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One Corinthians Fourteen

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.

1 Corinthians 14:2 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.

1 Corinthians 14:3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.

1 Corinthians 14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.

unknown tongue. The word “unknown” is not in the original, but was supplied by the King James translators to emphasize that the language being used was one that was not known to the rest of the congregation, and so such an inspired message would be of no value to them. The gift of languages was spectacular and obviously supernatural, but it was useful only if someone hearing it could actually understand it and interpret (that is, translate) it for the others, so they also could profit. It was given by the Holy Spirit both as a sign of His presence and also to convey a profitable message to at least some in the audience.

The gift of prophecy was not as spectacular, though more profitable. Thus one possessing the gift of tongues could more easily become puffed up and be tempted to use his ability just to draw attention to himself (or herself)—that is, to “edify” (or “build up”) himself. In fact, it is probable that he might even open himself to demonic inspiration, for it is unlikely that the Holy Spirit would inspire a message that would be mere gibberish to its hearers. In the definitive passage on this gift, when it was first given on the day of Pentecost, the result was that “the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, Behold, … we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:6-7, 11). When one really has the Spirit's “gift of tongues” and uses it properly, then some such result as this should follow. Otherwise, it is useless, or even dangerous.

edifieth the church. Paul was especially concerned about the misuse of tongues or other spiritual gifts (Greek pneumatikos) “in the church” (1 Corinthians 14:19). It should be remembered that the instructions given here apply in their details only to the church at Corinth, not necessarily to other churches with different problems. For example, the problem of “eating meats,” discussed in chapters 8 and 10, and that of the “collection for the saints” in chapter 16, were peculiar to Corinth, as also were some of these problems with the misuse of their gifts. The broad principles, however, do apply to all churches (charity, edification, unity, etc.).

1 Corinthians 14:5 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 receive edifying.

1 Corinthians 14:6 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?

1 Corinthians 14:7 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?

1 Corinthians 14:8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?

uncertain sound. This pungent question applies not only to the use of unintelligible languages in the church but to its whole ministry. If the prophets or teachers or pastors or evangelists do not proclaim God's Word in its truth and fullness, without compromising with evolutionism or current standards of worldly conduct or anything else, then the whole congregation will be unfit for service as “good soldier[s] of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3).

1 Corinthians 14:9 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.

1 Corinthians 14:10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.

1 Corinthians 14:11 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.

1 Corinthians 14:12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.

1 Corinthians 14:13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.

interpret. The word “interpret” in this verse is the Greek diermeneuo, meaning “explain” or “expound” or (if from another language) “translate.” It is also the word used in 1 Corinthians 12:30; 14:5; 14:27; 14:28. The only two other occurrences in the New Testament are in Acts 9:36 and Luke 24:27. However, the word translated “interpretation” in 1 Corinthians 12:10 and 14:26 is hermeneia, from which we get our English word “hermeneutics” (see also its only other occurrences in John 1:38, 42; 9:7 and Hebrews 7:2). It seems to be used only of actual “translation” applications. In any case, Paul here stresses again that speaking in a foreign tongue is of no value if no one could understand what the speaker said.

The gift of interpretation enabled its possessor to translate what someone of another nation was saying, an ability which would have particular value when trying to communicate with “barbarians” (1 Corinthians 14:11). If there was no such person present, however, then the responsibility fell to one who would presume to speak to the congregation in a foreign language also to translate it for them. This restriction would obviously put a serious curb on the wanton display of the gift of tongues to a group of people unable to comprehend its message.

1 Corinthians 14:14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

spirit prayeth. A person with the gift of languages may edify himself (1 Corinthians 14:4) by praying in that language, but the edification will be only emotional, since he cannot understand it. It may bring a blessing of sorts to the individual, assuming he does it when by himself, but, according to Paul, it should not be done in the church unless either he or another translator is there to explain what was said (1 Corinthians 14:28).

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, and I will sing with the understanding also.

1 Corinthians 14:16 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?

1 Corinthians 14:17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

1 Corinthians 14:18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:

I speak with tongues. The Apostle Paul was well educated and could undoubtedly speak in Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek and Latin, and possibly other languages as well. If, in addition, he had the supernatural gift of tongues, as this verse may imply, there is no record of his ever using it. He stressed that he would far rather speak in the church words that all could understand (1 Corinthians 14:19).

1 Corinthians 14:19 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.

1 Corinthians 14:20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

be not children. Two different words for “children” are used in this verse. Paul is saying they should be like “infants” in malice and that, instead of being like toddlers in understanding God's Word, they should be mature men.

1 Corinthians 14:21 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.

it is written. This passage is quoted from Isaiah 28:11, with a possible reference also to Deuteronomy 28:49. The Lord was warning in both that he would teach unbelieving Israel obedience by punishing them through a nation of different language. This further proves that the “tongues” of this chapter are not ecstatic utterances but intelligible foreign languages. As the invading language of an alien people would speak forcibly to the rebellious Israelites, so the miraculous manifestation of a message given in a language unknown to the speaker but known to the hearers would be a convincing “sign” to unbelievers that God was, indeed, speaking to them (1 Corinthians 14:22). This had been exactly the effect of the tongues on the day of Pentecost, and so it should be whenever they are used (if ever) today. These “tongues” were (and are today) being badly misused, and Paul was trying diligently to circumscribe their use to situations comparable to that at Pentecost.

1 Corinthians 14:22 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.

prophesying serveth. Before the New Testament was codified, the gift of prophecy and the comparable gift of teaching (which would supplement and eventually supersede that of prophecy) were intended primarily to build up believers, and thus were for more beneficial in the church than the gift of tongues.

1 Corinthians 14:23 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 mad?

church be come together. The section from verse 23 through the end of the chapter specifically lays down principles for order in church meetings. The specific details are not binding for all churches, of course, only the principles. It should always be remembered that true New Testament churches cannot exist today (despite claims to that effect by various sects) for the simple reason that the churches described in the New Testament did not yet have the New Testament to guide them. Therefore they needed those who had the gift of apostleship, the gift of prophecy and other supernatural gifts to guide them, whereas our present-day churches do have God's Word in its entirety, and this ought to be sufficient! Some exceptions may exist, especially when missionaries seek to reach those tribes who still do not have God's Word in a language they can understand. As a general rule, however, the complete Old and New Testaments (with all passages taken in proper context) should be our sole and sufficient guide in faith and practice.

ye are mad. Our word “maniac” is derived from the Greek word translated “mad” in this verse. This natural reaction of anyone encountering a person who seems to be speaking in gibberish, would be greatly augmented if he came into a building where many people were doing this simultaneously. Rather than being a sign which would bring unbelievers to Christ, this would drive them away.

1 Corinthians 14:24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:

convinced of all. Even though the gift of prophesy is intended primarily for the edification of believers, an orderly exposition of the Word of God, whether coming directly from God through prophets or indirectly through God-called teachers expounding the Scriptures, will often bring an unbeliever to accept Christ.

1 Corinthians 14:25 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.

1 Corinthians 14:26 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 edifying.

1 Corinthians 14:27 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 interpret.

1 Corinthians 14:28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.

keep silence in the church. In 1 Corinthians 14:27, Paul insists that only one man speak in a foreign language at a time, with never more than three doing this at one meeting, and then only if there is someone present who can translate each message. Since one could only plan to use his gift of tongues if he knew in advance that an interpreter would be there who could explain his message, this restriction would have the practical effect of essentially eliminating this practice in the church. Nevertheless, Paul would not forbid the use of this gift (and neither should we—note 1 Corinthians 14:39) in case some circumstance should develop comparable to that at Pentecost.

1 Corinthians 14:29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.

1 Corinthians 14:30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.

1 Corinthians 14:31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.

1 Corinthians 14:32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

subject to the prophets. The gift of prophecy was not to be exercised in a trance-like state, with the prophet being used like a robot. Each true “prophet” was in full control of his faculties, so the prophets could speak one at a time, each in proper order, with any one fully capable of stopping and deferring to another if it was clear that he also had a message from God. Although this gift is no longer needed and has probably ceased (1 Corinthians 13:8), the same principle might still be applicable in a church where there is more than one pastor or teacher with the Spirit's gift of teaching. They would not have direct revelations from God, but they all might have fresh insights that could be shared from God's now-complete revelation, the Holy Scriptures.

1 Corinthians 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

confusion. The “confusion” here mentioned applies in context specifically to churches with uncontrolled and disorderly manifestations of tongues and supposed prophecies. The principle, however, applies in general to the entire creation. Its beautiful and intricate order and complexity offer a compelling testimony to their Creator (Romans 1:20), rendering inexcusable anyone who would try to attribute it all to primeval chaos and chance development.

1 Corinthians 14:34 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.

women keep silence. This command is, of course, quite controversial in this age of militant feminism. Nevertheless, as Paul insists (1 Corinthians 14:37), it is a command of God, and can only be disobeyed in peril of divine judgment. In context, however, Paul is specifically prohibiting women only from speaking in tongues “in the churches.” This gift, for reasons related to the divinely ordained roles for men and women, had been restricted to men, at least in church meetings. However, women were permitted to pray (1 Corinthians 11:5) or even to prophesy in church, as long as the other rules were observed. With respect to women as teachers, see notes on 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

1 Corinthians 14:35 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 church.

1 Corinthians 14:36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

1 Corinthians 14:37 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.

spiritual. “Spiritual" here is the same word (pneumaticos) as “spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 14:1). Thus Paul is claiming that any man who truly possessed one of the spiritual gifts (especially, perhaps, that of discernment) would have to recognize the divine inspiration of his own writings. This is a very clear and emphatic affirmation by Paul himself of the inerrant verbal inspiration of his epistles.

1 Corinthians 14:38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.

be ignorant. The intent here is to tell the Corinthian church (and, by extension, any other true church) that if any of its leaders refused to recognize the inerrant authority of the Pauline epistles (or, presumably, of any other Scriptures—note what Paul affirmed in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Galatians 1:8-12), then he should be regarded as “ignorant" of God's will, and no longer regarded as a leader.

1 Corinthians 14:39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.

1 Corinthians 14:40 Let all things be done decently and in order.