1Corinthians 14 - Outline of 1Corinthians (MENU page)
This chapter concludes Paul's instructions, to the Corinthian church, concerning spiritual gifts or enablements. In ch.12, he taught about the diversity of enablements, given at the discretion of the Spirit, to enable each believer to fill a unique place in the body of Christ. In ch.13, the focus was on the necessity that each believer's life and ministry be motivated by divine love. The kind of love which Christ demonstrated for us, must be displayed in and through the members of His body.
     In this chapter (ch.14), Paul identifies what he previously referred to as "the best gifts" (1Cor 12:31), corrects the way they ranked the relative importance of spiritual gifts, and provides guidance concerning orderly conduct in their public worship services. The chapter may be divided as follows:
  1. The supremacy of prophecy, over tongues. 14:1-25
  2. The orderly use of gifts: for edification. 14:26-40
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 receive edifying.
Follow after {ie., pursue} charity, and desire {earnestly seek} spiritual [gifts]...
The Corinthian church was already eagerly seeking visible manifestations of spiritual power. Paul did not discourage their desire. But, here, he places the pursuit of godly love ahead of their desire for gifts, reminding them that their gifts are useless without love (1Cor 13:1-3). Love neither exalts itself, nor seeks to satisfy itself, but rather seeks to benefit others (1Cor 13:4-7).
...but rather that ye may prophesy.
The Corinthian church had placed excess importance upon speaking in tongues. Now, Paul begins to adjust the way they ranked the gifts.
...for he that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God...
Notice that the word 'unknown' is in brackets (or italics in many Bible versions), indicating that the word is absent in the Greek text (but inserted by the translators). In this chapter, all six occurrences of 'unknown' were inserted in the same way. Unfortunately, this insertion introduced confusion concerning the gift of 'tongues' or 'languages.'
     Of course, a person who speaks in a language, which human listeners cannot understand, is understood by God. But a language which is 'unknown' to local listeners, may be the 'mother tongue' of some tribe of men, who need to hear the Gospel. The biblical gift of tongues was first displayed, when the Holy Spirit filled the church at Pentecost, enabling the early disciples to proclaim the Gospel in languages which they had not learned (Acts 2:4-12). Such a gift enabled Paul to preach the message clearly, to many people groups, throughout the Roman world (cp. v.18). The ability to learn and converse in foreign languages is still of great importance in missionary work (though, it is rarely an instantaneous enablement, today).
...for no man understandeth him... he speaketh mysteries... he... edifieth himself.
The things spoken in tongues are 'mysteries' {secrets} to those who cannot understand the language. But the speaker may have a sense of spiritual strengthening.
But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men [to] edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
The gift of prophecy {rarely 'fore-telling,' usually meaning the 'forth-telling' of God's Word) when exercised in a language which the hearers can understand is 'edifying' to the church (v.4,5).
Three benefits of the proclamation of God's Word are mentioned in v.3:
  1. edification {GK=oikodome, lit., house construction} -
    It builds up the household of God in 'the Faith.' eg., 1Cor 3:9; Eph 2:19-22
  2. exhortation {GK=paraklesis, a calling alongside} -
    It makes application to the issues of a believer's personal life, to caution, correct and encourage a right walk with the Lord. eg., 1The 4:1
  3. comfort {GK=paramuthia, a speaking closely} -
    It speaks tenderly to the believer, to encourage or console, in times of failure, sorrow or loss. eg., Joh 11:19; Php 2:1,2
...greater [is] he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues,
except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
In this chapter, Paul repeatedly tests these gifts with the related questions:
     Can people understand the message? Will they be edified by what they hear?
In v.6-17, Paul makes the case that:
Tongues, without interpretion, are useless to the church.
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.
...what shall I profit you, except I speak to you either...
  • by revelation {GK=apokalupsis, uncovering} -
    This may entail newly revealed truth (while the NT was in the process of being written, Gal 1:11,12; Eph 3:3-6), or the opening of blind hearts to previously written truth (eg., Eph 1:17).
  • by knowledge {GK=gnosis, inquiry, investigation} -
    This word relates to a growing knowledge of God and His purposes for His people. cp. 2Pet 1:3-7; 3:18
  • by prophesying {GK=propheteia, the proclamation of God's Word} - See v.3
  • by doctrine {GK=didache, that which is taught} -
    Doctrine is the organized body of truth which defines biblical Christianity, and thereby defends against heresy. Acts 2:42; Rom 16:17; Titus 1:9
...except ye utter... words easy to be understood... how shall it be known...?
A teacher, who teaches vital truth in a language which his students cannot comprehend, is wasting his breath, for his many words benefit no one.
10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world,
and none of them [is] without signification
{ie., none of them is meaningless}.
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.
{1Cor 12:10}
...if I know not the meaning of the voice {GK=phone, sound, language}... a barbarian...
The word 'barbarian' refers to a 'foreigner.' The word is derived from the way a foreign language sounds to someone who cannot comprehend its meaning {ie., bar-bar, bar-bar...}.
...forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual [gifts]...
...seek that ye may excel {superabound} to the edifying of the church... pray that he may interpret.
Since spiritual gifts are meant to edify the church, and since the Corinthian church, in their eager pursuit of spiritual enablement, was enamored with speaking in tongues, they should pray that their foreign speech, could be translated into a language understandable by their congregation. Then their teaching would become truly profitable to the church.
Tongues are of very limited benefit to private worship.
14 For if I pray in an [unknown] tongue,
my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
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 edified.
...my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
If I pray or sing in words which I cannot understand, even if moved by the Spirit, I will not discern the meaning of the message. While the experience may be emotionally uplifting, it does nothing to increase my knowledge of the Lord and His Word.
What is it then? {What then shall I do?}
I will pray with the spirit, and with the understanding, also.
Proper worship is both 'in Spirit' and 'in Truth' (Joh 4:23,24).
...how shall... the unlearned {ignorant, unschooled} say 'Amen' at thy giving of thanks...?
A brother cannot approve of what you pray or sing, if he cannot understand your language. Likewise, the church cannot discern the spirits or judge the substance of any teaching, if they cannot understand what is spoken (eg., v.29; 1Cor 12:3; 1Joh 4:1-3).
Tongues had limited use in Paul's ministry.
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.
...I speak with tongues more than ye all...
God had opened many doors of utterance for Paul, in his missionary journeys. As the Gospel had been proclaimed in multiple languages at Pentecost (Acts 2:4-11), Paul had been enabled to communicate the message clearly to Jews and Gentiles, Barbarians and Scythians, slaves and freemen (Col 3:11). The prayers of many had been answered, for God had opened Paul's mouth and given utterance to His Word (cp. Eph 6:18,19; Col 4:3).
Yet in the church I had rather speak... with... understanding... that I might teach others...
But in each local church, Paul taught the believers in the language which they understood.
Brethren, be not children {GK=paidion, young children, toddlers} in understanding...
The apostle desired his spiritual children to attain maturity, which required them to comprehend biblical teaching with their minds (1Cor 3:1,2; Heb 5:12-14; 6:1-3).
...but in malice {depravity} be ye children {GK=nepiazo, be as babes, be innocent ones}.
Purity of mind also involves the understanding. eg., Psa 119:9; 139:23,24
...but in understanding be men {GK=teleios, complete, ie., of full age, perfect}.
Tongues, in the OT Scriptures, were intended as signs to unbelieving Israel.
21. In the law it is written, {Isa 28:11,12}
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.
...with men of other tongues will I speak unto this people...
God warned ancient Israel that He would judge their sin and apostasy at the hands of Gentile nations, whose languages they would not understand. eg., Deu 28:49; Jer 5:15
     But in the passage quoted in v.21 (Isa 28:11,12), God said, that during Israel's dispersion, He would continue to call them, through men who spoke foreign languages. This is being fulfilled today, as Christ's offer of rest to the weary (eg., Mat 11:29) is proclaimed worldwide through His church, which is called out of every kindred, tongue, people and nation. Rom 10:19; 11:11; Rev 5:9 (Also see Acts 2:6-36.)
Wherefore tongues are for a sign... to them that believe not...
The fact, that people of many languages now call upon Israel's God and Messiah, should cause Israel to take notice. Yet, they remain largely in unbelief.
but prophesying [serveth] not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.
The plain teaching of God's Word is beneficial to those who believe it.
Tongues are distracting to those outside the body of Christ.
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
{ie., raving maniacs}? {cp. Acts 2:12,13}
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:
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.
Unbelievers are likely to be distracted from the Gospel, by the confusion of hearing Christians uttering unintelligible speech.
     But the Spirit empowered proclamation of God's Word will cause conviction of sin, of the need for salvation, and of the identity of the Savior. Acts 2:37,38; Heb 4:12,13
B. The orderly use of gifts: for edification. 14:26-40
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
{ie., a message to expound}.
Let all things be done unto edifying.
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.
28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church;
and let him speak to himself, and to God.
How is it then?... every one of you hath...
The Corinthian believers were all coming to the church gathering ready to contribute. However, there was confusion as multiple members shared in speech or song, at the same time. Therefore, the apostle instructed them to set limits on participation in the service.
Those who spoke in tongues would be limited:
  • a maximum of two or three speakers per service.
  • only one person could speak at a time.
  • each speaker must wait for his turn.
  • public speaking in tongues would be allowed, only when an interpreter was available to translate the message into the local language.
29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.
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.
Those who spoke by prophesying would also be limited:
  • a maximum of two or three speakers per service.
  • only one person could speak at a time.
  • each speaker must wait for his turn.
  • each speaker's message was to be 'judged' {GK=diakrino, thoroughly evaluated} by 'the others' {plural} to ensure that it was true to the known Word of God.
...that all may learn and be comforted {GK=parakaleo, be exhorted, be encouraged}.
Thus, teaching, presented in an understandable language and in an orderly manner, would edify the listening body of believers.
The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
The Holy Spirit is not subject to any man. Note that 'spirits' is plural, referring to each man's human spirit. While some might claim that they could not wait to speak, when the Spirit moved, Paul declared that each prophet is able to control his emotions. If they claimed to speak for God, they must speak according to His charater: "For God is not the author of confusion {disorder}, but of peace."
     Paul had established similar limitations "in all churches of the saints" {ie., in all local churches which he had established, cp. 1Cor 4:17; 7:17}.
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
{ie., submission},
as also saith the law.
{Gen 3:16; 1Pet 3:5-7}
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.
The participation of women was to be limited in the general church service or assembly.
At home and in other smaller meetings, they were allowed to pray and prophesy (1Cor 11:5).
Let your women 'keep silence' {GK=sigao; ie., hold their peace} in the churches...
This word is also included in the limitations on men who desired to speak in tongues or prophesy publicly (v.28,30). Similarly, the same word for 'speak' is used, in v.27,29,34. Thus, it appears that women were restricted from speaking in tongues or prophesying in the general services. cp. 1Tim 2:12
     Considering the more sensitive nature of women, perhaps this restriction was intended to protect them against being carried away emotionally. However, the main issue was that women should accept the order which God has prescribed (1Cor 11:3).
...if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home...
In the time of the early church, few women could read or write. Therefore, in order to avoid addressing very basic or frivolous questions in the service, a woman was to ask her questions at home, where her husband might know the answer, or be able to find it in the Scriptures.
...it is a shame for women to speak in the church {GK=ekklesia, assembly of called out ones}.
This limitation is actually very narrow, applying only to speaking, and only to the general 'assembly' of local believers. In the early church, women were involved in many important roles. For example: Dorcas ministered to others in practical ways (Acts 9:36,39). Phebe was a servant {lit., deaconess} in her local church (Rom 16:1). Lydia was instrumental in establishing the church at Philippi (Acts 16:12-15). Priscilla (with her husband Acquila) assisted in Paul's ministry, hosted local church meetings in their house, and "expounded... the way of God more perfectly" to Apollos, thereby preparing him to be a powerful evangelist and Bible expositor (Acts 18:24-28; Rom 16:3; 1Cor 16:19).
     These instructions concerning the participation of women, are rejected by our modern day culture. But those, who follow these restrictions, demonstrate their submission to God's Word and His prescribed order of authority (as previously discussed, in the notes at 1Cor 11:3-16).
36. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual
{one enabled by the Spirit},
let him acknowledge
{ie., recognize} that the things that I write unto you
are the commandments
{GK=entole, authoritative injunction} of the Lord.
38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant
{ie., let him be ignored}.
or, "But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized." [NASB]
The Gospel had been brought to Corinth by the apostle Paul, who spoke with the authority of the Lord. Local church leaders who disagreed with the apostolic teaching were out of order. Their contrary opinions were to be rejected. cp. 1Cor 11:16
Finally, Paul briefly summarizes his teaching about spiritual gifts:
39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy,
and forbid not to speak with tongues.
The believers were to 'covet the best gifts,' namely: the means to prophesy {to proclaim God's Word}. The gift of tongues, while less valuable, could be profitable for edification of the church, if limited as prescribed in v.27,28).
40 Let all things be done decently {properly} and in order {in an orderly manner}.

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