1 Corinthians 14:13
Why let him that speaks in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(13) In an unknown tongue.—Better, in a tongue. The gift of interpretation would make the gift of tongues useful for the edifying of the Church. This would be an object of unselfish prayer, which God would indeed answer. In the Greek it is suggested that the gift of interpretation is not only to be the object of his prayer, but that it will be the result; and this leads on to the thought in the next verse.

1 Corinthians 14:13-14. Wherefore let him that speaketh in a tongue — Unknown to the congregation to which he would address himself; pray that he may interpret — That God would give him the gift also of expounding his discourse, in the common language of the place, a gift this distinct from the other. For if I pray, &c. — The apostle, as he did at 1 Corinthians 14:6, transfers it to himself; in an unknown tongue; without making use of any explication; my spirit indeed prayeth — By the influence of the Spirit of God, I understand the words myself; but my understanding is unfruitful — Namely, to others; the knowledge I have is of no benefit to them; and I perform an action void of that prudence and good sense which ought always to govern persons in their addresses to God, and act so childish and foolish a part that the reason of a man may seem at that time to have deserted me. “This,” says Dr. Doddridge, “I think a more natural interpretation than that which supposes the apostle to suggest a thought which the Papists urge to palliate the absurdity of offering prayers in an unknown tongue, namely, ‘there may be some general good affections working where the person praying does not particularly understand what he says.’ But this would make it almost impossible to conceive how the gift of tongues could be abused, if the person exercising it was under such an extraordinary impulse of the Spirit, as to utter sensible words which he did not himself understand; in which case a man must be, in the most extraordinary sense that can be conceived, the mere organ of the Holy Ghost himself.”14:6-14 Even an apostle could not edify, unless he spoke so as to be understood by his hearers. To speak words that have no meaning to those who hear them, is but speaking into the air. That cannot answer the end of speaking, which has no meaning; in this case, speaker and hearers are barbarians to each other. All religious services should be so performed in Christian assemblies, that all may join in, and profit by them. Language plain and easy to be understood, is the most proper for public worship, and other religious exercises. Every true follower of Christ will rather desire to do good to others, than to get a name for learning or fine speaking.Pray that he may interpret - Let him ask of God ability that he may explain it clearly to the church. It would seem probable that the power of speaking foreign languages, and the power of conveying truth in a clear and distinct manner, were not always found in the same person, and that the one did not of necessity imply the other. The truth seems to have been, that these extraordinary endowments of the Holy Spirit were bestowed upon people in some such way as "ordinary" talents and mental powers are now conferred; and that they became in a similar sense the "characteristic mental endowments of the individual," and of course were subject to the same laws, and liable to the same kinds of abuse, as mental endowments are now. And as it now happens that one man may have a special faculty for acquiring and expressing himself in a foreign language who may not be by any means distinguished for clear enunciation, or capable of conveying his ideas in an interesting manner to a congregation, so it was then.

The apostle, therefore, directs such, if any there were, instead of priding themselves on their endowments, and instead of always speaking in an unknown tongue, which would he useless to the church, to "pray" for the more useful gift of being able to convey their thoughts in a clear and intelligible manner in their vernacular tongue. This would be useful. The truths, therefore, that they had the power of speaking with eminent ability in a foreign language, they ought to desire to be able to "interpret" so that they would be intelligible to the people whom they addressed in the church. This seems to me to be the plain meaning of this passage, which has given so much perplexity to commentators. Macknight renders it, however, "Let him who prayeth in a foreign language, pray so as some one may interpret;" meaning that he who prayed in a foreign language was to do it by two or three sentences at a time, so that he might be followed by an interpreter. But this is evidently forced. In order to this, it is needful to suppose that the phrase ὁ λαλῶν ho lalōn , "that speaketh," should be rendered, contrary to its obvious and usual meaning, "who prays," and to supply τις tis, "someone," in the close of the verse. The obvious interpretation is that which is given above; and this proceeds only on the supposition that the power of speaking foreign languages and the power of interpreting were not always united in the same person - a supposition that is evidently true, as appears from 1 Corinthians 12:10.

13. Explain, "Let him who speaketh with a tongue [unknown] in his prayer (or, when praying) strive that he may interpret" [Alford]. This explanation of "pray" is needed by its logical connection with "prayer in an unknown tongue" (1Co 14:14). Though his words be unintelligible to his hearers, let him in them pray that he may obtain the gift of interpreting, which will make them "edifying" to "the church" (1Co 14:12). To interpret here signifieth no more, than to render that intelligible to people, which he first uttereth in an unknown tongue. But what need he pray for that? Hath not every man that can speak a power to speak his native language, as well as a foreign language? Some say, therefore, that ina in this place signifies also, let him pray and also interpret; but this seemeth hard: nor can I think those that had a faculty to speak in an unknown tongue, might some of them not themselves understand what they said, and so had need to pray that they might interpret: but they might be puffed up with their gift, and think it beneath them to interpret, and then they had need to pray that they might have humility enough to interpret. Others think, that by interpreting in this place, is meant something more than bare translating, or turning the words into the common language of the place, viz. the opelling and applying of the Scriptures, an ability to which was a distinct gift; which they who would have, had need pray that God would open their eyes to understand the mysteries of his law. Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue,.... The Hebrew, or any other, the gift of speaking with which is bestowed upon him:

pray that he may interpret; that he may have also the gift of interpretation of tongues; for as has been before hinted, these two gifts were distinct; and a man might have the one, and not the other; a man might speak in an unknown tongue, so as to understand himself, what he said, and be edified, and yet not be capable of translating it at once into the common language of the people; and if he could not do this, he would not excel in his gift to the edification of the church; whereas if he could interpret he would, and therefore, above all things, he should pray to the Father of lights, the giver of every good and perfect gift, that he might be furnished with this also.

Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue {h} pray that he may interpret.

(h) Pray for the gift of interpretation.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 Corinthians 14:13. Προσευχέσθω ἵνα διερμ.] is taken by Chrysostom, Theodoret, Theophylact, Castalio, Erasmus, Beza, Calvin, Grotius, Estius, Wetstein, Bengel, and others, including Flatt, Bleek, Rückert, Olshausen, Neander, Hofmann, in the sense of: let him pray for the gift of interpretation. But against this 1 Corinthians 14:14 is decisive, where the προσεύχεσθαι, linked by γάρ to what precedes, must have the same reference with our προσεύχεσθαι in 1 Corinthians 14:13. Bleek’s objection, that we find εὐχαριστῶ in 1 Corinthians 14:18 standing in a different reference than previously, does not hold good, since 1 Corinthians 14:17-18 do not stand in direct logical connection (as 1 Corinthians 14:12; 1 Corinthians 14:14 do), but, on the contrary, with 1 Corinthians 14:18 there begins a section of the discourse distinct from the preceding. Without taking ἵνα, with Luther, Vorstius, Wolf, Rosenmüller (comp. already Photius in Oecumenius), as meaning so that, the right translation is: let him pray in the design, in order to interpret (afterwards what has been prayed γλώσσῃ). Comp. Billroth, David Schulz, Winer, de Wette, Osiander, Ch. F. Fritzsche, Ewald, Maier. The previous general λαλεῖν is thus represented here by προσεύχεσθαι, i.e. more precisely described as what it was, as address in prayer, see 1 Corinthians 14:14-17. It is objected that 1 Corinthians 14:27 militates against this view (see Rückert); that the person praying γλώσσῃ could not have had that design, because he did not know whether the interpretation would be given to him (Hofmann). But our explanation does not in fact assume that every man who spoke with tongues was capable of interpreting; but, on the contrary, that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:13, was thinking only of such speakers with tongues as possessed also the gift of interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:5). The apostle still leaves out of view the case in which the speaker was not also interpreter (1 Corinthians 14:28); hence we are not to take it with Ewald: “that people may interpret it.” The subject is the speaker himself (1 Corinthians 14:14 ff.), as in 1 Corinthians 14:5.1 Corinthians 14:13. “Wherefore (since thus only can the γλώσσαις λαλῶν edify the church) let him who speaks with a tongue pray that he may interpret”: cf. 1 Corinthians 14:5. It appears that the speaker with Tongues in some instances could recall, on recovery, what he had uttered in his trance-ecstasy, so as to render it into rational speech. The three vbs. are pr., regulating current procedure.—The ἵνα clause, after προσευχέσθω, gives the purport of the prayer, as in Php 1:9; cf. Php 1:10 above, 1 Corinthians 16:12; Luke 9:40, etc. Mr[2075], El[2076], and others, prefer to borrow γλώσσῃ from the next ver., and render thus: “Let him that speaks (with a tongue) pray (therewith), in order that he may interpret”; but this strains the construction, and γλώσσῃ appears to be added in 1 Corinthians 14:14 just because the vb[2077] προσεύχομαι had not been so understood before.

[2075] Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary (Eng. Trans.).

[2076] C. J. Ellicott’s St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.

[2077] verb13. pray that he may interpret] Cf. 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:5. This passage may mean (1) pray that he may receive the faculty of interpretation, or (2) pray in such a language as he has the power of interpreting.1 Corinthians 14:13. Προσευχέσθω) let him pray; and he will do this with such fruit and effect, that the interpretation shall be added to the unknown tongue; see the following verse. It is implied that this will be obtained by prayers.Verse 13. - Pray that he may interpret; either, so pray as to be able to interpret, or, pray with the object of afterwards interpreting. The meaning, "pray to have the power of interpretation given him," seems excluded by the next verse. Pray that he may interpret (προσευχέσθω ἵνα διερμηνεύῃ)

Not, pray for the gift of interpretation, but use his unknown tongue in prayer, which, above all other spiritual gifts, would minister to the power of interpreting.

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