope to obtain such information even at home. Furthermore, we know it does not pertain to information in general, for that was supposed to b€ obtained in the assembly (verses 3, 5 12, 19).

Verse 36

1Co 14:36. The Corinthians were so puffed up over their spiritual gifts, that it made them vain enough to regard themselves as a source cf divine knowledge. The key to this verse is in the words from and unto. The word of God had not come out from them--had not originated with them. Instead, all the knowledge they possessed had been bestowed by the Lord, hence they had no ground for boasting.

Verse 37

1Co 14:37. No spiritual gift is more important nor based on any more authority than the writings of an apostle. If the claimants for spiritual gifts were genuine, they would acknowledge the writings of Paul to be divine commandments. Furthermore, if they go that far, they will be required by the rule of consistency to bring. their conduct under the teaching of the same.

Verse 38

1Co 14:38. No one is ever asked to acknowledge anything that he does not profess to know. The evidences in support of Paul's claim for his writings were so weighty, that everyone should have been in position to recognize them. Therefore, if some man claimed that he knew noth:ng about what Paul was saying--had nothing to acknowledge, it would be prompted by stubborn indifference. In that case the apostle said let him be ignorant, which means that he was not worthy of further attention.

Verse 39

1Co 14:39. Covet is from ZELOO, and Thayer defines it, "to desire earnestly." Among the different spiritual gifts, that of prophesying was the one which Paul preferred because it was the more serviceable (verses 3, 19), hence he advised the brethren to desire it. At the same time he instructed them not to slight the other gifts.

Verse 40

1Co 14:40. This verse is the grand conclusion of the reasoning that Paul has been offering throughout the chapter. Decently is from a word that Thayer defines, "in a seemly [becoming] manner." In order means for the various items of their services to be done at the proper time, or in a systematic manner so as not to create confusion. (See verse 33.)
Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/znt/1-corinthians-14.html. 1952.
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