1 Corinthians 14
Vincent's Word Studies
Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
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.
But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
To edification - exhortation - comfort (οἰκοδομὴν - παράκλησιν - παραμυθίαν)

Omit to. For edification see on build up, Acts 20:32. Exhortation, so American Rev. Rev., comfort. See on Luke 6:24. Παραμυθία comfort, Rev., consolation, occurs only here in the New Testament. Παραμύθιον, which is the same, in Philippians 2:1. The two latter words are found together in Philippians 2:1, and their kindred verbs in 1 Thessalonians 2:11. The differences in rendering are not important. The words will bear either of the meanings in the two Revisions. If παράκλησιν be rendered as Rev., comfort, παραμυθία might be rendered incentive, which implies exhortation. Consolation and comfort border a little too closely on each other.

He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
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.
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?
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?
Voice (φωνὴν)

See on sound, Romans 10:18. The sound generally. Used sometimes of sounds emitted by things without life, as a trumpet or the wind. See Matthew 24:31; John 3:8.

Harp (κιθάρα)

See on Revelation 5:8.

Distinction (διαστολὴν)

Proper modulation. Compare the use of the word in Romans 3:22; Romans 10:12.

Sounds (φθόγγοις)

The distinctive sounds as modulated. See on Romans 10:18.

For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
The trumpet (σάλπιγξ)

Properly, a war-trumpet.

Sound (φωνὴν)

Rev., much better, voice, preserving the distinction between the mere sound of the trumpet and the modulated notes. The case might be illustrated by the bugle calls or points by which military commands are issued, as distinguished from the mere blare of the trumpet.

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.
There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.
Voices - without signification (φωνῶν - ἄφωνων)

The translation loses the word-play. So many kinds of voices, and no kind is voiceless. By voices are meant languages.

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.
Meaning (δύναμιν)

Lit., force.


Supposed to be originally a descriptive word of those who uttered harsh, rude accents - bar bar. Homer calls the Carians, βαρβαρόφωνοι barbar-voiced, harsh-speaking ("Illiad," 2, 867). Later, applied to all who did not speak Greek. Socrates, speaking of the way in which the Greeks divide up mankind, says: "Here they cut off the Hellenes as one species, and all the other species of mankind, which are innumerable and have no connection or common language, they include under the single name of barbarians" (Plato, "Statesman," 262). So Clytaemnestra of the captive Cassandra: "Like a swallow, endowed with an unintelligible barbaric voice" (Aeschylus, "Agamemnon," 1051). Prodicus in Plato's "Protagoras" says: "Simonides is twitting Pittacus with ignorance of the use of terms, which, in a Lesbian, who has been accustomed to speak in a barbarous language, is natural" (341). Aristophanes calls the birds barbarians because they sing inarticulately ("Birds," 199); and Sophocles calls a foreign land ἄγλωσσος without a tongue. "Neither Hellas nor a tongueless land" ("Trachiniae," 1060). Later, the word took the sense of outlandish or rude.

Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.
Spiritual gifts (πνευμάτων)

Lit., spirits. Paul treats the different spiritual manifestations as if they represented a variety of spirits. To an observer of the unseemly rivalries it would appear as if not one spirit, but different spirits, were the object of their zeal.

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

For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
Spirit (πνεῦμα)

The human spirit, which is moved by the divine Spirit. See on Romans 8:4.

Understanding (νοῦς)

See on Romans 7:23.

Is unfruitful (ἄκαρπός ἐστιν)

Furnishes nothing to others.

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.
I will sing (ψαλῶ)

See on James 5:13. The verb, ᾄδω is also used for sing, Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:3; Revelation 15:3. In the last two passages it is combined with playing on harps. In Ephesians 5:19 we have both verbs. The noun ψαλμός psalm (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:26), which is etymologically akin to this verb, is used in the New Testament of a religious song in general, having the character of an Old Testament psalm; though in Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26, ὑμνέω hymneo, whence our hymn, is used of singing an Old Testament psalm. Here applied to such songs improvised under the spiritual ecstasy (1 Corinthians 14:26). Some think that the verb has here its original signification of singing with an instrument. This is its dominant sense in the Septuagint, and both Basil and Gregory of Nyssa define a psalm as implying instrumental accompaniment; and Clement of Alexandria, while forbidding the use of the flute in the agapae, permitted the harp. But neither Basil nor Ambrose nor Chrysostom, in their panegyrics upon music, mention instrumental music, and Basil expressly condemns it. Bingham dismisses the matter summarily, and sites Justin Martyr as saying expressly that instrumental music was not used in the Christian Church. The verb is used here in the general sense of singing praise.

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?
The place (τὸν τόπον)

Some explain of a particular seat in the assembly. Rather it expresses the condition of those who are unintelligent as regards the utterance in an unknown tongue.

The unlearned (ἰδιώτου)

Only once outside of the Corinthian Epistles: Acts 4:13 (see note). In the Septuagint it does not occur, but its kindred words are limited to the sense of private, personal. Trench ("Synonyms") illustrates the fact that in classical Greek there lies habitually in the word "a negative of the particular skill, knowledge, profession, or standing, over against which it is antithetically set; and not of any other except that alone." As over against the physician, for instance, he is ἰδιώτης in being unskilled in medicine. This is plainly the case here - the man who is unlearned as respects the gift of tongues. From the original meaning of a private individual, the word came to denote one who was unfit for public life, and therefore uneducated, and finally, one whose mental powers were deficient. Hence our idiot. Idiot, however, in earlier English, was used in the milder sense of an uneducated person. Thus "Christ was received of idiots, of the vulgar people, and of the simpler sort" (Blount). "What, wenest thou make an idiot of our dame?" (Chaucer, 5893). "This plain and idiotical style of Scripture." "Pictures are the scripture of idiots and simple persons" (Jeremy Taylor).


Rev., correctly, the Amen. The customary response of the congregation, adopted from the synagogue worship. See Deuteronomy 27:15 sqq.; Nehemiah 8:6. The Rabbins have numerous sayings about the Amen. "Greater is he who responds Amen than he who blesses." "Whoever answers Amen, his name shall be great and blessed, and the decree of his damnation is utterly done away." "To him who answers Amen the gates of Paradise are open." An ill-considered Amen was styled "an orphan Amen." "Whoever says an orphan Amen, his children shall be orphans." The custom was perpetuated in Christian worship, and this response enters into all the ancient liturgies. Jerome says that the united voice of the people in the Amen sounded like the fall of water or the sound of thunder.

For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.
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.
Teach (κατηχήσω)

Orally. See on Luke 1:4.

Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
Understanding (σρεσίν)

Only here in the New Testament. Originally, in a physical sense, the diaphragm. Denoting the reasoning power on the reflective side, and perhaps intentionally used instead of νοῦς (1 Corinthians 14:15), which emphasizes the distinction from ecstasy.

Children - be ye children (παιδία - νηπιάζετε)

The A.V. misses the distinction between children and babes, the stronger term for being unversed in malice. In understanding they are to be above mere children. In malice they are to be very babes. See on child, 1 Corinthians 13:11.

Malice (κακίᾳ)

See on James 1:21.

Men (τέλειοι)

Lit., perfect. See on 1 Corinthians 2:6.

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.
It is written, etc.

From Isaiah 28:11, Isaiah 28:12. The quotation does not correspond exactly either to the Hebrew or to the Septuagint. Heb., with stammerings of lip. Sept., By reason of contemptuous words of lips. Paul omits the Heb.: This is the rest, give ye rest to the weary, and this is the repose. Sept.: This is the rest to him who is hungry, and this is the ruin. The point of the quotation is that speech in strange tongues was a chastisement for the unbelief of God's ancient people, by which they were made to hear His voice "speaking in the harsh commands of the foreign invader." So in the Corinthian Church, the intelligible revelation of God has not been properly received.

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.
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?
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:
Convinced (ἐλέγχεται)

Of his sins. See on tell him his fault, Matthew 18:15; see on convinced, James 2:9; see on reproved, John 3:20. Rev., reproved: convicted in margin.

Judged (ἀνακρίνεται)

Examined and judged. The word implies inquiry rather than sentence. Each inspired speaker, in his heart-searching utterances, shall start questions which shall reveal the hearer to himself. See on discerned, 1 Corinthians 2:14. On the compounds of κρίνω, see on 1 Corinthians 11:29, 1 Corinthians 11:31, 1 Corinthians 11:32.

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.
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.
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.
By two, etc.

That is, to the number of two or three at each meeting.

By course (ἀνὰ μέρος)

Rev., correctly, in turn. Edwards' explanation, antiphonally, is quite beside the mark.

But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.

See on 1 Corinthians 11:29. Referring to the gift of the discernment of spirits. See on 1 Corinthians 12:10.

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

Rev., sitting by. The speaker standing.

For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
The spirits

The movements and manifestations of the divine Spirit in the human spirit, as in 1 Corinthians 12:10.

Are subject

"People speak as if the divine authority of the prophetic word were somehow dependent on, or confirmed by, the fact that the prophets enjoyed visions.... In the New Testament Paul lays down the principle that, in true prophecy, self-consciousness, and self-command are never lost. 'The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets'" (W. Robertson Smith, "The Prophets of Israel").

For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
Confusion (ἀκαταστασίας)

See on commotions, Luke 21:9; and see on unruly, James 3:8. Compare 2 Corinthians 6:5.

As in all the churches of the saints

Many connect these words with let the women, etc. The old arrangement is retained by Rev. and by Westcott and Hort, though the latter regard the words and the spirits - of peace as parenthetical. I see no good reason for departing from the old arrangement.

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.
What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
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.
But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.
Let him be ignorant (ἀγνοείτω)

Let him remain ignorant. The text is doubtful. Some read ἀγνοεῖται he is not known; i.e., he is one whom God knows not.

Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
Let all things be done decently and in order.
Vincent's Word Studies, by Marvin R. Vincent [1886].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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