Matthew Henry Complete Commentary1 Corinthians 14
on the Whole Bible
In this chapter the apostle directs them about the use of their
spiritual gifts, preferring those that are best and fitted to do the
I. He begins with advising them of all spiritual gifts to prefer
prophesying, and shows that this is much better than speaking with
1 Corinthians 14:1-5.
II. He goes on to show them how unprofitable the speaking of foreign
languages is, and useless to the church; it is like piping in one tone,
like sounding a trumpet without any certain note, like talking
gibberish; whereas gifts should be used for the good of the church,
1 Corinthians 14:6-14.
III. He advises that worship should be celebrated so that the most
ignorant might understand, and join in prayer and praise, and presses
the advice by his own example,
1 Corinthians 14:15-20.
IV. He informs them that tongues were a sign for unbelievers rather
than those that believe; and represents the advantage of prophecy above
speaking with tongues, from the different suggestions they would give
to the mind of an unbeliever coming into their assemblies,
1 Corinthians 14:21-25.
V. He blames them for the disorder and confusion they had brought into
the assembly, by their vanity and ostentation of their gifts; and
directs them in using the gifts both of tongues and prophecy,
1 Corinthians 14:26-33.
VI. He forbids women speaking in the church; and closes this subject by
requiring them to perform every thing in the public worship with order
1 Corinthians 14:34-40.
On Spiritual Gifts.
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1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but
rather that ye may prophesy.
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.
3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification,
and exhortation, and comfort.
4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but
he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
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
The apostle, in the foregoing chapter, had himself preferred, and
advised the Corinthians to prefer, Christian charity to all spiritual
gifts. Here he teaches them, among spiritual gifts, which they should
prefer, and by what rules they should make comparison. He begins the
I. With an exhortation to charity
(1 Corinthians 14:1):
Follow after charity, pursue it. The original,
diokete, when spoken of a thing, signifies a singular
concern to obtain it; and is commonly taken in a good and laudable
sense. It is an exhortation to obtain charity, to get this excellent
disposition of mind upon any terms, whatever pains or prayers it may
cost: as if he had said, "In whatever you fail, see you do not miss of
this; the principal of all graces is worth your getting at any
II. He directs them which spiritual gift to prefer, from a principle of
charity: "Desire spiritual gifts, but rather that you may
prophesy, or chiefly that you may prophesy." While they were in
close pursuit of charity, and made this Christian disposition their
chief scope, they might be zealous of spiritual gifts, be ambitious of
them in some measure, but especially of prophesying, that is, of
interpreting scripture. This preference would most plainly discover
that they were indeed upon such pursuit, that they had a due value for
Christian charity, and were intent upon it. Note, Gifts are fit objects
of our desire and pursuit, in subordination to grace and charity. That
should be sought first and with the greatest earnestness which is most
III. He assigns the reasons of this preference. And it is remarkable
here that he only compares prophesying with speaking with tongues. It
seems, this was the gift on which the Corinthians principally valued
themselves. This was more ostentatious than the plain interpretation of
scripture, more fit to gratify pride, but less fit to pursue the
purposes of Christian charity; it would not equally edify nor do good
to the souls of men. For,
1. He that spoke with tongues must wholly speak between God and
himself; for, whatever mysteries might be communicated in his language,
none of his own countrymen could understand them, because they did not
understand the language,
1 Corinthians 14:2.
Note, What cannot be understood can never edify. No advantage can be
reaped from the most excellent discourses, if delivered in
unintelligible language, such as the audience can neither speak nor
understand: but he that prophesies speaks to the advantage of his
hearers; they may profit by his gift. Interpretation of scripture will
be for their edification; they may be exhorted and comforted by it,
1 Corinthians 14:3.
And indeed these two must go together. Duty is the proper way to
comfort; and those that would be comforted must bear being exhorted.
2. He that speaks with tongues may edify himself,
1 Corinthians 14:4.
He may understand and be affected with what he speaks; and so every
minister should; and he that is most edified himself is in the
disposition and fitness to do good to others by what he speaks; but he
that speaks with tongues, or language unknown, can only edify himself;
others can reap no benefit from his speech. Whereas the end of speaking
in the church is to edify the church
(1 Corinthians 14:4),
to which prophesying, or interpreting scripture by inspiration or
otherwise, is immediately adapted. Note, That is the best and most
eligible gift which best answers the purposes of charity and does most
good; not that which can edify ourselves only, but that which will
edify the church. Such is prophesying, or preaching, and interpreting
scripture, compared with speaking in an unknown tongue.
3. Indeed, no gift is to be despised, but the best gifts are to be
preferred. I could wish, says the apostle, that you all spoke
with tongues, but rather that you prophesied,
1 Corinthians 14:5.
Every gift of God is a favour from God, and may be improved for his
glory, and as such is to be valued and thankfully received; but then
those are to be most valued that are most useful. Greater is he that
prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, unless he interpret,
that the church may receive edifying,
1 Corinthians 14:5.
Benevolence makes a man truly great. It is more blessed to give than
to receive. And it is true magnanimity to study and seek to be
useful to others, rather than to raise their admiration and draw their
esteem. Such a man has a large soul, copious and diffused in proportion
to his benevolence and bent of mind for public good. Greater is he who
interprets scripture to edify the church than he who speaks tongues to
recommend himself. And what other end he who spoke with tongues could
have, unless he interpreted what he spoke, is not easy to say, Note,
That makes most for the honour of a minister which is most for the
church's edification, not that which shows his gifts to most advantage.
He acts in a narrow sphere, while he aims at himself; but his spirit
and character increase in proportion to his usefulness, I mean his own
intention and endeavours to be useful.
|On Spiritual Gifts.
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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?
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?
8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare
himself to the battle?
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.
10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world,
and none of them is without signification.
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.
12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual
gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.
13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray
that he may interpret.
14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but
my understanding is unfruitful.
In this paragraph he goes on to show how vain a thing the ostentation
of speaking unknown and unintelligible language must be. It was
altogether unedifying and unprofitable
(1 Corinthians 14:6):
If I come to you speaking with tongues, what will it profit you,
unless I speak to you by revelation, or by knowledge, or by
prophesying, or by doctrine? It would signify nothing to utter any
of these in an unknown tongue. An apostle, with all his furniture,
could not edify, unless he spoke to the capacity of his hearers. New
revelations, the most clear explications of old ones, the most
instructive discourses in themselves, would be unprofitable in a
language not understood. Nay, interpretations of scripture made in an
unknown tongue would need to be interpreted over again, before they
could be of any use.
I. He illustrates this by several allusions.
1. To a pipe and a harp playing always in one tone. Of what use can
this be to those who are dancing? If there be no distinction of sounds,
how should they order their steps or motions? Unintelligible language
is like piping or harping without distinction of sounds: it gives no
more direction how a man should order his conversation than a pipe with
but one stop or a harp with but one string can direct a dancer how he
should order his steps,
1 Corinthians 14:7.
2. To a trumpet giving an uncertain sound, adelon
phonen, a sound not manifest; either not the proper sound for
the purpose, or not distinct enough to be discerned from every other
sound. If, instead of sounding on onset, it sounded a retreat, or
sounded one knew not what, who would prepare for the battle? To talk in
an unknown language in a Christian assembly is altogether as vain and
to no purpose as for a trumpet to give no certain sound in the field or
day of battle. The army in one case, and the congregation in the other,
must be all in suspense, and at a perfect nonplus. To speak words that
have no significancy to those who hear them is to leave them ignorant
of what is spoken; it is speaking to the air,
1 Corinthians 14:9.
Words without a meaning can convey no notion nor instruction to the
mind; and words not understood have no meaning with those who do not
understand them: to talk to them in such language is to waste our
3. He compares the speaking in an unknown tongue to the gibberish of
barbarians. There are, as he says
(1 Corinthians 14:10),
many kinds of voices in the world, none of which is without its proper
signification. This is true of the several languages spoken by
different nations. All of them have their proper signification. Without
this they would be phonai aphonoi--a voice, and no
voice. For that is no language, nor can it answer the end of
speaking, which has no meaning. But whatever proper signification the
words of any language may have in themselves, and to those who
understand them, they are perfect gibberish to men of another language,
who understand them not. In this case, speaker and hearers are
barbarians to each other
(1 Corinthians 14:11),
they talk and hear only sounds without sense; for this is to be a
barbarian. For thus says the polite Ovid, when banished into
|Barbarus hic ego sum, quia non intelligor ulli,
I am a barbarian here, none understand me.
To speak in the church in an unknown tongue is to talk gibberish; it is
to play the barbarian; it is to confound the audience, instead of
instructing them; and for this reason is utterly vain and
II. Having thus established his point, in the two next verses he
1. By advising them to be chiefly desirous of those gifts that were
most for the church's edification,
1 Corinthians 14:12.
"Forasmuch as you are zealous of spiritual gifts, this way it will
become commendable zeal, be zealous to edify the church, to promote
Christian knowledge and practice, and covet those gifts most that will
do the best service to men's souls." This is the great rule he gives,
2. He applies to the matter in hand, that, if they did speak a foreign
language, they should beg of God the gift of interpreting it,
1 Corinthians 14:13.
That these were different gifts, see
1 Corinthians 12:10.
Those might speak and understand a foreign language who could not
readily translate it into their own: and yet was this necessary to the
church's edification; for the church must understand, that it might be
edified, which yet it could not do till the foreign language was
translated into its own. Let him therefore pray for the gift of
interpreting what he speaks in an unknown tongue; or rather covet and
ask of God the gift of interpreting than of speaking in a language that
needs interpretation, this being most for the church's benefit, and
therefore among the gifts that excel; vide
1 Corinthians 14:12.
Some understand it, "Let him pray so as to interpret what he utters in
prayer in a language unintelligible without it." The sum is that they
should perform all religious exercises in their assemblies so that all
might join in them and profit by them.
3. He enforces this advice with a proper reason, that, if he prayed
in an unknown tongue, his spirit might pray, that is, a spiritual
gift might be exercised in prayer, or his own mind might be devoutly
engaged, but his understanding would be unfruitful
(1 Corinthians 14:14),
that is, the sense and meaning of his words would be unfruitful, he
would not be understood, nor therefore would others join with him in
his devotions. Note, It should be the concern of such as pray in public
to pray intelligibly, not in a foreign language, nor in a language
that, if it be not foreign, is above the level of his audience.
Language that is most obvious and easy to be understood is the most
proper for public devotion and other religious exercises.
|On Spiritual Gifts.
||A. D. 57.|
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.
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?
17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not
18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:
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.
20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in
malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
The apostle here sums up the argument hitherto, and,
I. Directs them how they should sing and pray in public
(1 Corinthians 14:15):
What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with
the understanding also. I will sing with the spirit, &c. He does
not forbid their praying or singing under a divine afflatus, or
when they were inspired for this purpose, or had such a spiritual gift
communicated to them; but he would have them perform both so as to be
understood by others, that others might join with them. Note, Public
worship should be performed so as to be understood.
II. He enforces the argument with several reasons.
1. That otherwise the unlearned could not say Amen to their prayers or
thanksgivings, could not join in the worship, for they did not
1 Corinthians 14:16.
He who fills up or occupies the place of the unlearned, that is, as the
ancients interpret it, the body of the people, who, in most Christian
assemblies, are illiterate; how should they say Amen to prayers
in an unknown tongue? How should they declare their consent and
concurrence? This is saying Amen, So be it. God grant the
thing we have requested; or, We join in the confession that has
been made of sin, and in the acknowledgment that has been made of
divine mercies and favours. This is the import of saying Amen.
All should say Amen inwardly; and it is not improper to testify
this inward concurrence in public prayers and devotions, by an audible
Amen. The ancient Christians said Amen aloud. Vide
Just. Mart. apol. 2. propè fin. Now, how should
the people say Amen to what they did not understand? Note, There
can be no concurrence in those prayers that are not understood. The
intention of public devotions is therefore entirely destroyed if they
are performed in an unknown tongue. He who performs may pray well, and
give thanks well, but not in that time and place, because others are
not, cannot be, edified
(1 Corinthians 14:17)
by what they understand not.
2. He alleges his own example, to make the greater impression,
concerning which observe,
(1.) That he did not come behind any of them in this spiritual gift:
"I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than you all
(1 Corinthians 14:18);
not only more than any single person among you, but more than all
together." It was not envy at their better furniture that made Paul
depreciate what they so highly valued and so much vaunted of; he
surpassed them all in this very gift of tongues, and did not vilify
their gift because he had it not. This spirit of envy is too common in
the world. But the apostle took care to guard against this
misconstruction of his purpose, by letting them know there was more
ground for them to envy him upon this head than for him to envy them.
Note, When we beat down men's unreasonable value for themselves, or any
of their possessions or attainments, we should let them see, if
possible, that this does not proceed from an envious and grudging
spirit. We miss our aim if they can fairly give our conduct this
invidious turn. Paul could not be justly censured, nor suspected for
any such principle in this whole argument. He spoke more language than
they all. Yet,
(2.) He had rather speak five words with understanding, that is,
so as to be understood, and instruct and edify others, than ten
thousand words in an unknown tongue,
1 Corinthians 14:19.
He was so far from valuing himself upon talking languages, or making
ostentation of his talents of this kind, that he had rather speak five
intelligible words, to benefit others, than make a thousand, ten
thousand fine discourses, that would do no one else any good, because
they did not understand them. Note, A truly Christian minister will
value himself much more upon doing the least spiritual good to men's
souls than upon procuring the greatest applause and commendation to
himself. This is true grandeur and nobleness of spirit; it is acting up
to his character; it is approving himself the servant of Christ, and
not a vassal to his own pride and vanity.
3. He adds a plain intimation that the fondness then discovered for
this gift was but too plain an indication of the immaturity of their
judgment: Brethren, be not children in understanding; in malice be
you children, but in understanding be men,
1 Corinthians 14:20.
Children are apt to be struck with novelty and strange appearances.
They are taken with an outward show, without enquiring into the true
nature and worth of things. Do not you act like them, and prefer noise
and show to worth and substance; show a greater ripeness of judgment,
and act a more manly part; be like children in nothing but an innocent
and inoffensive disposition. A double rebuke is couched in this
passage, both of their pride upon account of their gifts, and their
arrogance and haughtiness towards each other, and the contests and
quarrels proceeding from them. Note, Christians should be harmless and
inoffensive as children, void of all guile and malice; but should have
wisdom and knowledge that are ripe and mature. They should not be
unskilful in the word of righteousness
though they should be unskilful in all the arts of mischief.
|On Spiritual Gifts.
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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.
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.
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
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
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.
In this passage the apostle pursues the argument, and reasons from
other topics; as,
I. Tongues, as the Corinthians used them, were rather a token of
judgment from God than mercy to any people
(1 Corinthians 14:21):
In the law (that is, the Old Testament) it is written, With
men of other tongues and other lips will I speak to this people; and
yet for all this they will not hear me, saith the Lord,
To both these passages, it is thought, the apostle refers. Both are
delivered by way of threatening, and one is supposed to interpret the
other. The meaning in this view is that it is an evidence that a people
are abandoned of God when he gives them up to this sort of instruction,
to the discipline of those who speak in another language. And surely
the apostle's discourse implies, "You should not be fond of the tokens
of divine displeasure. God can have no gracious regards to those who
are left merely to this sort of instruction, and taught in language
which they cannot understand. They can never be benefited by such
teaching as this; and, when they are left to it, it is a sad sign that
God gives them over as past cure." And should Christians covet to be in
such a state, or to bring the churches into it? Yet thus did the
Corinthian preachers in effect, who would always deliver their
inspirations in an unknown tongue.
II. Tongues were rather a sign to unbelievers than to believers,
1 Corinthians 14:22.
They were a spiritual gift, intended for the conviction and conversion
of infidels, that they might be brought into the Christian church; but
converts were to be built up in Christianity by profitable instructions
in their own language. The gift of tongues was necessary to spread
Christianity, and gather churches; it was proper and intended to
convince unbelievers of that doctrine which Christians had already
embraced; but prophesying, and interpreting scripture in their own
language, were most for the edification of such as did already believe:
so that speaking with tongues in Christians assemblies was altogether
out of time and place; neither one nor the other was proper for it.
Note, That gifts may be rightly used, it is proper to know the ends
which they are intended to serve. To go about the conversion of
infidels, as the apostles did, had been a vain undertaking without the
gift of tongues, and the discovery of this gift; but, in an assembly of
Christians already converted to the Christian faith, to make use and
ostentation of this gift would be perfectly impertinent, because it
would be of no advantage to the assembly; not for conviction of truth,
because they had already embraced it; not for their edification,
because they did not understand, and could not get benefit without
understanding, what they heard.
III. The credit and reputation of their assemblies among unbelievers
required them to prefer prophesying before speaking with tongues. For,
1. If, when they were all assembled for Christian worship, their
ministers, or all employed in public worship, should talk
unintelligible language, and infidels should drop in, they would
conclude them to be mad, to be no better than a parcel of wild
fanatics. Who in their right senses could carry on religious worship in
such a manner? Or what sort of religion is that which leaves out sense
and understanding? Would not this make Christianity ridiculous to a
heathen, to hear the ministers of it pray, or preach, or perform any
other religious exercise, in a language that neither he nor the
assembly understood? Note, The Christian religion is a sober and
reasonable thing in itself, and should not, by the ministers of it, be
made to look wild or senseless. Those disgrace their religion, and
vilify their own character, who do any thing that has this aspect. But,
on the other hand,
2. If, instead of speaking with tongues, those who minister plainly
interpret scripture, or preach, in language intelligible and proper,
the great truths and rules of the gospel, a heathen or unlearned
person, coming in, will probably be convinced, and become a convert to
(1 Corinthians 14:24,25);
his conscience will be touched, the secrets of his heart will be
revealed to him, he will be condemned by the truth he hears, and so
will be brought to confess his guilt, to pay his homage to God, and own
that he is indeed among you, present in the assembly. Note,
Scripture--truth, plainly and duly taught, has a marvellous aptness to
awaken the conscience, and touch the heart. And is not this much more
for the honour of our religion than that infidels should conclude the
ministers of it a set of madmen, and their religious exercises only
fits of frenzy? This last would at once cast contempt on them and their
religion too. Instead of procuring applause for them, it would render
them ridiculous, and involve their profession in the same censure:
whereas prophesying would certainly edify the church, much better keep
up their credit, and might probably convince and convert infidels who
might occasionally hear them. Note, Religious exercises in Christian
assemblies should be such as are fit to edify the faithful, and
convince, affect, and convert unbelievers. The ministry was not
instituted to make ostentation of gifts and parts, but to save
|On Spiritual Gifts.
||A. D. 57.|
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
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
28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the
church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other
30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let
the first hold his peace.
31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and
all may be comforted.
32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as
in all churches of the saints.
In this passage the apostle reproves them for their disorder, and
endeavours to correct and regulate their conduct for the future.
I. He blames them for the confusion they introduced into the assembly,
by ostentation of their gifts
(1 Corinthians 14:26):
When you come together every one hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath
a tongue, &c.; that is, "You are apt to confound the several parts
of worship; and, while one has a psalm to utter by inspiration, another
has a doctrine, or revelation;" or else, "You are apt to be confused in
the same branch of worship, many of you having psalms or doctrines to
propose at the same time, without staying for one another. Is not this
perfect uproar? Can this be edifying? And yet all religious exercises
in public assemblies should have this view, Let all things be done
II. He corrects their faults, and lays down some regulations for their
1. As to speaking in an unknown tongue, he orders that no more than two
or three should do it at one meeting, and this not altogether, but
successively, one after another. And even this was not to be done
unless there were some one to interpret
(1 Corinthians 14:27,28),
some other interpreter besides himself, who spoke; for to speak in an
unknown tongue what he himself was afterwards to interpret could only
be for ostentation. But, if another were present who could interpret,
two miraculous gifts might be exercised at once, and thereby the church
edified, and the faith of the hearers confirmed at the same time. But,
if there were none to interpret, he was to be silent in the church, and
only exercise his gift between God and himself
(1 Corinthians 14:28),
that is (as I think) in private, at home; for all who are present at
public worship should join in it, and not be at their private devotions
in public assemblies. Solitary devotions are out of time and place when
the church has met for social worship.
2. As to prophesying he orders,
(1.) That two or three only should speak at one meeting
(1 Corinthians 14:20),
and this successively, not all at once; and that the other should
examine and judge what he delivered, that is, discern and determine
concerning it, whether it were of divine inspiration or not. There
might be false prophets, mere pretenders to divine inspiration; and the
true prophets were to judge of these, and discern and discover who was
divinely inspired, and by such inspiration interpreted scripture, and
taught the church, and who was not--what was of divine inspiration and
what was not. This seems to be the meaning of this rule. For where a
prophet was known to be such, and under the divine afflatus, he
could not be judged; for this were to subject even the Holy Spirit to
the judgment of men. He who was indeed inspired, and known to be so,
was above all human judgment.
(2.) He orders that, if any assistant prophet had a revelation, while
another was prophesying, the other should hold his peace, be silent
(1 Corinthians 14:30),
before the inspired assistant uttered his revelation. Indeed, it is by
many understood that the former speaker should immediately hold his
peace. But this seems unnatural, and not so well to agree with the
context. For why must one that was speaking by inspiration be
immediately silent upon another man's being inspired, and suppress what
was dictated to him by the same Spirit? Indeed, he who had the new
revelation might claim liberty of speech in his turn, upon producing
his vouchers; but why must liberty of speech be taken from him who was
speaking before, and his mouth stopped, when he was delivering the
dictates of the same Spirit, and could produce the same vouchers? Would
the Spirit of God move one to speak, and, before he had delivered what
he had to say, move another to interrupt him, and put him to silence?
This seems to me an unnatural thought. Nor is it more agreeable to the
context, and the reason annexed
(1 Corinthians 14:31):
That all might prophesy, one by one, or one after another, which
could not be where any one was interrupted and silenced before he had
done prophesying; but might easily be if he who was afterwards inspired
forbore to deliver his new revelation till the former prophet had
finished what he had to say. And, to confirm this sense, the apostle
quickly adds, The spirits of the prophets are subject to the
(1 Corinthians 14:33);
that is, the spiritual gifts they have leave them still possessed of
their reason, and capable of using their own judgment in the exercise
of them. Divine inspirations are not, like the diabolical possessions
of heathen priests, violent and ungovernable, and prompting them to act
as if they were beside themselves; but are sober and calm, and capable
of regular conduct. The man inspired by the Spirit of God may still act
the man, and observe the rules of natural order and decency in
delivering his revelations. His spiritual gift is thus far subject to
his pleasure, and to be managed by his discretion.
III. The apostle gives the reasons of these regulations. As,
1. That they would be for the church's benefit, their instruction and
consolation. It is that all may learn, and all may be comforted or
exhorted, that the prophets were to speak in the orderly manner the
apostle advises. Note, The instruction, edification, and comfort of the
church, is that for which God instituted the ministry. And surely
ministers should, as much as possible, fit their ministrations to these
2. He tells them, God is not the God of confusion, but of peace and
1 Corinthians 14:33.
Therefore divine inspiration should by no means throw Christian
assemblies into confusion, and break through all rules of common
decency, which yet would be unavoidable if several inspired men should
all at once utter what was suggested to them by the Spirit of God, and
not wait to take their turns. Note, The honour of God requires that
things should be managed in Christian assemblies so as not to
transgress the rules of natural decency. If they are managed in a
tumultuous and confused manner, what a notion must this give of the God
who is worshipped, to considerate observers! Does it look as if he were
the God of peace and order, and an enemy to confusion? Things should be
managed so in divine worship that no unlovely nor dishonourable notion
of God should be formed in the minds of observers.
3. He adds that things were thus orderly managed in all the other
churches: As in all the churches of the saints
(1 Corinthians 14:33);
they kept to these rules in the exercise of their spiritual gifts,
which was a manifest proof that the church of Corinth might observe the
same regulations. And it would be perfectly scandalous for them, who
exceeded most churches in spiritual gifts, to be more disorderly than
any in the exercise of them. Note, Though other churches are not to be
our rule, yet the regard they pay to the rules of natural decency and
order should restrain us from breaking these rules. Thus far they may
be proposed as examples, and it is a shame not to follow them.
|On Spiritual Gifts.
||A. D. 57.|
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.
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
Here the apostle,
1. Enjoins silence on their women in public assemblies, and to such a
degree that they must not ask questions for their own information in
the church, but ask their husbands at home. They are to learn in
silence with all subjection; but, says the apostle, I suffer
them not to teach,
1 Timothy 2:11,12.
There is indeed an intimation
(1 Corinthians 11:5)
as if the women sometimes did pray and prophecy in their assemblies,
which the apostle, in that passage, does not simply condemn, but the
manner of performance, that is, praying or prophesying with the head
uncovered, which, in that age and country, was throwing off the
distinction of sexes, and setting themselves on a level with the men.
But here he seems to forbid all public performances of theirs. They are
not permitted to speak
(1 Corinthians 14:34)
in the church, neither in praying nor prophesying. The connection seems
plainly to include the latter, in the limited sense in which it is
taken in this chapter, namely, for preaching, or interpreting scripture
by inspiration. And, indeed, for a woman to prophesy in this sense were
to teach, which does not so well befit her state of subjection. A
teacher of others has in that respect a superiority over them, which is
not allowed the woman over the man, nor must she therefore be allowed
to teach in a congregation: I suffer them not to teach. But
praying, and uttering hymns inspired, were not teaching. And seeing
there were women who had spiritual gifts of this sort in that age of
the church (see
and might be under this impulse in the assembly, must they altogether
suppress it? Or why should they have this gift, if it must never be
publicly exercised? For these reasons, some think that these general
prohibitions are only to be understood in common cases; but that upon
extraordinary occasions, when women were under a divine
afflatus, and known to be so, they might have liberty of speech.
They were not ordinarily to teach, nor so much as to debate and ask
questions in the church, but learn in silence there; and, if
difficulties occurred, ask their own husbands at home. Note, As
it is the woman's duty to learn in subjection, it is the man's duty to
keep up his superiority, by being able to instruct her; if it be her
duty to ask her husband at home, it is his concern and duty to
endeavour at lest to be able to answer her enquiries; if it be a shame
for her to speak in the church, where she should be silent, it is a
shame for him to be silent when he should speak, and not be able to
give an answer, when she asks him at home.
2. We have here the reason of this injunction: It is God's law and
commandment that they should be under obedience
(1 Corinthians 14:34);
they are placed in subordination to the man, and it is a shame for them
to do any thing that looks like an affectation of changing ranks, which
speaking in public seemed to imply, at least in that age, and among
that people, as would public teaching much more: so that the apostle
concludes it was a shame for women to speak in the church, in the
assembly. Shame is the mind's uneasy reflection on having done an
indecent thing. And what more indecent than for a woman to quit her
rank, renounce the subordination of her sex, or do what in common
account had such aspect and appearance? Note, Our spirit and conduct
should be suitable to our rank. The natural distinctions God has made,
we should observe. Those he has placed in subjection to others should
not set themselves on a level, nor affect or assume superiority. The
woman was made subject to the man, and she should keep her station and
be content with it. For this reason women must be silent in the
churches, not set up for teachers; for this is setting up for
superiority over the man.
|On Spiritual Gifts.
||A. D. 57.|
36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you
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.
38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.
39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to
speak with tongues.
40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
In these verses the apostle closes his argument,
1. With a just rebuke of the Corinthians for their extravagant pride
and self-conceit: they so managed with their spiritual gifts as no
church did like them; they behaved in a manner by themselves, and would
not easily endure control nor regulation. Now, says the apostle, to
beat down this arrogant humour, "Came the gospel out from you? Or
came it to you only?
1 Corinthians 14:36.
Did Christianity come our of Corinth? was its original among you? Or,
if not, is it now limited and confined to you? are you the only church
favoured with divine revelations, that you will depart from the decent
usages of all other churches, and, to make ostentation of your
spiritual gifts, bring confusion into Christian assemblies? How
intolerably assuming is this behaviour! Pray bethink yourselves." When
it was needful or proper the apostle could rebuke with all authority;
and surely his rebukes, if ever, were proper here. Note, Those must be
reproved and humbled whose spiritual pride and self-conceit throw
Christian churches and assemblies into confusion, though such men will
hardly bear even the rebukes of an apostle.
2. He lets them know that what he said to them was the command of God;
nor durst any true prophet, any one really inspired, deny it
(1 Corinthians 14:37):
"If any man think himself a prophet, or spiritual, let him
acknowledge, &c., nay, let him be tried by this very rule. If he
will not own what I deliver on this head to be the will of Christ, he
himself never had the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of Christ can never
contradict itself; if it speak in me, and in them, it must speak the
same things in both. If their revelations contradict mine, they do not
come from the same Spirit; either I or they must be false prophets.
By this therefore you may know them. If they say that my
directions in this matter are no divine commandments, you may depend
upon it they are not divinely inspired. But if any continue after all,
through prejudice or obstinacy, uncertain or ignorant whether they or I
speak by the Spirit of God, they must be left under the power of this
ignorance. If their pretences to inspiration can stand in competition
with the apostolical character and powers which I have, I have lost all
my authority and influence; and the persons who allow of this
competition against me are out of the reach of conviction, and must be
left to themselves." Note, It is just with God to leave those to the
blindness of their own minds who wilfully shut out the light. Those who
would be ignorant in so plain a case were justly left under the power
of their mistake.
3. He sums up all in two general advices:--
(1.) That though they should not despise the gift of tongues, nor
altogether disuse it, under the regulations mentioned, yet they should
prefer prophesying. This is indeed the scope of the whole argument. It
was to be preferred to the other, because it was the more useful gift.
(2.) He charges them to let all things be done decently and in order
(1 Corinthians 14:40),
that is, that they should avoid every thing that was manifestly
indecent and disorderly. Not that they should hence take occasion to
bring into the Christian church and worship any thing that a vain mind
might think ornamental to it, or that would help to set it off. Such
indecencies and disorders as he had remarked upon were especially to be
shunned. They must do nothing that was manifestly childish
(1 Corinthians 14:20),
or that would give occasion to say they were mad
(1 Corinthians 14:23),
nor must they act so as to breed confusion,
1 Corinthians 14:33.
This would be utterly indecent; it would make a tumult and mob of a
Christian assembly. But they were to do things in order; they were to
speak one after another, and not all at once; take their turns, and not
interrupt one another. To do otherwise was to destroy the end of a
Christians ministry, and all assemblies for Christian worship. Note,
Manifest indecencies and disorders are to be carefully kept out of all
Christian churches, and every part of divine worship. They should have
nothing in them that is childish, absurd, ridiculous, wild, or
tumultuous; but all parts of divine worship should be carried on in a
manly, grave, rational, composed, and orderly manner. God is not to be
dishonoured, nor his worship disgraced, by our unbecoming and
disorderly performance of it and attendance at it.