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Contending for the Faith Contending for the Faith
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ ctf/ 1-corinthians-14.html. 1993-2022.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/
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For a correct understanding of this chapter, we must keep in mind the basic principles found in chapter twelve. Without these principles, it would be easy to be led into a false understanding of Paul’s words here. This chapter concludes Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts, which he begins in chapter twelve.
In chapter twelve he states what the gifts are, in chapter thirteen he emphasizes the importance of love being an active characteristic of those endowed with any of these special gifts, and now in chapter fourteen he teaches the correct use of spiritual gifts.
It appears the Corinthians had asked Paul specific questions about the gift of "tongues" and the gift of "prophecy." Paul’s words indicate that the questions centered around the idea of which of these two gifts was more profitable for the church. In chapter twelve Paul stresses that all spiritual gifts (including "prophecy" and "tongues") are given to build up the body, the church; they were never for the purpose of elevating one Christian above another. Paul, in this chapter compares the gifts of "prophecy" and "tongues" and concludes that prophesying is the better gift of the two because with this gift the church can be built up; however, the gift of tongues by itself, without the gift of interpretation of tongues, is ineffective because the words could not be understood. The words of this chapter are a critical part of this letter because the Corinthians desired the gift of "tongues" and not the gift of "prophecy" over all the others.
Superiority of the Gift of Prophecy to the Gift of Tongues
1. Man cannot understand "tongues" but can understand "prophesying" (verse 2).
2. "Prophesying" edifies the church; "tongues" do not (verses 3 and 4).
3. "Prophesying" exhorts; "tongues" do not (verse 3).
4. "Prophesying" comforts; "tongues" do not (verse 3).
5. "Prophesying" edifies others while uninterpreted tongues edify only the speaker (verses 4 and 5).
6. "Prophesying" profits the hearers; "tongues" do not (verse 6).
7. When "prophesying," the speaker uses words easy to be understood; therefore, the hearers know what is spoken; with "tongues" they do not (verses 7-9).
8. "Prophesying" produces a closeness between the speaker and the hearers; "tongues" cause the speaker to be a barbarian (an outsider) to the hearers (verses 10-11).
Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
Follow after charity: "Follow after" (dioko) means "to seek after eagerly, (or to) earnestly endeavor to acquire" (Thayer 153-2-1377). This verb is in the present tense, indicating an habitual practice or "a never terminating action" (Metz 446). Because charity (love) is necessary for any action to have meaning (13:1-2), Paul’s first words to the Corinthians are to acquire love and then "desire spiritual gifts." Thus, Paul is not teaching them to have "love" in lieu of spiritual gifts but to desire love and spiritual gifts.
and desire spiritual gifts: The word zeloo, translated "desire," is not as strong a word as dioko, translated "follow after," used with "charity." Zeloo ("desire") is translated "covet" in verse 39 and means to "strive (or) exert oneself earnestly" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 338). Godet says there is a contrast between these two words. "The former (dioko) refers to something indispensable; the latter to a faculty which is simply desirable" (692).
but rather that ye may prophesy: With these words, Paul then encourages the Corinthians to "rather" (mallon) or "more" (Strong #3123) desire the ability to "prophesy." "Prophecy" is the preferred of all spiritual gifts (propheteuo) and means "to teach, refute, reprove, admonish, comfort others" (Thayer 553-1-4395). "Prophecy" in this context refers to the miraculous gift of speaking things that have been received by direct revelation from God; "preaching under divine guidance" (McGarvey 134). The preference of "prophecy" over the gift of tongues is based on the fact that prophecy "edifieth the church" (verses 4-5).
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: Paul begins with the word "For" to indicate that he is about explain why the gift of "prophecy" is more useful than the gift of "tongues."
The translators of the King James Version inserted the word "unknown" throughout this chapter; it is not in the original. They inserted the word, possibly, to explain that the foreign language spoken was not known to the hearers present.
Speaking in a "tongue" is speaking a foreign language that the speaker has never studied (12:10). The word "tongue" in this verse is singular in number while in chapters twelve and thirteen it is plural. The contention of some writers is that
Whenever known intelligible languages are meant, Paul uses the plural form, ’tongues.’ When he means unintelligible utterances, he used the singular for, ’tongue’ (Zodhiates 334).
There is no reason, however, to accept this conclusion because there is no indication that suggests the "tongue" mentioned here is any different from the "tongues" of chapters twelve and thirteen. The reason Paul uses the plural "tongues" earlier and the singular "tongue" here is that earlier he was speaking to a plurality of people (see 12:10 "divers kinds of tongues and 12:30 "all") while now he is speaking of one specific case: ("he [singular] that speaketh").
He had said, tongue, in the singular number, verses 2, 4, because he spake of a single man; now (verse 5) he saith tongues, in the plural number, in the very same sense, but that he speaks of many speaking (Lightfoot, Vol. IV 263).
speaketh not unto men, but unto God: Speaking in a "tongue" unknown to the audience is referred to as "speaking not unto men, but unto God" because only God is able to understand the language. God understands all languages. The words "speaketh not unto men, but unto God" is a "figurative expression for ’it is as if he addressed himself not unto men but God; for (as the apostle adds) no one understands him’ (Bloomfield, Vol. VI 605).
for no man understandeth him: The word "understandeth" (akouo) means "to hear" (Strong #191) or to "perceive the sense of what is said" (Thayer 22-2-191). The Cambridge Greek Testament translates "hears with understanding." The word akouo, translated "understandeth" here, is actually translated "heard" in Ephesians.
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise (1:13).
It is also "hearers" in Ephesians: "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (4:29).
Speaking in tongues is not beneficial to man when the language is unknown. Paul is not teaching that "no man understandeth him" because ecstatic utterances were sounded, but in general he (unless he has the gift of interpretation of tongues) does not understand the words spoken because the speaker is speaking in "another language" (NIV footnote) without an interpreter.
(The) ’whole church of Corinth understood one and the same Corinthian or Greek language....But now it seems a thing not to be believed, that any minister of that church would use Arabic, Egyptian, Armenian, or any other unknown language publicly in the church; from whence not the least benefit could accrue to the church, or to the minister himself’ (Lightfoot, Vol. IV 257).
This same practice, which Paul is condemning, is a normal practice in the Catholic church today. Much of their worship service is spoken in Latin, without an interpreter, even though those present speak only English. Thus, the people hear without understanding. The only difference between this situation and the one in Corinth is that in Corinth the speaker received the words from the Holy Spirit.
One reason "prophecy" is desired over "tongues" is that man profits from edification, exhortation, and comfort (see verse 3).
howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries: The word "mysteries" (musterion) refers to "hidden or secret things, not obvious to the understanding" (Thayer 420-1-3466). "Mysteries," therefore, are the messages about Christ and salvation that the Holy Spirit gives us from God through the inspired writers. Paul uses the word "mysteries" in this same way in 1 Corinthians 2:7; 1 Corinthians 4:1.
In the Spirit
There is much confusion about the words "in the spirit." Two extreme views have emerged from this passage:
1. That the term "spirit" refers to man’s spirit.
2. That the term "spirit" refers to the Holy Spirit.
Speaking "in the spirit" refers to speaking "mysteries" or words by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The confusion about the word "spirit" is due possibly to some translations (example: NIV and NAS) that falsely translate "he utters mysteries with his spirit." The footnote of the New International Version says he utters mysteries "by the Spirit." The Revised Standard Version agrees with the King James Version by wording the passage "in the Spirit." These hidden things of God do not come from man’s spirit but from the Holy Spirit sent from God. When man speaks in a "tongue" not known to the hearers without an interpreter, no man is able to understand these words, even though the words are from the Holy Spirit. Goodspeed translates well by saying, "...no one can understand him, though by the Spirit he is uttering secret truths." Consider the words of the following two scholars about "in the spirit":
Spirit does not mean the man’s own spirit as distinguished from his understanding. The Scriptures do not distinguish between the vous (’understanding,’ verse 14) and pneuma (’spirit’) as distinct faculties of the human intelligence. The latter is not the higher spiritual powers of our nature, but the Holy Spirit; compare 1 Corinthians 2:14. In favor of this interpretation is:
1. The prevailing use of the word spirit in reference to the Holy Ghost in all Paul’s epistles, and especially in this whole connection.
2. That the expression to speak in or by the Spirit, is an established Scriptural phrase, meaning to speak under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
3. When spirit is to be distinguished from the understanding, it designates the affections; a sense which would not at all suit this passage.
4. The meaning arrived at by this interpretation is natural, and suitable to the connection. ’Although he who speaks with tongues is not understood, yet, guided by the Spirit, he speaks mysteries...’ (Hodge 279).
The phrase ’in the Spirit,’ evidently means ’by the Holy Spirit,’ that is, by his aid and influence. Though he should be really under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and though the important truth which he delivers should be imparted by his aid, yet all would be valueless unless it were understood by the church (Barnes 260).
But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
(See verse 1 for meaning of "prophesieth.")
Three benefits of prophesying "unto men" are "edification," "exhortation," and "comfort."
The word propheteuein, to prophesy, includes three items: "psalms,...doctrine,...and revelation" (Lightfoot, Vol. IV 262). Paul says,
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 (14:26).
Three Benefits of Prophesying
1. edification: The term "edification" (oikodome) is defined as "the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, holiness, (and) happiness" (Thayer 440-1-3619). The term indicates "building up" (Robertson, Vol. IV 181).
2. exhortation: "Exhortation" (paraklesis) means "admonition (or) encouragement" (Thayer 483-2-3874) or "incentive" (Vincent, Vol. III 267).
3. comfort: "Comfort" (paramuthia) means "consolation" (Thayer 485-1-3889).
While speaking in "tongues" without an interpreter does not benefit man (see verse 2), "prophesying" serves to build up the Christian life, to awaken the Christian’s will, and to reinforce the Christian’s spirit. Regarding these three benefits of prophesying, Vine says, "Edification develops the character; encouragement (exhortation) stimulates the will; consolation (comfort) strengthens the spirit" (188).
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: Another contrast between speaking in a foreign "tongue" and "prophesying" is that with a foreign "tongue," the speaker "edifieth himself" or he edifies himself "alone" (Cambridge Greek Testament 200).
The word "edifieth" (oikodomeo), used here and in 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 10:23, means "to promote growth in Christian wisdom, affection, grace, virtue, holiness, blessedness" (Thayer 440-1-3618). Speaking in a language never studied will edify the person speaking if he understands what is said. It is not always true that the one speaking in "tongues" understands and can interpret, but in this particular case it is true as indicated in verse 5 where Paul says, "except he interpret." Even at times when the speaker did not understand the foreign language he was speaking, he still could be built up with the simple "consciousness of his possession of the miraculous power" (Shaw 106). Regardless of whether the "unknown tongue" edifies the speaker or not, it does not edify the church unless the words are interpreted.
but he that prophesieth edifieth the church: While speaking in an unknown tongue does not edify, "prophesying" does edify the church--it promotes growth and wisdom because the words are understandable. The article "the" is not in the Greek; therefore, Paul is speaking of "a whole congregation" (Cambridge Greek Testament 200) in a given locality. Speaking in tongues without an interpreter was never intended to be used in a congregation gathered for worship; where such is practiced, there is no edification. It seems that this practice is exactly what some of the Corinthian teachers were doing. They apparently wanted to show off their gift of tongues; therefore, they would speak in a foreign language even when an interpreter was not present.
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.
Paul here commends the usefulness of "tongues" when they are used correctly, with interpretation. He is careful not to lessen the need of "tongues"; but, at the same time, he is exalting prophesying as better.
I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: Paul says, "I would" (thelo), or I "desire (or) wish" (Thayer 286-1-2309) "that ye all spake with tongues...." Paul then repeats his preference from verse 1 by saying, "I ’rather’ (mallon), I ’more willingly, (or) more readily’ that you all prophesy (Thayer 388-2-3123).
for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret: The reason for Paul’s desire for the Corinthians to prophesy is that the person who "prophesieth" is "greater" (meizon), which means "eminent (or) distinguished" (Thayer 395-1-3173), than the one speaking in tongues. The word "interpret" (diermeneuo) means "to unfold the meaning of what is said, explain, expound" (Thayer 147-2-1329). If the person who speaks in tongues also can interpret, the apostle indicates it is okay for him to speak.
that the church may receive edifying: Paul does not desire the Corinthians to be greater than other Christians. His desire is for them to be more distinguished in prophesying than in tongues (without interpretation) in order that the church "may receive edifying" and grow to maturity.
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?
The word "Now" carries with it the idea of "really" (Cambridge Greek Testament 201) by referring to Paul’s coming visit. This is the first of two examples that show why a person should always speak for the purpose of edifying. Paul first questions them about what "profit" or what knowledge would be gained when he visits them if he speaks in a language they do not understand.
There is no way that a person can be profited from hearing another person speak "except" or "unless" (NIV) the speaker speaks by "revelation," "knowledge," "prophecy," or "doctrine." "In the four clauses, the second pair matches the first: revelation comes through the prophet, knowledge through the teacher" (The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. II 903).
Ways of Edifying the Church
1. revelation: "Revelation" (apokalupsis) means "instruction" (Thayer 62-2-602). "The secret was made known...by revelation" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 91). Paul speaks of this same idea in writing to the church in Ephesus when he says, "How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery" (Ephesians 3:3). Revelation is the act of revealing divine truths to a person.
2. knowledge: "Knowledge" (gnosis) means, as in 1 Corinthians 12:8, "intelligence (or) understanding" (Thayer 119-2-1108). The "knowledge" referred to here is "that which is gained by observation and study" (The Cambridge Bible 133).
3. prophesying: "Prophesying" (propheteia) means "utterances...in the form of a prophetic saying" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 730). "Revelation" is the act of revealing divine truths to a person, and "prophesying" refers to the "outward expressions of that which has come from above by revelation" (The Cambridge Bible 133).
4. doctrine: "Doctrine" (didache) refers to teaching or "speak(ing) in the way of teaching, in distinction from other modes of speaking in public" (Thayer 145-1-1322). The "doctrine" is the words spoken from the teachers as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8. "Doctrine" is the act of teaching what has been learned from observations and study.
Ineffectiveness of Unclear Utterances
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? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp: In this second example, Paul compares inanimate things that produce sounds to spoken words as an example of the necessity of speaking words that can be understood. Not only is there no profit, but there will also be no understanding. The word "even" (homos) means "likewise (or) also" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 572). Paul concludes that "instruments without life, although giving forth a sound, yet, unless they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known" (Thayer 446-2-3676).
except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped: By the word "except" (ean me) or "unless" (Strong #3362) these instruments give a "distinction" in sounds (diastole), a "variation" (Strong #1293) or "a difference" (Thayer 142-1-1293) in sounds, there is no way to know what the sound means.
For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle: When there is no variation in the sounds, or when the trumpet gives an "uncertain sound" (adelos phthoggos), meaning an "indistinct" (Thayer 11-1-82) sound, the soldiers do not know to prepare themselves for battle. The trumpet can give many different sounds and melodies; however, there is only one sound made by the trumpet that indicates the soldiers are to retreat and only one sound that indicates they are to march into battle. If these two sounds are not distinctly made, disaster will result. Examples such as these are clear and obvious to everyone; therefore, Paul continues by applying these examples to the case at hand about words spoken by the physical tongue.
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.
Paul ties the two examples in verses 6-8 to the idea of speaking foreign languages to people who do not understand the language. The "tongue" here refers to any words, not only to "unknown tongues." Paul says, "except ye utter" (didomi) or "give" (Strong #1325) "words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air."
The words "easy to be understood" (eusemos) mean to "utter intelligible speech" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 326) and have reference to "a well marked discourse, (or) language which has a clearly discernible meaning" (The Cambridge Bible 133).
Paul’s question is "Unless you utter intelligible speech, how shall it be known what is spoken?" The answer to this question is, "There is no way for the hearers to understand what is spoken under this circumstance." Words that cannot be understood by the hearers are as useless as instruments that do not have variations of sounds, for the words merely go into the air. The words "speak into the air" mean to speak as if there were no hearers. The people could not understand any more than if they were not even present; such is useless and of no value.
There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.
The words "it may be" (tugchano) mean "perhaps" (Thayer 632-1-5177). Even though there are many "voices" (phone) or "languages" (Thayer 662-1-5456) in the world, there is no language "without signification" (aphonos) or "incapable of conveying meaning" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 127). Verse 10 is all the evidence needed to verify that Paul is indeed speaking of human languages and not unintelligible gibberish where the King James Version translates "unknown tongue."
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 word "meaning" is translated from the Greek term dunamis, which is usually translated "power." In this verse it carries the meaning of "force," referring to the "force" of the spoken words when understood but the uselessness of the words when not understood (Thayer 159-2-1411).
I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me: The word "barbarian" (barbaros) means "one who speaks a foreign or strange language which is not understood by another" (Thayer 95-2-915). "The ’barbarian’ in Corinth was one who could not speak Greek" (Vine 190); in other words, he is speaking of a "foreigner" (Strong #915).
Some of the Corinthian teachers were speaking in languages the listeners could not understand; therefore, there was no "force," no "power" to communicate and edify the church. The New International Version renders these two verses as follows:
Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me.
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:
(See 1 Corinthians 12:1 for the meaning of "spiritual gifts.")
The word "forasmuch" means "because" (Strong #1893). Paul is speaking about the Corinthians’ zeal in having "spiritual gifts." Instead of "spiritual gifts" the Greek text actually says, "spirits" (Vincent, Vol. III 269); however, "spirits" is "a word obviously standing here for the gifts of the Spirit" (The Cambridge Bible 133).
The most probable explanation of this expression is to be sought from 12:7, where it is said that ’to every one is given a manifestation of the Spirit.’ One and the same Spirit manifests himself in different ways in different persons; and these different manifestations are called spirits....spirits mean manifestations of the Spirit, or forms under which the Spirit manifests himself (Hodge 285).
seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church: Paul says, "forasmuch" or "because" ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, "seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church." The Corinthians were "zealous" (zelotes); they were "most eagerly desirous of" (Thayer 271-2-2207) "spiritual gifts." This action is pleasing to Paul; he desires them to have these gifts and even urges them in 1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:1 to work to have them. Paul desires for the Corinthians to "excel" (perisseuo), to "be abundantly furnished with" (Thayer 505-2-4052) the capability of edifying or building up the church.
Paul wants the Corinthians to have these gifts, not to exalt themselves but to exalt the church for the "edifying of the church." Speaking in tongues, without interpretation, did not edify anyone. He further desires their motives to be right in seeking these spiritual gifts. They obviously did not have the right motives because they looked upon these gifts as a way to exalt themselves above others.
Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.
(See verse 2 for explanation of "unknown tongue.")
Even though Paul said that he would rather the Corinthians have the gift of prophesy than the gift of tongues, he now shows that edification is also possible when speaking foreign languages, provided he can interpret the foreign language into the language of the hearers. Without interpretation the words are vain; therefore, Paul tells them that if they do not have the gift of interpretation, they should pray for this gift.
Paul is not saying to pray in an unknown tongue, but to pray "in order that" (Alford 593) he may interpret the unknown tongue. This verse presents proof that one person may have the gift of tongues and the gift of interpretation. Paul’s entire point is that speaking in languages not understandable to the listeners will not edify.
For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. 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. 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? For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.
In verses 14-15, Paul speaks in first person singular, not because he is guilty of these things but because the Corinthians strongly disagree with him; therefore, he first uses himself as an example.
In verses 16-17, however, he changes to the second person to let it be known that he understands that the situation in Corinth is not as he would do. It becomes obvious from verse 14 that a person who has the gift of "tongues" will possibly even "pray in an unknown tongue." This prayer, as any other prayer, is a prayer to God. There is nothing unusual about the prayer itself. The unusual thing is in offering the prayer in a language unknown to the one praying.
The Corinthians would have delighted in praying in unknown tongues, but Paul explains that such actions are not his desire, especially in the church. Instead, as he says in verse 19, "I had rather speak five words with my understanding...than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue" (see comments on verse 19). The reason Paul does not prefer unknown tongues, for example in prayer, is that his "understanding (would be) unfruitful"--he would not understand his own prayer if he could not interpret. The word "understanding" (nous) refers to "the intellective faculty" (Thayer 429-2-3563), the "mind" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich). The word "unfruitful" (akarpos) means "useless" and "unproductive, because it is not active" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 186). The mind is not active in understanding the words because the words (the language) come from the Holy Spirit instead of from his own mind. He is saying that when praying in an unknown tongue, his "spirit" understands but his "mind" does not. McGarvey says, "His spirit, being in accord with the Spirit of God, uttered the exhortation or the prayer with his spirit rather than with his understanding" (138).
(See the end of this section for comments on the word "sing" (psallo).)
Verse 15, speaking of praying and singing "with the spirit" and "with the understanding," is often taken out of context and given the meaning that he will pray and sing from the heart and he will also pray and sing words that are understandable to him. Certainly, this practice is good; however, this idea is not the teaching here. The "spirit" (pneuma) in verses 14-15 does not refer to the heart but to the soul. "Spirit" refers to "the vital principle by which the body is animated" (Thayer 520-1-4151). Thayer says, in reference to verse 14, that the spirit "is used of a soul thoroughly roused by the Holy Spirit and wholly intent on divine things, yet destitute of distinct self-consciousness and clear understanding."
By saying when he prays in "an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth," Paul means that his spirit is controlled by the Holy Spirit in speaking a language never before studied. In short, to pray (or to sing) in the spirit is for the human spirit to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, a practice that always happened when a person was speaking in tongues. In reference to the "spirit" mentioned in these verses, Lipscomb says:
...the idioms of the Greek and the English languages require a change of expression to bring out the thought. Neither the Authorized Version nor the American Revised Version does this as the connections show. The thought evidently is: ’I will sing as the Spirit directs or inspires, and I will sing in a language that those who hear can understand.’ This expression is often quoted in connection with song service in a sense in which it was not used. The following verse shows clearly that Paul’s meaning is: ’I will pray and sing by the inspiration of the Spirit, and in a language that they will understand to their profit’ (208).
Since praying in an unknown tongue (without interpretation) is "unfruitful," Paul says, "What is it then?" or "What shall I do?" He then continues in verse 15 to explain that he will pray and sing with unknown tongues, being guided by the Holy Spirit for his understanding or interpretation of what is said. Paul changes his wording from "pray in an unknown tongue" to "pray with (in) the spirit." Bratcher says, "’...to pray in a tongue’ (verse 14) is the same as ’to pray in spirit’" (134). Paul is teaching that since praying in an unknown tongue is "unfruitful," it is important when people "pray...(or sing...) with the spirit" (in a language not previously known) that they "pray (or sing) with the understanding" (which means to interpret the foreign language).
One reason that interpretation is necessary is given in verse 16. There are often misunderstandings of the words "the room of the unlearned." This expression does not refer to the denominational ideas of "laymen" as the Cambridge Greek Testament asserts; instead, Paul is referring to "the condition of those who are unintelligent as regards the utterance in an unknown tongue" (Vincent, Vol. III 270). Paul says, "Else" (epei) or "because" (Thayer 229-2-1893) if the foreign language is not interpreted, others in the room, the unlearned, those who do not understand the language, will not be able to say "Amen at thy giving of thanks," or "so be it (or) may it be fulfilled" (Thayer 32-1-281). "To occupy ’the place of the unlearned’ merely means to be without any means of understanding, as by the help of interpretation" (Vine 191).
In verse 17, Paul, once again supports speaking in tongues by saying that it does have benefits but not as much as words spoken with understanding. He here returns to his main objective, and that is to be interested in edification. When the prayers (or singing) are prayed in an "unknown tongue," the prayers may reach God, for God understands the language, but others in the room are "not edified" because they are without understanding. Paul’s conclusion of "speaking in unknown tongues" is never to do so unless there is someone to interpret the words so that all may understand and be edified.
Sometimes people argue that there is no authority for singing in the worship service of the church. As can be seen from the above verses, singing is as much a part of the worship as praying. There is much controversy about the word "sing" (psallo) because of the use of instrumental music. Vincent refers to the words of Justin Martyr who says, "instrumental music was not used in the Christian Church" (Vol. III 270). He then says, "The verb (psallo) is used here in the general sense of singing praise." Thayer says,
...in the New Testament to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song, James 5:13 [Revised Version, sing praise]; (often so in Septuagint), in honor of God, Ephesians 5:19 [here A.V. making melody]; Romans 15:9; ’I will sing God’s praises indeed with my whole soul stirred and borne away by the Holy Spirit, but I will also follow reason as my guide, so that what I sing may be understood alike by myself and by the listeners’, 1 Corinthians 14:15 (675-1-5567).
Instrumental music in worship is an addition and a violation of God’s instructions about singing.
I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 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.
The words in these verses remind us of Paul’s teaching in verse 6. Paul is careful not to degrade the God-given gift of speaking in tongues; therefore, he expresses thankfulness for this gift. The word "thank" (eucharisteo) refers to the fact that Paul is "grateful" (Strong #2168) that he speaks with tongues more than anyone in Corinth.
The word "more" modifies the words "I speak" and not the word "tongues." Paul is not saying he is thankful to be able to speak in more languages than the Corinthians but that he is thankful he speaks more frequently in different languages than the Corinthians. He explains, however, that even though he does have this special gift of speaking in tongues, he "had rather" speak in words that could be understood than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue while "in the church." The words "had rather" (thelo) mean "choose (or) prefer" (Strong #2309). Paul prefers to "speak" (laleo) or "to use words in order to declare one’s mind and disclose one’s thoughts" (Thayer 368-2-2980) than to use words that cannot be understood. Paul emphasizes this desire by saying that he would prefer speaking "five words with my understanding" or "with my mind" (Cambridge Greek Testament 204), or in intelligible speech than "ten thousand words in an unknown tongue" or in a language that the "church" cannot understand. The word "church" (ekklesia), here and in verse 4, refers to the people who make up the church assembly. This preference is because of Paul’s desire to "teach" (katecheo) or "to instruct" the unlearned about Christ and His gospel (Thayer 340-2-2727). The word "also" indicates that another has already been taught. Understanding the teaching of Paul or any other preacher of the word of God is essential because, as Paul says, "...faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). Without understanding, the hearers cannot have faith.
General Rules for Exercising Spiritual Gifts
1. Be mature and not children in using spiritual gifts (verse 20).
2. Spiritual gifts (for example: speaking in tongues) are a sign to unbelievers, not to believers (verses 21-22).
3. Speaking in tongues, without interpreters, is not to be used in a gathering generally made up of Christians or else they will be considered mad by the unlearned and unbelievers that do come in. At such an occasion as this only prophesying should be used (verse 23-25).
Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
Brethren, be not children in understanding...but in understanding be men: Here Paul calls the Corinthians "brethren" as an affectionate appeal and then encourages them to use common sense. He uses the word "children" (paidion) metaphorically referring to being "like children" especially "where the use of the mind is required" (Thayer 473-2-3813). He tells the Corinthians not to be like children in "understanding" (phren) or when "thinking" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 873). Paul uses a different word for "understanding" than he did in verses 14-15. This is the only place in the New Testament where this term is used, and it means "in the exercise of your intelligence" (Cambridge Greek Testament 205) be men. Zodhiates translates, "Brethren, be not children in the mind" and then he says, "To be children in the mind is to act immaturely, as though one’s mental development had been arrested in childhood."
Paul’s rule #1 in using spiritual gifts is to act maturely and not childish. Instead of acting like children in their thinking, by speaking in languages not understood, Paul instructs them to be "men" (teleios) or think like "full-grown, adults; of full age, mature" (Thayer 618-1-5046). Here Paul uses the word teleios, which is also translated "perfect" in 1 Corinthians 13:10. The same teaching is found in Hebrews.
Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil (5:11-14).
howbeit in malice be ye children: In contrast to his preceding statement about not being children, Paul tells the Corinthians that there is a sense in which all Christians should be children. This word "children" (nepiazo) is a different and a stronger word than in the preceding statement. Here the word "children" (nepiazo) means "to be a babe (or) an infant" (Thayer 425-1-3515). The term "malice" (kakai) is defined as "wickedness" (Thayer 320-1-2549). Paul is saying, "...be a child as far as wickedness is concerned, that is, have as little wickedness as a child" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 397). When it comes to their thinking, however, he encourages them to have the wisdom of grown men. God says,
For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge (Jeremiah 4:22).
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: Paul’s quote comes from Isaiah which reads,
For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear (28:11-12).
The "law" refers to the Old Testament. Paul says,
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God (Romans 3:19).
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: The words "other tongues" and "other lips" are synonymous phrases referring to foreign languages. Some people, mistakenly, interpret Isaiah’s words as predicting the coming of "speaking in tongues"; however, the context does not allow such an interpretation. This Old Testament passage refers to the conquering Assyrians through whom the Lord spoke to Israel. Because the rulers of Isaiah’s day were drunkards, their judgment was impaired; and the leaders were constantly refusing to accept God’s word as spoken by Isaiah. Isaiah describes them as follows:
But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment (28:7).
Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s people hearing His word through "stammering lips" (foreign tongues) was fulfilled when God allowed the Assyrians to take Israel captive. Upon their capture Israel knew that God’s word was true and the words of their drunken priests were false.
Paul’s point is that in the same way that the Assyrians’ coming (represented by "stammering lips") was a sign that Isaiah’s words were true, the use of tongues is a sign that Paul’s words are true.
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.
In this verse, Paul makes a connection between the foreign speeches of the Assyrians to speaking in "tongues." This passage is further proof that "tongues" were not unintelligible gibberish but a foreign language.
Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: With these words, Paul once again explains that "tongues" (glossa) are to convince "them that believe not" (apistos), the "unbelieving, incredulous...of those who refuse belief in the gospel" (Thayer 57-2-571). The insistence of tongues in the church today, therefore, is an indication that the church does not believe in the gospel.
but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe: Instead of speaking in "tongues" (foreign languages), which are for the benefit of unbelievers, the teachers at Corinth should be "prophesying" (propheteia), which is for the benefit of those who "believe."
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 coming together of the "whole church" (holos ekklesia), or the entire congregation, obviously was a usual occurrence for the Corinthians. This example of the early church’s coming together in one place is often not followed today by dividing the church into classes according to age, sex, or maturity. This dividing is usually called "Sunday School" or "Bible classes," which had its beginning in 1780 and was introduced by Robert Raikes. Regardless of the benefits that some feel the classes give, such a practice is without Bible authority and is a transgression of God’s word. (See comments at the end of verse 35.)
and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad: The words "all speak with tongues" may refer to the teachers attempting to speak in tongues at the same time (if this is the case, Paul corrected this practice in verse 27); however, most likely, Paul is not referring to speaking in tongues at the same time any more than in verse 24 he means all prophesying at the same time. Here it seems that Paul is referring to the fact that the speakers spoke in a language not known by the hearers. There was no interpreter.
The individual referred to as being "unlearned" (idiotes) (see note on verse 16) is a person who is "illiterate" or "unskilled in any art" (Thayer 297-1-2399). The reference is to any person who is not a prophet and who does not have the gift of tongues. It may refer to people who have never heard the gospel preached. Paul is speaking of people who cannot understand a foreign language spoken in the assembly.
In this context, Paul is giving rules to be followed in the assembly. The first rule is to speak in languages known to the hearers. The second rule is to gather the whole church together. When the "whole church" is assembled together into one place and they speak in a language not understood by the hearers, they will be considered "mad" or "out of (their) mind" by the "unlearned" and the "unbelievers" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 487).
The word "unbelievers" (apistos) is the same as the one referred to in verse 22--one who has heard the gospel of Christ preached but does not believe.
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, he is convinced of all: In the same scenario as mentioned in verse 23, if the speakers "prophesy" (propheteuo), if they "teach, refute, reprove, admonish, (or) comfort" (Thayer 553-1-4395), the unbeliever and the unlearned will be "convinced of all." The word translated "convinced" (elegcho) means to "point something out to someone" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 248). Because he can understand the words, he is taught and convicted of his sins.
he is judged of all: By understanding the spoken words, he is also "judged of all" (anakrino); his heart is searched, he is inwardly scrutinized. The word translated "judged" here is translated "examine" in 1 Corinthians 9:3. It is as though he is going through a cross-examination as all his "secrets" are made known (see verse 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: When the gospel is preached in understandable languages, the "secrets" (kruptos), the "secret thoughts, feelings, (and) desires" of the hearer’s heart are made known (Thayer 362-2-2927).
The "heart" (kardia) refers to "the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, (and) endeavors" (Thayer 325-1-2588). Paul is probably referring to the conscience of the sinner who hears the gospel for the first time. The "secrets in the heart" refer to things not necessarily known by others but known by the individual who hears and understands the word of God as it is preached. In writing to the Hebrews, Paul says,
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (4:12).
and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth: To worship God by "falling down on (the) face" is an act of showing deep emotion and indicates submission to God. The word "report" (apaggello) means "to make known openly, (or to) declare" (Thayer 53-1-518). The words "of a truth" (ontos) mean "truly, in reality, in point of fact" (Thayer 448-2-3689). By these words, Paul is referring to the confession made with the mouth of new converts. The convert is acknowledging that Jesus, the Christ, is the Son of God and that His gospel is God’s revelation to man for salvation. Paul says,
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Romans 10:9-10).
The two acts mentioned here are not accomplished by speaking in languages that are not understood but by teachers’ teaching the gospel in a clear and understandable way, therefore, convicting the sinner of his sins. Speaking in a language that is not understood by the hearers will not convert anyone to Christ.
There is no contradiction between verses 22 and 25. In verse 22, Paul says that "tongues" are for unbelievers and that prophesying is for believers; however, in verse 25, we find that unbelievers are also converted through prophesying. Certainly tongues were used at that time as a way to convince the world that Jesus is the Son of God and that His and the apostles’ teaching came from God. Their understanding of the gospel, however, depended upon the teacher’s prophesying in his own language so that all could understand the teaching.
Regulations for Using Gifts in Worship
Two errors are corrected in the remaining verses of this chapter:
1. The disorderly manner in which the worship services were being conducted.
2. The practice of women speaking in the worship services.
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? when ye come together: By the words "How is it then," Paul means, "Considering what I have been pointing out, how do matters stand with you" (Vine 195). Once again, as in verse 20, Paul refers to the Corinthians as "brethren" in order not to appear too harsh.
The words found in this verse, however, are not complimentary--they are words of rebuke. It seems that many of the Corinthian teachers were always coming to the assembly prepared beforehand to say something. At times it appears that all of the spiritual gifts mentioned here were being used at one time. Paul is not as concerned with the fact that the Corinthians had the gifts as he is with the way they are using or abusing them. Such actions only led to abuse and hindered the necessary teachings that may have come from the Holy Spirit.
(See verse 23 for comments on "when ye come together.")
The mention of coming together for worship indicates that the early church did meet together when worshiping God. Many today have worked hard to change this practice from worshiping together to worshiping privately in their homes or in motels. Such actions violate Paul’s teaching to the Hebrews as he says, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25).
every one of you hath a psalm: A "psalm" (psalmos) is a "Christian song of praise" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 899) or "a pious song (and) is used of one who has it in his heart to sing or recite a song of the sort" (Thayer 675-1-5568). (See the end of verses 14-17 for comments on "sing.")
hath a doctrine: "Hath a ’doctrine’" (didache) refers to those who "have something to teach" (Thayer 145-1-1322). Those who delivered this doctrine were not necessarily inspired, but they were teaching what they had learned previously.
hath a tongue: (See comments on 12:10.)
hath a revelation: (See comments on verse 6.) Unlike "doctrine," mentioned above, the word "revelation" refers to the teaching of inspired men.
hath an interpretation: (See comments on 12:10.)
Let all things be done unto edifying: The words "all things" refer to all the things mentioned: "psalms," "doctrines," "tongues," "revelations," and "interpretations." All of these things are to be used in edifying others and never for the purpose of building up the speaker. The term "edifying" (oikodome) means "the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, holiness, (and) happiness" (Thayer 440-1-3619). Instead of considering another’s growth, Corinthian teachers were speaking only to exalt themselves. Paul instructs them, therefore, to edify and to eliminate all speaking in tongues unless there is someone to interpret.
Rules for Those Speaking in Tongues
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. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
Paul continues giving guidelines for the Corinthians to follow so that the worship service would be arranged in an orderly fashion. In these two verses, he gives four rules for those who have the gift of speaking in tongues.
Rule 1: When there is a need to speak in a foreign language, allow only two or at the most three to speak in one service (verse 27).
Rule 2: The speakers are to speak by "course" (meros), meaning "one after the other, in succession" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 506) (verse 27).
Rule 3: Whenever "tongues" (foreign languages), are used, "let one interpret" (diermeneutes) or let one "unfold the meaning of what is said, explain, (or) expound" (Thayer 147-2-1329) (verse 27).
There is some confusion about whether this passage means one interpreter per assembly or one interpreter for each foreign language. Vine says it means "let one interpret for all, not that the interpreting should be in turn. The ministry of a single interpreter would prevent two from speaking at the same time" (195-196).
The expression eis, seems to signify that one and the same interpreter ought to act for the two or three discourses in tongues; no doubt to prevent discussions as to the meaning of any one of the discourses (Godet 729).
Paul’s rules are given to maintain "order" during the worship. Certainly, this method would maintain order, but it is not the only way to do so. Lenski says,
There is no reason to stress eis to mean one person only for the two or the three speakers with tongues. What Paul requires is that no one speak with a tongue unless a prompt interpretation follows. Just as only one person at a time shall speak with a tongue, so one person shall follow the tongue with the interpretation. This may be the person who speaks with a tongue, for he himself may have also the ability to translate, verse 13; it may also, of course, be another person. Whether one person interprets for two or for three speakers with tongues will depend on whether the two or the three use the same foreign language, or, if they use different languages, whether the interpreter is linguist enough to translate two or three (608-609).
Rule 4: In a situation where there is no interpreter, the "tongue" speaker is to "keep silence" (verse 28). The words "keep silence" (sigao) mean "to hold one’s peace" (Thayer 574-2-4601) or to "say nothing" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 85).
and let him speak to himself, and to God: The idea of a person speaking "to himself, and to God" is simply saying, "Keep the words to yourself until you are in a private situation outside the church service."
Sometimes this passage is interpreted to mean that the speaker, who has no interpreter, should speak silently where no one could hear, for God would still know what is being said. This interpretation is not consistent with the word "speak," meaning "to emit a sound" (Thayer 368-2-2980).
These four rules also indicate that "speaking in tongues" is not something done out of emotion to the point that the speaker has lost control of the situation. If this were the case, there would be no "rules" given. Those speaking in tongues also know beforehand that they will speak because Paul instructs them to keep silent if there is no interpreter. The speaker, therefore, is in full control of his actions and must follow the guidelines given here by Paul.
Rules for Prophets (Those Not Speaking in Tongues)
Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
The "prophets," contextually, refer to those who have the gift of "prophesy." Direct instructions from God through the Holy Spirit are given to these men, and they deliver the words to others. Their purpose is to speak these God-given words that all may "learn" (manthano) or "increase one’s knowledge" (Thayer 388-2-3129). Also, the prophets speak that all "may be comforted" (parakaleo), which Thayer indicates "combines the ideas of exhorting and comforting and encouraging" (483-1-3870).
Present day preachers preach for the same reason, but they are not the same as the prophets referred to here by Paul; therefore, even though some of the principles may be followed by today’s preachers, all the rules given to inspired prophets are not necessarily bound to present-day preachers.
Rule 1: The inspired prophets, just as those speaking in tongues, are to speak in an orderly arrangement and by only two or three speaking during one assembly. Today’s preachers are to speak in an orderly arrangement, but there is no indication that the assembly is to be limited to only three speakers.
Rule 2: When God reveals messages to another prophet, the first speaker is to "hold his peace" (sigao). Simply put, he is "to keep silence" (Thayer 574-2-4601). This rule does not apply to today’s preachers because God does not reveal messages in this way any longer. During the time that prophets did receive direct revelations, however, the first speaker was to "hold his peace" while the revelation was given by another speaker.
The words "hold his peace" come from the same Greek word translated "keep silence" in verses 28 and 34 in reference to speaking in tongues without an interpreter and to women in the church. The purpose of this rule is to keep the prophet from unnecessarily prolonging his speaking.
Rule 3: Prophets are to speak "one by one," meaning one at a time. Verse 31 causes some confusion and appears to contradict verse 29. There is no contradiction, however. In verse 29, Paul limits two or three prophets per assembly; in verse 31, he says "ye may all prophesy one by one...." This instruction does not mean that every prophet may participate in one service, but that "all" or many in the congregation "may" have the ability or have the "possibility" of teaching (Vine 197). Even so, they are to follow Rule 1 about two or three speaking in one assembly.
In following this arrangement of teaching, "the other" (verse 29), meaning the other prophets, are to "judge." The word "judge" (diakrino) means "to try (or) decide" whether the words are truly from God (Thayer 138-2-1252). It appears, because of the instruction to judge, that the prophets have the gift of "discerning of spirits" as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:10.
And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets: The "spirits of the prophets" refer to the spiritual gifts of the prophets. The context of this passage is about teaching God’s word to others.
Paul is saying, therefore, that the prophet’s spiritual gift, such as prophesying, is "subject" to the prophet who is doing the speaking. The term "subject" (hupotasso) means "to arrange under, to subordinate; to subject, put in subjection" (Thayer 645-2-5293).
This Divine gift is put under the control and responsibility of the possessor’s will, that it may be exercised with discretion and brotherly love, for its appointed ends. An unruly prophet is therefore no genuine prophet; he lacks one of the necessary marks of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling (The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. II 932).
When the prophets speak, they personally are in full control of what is said, and this teaching will assure that everything will be done decently and in order. Speaking in tongues without an interpreter, however, is out of order. It benefits no one. Confusion is against the will of God; therefore, it is not of God.
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace: The word akatastasia translated "confusion" is rendered "commotions" in Luke 21:9 and "unruly" in James 3:8. This term indicates "instability, a state of disorder, disturbance" (Thayer 21-2-181) and, therefore, does not originate with God.
"Peace" (eirene) means "good order" (Thayer 182-1-1515)--the opposite of confusion. Since God is the author of order and not confusion, the churches of Christ "must be peacefully and orderly conducted" (Alford’s Greek Testament, Vol. II 599). Orderly worship is one mark of the church belonging to Christ. The worship of the church in Corinth was in chaos because "tongue speakers" spoke without interpreters and prophets spoke more than two or three at one time.
as in all churches of the saints: Some writers (like Bratcher) and translations (NIV, RSV) place the words "as in all churches of the saints" with verse 34 instead of verse 33; however, others (Alford, Vincent) prefer to leave it with verse 33. It seems to make very little difference where these words actually belong because the teaching is the same with or without this clause. I see no reason to remove this clause from verse 33. Paul is informing the Corinthians that they should worship in an orderly fashion as all the churches of the saints do. This was a mark of the Lord’s church. If a prophet does not insist on an orderly worship, he shows that he is not a true prophet of God.
Today, Pentecostals, with their frenzied actions, screaming, and shouting, are more in line with the actions of the Corinthians. They boast of losing all control when they claim the Holy Spirit is working in them. This action is conclusive proof that they are not the Lord’s church because the "churches of the saints" (the churches of Christ) worship calmly and orderly.
Rules Concerning Women During the Assembly
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: Paul here addresses the third group to keep silent in the church. The first is those speaking in tongues without an interpreter (verse 28). The second is prophets, speaking when another prophet has been given a revelation. This third group includes all women, those "in the churches" (see comments on 11:5 about women prophesying.) The "women" (gune) are "any adult female" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 167). Paul says that women are to "keep silence" (sigao), "say nothing" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 757).
for it is not permitted unto them to speak: In this clause Paul is explaining the purpose of the first clause. Women are to "keep silence" because they are not "permitted" (epitrepo); they are not "allow(ed)" to speak in the assembly (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 303).
The word "speak" (laleo) is defined as "to use words in order to declare one’s mind and disclose one’s thoughts" (Thayer 368-2-2980). Thayer continues by saying that laleo (speak) is "frequently used in the New Testament of teachers." Paul is saying that women are not to fill the role of a teacher in the churches.
but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law: The reason women are not allowed to speak in the church in the role of a teacher is that they "are commanded to be under obedience." The word "obedience" (hupotasso) means to "subject oneself, be subjected or subordinated, (to) obey" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 855). Paul says, "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (1 Timothy 2:11-12).
In these two verses, Paul contrasts "learn(ing)" with "teach(ing)" and "subjection" with "usurp(ing) authority." To Timothy, Paul says, "I suffer not a woman to teach." The word "teach" (didasko) means "to hold discourse with others in order to instruct them, deliver didactic discourses" (Thayer 144-1-1321).
Paul is not prohibiting singing or praying silently but holding a discourse, a lecture, oration, or sermon. "Their speaking in public would be of itself an act of independence; of teaching the assembly, and among others their own husbands" (Alford, Vol. II 600).
In saying "as also saith the law," Paul possibly has reference to Genesis where, because of transgression of woman (Eve) in the garden of Eden, God says, "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee" (3:16). In writing to the church at Colosse, Paul says, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord" (Colossians 3:18). To the church at Ephesus, he gives the same instruction:
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing (Ephesians 5:22-24).
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: The Corinthian women possibly were interfering with the worship by interrupting prophets in order to explain what they believed and by asking questions because they did not understand the teaching of the prophets. If they did not understand what the prophets were saying, they were to "ask their husbands at home." The words "at home" implies learning in silence and with all subjection for they are not permitted to speak in the assembly. Paul says, "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection" (1 Timothy 2:11).
for it is a shame for women to speak in the church: Paul restates the teaching in verse 34, "it is a shame for women to speak in the church." The word "shame" (aischron) means "dishonorable" or "disgraceful" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 24). Paul’s teaching here is plain and simple; however, it is ignored by the majority of churches and church leaders today. A number of wise and influential commentators, both of the denominational world and the churches of Christ, has totally voided the words of Paul’s instructions by making it possible for women to teach in the church. An example of such false teaching is as follows:
The gift of prophecy no longer exists in the church, but, by the law of analogy, those women who have a marked ability, either for exhortation or instruction, are permitted to speak in the churches....The law is permanent, but the application of it may vary. If man universally gives the woman permission to speak, she is free from the law in this respect (McGarvey 143).
Regardless of what such a great man may say, the Apostle Paul still says,
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. 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" (14:34-35).
Christian women have a responsibility to teach God’s word; however, they must follow restrictions found in the Bible. First, they must teach only in private and informal capacities. In these private situations, women may teach anyone. Biblical examples are as follows:
Women Teaching in Private
1. Older women may teach younger women.
The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed (Titus 2:3-5).
2. Women may teach children (boys and girls).
When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also....And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:15).
3. Women may teach men.
And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly (Acts 18:26).
These examples prove that women are commanded to teach men, women, and children. However, all of these examples are private gatherings--never public.
The Bible class (Sunday School) system of teaching, however, is a digression from this divine pattern. These classes are public gatherings. People from all areas of life are invited and encouraged to attend. The classes are announced to the congregation, posted on signs in front of the place of worship, and advertized in church bulletins, newspapers, radios, and yellow pages and in many other places--they are public gatherings.
The Bible class (Sunday School) system of teaching is a digression from divine truth because it is an arrangement of man--not God. There is absolutely no biblical authority for its use among true worshipers of God. Sunday Schools or the class arrangement of teaching "evolved as the result of the combined ideas of Robert Raikes of Gloucester, England, in 1780 and John Wesley, the British founder of the Methodist denomination. The practice was introduced into churches of Christ between 1850 and 1900 (Newberry 53).
To learn of the beginning of Sunday School, a person must leave the Bible and go to encyclopedias:
The present-day Sunday school movement was started in Gloucester, England, by the publisher Robert Raikes. In 1780, he launched his ’Ragged School’. He tried to aid the children of the poor in his community by teaching them reading, writing, and the principles of religion" (The World Book Encyclopedia 790).
God’s arrangement for teaching people His word in an undivided unclassified assembly is found in the scriptures. This method has always been the one God has commanded.
God’s Arrangement of Teaching in the Old Testament
When all Israel is come to appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the LORD your God...(Deuteronomy 31:11-13).
Joshua practiced the same method of teaching as Moses:
And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them (Joshua 8:34-35).
In the preceding Biblical examples, God’s arrangement of teaching His people was followed. Men, women, and children were together hearing God’s instruction delivered, and together they learned.
God’s Arrangement of Teaching in the New Testament
The book of Acts, telling of the actions of the apostles and the early church, records that Christians gathered together to learn God’s words--never in classes. The apostles used God’s arrangement of teaching in one assembly on the day of Pentecost by teaching the multitude.
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:...Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call (Acts 2:14; Acts 2:37-39).
And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles (Acts 14:27).
So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle (Acts 15:30).
And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together (Acts 20:7-8).
In this first letter to the Corinthians, Paul refers to Christians coming together in the church:
When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper (11:20).
Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another (11:33).
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? (14:23).
Final Words of Caution to Teachers of God’s Word
What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
Paul asks two rhetorical questions here, both demanding a negative answer. The "word of God" refers to the gospel. The first word "came" (exerchomai) is different from the second one, which is katantao. The first use of the word means "to be made known (or) declared" and in the second use, the word is defined as "to attain" (Thayer 223-11-1831).
Paul is asking, somewhat, angrily: "Did the gospel become known or originate with you at Corinth?" "Is the gospel attained only for you at Corinth?" "Were you the sole purpose for the gospel’s being sent out?" The Corinthians never thought of anyone except themselves; and, consequently, they were disregarding Paul’s instructions as though God’s word originated either with them or for them only. In other words, they were making their own laws.
In writing these words, Paul specifically is referring to three points that the Corinthians were violating: First, those speaking in tongues without an interpreter and several speaking at one time (verses 27-28); secondly, prophets speaking at the same time and not allowing others who had actually received new messages from God to speak without interruption (verses 29-32); thirdly, allowing their women to teach and interrupt the prophets with questions (verses 34-35). With respect to these two questions, Paul has already refuted their practice by saying,"For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints" (verse 33).
Paul’s message in these questions is that God is the author--not them--and what God authored was for "all churches of the saints"--not only for them; therefore, the teaching must be orderly and their practice must be the same as the other congregations of the churches of Christ. Paul was constantly rebuking the Corinthians because their practices differed from others. That is the reason Paul says, "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God" (11:16). Similar words are spoken in 1 Corinthians 14:33: "...as in all churches of the saints."
The implication of this verse is that Christians today should study the work, worship, and beliefs of the early churches in order to imitate them. The early church was a blueprint or model which should serve as a pattern for building subsequent congregations. The church is not authorized to practice what it cannot find authorized by command, example, or necessary inference in the New Testament. Apostasy has occurred when any congregation begins to practice anything which is unauthorized (Willis 517).
Churches of Christ that have allowed innovations to creep into the worship of the church are following the footprints of the arrogant Corinthians. Today’s innovations, such as individual communion cups instead of a common drinking vessel (see comments on 11:23-29), women teachers (see comments on 14:34-35), and instrumental music (see 14:14-17) are all traits of the Corinthians’ actions that Paul was rebuking. We should be asking the same question: "Did God’s word originate with us? Did God’s word come from us only?" If the answer is, "No," then no one has the authority to add innovations to the worship.
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: A "prophet" (prophetes), Thayer says,
(is) one who, moved by the Spirit of God and hence his organ or spokesman, solemnly declares to men what he has received by inspiration, especially future events, and in particular such as relate to the cause and kingdom of God and to human salvation (553-1-4396).
The term "spiritual" (pneumatikos) is as "one who is filled with and governed by the Spirit of God" (Thayer 523-2-4152). Obviously, many of the Corinthians claimed to be prophets or claimed to be filled with the Holy Spirit miraculously, when actually they were not. They made this claim to exalt themselves.
let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord: Paul here teaches how to test an individual to determine if he is truly a prophet or spiritually gifted. He says that a true prophet would not deny the Lord’s commandments.
But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.
To be "ignorant" (agnoeo) means "not to know" (Thayer 8-1-50). Paul is continuing his thought from verse 37 that the things he is writing are the commandments of the Lord. He teaches that if the one claiming to be a prophet or spiritually gifted does not know if his words are the commandment of God, they should disregard him as a prophet, for "he is not known; that is, he is one whom God knows not" (Vincent, Vol. II 272). The New American Standard Version reads: "But if any one does not recognize this, he is not recognized."
Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy: Once again, after speaking very sharply to the Corinthians, Paul refers to them as "brethren" as a way to soften his words. The word "covet" (zeloo), translated "desire" in verse 1, means to "strive (or) exert oneself earnestly" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich 338). These words present the same teaching as in verse 1 where Paul says, "Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy" (see verse 1 for comments).
and forbid not to speak with tongues: Throughout this chapter, as he does here, Paul stresses the importance of prophecy over speaking with tongues; but in all cases he ends by reassuring the Corinthians that speaking in tongues has its place and, therefore, should not be prohibited.
Let all things be done decently and in order.
Throughout this chapter Paul stresses the importance of doing everything "decently and in order." In verses 26-31, he has given several rules to follow to ensure orderly actions. The word "decently" (euschemonos) means "in a seemly manner" (Thayer 262-2-2156). It also implies "honest" as it is translated in Romans 13:13. When prophesying or when speaking in tongues, a speaker must always practice honesty. The word "order" (taxis) is defined as "due or right order" (Thayer 614-1-5010). Congregations today must stress the need of doing everything "decently and in order."