Matthew Poole's Commentary
Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.1 Corinthians 14:1-5 Prophecy, for its greater tendency to edification,
is preferred before speaking with tongues.
1 Corinthians 14:6-11 Tongues not understood, like indistinct musical
sounds, are of no service to the hearers.
1 Corinthians 14:12-20 All gifts should be referred to edification.
1 Corinthians 14:21,22 Tongues are of use for the conviction of unbelievers,
1 Corinthians 14:23-25 but in the assemblies of the church prophecy is more useful.
1 Corinthians 14:26-33 Rules for the orderly exercise of spiritual gifts in
1 Corinthians 14:34-38 Women are forbidden to speak there.
1 Corinthians 14:39,40 An exhortation to use each gift freely, but with
decency and order.
Follow after charity; that love to God and your brethren, concerning which I have been speaking so much, as preferable to all common gifts, follow that with your utmost diligence, as the persecutors follow you; for it is the same word that is ordinarily used to signify the violent prosecution of persecutors, though it be applied also to things which we ought eagerly to follow, Romans 9:31 14:19.
But rather that ye may prophesy; but rather, or principally that you may be able to reveal the mind and will of God unto others. Some think, by foretelling things to come; but that is not very probable, such an ability of prophesying being given but to few under the New Testament: it is therefore more probable, that he speaketh of an ability to open the Scriptures, either by immediate revelation, (as to which they could use no means but prayer and a holy life), or by ordinary meditation, and study of the Scriptures. For though the former species of prophesying, by prediction of future things, when the truth of it was justified by such prophecies’ accomplishment, was of great use to confirm the doctrine of the gospel; yet the latter was of greater and more general use for the good of others, which makes the apostle put them upon the coveting and earnest desire of that faculty or ability, because, of all others, it made them most eminently and generally useful to others, as well those within the church, as those without; and this the apostle expoundeth himself, 1 Corinthians 14:3.
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; by a tongue (for unkown is not in the Greek, but necessarily added by our translators, for he speaketh of such a language) he meaneth a language not known to all, or at least not to the most of them that hear him. It may be asked, what unknown language the apostle here meaneth? Shall we think that any pastors or teachers in the church of Corinth were so vain, as to preach in the Arabic, Scythian, or Parthian language to a people who understood only the Greek? Our learned Lightfoot thinks this not probable, and that if any had been so vain for ostentation, the apostle would rather have chid them for suffering such an abuse, and have forbidden such further practice, than have given direction, than if any so spake he should interpret, as he doth, 1 Corinthians 14:5. He rather thinks, therefore, that the apostle meaneth the Hebrew tongue; the use of which, though it was by this time much lost through the Jews’ mixture with other nations, yet was restored in a great measure to the guides of churches, for their better understanding the Scriptures of the Old Testament; and continued amongst the Jews in their reading of the law in the synagogues. Now there being many Jews in this church, and the service of God being ordinarily in the Jewish synagogues performed in that language, it is very probable, that some of these Jews that were Christianized (to show their skill) might, when they spake to the whole church of Corinth, use to speak in Hebrew, though few or none understood that language. The apostle saith, he that did so, spake
not unto men, that is, not to those men who did not understand that language, not to the generality of his hearers, though possibly here and there some might understand him,
but unto God, who being the Author of all languages, must necessarily know the significancy of all words in them: for (he saith) scarce any man understood him.
Howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries; howbeit he may speak mysterious things to himself, and to the understanding of his own soul and spirit. Others think that it was possible, that some who thus spake, being but the instruments of the Holy Spirit, might not themselves understand all which they said; but that is hardly probable.
But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.Speaketh unto men; that is, to the understanding of men, and for the good and profit of men.
To edification; for their increase in knowledge and all habits of grace.
And exhortation; to quicken them in the exercise and practice of such duties as God hath, in his word, required of, them.
And comfort; and for the relief of them under their burdens, to support and uphold their troubled or wounded spirits. These expressions make it probable, that the apostle, by prophecy in this text, understands ministerial preaching; which more properly tends to edification, exhortation, and comfort, than the foretelling of things to come.
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; knowledge or understanding of the things that any man speaketh, is necessary to the improvement of them, by their being a means to promote faith and love; for how shall what men say in the least promote, either my faith in God or Christ, or my love to him, if I understand not what they say?
How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? Romans 10:14. So that, though he that speaketh in an unknown tongue may (if he understand what he says) have his own heart affected with what he saith, yet it is not possible he should affect another.
But he that prophesieth edifieth the church; but he that preacheth in an intelligible language and style to all that hear him, he doth what in him lieth to edify all those that hear him.
I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.I would, in this place, signifies no more than either I could wish, or I could be content that you could all speak with tongues, if God pleased. It should seem by this speech of the apostle’s, that this speaking in unknown tongues was that extraordinary gift, which, above all others, this church, or the several members of it, were proud and ambitious of. St. Paul tells them, that if God pleased he wished they could all do it. But of the two, he rather wished them all a power to open and apply the Holy Scriptures to men’s understandings and conscience. He addeth the reason, because it was a more honourable gift and work, and made men truly greater. But he adds,
except he interpret, for then he prophesied also.
That, saith he, the church, that is, those that heard him prophesying, may receive edifying. Whence we learn:
1. That spiritual growth, and proficiency in Divine knowledge and habits of grace, ought to be the great end of all preachers; and whose doth not propound this as his end, abuseth his office, and trifles in a pulpit.
2. That whose maketh this his end, will make it his business, to the best of his skill, to use such a language, style, and method, as the generality of his hearers may best understand; for without their understanding, there can be no edifying. And this lets us see the vanity of using much Latin, or Greek, or a lofty style, or a cryptic method, not obvious to poor people in popular sermons, where the people understand not those languages; or philosophical ratiocinations before a plain people that understand none of these things. Such preaching is neither justifiable by reason, nor by the practice either of Christ or his apostles.
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?God hath given me an ability to speak with tongues; suppose I should come to you speaking in the Arabian, Scythian, or Parthian language, what good would it do you? How should it any way
profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? Some make these four things distinct each from other; others think that they all signify no more, than the interpreting mentioned in the former verse. Those who distinguish them say, by revelation is meant the explication of the types and figures of the Old Testament; or some such revelation as John had in Patmos; or the expounding the mysteries of the gospel.
By knowledge they understand the knowledge of history, or any other ordinary knowledge.
By prophesying, the explication of the difficult texts of Scripture.
By doctrine, catechetical or practical doctrine. But these are all but uncertain guesses; the sense is plainly no more, than, if I should come speaking with unknown tongues, and no way by interpretation make what I say intelligible unto you.
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?In the sounds which are artificially made by the use of wind music, or other music, nothing could be understood, if art had not also devised a distinction in the sounds; that one sound should signify one thing, another sound should signify another thing: so unless the voice of the teacher be significant to, and understood by, the person instructed or taught, the sound is of no use at all.
For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?The trumpet is made use of in battles, and that variously; it is used to give soldiers notice to march on against the enemy, and also to sound a retreat: if there were not a distinction in the one sound, and in the other, how should the soldier know when to go forward, and when to come back, by the sound of it? To instruct them what to do, the trumpet must not only sound, but sound intelligibly to those that hear it, which it could not, if there were no distinction in the sound.
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.By logon eushmon is meant words which signify well to those that hear them; for words may be significant enough in themselves, yet nothing at all significant to them that hear them, being unlearned; such sounds of words can contribute nothing to people’s knowledge, but are so much lost labour. This is a text that deserveth the thoughts of those who affect in preaching, if not the use of languages, yet the use of a style, or method, which not one of many of those who hear them understand. It is all one to speak in an unknown tongue, as in a style or method that people do not understand; and truly, such are the generality of ministers’ hearers, that words most significant in themselves, and to learned ears, are least significant to them, being hardest to be understood; so as they know nothing of what they say, and the minister doth but, as to the far greater number of people, beat the air (which is a dreadful meditation).
There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.The whole earth was originally of one language, and of one speech, Genesis 11:1; but upon the building of Babel, Genesis 11:7, God confounded their languages, so as they did not understand one another. They being scattered abroad, had different languages; so as now there are in the world many languages, and the words in every language are significant to those that understand that language.
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.But if a man doth not understand the language, the words are not significant unto him, I shall neither understand him, nor will he understand me; for a barbarian cannot understand one of another nation, till he hath learned the language of that nation; nor can a man of another nation understand a barbarian till he hath learned his language.
Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.This proves that the members of the church of Corinth were very ambitious of
spiritual gifts. The particle outw, which our translation here renders so, plainly signifies therefore in this place. In the Greek it is, because, or
forasmuch as ye are zealous of spirits; the efficient is put for the effect, the Spirit, which is the author of those gifts, for the gifts themselves.
Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church; seek that ye may excel in them, and that will be, if you most desire those which tend to the edifying the church, and use those with which God hath blessed you in the best order and manner for that end. From whence it is observable, that the improvement of the people to whom we preach in the knowledge of God, and in faith and obedience, is the great end which we ought to propose to ourselves in the discharge of our office, and in the use of our gifts.
Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.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.
For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.From this and the former verse, the papists would justify the lawfulness of their Latin service, which none or few of the common people understand; and they seem to have a little advantage from the opinion of some of the ancients: That some of those who spake with tongues, did not themselves understand what they uttered, but the Spirit of God only made use of their tongues as machines. But these are apprehensions much beneath the Spirit of light and truth, that it should make use of the tongue of a man for an end neither profitable to the man himself, nor others. Besides, how is it then true which we had, 1 Corinthians 14:4, that he who spake in an unknown tongue edifieth himself? Nay, how can it be true, which is here said, that such a man’s
spirit prayeth? Nor is it here said, my understanding is dark or blind, but unfruitful; that is, though myself understand, yet my knowledge bringeth forth no fruit to the advantage or good of others.
My spirit prayeth, but others cannot pray with me.
What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.What is to be done then? I will (saith the apostle) pray with the spirit; that is, either use the extraordinary influences of the Spirit of God upon me; or with my own spirit, with the inward attention of my thoughts, and the utmost intension of my mind, and the greatest devotion and fervour of affections.
And I will pray with the understanding also; but I will so pray, that myself and others may understand what I say; I will neither so pray, that myself shall not understand what I say, nor yet so, that others shall not understand me.
Understanding is here taken in a passive sense, though the active sense of the term be not to be excluded. The same thing he also saith of singing, to let us know, that all our religious acts in public assemblies ought to be so performed, that others may be benefited by them, which they cannot be, if they do not understand what we say, whether it be in preaching, praying, or singing.
Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit: blessing is expounded in the latter part of the verse, giving of thanks to God, which is either in prayer, (for thanksgiving is a part of prayer), or in singing of psalms. Blessing with the spirit either signifieth giving of thanks with the inward man, or giving of thanks in an unknown tongue, by the extraordinary influence of the Spirit of God.
How shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks? It is plain from hence:
1. That the teachers had in the apostolical churches distinct places and seats from the common hearers, for their better convenience in speaking, that they might so speak as all might hear, understand, and be profited.
2. That in those churches there was one only who used to speak audibly, and the work of the others was only from a devout heart to say Amen, wishing or praying that God would do what, in the name of all, he that ministered had asked of God for them. So 1 Chronicles 16:36 Nehemiah 5:13,8:6 Psalm 106:48.
Seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest: people ought not to say Amen to any thing, unless they understand that petition, or those petitions, to which, in the worship of God, they add their Amen, which word makes the petitions theirs, being a particle of wishing, as well as affirming.
For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.Otherwise, saith the apostle, it is possible that thou mayst give thanks well; but others get no good by it, nor can make any good and spiritual improvement of it.
I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:Our Saviour, in the parable of the good shepherd, gives us this as his character, that the sheep hear his voice, and follow him, John 10:4; and we shall observe this great apostle every where propounding himself for imitation to them. They are bad shepherds over God’s flock, that must only be heard, but not followed. The apostle lets them know, that God had not left him without the gift of speaking with divers tongues, nay, he had it in a more eminent manner than them all; put them all together, they could not speak with so many tongues as he did.
Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.Yet he had so great a regard to the end of his ministry, teaching others, and communicating Divine knowledge to them, that he had rather speak a little tending to that end, than never so much in a language which those to whom he spake did not understand.
Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.Be not children in understanding; in understanding the differences of gifts, and which are more excellent, or of the right use of gifts.
Howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men; you are commanded indeed in something to be like little children, Matthew 28:3, but it is not to be understood with relation to knowledge and understanding, but with reference to innocence and malice, which is opposite to it; ye ought to study to be men in understanding, though with respect to innocence ye ought to be as little children.
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: by the law here is meant the Old Testament, (as in many other texts, John 10:34 15:25), so called (as some think) in opposition to the words of the scribes. The words following are quoted out of Isaiah 28:11,12: 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. But there is nothing more ordinary, than for the penmen of the Scriptures of the New Testament to quote passages out of the Old, keeping not so much to the words as to the sense; nor quoting them all, but so many of them as serve for their purposes. The words in the prophet are a threatening, that because God had brought the Jews into Canaan, and promised them rest there, upon their obedience to his commandments, and they would not hear, he would now take another course with them, speaking to them with men of stammering lips, and of another language; meaning the Chaldeans and Babylonians, with whom in captivity they conversed afterwards for seventy years. The sense is much the same (as some think); for they that speak to others in and with strange tongues, are like those that stammer at others, which looks more like a mocking them than an instructing them. Others make the gift of tongues, under the New Testament, to be within the prophecy of Isaiah; as if the prophet’s words contained both a threatening, to speak to the Israelites with the strange tongues of the Chaldeans; and a promise under the gospel, to speak to them with the tongues of the apostles and others, tuned to various tunes, as men of several nations could understand. Others make this the sense, as if the prophet complained, that the people were so mad, that they regarded no more God speaking to them, than they would have regarded one chattering with a strange tongue. And they think, the apostle checks them for being so ambitious of speaking with strange tongues, whenas their being so spoken to was by the prophet threatened as a judgment upon them.
And yet they will not hear me, nor hearken to and obey me.
Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.Wherefore tongues are for a sign, &c.; that is, an eminent product of Divine providence for the confirmation of the truth of the doctrine of the gospel; signifying that the doctrine which was so delivered in every nation’s language, must be from heaven, from whence the first ministers must have their power so to speak; yet, doubtless, they were not only for a sign, being also a means, by which the knowledge of the gospel was conveyed unto those who could not have understood what the apostles and first ministers of the gospel said, had they not spoken to them in the language of the hearers. When he saith,
prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, the meaning is, not only for them that believe not; for prophesying is certainly of use to them that believe not, for their conversion, as well as
for them that believe, for their edification.
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?Be come together into one place; the phrase signifieth to one place, or for one and the same work; the first seemeth to be meant here by what followeth.
And all speak with tongues: some think that the apostle here, by all speaking with tongues, understands all, or many of them, confusedly talking together; and indeed that is an error we shall find the apostle afterward reflecting upon them for; but here I do not think it is intended, but only, many of you, one after another, because of what the apostle speaketh of prophesying, 1 Corinthians 14:24. For if all prophesied in that sense, talking at the same time together confusedly, and unbelievers came in and heard, they would also, instead of being convinced, say they were mad.
And there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers; those that are heathens, or that did not understand the language you discoursed in.
Will they not say that ye are mad? Would they not say you were men that had lost the use of your reason, to talk to men in a language you yourselves knew they understood nothing of?
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: all here certainly is not to be understood of every one in the assembly, for all were not prophets, 1 Corinthians 12:29, nor could the speaking of a great number be judged orderly by the light of nature: it here must signify any, one or more, successively, interpret or apply the Holy Scriptures.
He is convinced of all; the heathens will see an order in this, and will stand still to hear and be convinced.
He is judged of all; seeing their wicked life and false religion judged and condemned by all those that so prophesy.
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.God either, by an extraordinary providence, discovering to him that prophesieth the secrets of such a sinner’s heart, and causing him that prophesieth to make them manifest; or, by a more ordinary providence, (often experienced at this day), directing the preacher to such subjects and discourses, as he that cometh to hear shall think directed to himself, and confess that he is the man, and be convinced of his errors, and converted, and turn to the Christian religion, and report that God indeed is amongst you. So as prophesying will have these two great advantages of speaking with tongues, God will be more glorified, and the souls of others will be more profited; which makes the gift of prophesying much preferable to the gift of tongues.
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.By what followeth in the two next verses, one would think that some of them, in their church meetings, were so absurd, as, being endued with several gifts, they would be using them all together, one singing, another preaching, a third speaking with tongues, &c.; but this is so apparent a confusion, that one must be very uncharitable to this famous church, to presume that they should be so absurd. Others therefore rather think, that those endued with several gifts, of which he reckoneth five, (under which he comprehendeth all others), were every one contending for his course to exercise his gift; one, for spending the time in singing the psalm he had made; another, for spending the time in hearing his doctrinal discourse; a third, for the spending it in hearing him discourse in an unknown tongue; a fourth, for the spending it in hearing his revelation; a fifth, for the spending it in hearing his interpretation; or at least desiring the time might be protracted, until they had been all successively heard.
Let all things be done unto edifying: to prevent this and other disorders, the apostle giveth several rules. The first is: That all things should be so done, as might tend best to promote in men faith and holiness; that is and ought to be the main and chief end of those who any way minister in sacred things.
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.Concerning the use of their gift of tongues, he directeth three things:
1. That every one that had it should not be ambitious to show it at all times, but
two or three at most at a time.
2. That they should do it
by course, not together, confusedly.
3. Not without
one to interpret, that people might understand. For though these were extraordinary gifts, flowing from a more than ordinary influence of the Spirit of God, yet they were abiding habits, not coming upon them at some certain times, by an impulse; for then they would not have been under human government, as it is apparent this gift of tongues was, else Paul could not have so governed himself in the use of it, as he lets us know he did, 1 Corinthians 14:19.
But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.If he hath a mind to use this gift, he may use it to God, who understands all languages, by himself; but
let him keep silence in the assembly of Christians, where he is not understood.
Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.That is, two or three successively, the one beginning to speak when the others have done, and two or three at the same church assembly; and if there be more present, let them sit still and judge of the truth of what he saith.
If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.There were two modes or sorts of prophecies; the one ordinary, when the teacher came to those assemblies furnished with a revelation from some previous impression of God upon him, enabling him to give the sense of some scripture, or to open some Divine truth; not as we are, but by some influence of the Holy Spirit upon him, without the use of such means as we use. The other was, by some present afflatus or impression. The apostle seems not to speak of the latter; or if of both, he plainly lets them know, that even such a one was under the government of natural order, and obliged to do nothing confusedly and tumultuously, but might, without any offence to God, stay until the other had finished his discourse.
For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.Ye may not all prophesy in the same day, or hour, or moment of time, but orderly and successively
ye may all prophesy, the end of it being for the instruction and consolation of all; which may mind you so to govern yourselves in the exercise of that gift, as not to lose your end,
but that all may learn, and all may be comforted. Which lets us know, that though their receiving the gift of prophecy obliged them to an exercise of it, yet it did not oblige them to an exercise of it in or at this or that particular time. judged by the law of God, or the light of nature, or the common custom of other churches, to be done indecently or confusedly, without order. It is very observable, that though the apostle, in these things, hath given rules, yet he hath determined nothing shameful or uncomely, but what he hath made to appear so, either from the Divine law, (as in the case of the women’s prophesying, 1 Corinthians 14:34), or from nature and reason, (as in the case of many speaking at the same time), it being useless to the end, which was teaching and instructing those to whom they spake, and what unbelievers would count the effect of madness, 1 Corinthians 14:23.
And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.By the spirits of the prophets the apostle either meaneth their spiritual gifts, as to the use and exercise of them, and the actions to be done by them; or, the actions themselves, or interpretations pretendedly done and given by the exercise of those gifts, their doctrines; or, that instinct, or impetus, by which they pretend themselves to be moved to prophesy: these (he saith)
are subject to the prophets themselves, so as they may themselves govern their gifts, or (which most think is the rather here intended) they are subject to the judgment and censure of others that are endued with the same gift. But here ariseth a difficulty, how the gifts of the Holy Spirit, flowing immediately from the Spirit, should be subject to any human judgment or censure? This indeed they could not, if the Divine revelation to this or that man were full and perfect, and ran as clearly in the stream always, as it was in the fountain. But God giveth his Spirit to us but by measure, and in the exercise of our gifts there is always aliquid humani, something of our own; and this maketh them subject to the prophets, viz. whether what they pretended to have from the Spirit of God were indeed from it, yea or no? Prophets were obliged to prophesy, Romans 12:6, but according to the analogy of faith: now, whether they did so or not, might be judged by other prophets, according to that rule. Others think this text is to be interpreted restrainedly, viz. as to this thing in this matter of plain, natural order, commanding, while one speaks, all the rest to hold their peace.
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.Here he showeth the principle upon which he said, that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets: what any prophets speak is not so certain, or at least not more certain, than this, that nothing which is
confusion can be from God. Now, for two or three to speak together in a public assembly, is a confusion, and a breach of order, of which God cannot be the author: therefore, in such a thing as that, the spirits of the prophets must be subject to other prophets; and there is a general rule which concerneth not only the church of Corinth, but all churches.
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.This rule must be restrained to ordinary prophesyings; for certainly, if the Spirit of prophecy came upon a woman in the church, she might speak. Anna, who was a prophetess, in the temple gave thanks to the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem, Luke 2:38: and I cannot tell how Philip’s daughters prophesied, if they did not speak in the presence of many, Acts 21:9. The reason that is given why women should keep silence, is, because
they are commanded to be under obedience. This apostle speaketh much the same thing, 1 Timothy 2:11,12, because it looked like a usurping authority over the man; which indeed is true, if it had been the ordinary practice of women to speak in the assemblies of the church; but not so, if some particular women sometimes spake upon an extraordinary impulse or impression. The law to which the apostle here refers, is thought to be that, Genesis 3:16, where the woman is commanded to be subject to her husband, and it is said, that he should rule over her; yet that law did neither restrain Miriam from prophesying, Exodus 15:20, nor yet Huldah, to whom Josiah himself sent, 2 Chronicles 34:22, of whom it is also said, that she dwelt in the college. But setting aside that extraordinary case of a special afflatus, it was, doubtless, unlawful for a woman to speak in the church.
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.This must be understood of speaking to the congregation, for the instructing them, or speaking in the congregation to the minister, or any of the people, for her own instruction, for the woman might, doubtless, say Amen to the public prayers, and also sing with the congregation to the honour and glory of God. But for her to speak in an ordinary course of prophecy to instruct people, or to call aloud to the minister, or any members in the assembly of the church, to be satisfied in any thing wherein she was in doubt, this she is forbidden.
What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?These words look like a smart reflection upon divers members of this church of Corinth, who thought themselves wiser than all the world besides; and the apostle might foresee, that out of the high opinion they had of themselves they would much contemn and slight his directions. He therefore asks them, what they thought of themselves? Whether they thought themselves the only churches in the world, or were the first that believed in Christ, so that the gospel went out from them, and they might give law to all churches? There were churches at Jerusalem, and in several other places, before there was any church at Corinth, so as the gospel came unto them from other churches, and did not go out from them to other churches.
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 there be any amongst you who hath a conceit that he is inspired by God, and from that inspiration understandeth the mind and will of God, he must acknowledge, that I also am an apostle, and know the mind and will of God as well as he; and being so, that what I tell you
are the commandments of the Lord.
But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.If any one will pretend ignorance in this, he is wilfully ignorant; for my own part, I will concern myself no further about him, but leave myself and him also to the judgment of God;
let him be ignorant. In some copies it is, he shall not be known: in the day of judgment Christ shalt say unto him: Depart from me, I know you not.
Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.The apostle concludeth his discourse, summarily repeating all that he before had said. He had, 1 Corinthians 14:2, encouraged their desire of spiritual gifts; all along the chapter he hath been magnifying the gift of prophecy above the gift of tongues, as being of much more general use, and more for the profit of others; but he minds them here, that he did not forbid those to whom God had given the gift of tongues, to make use of it at due times, and in a due manner and order.
Let all things be done decently and in order.He forbade them not to speak with tongues, provided they did it decently and orderly, as all other things ought to be done in so grave an assembly as that of the church, and so grave an action as the worship of God. For women to prophesy in the public assemblies, was an indecent thing; he had said, 1 Corinthians 14:35, that it was a shame. For many of them to speak together, confusedly, making a noise, that was disorderly. Nor did this decency or indecency, order or disorder, arise from obeying or disobeying the apostolical constitution, but from the law of God, the light of nature, the common usage of all the churches of Christians, as 1 Corinthians 14:33. All things ought so to be done, (especially in religious assemblies and actions), as they may not be judged by the law of God, or the light of nature, or the common custom of other churches, to be done indecently or confusedly, without order. It is very observable, that though the apostle, in these things, hath given rules, yet he hath determined nothing shameful or uncomely, but what he hath made to appear so, either from the Divine law, (as in the case of the women’s prophesying, 1 Corinthians 14:34), or from nature and reason, (as in the case of many speaking at the same time), it being useless to the end, which was teaching and instructing those to whom they spake, and what unbelievers would count the effect of madness, 1 Corinthians 14:23.