Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.Ch. 1 Corinthians 14:1-25. The superiority of the gift of prophecy to that of tongues
1. desire] Literally, be zealous for, envious of. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 12:31. The best gifts (see note there) were those that were within the reach of all. Still there was no reason why a Christian should not seek other special gifts from God by prayer. See 1 Corinthians 14:13, and St James 1:5.
but rather that ye may prophesy] The gift of prophecy, as is abundantly evident from the whole of this section, was not confined to the prediction of future events. As Kingsley remarks, the prophet was “not only a fore-teller but a forth-teller,” one who communicates the moral and spiritual truths which he has received by direct revelation from God.
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.2. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue] The word unknown is not in the original. The word translated tongue signifies a human language in ch. 1 Corinthians 13:1. Cf. Revelation 13:7; Revelation 14:6; Revelation 17:15.
speaketh not unto men, but unto God] Because the language is not the language of those to whom he is speaking, and therefore what he says is hidden from them. For mysteries, see ch. 1 Corinthians 4:1.
But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.4. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself] Not necessarily because he understands what he is saying, but because his spirit, stirred up by the Spirit of God, is led by the experience of the inward emotion to praise God. Estius. See 1 Corinthians 14:14.
but he that prophesieth edifieth the church] The profit of the brethren is ever St Paul’s object. Cf. 1 Corinthians 14:6; 1 Corinthians 14:12; ch. 1 Corinthians 6:12, &c. Prophecy is to be preferred to the gift of tongues because it is more directly useful. See note, ch. 1 Corinthians 12:28.
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.5. for greater is he] Cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 12:31.
except he interpret] This passage clearly implies that a man might speak in another language without himself knowing what he was saying, see 1 Corinthians 14:14. Some, however, regard the speaking with tongues as ecstatic utterances in no human language, such as took place among the Montanists in ancient, and the Irvingites in modern times. See Stanley’s introduction to this section. Cf. note on ch. 1 Corinthians 12:10.
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?6. by revelation] That which comes directly to the spirit from on high.
by knowledge] That which is gained by observation and study, see ch. 1 Corinthians 12:8.
by prophesying] The outward expression of that which has come from above by revelation.
by doctrine] Or rather, teaching, the outward expression of knowledge. See the distinction between the prophet and the teacher in ch. 1 Corinthians 12:28.
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?7. except they give a distinction in the sounds] The effect of a melody depends entirely upon the distinction of its musical intervals. The effect of speech in like manner is dependent upon its being the communication of definite ideas.
For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?8. For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound] An indistinct sound, that which conveys no clear impression to the mind. The muster, the charge, the rally, the retreat, are each indicated by a definite order of musical intervals upon the trumpet, or they would be useless for the purpose of calling soldiers together. So words are useless to mankind unless they represent things.
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.9. words easy to be understood] Literally, a well marked discourse, language which has a clearly discernible meaning.
There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.10. without signification] Literally, without sound, dumb. Cf. Acts 8:32, and ch. 1 Corinthians 12:1.
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.11. the meaning of the voice] Literally, its force.
a barbarian] This word is here used in its original signification of one whose speech is unintelligible,
unto me] Literally, in me, i.e. in my estimation.
Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.12. spiritual gifts] Literally, as margin, spirits, a word obviously standing here for the gifts of the Spirit.
seek that ye may excel] i.e. by prayer, see next verse. Excel should rather be translated abound. Be plenteous, Wiclif. Have plenty, Tyndale.
Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.13. 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.
For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.14. my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful] The afflatus of the Spirit suggests the words of prayer to the possessor of the gift. He is conscious that he is fervently addressing the Giver of all good in a spirit of supplication. But his consciousness goes no further. He does not know what he is saying.
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.15. What is it then?] “What is the purport of what I have been saying? That it is desirable that the spirit and understanding should combine in all the public utterances of a teacher.”
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?16. Else when thou shalt bless] A further argument Even your prayers and thanksgivings are useless, for none can respond to them. Some commentators, e.g. Dean Stanley, have supposed the Eucharistic blessing to be meant (see ch. 1 Corinthians 10:16). This, though probable, is by no means certain. That it was some well-known form of blessing or thanksgiving is however clear from what follows.
with the spirit] i.e. in an unknown tongue. See note on 1 Corinthians 14:12,
he that occupieth the room of the unlearned] Room (τόπος), as in St Matthew 23:6; St Luke 14:7-8, &c., stands for place. Wiclif renders it here by place. Cf. “office and roome,” Hollinshead’s Scotland. The word rendered here unlearned signifies (1) a private person, layman, one who holds no office. Hence (2) it comes to signify a man who has no special or technical knowledge of any particular art or science, as in Acts 4:13; 2 Corinthians 11:6, just as a lawyer calls those laymen who are not versed in law. Therefore the meaning here most probably is (with Meyer and Bp. Wordsworth) “those who have no special gift such as that of prophecy, or tongues.” Some would render ‘the layman’s place,’ and regard it as referring to the seats set apart for the laity in the assembly. But the majority of commentators would render he who fills the situation of the not specially endowed. St Clement of Rome uses τόπος in this latter sense in his Epistle, ch. 40.
Amen] Literally, the Amen, the well-known response, either optative, “So be it,” or affirmative, “So it is,” as common in the synagogue as in the Christian Church to any prayer or thanksgiving. See Nehemiah 5:13; Revelation 5:14. Justin Martyr (circa 150) uses the same language concerning the response to the Eucharistic prayer in his day.
For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.17. thou verily givest thanks well] Well, either (1) as referring to the fact that thanks were given—it is well to give thanks—or, (2) to the manner and spirit in which that action was performed—καλῶς, nobly, honourably. Some would translate givest thanks by celebratest the Eucharist. See ch. 1 Corinthians 11:24.
the other] i.e. he who fills the layman’s place.
I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:18. I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than you all] St Paul, no doubt, had the gift of interpretation. Yet apparently he did not often exercise in public, whatever he may have done in private, the gift of speaking with tongues unknown to his hearers. See next verse.
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.19. yet in the church] “Whatever I may do in private, I should desire my public ministrations to be for the instruction and edification of the flock, and not for my own individual glorification.”
teach] The word in the original is that from which our word catechize is derived. The same word is used in St Luke 1:4; Acts 18:25; Acts 21:21; Acts 21:24; Romans 2:18, and twice in Galatians 6:6. It signifies to make to resound thoroughly in any one’s ears. The importance of sermons and catechetical teaching in public worship is thus indicated, as well as their proper object, the instruction and edification of the flock. See 1 Corinthians 14:24.
Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.20. howbeit in malice be ye children] This is subjoined lest the Apostle should be charged with contradicting his Master. There is a sense in which all Christians must be children. What it is the Apostle tells us. They were to be children in malice, or rather perhaps vice. Compare on the one hand St Matthew 11:25; Matthew 18:3; Matthew 19:14; 1 Peter 2:2; on the other, ch. 1 Corinthians 3:1; Ephesians 4:14; and Hebrews 5:12. See also St Matthew 10:16; Romans 16:19.
men] Literally, perfect, i.e. of ripe age. Cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 2:6; Php 3:15; Hebrews 5:14.
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.21. In the law it is written] The law here stands for the whole Old Testament, as we might naturally expect from St Paul’s habit of regarding the whole of the Mosaic dispensation as a progressive order of things having its completion in Christ. See Romans 3:19; Galatians 3:23-24; Galatians 4:5; Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 9:10. St John uses the word in the same manner; John 10:34, John 12:34, 1 Corinthians 15:25. The passage is from Isaiah 28:11-12.
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.22. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not] The passage here quoted has been regarded as a prophecy either (1) of the Day of Pentecost, or (2) of the Babylonish captivity. The latter is more probable, and in that case it becomes not an argument, but an illustration. The occupation of Judæa by the Assyrian and Babylonian troops had been a sign to God’s people of their unbelief and its punishment, and the unwonted speech they had been doomed to hear was to them a call to repentance, especially when viewed in the light of the prophecy of Moses in Deuteronomy 28:49. In a similar manner the miraculous gift of tongues was still (see next verse), as at the Day of Pentecost, a call to the outside world to examine and inquire into this new thing which had come to pass, to acknowledge in it the finger of God, and to “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.” Cf. Acts 2:7-12; Acts 2:41.
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?23. If therefore the whole church be come together into one place] ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό. The usual word for the place of assembly, as in ch. 1 Corinthians 11:20; Acts 2:1. However well calculated the gift of tongues might be to arrest and compel attention when used properly, it is clear, says the Apostle, that its introduction at the public assemblies of the Church was not a proper use of it, unless (1 Corinthians 14:27) it were restricted in its use by wise rules. It not so restricted, so far from its being a sign to unbelievers, it would give them, as well as the great body of the Christian laity, occasion of complaint, and even ridicule.
all] Not necessarily all together, as some have supposed, but that no other means of communication was adopted by any but the unknown tongue. Meyer.
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:24. he is convinced of all] Rather, he is convinced by all, i.e. the prophets whose discourses he hears. The word signifies (1) to prove by argument, and comes therefore to be used (2) of the conviction produced by argument. Cf. St John 16:8, where the word however is rendered reprove. For an instance of the word ‘of’ in the sense of ‘by’ see Shakspeare, Much Ado about Nothing, Act i. Scene 1, ‘I am loved of all, only you excepted.’
he is judged of all] Rather, he is examined by all. The exhortations of the preacher place him, as it were, upon his trial. For the word here used see ch. 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, 1 Corinthians 4:3-4, 1 Corinthians 9:3, 1 Corinthians 10:25; 1 Corinthians 10:27, and notes.
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.25. and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest] The nature of Christian prophecy is here plainly shewn. See note on 1 Corinthians 14:1. ‘And thus’ is omitted by most modern editors.
that God is in you of a truth] Literally, that God is really in you (or among you). This description of the effect of prophecy upon the unbeliever is in no way contrary to the assertion in 1 Corinthians 14:22. There the Apostle is speaking of a sign to attract the attention of the unbeliever; here his attention is already attracted. He has come to the Christian assembly, and is listening to the words spoken there in the name of Jesus Christ. Unless his conscience is ‘seared with a hot iron’ there will be no further need of signs to induce him to give his attention to what is spoken.
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.26–40. Regulations to insure decency and order
26. hath a psalm] The Apostle here reproves another fault. Not only are the Corinthians ambitious rather of the gifts which attract attention, than of those which do good to others, but in their exercise of those gifts they are utterly neglectful of Church order Each member of the teaching body (ch. 1 Corinthians 12:29 forbids us to include the whole Church) had his own special subject to bring before the Church; some hymn of praise, unpremeditated or otherwise, some point of Christian doctrine to enforce, some hidden mystery to reveal, some utterance in a foreign tongue, or some interpretation peculiar to himself of such utterance. This he desired to deliver just when the impulse seized him to do so, and all with a view of asserting himself, rather than of promoting the common welfare. The consequence was an amount of disorder which prevented the striking picture of the true effects of Christian prophecy in the last verse from being ever realized. For the various gifts mentioned in this verse see 1 Corinthians 14:2; 1 Corinthians 14:6; 1 Corinthians 14:13, and notes. The word psalm must be understood of a song of praise addressed to God, such as the Psalms of David, though it is by no means to be confined to them. Cf. Ephesians 5:19.
Let all things be done unto edifying] See ch. 1 Corinthians 6:12, 1 Corinthians 8:1, 1 Corinthians 10:23, 1 Corinthians 12:7; 2 Corinthians 12:19; 2 Corinthians 13:10. The Apostle corrects two errors in this section; (1) the disorderly manner in which the services of the Church were carried on; (2) the practice of women speaking in the public assembly.
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.27. let it be by two, or at the most by three] Because the long utterance in an unknown tongue would weary the Church without a sufficient corresponding benefit.
and that by course] Literally, and in turn.
and let one interpret] Let there be one, and only one, interpreter of each speech; for if the second interpretation were the same as the first it were unnecessary; if different, it would be perplexing.
But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.28. in the church] These words imply that the utterance was to be reserved until the speaker found himself in private, since in the Church it could only serve for an opportunity of useless display.
Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.29. Let the prophets speak two or three] The same rule was to hold good of preaching. Those who felt that they had something to communicate must notwithstanding be governed by the desire to edify their brethren. The Church was not to be wearied out by an endless succession of discourses, good indeed in themselves, but addressed to men who were not in a condition to profit by them. It would seem that two or three short discourses, either in the vernacular, or, if there were any one present who could interpret, in some foreign tongue, took the place in Apostolic times of the modern sermon. “Let the presbyters one by one, not all together, exhort the people, and the Bishop last of all, as the commander.” Apostolical Constitutions (circ. a.d. 250) ii. 57.
and let the other judge] Either (1) the other prophets, or (2) the whole congregation. If the former be the correct interpretation, it refers to the gift of discerning of spirits (ch. 1 Corinthians 12:10). The latter may be defended on the ground that St Paul constantly (ch. 1 Corinthians 10:15, 1 Corinthians 11:13) appeals to the judgment of his disciples, and that he considered (ch. 1 Corinthians 12:1-3, cf. 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27) that all the people of God had the faculty of discerning the spiritual value to themselves of what they heard in the congregation. For the word translated judge see ch. 1 Corinthians 11:29; 1 Corinthians 11:31, and note.
If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.30. If any thing be revealed to another] If it should appear that some special message from God had been sent to one of the prophets during the discourse of another, the first was to bring his discourse to an end as soon as might be, in an orderly manner, so as to give the other an opportunity of saying what had occurred to him.
For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.31. For ye may all prophesy one by one] Not necessarily at the same meeting of the Church, which would be in contradiction to what has just been said (1 Corinthians 14:29), nor that the permission was extended to the whole Christian body. All were not prophets, the Apostle tells us (ch. 1 Corinthians 12:29), and it is clear that none but prophets could prophesy, since prophecy (ch. 1 Corinthians 12:28, 1 Corinthians 13:2, 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:5; 1 Corinthians 14:22) was a special gift of the Spirit.
comforted] The word has the sense of comfort and exhortation combined, and is most nearly equivalent to our encourage or cheer. See 2 Corinthians 1 where the word and the verb from which it is derived are translated indifferently comfort and consolation. In ch. 1 Corinthians 4:16 of this Epistle it is rendered beseech. In a great many passages, as for instance in Acts 2:40, it is rendered exhort. From this word is derived the title Paraclete, rendered Comforter in St John 14, 15, , 16 and Advocate in 1 John 2:1. The derivative is rendered exhortation in 3, and another word is employed for comfort,
And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.32. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets] The possession of a special gift from on high has, from Montanus in the second century down to our own times, been supposed to confer on its possessor an immunity from all control, whether exercised by himself or others, and to entitle him to immediate attention to the exclusion of every other consideration whatsoever. St Paul, on the contrary, lays down the rule that spiritual, like all other gifts, are to be under the dominion of the reason, and may, like all other gifts, be easily misused. A holy self-restraint, even in the use of the highest gifts, must characterize the Christian. If a man comes into the assembly inspired to speak in an unknown tongue, the impulse is to be steadily repressed, unless there is a certainty that what is said can be interpreted, so that those present may understand it. If he comes into the assembly possessed with some overmastering idea, he must keep it resolutely back until such time as he can give it vent without prejudice to Christian order, without injury to that which must be absolutely the first consideration in all public addresses—the edification of the flock. Estius justly remarks that the difference between God’s prophets and those inspired by evil spirits is to be found in the fact that the latter are rapt by madness beyond their own control, and are unable to be silent if they will. And Robertson illustrates by a reference to modern forms of fanaticism the truth that “uncontrolled religious feeling” is apt to “overpower both reason and sense.”
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.33. for God is not the author of confusion, but of peace] Confusion; literally, unsettlement. Cf. St James 3:16. Also St Luke 21:9, where the word is rendered commotion. As in the natural, so in the moral and spiritual world, God is a God of order. The forces of nature operate by laws which are implicitly obeyed. If it be otherwise in the moral and spiritual world, God is not the author of the confusion, but man, who has opposed himself to His Will.
as in all churches of the saints] It is a question whether these words belong to what goes before or what follows. If to what goes before, it would seem as though a hint was intended that these disorders were peculiar to the Corinthian Church. If to what follows, it is a repetition of the argument in ch. 1 Corinthians 7:17, 1 Corinthians 11:16, and it would then appear that the Apostle had especial reason to fear insubordination on the question of the position of woman in the Christian assembly, and that he therefore fortifies his own authority by an appeal to the universal custom of the Church of Christ.
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.34. Let your women keep silence in the churches] The position of women in Christian assemblies is now decided on the principles laid down in ch. 1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Corinthians 11:7-9.
as also saith the law] In Genesis 3:16.
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.35. let them ask their husbands at home] Rather, ‘their own husbands.’ The women were not only not permitted to teach (see 1 Timothy 2:11-14) but even to ask questions in Church, a privilege, says. Grotius, permitted to men, but denied to women, among the Jews. It seems to be assumed that the unmarried ones would not think of doing so. This rule applies in its strictness only to the East, where women were kept in strict seclusion, and only permitted to converse with their male relatives. Calvin remarks, “When he says husbands, he does not prohibit them, in case of need, from consulting the prophets themselves; for all husbands are not qualified to give information on such subjects.” Estius allows the right of women to consult pious and prudent men, so long as it be done without giving occasion of scandal.
for it is a shame] The original is even stronger. It is disgraceful.
What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?36. What? came the word of God out from you?] The self-assertion of the Corinthians was so great that they needed to be reminded that they had received the doctrine of Christ through the ministry of St Paul, and that it had not originated among themselves.
or came it unto you only?] i.e. to you alone. They owed a duty, not only to those who had preached the gospel to them, but to other Churches, whose example could not be safely neglected. See note on 1 Corinthians 14:33.
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.37. If any man think himself to be a prophet] Since there were many appointed teachers (see ch. 1 Corinthians 12:28-29) who were not prophets, the test of the prophetic character was not ordination, but the possession of the prophetic gift. If any man fancied he possessed that gift, he was required to submit himself to the test of his willingness to obey God’s appointed founder and ruler of the Church.
or spiritual] i.e. possessed of any special spiritual gift.
the commandments of the Lord] i.e. Christ. See ch. 1 Corinthians 7:10; 1 Corinthians 7:12; 1 Corinthians 7:40, 1 Corinthians 11:2.
But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.38. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant] Some editors read ‘he is ignored’ instead of ‘let him be ignorant.’ If we take the reading in the text, which seems preferable, the sense is that St Paul will give himself no further trouble about one whose insubordination proves him to be no real prophet of God; if the reading which some would substitute for it, the signification is that God will neglect him who neglects the commandments of His Apostle. Cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 8:3. The Vulgate renders ignorabitur; and Wiclif, he schal be unknowe; Tyndale renders as in the text.
Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.39. Wherefore, brethren] The Apostle, as is his wont, sums up the whole section in a few concluding words. Prophecy is a gift to be earnestly sought (see for covet, the note on ch. 1 Corinthians 12:31). Speaking with tongues is a gift not to be discouraged.
Let all things be done decently and in order.40. Let all things be done decently and in order] Rather, ‘only let,’ &c. For decently see Romans 13:13, where the same word is translated honestly. Also 1 Thessalonians 4:12, and ch. 1 Corinthians 12:23, where a word of similar derivation occurs, and is translated comeliness. In ch. 1 Corinthians 7:35, the adjective of the same derivation is rendered comely; in St Mark 15:43 and Acts 13:50, honourable. Its original meaning is well formed. Compare the Latin forma for beauty, and the English shapely. For in order, cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33. The Christian assembly should be a reflection of the universe, where form and order reign supreme.