1 CORINTHIANS - CHAPTER 14
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2000 James Melough
“Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may
emphasized the worthlessness of all spiritual activity apart from love, Paul now
proceeds to give instruction relative to the use of spiritual gifts, but it is to be
noted that he precedes that instruction by repeating the need to make the exercise of
love of paramount importance.
the need to desire spiritual gifts, we have already considered that since each
believer seems to receive his spiritual gift at the moment of conversion, the thought
here has to do with the desire that God will bring into the assembly those to whom He
has given a gift either not already present, or not being used.
It is sad to realize that many times the problem isn’t lack of gift, but
rather the failure of believers to use the spiritual gifts already given.
is the forthtelling of the mind of God, and includes, but isn’t limited to, the
foretelling of future events, and clearly it was the best of all the gifts, for all
other things are secondary to the need for man to know the mind of the Lord.
With the canon of Scripture complete, the gift ceased, the prophet having been
succeeded by the teacher (2 Pe 2:1), whose work is to explain what was revealed to
the prophets, and which now constitutes our Bible.
He does not receive additional revelations of the mind of God, but simply
enlightenment relative to the written revelation.
superiority of the gift of prophecy lay in the fact that blessing and obedience are
inseparable, but apart from the knowledge of God, obedience is impossible.
Man, now having in the Bible the full revelation of God, is responsible to
read so as not to be guilty of sins either of omission or commission, refusal to read
being no excuse, but rather making him the more culpable.
Prophecy therefore, in giving the knowledge of God’s will, enables man to
enjoy blessing, unless of course, he chooses to be disobedient.
“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.”
as some contend, these were ecstatic unearthly languages, or simply foreign, is
unimportant, since the gift has ceased. The
point is that whether heavenly or earthly, God understands all languages: men
don’t. God, in fact, doesn’t need
language, for He discerns our thoughts. The man using a language unintelligible to others might be
speaking profoundly relative to Divine mysteries, but it would do the hearers no
good, and the clear implication is that what was uttered in the hearing of others
must either be in a language they knew, or that could be interpreted for them,
otherwise it was a waste of time.
“But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation,
prophet, on the other hand, in declaring the mind of the Lord, in a known language or
through an interpreter, was setting before them what would build up, comfort and
encourage. If the hearer doesn’t
understand the language, the speaker is wasting time.
Vine points out that “edification develops the character; encouragement
stimulates the will; consolation strengthens the spirit,” and that, “as
prophesying gave place to teaching, teaching should produce the same three
“He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that
prophesieth edifieth the church.”
is difficult to understand just how the speaker himself would be built up by using
tongues, and since all spiritual gifts are for the purpose of building up the Church,
the Apostle may have been simply emphasizing the worthlessness of using unknown
tongues without their being interpreted.
that is the ministry of God’s Word, had a very different effect: it built up the
hearers. Teaching ought to accomplish
the same result.
“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.”
translates this, “Now I would not have you all speak with tongues....” and
another renders it, “I would that ye all spake with tongues in order that ye
might prophesy.” Since Paul is going
to considerable lengths to show the inferiority of tongues, it is hard to imagine
that he would wish all the saints to have the gift, so these alternative translations
appear to have merit. If the KJ
translation is retained, it obviously means simply that it was a figure of speech
expressing his wish for the assembly to be richly endowed with all spiritual
gifts. Prophecy, however, continues to
be presented as the superior gift; and the need of interpretation in connection with
tongues continues to be emphasized.
“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?”
is clearly implied in connection with this hypothesis, and what Paul says refutes the
idea that tongues produced the unintelligible gibberish presented as evidence of the
existence of the gift today. The use of tongues when it was a legitimate gift was to
impart “some knowledge in spiritual things, some message from God, or some teaching
about the Christian life” - Phillips.
“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
continues his appeal to have all things done “decently and in order”, verse 40.
The use of music is governed by laws, as is everything else in creation, and
simply because the matter under discussion is in the sphere of the spirit, it was not
to be concluded that it was therefore exempt from that law.
In the area of music, the musical instrument is the vehicle by which the
melody in the mind of the composer is conveyed to the listener. To achieve that end, the musician must play the notes in the exact
order in which the composer has written them. And it is the same in regard to spiritual things.
God has chosen to use human languages as the means of conveying the knowledge
of Himself to men. To abandon those languages, or to ignore the need of
interpretation when the language is foreign to the hearer, is to fail to accomplish
God’s purpose. and to have wasted everybody’s time.
“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to
trumpeter calling soldiers together for battle must use only that sequence of notes
which they recognize as being the rallying call.
Any other combination would be meaningless and confusing.
“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.”
regard to spiritual things, the speaker must use language familiar to the hearers,
otherwise he will be wasting their time and his own.
from its application to tongues, this instruction has a practical import that no
speaker should neglect. He who addresses
an audience should not only know his subject, and present it in an orderly fashion,
but he should also articulate clearly, and speak loudly enough to be heard without
difficulty by those farthest away from him.
“There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of
them is without signification.”
here is literally “languages,” and what Paul is emphasizing is that in spite of
their being so many, not one is without meaning to those who know that particular
“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.”
was the term used by the Greeks to describe those who didn’t speak their language,
and Paul is here emphasizing the fact that unless the language is known to both
speaker and hearer there can be no communication, unless of course there is an
interpreter. For the most part the
“tongues” being used by the Corinthian believers were simply a waste of time, for
no one understood what was being said.
“Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye
may excel to the edifying of the church.”
already noted, since each believer appears to receive his spiritual gift at
conversion, the desire can only be that God would either bring into the assembly
believers whose gifts would build up the saints, or exercise those already in
fellowship to use for the same purpose the gifts they had been given.
The exhortation was never more needed than today.
“Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may
it is difficult to believe that God would have a man speak first in a language
unknown to the audience, and then have that same man interpret his own words, the
thought appears to be that the speaker will pray that there might be an interpreter
in the audience.
“For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding
clear implication is that such prayer would be worthless, and a further implication
is that it would be involuntary, both of which render it suspect, for there is
nothing to indicate that the Holy Spirit ever bypasses the will of the individual
during this age of grace, and if it is not He Who impels the utterance, then it can
only be an unholy spirit, indicating that the speaker wasn’t a believer.
“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
is to be no activity apart from the understanding, for, as already noted, the fact
that the Holy Spirit can be grieved and quenched, makes it clear that His control is
not apart from the believer’s will.
regard to the day of Pentecost, the question presents itself, Were not those
utterances involuntary? There is noting
to indicate that they were, but even if it be conceded that they were, it is to be
remembered that until AD 70 the order governing the lives of Jewish believers was
different from that governing their Gentile brethren.
The kingdom was still being offered to Israel.
The Jewish age hadn’t yet come to an end, and it is to be remembered that
miraculous manifestation marked God’s dealings with Israel, part of that
manifestation being that the Holy Spirit did sometimes bypass the will of the
individual, consider for example, His compelling Saul and Balaam to speak
involuntarily. Such activity, however, did not mark His dealings with Gentiles.
“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?”
here means to offer praise or worship, the unlearned being one who doesn’t
understand the language of the speaker. Amen
means literally so be it. To
“bless with the spirit” is simply to offer praise or worship at the
impulse of the Holy Spirit. But under
what circumstances would the Holy Spirit impel one to offer praise in a language
unknown to the assembled company? Obviously
only if there were at least some who did understand the language of the speaker, an
interpreter being needed to translate for the others, and where an interpreter
wasn’t present, the man was to be silent, see verse 28.
“For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.”
translation renders this you may be giving thanks well enough.
What Paul is saying is that it was certainly good that the man should desire
to give thanks, but not unless everyone in the assembled company could understand
what he was saying.
“I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:”
regard to the fact that Paul’s ministry involved the preaching of the Gospel to men
of many different languages, he had apparently been given the gift of tongues in a
fuller measure than had any in the Corinthian assembly.
“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
in the church” has been taken by some to imply that Paul used ecstatic languages in
his private devotions, but there isn’t a word in Scripture to suggest such a thing.
The “in the church” is set in contrast to his preaching the Gospel outside
the church, that is, to the unconverted, with whom, apart from his use of the gift of
tongues, he would have been unable to communicate, since they spoke languages unknown
to him. Tongues in the church were
obviously of little value. Teaching was
the great need, and obviously tongues had a relatively small part to play in that
“Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye
children, but in understanding be men.”
need of spiritual maturity is emphasized in his exhortation that in understanding of
spiritual things they were to be men, and not children, but when it came to evil they
were to retain the innocence of children. The
churches today have much need to heed that exhortation.
In their wrong estimate of the value of tongues the Corinthians had
demonstrated that in understanding they were as foolish 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 they will not hear me, saith the
people” was Israel, and the law is simply the OT Scriptures, the quotation itself
being from Isa 28:11. This confirms what
has been noted already: the charismatic gifts of tongues, healing, etc., were meant
to convince unbelieving Jews, and with the dissolution of Jewish autonomy in AD 70
the sign gifts passed away, Israel’s national dissolution being the proof of what
Paul declared - with very few exceptions, the Jews would not believe, in spite of the
“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
together with the fact that tongues, when first given on the day of Pentecost, had
been used to preach the Gospel to the multitudes of Jews assembled in
Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, and speaking the languages of the countries
from which they had come, confirms that the proper use of tongues was to preach the
Gospel, first to Jews, and then to the Gentiles, its proclamation in languages other
than Hebrew being the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy quoted above, and being
therefore a sign to unbelieving Israel.
(the forth telling of the mind of God), on the other hand, is for believers, for it
builds them up.
“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?”
verse declares a truth that has been largely lost to professing Christians: the
church is not a place but a body of believers. It
is they, not the building, who constitute the church.
The assembled believers are the church, the building is only the meeting
“unlearned” are not the same as “unbelievers.”
They are untaught believers, but the latter are unbelievers incapable of
understanding any teaching except the Gospel, because, unlike the believers, they are
not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and cannot therefore understand the things of the
Spirit of God (2:14).
inferiority of tongues continues to be stressed. If all the assembled believers speak in tongues, the response of
the untaught believer, like that of the unbeliever, will be that Christians are mad.
(Incidentally, the all here clearly doesn’t mean every person, but
regard to the untaught believer, the question may be asked, Where would such a
believer come from? and the answer is that he would most likely simply be a new
convert. Relative to the unbeliever,
spiritual discernment teaches that such a person may attend any meeting of the local
church, but as an inquirer or observer, not as a participant, and the same
discernment will recognize that the unbeliever may not sit in the circle of believers
around the Lord’s table, but in a separate place as a silent observer, the same
silence being required when he comes to the prayer meeting, while at the Bible study
meeting his activity is to be confined to asking questions.
He may not undertake to teach there. Where
the believers convene a meeting to which they want to bring unbelievers to hear the
Gospel, it is self-evident that the activity of such unbelievers will be largely
confined to asking questions, though it may include also debate with the speaker,
hence the need of those who preach the Gospel to be able to respond intelligently.
“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:”
the all refers not to everyone present, but to those who spoke or preached;
and convinced is more accurately translated convicted, i.e., what is
said will instruct the untaught believer, and convict the unbeliever of sin and the
need of salvation.
“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.”
believing hearer, thus taught sound doctrine, and the unbeliever led to trust in the
Lord Jesus Christ, would unite in testifying that the power of God was present with
them. It is a sad commentary on our own
spiritual state that our meetings very rarely produce such results.
“falling down on his face” reminds us of the reverence that marked the Apostolic
church, and rebukes the lack of reverence displayed in the assemblies of God’s
“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 thing be done unto edifying.”
doesn’t appear that Paul was rebuking them or being sarcastic, but rather simply
declaring that all the activity which normally characterized their meetings, was to
be under the Holy Spirit’s control, so that the end result of each man’s
participation would be the upbuilding of the whole assembly.
There may however, be detected a very necessary warning against the all too
common tendency to come to the meetings prepared to participate (and that is good),
but then to spoil the good by insisting on participating when there is obviously no
prompting of the Holy Spirit. Just
because the Holy Spirit may have been pleased to give a revelation of truth doesn’t
mean that it is His will for that truth to be ministered at the next meeting of the
church. This varied activity,
incidentally, reveals the error which governs most of Christendom today, i.e., the
rejection of the Divine order of ministry through the use of the spiritual gifts
given to the Church, and the substitution of a human order which has decreed the need
of a theological education for those who would minister. We must remember, however, that for the Holy Spirit to have such
control of our meetings as will avoid confusion, it is imperative that He be
ungrieved and unquenched.
unscriptural order found throughout Christendom today is the human expedient designed
to eliminate just such confusion, but it is nothing less than Satan’s subtle method
of making obedience unnecessary, while outwardly preserving the appearance of godly
order, but it is complete departure from the Divine order, and is an abomination to
“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.”
isn’t making a suggestion: he is giving a command from God.
In any meeting of the church, not more than three were to speak in tongues,
nor were they to speak simultaneously but consecutively, and even then only if an
interpreter was present.
“But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let
him speak to himself, and to God.”
isn’t revealed how the man would have known whether an interpreter was present.
It may have been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, or ascertained by his own
inquiry. In reply to the question, Under
what circumstances would there have been such speaking? at least one answer presents
itself. The speaker could have been a
foreigner, or there could have been in the company some who spoke a foreign language.
The man with the gift of interpretation would have made it possible for all to
enjoy the ministry or understand the prayer. This
is a very far cry from the disorder which marks the charismatic activity which is
mistaken for the manifestation of the now extinct gift of tongues.
“Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.”
any one meeting of the church, prophetic ministry was also limited to that of no more
than three men, their messages to be judged for authenticity by the audience (the KJ other
should be others). It is
self-evident that such judgment could be made only by the spiritually mature, and
since those who used foreign languages were not to speak concurrently, it is clear
that the same rule applied also to the prophets.
The same rule relative to the number of speakers at any one meeting obviously
applies also to conferences, and were it adhered to, would go far in preserving
harmony in such gatherings.
the completion of the canon of Scripture, the prophet gave place to the teacher, but
the validity of the teaching is now to be measured by what is written in the
Scriptures, maturity still being needed in making that judgment.
“If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his
isn’t revealed how the speaker would know that another had been given a message
from God, but when he did become aware of it, he himself, by concluding his own
message, was to provide opportunity for the second to deliver God’s communication.
“For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be
doesn’t mean that literally every brother could prophesy, but that there was to be
opportunity for all who had been given that gift to exercise it for the instruction
and comfort of the whole assembly, and it was to be done in an orderly manner, only
one speaking at a time, and presumably not more than three at any one meeting.
Since it was “that all may learn” it is clear that the prophet’s
ministry was very similar to that of the teacher who succeeded the prophet, the
difference being that the prophets received the revelations which now constitute the
Scriptures, but the teacher’s work is to explain what the prophets have written.
“And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”
means simply that the Holy Spirit’s use of a man is never apart from that man’s
will. The speech or actions He impels
are never involuntary. The man’s will
is never bypassed, and in this respect the Holy Spirit’s control stands in stark
contrast to that of the demons who impel the involuntary speech and actions which the
charismatics claim, very wrongly, to be the work of the Holy Spirit.
“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the
the Divine order is followed there is harmony, but the natural mind can’t grasp
that truth any more than it can understand the written Word, and the unscriptural
order governing most of Christendom today is the result of man’s rejection of the
Holy Spirit’s control. There is
undeniably much temptation to impose human control in order to prevent the disorders
which result from refusal of the Spirit’s control, but that is not God’s way, and
because it isn’t, it produces something worse than the disorder it was meant to
cure - a ritualistic orthodoxy, which on the surface often seems flawless, but which
is in reality devoid of spiritual life. Such
is the order that has governed most of Christendom for almost two thousand years.
“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
spite of all the attempts that have been made to distort the meaning of this command,
e.g., the teaching that it means simply to refrain from noisy chatter, or from
interrupting by asking questions, the plain statement is that the woman is commanded
not to speak at all in the meetings of the church.
The “obedience” incidentally, is obedience to God, He having appointed the
man as His representative in the assemblies of His people, see 11:3.
The “law” here is the general term for the whole Word of God.
“If they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is
a shame for women to speak in the church.”
leaves no doubt that the command is all inclusive. The woman is not even permitted to ask a question in the meetings
of the church. Relative to the question,
What about the woman who doesn’t have a husband? the answer is that she may ask any
man in the assembly, after the meeting is over.
It should be noted that there is no Scriptural warrant for what has become a
subtle means of bypassing this command, i.e., the “question and answer” period
that now follows many meetings, and in which women not only ask questions and express
opinions, but in which some also undertake to offer explanations, that is, teach -
something they are also forbidden to do, see 1 Tim 2:11-12.
“What? came the word of God out from you?, or came it unto you only?”
conduct was such as to imply that they considered themselves to be the only ones to
whom the Gospel had come (Gospel is what the word here signifies), and
that they had special authority relative to the proper understanding of it.
This was very far from the truth.
“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.”
who had (or who thought they had) the gift of prophecy, and those who considered
themselves spiritual, were invited to acknowledge that what Paul was saying, he was
saying as the Lord’s spokesman under the impulse of the Holy Spirit.
This would appear to have reference to verse 29.
Paul, in other words, would have his utterances judged by the very same
standards as were to be applied to the utterances of the prophets.
The Holy Spirit would make it clear to those of spiritual understanding, that
the Lord Himself was the Author, Paul being simply His amanuensis.
is generally agreed, incidentally that commandments should be singular commandment.
“But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”
has reference to the self-chosen ignorance of the man who refused to submit Paul’s
words to the same test as was to govern the utterances of others who addressed the
assembly. For such ignorance there is no
hope. The man must remain ignorant, for
such a man is unteachable, because rebellious against God’s order.
“Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with
is literally earnestly desire, and stands in marked contrast with what is said
relative to tongues: their use was not to be forbidden, but this falls very far short
of the superiority of prophesying. Even
when tongues was an operative gift it was inferior to prophecy and was little to be
desired. There was, however, the danger
that the impulsive Corinthians would respond to Paul’s teaching by swinging to the
opposite extreme and forbidding any use of tongues. It was to guard against this that Paul commanded them not to
forbid the legitimate use of the gift of tongues.
“Let all things be done decently and in order.”
is the God of order, and will not tolerate disorder in the meetings of His people.
All that is done in those meetings must be according to the leading of the
Holy Spirit through submission to the written Word.