1 Corinthians 14
Order in Public Worship.
SUMMARY.--Of the Spiritual Gifts Prophecy Gives the First Place.
Speaking With Tongues Secondary.
Both Must Be Used so as to Edify.
In the Church Assemblies What is Spoken in a Tongue Must be Interpreted.
One Only Must Speak at Once.
The Women Must Keep Silent.
1-5. Desire earnestly spiritual gifts. Though love is to be a
supreme pursuit, yet this is not intended to disparage spiritual gifts.
Let them be sought, but in seeking, desire above all the gift of
2. For he that speaketh in a tongue. Hath the gift of tongues.
The tenor of Paul's remarks shows that the Corinthians placed too high
a comparative estimate on this gift.
Speaketh mysteries. Things that are unknown and mysterious to
his hearers. Men do not understand him.
3. He that prophesieth. To prophesy means more than to foretell.
It is to declare the will of God under a divine impulse. When Peter
spoke on Pentecost, he did the work of a New Testament prophet. In this
formative period of the church, before the New Testament was written,
it was needful
that there be these inspired guides in the churches.
Unto men edification. Instruction, and strengthening.
4. He that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself. His speech in
the unknown tongue tends to strengthen him, though not instructing
others. He is made to feel that he is moved by God, and so is filled
5. Greater is he that prophesieth. Greater, because he serves
the church best. Unless the tongues were interpreted, they were an
unmeaning sound to the church, while he who prophesied, instructed and
built it up.
NOTE.--Concerning this gift of tongues, there is
considerable confusion among commentators. Some have held that it was a
sort of rhapsody under the influence of the Spirit in no earthly
language. Others have held that it was a gift of the knowledge of
foreign languages to the early Christians to enable them to preach the
gospel to all nations. Neither view appears to be correct. 1.
Undoubtedly there was a manifestation of the gift of tongues on the Day
(Acts, chapter 2).
Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Greeks, Romans, heard in their own
2. It was not a gift of the knowledge of a foreign language, for
verses 13 and 14
show that the speaker did not understand his own words. 3. It was a
gift, not for exercise in the church, but a "sign to them that believe
When they heard the gospel message in a tongue which the speaker did
not understand, but in their own tongue (as on the Day of Pentecost),
their wonder was excited, and many would confess that it was the work
6-11. What shall I profit you, etc. The gift of tongues,
exercised to the church, cannot profit unless it does one of four
A revelation. The inspired utterance of him who
Knowledge. The gift of
teaching the inspired truths of the Scriptures, or those
revealed by the prophets.
7. Even things without life. Musical instruments that give forth
a sound, such as a pipe or a harp, the chief musical instruments of the
Greeks, must give a distinction of sounds, if one would know what is
8. If the trumpet. The various distinctions of note sounded a
charge, a retreat, etc.
9. So also ye, unless ye utter by the tongue, etc. It is only
speech to the air, unless there is the distinction of intelligible
10. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world.
Articulate language spoken and understood by some men.
11. If I know not the meaning of the voice. The language.
I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian. A foreigner, not
understanding his language. The Greeks and Romans called all not of
their races barbarians.
12-17. Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. If
you seek for spiritual
gifts, seek rather those that will build up the church, such as
prophesying and teaching.
13. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue. Let
him pray that he may have the gift of interpretation also. See
Let him pray that he may understand what he utters, so as to explain
14. If I pray in an unknown tongue. He does not understand, and
only his spirit prayeth.
15. What is it then? How then am I to act? He answers that
question. He will have both the spirit and the understanding unite in
singing and praying, by using a tongue that he understands.
16. Else, when thou shalt bless the Spirit, etc. If an unknown
tongue is used, how can one who does not understand it say the
Amen to the blessing at the proper place? Note here, (1) This
shows that audible responses to the praises and thanksgivings were the
custom of the church. (2) The unlearned means a private person,
the private members of the church, those not possessed of the spiritual
18-22. I had rather speak five words, etc. All must be done to
Hence, all must be understood. There is a lesson here to preachers who
are so learned in their utterances that the people cannot understand
20. Be not children in understanding. Use manly good sense and
judgment in the church. To babble in an unknown tongue is like a child.
In malice be ye children. To vainly choose a course that would
merely excite wonder, and not edify, would seem to partake of malice
rather than love.
21. In the law it is written. See
Isaiah 28:11, 12,
for the quotation. The Jews were there told that for their sins they
would be carried into the Assyrian captivity, where they would hear
strange languages. This was a judgment. Wherefore, do not force the
church to listen to listen to strange tongues which serve to remind of
the judgment of Israel.
22. Wherefore tongues, etc. They are a sign to unbelievers, who
are moved when they hear the gospel spoken in their tongue by men who
have never learned it and do not understand it.
23-25. If therefore the whole church be come together. The
apostle now treats of the proper order and decorum in the church
And all speak with tongues. There would be a babble of confusion
and no edification. To a private member, or an unbeliever, they would
seem to be mad.
24. But if all prophesy. Those speaking would then speak what
would be understood, and, speaking under the divine impulse, would
He is judged. His state and character are laid bare by the
25. The secrets of his heart are made manifest. He is made to
feel that he is face to face with God, who knows his life, and he is
brought to confession. It is still often the case that the hearer
thinks that the preacher knows his life, and is laying it bare, when it
is his own conscience that is stirred up.
26-33. What is it then, brethren? What course should be pursued
in the public assemblies of the church?
When ye come together, each one hath, etc. When they come
together, one comes purposing to sing a
psalm; another to teach concerning some question; another, a
prophet, has a
revelation to present; another proposes to speak in a
tongue; another, still, to
interpret what is spoken. Now this must all be done
unto edifying. All that will not tend to this must be left
27. If any man speaketh in a tongue. He must speak two, or at
the most three sentences
(by two, or at the most three) in succession
(by course), and another, who has the gift of interpretation
interpret. Most commentators refer two or three to
persons speaking. I follow Macknight.
28. But if there be no interpreter. In that case the rule, "Let
all things be done to edifying,"
will force the speaker in tongues to keep silence
in the church. He may speak somewhere else, or in his soul, but
not in the assembly of the saints.
29. Let the prophets speak two or three. Let two or three
prophets speak at a meeting. In the Greek, "two or three" are in the
in which speaking with tongues is treated, the numerals are in the
accusative case with a preposition. Hence there, with Macknight, I
have referred to them to the sentences spoken. If the persons speaking
the construction would be as in
Let the others discern. Let them discern whether they speak by
30. If anything be revealed. If the prophetic impulse comes upon
a hearer, let the first desist. Let only one speak at a time.
ye all may prophesy. All who have the prophetic gift, but it
one by one, not more than one speaking at a time.
32. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. A
prophet can wait his turn in silence; he is not compelled to speak at
once, for his spirit is subject to him. He can be silent if he wills
33. For God is not the author of confusion. Such confusion as
more than one speaking at a time is not of God. God demands peace and
order "in all the churches of the saints."
34-36. Let the women keep silence in the churches. This, in view
of other portions of the Scriptures, is confessedly a difficult
1 Tim. 2:11, 12,
We have the same teaching. On the other hand, Deborah was a judge and a
Huldah was a prophetess;
Joel predicted that in the Christian dispensation "the sons and
daughters should prophesy"
and Peter declared that this was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost
In addition, the daughters of Philip prophesied
1 Cor. 11:5,
Paul gives directions concerning women prophesying. Probably these
apparent discrepancies may be reconciled as follows: (1) Paul's
prohibition of speaking to the women is, in the churches; that
is, in the church assemblies when "the whole church is come together
into one place"
It is an official meeting of the church. "Church" in the New Testament
always means the ecclesia. It does not apply to such
informal meetings as the social or prayer-meetings, but to formal
gatherings of the whole body. (2) It may be that even this prohibition
was due to the circumstances that existed in Ephesus, where Timothy
was, and in Corinth, and would not apply everywhere. If so, it applies
wherever similar circumstances exist, but not elsewhere. Both were
Greek churches. Among the Greeks public women were disreputable. For a
woman to speak in public would cause the remark that she was shameless.
Virtuous women were secluded. Hence it would be
a shame for women to speak in the church assembly.
It is noteworthy that there is no hint of such a prohibition to any
churches except Grecian. Wherever it would be shameful, women ought
not to speak.
36. What? Was it from you that the word of God went forth? A
rebuke. The Corinthian church must receive instruction, not give it. It
did not send out the word of God, but the word of God was sent to
37-40. If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual.
If any one thinks he is inspired, or has spiritual gifts, one proof of
it is that he recognizes what I write as the Lord's commandment. This
is always a test. Whoever insists that he has the spirit, and sets
aside the New Testament
commands is self-convicted.
38. If any man be ignorant. If he will be ignorant and
obstinate, let him remain so.
39. Wherefore. The apostle concludes this section of church
order by again commending prophecy as the chief gift, and enjoining
order in the church exercises.