Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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1 CORINTHIANS - Chapter 14

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1 Corinthians 14

Supplemental Commentary:

V.  THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS  12, 1 -- 14, 40 (continued)

3.  The Gifts of Tongues and Prophecy  14, 1-40

One of the most remarkable of the spiritual gifts was the gift of tongues.  It was given to all at the first coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2, 4) and on numerous occasions thereafter (Acts 10, 46; 19, 6).  (1) The nature of the miracle is not that those gifted with tongues spoke their own language and were understood in the various languages of their hearers, but that they spoke one new language or several new languages successively.  This is clear from the need of an interpreter (14, 6-19).  (2) The purpose of the miracle was not for preaching but for praising God.  (a) At Jerusalem (Acts 2) they all speak at once, one in one language, another in another, and they speak "of the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2, 4-13).  (b) When Peter speaks there is no evidence of the gift of tongues (Acts 2, 14 ff).  (c) St. Paul here contrasts it with prophecy which is for preaching (cf. 14, 22-25).  (d) It is said to be for speaking to God (14, 2.16.28).

The gift of tongues was fascinating and, therefore, much desired.  Without depreciating this gift St. Paul urges rather the use of prophecy as being more beneficial for building up the Church.

14, 1-5:  Superiority of Prophecy.    2.  No one understands: i.e., excepting the few, if any be present, whose language he speaks.  Mysteries generally means truths once hidden by God but now revealed; here it means that what is spoken is hidden by reason of the language used.    4.  Edifies himself: i.e., builds up his spiritual life; prayer always does this even if the language is not understood, provided only the soul is united with God.    5.  If he interprets he leads others also to his prayerful inspiration.

14, 6-19:  Tongues Require Interpretation.  The point made in the last verse is here developed by comparisons.    13-15.  When the spirit, man's higher self, consisting principally of good will, is united to God there is the essence of prayer; but still greater advantage is derived if to this is added also the natural understanding of what is said.    16.  Amen means "so be it."  How can one approve of your prayer and make it his own if he does not understand it?

14, 20-25:  Functions of These Gifts.    21.  Paul gives the sense of Isa. 28, 11 where the prophet threatens that God will punish the Israelites by permitting them to be conquered by people of a foreign tongue, the Assyrians.  The last part of this verse is a summary of Isa. 28, 13.    22.  This punishment at the hands of foreigners was a sign to the unbelieving Jews, so now also the gift of tongues is a sign to unbelieving heathens.  This miraculous sign of the divine character of the Christian faith was no longer needed by the faithful who profited more by the instruction given by the prophets.    23-25.  On the other hand the disorderly use of the gift of tongues might make one who does not know the Church have the impression that it is irrational.  The unbeliever as well as the believer will benefit more by the inspired preaching of the prophets.

14, 26-33a:  Practical Directions.    28.  Church refers not to a building but to an assembly.  Speak to himself and God: to the sole hearers, not that he addresses himself.    29.  Let the rest act as judges: to see whether the gift is genuine (1 Thess. 5, 20 f).    30-33.  Religious enthusiasm among the pagans carried one temporarily out of his mind so that he had no control over his religious emotions, but the gifts of the Holy Spirit are always under one's control.  If they are not under control, they are not genuine.

14, 33b-40:  Order Necessary.    34.  It is only the public exercise of the gift that is forbidden to women.    35.  They are also forbidden to raise questions and engage in discussions in the public assembly; they can do this through their husbands.    36.  The church at Corinth cannot set up customs and traditions independently of the other members of the one Church of God.    37 f.  No one may appeal to a gift of the Spirit to go contrary to the external authority set up by the Lord in the Apostles and their successors.

Confraternity Bible:

Superiority of Prophecy  1* Aim at charity, yet strive after the spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.  2* For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, as he is speaking mysteries in his spirit.  3 But he who prophesies speaks to men for edification, and encouragement, and consolation.  4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.  5* Now I should like you all to speak in tongues, but still more to prophesy; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in tongues, unless he can interpret so that the church may receive edification.

Tongues Require Interpretation  6* But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues what shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either in revelation, or in knowledge, or in prophecy, or in teaching?  7* Even inanimate instruments, like the flute or the harp, may produce sound, but if there is no difference in the notes, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?  8* If the trumpet give forth an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?  9* So likewise you---unless with the tongue you utter intelligible speech---how shall it be known what is said?  For you will be speaking to the empty air.  10* There are, for example, so many kinds of languages in this world and none without a meaning.  11* If, then, I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be to the one to whom I speak, a foreigner; and he who speaks, a foreigner to me.  12* So also you, since you strive after spiritual gifts, seek to have them abundantly for the edification of the church.

13* Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.  14* For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.  15* What, then, is to be done? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, but I will sing with the understanding also.  16* Else if thou givest praise with the spirit alone, how shall he who fills the place of the uninstructed say "Amen" to thy thanksgiving?  For he does not know what thou sayest.  17* For thou, indeed, givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.  18* I thank God I speak with all your tongues; 19* yet in the church, I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may also instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Function of These Gifts  20 Brethren, do not become children in mind, but in malice be children and in mind mature.  21* In the Law it is written that
"In other tongues and with other lips I will speak to this people, And not even so will they listen to me, says the Lord." 
22 Wherefore tongues are intended as a sign, not to believers, but to unbelievers; whereas prophecies, not to unbelievers, but to believers.  23 Therefore, if the whole church be assembled together and, while all are speaking with tongues, there should come in uninstructed persons or unbelievers, will they not say that you are mad?  24 Whereas, if while all are prophesying, there should come in an unbeliever or uninstructed person, he is convicted by all, he is put on trial by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are made manifest, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God, declaring that God is truly among you.

Practical Directions  26 What then is to be done, brethren?  When you come together each of you has a hymn, has an instruction, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation.  Let all things be done unto edification.  27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let it be by twos or at most threes, and let them speak in turn, and let one interpret.  28 But if there is no interpreter let him keep silence in the church, and speak to himself and to God.  29 Of the prophets, let two or three speak at a meeting, and let the rest act as judges.  30 But if anything is revealed to another sitting by, let the first keep silence.  31 For you all can prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be encouraged.  32 For the spirits of the prophets are under the control of the prophets.  33 For God is a God of peace, not of disorder.

Order Necessary  Thus I likewise teach in all the churches of the saints.  34 Let women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted them to speak, but let them be submissive, as the Law also says.  35 But if they wish to learn anything let them ask their husbands at home, for it is unseemly for a woman to speak in church.

36 What, was it from you that the word of God went forth?  Or was it unto you only that it reached?  37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things I am writing to you are the Lord's commandments.  38 If anyone ignores this, he shall be ignored.  39 So then, brethren, desire earnestly the gift of prophesying and do not hinder the gift of speaking in tongues.  40 Only let all things be done properly and in order.


1: To prophesy: to preach extempore under special inspiration of God, to be His spokesman whether for instructing, rebuking, exhorting to virtue or foretelling the future.

2: From this it appears that the gift of tongues, i.e., of speaking new languages, was given primarily with a view not to preaching but to praising God, thereby attracting men to God not by the words spoken but by the miracle of speaking various tongues.

5: Interpretation of tongues was a gift distinct from the speaking of tongues, enabling the hearers to derive edification also from the words spoken.

6-19: Speaking in tongues was a gift more obviously miraculous, more novel and for that reason naturally desired.  Paul, without condemning the desire to speak in tongues, prefers the more simple and useful gift of prophecy which gave supernatural help to religious instruction.

21: Isa. 28, 11.