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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
1 Corinthians 14

 

 

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Verse 1

1 Corinthians 14:1. Follow after love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts:—‘If I exalt love above all mere gifts, this is not meant to disparage the gifts, nor to quench the desire to possess and exercise them; only in doing so, forget not that the best and most useful of them all is prophecy.’


Verse 2

1 Corinthians 14:2. For he that speaketh in a tongue speaketh not onto men, but unto God—the Giver of that gift;—for no man (in the absence of an interpreter) understandeth him; but in the spirit (as distinct from his conscious understanding) he speaketh mysteries (see 1 Corinthians 14:14-15). By “mysteries” is meant truths which, under the ancient economy, were but partially understood, but now fully disclosed (see on 1 Corinthians 2:7).


Verse 3-4

1 Corinthians 14:3. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men edification (in general), and comfort, and consolation.

1 Corinthians 14:4. He that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself—even when not understanding his own words (as the next verse shews to be meant). But how so? Feeling himself to be the immediate organ of the Spirit of God, he would be filled with awe, as standing very near to God,—but he that prophesieth edifieth the church (as already stated, 1 Corinthians 14:3).


Verse 5

1 Corinthians 14:5. Now I would have you all speak with tongues, but rather that ye should prophesy—‘because tongues require an interpreter, else they are a heap of unmeaning sounds, whereas by prophecy all may at once benefit.’

Note.—Could anything make it clearer that “speaking with tongues” meant speaking in articulate and actually spoken languages, unknown to the speaker save through an interpreter—himself or another? All other explanations are forced and inconsistent with the plain facts of the case, while some of them carry absurdity on their face.


Verse 6

1 Corinthians 14:6. But now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation, or of knowledge, or of prophesying, or of teaching?—four things nominally, but in reality only two distinct ways of edifying by the exercise of spiritual gifts: the first pair (“revelation” and “knowledge”), those by which the speaker received supernaturally what he had to impart to others; the second pair (“prophesying” and “teaching”), those by which he gave it forth to his audience.


Verse 7

1 Corinthians 14:7. Even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp—the only kind of musical instruments known to the Greeks.—if they give not a distinction in the sounds—or ‘notes,’ such as to denote some musical ideas,—how shall it be known what is piped or harped?—what are the ideas intended.


Verse 8

1 Corinthians 14:8. For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?(1) Since in all ages the advance and retreat of armies have been directed by sound of trumpet, it is indispensable that the notes expressing each should be sufficiently distinct, the one from the other, and easily understood.


Verse 9

1 Corinthians 14:9. So also ye, unless ye utter by the tongue speech easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye will be speaking into the air—‘speaking to no one’ (as “beating the air,” 1 Corinthians 9:26, means ‘hitting no one’).


Verse 10

1 Corinthians 14:10. There are so many kinds of voices (articulate languages(1)) in the world, and no kind is without signification—without definite meaning.


Verse 11

1 Corinthians 14:11. If then I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian—a foreigner, understanding not the language used (by this name all foreigners were called by the Greeks and Romans, Acts 28:2),—and he that speaketh will be a barbarian unto me.


Verse 12

1 Corinthians 14:12. So also ye, since ye are zealous of spiritual gifts (Gr. ‘spirits’), seek that ye may abound (in them) unto the edifying of the church—not for display.


Verse 13

1 Corinthians 14:13. Wherefore let him that speaketh in a tongue prayi.e. pray ‘in the spirit,’—that he may interpret—not ‘pray for the gift of interpretation’ (as most of the old interpreters understood it), but so pray in the unknown tongue as having in view the need of interpretation to give the sense of his prayer. What follows shews this to be the meaning (and so in substance Bengel, De Wette, Osiander, Meyer, and Alford understand it).


Verse 14

1 Corinthians 14:14. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful—‘my rational intelligence is unavailing to explain myself to others.’


Verse 15

1 Corinthians 14:15. What is it then?—‘As the result of all I have said, how am I to act, supposing me thus gifted?’

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—so pray and sing (in the spirit) as that others may get the sense of my utterances.


Verse 16

1 Corinthians 14:16. Else if thou shalt bless—probably the Eucharistic blessing, though equally applicable to blessing at any meal (see Acts 27:35),—with the spirit—speaking the blessing in an unknown tongue,—how shall he that filleth the place of the unlearned—the place of one unacquainted with the language used,—say the Amen (the accustomed response) at thy giving of thanks, seeing he knoweth not what thou sayest? This practice of giving the audible response was borrowed from the synagogue, in which all the worshippers were expected to utter the Amen with such heartiness as to shew that they entered fully into what was said. In the Christian assemblies, says Justin Martyr (circ. A.D. 150), “after prayers bread and wine are offered, and water, and the president, according to his ability, offers up prayers and thanksgivings at once.” (Apol. c. 65, 67.) This allusion of the apostle to the cordial response of the hearers was much to the point, since it would be meaningless mockery if the thing uttered were unintelligible. In the light of these facts those churches have not done well, we think, that have dropped out the audible response—the uttered “Amen”—of the congregation, by which alone they have it in their power to express their cordial sympathy with what is uttered in prayer by the officiating minister.


Verse 17

1 Corinthians 14:17. For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified—‘Your own part may be done out of a full heart, but all in vain to your hearers.’


Verse 18

1 Corinthians 14:18. I thank God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding—so as to be understood by others (see on 1 Corinthians 14:14).—that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.


Verse 20

1 Corinthians 14:20. Brethren, be not children in understanding—‘power of judging,’—howbeit in malice be children, but in understanding be men (Gr. ‘perfect,’ ‘mature’): let your manly sense be applied to this subject, and ye will need neither direction nor persuasion from me: to babble in an unintelligible tongue better becomes children than men; but in that malice which rivalry, envy, and jealousy beget, ye do well to be as babes.


Verse 21

1 Corinthians 14:21. In the law (the Old Testament Scriptures) it is written, By men of strange tongues, and by the lips of strangers (Gr. ‘of others’) will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord (Isaiah 28:11-12). The Jews were there warned that since they refused the simple teaching of God’s prophet, they should be taught in a tongue they understood not (that of the Assyrians). See Isaiah 36:11. And since this use of an “unknown tongue” was sent in judgment, see (says the apostle) that ye avoid using a tongue which none understand.


Verse 22

1 Corinthians 14:22. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to the unbelieving—who, on hearing their own language spoken by those who themselves understood it not, would be filled with awe,—but prophesying is for a sign, not to the unbelieving, but to them that believe.


Verse 23

1 Corinthians 14:23. If therefore the whole church be assembled together, and all speak with tongues, and there come in men unlearned or unbelieving—not members of the church, and not understanding the tongues, yet not hostile or captious, but such as those in Acts 2:13,—will they not say that ye are mad?—to the scandal of the Christian name.


Verse 24

1 Corinthians 14:24. But (on the other hand) if all prophesy—in succession, as directed, 1 Corinthians 14:30-33and there come in one unbelieving or unlearned (the same two classes as in the foregoing verse), he is reproved (or ‘convicted’), he is judged (‘searched,’ ‘discovered’) by all—his state and character are laid bare to himself by all the inspired speakers (compare John 3:19; John 3:21; Hebrews 4:12, where the same searching, self-discovering character of the Divine word is strikingly expressed).


Verse 25

1 Corinthians 14:25. (1) the secrets of his heart are made manifest; and so he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed—probably by an open confession, giving vent to the irresistible conviction that had seized him. (The words are taken from Isaiah 45:14.) Such self-revealing effects of Divine truth upon an audience are still to be seen, and hearers of the word are ready to charge the preacher with laying bare certain bad features of their own private character which could only be known to them by some tell-tale.


Verse 26

1 Corinthians 14:26. What is it, then, brethren?

Does your practice correspond with the principles now expounded and enforced? Nay,—when ye come together, each one(1) hath a psalm—to “sing in the spirit” (see 1 Corinthians 14:15),—hath a doctrine—some truth to utter “in the spirit,”—hath a revelation—something revealed to him to be imparted to others,—hath a tongue, hath an interpretation(2)—to speak in, while another has the interpretation to give; and each is eager to exercise his own gift, and all to speak at once, or one to step in before another. In place of this confusion, Let all things be done unto edifying—a sufficient general direction for the ordering of public worship. But since specific directions on some points of difficulty seem to have been asked, these are now subjoined.


Verse 27

1 Corinthians 14:27. If any man speaketh in a tongue, let it be by two or at the most by three—that is, only so many at one meeting should exercise their gift,—and that in turn; and let one interpret—even though more than one should have that gift.


Verse 28

1 Corinthians 14:28. but if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church: and let him speak to himself, and to God—in the way explained on 1 Corinthians 14:4.


Verse 29

1 Corinthians 14:29. And let the prophets speak by two or three—at one meeting, and only in turn,—and let the others judge—‘let the other prophets discern whether it proceeds from the Spirit of God.’


Verse 30

1 Corinthians 14:30. But if a revelation is made to another sitting by—in the attitude of a hearer, while another prophet is speaking.

let the first keep silence—probably on some hint to that effect being given to the speaker.


Verse 31

1 Corinthians 14:31. For ye all may prophesy one by one—who possess that gift,—that all may he comforted (see 1 Corinthians 14:3).


Verse 32

1 Corinthians 14:32. and (bear in mind that) the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets—not to other prophets (as unhappily is the view of Calvin, Beza, Estius, and one or two recent critics),—else how could the apostle have said, “let the first keep silence”? as Meyer well asks,—but ‘subject to their own control.’ The statement is thus in glorious contrast with demoniacal impulses, under no control of consciousness and rational will (such cases, for example, as Acts 16:16-18; Acts 19:13-16), and with all wild, incontrollable ravings. The Divine gift of prophecy left the gifted in full possession of their own faculties, enabling them to regulate and exercise their gift according to their own judgment of propriety as to the time and the mode of its exercise.


Verse 33

1 Corinthians 14:33. for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace—such as His organs therefore ought to be,—as in all the churches of the saints—and so surely in yours.(1)


Verse 34

1 Corinthians 14:34. Let the women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law—referring probably to Genesis 3:16, of which idea all subsequent passages of the same import are but repetitions and expansions.


Verse 35

1 Corinthians 14:35. And if they will learn anything—an explanation of something spoken at the meeting,—let them ask their own husbands at home: for it is shameful for a woman(1) to speak in the church.

Note.—On the subject of women officiating in the public assemblies, there is an apparent discrepancy between chap. 11 and chap. 14. In the one chapter they are supposed to “pray” and “prophesy” in the public assemblies, without a word of disapproval, nay, with directions how to do it: here, the thing is expressly forbidden. That the female sex were to be endowed with the gift of prophecy, and this of course to be exercised, was predicted as one of the characteristics of the dispensation of the Spirit (Joel 2:28-29); and on the day of Pentecost it was realised (Acts 2:4, Acts 2:16-18), as afterwards (Acts 21:9), and in the Church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:5). What forced on the question whether such a gift should be exercised in the public assemblies, was a certain unseemliness about it, as practised at Corinth, which so impressed some in that Church as to occasion one of their questions for the apostle to answer. The practice of these prophesying females at Corinth seems to have been to put off their head-dress on rising to “pray” or “prophesy in the spirit,” that being the usual practice of the male speakers. But in a woman that “would be instinctively felt to be indecorous, and the impression would gradually arise that by such public appearances woman was drawn out of her natural sphere. Supposing, then, that this was the actual state of things at Corinth, and the apostle had to deal with it in this form, the method actually taken here seems most natural—to deduce, first, from the relation of the sexes to each other, how each should exercise those gifts in public, if so exercised at all, namely, by the males uncovered, and the females covered; reserving for a subsequent stage the consideration of the further question, whether such a practice should at all be encouraged in the Church. And that further question comes in most suitably where we find it—ch. 14.—under the head of how those extraordinary spiritual gifts, which were so abundantly possessed at Corinth, should be exercised so as most to promote spiritual edification. And the decision here given is so explicit and so peremptory, that the only wonder is how any candid reader should question it. To Timothy the prohibition to females of the right to exercise their gifts in the public assemblies is even more explicit:—” I desire therefore that the men (Gr. ‘the males’) pray in every place. ... In like manner, that women (the other sex) adorn themselves in modest apparel. . . . Let a woman learn in quietness, with all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man. Attempts have been made to shew that only despotic teaching is meant; but the next words—“but to be in quietness,” should shew that entire silence in the public assemblies, in the exercise of gifts, is manifestly intended. Doubtless there are exceptional cases, as in everything else. And to disown all saving benefit experienced in exceptional ways is to sacrifice the end out of concern for the means. It is the truth that saves and sanctifies; and howsoever that truth enters any heart, if the result is undeniable, the hand of God in it is to be recognised, even though the instrumentality employed should be inconsistent with good order.

Having finished these directions, the apostle has a word to say to those who would demur to them.


Verse 36

1 Corinthians 14:36. What? was it for you that the word of God went forth, or came it unto you alone?—‘Do other churches need to learn of you how God would have the services of His Church conducted?’


Verse 37

1 Corinthians 14:37. (1) If any man thinketh himself to be a prophet, or spiritual (spiritually gifted), let him (shew it by being ready to) acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandment(2) of the Lord—for inspiration cannot disown inspiration.


Verse 38

1 Corinthians 14:38. But if any man is ignorant, let him be ignorant:—‘If he will persist in his ignorance and obstinacy, let him remain so.’


Verse 39

1 Corinthians 14:39. Wherefore (to wind up), my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy: ‘If bent on the possession and exercise of spiritual gifts, let prophecy be that which ye most covet,’—and (at the same time) forbid not to speak with tongues—though an inferior gift; for that would be to “quench the Spirit”


Verse 40

1 Corinthians 14:40. But (whatever ye do in particular cases) let all things be done decently and in good order—alike as to time, manner, and measure.

Note.—This chapter discloses a state of things so singular—to which no parallel can be found in later times, and one never to be looked for in future—that one might think it furnishes no abiding instruction. But its spirit and principles will be found to go far beyond its details, and to have a voice for every age. For example, is edification the great thing to be aimed at in the public services of the Church? Surely, then, whatever is uttered should be intelligible to the worshippers, and hence to conduct the service in a dead language—as is done over all Roman Christendom—is to incur the apostolic rebuke:—“If I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh will be a barbarian to me” (1 Corinthians 14:11). Again, if edification is the standard by which to try all methods of public service, then, while everything in oratory, argument, and emotion which is fitted to carry home more powerfully the great truths and duties of the Gospel, is to be encouraged as gifts consecrated to the Master’s use—all mere display of such gifts is not only out of place, but offensive alike to the eyes of God’s glory and the better feelings and even good taste of the hearers. Finally, those who subordinate, and all but extrude, preaching and teaching in the public assemblies of the Church—giving an all but exclusive place to liturgical and eucharistical services—have certainly neither imbibed the apostolical spirit nor copied the primitive model.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/1-corinthians-14.html. 1879-90.

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