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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 14

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

a. Tongues inferior to prophecy, as less building-up the Church, 1 Corinthians 14:1-21.

1. Follow after love—Which all are able to attain, and which is the ordinary, central, permanent grace of the Church.

Desire—Be emulous for.

Spiritual gifts—Which are for the few, and are transient.


Verse 2

2. Unknown tongue—The word unknown, though interpolated by the translator, expresses the truth. The “tongues” were unintelligible to the congregation unless interpreted. And herein they were far inferior to the pentecostal tongues, which spoke to every man in his native dialect. Perhaps we may say that the difference was, that the pentecostal Spirit brought all (save the mockers) into full spiritual communication with the speakers, so that they were all charismatic interpreters.

Dr. Poor, in Schaff’s Lange, takes the ground that the Corinthian charismatic language consisted not in speaking foreign languages, but in speaking a speech, “new and clean,” formed by the Spirit himself, inasmuch as the foreign tongues of that day were defiled with paganism. But we reply, by the ordinary view the pentecostal tongues were foreign and pagan. Yet may we not unite his view with our own? Let us suppose that the true new tongue was the Spirit language heard by St. Paul near the third heaven. This language can be received only by those like St. John, (Revelation 1:10,) more or less “in the Spirit.” Yet the converse of pure spirits is not through the medium of sound, but is the pure and perfect impartation of the thought itself. When man receives it into his spirit it tends to take the form of language—sometimes of his own native language; sometimes, by diffusive sympathy, of foreign human dialects; sometimes of vocalities belonging to no known language, yet inherently expressive of the thought. In the latter case the man may lack the power of interpreting the thought into ordinary language, and yet the hearer, brought into sympathy, may perform the office of interpreter, as explained in our note on 1 Corinthians 14:5.

Unto God—As his only real hearer.

In the Spirit—In his own spirit.

Mysteries—The mysteries of the gospel previously unknown to men.

A modern resemblance to the gift of tongues was that in the church of the celebrated Edward Irving. We give the following passage from a witness of the phenomena, which we take from Stanley, p. 252:— “As an instance of the extraordinary change in the powers of the human voice when under inspiration, I may here mention the case of an individual whose natural voice was inharmonious, and who, besides, had no ear for keeping time. Yet even the voice of this person, when singing in the spirit, could pour forth a rich strain of melody of which each note was musical, and uttered with a sweetness and power of expression that was truly astonishing; and, what is still more singular, with a gradually increasing velocity into a rapidity, yet distinctness, of utterance which is inconceivable by those who have never witnessed the like: and yet, with all his apparently breathless haste, there was not in reality the slightest agitation of body or of mind. In other instances the voice is deep and powerfully impressive. I cannot describe it better than by saying that it approaches nearly to what might be considered a perfect state of the voice, passing far beyond the energies of its natural strength, and at times so loud as not only to fill the whole house, but to be heard at a considerable distance; and though often accompanied by an apparently great mental energy and muscular exertion of the whole body, yet in truth there was not the slightest disturbance of either; on the contrary, there was present a tranquillity and composure both of body and of mind the very opposite to any, even the least degree of, excitement.

“The consciousness of the presence of God in these manifestations is fraught with such a holy solemnity of thought and feeling as leave neither leisure nor inclination for curious observation. In a person alive to the presence of the Holy Ghost, and overwhelmed by his manifestations beside and around him, and deeply conscious that upon his heart, naked and exposed, rests the eye of God, one thought alone fills his soul, one wail of utterance is heard, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ Nor can the eye be diverted from the only sight that is precious to it, far more precious than life itself, ‘The Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.’”

The following is from a subject of the influence:

“I read the fourth chapter of Malachi; as I read the power came upon me, and I was made to read with power. My voice was raised far beyond its natural pitch with a constrained repetition of parts, and with the same inward uplifting, which at the presence of the power I had always experienced. Whilst sitting at home it came upon me, but for a considerable time no impulse to utterance; presently a sentence in French was vividly set before my mind, and under the impulse to utterance was spoken. Then, in a little time, sentences in Latin were in a like manner uttered; and, with short intervals, sentences in many other languages. Judging from the sound and the different exercise of the enunciating organs, my wife, who was with me, thought some of them to be Italian or Spanish; the first she can read and translate, the second she knows but little of. Sometimes single words were given me, and sometimes sentences, though I could neither recognise the words nor sentences as any language I knew, except those which were French or Latin.… My persuasion concerning the unknown tongue, as it is called, (in which I myself was very little exercised,) is, that it is no language whatever, but a mere collection of words and sentences; and in the lengthened discourses is, most of it, a jargon of sounds; though I can conceive, when the power is very great, that it will assume much of the form of a connected oration.”—P. 254.

Dr. Bushnell has, in his “Natural and Supernatural,” a suggestive chapter on gifts. He relates that in New England, at a place designated as H., at a religious meeting, “After one of the brethren had been speaking in a strain of discouraging self-accusation, another present shortly rose with a strange, beaming look, and, fixing his eye on the confessing brother, broke out in a discourse of sounds wholly unintelligible though apparently a true language, accompanying the utterances with strange and peculiarly impressive gestures, such as he never made at any other time; coming finally to a kind of pause, and commencing again as if at the same point, to go over in English, with exactly the same gestures, what had just been said. It appeared to be an interpretation, and the matter of it was a beautifully emphatic utterance of the great principle of self-renunciation, by which the desired victory over self is to be obtained. The circle were astounded by the demonstration, not knowing what to make of it. The instinct of prudence threw them in an observing, a general, silence; and it is a curious fact that the public in H. have never to this hour been startled by so much as a rumour of a gift of tongues, neither has the name of the speaker been associated with so much as a surmise of the real or supposed fact, by which he would be, perhaps, unenviably distinguished. It has been to him a great trial, it is said, to submit himself to this demonstration, which has recurred several times.”—P. 479.


Verse 3

3. Prophesieth—As the Spirit selects for its instruments the persons most qualified by nature for its special work, so the individual naturally susceptible to presentiment would be gifted with the prophetic charism.


Verse 4

4. Edifieth himself—The very inspiration elevates and delights his spirit, while his own utterance of divine mysteries reacts upon and edifieth himself. Though he keep silence, (1 Corinthians 14:28,) he goes not unblest.

Edifieth the Church—By clear and instructive thought, and, perhaps, supernatural prediction.


Verse 5

5. I would… all spake with tongues—Not a mere concession to the prejudices of the Corinthians, but a hearty endorsement of the gift as good in its place.

But rather… prophesied—The apostle is wisely utilitarian.

He adjudges the palm of superiority to the more useful gift. Catalepsies and trances are viewed with wonder; but that very wonder is not religious or sanctifying, and may take the place of holier thought. Nor has it been found that the subjects of them are the holiest persons in the Church; just as the Corinthian Church, though most exercised by these gifts, was by no means eminent among the Churches for its holiness. And so the existence of this phenomenon in the Irvingite assemblies was no proof of superior holiness.

Except he interpret—For either the charismatic speaker may follow his utterance with an interpretation, (as in the case adduced by Dr. Bushnell,) or another person gifted with interpretation might interpret. This clause seems to imply that the utterer with tongues could not always explain his own utterance. The inspiration reached the spirit, and wakened powerful emotions, but did not quicken the understanding; so that the vocality, though expressive, was not understood as words by the subject himself.


Verse 6

6. If I—St. Paul states, as often, the disparaging supposition as of himself. He makes this supposition in order at some length to unfold the lesser utility of tongues.

Either by—Some process by which intelligent thought is conveyed. Of the four, revelation means some vision or announcement from the spiritual world; knowledge, some perception by the discerner of spirits; prophesying, some prediction or supernaturally heart-searching discourse; doctrine, or teaching, some exposition of the established truths of Christianity or of the Old Testament.


Verse 7

7. Distinction—Into high or low, sharp or obtuse, etc.


Verses 7-9

7-9. Paul illustrates the inutility of uninterpreted tongues by the worthlessness of a signal instrument—as a trumpet signaling the commencement of battle—which has no significant notes.


Verse 8

8. Trumpet—By different notes, or even tunes, upon the military trumpet the army was signaled either to advance, retreat, prepare for battle, go into quarters, etc. Sometimes the opposite army learned the signals and were able to use them by stratagem. Sometimes by counter stratagem the enemy was made to believe the signals, and was deceived to his own damage.

Prepare… battle—If the signal should be uncertain the army would be in confusion, not knowing what movement to make.


Verse 9

9. Words easy to be understood—The unexplained tongue is like the uncertain trumpet; it communicates no idea, and leaves the hearer no wiser than it found him.

Speak into the air—Just as the unaiming athlete beateth the air. If your speech be a nothing, your proper hearer is empty space.


Verse 10

10. So many… voices—So many speeches, dialects, or languages. The Jews customarily reckoned human languages to be seventy in number.

Without signification—Literally, none of them (speeches) is speechless. They all say something; express a signification.


Verse 11

11. Meaning of the voice—Literally, the force of the speech.

A barbarian—The Greeks were proud of their own race and of their own language, and the talk of a foreigner was a mere bar bar, and so they called the foreigner a barbaros, or babbler. Hence Greek and barbarian, in Romans 1:14, is an antithesis for all the world, like Jew and Gentile.

The antithesis was first founded, as here, on language; but barbarian has finally come to signify uncivilized.


Verse 12

12. Edifying—Be not by your tongue a barbarian to the Church, but an edifier, an upbuilder of it.


Verse 13

13. Pray… may interpret—This has been construed by many commentators to mean pray in order that, or with the purpose to, interpret. This must not imply that the speaking with a tongue was always prayer. For, 1. The pentecostal tongues were rather praise than prayer, and apparently addressed to the people. 2. An interpreter would usually be more suitable for a discourse than for prayer. 3. It is not unworthy of consideration that in Mr. Bushnell’s narrative the tongue was hortatory, and, 4. We can see nothing in the nature of the “tongue” prohibiting the idea of its being used for every mode of exercise. We render it, Let him so pray that he may be enabled afterwards to interpret his prayer. By that means, as in Mr. Bushnell’s instance, he may follow the discourse with an interpretation, and the divine charism gives the discourse a divine authority.


Verse 14

14. If I pray—And do not follow with an interpretation. Spirit…

understanding—The former is the religious faculty by which we commune with God; the inner and higher man; the seat of sacred emotions: the latter is the intelligence by which we know and reason about matters presented to our thought. Prayer in an unknown tongue may stir the man’s own holy emotions, but no definite ideas are conveyed to the understanding of the hearers. Perhaps his own understanding does not form any distinct and expressible ideas, so that he does not, in fact, take the precise meaning of the words he utters.

Unfruitful—Productive of no distinct ideas which can be remembered and carried away by myself and others.


Verse 15

15. What is it then—Compare notes on Romans 3:9; Romans 6:15. This is a question by which the general result of the argument is asked. What is the conclusion of the whole matter?

With the spirit—My higher spiritual emotional nature.

Understanding also—With my intellect, so that complete, active thought may be exercised and retained both by myself and others.

Sing—Paul had no Quaker hostility to sacred music. Very early must the Church have formed some sort of a hymnology. One is, indeed, inclined to wonder why no psalms or hymns have formed a part of the New Testament canon. But this word does not necessarily imply the regularly formed hymn in all cases, but the lofty chant of the charismatic tongue.


Verse 16

16. Bless—The explanation given by Stanley is here apposite: “The ‘thanksgiving’ or ‘blessing’ of which Paul speaks seems to be that which accompanied the Lord’s supper, and whence it derived its name of the ‘eucharist.’ In answer to this thanksgiving the congregation utter their ‘amen.’ ‘After the prayers,’ says Justin, (Ap., c. 65, 67,) ‘bread is offered, and wine and water, and the president offers, according to his power, prayers and thanksgivings at once, and the people shout the amen.’ The president offers praise and glory to the Father of all, through the name of his Son and of the Holy Spirit, and at length returns thanks to God for having vouchsafed us to partake of these things. When he has finished the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present shout, saying, ‘Amen,’ which is the Hebrew for ‘So be it.’”

The unlearned—The Greek word here (same as in Acts 4:13, where see note) signifies an unofficial or non-professional man, in antithesis with the official officiating, or professional man. In reference to a priest or clergyman, it signifies a layman; a private man instead of a public man, or a philosopher. Here it signifies the ungifted, in opposition to the gifted. But even the gifted might, while listening to another’s charismatic performance, be said to occupy the room of the ungifted.

Amen—In the Greek with an article, the Amen. “The ‘amen’ thus used was borrowed from the worship of the synagogue, and hence, probably, the article is prefixed as to a well-known form. It was then regarded as the necessary ratification of the prayer or blessing. ‘He who says amen is greater than he that blesses,’ (Barashoth, 1 Corinthians 8:8.) ‘Whoever says amen, to him the gates of paradise are open,’ according to Isaiah 26:2, whence they read, ‘Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the amen may enter in.’—WETSTEIN, ad loc. An ‘amen’ if not well considered was called an ‘orphan amen.’—(LIGHTFOOT, ad loc.)

‘Whoever says an orphan amen, his children shall be orphans; whoever answers amen hastily or shortly, his days shall be shortened; whoever answers amen distinctly and at length, his days shall be lengthened.’— (Barashoth, 47:1; SCHOTTGEN, ad loc.) Compare the use of the word as uttered by the vast assembly of pilgrims at Mecca, to express their assent to the great sermon at the Kaaba.—(BURTON’S Pilgrimage, iii, p. 314.)

“So in the early Christian liturgies, it was regarded as a marked point in the service, and with this agrees the great solemnity with which Justin speaks of it, as though it were on a level with the thanksgiving; ‘the president having given thanks, and the whole people having shouted their approbation.’ And in later times, the amen was only repeated once by the congregation, and always after the great thanksgiving, and with a shout like a peal of thunder.”— Stanley, p. 263.


Verse 17

17. Not edified—Completely and conclusively does Paul’s language and reasoning forbid the Romish use of the Latin language in divine service all over the world. It is an unknown tongue, and, therefore, the people are not edified. It is useless for Rome to reply that it was only unknown charismatic tongues that were forbidden. For if even an inspired person might not speak Latin without a translation, much more the uninspired.

This was often done in former times by priests who did not themselves understand Latin; and Fulke, in his “Confutation of the Rhemish Testament,” gives some amusing specimens of murdered Latin current in the Romish utterance of the ritual.


Verse 18

18. Thank… God—Paul here indicates, 1. That the charism of tongues was a gift to be thankful for; 2. Calls to mind, in a manner implying that the Corinthians would not deny, the affluence of his gifts; 3. Implies that he not only possessed, but used, the power in actual exercise; 4. That, therefore, he assigned tongues a subordinate place from no envy to those displaying them; and, 5. Prepares by all this for his decisive sentence next to be uttered against the use of tongues uninterpreted.


Verse 19

19. In the church—In the Christian assembly gathered for religious exercises, as prayer, praise, (singing,) prophecy, (preaching,) and other modes suggested by the Spirit.

Five words—A definite small number designed to give sharpness to his sentence.

Ten thousand—Besser, quoted by Kling, says “rather half of ten, if of the edifying sort, than a thousand times ten of the other.” So that “the edifying sort” was twenty thousand times the better.


Verse 20

20. Brethren—Beginning on another key, with an affectionate confidential undertone, yet of reproof.

Children—They were like children preferring profitless sound to profitable thought.

Howbeit—As if suddenly recollecting that there was a point, namely, malice, in which they might well resemble infants, which the Greek for this second word children really signifies.

Men—Perfect, grown up persons.


Verse 21

21. The law—The Old Testament as a whole; as in John 10:34; John 12:34; John 15:25. The passage alluded to by Paul is Isaiah 28:13. The Israelites had complained that Jehovah had drilled them like children, with precept upon precept and line upon line; and Jehovah retorts, with terrible sarcasm, that he would give them instructors with another tongue, namely, the Assyrian armies, and yet they will not hear. St. Paul quotes this as an impressive type, indicating that foreign tongues spoken in the Church, though intended for the conversion of unbelievers, had a fearful precedent of failing of the effect. Other tongues—Gentile tongues, like those of the charismatic Corinthians; not miraculous tongues, however, yet brought by God’s overruling providence upon Israel.


Verse 22

b. Illustration of the inferiority of tongues to prophecy, 1 Corinthians 14:22-25.

22. Wherefore—In peculiar conformity with this type.

Tongues… a sign… to them that believe not—Their miraculous and startling character rendered them a sign for the conviction of unbelievers; just as the Assyrian tongues were for the bringing Israel to repentance. For the conviction of unbelievers were the charismatic tongues intended, and this they would often effect if rightly exercised. The notion of some commentators, that Paul teaches that tongues are a sign of judgment upon incorrigible unbelievers, is contrary to the whole history and character of that charism and entirely unsustained by Paul’s words. The pentecostal tongues, though rejected by the mockers, were intended to convert all who heard them, and did effect the object to a glorious extent. The charism, by its very nature, points to a reception of the gospel by the nations. If they are an adumbration of the one tongue of Paradise, they are a cheerful and glorious image. By their appealing to the ear of the foreigner in his own home dialect, as well as by their thrilling, supernatural impressiveness, they were a sign most convincing to the unbeliever; just as Paul says the signs of an apostle were wrought by him for the conversion of the Corinthians themselves. Yet all happy results depended upon their proper use, otherwise unbelievers would reject those displaying them as mad; as in next verse.


Verse 23

23. If therefore—Paul now shows how a mismanagement of tongues will verify the prediction, (Isaiah 28:12,) they would not hear; and in so doing furnishes in these two verses one of the most vivid and interesting pictures of the process of conversion in a live Church of the apostolic age. We learn how improper management aggravated unbelief and brought obloquy upon religion: and how the vivid presentation of truth searched the life and soul of the hearer though and through, pierced him with conviction, and brought him down in prayer and complete self-surrender on the spot. Paul, no doubt, was familiar with such events, and many a powerful preacher since his day has witnessed the power of truth to convert the soul.

All speak with tongues—Not all at once; (just as all prophesy, in the next verse, does not mean all prophesy at once;) but no performer does any thing else but speak with tongues. There is no prophesying, or teaching, or interpreting; nothing but one lofty chant of tongues from different performers through the whole meeting. It is all vox et praeterea nihil. Not one distinct idea for the stranger through the whole.

Unlearned—Same word as in 1 Corinthians 14:16ungifted persons; who neither speak, nor interpret, nor understand charismatically. Their want of share in the gift results in want of sympathy and in unbelief.

Unbelievers—Pagans or Jews.

Ye are mad—They will pronounce you at once unintelligent fanatics. From all this it would seem to follow that these Corinthian tongues did not express to the unsympathizing foreigner any connected discourse; and this sinking below the pentecostal standard was the reason of Paul’s just disparagement of them. From the Greek word for mad, μαινεσθε, come our words mania, maniac. The Greek word μαντις, a prophet, belongs to the same root, because the sacred mania by which the prophet was possessed was considered as a prophetic influence.


Verse 24

24. If all prophesy—If a strain of inspired preaching continue through the whole meeting, then intelligent thought is produced and conviction of sinners follows.

Convinced—Literally, detected, or convicted. That is, he is detected to himself as a transgressor, a sinner beneath the eye of God. His sins are brought before his own view. The word for judged signifies to cross-examine, as a judge or lawyer, with probing questions. The truth searchingly questions the man as to his character before God. He is like a culprit under the inquisition of his judge.

Of all—Of or by all the prophecies. Not that they directly question him in person; but the truths they deliver do compel his conscience to question himself.


Verse 25

25. Secrets of his heart—The man (as has often been the case under a searching ministry) feels as if the speaker knew him through and through, and was preaching at, and to, and through him alone.

Falling… face—In complete submission, self-surrender, and worship.

Report—As Dr. Hodge says, “The man who has had such an experience cannot keep it to himself.” He will joyfully declare, in substance, that he “has experienced religion;”

or, if witlings will so have it, he “has got religion.”

That God—No longer identified with the deities of heathen mythology.

Is in you—Both among you as a Church, and in your hearts individually by his Spirit.


Verse 26

c. Rules for the most orderly and effective exercise of both tongues and prophecy, 1 Corinthians 14:26-33.

26. Every one—Rather, each one. Used not to indicate that all of them had an exercise to offer, but to signify that the gifts were distributed one to an individual, and not all to one or all to all.

Hath a psalm—Some train of Christian thought expressed in rhythmical language, to be chanted or sung.

Hath a doctrine… revelation—See note on 1 Corinthians 14:6.

Edifying—St. Paul would again test the gift or the exercise by its results—does it profit, convert sinners, build up the Church?


Verse 27

27. By two… three—That is, let but two or three exercise the unknown tongue at a single meeting; and not even that unless one, either the speaker himself or another, interpret.

By course—One at a time; neither two together, nor one eagerly interrupting the other.


Verse 28

28. No interpreter—If there were no interpreter, neither the charismatic speaker himself, nor any other person, then the charismatic must keep silence. If the power of the Spirit was so great as not only to fill his human spirit and prompt vocal utterances, but without so pervading his understanding that he could interpret the words, it might nevertheless bring into communication with itself the understanding of some susceptible person present, so that he could interpret. The divine thought would then be given to the supernatural vocality, and both together would combine to fulfil the purpose of being a sign to them that believe not. It would then be felt by the consciences of men that the tongues were not only supernatural, but that they were holy and divine.

Speak to himself—The divine thoughts wrought in the man’s spirit refused to be shaped into words of his own vernacular; and his only resources, if silenced, was to yield a mental utterance of the charismatic words to himself, and thus experience the blessed reaction described in our note on 1 Corinthians 5:2.

To God— Since often the utterance would be prayer or praise.


Verse 29

29. Two or three—At a single meeting, in order to secure variety. He does not add at the most, as in regard to tongues, because he would not make the limitation so positive.


Verse 30

30. Revealed… sitteth by—If while one charismatic is speaking a special revelation is made to another, let the first stop and allow the latter to utter it, and not discourteously keep on talking and so create disorder. The reason why the first should promptly be silent is, that a revelation, just made, if genuine, is supposably not only more authoritative, but is given for immediate use, and should suspend, if not entirely supersede, the ordinary current of prophetic discourse.


Verse 31

31. Ye may—Rather, ye are able. St. Paul has given the above directions for preserving order, for they thereby were able, if they took proper care, all to prophesy, who had the gift, not simultaneously, but one by one, and so all the congregation may, by hearing a variety of discourse, learn and be comforted, or instructed.


Verse 32

32. And—Additional to the above ability of self-control, is the fact that the human spirits of the inspired prophets are not, from their inspiration, irrepressible and disorderly, but are subject to the prophets, exercising their rational powers. This means, not that the divine Spirit should be overruled; but that the disorder of the human spirit, under divine influence, should be steadied and ruled by the rational faculty, in accord with the principles of order and becomingness. This is true of each individual prophet. It is possible to be true of the collective body. So that let no one claim that he is obliged by the powerful and uncontrollable impulses of the Spirit to overbear reason, order, or decency.


Verse 33

33. And that such claims of being moved by the divine Spirit to disorder are false, is clear from this solemn fact, that God is not the author of confusion. The Greek word for confusion often signifies the political tumults of cities, and here indicates that there had been very decided disorders in Corinthian assemblies.

As in all Churches—Here, as in 1 Corinthians 11:16, Paul finishes by nailing fast his directions with the authority of the Churches of the then small Christendom. This precedent shows the incorrectness of later scholars, who, in opposition to all ancient authority, bring this clause to begin the following paragraph, making it read: “As in all the Churches of the saints let your women keep silence in the Churches.” The jingle of the double use of Churches, here, is offensive; which Dr. Hodge covers up, but does not remove, by illegitimately translating: “As is the case in all other Christian Churches, let your women keep silence in the public assemblies.” Some of the old commentators have thought necessary to insert “I teach” after as, but it is the authority of the Churches, not his own teaching in them, that Paul intends to adduce. No additional words are needed to be understood. The as, taking into its grasp 1 Corinthians 14:33, necessarily includes under one glance all the laws laid down by Paul for the Corinthian Church, under the great maxim that God is author of order alone, and places them under the sanction of the then Catholic Church. It unquestionably so lay in the apostle’s own mind.


Verse 34

34. Your women—If we suppose the mind’s eye of the apostle to be “isolated” upon such a set of women as Chrysostom, Dr. Anderson, and Thomson describe, we should utter a hearty amen to his keep silence! That he does not expressly except cases like Phoebe, whom he commended to a whole Church, or the daughters of Philip, is explicable on the ground that such a class have already been provided for in chapter 11. The New Testament contains no case of public preaching more unequivocal, and scarce any more successful, than that of the woman of Samaria to her townsmen.

Not permitted—Either by custom, propriety, or divine law.

Speak—The verb λαλειν, the root of which is λαλ, lal, is a word like prattle, chatter, and jabber, formed from imitation of senseless or childish utterances. In the classic Greek it usually retains that import, but in New Testament Greek it signifies, as here, to talk or discourse in any mode, usually with the idea of continuance. No argument can be drawn from the word in regard to the nature of the utterances which St. Paul forbids.

Under obedience—Under control both of the proper decorum of the meeting and of the regulative authority of the other sex.

Saith the law— ”Thy desire [or request] shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Genesis 3:16. See note, 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. The law is permanent, but the application of the law may vary from age to age. When obedience to, or concurrence with, the will of the other sex requires a lady of talent to lecture before an audience or preach before a congregation, it may be as proper as it was for Miriam, in obedience to Moses, to prophesy upon the timbrel before the camp of Israel.


Verse 34-35

d. This Church order must not be disturbed by the garrulity of their women, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

“Paul,” says Calvin, (note 1 Corinthians 11:5,) “attends to one thing at a time.” Truly said; for as in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 he regulated the praying and prophesying of the gifted women, so here he prohibits the garrulity of the ungifted commonalty of the sex. It was not given to Orientalism, but to our Teutonic races, to assign to woman her higher place. The Indian brahmin, the Jewish rabbi, the Greek poet, and the Roman senator, alike spoke of her with contempt, and prescribed silence as her cardinal virtue. Their penalty was to lose the blessings that cultured womanhood does now, and can still more abundantly, confer upon man. St. Paul treats the sex with the severity accordant with its then character; but no vision is vouchsafed him of woman’s better future. The Spirit, however, in persistently bestowing upon woman the gift of prophecy, clearly indicated a gracious hope. Acts 2:18.

How the rabbins crushed woman with false exegeses of the Old Testament let the following quotation show, given by Wetstein from Kidduschim, folio 29, 2: “Whence is it proved to us that a mother may not be held to teach her own son? Because it is written in Deuteronomy 5:1, ‘Ye shall teach, and ye shall learn,’ the verbs being in the masculine. Whoever are commanded to learn are commanded to teach: whoever are not commanded to learn are not commanded to teach. That a woman is not commanded to teach herself, whence is it proved? From Deuteronomy 11:19, where it is said: ‘And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.’ Whence, also, is it proved that others should not teach a woman? Because it is said, Deuteronomy 11:19, ‘Ye shall teach them to your sons; it is not said, also your daughters.’ Megilla, fol. 23, 1. The wise men say: ‘Women should not read in the law for the sake of the honour of the synagogue.’ Bloomfield quotes Bammidhar rabba, sec. 9, fol. 204, 4, “A certain matron asked Rabbi Eleazar, ‘Wherefore were the Israelites, who committed but one crime about the golden calf, punished with a threefold penalty?’ Rabbi responded: ‘Women ought to know nothing but the distaff,’ as in Proverbs 31:19. The same rabbi also spake thus: ‘May the words of the law rather be burned than placed in the hands of women!’”

So the old Roman in Valerius Maximus, 1 Corinthians 3:8 : “What has a woman to do with public haranguing? If our ancient customs prevail, nothing.” So the Greek Euripides: “For a woman silence, sobriety, and indoors, are a beauty.” Callistratus says, “The ornament of trees is foliage; of sheep, wool; of horses, the mane; of men, the beard; of women, silence.” A very extended anthology of such admonitions to women can be quoted from old eastern literature. The philosophy was the same as slavery taught in regard to negroes: keep them in ignorance and degradation, and then make that ignorance and degradation a ground of reproach, and a reason for still-continued ignorance and degradation.

The character of the women of Christian congregations in eastern Europe in the fourth century, under such a regimen, may be estimated by the following passages from Chrysostom: “Then, indeed, the women, from such teaching, kept silence; but now there is apt to be great noise among them, much clamour and talking, and nowhere so much as in this place. They may all be seen here talking more than in the market or at the bath. For, as if they came hither for recreation, they are all engaged in conversing upon unprofitable subjects. Thus all is confusion, and they seem not to understand that unless they are quiet they cannot learn any thing that is useful. For when our discourse strains against the talking, and no one minds what is said, what good can it do them?” Of present eastern women Dr. Anderson, on Oriental Churches, gives (vol. ii, p. 277) the following specimen describing an American missionary lady’s meeting with seventy or eighty females: “The chapel was nearly full of women, all sitting on the floor, and each one crowding up to get as near her as possible. They were very much like a hive of bees. The slightest thing would set them all in commotion, and they resembled a town-meeting more than a religious gathering. When a child cried it would enlist the energies of half a dozen women, with voice and gesture, to quiet it. When some striking thought of some speaker flashed upon the mind of some woman, she would begin to explain it in no moderate tones to those about her, and this would set the whole off into a bedlam of talk, which it would require two or three minutes to quell.”

Of the Palestinian women of the present day Mr. Thomson says: “Oriental women are never regarded or treated as equals by the men. This is seen on all occasions; and it requires some firmness to secure to our own ladies proper respect, especially from menservants. They pronounce women to be weak and inferior in the most absolute terms, and in accordance with this idea is their deportment toward them. Even in polite company the gentlemen must be served first. So the husband and brothers sit down and eat, and the wife, mother, and sisters wait and take what is left. If the husband or the brothers accompany their female relatives anywhere, they walk before, and the women follow at a respectful distance. It is very common to see small boys lord it over both mother and sisters in a most insolent manner, and they are encouraged to do so by the father. The evils resulting from this are incalculable. The men, however, attempt to justify their treatment of the women by the tyrant’s plea of necessity. They are obliged to govern the wives with the utmost strictness, or they would not only ruin their husbands, but themselves also. Hence, they literally use the rod upon them, especially when they have, or imagine they have, cause to doubt the wife’s fidelity. Instances are not rare in which the husband kills the wife outright for this cause, and no legal notice is taken of the murder; and, in general, the man relies on fear to keep the wife in subjection, and to restrain her from vice. She is confined closely, watched with jealousy, and every thing valuable is kept under lock and key; necessarily so, they say, for the wife will not hesitate to rob her husband if she gets an opportunity. There are many pleasing exceptions, especially among the younger Christian families. But, on the whole, the cases are rare where the husband has not, at some time or other, resorted to the lash to enforce obedience in his rebellious household. Most sensible men readily admit that this whole system is a miserable compensation to mitigate evils flowing from the very great crime of neglecting the education of females; and, during the last few years, a change has taken place in public sentiment on this subject among the intelligent Christians in Lebanon and the cities along the coast, and a strong desire to educate the females is fast spreading among them.”—The Land and the Book, vol. i, p. 187.

What Teutonic Christianity will do for woman we do not predict. It will never cause her to cease to be woman; but as her sphere enlarges she may very possibly bring some things within the circle of gracefulness and modesty which were once rightly held a shame for women (1 Corinthians 14:35) to attempt. Even now women in the Lyceum are able to address an admiring audience in full accordance with the sense of a most fastidious propriety. And no women in modern times present more perfectly the ideal of female modesty than the women of that sect which has always had its female preachers—the Friends.


Verse 35

35. Ask their husbands—With whom, according to the Jewish custom, all the education was. According to Schoettgen, women were allowed in the rabbinical schools; but only to hear, and never to speak, or ask a question.

Shame—Contrary to the existing views of propriety. Just as in 1 Corinthians 11:14, (where see note,) it is a shame for a man to wear long hair. When women are so cultured that it is not a shame, but a beauty, for a woman to speak, then the prohibition ceases because the reason for it ceases, just as the prohibition of long hair to a man ceases.


Verse 36

e. A silencer upon all rebellion against the apostolic directions in these three chapters, 1 Corinthians 14:36-40.

36. What—The abrupt exclamation seems to aim at some surprising revolt heard of by Paul, as coming from some rebellious Corinthians against his authoritative regulations.

From you… or… unto you—Did you originate Christianity, or are you only its receivers from Jerusalem, from the universal Churches and from your founder-apostle?


Verse 37

37. A prophet, or spiritual—Endowed in either case with inspiration.

Let him acknowledge—As he can if his inspiration is true.

That I write—In this whole section of three chapters, in which spiritual gifts according to Church order are discussed.

The commandments of the Lord—Delivered not to you in his own person, but through his commissioned and inspired apostle. This is a very peremptory claim to divine inspiration. This passage confirms our view, that the canon is sustained by the double authority of the inspired apostle and the charismatic Church. See note, 1 Corinthians 4:21.


Verse 38

38. If—A second if antithetic to the first if of 1 Corinthians 14:37. If any man be spiritual, let him acknowledge my words; if, on the other hand, he be not spiritual, but so refractory as to ignore what I say, let him be left to his ignoring as incorrigible and unworthy further labour. Here the ignorance is held to lie in the will, and is, therefore, impervious to argument. Another, but not well-authorized reading would be, let him be ignored.


Verse 39

39. Wherefore—The net conclusion of the entire section.

Covet… forbid not—The settled rank of these two gifts; one to be a chief aim, the other to be regulated and allowed.


Verse 40

40. Decently—Seemlily; the reverse Greek word to unseemly in 1 Corinthians 13:5. That which accords with the sense of the becoming.

Order—Each exercise single and in due succession. So Josephus is quoted by Alford as saying of the Essenes, “Neither loud voice nor tumult ever dishonours their house, but their discourses they yield to each other in order.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-corinthians-14.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 11th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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