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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 14

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-20

1 Corinthians 14. Prophecy and Speaking with Tongues, their Relative Value and their Place in the Church Gathering.—Paul now comes to the direct comparison between the two types of ecstatic speech on which his judgment differed from that prevalent at Corinth. Both prophecy and speaking with tongues were genuine expressions of the Spirit's inspiration; Paul himself spoke with tongues more than all (1 Corinthians 14:18), and conceded a certain place to them in the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:27; 1 Corinthians 14:39), but esteemed prophecy as one of the greater gifts to be earnestly desired. Prophecy was inspired preaching (pp. 647f.); on "speaking with tongues," see p. 648.

1 Corinthians 14:1-20. Love is to be pursued beyond all things, but spiritual gifts are to be eagerly desired, above all, prophecy. He who exercises the gift of tongues holds communion with God, and is unintelligible to his fellows, since he is speaking mysteries in the Spirit-inspired ecstasy. The prophet, on the other hand, builds up, strengthens, and consoles men. One edifies the speaker, not indeed by the communication of fresh knowledge, for normally he cannot himself understand what he says (1 Corinthians 14:13 f., 1 Corinthians 14:19) but by the experience of inspiration and the fellowship of his spirit with God (1 Corinthians 14:2; 1 Corinthians 14:28), though the understanding is dormant. The prophet edifies the church, since he speaks what all can understand. Hence, while Paul could wish that all had the gift of tongues, he would prefer that they should prophesy (Numbers 11:29); it is the greater of the two gifts, unless to that of tongues the gift of interpretation be added, so that the church may get benefit. Suppose he came to them speaking with tongues, what good would he do them unless he addressed them in intelligible language, imparting revelation, knowledge, prophesying or teaching? Even inanimate musical instruments, whether wind or stringed, must not keep on one note or no one will recognise any tune; while, if the clarion gives out an indistinct sound, none will realise that he is summoned to the battle. Similarly unless their tongues—here (1 Corinthians 14:9) in the literal sense—utter intelligible speech, how will what is said be known? It will be futile talking to the wind. There are so many languages in the world, and not one without significance, and those who are unacquainted with each other's language will, when they meet, be mutually unintelligible foreigners. Zealous as they are for spirits, they must let their zeal take the direction of abounding in such gifts as will benefit the church. He who has the gift of tongues should pray for that of interpretation. When he prays in a tongue his spirit prays, the understanding is barren, it can produce no fruit for others. Whether he prays or sings, understanding as well as spirit shall participate. Otherwise, when one gives thanks in the spirit, how will any non-member who is present be able to utter the "Amen" at the close, since he will not know whether he can endorse what has been said? True, such a thanksgiving is quite good in itself, but the other gains no profit. Paul is grateful to God that he has the gift of tongues in a fuller measure than all of them and so speaks of it with inside knowledge; yet when in church he would sooner speak five words intelligible to himself and helpful to others than ten thousand in a tongue.

1 Corinthians 14:6. It is not clear whether Paul means that the visit is unprofitable if he speaks with tongues alone and does not proceed to exercise some intelligible gift in addition, or if he fails to interpret the tongue speech, which, if interpreted, would prove to be also one of the gifts named.

1 Corinthians 14:16. Possibly "the unlearned" (Gr. idits) is the unbaptized. Some think a special place was reserved for the catechumens in the meeting-room. But it is questionable whether matters had reached this development. The same term is used in 1 Corinthians 14:23 f., where he is classed with the unbelieving as likely to pronounce an unfavourable judgment on tongues. RVm is hardly satisfactory, for the judgment of 1 Corinthians 14:23 is that of an outsider, hardly of a Christian; presumably all members of the Church recognised Divine inspiration behind the gifts, whether themselves gifted or not. Yet the idits is so far in sympathy that he may be expected to add "Amen" at the end of a Christian prayer that he understands; he is more of a neutral with some leaning to Christianity, which may be stimulated or checked by what he hears in the church; the unbeliever is definitely hostile and prejudiced. Paul singles out the former here, though the majority of the church would share his incapacity to understand, since the Christian would take it for granted that the prayer was truly inspired, because he recognised the genuineness of the phenomenon and believed it to be adequately safeguarded by the available tests (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Corinthians 12:10).


Verses 20-25

1 Corinthians 14:20-25. Such over-valuing of tongues reveals an infantile intelligence (a sharp thrust for a church so rich in intellectuals); only in malice is it proper to be babes. Scripture announces that the Lord will speak by men of strange tongues to this people and yet they will not hear. Tongues then are a sign to unbelievers, not to believers; prophecy is for believers, not unbelievers. So if the church is assembled and all speak with tongues, and non-members or unbelievers come in, they will think the whole assembly has gone mad. But if a man belonging to one of these classes comes in and all prophesy, he is convicted and judged by all, the things he supposes to be known only to himself are dragged into the light, and thus he is brought to worship God and recognise His presence. The point of 1 Corinthians 14:22 a is not that tongues are a sign conducing to the salvation of unbelievers, and that the Corinthians defeat God's purpose by all speaking with tongues at once so that the sign misses its mark. We cannot indeed press the fact that the prophecy was one of judgment (Isaiah 28:11 f.*) since Paul's use of the OT was not controlled by its original sense. But the last clause proves that the sign was not intended favourably. And the interpretation, "all speak with tongues at once" is unjustifiable. For 1 Corinthians 14:24 obviously does not mean that all prophesy at once, since this would have been not much less of a Babel than the other, and not calculated to have the effect described in 1 Corinthians 14:24 f. In both cases they speak successively not simultaneously. Tongues will establish unbelievers in their unbelief. As they hear speaker after speaker pour out unintelligible harangues, they will draw the inference that the members are all mad and that Christianity is an insane delusion.


Verses 26-40

1 Corinthians 14:26-40. Paul now lays down the rules. At present at their assemblies all are eager to speak in one way or another. But the edification of the Church is to be the governing principle. Two may speak in tongues, three at most and in succession; an interpretation must be given; if no one of them has this gift, the gift of tongues must be restricted to inward utterance, it must not be vocally exercised. Two or three prophets may speak, while the others practise the gift of discernment on his utterance. The communication of a revelation to another is a token that the speaker must close his address. There is no hardship in the restriction of numbers or the abrupt close of an address; there will be future opportunities. Nor is such silence impossible, for each prophet has his gift in his own control. This is clear from the very nature of God; He is a God of peace and order, and can be the source of no inspiration which issues in confusion. The injunction to women (1 Corinthians 14:34 f.) cannot be satisfactorily reconciled with 1 Corinthians 11:5; 1 Corinthians 11:13, where Paul recognises that a woman may legitimately pray or prophesy in the assembly provided she wears a veil. Its position in the MSS varies, and it is probably a later addition made on the margin and inserted by copyists at different points in the text. It was probably modelled on 1 Timothy 2:11 f. In 1 Corinthians 14:36 Paul sarcastically asks the Corinthians, who assert their independence in so many questionable ways, whether their Church was the starting-point of the Gospel, or they the only people evangelised. Whoever supposes himself to have the gift of prophecy or any other, should make good his claim to spiritual insight by recognising that Paul's regulations express Christ's will and are prompted by Him. If he is ignorant there is nothing more to be said. The whole discussion is finally summed up in 1 Corinthians 14:39 f.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/1-corinthians-14.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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