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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
1 Corinthians 14

 

 

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Verse 1

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

Follow after charity - as your chief aim, seeing it is "the greatest" (1 Corinthians 13:13).

And desire Translate 'Yet (as a secondary aim) desire zealously spiritual gifts with prayer and in And desire. Translate, 'Yet (as a secondary aim) desire zealously spiritual gifts, with prayer and in submission to the Spirit's will' (1 Corinthians 12:11; 1 Corinthians 12:31, note); not with "envy" (the same Greek, 1 Corinthians 13:4) of another's gifts. "Follow after" includes the activity of the will: 'desire zealously' implies entreaty in prayer.

But rather - `but chiefly that ye may prophesy' (speak under inspiration) (Proverbs 29:18; Acts 13:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:20), whether as to future events - i:e., prophecy-or explaining obscure Scriptures, especially the prophetic, or illustrating questions of Christian doctrine and practice. Modern preaching is its successor, without the inspiration. Desire zealously this (prophecy) more than any other spiritual gift, especially in preference to "tongues," (1 Corinthians 14:2, etc.)


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.

Speaketh ... unto God (Romans 8:27) - who alone understands all languages.

No man understandeth. Generally, the few who can interpret tongues are the exception.

In the spirit - as opposed to "the understanding" (1 Corinthians 14:14).

Mysteries - unintelligible to the hearers, exciting wonder rather than instructing. Corinth, a mart for merchants from Asia, Africa, and Europe, would give scope for the exercise of the gift of tongues; but its legitimate use was in an audience understanding the tongue of the speaker, not in mere display.


Verse 3

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

But - on the other hand.

Edification - of which the two species given are "exhortation," to remove sluggishness; "comfort," to remove sadness. Omit "to."


Verse 4

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

Edifieth himself - as he understands the meaning, of the particular "tongue;" but "the church," the congregation, does not.


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.

Translate, 'Now I wish you all TO speak with tongues (so far am I from objecting to tongues), but rather IN ORDER THAT (as my ulterior, higher wish) ye should prophesy.' Tongues must therefore mean languages, not ecstatic unintelligible rhapsodies (as, Neander fancied): for Paul could never 'wish' for the latter in their behalf.

Greater - because more useful.

Except he interpret - the unknown tongue, 'that the church may receive edifying' (building up).


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?

Translate, 'But now;' seeing there is no edification without interpretation.

Revelation ... prophesying - corresponding "revelation" being the supernatural unveiling of divine truths; "prophesying," the open enunciation of such revelations. So "knowledge" corresponds to "doctrine," the gift of teaching to others our knowledge. As the former pair refers to revealed mysteries, so the latter pair to the obvious truths of salvation, brought from the common storehouse of believers.


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?

Translate, 'Even things without life-giving sound, whether pipe or harp, if they give not distinction in (the due interval between) the tones (notes), how,' etc. [ homoos (Greek #3676)]: though lifeless, YET they furnish an illustration: cf. Greek, Galatians 3:15.]

What is piped or harped - i:e., what tune is played on the pipe or harp.


Verse 8

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

Translate, 'For if also:' an additional step in the argument.

Uncertain sound - without definite meaning. It ought to be so marked that one succession of notes should summon the soldiers to attack, another to retreat, etc.


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.

So likewise ye - who have life, as opposed to things without life" (1 Corinthians 14:7).

By the tongue - the language which ye steak in.

Ye shall speak - ye will be speaking into the air - i:e., in vain (1 Corinthians 9:26).


Verse 10

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

It may be - speaking by conjecture. 'It may chance' (1 Corinthians 15:37).

So many - as are enumerated by investigators. (Compare "so much," for a definite number left undefined, So many - as are enumerated by investigators. (Compare "so much," for a definite number left undefined, Acts 5:8.)

Kinds of voices - of articulate speech: languages [ foonoon (Greek #5456), distinct from gloossoon (Greek #1100), "tongue"].

Without signification. None is without its own voice or meaning distinct from the rest.


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 - seeing that none is without meaning.

A barbarian - a foreigner (Acts 28:2). Not in our deprecatory sense of the term, but one speaking a foreign language.


Verse 12

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

Zealous - emulously desirous.

Of spiritual gifts - literally, 'spirits;' i:e., emanations from the one Spirit.

Seek that ye may excel to. Translate, 'seek that ye may abound in them to them to the edifying,' etc. Seek to have not only tongues, but also interpretation and prophecy.


Verse 13

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

Explain, 'Let him who speaketh with an unknown tongue (in prayer) pray with the purpose that he may interpret.' This explanation is needed by the logical connection with "pray in an unknown tongue" (1 Corinthians 14:14). Though his words be unintelligible, let him in them pray for the gift of interpreting, which will make them "edifying" to "the church" (1 Corinthians 14:12). It was only when they could interpret that the, "understanding" accompanied the "tongue" (1 Corinthians 14:15; 1 Corinthians 14:19).


Verse 14

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

Spirit - my higher being, the passive object of the Holy Spirit's operations, and the instrument of prayer in the unknown tongue; distinguished from the "understanding" [ nous (Greek #3563)], the active instrument of thought, which in this case must be "unfruitful" to others, since the vehicle of expression is unintelligible to them On the distinction of soul or mind and spirit, see Ephesians 4:23; Hebrews 4:12.


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? - What then is my resolve?

And - rather, 'but.' I will not only pray with my spirit, which (1 Corinthians 14:14) might leave the understanding unedified, BUT with the understanding also.

Pray with the understanding also - and, by inference, I will keep silence if I cannot pray with the understanding (so as to make myself understood by others). A prescient warning, mutatis mutandis, against the Roman and Greek liturgies in dead languages, long since become unintelligible to the masses. When those liturgies were framed originally those languages were in general use.


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?

Else, when thou. He changes from the first person, as he had just expressed his own resolve, "I will pray with the understanding" whatever "thou" dost. Bless - the highest kind of prayer.

Occupieth the room of the unlearned , [ idiootou (Greek #2399), a private person] - one who, whatever other gifts he possess, as wanting the gift of interpretation, is reduced by the unknown tongue spoken to the position of one unlearned.

Say Amen. Prayer is not a vicarious duty done for us, as in Rome's masses. We must join with the prayers and praises of the congregation, and say aloud our responsive "Amen," as was the usage of the Jewish (Deuteronomy 27:15-26; Nehemiah 8:6) and Christian primitive churches (Justin Martin, 'Apol.,' 2: 97).


Verse 17

For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

Givest thanks. The synagogue prayers were called 'eulogies,' because to each was joined a thanksgiving. Hence, Christian prayers also were called blessings and givings of thanks. This illustrates Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18. So the Qadiysh (Hebrew #6922) and Q


Verse 18

I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:

Tongues. So B. But 'Aleph (') G f g, Vulgate, have the singular, 'in a (tongue) foreign.'


Verse 19

Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

I had rather. The Greek more literally expresses, 'I WISH to speak five words with my understanding (rather) than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue:' even the two-thousandth part of ten thousand. The Greek for 'I would rather' would be different. Paul would NOT wish at all to speak "ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."


Verse 20

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

Brethren - an appellation to conciliate their favourable attention.

Children in understanding - as preference of gifts abused to non-edification would make you (cf. Matthew 10:16; Romans 16:19; 1 Corinthians 3:1; Ephesians 4:14). The Greek [ fresin (Greek #5424), not elsewhere], "understanding," expresses the will of one's spirit: one's mindedness (Romans 8:6), as the 'heart' is the will of the 'soul.'

Men - full-grown. Be child-like, not childish.


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 whole Old Testament, all being the law of God (cf. the Psalms cited as the "Law," John 10:34). The Quotation is from Isaiah 28:11-12, where God virtually saith of Israel, 'This people hear me not, though I speak to them in their familiar language: I will therefore speak to them in other tongues, those of the foes whom I will send against them; but even then they will not hearken to me;' which Paul thus applies, 'Ye see, it is a penalty to be associated with men of a strange tongue, yet ye impose this on the Church by abusing, the tongues, instead of using them intelligibly.' They who speak in foreign tongues speak like "children" just "weaned from the milk" (Isaiah 28:9), "with stammering lips," unintelligibly to the hearers, appearing ridiculous (Isaiah 28:14), or as babbling drunkards (Acts 2:13) or madmen (1 Corinthians 14:23).


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.

Thus from Isaiah it appears that "tongues" (uninterpreted) are not a sign for believers (though at the conversion of Cornelius and the Gentiles with him, tongues were vouchsafed to confirm their faith), but mainly to condemn those who, like Israel, reject the sign and the accompanying message. So the tongues condemned those who rejected the proffered Gospel on Pentecost (Acts 2:8, contrasted with 1 Corinthians 14:13). Compare "yet ... will they not hear me" (1 Corinthians 14:21); even primitive signs fail to arouse them. 'Sign' is often used for a condemnatory sign (Ezekiel 4:3-4; Matthew 12:39-42). Since they will not understand, they shall not understand.

Prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but ... believe. It has no effect on obstinate unbelievers, like Israel, but on them that are either in receptivity or, in fact, believers: it makes believers of those not willfully unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:24-25; Romans 10:17), and spiritually nourishes those that already believe.


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?

Whole ... all ... tongues. The more there are assembled, and that speak in unknown tongues, the more will the impression be conveyed to strangers 'coming in' from curiosity ("unbelievers," whether knowing a foreign tongue or not), or even from a better motive ("unlearned," ignorant of foreign tongues), that the whole body is a mob of fanatical 'madmen,' and that 'the Church is like the company of Babel builders after the confusion of tongues.'

Unlearned - having some faith, but not gifts.


Verse 24

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:

All - one by one (1 Corinthians 14:31).

Prophesy - speak by the Spirit intelligibly; not in unintelligible tongues.

One - singular, implying that conviction by all would be produced on anyone who might happen, to enter. In 1 Corinthians 14:23 the plural, "unlearned" or "unbelievers," implying that however many there be, not one will profit by the tongues; yea, their being many would confirm them in rejecting the sign, as many unbelievers together strengthen one another in unbelief: individuals are more easily won.

He - the "one that believeth not."

Convinced - convicted in conscience (John 16:8-9). Judged - his secret character is "discerned," namely, the "one unlearned" (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:15), who, however unskilled in other tongues, can understand the language that speaks to his heart.


Verse 25

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.

And thus - omitted in 'Aleph (') A B Delta G f g, Vulgate.

Secrets of his heart made manifest. He sees his inner character opened out by the sword of the Spirit (Hebrews 4:12; James 1:23) the Word of God, in the hand of him who prophesieth (cf. "Nebuchadnezzar," Daniel 2:30; Daniel 2:46-47). No argument is stronger for the truth than its manifestation of men to themselves. Hence, hearers often think the preacher has aimed his sermon particularly at them.

And so - convicted at last, as was the woman of Samaria by Jesus' unfolding of her to herself (John 4:19; John 4:29).

And report - to friends at home, as she did. Rather, 'he will worship God, announcing' [ apangelloon (Greek #518)], openly avowing, then and there, "that God is in you (dwelling in your souls, John 14:23) of a truth," and by implication that the God in you is of a truth the God.


Verse 26

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? 'What then is the true rule as to the use of gifts?' Compare 1 Corinthians 14:15, the same Greek.

Hath - ready beforehand.

A psalm - inspired by the Spirit, as that of Mary; Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna, (Luke 1:1-80; Luke 2:1-52.)

A doctrine - to set forth to the congregation.

A tongue ... a revelation - answering to "prophecy." 'Aleph (') A B A Delta f g transpose the order - "revelation ... tongue;" "interpretation" properly following "tongue" (1 Corinthians 14:13).

Let all things be done unto edifying - the general rule: an answer to the question at the beginning of this Let all things be done unto edifying - the general rule: an answer to the question at the beginning of this verse. Each ought to obey the ordinances of his church, not adverse to Scripture. (See Article, XXXIV, 'Church of England Prayer Book.')


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.

Let it be by two - at each time: not more than two or three might speak with tongues at each meeting.

By course - in turns.

Let one interpret - who has the gift of interpreting; and not more than one.


Verse 28

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

Let him - the speaker in unknown tongues.

Speak to himself, and to God (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:2; 1 Corinthians 14:4) - privately, not in hearing of others.


Verse 29

Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.

Two or three - at one meeting (he does not add "at the most," as in 1 Corinthians 14:27, lest he should seem to 'quench prophesyings,' the most edifying of gifts), and these "one by one," in turns (1 Corinthians 14:27; 1 Corinthians 14:31). Paul gives similar rules to the prophets as he had to those speaking tongues.

Judge - by their power of "discerning spirits" (1 Corinthians 12:10), whether the person prophesying was really under the influence of the Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 John 4:1-3).


Verse 30

If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.

If any thing - Greek, 'But if anything.'

Let the first hold his peace - let him who heretofore spoke, furnished with an ordinary revelation ready beforehand, give place to him who is moved to prophesy by a sudden revelation from the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:26; Luke 1:67-79).


Verse 31

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

For ye may - rather, 'For ye can (if you will) all prophesy one by one,' giving way to one another. The "for", justifies (1 Corinthians 14:30), "let the first hold his peace.

That all may learn, and all may be comforted - that if one prophet do not affect the hearers, another may: so that none may go away, unedited.


Verse 32

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

And - following up 1 Corinthians 14:31, 'ye can' (if ye will) restrain yourselves from speaking all together. "And the spirits of the prophets" - i:e., their spirits-acted on by the Holy Spirit, are not so hurried away as to cease to be under their own control: they can, if they will, hear others, and not demand that they alone should be heard.


Verse 33

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

In all the churches God is a God of peace (irreconcileable with fanatical disorders); let Him not among you In all the churches God is a God of peace (irreconcileable with fanatical disorders); let Him not among you seem to be a God of confusion (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:16). Or stop at "peace," and connect, "As in all churches of the saints, let your women keep silence in the churches."


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.

(1 Timothy 2:11-12) For women to speak in public would be an act of independence, as if they were not subject to their husbands (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1). For "under obedience" [ hupotassesthoosan (Greek #5293), as A B 'Aleph (') read; or the infinitive, as Delta G f g, Vulgate], translate 'in subjection' or 'submission,' as the Greek is translated Ephesians 5:21-22; Ephesians 5:24.

The Law - the whole Old Testament here (Genesis 3:16).


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.

Women may say, 'But if we do not understand, may we not "ask" a question publicly, so as to "learn?" Nay, replies Paul: if you want information, "ask" not in public, but "at home;" ask not other men, but 'your own particular [ tous (Greek #3588) idious (Greek #2398)] husbands.'

Shame - indecorous.


Verse 36

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

What! - Greek, 'Or,' Will you obey me Or, if you set up your judgment above that of other churches, do you pretend that your church is the first FROM which the Gospel came, that you should give law to all others? Or are you the only persons UNTO whom it has come?


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.

Prophet - the species.

Spiritual - the genus: spiritually endowed. The followers of Apollos prided themselves as "spiritual" (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). Here one capable of discerning spirits is specially meant.

Things that I write ... commandments of the Lord , ('Aleph (') A B C read the singular, referring to the last commandment alone; namely, that women should be silent in church-`that it is the commandment of the Lord.' The Vulgate supports the Received Text) - a direct assertion of inspiration. Paul's words are Christ's words. Paul appeals not merely to one or two, but to a body of men, for the reality of three facts about which no body could be mistaken:

(1) That his influence over them was not due to mere eloquence, but to the "demonstration of the Spirit and of power;"

(2) That part of this demonstration consisted in imparting miraculous gifts which they were then exercising so generally as to require to be corrected in the irregular employment of them;

(3) That among these was one which enabled the "prophet" or 'spiritual person,' to decide whether Paul's letter was Scripture or not.

He could not have written so unless the facts were notoriously true; for he takes them for granted, as consciously known by the whole body of men whom he addresses (Hinds, 'On Inspiration').


Verse 38

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

If any man be ignorant - willfully; not wishing to recognize my apostolic authority in enjoining these ordinances.

Let him be ignorant. I leave him to his ignorance; it will be at his own peril-an argument likely to have weight with the Corinthians, who admired knowledge so much.


Verse 39

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

Covet - earnestly desire with prayer, in submission to God's will. Stronger than "forbid not." He esteemed "prophecy" more highly than "tongues."


Verse 40

Let all things be done decently and in order.

Let ... 'Aleph (') A B Delta G f g, Vulgate, read 'But let,' etc., connected with 1 Corinthians 14:39, 'But (while desiring prophecy, and not forbidding tongues) let all things be done decently,' etc. Church government is the best security for Christian liberty (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:23; 1 Corinthians 14:26-33).

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/1-corinthians-14.html. 1871-8.

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Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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