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Bible Commentaries

Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians
1 Corinthians 14

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Superiority of the gift of prophecy to that of tongues, vv. 1-25. Special directions for the conduct of public worship, 1 Corinthians 14:26-40.

Superiority of the Gift of Prophecy to that of Tongues — 1 Corinthians

The superiority of the gift of prophecy to that of tongues is founded,

1. On the consideration that he who speaks with tongues speaks to God, whereas, he who prophesies, speaks to men, 1 Corinthians 14:2, 1 Corinthians 14:3.

2. That he who speaks with tongues edifies only himself, whereas, he who prophesies edifies the church, 1 Corinthians 14:4, 1 Corinthians 14:5.

That this must be so, is proved,

1. By an appeal to their own judgment and experience. If Paul came to them speaking in a way which they could not understand, what good could it do them? But if, as a prophet, he brought them a revelation from God, or as a teacher, set before them a doctrine, they would be edified, 1 Corinthians 14:6.

2. From the analogy of musical instruments. It is only when the sounds, are understood, that they produce the desired effect. If a man does not know that a given note of the trumpet is a signal for battle, he will not prepare himself for the conflict, 1 Corinthians 14:7-9.

3. From their experience in intercourse with strangers. If a man comes to the speaking a language which I cannot understand, no matter how polished or significant that language may be, he is a barbarian to me, and I to him, 1 Corinthians 14:10, 1 Corinthians 14:11. In their zeal, therefore, for spiritual gifts, they should have regard to the edification of the church, 1 Corinthians 14:12. Hence, he who had the gift of tongues should pray for the gift of interpretation; as without the latter gift, however devotional he might be, his prayers could not profit others, 1 Corinthians 14:13, 1 Corinthians 14:14. It was not enough that the prayers and praises should be spiritual, they must be intelligible; otherwise those who were unlearned could not join in them, 1 Corinthians 14:15-17.

For himself, the apostle says, although more richly endowed with the gift of tongues than any of his readers, he would rather speak five words so as to be understood, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue, 1 Corinthians 14:18, 1 Corinthians 14:19. It was mere childishness in the Corinthians to be so delighted with a gift which they could not turn to any practical account, 1 Corinthians 14:20. They should learn wisdom from the experience of the Hebrews. It was as a judgment that God sent among them teachers whom they could not understand. So long as they were obedient, or there was hope of bringing them to repentance, he sent them prophets speaking their own language, 1 Corinthians 14:21, 1 Corinthians 14:22. Their experience would not be dissimilar. If they came together, each speaking in an unknown tongue, the effect would be only evil. But if, when they assembled, all the speakers spoke so as to be understood, and under the influence of the Spirit, then men would be convinced and converted, and God glorified, 1 Corinthians 14:23-25.

In the comment on 1 Corinthians 12:10, reasons have already been presented for adhering to the common view, that the gift of tongues, of which the apostle here speaks, was the gift miraculously conferred, of speaking in foreign languages. Every one must feel, however, the truth of the remark of Chrysostom in his commentary on this chapter: "This whole passage is very obscure; but the obscurity arises from our ignorance of the facts described, which, though familiar to those to whom the apostle wrote, have ceased to occur." That this gift should be specially connected with prophesying, as in Acts 19:6, "they spake with tongues and prophesied," and elsewhere, is to be explained from the fact that all speaking under divine, supernatural influence, was included under the head of prophesying; and as all who spake with tongues "spake as the Spirit gave them utterance," in the wide sense of the word they all prophesied. But it is not so easy to understand why this gift should have been so common, nor why it should so often attend on conversion; see Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6. There are many things also in this chapter which it is not easy to understand on any theory of the nature of the gift. Under these circumstances it is necessary to hold fast what is clear, and to make the certain our guide in explaining what is obscure. It is clear,

1. That the word tongues in this connection, as already proved, means languages.

2. That the speaker with tongues was in a state of calm self-control. He could speak, or be silent, 1 Corinthians 14:28.

3. That what he said was intelligible to himself, and could be interpreted to others.

4. That the unintelligibleness of what was said, arose not from the sounds uttered being inarticulate, but from the ignorance of the hearer.

The interpretation of particular passages must, therefore, be controlled by these facts.

Follow after charity, and desire spiritual (gifts), but rather that ye may prophesy.

In the preceding chapters Paul had taught,

1. That all the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit were proper objects of desire.

2. That they were of different relative importance.

3. That love was of greater value than any gift.

In accordance with these principles, the apostle exhorts his readers to follow after love; i.e. to press towards it, as men do towards the goal in a race, Philippians 3:12, Philippians 3:14. Pursue it earnestly as the greatest good. But at the same time, desire spiritual gifts. Because love is more important than miraculous gifts, it does not follow that the latter were not to be sought. The same word is used here as in 1 Corinthians 12:31. But rather that ye may prophesy. The two gifts specially in the apostle's mind were the gift of speaking with tongues, and that of prophecy, i.e. the gift of speaking as the organ of the Spirit in a manner adapted to instruct and edify the hearer. Of these two gifts, he says, the latter is to be preferred. The reason for this preference is given in what follows.


Verse 2

For he that speaketh in an (unknown) tongue speaketh not unto men but unto God: for no man understandeth (him); howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.

What is here taught is, First, that he who speaks with tongues speaks not to men, but to God. Second, that this means that men do not understand him. Thirdly, that the reason of his not being understood is in the medium of communication, not in the things communicated. Speaketh not unto men, but unto God; or, speaks not for men, but for God. Sibi canit et musis, according to the Latin proverb, Calvin. His communion is with God, and not with man. For no man understandeth him. Literally, no man hears, i.e. hears any articulate sounds. He hears the sound, but does not distinguish the words. This, however, does not imply that the sounds uttered were in themselves unintelligible, so that no man living (unless inspired) could understand them. When the apostles spake with tongues on the day of Pentecost, what they said was understood. The meaning is, not that no man living, but that no man present, could understand. It is not the use of the gift of tongues that he censures, but the use of that gift when no one was present who understood the language employed. Howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. Spirit does not mean the man's own spirit as distinguished from his understanding. The Scriptures do not distinguish between the םןץ ͂Ϛ and נםוץ ͂ לב as distinct faculties of the human intelligence. The latter is not the higher spiritual powers of our nature, but the Holy Spirit; comp. 1 Corinthians 2:14. In favor of this interpretation is,

1. The prevailing use of the word spirit in reference to the Holy Ghost in all Paul's epistles, and especially in this whole connection.

2. That the expression to speak in or by the Spirit, is an established Scriptural phrase, meaning to speak under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

3. When spirit is to be distinguished from the understanding, it designates the affections; a sense which would not at all suit this passage.

4. The meaning arrived at by this interpretation is natural, and suitable to the connection. ‘Although he who speaks with tongues is not understood, yet, guided by the Spirit, he speaks mysteries. Mysteries mean divine truths; things which God has revealed.

In Acts 2:11, they are called "the wonderful things ( פב ̀ לודבכוי ͂ ב) of God." To make the word mean, things not understood by the hearer, is contrary to the usage of the word. A secret disclosed, is no longer a secret; and a mystery revealed ceases to be a mystery, for a mystery is something hidden. Besides, Paul would then say, ‘No man understands him, yet he speaks what is not understood.'‹24› The meaning obviously is, that although not understood, yet what he utters contains divine truth. The difficulty was in the language used, not in the absence of meaning, or in the fact that inarticulate sounds were employed. This verse, therefore, contains nothing inconsistent with the commonly received view of the nature of the gift in question. ‘He who speaks with tongues, speaks to God and not to men, for no one (in the case supposed) understands him, although what he says is replete with the highest meaning.' The implication is that these tongues were foreign to the hearers; and therefore it is said, ‘no man understands him."


Verse 3

But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men (to) edification, and exhortation, and comfort.

The prophet spoke in the native language of his hearers; the speaker with tongues in a foreign language. This made the difference between the cases. The one was understood and the other was not. The prophet spoke with a view to edification. This is a general term including the sense of the two following. He edified the church either by exhortation or comfort; either by arousing believers to do or suffer, or by pouring into their hearts the consolsations of the Spirit.


Verse 4

He that speaketh in an (unknown) tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.

This follows from what had been said. The speaker with tongues did not edify the church, because he was not understood; he did edify himself, because he understood himself. This verse, therefore, proves that the understanding was not in abeyance, and that the speaker was not in an ecstatic state.


Verse 5

I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater (is) he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.

I would that ye all spake with tongues. It was not to be inferred from what he had said, that the apostle undervalued this gift. He admitted its importance as one of the manifestations of the Spirit, and he subsequently, 1 Corinthians 14:18, gives thanks that he himself possessed it in rich measure. From this it is evident that it was something of a higher nature than modern theories would represent it. But rather that ye prophesied, ( טו ́ כש י ̔́ םב). I would that. The same particle often follows verbs of wishing, praying, exhorting, etc. For greater is he that prophesieth, etc., i.e. he is more useful than the speaker with tongues, unless the latter interpret. "Nam si accedat interpretatio, jam erit prophetia." Calvin. Speaking under the supernatural influence of the Spirit was common to both gifts; the only difference was in the language used. If the speaker interpreted, then he prophesied. That the church may receive edification. This proves that the contents of these discourses, delivered in an unknown tongue, were edifying; and therefore did not consist in mysteries in the bad sense of that term; i.e. in enigmas and dark sayings. This passage also proves that the gift of interpretation, although distinct from that of tongues, might be, and doubtless often was, possessed by the same person, and consequently, that he understood what he said. The absence of the gift of interpretation does not prove that the speaker himself in such cases was ignorant of what he uttered. It only proves that he was not inspired to communicate in another language what he had delivered. Had he done so, it would have been on his own authority, and not as an organ of the Spirit. It is conceivable that a man might speak connectedly in a foreign language under the inspiration of the Spirit, so as to be perfectly understood by those acquainted with the language, though he himself did not understand a word of what he uttered. But this hypothesis, though it would suit some passages in this chapter, is inconsistent with others, and therefore cannot be adopted.


Verse 6

Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?

Now ( םץםי ̀ הו ́), since things are so, i.e. since speaking with tongues without interpreting is unedifying, what shall I profit you, asks the apostle, if I should come to you speaking in a language which you do not understand? He then varies the question, ‘What shall I profit you unless I speak to you as a prophet, by (or rather with, ו ̓ ם) a revelation, or as a teacher, with a doctrine.' There are not four, but only two modes of address contemplated in this verb. Revelation and prophecy belong to one; and knowledge and doctrine to the other. He who received revelations was a prophet, he who had "the word of knowledge" was a teacher.


Verse 7

And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?

This verse in Greek begins with the word ן ̔́ לשע, yet, which is variously explained. The most natural interpretation is to assume that the word here, as in Galatians 3:15, is out of its logical place, and that the sentence should read thus: ‘Things without life giving sound, yet, unless they give a distinction of sound, how shall it be known," etc. The obvious design of the illustration is to show the uselessness of making sounds which are not understood. But what is the point of the analogy? According to some it is this, as musical instruments emit a mere jargon of sounds, unless the regular intervals be observed, so the speakers with tongues utter a mere jargon. The sounds which they utter are not articulate words, but a confused noise.‹25› From this it is inferred that the speaking with tongues was not the gift of speaking foreign languages. This would make Paul wish (1 Corinthians 14:5) that all the Corinthians would utter unmeaning sounds, and give thanks that he produced more such jargon than any of them! It is plain from what follows, as well as from the drift of the whole discourse, that the simple point of the 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 a language which we do not understand. It is not the nature of the gift, but the folly of the use made of it, which is the point which the apostle has in view.


Verse 8

For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?

This is a confirmation of the last clause of the preceding verse. The sound emitted does not produce its proper effect if it be unintelligible or uncertain. This teaches us the point of the whole illustration. The trumpet may sound the battle call, but if that call is not understood, who will heed it? So the speaker with tongues may announce the most important truths, he may unfold mysteries, or pour forth praises as from a harp of gold, what can it profit those who do not understand him?


Verse 9

So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.

This is the application of the preceding illustration, and affords another proof of what the apostle intended to illustrate. It was not the nature of the sounds uttered, but their unintelligibleness to the hearer, which was to be considered. By the tongue, i.e. by means of the tongue as the organ of speech. Words easy to be understood, or rather, an intelligible discourse. This does not imply, as is contended by the advocates of the modern theories, that those who spoke with tongues uttered inarticulate sounds. The opposite of וץ ̓́ ףחלןע, is not inarticulate, but unintelligible, i.e. what is not in fact understood. Ye shall speak into the air, i.e. in vain. Your words are lost in the air, no ear receives them. In 1 Corinthians 9:26, the man who struck: in vain is said to smite the air.


Verse 10

There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them (is) without signification.

There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices. The words ( וי ̓ פץ ́ קןי), properly rendered, it may be, are often used to render a statement indefinite, where precision is impossible or unimportant. It was no matter, so far as the apostle's object was concerned, whether the "kinds of sound" in the world were more or less. There are so many, or, as we should say, ‘There are ever so many, it may be, languages in the world.' Kinds of voices. Calvin understands this of the voices or natural cries of animals. All animated nature is vocal; no living creature is mute or utters unintelligible sounds: tota igitur naturae series quae est a Deo ordinata, nos ad distinctionem invitat. The context, however, shows that the reference is to human speech, therefore the words ( דו ́ םח צשםש ͂ ם) should be translated kinds of languages, Genesis 1:11. And no one of them is without signification, i.e. inarticulate. The phrase is ( צשםח ̀ ב ̓́ צשםןע), a language which is no language, that is, without significancy, which is the essence of a language. The illustration contained in this verse goes to prove that speaking with tongues was to speak in foreign languages. The very point is that as 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 in the ignorance of the hearer. This is still plainer from what follows.


Verse 11

Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh (shall be) a barbarian unto me.

Therefore, i.e. because the sounds uttered are significant; because the man does not make a mere senseless noise, but speaks a real language, therefore, if I know not the meaning of the voice (i.e. the language), I shall stand in the relation of a foreigner to him and he to me. Otherwise it would not be so. If a man utters incoherent, inarticulate sounds, which no man living could understand, that would not make him a foreigner. It might prove him to be deranged, but not a stranger. The word barbarian means simply one of another country. All other people, whether civilized or not, were barbarians to the Greeks, or to the Romans. As ancient civilization came to be confined to those nations, not to be a Greek or Roman, was to be uncivilized, and hence barbarian or foreigner came to mean without civilization. Just as the true religion being confined to the Jews, Gentile (one not a Jew) came to be synonymous with heathen. In this passage, however, barbarian means simply foreigner. Comp. Romans 1:14. Acts 28:24. Colossians 3:11.


Verse 12

Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual (gifts), seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.

Even so ye. That is, as the man who speaks a language which I do not understand, is a foreigner to me and I to him, so are ye. You too are foreigners to those who do not understand the language which you use. As all such unintelligible speaking is worthless, the apostle exhorts them to seek to edify the church. As ye are zealous of spiritual gifts; literally, of spirits. The most probable explanation of this expression is to be sought from 1 Corinthians 12:7, where it is said that "to every one is given a manifestation of the Spirit." One and the same Spirit manifests himself in different ways in different persons; and these different manifestations are called spirits. Somewhat analogous are the expressions, "spirits of the prophets," 1 Corinthians 14:32; "discernment of spirits," 1 Corinthians 12:11; "try the spirits," 1 John 4:1; and "the given Spirits of God," spoken of in the Apocalypse. In all these cases spirits mean manifestations of the Spirit, or forms under which the Spirit manifests himself. It is not an unusual metonomy when the effect receives the name of its cause. Comp. Galatians 5:17, "The spirit lusteth against the flesh," where spirit may mean the renewed principle produced by the Spirit.

Seek that ye may excel (or abound) to the edifying of the church. This is the common explanation of this clause. But taking the words in their order the passage reads, ‘Seek (these gifts) with a view to the edification of the church, in order that ye may excel.' The former explanation is the more natural. The end or object to be sought is not that they might excel; that is not the ultimate object, but the edification of the church. The words זחפוי ͂ פו י ̔́ םב, ktl., therefore, naturally go together. ‘Seek that ye may abound unto the edification of the church,' i.e. that ye may possess in rich abundance those gifts which are useful.


Verse 13

Wherefore let him that speaketh in an (unknown) tongue pray that he may interpret.

This is an inference not only from the preceding verse but from the whole preceding argument, which was designed to show how useless it is to speak in a language which no one present understands. The verse admits of two interpretations. It may mean that the speaker with tongues should pray for the gift of interpretation; or, that he should pray with the purpose ( י ̔́ םב) of interpreting what he said. The principal reason for this latter interpretation is the assumption that the gift of tongues was exercised only in prayer and praise; in other words, that it consisted in an ecstatic but unintelligible and unintelligent pouring out of the heart to God. It is therefore inferred that "to speak with a tongue," 1 Corinthians 14:13, and "to pray with a tongue," 1 Corinthians 14:14, mean exactly the same thing; the former being no more comprehensive than the latter. But this whole assumption is not only gratuitous but contrary to Scripture. The gift of tongues was, according to Acts 2:5-11, exercised in declaring the "wonderful works of God." It is also apparent from what is said in this chapter, 1 Corinthians 14:22-25, and 1 Corinthians 14:27, that the gift in question was not confined to acts of devotion. The former interpretation is therefore to be preferred. ‘Let him pray that ( י ̔́ םב) he may interpret.' For this use of י ̔́ םב after verbs of entreating, etc., see Robinson's Greek Lex. p. 352.


Verse 14

For if I pray in an (unknown) tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

This is the reason why the speaker with tongues should pray for the gift of interpretation. Unless he interprets his prayer can do no good; or, as the same idea is expressed in 1 Corinthians 14:16, 1 Corinthians 14:17, those who are unlearned cannot join in it. Praying with a tongue is specified, by way of example, as one mode of speaking with tongues. Though the general meaning of this verse is thus plain it is the most difficult verse in the whole chapter. What does Paul mean by saying, His spirit prays? There are three answers given to this question.

1. That spirit (my spirit) here means the higher intellectual powers of the soul, as distinguished from the understanding. This verse and those which immediately follow, are the principal foundation of the theory that the speaker with tongues was in a state of ecstatic excitement in which his understanding was not exercised, so that he knew not what he said or did. How inconsistent this theory is with the facts of the case has already been shown. This view of the passage, therefore, cannot be admitted. Besides, it has already been remarked, that the Scriptures know nothing of this distinction between the reason and the understanding.

2. Others say that spirit here means the affections. ‘My feelings find utterance in prayer, but my understanding is unfruitful.' This would give a good sense; but this meaning of the word spirit is of rare occurrence. In most of the passages quoted by lexicographers as examples of this use of the term, it really means the Holy Spirit. And in this whole discussion, spirit is not once used for the feelings.

3. My spirit may mean the Holy Spirit in me; that is, my spiritual gift; or, my spirit as the organ of the Spirit of God. Each man has his own spirit, (comp. 1 Corinthians 14:12) i.e. his own spiritual gift. And Paul means to say, that when a man prays in an unknown tongue, his spiritual gift is indeed exercised; in other words, the Holy Spirit is active in him, but others are not profited.

The speaker with tongues is not to be set down as an enthusiast, or as a man in a frenzy, or, as the mockers said, as a man full of new wine. He is really the organ of the Holy Ghost. But as the influence of the Spirit under which he acts, is not irresistible, he should not exercise his gift where it can do no good to others. He may pray in silence, 1 Corinthians 14:28. This interpretation seems much more in accordance with the use of the word and with the whole drift of the chapter.

What is meant by saying, my understanding is unfruitful? It may mean, My understanding is not profited, gains no fruit; that is, I do not understand what I say. Though the words in themselves may have this meaning, this interpretation contradicts all those passages which teach that the speaker with tongues did understand himself. The words, therefore, must be understood to mean, ‘my understanding produces no fruit,' i.e. it does not benefit others. This is in accordance with all that precedes, and with the uniform use of the word, Ephesians 5:11; Titus 3:14; 2 Peter 1:8; Matthew 13:22. Paul had, from the beginning, been urging his readers to have regard to the edification of the church, and he here says, that if he prayed in an unknown tongue, though he acted under the guidance of the Spirit, his prayer could not profit others.‹26› This interpretation is confirmed by 1 Corinthians 14:16, 1 Corinthians 14:17, as remarked above, where the same idea is expressed by saying, the unlearned could not say Amen to such a prayer. By his understanding being unfruitful is therefore meant, that others did not understand what he said.

The great objection to the preceding interpretation is, that my spirit and my understanding must be explained in the same way. If the latter means my own understanding, the former must mean my own spirit. The Holy Ghost, it is said, never is, and cannot be called my spirit, for the very reason that it is distinct from the spirit of man. The interpretation given above, however, does not suppose that my spirit means the Holy Spirit as a person, but the Holy Spirit as a manifestation; it is the way in which the Spirit manifests himself in me. In other words, it is my spiritual gift. The objection, if it have any force, bears as much against the conceded meaning of the phrase, "the spirits of the prophets," as it does against the explanation just given of the expression, "my spirit." The spirits of the prophets means the Holy Ghost as manifested in the prophets, or the spiritual influence of which they were the subjects. And that is just the meaning of my spirit in this passage.


Verse 15

What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

What is it then? i.e. what is the practical conclusion from what has been said? That conclusion is expressed by Paul's avowal of his own purpose. The interpretation of this verse of course depends on that of the preceding. Accordingly, some say, the meaning is,

1. I will pray not only with the reason, but with the understanding also, i.e. not only with the higher powers of my nature in exercise, but also with such a command of the understanding as to be able to comprehend and to interpret what I say. ‹27›

2. Others say the passage means, ‘I will pray with the heart and with the understanding; my mind and feelings shall unite in the exercise.' A very good sense, but entirely foreign to the context. The sentiment is correct in itself, but it is not what Paul here says.

3. According to the third interpretation the sense is, ‘I will not only pray in the exercise of my spiritual gift, but so as to be understood by others;' i.e. not only spiritually but intelligibly. If פש ͂ͅ םןי ̈́́, with the understanding, may mean, as the moderns say it does, ‘with a view to interpret' (Meyer); it certainly may mean, ‘with a view to be understood.' That is, this is what is implied and intended in what the apostle says.

When a man spoke פש ͂ͅ נםוץ ́ לבפי, with the Spirit, the Spirit was the principium movens, the moving principle, determining him to speak, and what to say. When he spake with פש ͂ͅ םןי ̈́́ with the understanding, the understanding was that controlling principle. These two could be combined. The man could so speak under the guidance of the Spirit as to be intelligible to others.

I will sing. The word ( רב ́ ככוים) means to touch; then to touch the cords of a stringed instrument, i.e. to play upon it; then to sing or chant in harmony with such instrument; and then to sing or chant. This last is its New Testament meaning. It appears from this as well as from other passages, that singing was from the beginning a part of Christian worship. Pliny, about forth years later, says, Christianos solitos fuisse canere antelucanos hymnos Christo.


Verse 16

Else, when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

Else, i.e. since in that case. That is, in case you do not speak intelligibly ( פש ͂ͅ םןי ̈́́ as well as פש ͂ͅ נםוץ ́ לבפי). If thou shalt bless with the spirit. That is, bless God, including praise and thanksgiving. The word translated to give thanks, in the last clause of the verse expresses the same idea. By the Spirit, i.e. under the influence of the Spirit, or in the exercise of your spiritual gift, as in the preceding verse. How shall he that occupieth the place of the unlearned, i.e. ( י ̓ היש ́ פןץ) of a private person. The word is used to designate one out of office in opposition to officers; and in general, one who does not possess the distinguishing characteristic of the class to which it is opposed. It here designates the ungifted in opposition to those who had the gift of tongues; or rather, it is applicable to any one who was ignorant of the language used by the speaker. Comp. 1 Corinthians 14:23, 1 Corinthians 14:24. Acts 4:13; 2 Corinthians 11:6. The context shows that Paul does not refer to laymen in opposition to church officers; for the officers were just as likely to be ( י ̓ היש ́ פבי) unlearned as to the language used as others. To fill the place means to occupy the position; not a particular part of the place of assembly assigned to laymen, but to sustain the relation to the speaker of one unacquainted with the tongue which he uses. Say Amen at thy giving of thanks, i.e. assent or respond to it. Amen is a Hebrew adjective signifying true or faithful, often used adverbially at the end of a sentence to express assent to what is said, in the sense of so let it be. In the Jewish synagogue it was the custom for the people to respond to the prayers by audibly saying Amen, by which they signified their assent and participation in the petitions which had been offered. Buxtorf's Talm. Lexicon, Vitringa de Synag. Great importance was attached by the Jews to saying Amen. Schoettgen quotes numerous passages to show to what a superstitious extreme this was carried. "He who says Amen is greater than he that blesses." "Whoever says Amen, to him the gates of Paradise are opened." "Whoever says Amen shortly, his days shall be shortened, whoever answers Amen distinctly and at length, his days shall be lengthened." According to Justin Martyr, Apolog. 2. 97, the custom passed over to the Christian church. This seems also intimated in this passage; the expression is, "Say the Amen." i.e. utter the familiar formula of assent. The unlearned cannot thus assent, since he knows not what thou sayest. Men cannot assent to what they do not understand, because assent implies the affirmation of the truth of that to which we assent. It is impossible, therefore, to join in prayers uttered in an unknown tongue. The Romish church persists in the use of the Latin language in her public services not only in opposition to the very idea and intent of worship, but also to the express prohibition of the Scriptures. For the very thing here prohibited is praying in public in a language which the people do not understand. It is indeed said that words may touch the feelings which do not convey any distinct notions to the mind. But we cannot say Amen to such words, any more than we can to a flute. Such blind, emotional worship, if such it can be called, stands at a great remove from the intelligent service demanded by the apostle. Thou verily givest thanks well, i.e. in a way acceptable to God and profitable to yourself. 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 hearer. If it was necessary that they should understand in order to be edified, it was no less necessary that he should understand what he did in order to be benefited. This verse is therefore decisive against all theories of the gift of tongues which assume that those who used them did not understand their own words. The Scriptures recognize no unintelligent worship of God, or any spiritual edification (in the case of adults) disconnected from the truth; whether that edification be sought by sounds or signs, whether by prayers or sacraments.


Verse 17

Else, when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

Else, i.e. since in that case. That is, in case you do not speak intelligibly ( פש ͂ͅ םןי ̈́́ as well as פש ͂ͅ נםוץ ́ לבפי). If thou shalt bless with the spirit. That is, bless God, including praise and thanksgiving. The word translated to give thanks, in the last clause of the verse expresses the same idea. By the Spirit, i.e. under the influence of the Spirit, or in the exercise of your spiritual gift, as in the preceding verse. How shall he that occupieth the place of the unlearned, i.e. ( י ̓ היש ́ פןץ) of a private person. The word is used to designate one out of office in opposition to officers; and in general, one who does not possess the distinguishing characteristic of the class to which it is opposed. It here designates the ungifted in opposition to those who had the gift of tongues; or rather, it is applicable to any one who was ignorant of the language used by the speaker. Comp. 1 Corinthians 14:23, 1 Corinthians 14:24. Acts 4:13; 2 Corinthians 11:6. The context shows that Paul does not refer to laymen in opposition to church officers; for the officers were just as likely to be ( י ̓ היש ́ פבי) unlearned as to the language used as others. To fill the place means to occupy the position; not a particular part of the place of assembly assigned to laymen, but to sustain the relation to the speaker of one unacquainted with the tongue which he uses. Say Amen at thy giving of thanks, i.e. assent or respond to it. Amen is a Hebrew adjective signifying true or faithful, often used adverbially at the end of a sentence to express assent to what is said, in the sense of so let it be. In the Jewish synagogue it was the custom for the people to respond to the prayers by audibly saying Amen, by which they signified their assent and participation in the petitions which had been offered. Buxtorf's Talm. Lexicon, Vitringa de Synag. Great importance was attached by the Jews to saying Amen. Schoettgen quotes numerous passages to show to what a superstitious extreme this was carried. "He who says Amen is greater than he that blesses." "Whoever says Amen, to him the gates of Paradise are opened." "Whoever says Amen shortly, his days shall be shortened, whoever answers Amen distinctly and at length, his days shall be lengthened." According to Justin Martyr, Apolog. 2. 97, the custom passed over to the Christian church. This seems also intimated in this passage; the expression is, "Say the Amen." i.e. utter the familiar formula of assent. The unlearned cannot thus assent, since he knows not what thou sayest. Men cannot assent to what they do not understand, because assent implies the affirmation of the truth of that to which we assent. It is impossible, therefore, to join in prayers uttered in an unknown tongue. The Romish church persists in the use of the Latin language in her public services not only in opposition to the very idea and intent of worship, but also to the express prohibition of the Scriptures. For the very thing here prohibited is praying in public in a language which the people do not understand. It is indeed said that words may touch the feelings which do not convey any distinct notions to the mind. But we cannot say Amen to such words, any more than we can to a flute. Such blind, emotional worship, if such it can be called, stands at a great remove from the intelligent service demanded by the apostle. Thou verily givest thanks well, i.e. in a way acceptable to God and profitable to yourself. 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 hearer. If it was necessary that they should understand in order to be edified, it was no less necessary that he should understand what he did in order to be benefited. This verse is therefore decisive against all theories of the gift of tongues which assume that those who used them did not understand their own words. The Scriptures recognize no unintelligent worship of God, or any spiritual edification (in the case of adults) disconnected from the truth; whether that edification be sought by sounds or signs, whether by prayers or sacraments.


Verse 18

I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: yet in the church I had rather speak live words with my understanding, that (by my voice) I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an (unknown) tongue.

That Paul should give thanks to God that he was more abundantly endowed with the gift of tongues, if that gift consisted in the ability to speak in languages which he himself did not understand, and the use of which, on that assumption, could according to his principle benefit neither himself nor others, is not to be believed. Equally clear is it from this verse that to speak with tongues was not to speak in a state of mental unconsciousness. The common doctrine as to the nature of the gift, is the only one consistent with this passage. Paul says that although he could speak in foreign languages more than the Corinthians, he would rather speak five words with his understanding, i.e. so as to be intelligible, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. In the church, i.e. in the assembly. That I might teach others also, ( ךבפחקו ́ ש) to instruct orally, Galatians 6:6. This shows what is meant by speaking with the understanding. It is speaking in such a way as to convey instruction.


Verse 19

I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: yet in the church I had rather speak live words with my understanding, that (by my voice) I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an (unknown) tongue.

That Paul should give thanks to God that he was more abundantly endowed with the gift of tongues, if that gift consisted in the ability to speak in languages which he himself did not understand, and the use of which, on that assumption, could according to his principle benefit neither himself nor others, is not to be believed. Equally clear is it from this verse that to speak with tongues was not to speak in a state of mental unconsciousness. The common doctrine as to the nature of the gift, is the only one consistent with this passage. Paul says that although he could speak in foreign languages more than the Corinthians, he would rather speak five words with his understanding, i.e. so as to be intelligible, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. In the church, i.e. in the assembly. That I might teach others also, ( ךבפחקו ́ ש) to instruct orally, Galatians 6:6. This shows what is meant by speaking with the understanding. It is speaking in such a way as to convey instruction.


Verse 20

Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

There are two characteristics of children; the one a disposition to be pleased with trifles, or to put a false estimate on things; the other, comparative innocence. There is a great difference as to every thing evil between a little child and a full-grown man. The former of these characteristics the apostle wished the Corinthians to lay aside. The latter he wished them to cultivate. They had displayed a childish disposition in estimating the gift of tongues above more useful gifts, and in using it when it could answer no good purpose. A little child, however, is some thing so lovely, and is so often held up in Scripture for imitation, that he could not say, without qualification, Be not children. He therefore says, Be not children as to understanding; but as to malice, a comprehensive word for evil dispositions, be ye children. So our Lord said, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 18:3.


Verse 21

In the law it is written, With (men of) other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.

In the law. The word law signifies that which binds; especially that which binds the conscience as a rule of faith and practice. That rule may be revealed in our hearts, in the whole Scriptures, in the Pentateuch, or in the moral law; and hence the word as used in Scripture may refer to any one of these forms in which the will of God is made known; or it may include them all. The context must decide its meaning in each particular case. Here, as in John 10:34. Romans 3:20, and elsewhere, the reference is not to the Pentateuch, but to the Old Testament. The passage quoted is Isaiah 28:11, Isaiah 28:12, which in our version stands thus, "For with stammering lips, and another tongue, will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear." The apostle gives the 11th verse in a free translation, and the concluding words of the 12th. He does not quote the passage as having any prophetic reference to the events in Corinth; much less does he give an allegorical interpretation of it in order to make it a condemnation of speaking with tongues. It is a simple reference to a signal event in the Jewish history from which the Corinthians might derive a useful lesson. The Jews had refused to hear the prophets speaking their own language, and God threatened to bring upon them a people whose language they could not understand. This was a judgment; a mark of displeasure designed as a punishment and not for their conversion. From this the Corinthians might learn that it was no mark of the divine favor 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 facilitate the propagation of the gospel, by enabling Christians to address people of various nations each in his own language. Used for this purpose it was a blessing; but to employ it for the sake of display, in addressing those who could not understand the language employed, was to make it a curse. The Spirit of God often confers gifts on men, and then holds them responsible for the way in which they exercise them.


Verse 22

Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying (serveth) not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.

There are two inaccuracies in this version which obscure the sense. The first is the introduction of the word serveth after prophesying. The clauses are parallel. Tongues are for a sign to one class, and prophesying to another. Nothing need be supplied; what is implied is, that prophesying is for a sign. The introduction of the word serveth is not only unnecessary, but contrary to the context. The second inaccuracy is expressing the force of the datives ( ניףפוץ ́ ןץףי and ב ̓ ני ́ ףפןיע) by to in the first member of the verse, and by for in the second member. There is no reason for this change. The relation expressed is the same in both cases. ‘Tongues are for the one, prophesying are for the other;' or, ‘Tongues are for a sign to the one, and prophesying to the other.' The connection between this verse and what precedes is indicated by the word wherefore, or so that. The inference may be drawn either from the immediately preceding clause, viz., "For all that they will not hear me, saith the Lord;" or from the historical fact referred to in the whole verse. If the former, then the design of the apostle is to show that as teaching the Hebrews by men of other tongues did not render them obedient; so speaking in other tongues would not profit the Corinthians. If the latter, then the design is to show, that as sending foreigners among the Hebrews was a mark of God's displeasure, so speaking in the Christian assemblies in foreign languages would be a curse and not a blessing. The latter view is demanded by the whole context.

The inference from the preceding verse is that tongues are a sign not to the believing but to the unbelieving, and prophesying just the reverse. This difficult verse is variously explained.

1. The word sign is taken in the sense of mark or proof, as when it is said, "the signs of an apostle," 2 Corinthians 12:12, that is, the tokens by which an apostle may be known. Comp. Luke 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:17. The meaning of the passage would then be, ‘Tongues are a proof that those among whom they are used are not believers, but unbelievers; and prophesying is a proof that they are believers, and not unbelievers.' But when the word is used in this sense, the thing of which it is a sign is put in the genitive. It is a sign of, not to or for.

2. It may mean a prodigy or wonder. This is a very common sense of the word, as in the familiar phrase, "signs and wonders." The meaning is then commonly made to be, ‘Tongues are a wonder designed not for the benefit of believers, but for unbelievers; and on the other hand, prophesy is a wonder designed not for the benefit of unbelievers, but for the benefit of believers.' But this is neither true nor in accordance with 1 Corinthians 14:24. It is not true that the gift of tongues was designed exclusively for the conversion of unbelievers. Why should not that gift be exercised for the edification, as well as for the conversion of men? Their conversion would not enable them to understand the native language of the apostles. Much less is it true that prophecy was designed exclusively for the edification of believers. The prophets and apostles were sent forth for the conversion of the world. And in 1 Corinthians 14:24 the conversion of unbelievers is specified as the very effect to be anticipated from the use of this gift. A still more decisive objection to this interpretation is, that it does not give the true conclusion from the preceding verse. The nature of the premises must decide the nature of the inference. It is not a fair inference from the fact that although God sent foreigners to teach the Hebrews they still continued disobedient, that foreign tongues were designed for the conversion of unbelievers. The very opposite conclusion would naturally follow from that fact.

3. Sign may here mean a warning or sign of punishment. ‘Tongues are a warning, designed not for believers, but for unbelievers,' who are understood to be, not those merely without faith, but positive infidels, or obstinate rejectors of the truth. To this, however, it may be objected, that the word unbeliever ( ב ̓́ ניףפןע) is used in 1 Corinthians 14:24 for those without faith, and that to assume a change of meaning in the same context is most unnatural. A still more serious objection is, that this interpretation cannot be carried out. It cannot be said that prophecy is a warning designed for believers. The two members of the sentence are so related that whatever is said of the gift of tongues, must be true, mutandis mutatis, of prophecy. If the one be a punishment designed for unbelievers, the other must be a punishment designed for believers.

4. The most satisfactory explanation is to take sign in the general sense of any indication of the divine presence. ‘Tongues are a manifestation of God, having reference, not to believers, but to unbelievers; and prophecy is a similar manifestation, having reference, not to unbelievers, but to believers.' By tongues, however, is not to be understood the gift of tongues, but, as 1 Corinthians 14:21 requires, foreign languages, i.e. languages unknown to the hearers. The meaning is, that when a people are disobedient, God sends them teachers whom they cannot understand; when they are obedient, he sends them prophets speaking their own language. This is the natural conclusion from the premises contained in 1 Corinthians 14:21. When the Hebrews were disobedient God sent foreigners among them; when obedient, he sent them prophets. Wherefore, i.e. hence it follows, that unintelligible teachers are for the unbelieving; those who can be understood are for the believing.

This view is also consistent with what follows, which is designed to show that speaking in a language which those who hear cannot understand is the cause of evil; whereas speaking intelligibly is the source of good. It must be remembered that it is not the gift of tongues of which the apostle speaks, but speaking to people in a language which they do not understand. And therefore this interpretation does not imply any disparagement of the gift in question. When used aright, that is, when employed in addressing those to whom the language used was intelligible, it was prophecy. The obscurity of the passage arises in a great measure from the ambiguity of the expression to speak with tongues. It means to speak in foreign or unknown languages. But a language may be said to be unknown either in reference to the speaker or to the hearer. It is said to be unknown to the speaker, if not previously acquired; and it is said to be unknown to the hearers if they do not understand it. The apostle uses the expression sometimes in one sense and sometimes in the other. When it is said that the apostles, on the day of Pentecost, spake with tongues, it means that they used languages which they had never learned; but when Paul says he would rather speak five words intelligibly than ten thousand words with a tongue, he means in a language unknown to the hearers. Speaking with tongues in the one sense, was a grace and a blessing; in the other sense, it was a folly and a curse. It was of speaking with tongues in the latter sense the apostle treats in these verses.


Verse 23

If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in (those that are) unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?

If therefore. The inference from the preceding representation is, that speaking in languages not understood by the people is undesirable and useless. To show the justness of this conclusion the apostle supposes the case which follows. If the whole church be come together in one place. That is, if all the Christians of the place, or the whole congregation, be assembled. This is one of the conditions of the hypothesis. Another is, that all should speak with tongues. This does not necessarily imply either that all present had the gift of tongues, or that all who possessed the gift spoke at one and the same time, although from 1 Corinthians 14:27 and 1 Corinthians 14:30 it may be inferred that this was sometimes done. All that the words here require is that all who spoke used foreign languages. To speak with tongues must mean to speak in languages unknown to the hearers. The third condition of the case supposed is, that unlearned and unbelievers should come into the meeting. Who are the ( י ̓ היש ͂ פבי), the unlearned here intended?

1. Some say they were Christians ignorant of the gift of tongues, because they are distinguished from unbelievers, or those not Christians.

2. Others say that the unlearned are those who were ignorant of Christianity, and the ( ב ̓́ ניףפןי) unbelieving are those who knew and rejected it, i.e. infidels. This is giving to the word a force which it has not in itself, and which the context does not give it.

3. The simplest explanation is that the unlearned were those ignorant of the language spoken, and the unbelieving those not Christians, whether Jews or Gentiles. Such persons were doubtless often led, from curiosity or other motives, to attend the Christian assemblies. The two classes (the unlearned and the unbelieving) are not so distinguished that the same person might not belong to both classes.

The same persons were either י ̓ היש ͂ פבי or ב ̓́ ניףפןי, according to the aspect under which they were viewed. Viewed in relation to the languages spoken, they were unlearned; viewed in relation to Christianity, they were unbelievers. The apostle asks what impression such persons, in the case supposed, would receive? Would they not say ye are mad? John 12:20. Acts 12:15; Acts 26:24.

ut a firm conviction, founded on experience, i.e. on the demonstration of the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 2:4.


Verse 24-25

But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or (one) unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on (his) face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.

This is another part of the inference from what was said in 1 Corinthians 14:21, 1 Corinthians 14:22. Speaking in languages unknown to the hearers is not adapted to do good; speaking intelligibly is suited to produce the happiest effects. If all prophesy, i.e. if all the speakers speak under the guidance of the Spirit in a language which the hearers can understand. If one that believeth not, or one unlearned. From these words it is manifest that the unlearned were not Christians as distinguished from Jews or Gentiles here called unbelievers, for the same effect is said to be produced on both. The unlearned were therefore as much the subjects of conversion as the unbelieving. The meaning is, if any person, either ignorant or destitute of faith, should come in, he would be convinced by all. That is, what he heard from all would carry conviction to his mind. He would be convinced of the truth of what he heard; convinced of sin, of righteousness and of judgment, John 16:8; convinced that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Acts 9:20, Acts 9:22; and that it is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ is come into the world to save sinners, 1 Timothy 1:15. He is judged of all, i.e. examined, searched into ( ב ̓ םבךסי ́ םופבי); for the word of God is a discerner ( ךסיפיךן ́ ע) of the thoughts and intents of the heart, Hebrews 4:12. The result of this searching examination is, that the secrets of his heart are made manifest; that is, they are revealed to himself. His real character and moral state, with regard to which he was before ignorant, are made known to him. The effect of this is humility, contrition, self-condemnation, and turning unto God. This is expressed by saying, so i.e. in this condition of a convinced sinner who has been brought to the knowledge of himself, falling down on his face, he will worship God. The first step in religion is entire self-abasement; such a conviction of sin, i.e. of guilt and pollution, as shall lead to self-condemnation and self-abhorrence, and to a complete renunciation of all dependence on our own righteousness and strength. When the soul is thus humbled God reveals himself sooner or later, in mercy, manifesting himself as reconciled in Jesus Christ; and then we worship him. This expresses reverence, love and confidence. It is the return of the soul to the favor and fellowship of God. One who has had such an experience cannot keep it to himself. The apostle therefore describes the convert as declaring, i.e. proclaiming aloud that God is in you of a truth. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation," Romans 10:10. It is not enough to believe the truth, it must be publicly professed; because confession is the natural fruit of faith. ‘When there is a proper apprehension of the value of the truth, and a sincere appropriation of the promises of God to ourselves, there will be the desire to acknowledge his goodness and to proclaim the truth to others. The thing acknowledged is, that God is in you, i.e. that Christianity is divine; that Christians are not deluded fanatics, but the true children of God, in whom he dwells by his Spirit. The convert therefore joins himself to them to share their fate, to take part in whatever of reproach or persecution falls to their lot. This confession is made with confidence. Declaring that God is in you of a truth. It is not a mere conjecture, but a firm conviction, founded on experience, i.e. on the demonstration of the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 2:4.


Verse 26

The apostle concludes this chapter with certain practical directions derived from the principles which he had laid down. He neither denied the reality of the extraordinary gifts with which the Corinthians were so richly endowed, nor forbade their exercise. He only enjoined that mutual edification should be the end aimed at, 1 Corinthians 14:26. With regard to those having the gift of tongues, he directed that not more than two, or at most three, should speak, and that in succession, while one interpreted. But in case no interpreter was present, there was to be no speaking with tongues, 1 Corinthians 14:27, 1 Corinthians 14:28. Of the prophets also only two or three were to speak, and the rest were to sit in judgment on what was said. In case a new revelation was made to one of the prophets, he was not to interrupt the speaker, but wait until he had concluded; or the one was to give way to the other. Both were not to speak at the same time, for God did not approve of confusion. As the influence of which the prophets were the subjects did not destroy their self-control, there could be no difficulty in obeying this injunction, 1 Corinthians 14:29-33. Women were not to speak in public; but to seek instruction at home. This prohibition rests on the divinely established subordination of the women, and on the instinct of propriety, 1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Corinthians 14:35. The Corinthians were not to act in this matter as though they were the oldest or the only church, 1 Corinthians 14:36. The apostle requires all classes, no matter how highly gifted, to regard his directions as the commands of Christ, 1 Corinthians 14:37, 1 Corinthians 14:38. He sums up the chapter in two sentences.

1. Earnestly to seek the gift of prophecy, and not to prohibit the exercise of the gift of tongues.

2. To do all things with decency and order.

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a Psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

How is it then? i.e. as in 1 Corinthians 14:15, What is the conclusion from what has been said? What is the condition of things among you? How, in point of fact, do you conduct your public worship? When ye come together. That is, as often as ye come together. Every one of you hath, etc. Every one is used distributively; one has this and another that. A psalm, a song of praise to God. This can hardly mean one of the Psalms of the Old Testament but something prepared or suggested for the occasion. One was impelled by the Spirit to pour forth his heart in a song of praise. Comp. 1 Corinthians 14:15. Hath a doctrine, i.e. comes prepared to expound some doctrine. Hath a tongue, i.e. is able and impelled to deliver an address or to pray in an unknown tongue. Hath a revelation, i.e. as a prophet he has received a revelation from God which he desires to communicate. Hath an interpretation, i.e. is prepared to give the interpretation of some discourse previously delivered in an unknown tongue. This passage, and indeed the whole chapter, presents a lively image of an early Christian assembly. Although there were officers in every church, appointed to conduct the services and especially to teach, yet as the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit were not confined to them or to any particular class, any member present who experienced the working of the Spirit in any of its extraordinary manifestations, was authorized to use and exercise his gift. Under such circumstances confusion could hardly fail to ensue. That such disorder did prevail in the public assemblies in Corinth is clear enough from this chapter. To correct this evil is the apostle's design in this whole passage. It was only so long as the gifts of tongues, of prophecy, of miracles, and others of a like kind continued in the church that the state of things here described prevailed. Since those gifts have ceased, no one has the right to rise in the church under the impulse of his own mind to take part in its services. The general rule which the apostle lays down, applicable to all gifts alike, is that every thing should be done unto edifying. That is, that 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 the subject of a divine influence; or that acting under it would be agreeable or even profitable to himself, he must sit in silence unless the exercise of his gift would benefit the brethren as a worshipping assembly.


Verse 27

If any man speak in an (unknown) tongue, (let it be) by two, or at the most (by) three, and (that) by course; and let one interpret.

As to the use of the gift of tongues, the directions were that only two or three having that gift should speak; that they were not to speak together, but in succession; and that one should interpret what the others said.


Verse 28

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

If neither the speaker himself, nor any other person present, have the gift of interpretation, the former was to keep silence in the church, i.e. in the public assembly. And let him speak to himself, and to God, or, for himself, and for God. That is, let him commune silently with God in the exercise of his gift. As, according to Paul, all true worship is intelligent, it is evident that if in the exercise of the gift of tongues, there was communion with God, the understanding could not have been in abeyance. In that gift, not only the words, but also the thoughts and the accompanying emotion were communicated or excited by the Spirit. Those having that gift spake as the Spirit gave them utterance, Acts 2:4.


Verse 29-30

Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the others judge. If (any thing) be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.

The number of prophets who were to speak at any one meeting was also limited to two or three. The others were to judge, i.e. exercise the gift of "the discerning of spirits," 1 Corinthians 12:10. From this passage it may be inferred that this latter gift was a concomitant of the gift of prophecy; for the other prophets, i.e. those who did not speak were to sit in judgment on what was said, in order to decide whether those claiming to be prophets were really inspired. The case, however, might occur that a communication from the Spirit might be made to one prophet while another was speaking. What was to be done men? As it was contrary to order for two to speak at the same time, the one speaking must either at once stop, or the receiver of the new revelation must wait until his predecessor had concluded his discourse. The imperative form of the expression ( ן ̔ נסש ͂ פןע ףידב ́ פש), let the first be silent, is in favor of the former view. This would suppose that the fact of a new communication being made, indicated that it was entitled to be heard at once. There are two reasons, however, which may be urged for the second view. The interruption of a speaker was itself disorderly, and therefore contrary to the whole drift of the apostle's directions; and secondly, what follows is most naturally understood as assigning the reason why the receiver of the new revelation should wait. The meaning may be, ‘Let the first be silent before the other begins.'


Verse 31

For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.

This verse assigns the reason why two prophets should not speak at the same time. They could all have the opportunity of speaking one by one. Not indeed at the same meeting, for he had before limited the number of speakers to two or three for any one occasion. That all may learn, and all may be comforted. This is the end to be attained by their all speaking. The discourse of one might suit the wants of some hearers; and that of another might be adapted to the case of others. Thus all hearers would receive instruction and consolation. The latter word (consolation), however, is not so comprehensive as the original, which means not only to comfort, but also to exhort and to admonish.


Verse 32

And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

This verse is connected by and to the preceding as containing an additional reason for the injunction in 1 Corinthians 14:31. ‘You need not speak together, because you can all have the opportunity of speaking successively, and you are not compelled to speak by any irresistible impulse.' The spirits of the prophets. The word spirit is used here (comp. 1 Corinthians 14:12, 1 Corinthians 14:14, 1 Corinthians 14:15) for the divine influence under which the prophets spoke. That influence was not of such a nature as to destroy the self-control of those who were its subjects. It did not throw them into a state of frenzy analogous to that of a heathen pythoness. 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 received a revelation could wait as long as he pleased. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, i.e. under their control. According to another interpretation the spirits of the prophets means their own spirits (or minds), considered as the organs of the Holy Spirit. But this is contrary to the use of the word in the context; and moreover it is inconsistent with the sense assigned to the word by the advocates of this interpretation. They say that spirit means the higher powers of the mind in distinction from the understanding. In this sense every man, whether the subject of divine influence or not, has a spirit. In other words, according to their theory it is not because the higher powers of the mind are the organs of the Spirit of God that they are called spirits. It is therefore inconsistent to assign that reason for the use of the word here. The interpretation above given of this verse is the one commonly adopted. Many commentators, however, understand the apostle to say, that the spirits of the prophets are subject to one another, i.e. to other prophets; and therefore if one is speaking he should yield to another who wishes to speak. This idea is not suited to the context. It would suggest merely a reason why one ought to yield to the other. What the apostle says and wishes to prove is, that one can yield to the other. A prophet was not forced to speak by the spirit which he had received.


Verse 33

For God is not (the author) of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

This is the reason why the spirits of the prophets must be assumed to be subject to the prophets. They are from God; but God is not a God of disorder or of commotion, but of peace. Therefore every spirit which is from him, must be capable of control. He never impels men to act contrary to the principles which he has ordained. If he wills order to prevail in the church, he never impels men to be disorderly. This is a truth of wide application. When men pretend to be influenced by the Spirit of God in doing what God forbids, whether in disturbing the peace and order of the church, by insubordination, violence or abuse, or in any other way, we may be sure that they are either deluded or impostors.


Verse 34

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but (they are commanded) to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

The words as in all the churches of the saints, if connected with 1 Corinthians 14:33, contain a proof of what had just been said. ‘I may appeal to all the churches of the saints in proof that God is the God not of commotion, but of peace.' Most commentators, however, connect them with 1 Corinthians 14:34. ‘As in all the churches of the saints, let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted to them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.' The reasons for preferring this connection are,

1. That 1 Corinthians 14:33 has an appropriate conclusion in the words "God is not a God of confusion but of peace."

2. The words as in all the churches of the saints, if connected with 1 Corinthians 14:33, do not give a pertinent sense. The apostle would be made to prove a conceded and undeniable truth by an appeal to the authority or experience of the church.

3. If connected with 1 Corinthians 14:34, this passage is parallel to 1 Corinthians 11:16, where the custom of the churches in reference to the deportment of women in public is appealed to as authoritative. The sense is thus pertinent and good. ‘As is the case in all other Christian churches, let your women keep silence in the public assemblies.' The fact that in no Christian church was public speaking permitted to women was itself a strong proof that it was unchristian, i.e. contrary to the spirit of Christianity. Paul, however, adds to the prohibition the weight of apostolic authority, and not of that only but also the authority of reason and of Scripture. It is not permitted to them to speak. The speaking intended is public speaking, and especially in the church.

In the Old Testament it had been predicted that "Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy;" a prediction which the apostle Peter quotes as verified on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:17; and in Acts 21:9 mention is made of four daughters of Philip who prophesied. The apostle himself seems to take for granted, in 1 Corinthians 11:5, that women might receive and exercise the gift of prophecy. It is therefore only the public exercise of the gift that is prohibited. The rational ground for this prohibition is that it is contrary to the relation of subordination in which the woman stands to the man that she appear as a public teacher. Both the Jews and Greeks adopted the same rule; and therefore the custom, which the Corinthians seemed disposed to introduce, was contrary to established usage. The scriptural ground is expressed in the words as also saith the law, i.e. the will of God as made known in the Old Testament. There, as well as in the New Testament, the doctrine that women should be in subjection is clearly revealed.


Verse 35

And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

The desire for knowledge in women is not to be repressed, and the facilities for its acquisition are not to be denied them. The refinement and delicacy of their sex, however, should be carefully preserved. They may learn all they wish to know without appearing before the public. For it is a shame for women to speak in the church. The word used is בי ̓ ףקסן ́ ע which properly means ugly, deformed. It is spoken of any thing which excites disgust. As the peculiar power and usefulness of women depend on their being the objects of admiration and affection, any thing which tends to excite the opposite sentiments should for that reason be avoided.


Verse 36

What! came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

That is, Are you the mother church? or are you the only church? The word of God here means the gospel. Paul means to ask, whether the gospel took its rise in Corinth? The disregard which the people of that church manifested for the customs of their sister churches seemed to evince an assuming and arrogant temper. They acted as though they were entitled to be independent, if not to prescribe the law to others. Paul takes the authority of the church for granted. He assumes that any thing contrary to the general sentiment and practice of the people of God is wrong. This he does because he understands by the church the body of Christ, those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, and whose character and conduct are controlled and governed by his influence.


Verse 37

If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.

If any man think, etc. That is, If any man, with or without just reason, assumes to be a prophet, i.e. inspired; or spiritual, i.e. the possessor of any gift of the Spirit, let him prove himself what he claims to be by submitting to my authority. Here, as in 1 John 4:6, ("He that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth not us,") submission to the infallible authority of the apostles is made the test of a divine mission and even of conversion. This must be so. If the apostles were the infallible organs of the Holy Ghost, to disobey them in any matter of faith or practice is to refuse to obey God. The inference which Romanists draw from this fact is, that as the apostleship is a permanent office in the church, and as the prelates are the bearers of that office, therefore to refuse submission in matters of faith or practice to the bishops is a clear proof that we are not of God. This is the chain with which Rome binds the nations to her car which she drives whithersoever she wills. The inference which Protestants draw from the fact in question is, that as we have the infallible teaching of the prophets and apostles in the Bible, therefore any man who does not conform in faith and practice to the Scriptures cannot be of God. This is the rule by which Protestants try all who claim to have a divine commission. It is nothing to them what their ecclesiastical descent may be. He that heareth not the Scriptures, is not of God. The things which I write. There is not only no reason for confining these words, as some do, to the preceding verse, but every reason against it. It is not merely for the prohibition against women speaking in the church for which the apostle claims divine authority. The specification of prophets and spiritual persons shows that the reference is primarily to the whole contents of this chapter. All the directions which he had given with respect to the exercise of spiritual gifts were of divine authority. What is true, however, of this chapter, is no less true of all apostolical instructions; because they all rest on the same foundation. Are the commandments of the Lord, i.e. of Christ, because he is the person known in the Christian church as Lord. The continued influence of Christ by the Spirit over the minds of his apostles, which is a divine prerogative, is here assumed or asserted.


Verse 38

But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.

That is, if any man be ignorant or refuses to acknowledge the divine authority of my instructions, let him be ignorant. Paul would neither attempt to convince him, nor waste time in disputing the point. Where the evidence of any truth is abundant and has been clearly presented, those who reject it should be left to act on their own responsibility. Further disputation can do no good.


Verse 39

Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.

Prophecy and the gift of tongues are the two gifts of which this chapter treats. The former is to be preferred to the latter. The one is to be coveted, i.e. earnestly desired and sought after; the exercise of the other, even in Christian assemblies, was not to be prohibited; provided, as stated above, any one be present who possessed the gift of interpretation.


Verse 40

Let all things be done decently and in order.

Decently, i.e. in such a way as not to offend against propriety. The adjective, the adverbial form of which is here used, means well-formed, comely; that which excites the pleasing emotion of beauty. The exhortation therefore is, so to conduct their worship that it may be beautiful; in other words, so as to make a pleasing impression on all who are right-minded. And in order ( ךבפב ̀ פב ́ מים), not tumultuously as in a mob, but as in a well-ordered army, where every one keeps his place, and acts at the proper time and in the proper way. So far as external matters are concerned, these are the two principles which should regulate the conduct of public worship. The apostle not only condemns any church acting independently of other churches, but also any member of a particular church acting from his own impulses, without regard to others. The church as a whole, and in every separate congregation, should be a harmonious, well-organized body.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:4". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hdg/1-corinthians-14.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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