Category Archives: 1 CORINTHIANS 14

The chapter which directs the exercise of the gifts of prophesying and tongues.

1 CORINTHIANS 14

SETTING OF THE CHAPTER This chapter follows on from the end of chapter 12, and is to be read against the background of chapter 13. In 12:31 the apostle speaks of two things. First, that the Corinthian believers should covet earnestly the best gifts. Second, that there was a more excellent way. The best gifts are explained in chapter 14 as being those, (the gift of prophecy in particular), which edify the most. Even the best gifts, however, are only effective is accompanied by love on the part of the ones exercising them, as 13:1-3 has explained.

SUITABLILITY OF THE CHAPTER We might ask, considering 13:8 has told us that sign-gifts would cease, why are we given a long chapter of instruction about their correct use. There are three reasons for this. First, the Corinthians were not using the gifts correctly, or with the right the right motive, so the apostle has to give them guidance. Second ,there would be a time when the genuine gifts would be withdrawn, but afterwards there would be some who claimed that they possessed them. Instructed by chapter 14, we are able to assess their claim. Third, the principles at work in chapter 14, together with the motive of charity in charity in chapter 13, give us guidance on the exercise of any gift at any time.

STRUCTURE OF THE CHAPTER The chapter divides into three parts: (a) Verses 1-20     Gifts should be used for edification. (b) Verses 21-25  The gift of tongues is a means of conviction. (c) Verses 26-40  Gifts should be exercised in an orderly way.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 14, VERSES 1 TO 20:

14:1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
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.
14:3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
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.
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?
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?
14:8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
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.
14:10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.
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.
14:12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.
14:13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.
14:14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
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.
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?
14:17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. 14:18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:
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.
14:20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

(a) Verses 1-20    Gifts should be used for edification.

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

Follow after charity– the apostle exhorts believers to let charity, (which is love in action), lead them into spiritual pathways, so that they willingly follow it as it does so. This expression is really saying, “Obey chapter 13”.
And desire spiritual gifts- since a believer’s gift is the outworking and manifestation of the indwelling Spirit, the gift or gifts are latent in that believer. They need to be stirred up, however, see 2 Timothy 1:6. So it does not seem that an individual believer is required to pray for an extra gift, (although verse 13 should be taken into account). Rather, he or she should ask for grace and light to discover the one already given, and seek help to exercise it. After all, the members of the human body have certain abilities in-built by the Creator, as 12:14-26 has indicated. No new abilities emerge after a time, although new abilities may be discovered which have been there all the time but unused. So it is the assembly as a whole that is to desire from God that He will either raise up new believers with needed gifts, or stir up existing believers to use the gift they already have. After all, the epistle is written to the assembly as a whole.
But rather that ye may prophesy- the apostle is not saying that to prophesy is an alternative to having gifts, as if there are gifts and there is prophecy. Rather, he is saying that the preferred gift is prophecy. It is better to have that in your assembly than other gifts of lesser value. After all, a person may learn another language if he is desirous of knowing the truth of God; the gift of tongues was not vital, although useful. The church has survived for 1900 years without the gift of tongues!

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.

For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue- the word “unknown” has been supplied to make the sense. It is not true to say that a person speaking in a language does not speak to men meaningfully. His word has great meaning if the person spoken to knows the language spoken. The apostle is referring to a person speaking with the miraculous gift of tongues to those who do not understand it, and for whom there is no interpreter.

A distinction is not being made here between the tongues-speaking of Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, and that practised in the assembly at Corinth. There is no reason to think this. There was not a double miracle in Acts 2, one enabling the apostles to speak in foreign languages, and another enabling foreigners to understand. Each language grouping could gather round the person who was speaking their language. They had no need for an interpreter, nor are interpreters mentioned in Acts 2. It was an earthly language they spoke, not some imagined heavenly language.
Speaketh not unto men, but unto God- clearly the apostle is referring to meaningful speaking, for it is perfectly possible to speak in an unknown tongue to men; the point is they do not understand it. God hears and understands, but men do not, thus the point of the exercise is lost.
For no man understandeth him- this is the reason the apostle gives for the “speaketh not unto men”; it is to be thought of as “not understanding”. Howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries- this is not to say that what is said is useless, for it is the unfolding of the mysteries of the New Testament revelation that is happening. It is the whole operation that is useless if no-one understands.

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

But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men- that is, who prophesies either in his own language, (which is the language of the majority of his hearers), or in a tongue which is interpreted.
To edification, and exhortation, and comfort- this is the result of the prophet speaking unto men. There is edification, or a building up in Divine things. There is also exhortation, which is encouragement to continue in the things taught, a stirring up. Comfort is help for the difficulties of the way, or a binding up of the broken-hearted. The same session of prophesying may accomplish these three things at the same time, and in the same person or in different persons.

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

He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself- again the word tongue has been supplied to make the sense. An un-interpreted tongues-speaking session only builds up the one speaking, and no-one else present. This shows that the speaker in tongues knew the teaching he was giving. He did not utter things he did not understand. The gift lay in the ability to speak these things in a language he had not learnt.
But he that prophesieth edifieth the church- the man who is prophesying is not doing so in an unknown tongue, and therefore his words can be understood and can edify all the believers in the assembly without exception.

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.

I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied- the apostle is not discouraging the use of gift. His strong desire was that the gifts they had been given should be exercised. To be of use, however, the language used must be understood. It is clear from these verses that the gift of tongues was not some party-trick for the amusement of the believers. It was not a showy thing, but a very needful thing in order that the truths of Christianity might be spread abroad in the most efficient way.

When two prophets seemed to be acting in isolation from Moses by prophesying in the camp, Moses’ response was, “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets”, Numbers 11:29. The apostle is expressing the same idea here. He has already asked the question “Are all prophets”? in 12:29 and the obvious answer is “No”. There is no contradiction. Rather, he is expressing, like Moses, his wish that all the Lord’s people were concerned about exercising their gift. If the choice, in this theoretical situation the apostle is presenting, was between all the Lord’s people speaking in tongues, or all the Lord’s people prophesying, then he would choose the latter.
For greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues- this does not mean a tongues-speaker was morally inferior to the prophet; but that the prophet was greater in his effect upon the audience. Except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying- this confirms that the apostle is assuming in his comments that the language spoken is not interpreted. This is why it is not edifying. If it were interpreted then it would be just as edifying as prophesying. Notice that it is envisaged that the one speaking in tongues may also interpret, if he prays for that ability. See verse 13.

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?

Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues- the apostle is careful not to give the impression that tongues were in some way harmful. Having expressed a desire that many would speak in tongues, he now assures us that he did also, as he will say again in verse 18.
What shall I profit you- the emphasis is always on benefit for the company, so that they come together for the better and not for the worse, 11:17. There was to be no benefit for the tongues-speaker, perhaps in terms of prestige at having such an unusual gift.
Except I shall speak to you either by revelation- as an apostle entrusted with the mysteries of God, he had the ability to give them revelations of truth not known before. And those revelations would be of such a sort that they would benefit the hearers, so the speaking would be in character revelatory and not secret. If this is to be the case, then the language must be one they understand, or one that is interpreted for Paul by one gifted to do so.
Or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? the four things listed in this verse are best understood by linking them diagonally, so to speak, so the revelation is through the prophesying, and the knowledge is through doctrine or teaching. The knowledge is the teaching of things already to be found in the Scriptures, for many principles are found in the Old Testament that are of value to us in this present age. It could also be the teaching of things already revealed through the prophets. Revelation, however, was reserved for those who had the gift of prophecy, able to unfold the mind of God without recourse to the Scriptures, for the truths revealed were not to be found there.

We must not lose sight of the main argument here, which is that tongues must be interpreted. There is no revelation given or knowledge imparted if the sounds are unintelligible.

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?

And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp- if even life-less objects like musical instruments can be made to give out meaningful sounds, then surely gifted believers ought to be able to!
Except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? There is the proviso that the sounds made should be intelligible, and not a meaningless barrage of noise. The hearers must be able to pick out the tune if they are going to respond to the music. When a person speaks in the assembly, the result should always be that the believers know what they should do in response.

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

For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? The nation of Israel in the wilderness were directed by various commands given to them by means of silver trumpets being blown, Numbers 10:1-10. They did not play a tune like a pipe or a harp, but gave different combinations of blasts that told all in the camp what they should do.

When both trumpets were blown, the whole assembly was to gather at the tabernacle. When just one was blown, the princes were to assemble. When an alarm was sounded, then the people dwelling on the east side should journey, and when the alarm was sounded a second time, the south side of the camp was to move off. If the people were going to war, then an alarm was to be blown with both trumpets, and when it was peace-time, and the festivals were celebrated, then the trumpets were to be blown over the altar in an expression of joy. So if the war-alarm was sounded, but in an indistinct way, some of the soldiers might prepare for battle, whilst others prepared to assemble at the tabernacle. Confusion would result and the battle might be lost.

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.

So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? this is not an appeal for preachers to speak clearly, although they should do so. It is a reference to speaking in a tongue or language. Like the harp or pipe giving an indistinct sound, the tune will not be recognised; like the trumpet sending confusing messages, the correct response will be lacking. If the hearers are unable to understand the language, they will be at a loss to grasp the meaning of what is said. As a result, the desirable results the apostle mentions in verse 6, namely revelation and knowledge, will not be achieved. For ye shall speak into the air- the words spoken will be of no more use than if the person spoke with no-one present.

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

There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world- the expression “without signification” is simply the negative of the word translated “voices” at the beginning of this verse. The idea in the expression “it may be” is there are very many kinds or families of voices in the world, but Paul did not know the exact number. What he did know was that every one of them had certain distinctive features about them which showed they were not mere collections of noises, but structured languages.
And none of them is without signification- he is using the word voice for a language because its essential feature is that it is a sound, and all those voices or sounds have a signification. Every language has certain significant features which tell us it is a particular language, and there are no exceptions to this.   It is not that what is said has significance, (that might or might not be the case), but that each language has particular and distinctive features. This is true of all languages, so the Corinthians could not claim exceptions in their tongues-speaking. Note how the apostle assumes we believe that tongues are real languages. A jumble of words or sounds with no grammatical structure, (signification, or pointers to the fact it is a language), cannot be called a language in any meaningful sense of the term.

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.

Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice- the illustration of pipe, harp and trumpet have prepared us for the idea that mere sounds are not very useful; the instruments must play a tune, or convey a message. So the sound uttered by a believer as he speaks in the assembly must be meaningful. The word translated “meaning” is “dunamis”, often translated “power”. The meaning of the words used in a language is what gives that language force and effectiveness. Mere sounds are not enough.
I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian- if a speaker is uttering a language I do not know, then he will assume I am a barbarian, an unlettered and ignorant person, if I show no signs of understanding what he says. This will be the case if the speaker is met with blank looks on the part of his audience.
And he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me- the feeling will be mutual; each thinks the other is unable to understand proper language, whereas what is in fact the case is that the language has no force with the hearers because it is unintelligible, being strange to them, and not interpreted.

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

Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts- the “even so” takes us back to verse 6, with its ideal situation of Paul coming to them speaking in tongues, but with the result that they are helped in Divine things. He is saying that what happened when he was with them could happen amongst themselves without him being present.
Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church- the state of things described in verse 11 does not edify, only frustrate and baffle. The state of things in verse 6, however, where tongues are intelligible and profitable because translated, is edifying. Every contribution to an assembly gathering should be intelligible and useful, with the result that the souls of the believers are built up in the faith.

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

Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret- in 12:10 it seemed as though the one who had the gift of interpretation was different to the one who had the gift of tongues. Yet here the gift of interpretation could be prayed for if there was no interpreter present. And in verse 28 if there was no interpreter then the tongues-speaker should be silent. Note that there is no promise that the prayer to be able to interpret will be answered. Note also that it is a prayer to be able to interpret, not a prayer for the gift of interpretation. So pressing is the need for interpretation that an exception is made, and a person who has not normally the gift of interpretation is enabled, perhaps temporarily, to interpret. They are not said to be given the gift of interpretation, (which would suggest it was permanent), but simply are enabled to interpret on that occasion.

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

For if I pray in an unknown tongue- the word unknown is being added here again to make the sense clear. The idea is of a language unknown to some of the hearers. The apostle is transferring the action to himself, to show he is not exempt from these principles. If an apostle was not exempt, then certainly the Corinthians were not.
My spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful- the apostle is praying in an unknown tongue, but has not obeyed his own injunction of verse 13 because he has not been able to interpret what he prayed, for the benefit of those listening. In that case, what he prays is indeed the outflow of his spirit to God, for his spirit does really pray, but his understanding is unfruitful. He himself knows what he is praying, even if he is expressing himself in a foreign language, for he is thinking in one language, (his native tongue), but speaking in another, which he has never learnt. His understanding of the content of his prayer is complete, for it is the expression of his own spirit. But as far as others are concerned, his understanding is unproductive simply because they do not understand the language he is voicing. His prayer reaches God, for it the outflow of his spirit, and God understands the language he is speaking, but it does not reach his fellow-believers, for they do not understand what he is saying.

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.

What is it then? What is the remedy for the unsatisfactory situation described in verse 14?
I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also- it was not that he did not understand in verse 14, but rather that his understanding was not of benefit to others. He now resolves to remedy this by praying to be able to interpret his own prayer, so that those in the company who did not speak the language he used to pray with may now understand and say “Amen” intelligently.
I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also- the apostle extends this principle to singing. We must remember that the apostle envisaged that our singing would be edifying. His word to the Colossians was, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord”, Colossians 3:16. So their singing was to be instructive, for their songs were to have spiritual content, building up their souls as they sang them.

In this context, therefore, Paul would sing in a foreign language with those present who understood his singing because they knew that language. Those who did not would need to have the song interpreted. In this way the understanding of the spiritual content of his song, already known by him in his spirit, would be communicated to all the others present, whether they knew the language or not at first, so that they could be united in meaningful singing to God.

That which is sung may not have been an already-composed hymn, but an exalted expression of praise for that moment. The melody was in the heart, not necessarily vocalised, as Ephesians 5:19 puts it, “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”.

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?

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? If the praying or singing, by which the blessing of God’s name took place, was done in a language not understood, then others could not respond intelligently. Those that “occupy the room of the unlearned” would be those who did not understand the language spoken, which is what the apostle means by “understandeth not what thou sayest”. They are distinguished from unbelievers in verse 23. They are also distinguished from unbelievers in this verse by the fact that they say “Amen”.

The “room” is not a physical spot in the meeting-place reserved for such people. It is a moral position, not physical. After all, if a brother spoke in Arabic, then a certain section of the assembly would occupy the room of the unlearned if they were Greeks who did not understand Arabic. If the language was then interpreted, however, they become learned without moving seats.

It is indeed important to distinguish between those in fellowship in an assembly, and those who simply observe, whether unbelievers or believers, but this verse is not referring to that subject. The context must decide these questions.

Notice that it is envisaged that all the company should say an intelligent “Amen” at the end of prayers, thus indicating their heartfelt solidarity with the truths expressed in the prayer. A prayer should not be endorsed in this way if it contains error, or else saying amen becomes an empty formality.

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

For thou verily givest thanks well- the apostle describes the ideal situation, where a brother gives thanks in a perfectly acceptable way. Even in this ideal situation there is a shortcoming, if the words used are not understood.
But the other is not edified- if the language used is not understood, those listening are not edified in soul. Every contribution that a brother makes in the assembly should have spiritual content. This is not to say that a prayer should be “ministry with the eyes shut”, but it should be Scripture-based, as was the only prayer recorded of an assembly, found in Acts 4:24-30. The believers grounded their prayer on Psalm 2, and the Lord responded in a powerful way. They were unleashing, by their prayer, the power available in the word of God.

The apostle is emphasising the special nature of the gift of tongues, for all gifts can be exercised with less than maximum profit, through the fault of the persons using them. But the gift of tongues could also be used with no profit at all, if those present did not understand it, and no-one interpreted it. Hence the apostle’s insistence on the need to be understood. Without understanding, the point of having the gift of tongues was completely lost, for there was not just little profit, but no profit at all.

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

I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all- lest it be thought that he was against tongues-speaking, (perhaps because he was jealous of others having the gift when he did not), the apostle assures us that he spoke in tongues more than even the Corinthians. As he evangelised the heathen world, Paul was grateful, (and he expresses his gratitude here), that he had the ability to speak the language of any Gentile he came across. This was God’s way of furthering the progress of the gospel in those early days. It was the fulfilment of the promise the Lord Jesus made to His disciples as He sent them forth, for He said they would speak with new tongues; that is, tongues new to them, Mark 16:17. They were to preach the gospel to every creature, verses 15, and whatever language that person spoke, they would able to preach the gospel to him in his own language.

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.

Yet in the church- the apostle seems to distinguish his much speaking in tongues of verse 19, from his speaking in tongues in the church, as here. This confirms that verse 18 is referring mainly to evangelism, although not exclusively so, for the assemblies formed in heathen parts would need the apostle’s teaching.
I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also- the apostle is using extremes to make his point. Those who used the gift of tongues to draw attention to themselves lacked understanding of the reason why they had been given the gift. Five words from someone who understood why he had been gifted were better than ten thousand words from someone who did not understand, and who was merely boosting his ego. The person who had understanding would be aware that his task was to teach. If he tried to do this by speaking in a tongue that was not translated, his words would not teach. Those who tried to teach by speaking a language no-one could understand were showing that they, as speakers, did not understand the reason why they were speaking. Than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue- this shows yet again that the whole process of speaking in tongues was an exercise of the mind. It was not a meaningless babble that anyone could produce.

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

Brethren, be not children in understanding- as he brings this section to an end, the apostle appeals to the Corinthians not only as his brethren, but also as brethren of one another. As Abraham said to Lot, “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee…for we be brethren”, Genesis 13:8. And as Joseph said to his brothers, “See that ye fall not out by the way”, Genesis 45:24, for he knew there might be recriminations amongst them as they discussed what had happened to them. The matters that this chapter is adjusting might result in strife between those who wished to comply and those who did not; the apostle is guarding against that situation.
Howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men- if they are going to be underdeveloped in anything it should be in malice. He had to warn against malice in 5:8, for in the delicate matters discussed there strong feelings might be aroused, and some might display malice towards those who were inclined to obey the apostle’s injunctions, and others might show malice towards those who resisted obeying his commands.

So here, where the apostle appeals to them to seek to understand better the reason why they been given a gift, and act with kindness and firmness towards those who persisted in their wrong ways. They should not only have understanding about the gift, but also about the way to deal with the matter in response to the epistle.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 14, VERSES 21 to 25:

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.
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.

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?

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:

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.

(b) Verses 21-25 The gift of tongues is a means of conviction

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.

In the law it is written- there are several ways in which the word “law” is used in the New Testament, and here the apostle uses it for the whole of the Old Testament, for it took character from the law given at Sinai. He does the same thing in verse 34. It is also true that the essence of what he is about to quote from Isaiah is found beforehand in the writings of Moses the lawgiver when he warned Israel that if they disobeyed God “The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand”, Deuteronomy 28:49.
With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people- this is a quotation from Isaiah 28:11,12 which reads, “For with stammering lips and another tongue will He speak to this people…yet they would not hear”. The words are addressed to the men of Ephraim, (one of the names for the 10-tribed kingdom), just a few years before the Assyrians came and took them into captivity, as recorded in 2 Kings 17:1-6. So Isaiah records the fulfilment of Moses’ warning, for a people whose language they did not understand not only came and conquered them, but also took them to Assyria, where they were surrounded by those who spoke that language. Every day they were reminded of their disobedience.
And yet for all that will they not hear Me, saith the Lord”- despite this dramatic demonstration of God’s anger at their disobedience, they refused to repent, and the ten tribes are still where they were scattered. It is interesting to notice, however, that there were many Jews in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, who had come from those parts to which the ten tribes had been scattered. They heard the “mighty works of God” expounded in their own language. The fact that they testified to hearing in “the language wherein we were born”, Acts 2:8, and not in Hebrew, would remind them of their disobedience as a nation, and prepare them to hear that God was prepared to bless them in Jesus their Messiah.

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.

Wherefore tongues are for a sign- the apostle is now highlighting another purpose for the gift of tongues, that it was a sign. This is clearly not its only purpose, for the previous part of the chapter has emphasised that if it was used and then translated, then it was beneficial.
Not to them that believe, but to them that believe not- the language used by the Assyrians was a judgement upon unbelief, and was also God’s way of bringing them to repentance if they reflected on the way Moses’ words had been fulfilled. Hence the words “yet for all that” of verse 21. Despite this potentially beneficial effect even of the judgement, they would not hear God’s voice in the situation, and repent.

Note that the apostle does not specifically say that those who believe not are Jews, and this despite the fact that this is who the prophet is referring to by the use of the words “this people”. He is setting out a principle that just as an unknown language was a sign of God’s judgement in Israel’s day, so the unbeliever of Paul’s day should be aware that the same thing was happening in his hearing, and should cause him to repent. The gift of tongues could not be counterfeited, for it is not possible to speak a language you have not learnt unless you have the gift of tongues from God. (This is further proof that the languages spoken were genuine. Invented language would not convince unbelievers). This phenomenon was unmistakably of God, therefore, and even its very occurrence should have had a salutary effect upon those who heard it. Tongues were a sign that God was at work, but believers would not see that as judgement upon them.

It is noticeable that the apostle Peter did not quote this verse from Isaiah on the Day of Pentecost, even though it mentioned speaking in tongues, and even though the passage he did quote did not mention tongues. This is all the more striking because those gathered in Jerusalem that day were from districts to which the ten tribes had been scattered. They were the descendants of the people Isaiah had warned in his prophecy.

It was not the gospel that was preached by the use of tongues on that occasion, but “the mighty works of God”. The Jews present were used to hearing a discourse in the synagogue on the way God had dealt with the nation of Israel in Old Testament times, (see, for examples, Acts 7 and Acts 13), and this was what they heard in Acts 2:11 before Peter preached the gospel to them without the use of tongues in verses 14-36.
But prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe- unbelievers are unable to comprehend the truth of God such as was made known by prophecy, for “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man”, 1 Corinthians 2:14,15.

Literally rendered, verse 22 reads in Stephens 1550, “So that the tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to the unbelievers; but prophecy, not to the unbelievers, but to those who believe”. So the word “serveth” which is in italics in the Authorised Version because it has been added to make the sense, alerts us to the fact that prophecy also is a sign. This time the sign is to believers. The very presence of prophets amongst them was a sign that Christ had been exalted and had given gifts unto men, Ephesians 4:8,11. So prophecy was a sign of blessing, whereas tongues, in this context, was a sign of judgement on unbelief. Paul is not saying that prophecy had no usefulness to unbelievers, for he will say it had in verse 24. He is saying that it is a far better sign than that of tongues. Unbelievers can understand what tongues as a sign mean, whereas only believers understand what the sign of the presence of prophecy is, for only they comprehend that Christ is risen and ascended.

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?

If therefore the whole church be come together into one place- the apostle is not suggesting that sometimes the church met in separate places throughout the city of Corinth, whereas in this verse he thinks of them all in one place. Nor does he suggest that sometimes less than the whole church came together into one place. The “if” does not relate to “come together in one place”, but to “all speak with tongues”. The sense is, “If, therefore, (the whole church having come together into one place as usual), all speak with tongues…” Even if the tongues were interpreted, the very utterance of them would lead the unbelievers to draw the wrong conclusion.
And all speak with tongues- this is either an exaggerated situation to prove a point, with every believer speaking in tongues, (even though the sisters were to be silent), or it means every one who takes part speaks in tongues, and no-one prophesies. Since the same scenario is envisaged in the next verse in connection with prophesying, and the effect is to convince outsiders that God is present, it must mean that the “all” are all those qualified to speak, not every single person in the company, for that would not be of God.
And there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers- it is clearly envisaged that unbelievers could freely attend the gatherings of the believers. The assembly was not shut away from the people. They were a separated people but not an isolated people. It is important to see the difference between the two.
The unlearned, as in verse 16, would be those who do not understand a tongue before it is interpreted, even though, as believers, they have the capacity to understand the truth of God. The unbelievers can neither understand the language, nor understand the meaning if the language is interpreted.
Will they not say that ye are mad? The natural reaction would be to think the believers had lost control of their senses. When Paul gave his testimony before Festus, the latter’s response was to say, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad”. Paul’s answer was, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness”, Acts 26:24,25. So if words spoken in a known tongue produced the verdict “Mad!” How much more those spoken in an unknown language.

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:

But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned- the same situation prevails, with the whole assembly gathered together, but this time it is prophesying that is heard.
He is convinced of all, he is judged of all- able to listen intelligently to the preaching, which is in a language he understands, he is convicted by the truth he hears, and he finds that the word of God is examining him, through the means of men preaching. (The “all” referring to the “all” who prophesy). The Spirit uses the lips of men to unfold the truth of God, to show him his need. The need of the unbeliever is salvation. The need of the unlearned is further truth. Both are catered for in this situation.

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.

And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest- that which un-interpreted tongues can never do, (despite their drama and their appearance of spirituality), the revelation of the truth of God can accomplish. Both sorts of person have their hearts exposed, and the secrets of those hearts are manifest, not to the believers, but to God. Of course God can read the hearts of men anyway, but in this situation the person concerned realises that it is so.
The unbeliever’s sinful heart is exposed, leading him to seek salvation; the unlearned person’s ignorance is exposed to him, leading him to seek further light.
And so falling down on his face he will worship God- this indicates a deep impression has been made upon him, and he has started to be serious about having dealings with God. What he has learnt so far about God causes him to realise that God is deserving of worship. To such a person further light is given so that he may come to faith in Christ.
And report that God is in you of a truth- the report may be a report to others outside, but it also includes the idea of a declaration to the gathered company in the enthusiasm of his new-found knowledge. This is similar to the reaction of Jacob when he realised that God had made His presence known to him at Bethel, (a place-name meaning “House of God”, see also 1 Timothy 3:15 ). He exclaimed, “Surely God is in this place; and I knew it not”, Genesis 28:16. Jacob came to realise the presence of God through a dream, whereas these realise it though prophesying.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 14, VERSES 26 to 40:

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

14:29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.
14:30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.
14:31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.

14:32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
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.

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

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.

14:38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.
14:39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
14:40 Let all things be done decently and in order.

(c) Verses 26-40 Gifts should be exercised in an orderly way

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.

How is it then, brethren? As he embarks upon the last section of the chapter, the apostle asks the Corinthians to take stock of their situation. They should ask themselves how they were behaving in the assembly gatherings, and be prepared to be adjusted by the apostle’s closing exhortations and instructions.
When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation- he offers no rebuke for their conduct here, apart from reminding them that all things must be done for edifying, which has been his theme all along in the chapter. If we are to “come together for the better”, 11:17, then there must always be something built into our souls during a meeting.

It seems clear that each brother was coming to the meeting exercised to contribute in some way, which was good. This was a situation the apostle can proceed to build on in his closing remarks. It is good when every brother is exercised to take audible part in the gathering in some way. Of course the sisters, although not authorised to take public and audible part, have a vital role in the gatherings. In fact, their silent contribution can make all the difference.

So it was that every one who had a special reason to praise God added his personal psalm to the proceedings. These did not hold back and praise silently, but voiced their thanks to God so that others might be built up in soul.

Some were teachers of doctrine already revealed, and these gave that doctrine as was appropriate. Some were moved to exercise their gift of tongues; others were equally moved to interpret what they said. Still others could prophesy, and give a revelation of hitherto unknown truth. Thus the whole company were edified by the use of various gifts. This is how it still should be, even though the sign-gifts have been withdrawn. The principle remains for us to follow. Of course this cannot happen if we abdicate our responsibilities, and charge one man to do all these things for us. The principle of clergy and laity is very grieving to the Spirit of God and should be seen as such, and abandoned. Let all things be done unto edifying- this is the test always. Does what I say contribute to the well-being of the gathered company? If it does, it is sure to be pleasing to the Lord and to His glory, and this is the goal the Spirit strives for as He moves amongst the gathered company.

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.

If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three- despite the usefulness of the gift, and the fact that it enabled the whole company, whatever their native language, to understand what had been said, the use of it was to be limited to two or three persons so gifted. The apostle counsels against a large part of the meeting being taken up by tongues-speaking, for in the nature of the case those who do not speak that language naturally are not being edified whilst it is happening. Those who do know the language spoken, (for it is their native tongue), will be edified by the two or three that do speak.
And that by course- the tongues-speaking is to be done in succession, not all at once, for that would recreate Babel. This means the tongues-speaker is in control of his will.
And let one interpret- this either means one who had the gift of interpretation should interpret for all who spoke in tongues, or that each tongues-speaker was to have his own interpreter. In either case the essential thing was orderliness and decorum. Note also that there was to be one tongues-speaker, and one interpreter in each case.  Just as several speaking in tongues at once was out of order, so was more than one trying to interpret at the same time.

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

But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church- in verse 13 the tongues-speaker was to pray that he might interpret, whereas here he is simply to remain silent. The apostle surely had not forgotten what he had written in verse 13! In the absence of explanation we must wait upon God for the answer. In any event, it is clear that the interpreter was a known person.
And let him speak to himself, and to God- instead of speaking to others in an untranslated foreign language, he was to simply and quietly commune with himself and his God in silence. In this way his exercise was not stifled, (it had no doubt been prompted by the Holy Spirit), but because it would not be of profit to others, it must be directed at God alone in silence, not to believers.

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

Let the prophets speak two or three- notice that the reserve the apostle felt about the tongues-speaking is not found here. Before, he said “at the most by three”, suggesting that two would normally be enough. When writing of prophesy, however, he does not have any reservations about three people engaging in it. This shows the greater importance of prophesying. And let the other judge- “the other” refers to the body of other prophets. They are to assess what is being said, to safeguard the integrity of the doctrine being taught in the assembly. Those gifted with the ability to prophesy would know wrong doctrine when they heard it. This principle still applies, for the teaching that is given in assembly gatherings should pass the test of those present who are ministers of the word themselves. The apostle warned the Ephesian elders that after his departure some would rise up from among themselves, who would teach perverse things. He therefore commanded them to watch, Acts 20:30,31. Those who teach the Scriptures should welcome the presence and opinion of other gifted believers, and not be resentful if they should make comment. Of course those who judge now must do so by the test of the written word of God, for they are not gifted to prophesy.

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

If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by- this highlights the fact that a prophet was not giving the results of previous study, but was able to give to the company what the Lord was giving him at that moment. He himself did not know it before, any more than the company did. But the Spirit might have another revelation to give to the gathered company, and the first speaker, even though he is speaking in the power of the Spirit of God, is not unable to control himself, for he can calmly close his remarks and sit down if another indicates he has a word of revelation to give.

This is not to make the Holy Spirit interrupt Himself. Perhaps the prophet was attempting to go over what he had said, to impress it upon his hearers, and the Holy Spirit, knowing the hearts of the people of God, would know they had already grasped what was taught the first time, and repetition was unnecessary. The prophet would not know the hearts of the believers, so indication is given to him to cease speaking, by the Spirit giving to another a word of revelation.
Let the first hold his peace- he is not only to sit down and be silent, but is not to interrupt with his own comments, perhaps out of annoyance that he has had to sit down. This is where the teaching in chapter 13 about charity comes in, for all must be done in a spirit of charity, which is love in action.

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

For ye may all prophesy one by one- that is, all three may prophesy in succession, but each should be prepared to give way to the other.
That all may learn, and all may be comforted- if two prophesied at the same time, the company would be distracted, and learning would be hindered if not prevented. Not only do the minds of the believers need to be instructed, but their hearts need to be warmed also. Those who teach should remember these twin objectives, and always strive to attain them.

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

And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets- false prophets are energised by evil spirits, and often are so under their control that they are helpless. The true prophet will speak in the power of the Holy Spirit of God, and will never be beside himself, unable to control his spirit. Those who have as their slogan “Let go and let God” are on very dangerous ground, and leave themselves open to the influence of demonic forces.

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

For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace- just as Jerusalem, (meaning “foundation of peace”), is God’s city on the earth, so Babel, (confusion) is Satan’s city. God is the God of order, and therefore of peace, for there can be no peace where there is disorder. Satan, however, delights to confuse, and so doing disturb and distract the minds of men.
As in all churches of the saints- the apostle was always insistent that the churches should act in the same way wherever they were found. There was no room for “liberal” churches and “tight” churches. All were to conform to the one faith and practice as set out by the apostles. If this goal had been striven for more earnestly there would not be such divergence amongst those who profess to be believers. Notice that the believers are called saints here, or holy ones, for their conduct should be subject the leading of the Holy Spirit who indwelt them all.

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.

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak- as we see when we correctly understand 11:5, the sisters had every opportunity to use their gift of prophecy if they had it, as the activities of the daughters of Philip the evangelist show, Acts 21:9. When it came to the assembly gatherings, however, it was God’s will that they should remain silent. It was not for them to teach the believers, for that would usurp the authority that God had invested in the male believers, as 1 Timothy 2:12 indicates. The apostle gives two reasons for the injunction. First because Adam was made before Eve, so God indicated by the order that He was establishing the male as leader. This is before sin came in, so is not some punishment on the woman for the fact that it was Eve that first took of the tree. Second, because the woman was first in the transgression, Satan no doubt targeting her because he saw that her mind worked differently to that of Adam, and he could more easily hoodwink her.

It was an unbelieving, female, psychologist who wrote, “Men think about things logically without having to engage the emotional receptors of their brain. But women have them spread out all over their brains, so it is hard for them to have a discussion without some sort of emotional tone in it”. So neither of the reasons Paul gives for the women remaining silent are a reflection on her spiritually. It is simply that God desired it that way, and made the woman so she was best fitted for her own role.
But they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law- by the law is meant the whole of the Old Testament, but in particular the account given by Moses of the creation and fall of man in the Book of Genesis. So it is not the invention of Paul, although the current command is being given through him, but is is harmony with God’s will from the beginning. Note it is a command, not a matter of choice. This is the plain sense of these words, and it cannot be cancelled by some argument such as that the word for speak means to chatter, and this is what the apostle is prohibiting. The same word for speak is used of God in verse 21, and this should be the end of the argument.

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.

And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home- it was permitted for men to interrupt the speakers in the synagogue if they had a question about what was being said. The men would do this with their heads covered. The women at Corinth might argue that since they were now the ones with the head covered, they could take over that task. The apostle supposes that the husband is versed in the Scriptures enough to provide their wives with the answer to their query. This is part of the nourishing and cherishing of which Ephesians 5:28,29 speaks.
For it is a shame for women to speak in the church- just as it is a shame for a woman to be with uncovered head and short hair in the church, as chapter 11:5,6 explains, so it is also a shame for them to speak. The implication is that the reverse is the case, and the covered head and long hair and silence of the sisters is to the glory of God.

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

What? came the word of God out from you? We can sense the strong feelings aroused in the mind of the apostle as he exclaims “What?” He knows the assembly well, and can anticipate what some of them might say in response to his teaching in this chapter. He deals with their objections by going to the heart of the matter. Do they originate the way in which the gatherings should be carried out? Is it left to them to formulate policy, or did the word of God come to them from outside, through the apostles? They latter, of course, is the case.
Or came it unto you only? Given that the word of God came to them from outside, did it do so only to them, or is what is taught in this chapter for all assemblies all through this present age? Again, the latter is the case. They have no authority to deviate from the normal pattern of behaviour in other assemblies.

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.

If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual- the apostle appeals to those who claimed to either be gifted, or to have advanced in spiritual things. Let them not think they had gone beyond anything the apostle could tell them. Prophets, for all their ability, were second to apostles, as the order of priority of 12:28 shows with the words, “first, apostles, secondarily prophets”.
Let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord- the apostle calls for active and willing acknowledgement that what he taught was of the Lord. And also that it was not simply exhortation, but commandment. If this is to be the response of prophets and spiritual believers, how much more is it to be true of non-prophets, and carnal believers, that they should recognise the teachings of the apostle as binding upon them. How different the history of the last 2000 years would be if this had been heeded, and the apostle’s words obeyed, as being from the Lord. Through the apostle the trumpet has given a certain sound, and we should prepare ourselves for battle.

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

But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant- the only alternative to accepting Scripture as the commands of the Lord is to be ignorant. There is no middle way. To accept the words is to know; to reject the words is to not know. Those today who profess to be believers in Christ, and yet have no interest in the Word of God, are ignorant, because they are unbelieving. Those who reject Scripture as the commandments of the Lord condemn themselves to ignorance as long as they remain in that situation. They may know much about the world around them, but nothing in relation to the things of God.

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

Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy- as he brings the section to an end, the apostle closes as he began, with an appeal for the exercise of the then-extant gifts. There should be a strong desire to be in a position to reveal truth to the people of God. The principle remains, that the desire to teach the people of God is paramount, and should be earnestly desired by those to whom it is open. Those with the gift of prophesy should stronly desire opportunities to exercise their gift.
And forbid not to speak with tongues- despite his rebukes throughout the chapter, the fact remains that the genuine gift of tongues is from the Spirit of God, and therefore was to be practised. none should interpret theteaching of this chapter as being a ban on tongues-speaking in the apostle’s time.

This phrase is often taken out of its context by those who believe they can speak with tongues. The apostle, however, has made it very clear in 13:8 that tongues shall cease, and the passage, rightly understood, shows that it is when the word of God is filled to the full with doctrine that this would take place. The word of God is now complete, so that which is perfect is come, and that which is in part, (namely revelations given piecemeal in the absence of inspired writing on the subject), have ceased, together with the tongues by which they were transmitted. We should always remember that “a text out of context is a pretext”.

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

Let all things be done decently and in order- “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints”, verse 33. So if there was confusion and lack of order in the assembly at Corinth, they may be sure that God is not the source of it. It is either demon-influence, or the assertion of self. Neither has any place in a true church of God. The word “decently” has the idea of that which is suitable. Since the assembly is the place where ideally the presence of God is known and felt, then only that which is suitable to His presence should be allowed. It is left to the spiritual men to ensure that this is the case.

Every believer should be concerned to only introduce into the assembly gatherings that which is suitable. Both brothers and sisters should be concerned about hair-length, head-coverings, suitable dress and demeanour. The meetings should be orderly and sober, and start on time, with everyone in their seats well beforehand if at all possible, that the spirit and mind might be settled and calm, ready for the meeting to begin. Needless to say, talking and chattering before or after the meeting is not conducive to a spiritual atmosphere. May the Lord exercise our hearts about these things, so that we may come together for His glory.