There is one gift of God which dramatically highlights the conflict between the spiritual and the material influences in the church. That gift is the gift of tongues, which is carefully discussed in this chapter.

Verse 1, "Follow after"

These two words are the single word dioko in Greek. It is translated twenty-eight times as "persecute" (I Cor. 15:9). It is a neutral word and does not always have an evil connotation. The idea is to pursue avidly. In Philippians 3:14, it is translated as "press toward." We see, then, that it is not a passive word, as if the image was of a person timidly, mindlessly following or being led about as an animal or a little child. Rather, it is a strong, aggressive word. The picture is of a pursuer.


The word "charity" reminds us of Chapter 13, which tells us what the pursued goal is and guides us in how to achieve it. Essentially, that chapter taught us that the goal was salvation, one of the greatest expressions of charity. So far, we can say that Paul wants the Corinthians to pursue what God pursues, namely, the spiritual salvation of men.

"and desire spiritual gifts"

Actually, the word "gifts" is not in the Greek text. The idea is really, "Be full of zeal for spiritual (things) or spirituality." A Christian's concern is for the spiritual goals God has set. The gifts God designs and distributes are much less important to him. In his view, they are only tools or props to be used to accomplish God's spiritual purposes. There is something that a true believer ought to seek, but it is not a gift. Instead, it is the spiritual things upon which God has His own heart set. We must love the same things God loves, spiritual things, one of which is "charity."

"but rather ... prophesy"

The word "but" seems to make this phrase a contrast to the first part of the verse. However, no opposite or contrast is implied. The word "rather" is mallon and can be translated "more," as in verse 18 and in Romans 5:9,10,15,17. This phrase actually continues and supports the first part of the verse and names the process by which we are able to "follow" and "desire" spiritual things. One way to accomplish the spiritual goal of sharing God's love is by prophesy, sharing God's Word. "Spiritual" is not equal to "unsubstantial" or "ghostly," nor is "love" equal to "emotional" or "sentimentality." Instead, "spiritual" "and" love are specific and concrete subjects whose content is described in God's Word. "Spiritual" and "love" concern the matter of sin and what God has done about it. All of this is described in God's Word.

Verse 2, "For"

This word is used in the sense of "on the other hand." It introduces a verse that describes a gift which is a contrast to the gift of "prophesy" mentioned in verse 1.


This is the contrasting gift. At this point, it would be good for the reader to read the supplement "The Gift of Tongues" found at the back of this study book.

"not unto men"

This is the difference between prophesy and tongues. Prophesy is a clear presentation of God's Word to men. Tongues alone does not accomplish that purpose. As we shall see, it requires the attendance of the gift of interpretation.

"not unto men, but unto God"

Actually, in Greek there is no preposition "unto" in this phrase. The words "men" and "God" are in the dative case. Dative refers to an indirect object rather than a direct object. This means that the action ("speaking") is not directed toward the object ("men," "God"), but on behalf of or for the benefit of the object. Therefore, the phrase tells us that "speaking in a tongue" is not a benefit for man because as this verse also says, "no man understandeth." As we shall see later, the gift of tongues requires interpretation.

By itself, the gift of tongues does not help. The word "understandeth" is akouei which means "hear," (I Cor. 11:18 "hear") or "listen with understanding" (I Cor. 2:9, "heard"). Whoever hears a tongue hears a sound that does not make sense. On the other hand, this phrase tells us that the gift of tongues benefits God. In some way, His will is done through this gift. We will see what that purpose is in this chapter (verse 22).

"howbeit in the Spirit he speaketh mysteries"

The word "spirit" is also a dative noun. This phrase expands, a little, the phrase "unto God." This phrase can be rendered, "even though on behalf of the Spirit, he who speaketh in a tongues speaks the Gospel message."

Whatever the purpose of the tongue may be, one thing is for sure. It has content that is the same as that which is found in the Gospel. With this in mind, we can tie this phrase to the phrase just before it ("for no man understandeth") and come up with this thought, "no man understandeth a man who speaketh in a tongue, even though that man speaketh things found in the Gospel."

Tongues is not a gift that contains some strange, new, secretive message. Rather, it contains something concrete and specific, information found in the Gospel ("mysteries" = "gospel," Col. 1:27; I Tim. 3:16). As we shall learn, understanding comes only if the gift of interpretation is coupled with the gift of tongues (verses 5,13,14,27).

Incidentally, the word "unknown" is not found in this verse or in any part of the book of I Corinthians. In fact, the word "unknown" is not a good insertion. A better one is "not understood," because the tongue was known to be a message from God. It just was not understood without interpretation. The best idea is not to put any word in at all. Therefore, we shall ignore the word "unknown" as we discuss this chapter.

Verse 3, "But he that prophesieth ..."

This verse contrasts the results of speaking in a tongue with the results of prophesy.

"... unto men"

Again, the noun is in the dative case. Prophesy, all by itself, is a gift that is exercised for the benefit of men. In this case, the benefit is that the Word of God is brought in an understandable way.


This is a compound word that puts together oiko "house" and domeen "gift." The idea is that prophesy is a gift to the house of God, which it can use. The church is built up by such gifts. In fact, the word is translated "building" in I Corinthians 3:9 and Ephesians 2:21.

"and exhortation"

This word, parakleese, is composed of para, "next to," together with kleese, "calling" or "vocation" (I Cor. 7:20, "calling"; Eph. 4:1, "vocation"). The idea is that prophesy's job or vocation is to be along side of those in the church, speaking those things needed.

"and comfort"

This word is paramitha, a compound of the same prefix as in "exhortation," but with the root that comes from muthos,"a fable." The idea is that prophesy is along side the church with a story or a word that gives it peace of mind and heart. The understandable word is the comfort which the church needs (Isa. 40:1,2; John 14:16,26; II Cor. 1:3-7; II Thess. 2:16).

The whole point of the verse is that if the last three things in verse 3 are our spiritual goals, then the gift of tongues is not the way to achieve them. On the other hand, prophesy will help to reach those goals. The valuable gift is one that communicates the Gospel in a way that is understood so that spiritual goals are realized.

Verse 4, "He that ... edifieth himself"

Perhaps the man who had the experience of speaking in a tongue had some kind of impression that God was with him. Perhaps in some subconscious way he was edified. Yet, according to verse 14, he received no personal understanding. The tongue by itself was not edifying in the sense it was not articulate, at least not according to his own comprehension. Without understanding, the man had some vague impression rather than something he could verbalize.


The implication of this word is that prophesy is better than speaking in tongues.

"he ... the church"

This phrase repeats the point of the previous verse. The idea here is that edification from prophesy not only extends to the church, but also to the man who brought the word in prophesy. Everyone in the church benefits from the gift of prophesy. No one is edified by the exercise of speaking in a tongue.

Verses 2 through 4 compare prophesy with the gift of tongues. However, tongues is really one part of a two part gift. Verse 5 looks at the second part, interpretation of tongues. The two gifts, tongues and interpretation, are twins that depend upon each other. Both are required to impart a message of understanding to the hearer.

Verse 5, "I would...all spake in tongues"

This statement is not a call for everyone in the church to seek the gift of tongues. If anything, we should seek to prophesy (verse 12). Rather, this statement is similar to I Corinthians 7:7, in which Paul wishes that all the Corinthians were not married. As we learn in Chapter 7, it was not God's will that all were called to be single. So here, not all were given the gift to speak in tongues. The gift of tongues was a legitimate gift of God when Paul was writing to the church. However, Paul had in mind a specific reason for wishing that "all spoke in tongues." The reason Paul made this statement is found in verse 18. We shall look at that verse in turn.

We should add that I Corinthians 12:29 and 30 clearly imply that not all those in the church had the same gifts. This contradicts those today who say all believers ought to speak in a tongue.

"but rather that ye prophesied"

The word "rather" is mallon meaning "more" as in verse 1. The idea of the phrase is, "I wish more that you could prophesy."

"for greater ... tongues"

When we compare the gift of prophesy with the gift of tongues, we find that the gift of prophesy is superior in accomplishing the goals described in verse 3.

"except he interpret"

If, on the other hand, the gift of interpretation accompanies the gift of tongues, then the comparison of that gift with prophesy shows both are equal. According to this verse, adding the gift of interpretation into the picture means both tongues and prophesy edify the church. However, as we shall learn later in this chapter (e.g. verse 22), the gift of tongues has value for the church only in a very special way.

One very important fact is that in some ways the gift of tongues, together with interpretation, was identical to prophesy. Both brought God's Word. The difference between the gifts was in their outward form. Prophesy was a direct presentation of a verbal clear word from God. The gift of tongues was an impressive physical phenomenon. It was interpretation that changed the phenomenon into a clear word from God. God could have limited the method of bringing His Word to prophesy as He did everywhere else. However, He deliberately gave this two part gift to this church.

As we shall see, the gift of tongues was given as a test. Before interpretation was applied, the people saw an impressive physical manifestation. Thus, tongues was a prop deliberately designed to test the church members, to see if they were impressed and satisfied with the material manifestation or if they took heed to the spiritual message which the tongue contained. Tongues was a gift designed in such a way that it would be particularly attractive to those with a material focus. It was a pretty package used to separate the spiritual from the non-spiritual members of the church. It was a snare to the unbelievers. The gift of tongues revealed whether a particular church member wanted the Word of God or the exciting experience of the gift.


A careful look at this word will confirm the fact that tongues with interpretation was in many ways equivalent to prophesy. It is composed of the prefix di, which comes from the preposition dia, which means "through." A picture of this preposition is of a circle into which an arrow has penetrated and come out again on the other side. The idea is to penetrate completely from one side through to the other side. The root of the word "interpret" is from the word hermeenuo, which is elsewhere translated "interpretation." When we examine the way in which this root word is used in such places as John 1:38, 41, 42, 9:7 or Hebrews 7:2, we see it means to change words from one language to another. The whole word "interpret" with its prefix, just as it is used in this verse, is found in Acts 9:36 and in Luke 24:27, translated "expounded" and means "to change from God's Word to man's understanding."

Two very important conclusions can be made. First of all, the verb "interpret" implies that the words in the original text have content and meaning. The gift of tongues is always a message with propositional truth, never gibberish. It is simply a message in a language that needs to be changed into words that can be understood.

Secondly, the prefix dia of the word "interpret" implies that meaning always comes through. The transfer of meaning from one language to another is always successful when interpretation is applied to tongues. The exotic gift of tongues is a means that does not stand in the way when interpretation is applied. The meaning gets through. Again, the gift of tongues has no value for its own sake. The value is in the message that it brought, which could be extracted by means of interpretation. Thus, this gift was in some ways equivalent to prophesy. As we shall see, God used it in a very special way.

Verse 6, "Now ... what shall I profit you ... doctrine?"

The answer to that question is, "I will not. If I come with a tongue and no interpretation, I will not profit you." This verse, in the form of a rhetorical question, emphasizes the point made in the previous verse. The gift of tongues by itself does not edify the church.


This word, opheleo, means "to reach an intended goal" (Matt. 16:26, "profited"; Mark 5:26, "bettered"; Gal. 5:2, "profit"; Heb. 4:1-3, "profit"). The idea is that the gift of tongues by itself is worthless in achieving spiritual goals. What an extraordinary and curious gift! Other gifts profit the church spiritually. Here we learn that no spiritual goals are reached by tongues. This verse lists some of the gifts that edify the church. However, tongues is not one of them. We do not build up the church, neither in the sense of adding people to the church nor in the sense of strengthening those in the church by means of the gift of tongues.

Verse 7

This verse, together with the next verse, illustrates the point that the gift of tongues alone does not bring a profitable message. The idea of the verses is that we should always be sure that the meaning of any sound we make is brought to listeners.

"even things without life giving sound"

Could the words "without life" refer to inert objects that never lived, inanimate objects, such as musical instruments? Perhaps. But, the discussion so far has been on the content of a message brought. By recalling that "life" refers especially to the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6), we find another spiritual understanding of this phrase. We can say the idea of this phrase is that some things are not suitable to bring the life giving message of the Gospel, the message of Jesus Christ.

The "things" Paul has in mind are those things with which a man can "pipe" or "harp" to make music. When these instruments make a sound, there is no articulation. No Word of God is communicated. As Romans 10:17 and I Peter 1:23 describe, salvation comes by means of God's Word. Instrumental music may be used to play Christian music which reminds us of words, but only because we heard the words beforehand. The words are not in the "sound."

"except they give a distinction in the sounds ..."

The word "distinction" is composed of dia, "through," and stolee, "robe" (Luke 15:22). The idea of the phrase is, "Unless the instruments dress or robe the sounds with words with which men can understand the message ..."

"how shall ... harped?"

The answer to the question is, "It will not be known." Instruments do not provide verbal communication. It is possible for certain sounds to function as a code and correspond to certain verbal meanings. In that narrow way, the musical sounds have been converted into words. Yet, even in that case, the meaning is not in the sound but in the interpretation that was supplied beforehand.

Verse 8

This verse continues the thought of verse 7. The answer to the question is, "Nobody will prepare for battle." The idea is that even a blast of a trumpet has some meaning when there has been a previous agreement or understanding of what that blast should signify. The illustrations in verses 7 and 8 support the point of the discussion, which is that prophesy is better than tongues because it brings a clear verbal message. These two verses teach that other sounds besides tongues, like instrumental music, must conform to rules in order to be understood, otherwise they are just sounds which do not edify. Somehow, music must be dressed up in a way that a clear message is conveyed.

Verse 8 provides an example in which a sound can be made to say something. The choice of the example of a trumpet is not a random selection. A trumpet has an especially important use in Scripture, and fits well into the discussion of this chapter. When we turn to Numbers 10:1-9, we read in verses 3 and 6 that there was a clear meaning for all of the Israelites when the trumpet blew. In verse 9, we learn the trumpet had an especially important meaning of warning in time of war. A trumpet blast was vital to Israel's salvation. In Ezekiel 33:2-6, the trumpet was the instrument of the watchman who was to blow a sound of warning. From Ezekiel 33:7, we learn that the warning concerns judgment upon men for sin.

We can see why I Corinthians 14:8 associates "prepare" and "battle" with "trumpet." The battle is the judgment of God upon man for sin (Jer. 4:19-31; Ps. 55:18, 19; 89:43-45; see also Zeph. 1:15-18). So, the idea is that we are supposed to give a clear Gospel warning in order to help people prepare for Judgment Day. That is the best edification the church can have. If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, then the warning is not proclaimed. Similarly, if the sound of a tongue is not understood, the Gospel message of the warning of judgment is also not proclaimed. By a comparison with the trumpet, there is a hint that tongues is a gift that especially contains a message of warning. This chapter will verify that tongues are indeed an instrument which God uses to warn the church.

Verse 9, "So likewise ye"

This phrase means that the subject of verses 7 and 8 will be compared to the subject in verse 9. The comparison is between the sound of musical instruments and the words uttered by "the tongue." Both need an explanation to impart meaning. The information in their sounds needs some interpretation. As tools for communication, they do not stand alone.

"except ... understood"

A tongue that is easy to understand is any one of the thousands of human languages that are spoken by men. There are lots of available interpreters for those languages. The discussion so far in this chapter has never been about the difficulty a person who speaks one human language has with understanding the words of another human language. Rather, the discussion is about a language no human can understand because the tongue is a unique gift from God. It also requires a gift of interpretation from Him to make the gift useful. This verse and verses 27 and 28 show that the word "tongues" is referring to a special phenomenon and is not the same thing that is meant in the book of Acts or in the rest of the Bible.

"how ... spoken?"

The answer to the question is, "No man will be able to know what is spoken." The word "easy" in the previous phrase does not mean the opposite of "hard." The idea of the question is not that the gift of tongues is difficult, as if only a smart man working diligently could finally understand. The word "easy" is the word eusemos or "good sign," and is used only in this verse. The root of this word is a form of the word for "sign" as in Matthew 12:39. The idea of the word is closer to "clear," but only clear because the understanding has been given as a gift.

The point of the question is that not only is the form of the gift of tongues an impediment to understanding, requiring God to give understanding as an additional gift, but also that the contents of a tongue is a spiritual message. This means that it requires a gracious act of God for someone to really understand its significance and value.

"for ... air"

This phrase is not saying the message spoken by a tongue is not clear because it is spoken into the air. Rather, the message spoken by a tongue is not clear. The phrase means, that is all it is, namely, speaking into the air. It is a lot of atmospheric reverberations. The point is simple. The gift of tongues alone does not do the job. It must be interpreted.

Verse 10

This verse expands the discussion beyond the example of musical instruments. Now any kind of sound is included.

"There are ... voices in the world"

The word "voices" is phonon and refers to the sounds we hear in nature (I Cor. 14:7,8, "sound"; Rev. 1:15, "voice," "sound"; 6:1, "noise"; 9:9, "sound" 2 times). Sometimes it refers to the voice of man (Acts 4:24) or God (Acts 7:31).

"and none ... without signification."

The last two words in this phrase are one word in Greek, composed of the prefix a meaning "no" (it compares to our English prefix "un" or "non") plus the word phonon, as used in the phrase above. The word could be rendered "voiceless." The whole verse can be put together this way, "Whatever voices we consider in this world, we know that no voices are voiceless." What a silly statement. Of course voices are not voiceless. The verse sounds like a redundancy. However, this verse is emphasizing a very important point that helps us to eventually understand God's use of the gift of tongues. The point of the verse is that anytime there is a sound of any kind, there is meaning.

Nonvocal sounds of different kinds have some meaning. In certain circumstances, groans can mean pain and laughter can mean joy. Even the rush of the wind or the clap of thunder can tell us something. Certainly the languages of different people have meaning, if we are able to understand them. The implication is that tongues have content. They always have content. With interpretation there is a message that can be understood. The fact that the gift of tongues always has content is very important in helping us evaluate the purpose and function of that gift.

We can expand the idea of this verse a little to bring out another very different truth. Instrumental music has some dress or structure. There are certain musical structures which God has created in His universe that can be recognized by the audience when it hears music. Sounds without any structure are noise and completely useless, even for conveying so called nonverbal information such as moods. There is an interesting application of this verse to modern music, whether the completely non-structured music of some modern orchestral music or the strong beat of popular music that appeals to man's physical senses. This kind of music is essentially a message of rebellion against God. Without even a word being said, the message is clear, "Music without rules is O.K., just as life with out rules is O.K." Or the message is, "Music that excites the physical senses is best, because a physical life is best." Those who play and listen to that kind of music are saying, "That is the kind of music I like, and that is the kind of life I like."

Verse 11, "Therefore if"

This verse states the results of a sound that is heard with the physical ear but which is not understood. The illustration of this verse is something that a spiritual person wants to avoid.

"if I ... voice"

The word "know" is not ginosko, which implies experiential knowledge. Instead, it is a form of oida, which is often translated "to see" (Acts 3:3, "seeing"; I Cor. 2:9, "hath seen"), and implies more of an understanding of the mind, or receiving information through one's conscious intellect (I Cor. 1:16, 2:2, "know"). It can mean "to know perfectly as Jesus does" (John 13:7 "know") or "to know by observation" (I Thess. 1:4,5 "know"). The word "meaning" in this phrase is dunamis or "power." It is often used to refer to the power of the Gospel to save or the power of Christians to obey God's will.

Thus, the idea of this phrase is, "If I cannot clearly grasp the content of the sound with my mind that tells me the power of the sound..." or "If I cannot grasp the message of the voice that tells me how to deal with sin in my life and tells me about God's program of salvation...."

"I shall be ... unto me"

The word "speaketh" here is referring to speaking in a tongue, but without an interpreter close by to explain the sound that comes out of the mouth. The word "barbarian" is a word that is meant to sound like what it means. This kind of word describes what the Greeks thought those who did not speak Greek sounded like. The idea is that the word refers to foreigners with an emphasis upon the fact that they do not speak the same language as the Greeks. Thus, without interpretation, the language sounds just like a lot of syllables.

The point of this phrase is that speaking in a tongue to the church is the same as two people speaking together with different languages. What a futile situation! Interestingly, in Romans 1:14 we read that Paul intends to speak the Gospel to the barbarians, implying that in prophesy (which is what bringing the Gospel is) he intends to bring a clear message in order to hopefully save them.

Verse 12, "Even so ye"

Having presented the problem, Paul now presents the solution. That is, based on what Paul has said, he expects them to behave as he shall now teach.

"Forasmuch as ye ... gifts"

This statement could be looked at in two ways.

1. The phrase could be sarcastic. How could someone who is zealous of spiritual things ("gifts" is not in the text, but the gift of tongues is clearly implied) go so wrong? The only answer is that they really are not spiritual people. They only try to imitate spiritual life by appropriating some outward manifestation. In that case, "zealous" means they were zealous for the interesting gift with its outward phenomena and not for the heart of the matter, which is obedience to God's will.

2. The phrase could be an assumption. Assuming they are spiritual, this is what they must do, namely, seek gifts that edify. The next verse points out that the gift of tongues does not do that by itself.

"seek ... church"

Never is a particular gift from God the object of our focus or our goal. Just as we learned about marriage and singleness in Chapter 7 or about any of the other gifts mentioned in Chapter 12, our life situation is the design and creation of God. We must rest in His grace, being content with our earthly situation. We must seek to be faithful to God, and build up others in God's Word, trusting in the fact that we have the very best ahead of us in heaven.

Verse 13, "Wherefore ... interpret"

Here is the end of the matter. If a person in the Corinthian church really does have the gift of tongues, given to him by God's sovereign grace, then he must ask God to send someone to interpret it. Interpretation is a requirement. This verse implies that not everyone had that gift. But according to verse 12, if the gift is present, it must result in edification. This is exactly the same result that we expect from prophesy (verse 3). In many significant ways, the gift of tongues was identical to prophesy. They were the same in the sense that they both brought the Word of God.

There were differences between the gifts of tongues and prophesy. Prophesy did not require interpretation. Prophesy included speaking about those things that God had brought before and had written down in parts of the Bible, as well as announcing new revelations from God. The gift of tongues was in a different form. Alone, it was only a sound. With interpretation it resulted in prophecy, the proclamation of God's Word. What was said in a tongue and interpreted could be written down and added to what God had said before. Nevertheless, it is important to highlight the equivalence of prophecy and tongues because that means both were subject to the same rules. Whatever applied to the content of prophesy also applied to the content of tongues.

We ought to set aside one possible misunderstanding of this verse. Although the verse seems to say that the same person who spoke in a tongue ought to also interpret, that was only a theoretical ideal, mentioned to show the importance of a clear word. Actually, from I Corinthians 12:10 and 14:27, few, if any, had both gifts

Verse 14

One reason that Paul presents the ideal case in verse 13 is that if a man had only the gift of tongues and there was not anyone around at the time who could interpret, anything he said in a tongue would result in no personal understanding (notice verse 4). Therefore, to make a point that the gift of a tongue does not edify anyone, including the one who exercises the gift, Paul encourages the one who spoke in a tongue to seek understanding, even if he must interpret the tongues himself. However, to repeat, usually one person received the gift of tongues and another person the gift of interpretation.

Incidentally, this verse does not teach that people are a source of a tongue as they pray. Because the gift of tongues identifies with prophesy in its content, prayers in a tongue means prayers that come from God. This reminds us of the Psalms which were prayers of David, but nevertheless were really given to David by God and became part of the Holy Scriptures (II Sam. 23:2).

Verse 15, "What is it then?"

The word "it" refers to the whole discussion of tongues and prophesy. The question is, What is the point of all this? The answer is, "No matter what we do, whether we pray, sing, or anything else, we should always seek understanding." This universe is not irrational. The more we learn about our intelligent Creator and His amazing universe, the more we want to praise Him with understanding (Ps. 47:7).

At this point, Paul has widened the discussion a little. The examples of singing and praying mentioned here are representative of all spiritual activities. What we say in the spirit (i.e. as Christians) must not be sounds without content. True spiritual experiences never include speaking gibberish or irrational sounds. All spiritual experiences can be understood by spiritually minded people with the result that they are edified. All spiritual activities must result in understanding.

Verses 16,17

Verse 16 asks a question and verse 17 answers it. In addition, verse 17 provides a comment on the question asked in verse 16. For these reasons we shall look at these two verses together.

Verse 16, "Else"

Reflecting back upon verse 15, this word can be thought of as meaning "otherwise." The intent of this word is to pose the question, "Otherwise, what if the goal of understanding mentioned in verse 15 is not achieved?"

"when ... spirit"

What exactly does "bless with the spirit" mean? The word "bless" is eulogos, which is a word composed of the prefix eu, "good" and logos, a form of the word "word." The idea of the word is to say good words or in the context of the discussion, godly words. The phrase is not implying that a person is inspired to speak wonderful words when he is mysteriously moved by the Spirit. Rather, the phrase is simply saying that when a person is in the Spirit he is qualified to be given words to say from God.

The content of those God given words are described in the verse as "thy giving of thanks." Verse 17 repeats that by stating, "For thou verily giveth thanks well." Although the words "bless" and "thanks" found in verses 16 and 17 are not the same as "pray" in verse 14, verses 16 and 17 are really discussing the same thing as verses 14 and 15, namely, praying in a tongue. We know that verses 16 and 17 continue the subject of praying in a tongue because according to verse 17, the "blessing" and the "thanks" are not understood nor do they edify the hearers. These are the characteristics of the gift of tongues unaccompanied by the gift of interpretation.

"he that occupieth the room of"

The words "the room" do not refer to a location in a building or a part of a house. The idea is really "place" in the sense of a person's life circumstances or situation (Luke 14:9, "place", "room"; Rom. 9:26, "place"; 12:19, "place"). Another way of expressing this phrase is, "he that is in the situation of" or "he that is in the shoes of."

"the unlearned"

This is the word idiotee. The Greek word is similar to the word idios (I Cor. 14:35, "their"; I Cor. 15:23,38, "his own") which emphasizes someone who has "his own" and nothing else. In the context of this chapter, the main idea is of a man who has only his own natural abilities and has no extra gift of God to understand a tongue.

In verses 23 and 24, the word "unlearned" is used together with the word "unbelievers," but is separated by the word "or." This is an "or" of distinction, not of equality (I Cor. 14:19, "than"; I Cor. 15:37, "or"). Sometimes the word "or" connects things which may have something in common, but are nevertheless distinct (Matt. 5:36, "or"). Therefore, the word "unlearned" does not equal "unbeliever."


This word, or rather "the Amen" as it is more accurately rendered, refers to the reaction of a person who understands and agrees with what is said. What is said can be a warning (Deut. 27:15ff; Neh. 5:13), thanksgiving (I Chron. 16:36), praise (Ps. 41:13), or worship (Rev. 7:12). The word "Amen" is not a word that is purely emotional, but rooted in a believer's joy at hearing God's Word proclaimed, because of the richness of its meaning for his life.

Putting all of the pieces together, the question of verse 16 could be rephrased like this, "How can a member of the congregation, even considering someone who truly is a believer, but who does not have any gift from God to help him understand a tongue, appreciate what you say whenever you say godly things by means of a tongue?"

Verse 17, "For thou ... well, but the other is not edified"

This verse shows that Paul is being very diplomatic and accommodating in verses 16 and 17. He is saying, "Look, you can think whatever you want about tongues. But you must admit that even if we assume wonderful things are said in a tongue, none of the listeners will be edified. So what good is it?"

We can summarize the idea of verses 16 and 17 in this way. Even if we take the very best view of this gift of tongues, there is a problem. If it is done by someone "with the spirit," that is, if the words are from God, and if the person who hears them is a believer, that is, if he is a spiritual person, there still will be no understanding if the words spoken in a tongue are not interpreted. In fact, even the person who spoke the words in a tongue will not understand those words (verse 14). The strong implication of verses 16 and 17 is that the gift of tongues alone does not help anyone. The goal of edification has not been reached. Even if the words are from God, so what? There must be understanding. Therefore, what good is the gift of tongues?

These verses conclude a portion of the discussion that has evaluated the gift of tongues. We have learned that the gift of tongues, which some in the Corinthian church experienced, contained a distinct message from God that had content. The purpose of that content was to edify. Without the gift of interpretation, the gift of tongues had no value at all. By itself, it was only a spectacular physical phenomenon. With interpretation, it served the same purpose of prophesy. It brought the Word of God which edified the hearers. It was in a different form than prophesy. It was essentially part of a two step gift, tongues plus interpretation. Nevertheless, it served the same purpose as prophesy. In a way, it was really redundant. Why, then, did God give the gift of tongues to the church at Corinth? That question will be answered in the following verses.

Verse 18

Why is Paul so thankful that he spoke in a tongue, other than the fact that it was God's will that he have that gift? Was the gift important? No. The next verse tells us it was thousands of times less important than prophesy for the purpose of edification. The reason he writes verse 18 is based upon the fact that he is writing this letter to give them counsel and advice about a problem in their church. From a concerned Christian standpoint, he is thankful that he had firsthand knowledge about a gift that was misunderstood in the Corinthian church. He could always pray and seek a solution for their problem in God's word (which he did), but he was also thankful that at the same time he could be an example in the proper use of that gift. He desired that their attitude and behavior be similar to his (I Cor. 11:1). He is not thankful, first of all, for his personal participation in the gift of tongues for its own sake, but for their sake. He is thankful that his experience gave him insight into the problem they were having with this gift. He was able to see firsthand how to help them regain a proper spiritual focus.

With this explanation, we can now better understand the beginning of verse 5. We can think of verse 5 as saying that Paul wants them to experience the gift of tongues because he wants them to understand how it fits into God's plan for the church. This chapter teaches that the gift of tongues was meant to bring condemnation upon unbelievers. Therefore, Paul realizes that any experience with it would sober up any in the church who were charmed by and attracted to it. As he goes on to say in verse 5, as well as verse 19, prophecy is so much better than tongues, that if they only could prophesy, that would be fine.

Verse 19

This verse describes the proper Christian attitude and behavior with regard to the gift of tongues. It is the way God wants the Corinthians to view the gift of tongues. The words "five," "fifty," or "fifth" are often associated with pictures of the Gospel of grace (Lev. 25;10,11; 27:15,16,27,31; Num. 3:47-49; 18:16; Ex. 36; I Kings 6 & 7; Matt. 14:17; 25:15). Therefore, we could rephrase this verse to say that Paul would rather speak five words of the Gospel, rather than say all there is to say in a tongue that no one can understand. Even though the contrast seems to be one of quantity, five to ten thousand, the numbers are really irrelevant. The contrast is really between words that can be understood and words that cannot. The issue is "do the words edify?"

Notice that the comparison is between two ways of speaking "words." That is, tongues contained information, just like prophecy did. That information was to be extracted by means of the gift of interpretation.

Verse 20, "Brethren"

Paul is appealing to them as people who have identified themselves as part of the congregation and who claim that Jesus is their Lord. Paul is about to explain something out of the Scriptures. They ought to know the Scriptures and know what he is talking about.

"be not children"

The word "children" is paidia and is a general term for little children (Matt. 18:3,4). It refers to those who are part of the family but are incomplete in their development. The word is used when the issue of inclusion is not in question but when the focus is upon the need for complete development (Luke 2:40; Heb. 2:13).

"in understanding ... but in understanding be men."

The word "understanding" is phesin, a form of a word that is similar to the word "mind" used in Romans 8:6 and Philippians 2:5 among many other places. The word "men" is not the same word as used in I Corinthians 2:5 or 3:3. It is telios and means "mature" or "perfect" as in Matthew 5:48, or Hebrews 5:14 ("full age"). This supports our view that the word "children" in the above phrase refers to immature believers, inasmuch as "mature" is the proper contrast for "incomplete development."

So far in our examination of verse 20, we have learned that Paul is admonishing the members of the congregation to have the mind of a person who is part of the family of God, however not as one who is a baby and is limited in his understanding but one who has a mature understanding of spiritual things (I Cor. 12:1), especially those things which Paul is discussing in this chapter.

"how be it in malice be ye children"

In this phrase, the word "children" is nepios. As we learned in Chapter 3, the focus of that word is upon infants who have no understanding at all, such as we were before we were saved (Gal. 4:1; Eph. 4:14). In contrast to paida, the word nepios conveys the thought of exclusion. Until we are saved, we not part of the kingdom of God and are described by the word nepios. A babe in this sense is one who is not part of the kingdom at all and needs God's to reveal His truth by grace (Matt. 11:25, "babes" = nepios). What does "malice" refer to? It is the normal word for "evil" or "bad" (13:5 "evil"). The application of this phrase to the present discussion rests upon the idea of exclusion. The idea of this phrase is that Paul wants them to have no understanding at all of malice, to not be a part of it at all, to be a babe in evil things.

Is this phrase a general call to holy living? Holy living is certainly an appropriate expectation at all times. However, the discussion has been about the gift of tongues. Does "evil" or "malice" refer to tongues? Yes, it does. But how can that be if it is a gift from God? That is what Paul will explain in the next verses. Paul will now describe the purpose for which God gave the gift of tongues to the church of Corinth. For clarity, I shall list two conclusions that will be made in that explanation:

1. Tongues were evil in the sense that the content of their message was about evil or judgment upon sin. The message was that evil was about to come upon rebellious people (Isa. 45:7; 47:11; Eph. 6:13).

2. Tongues were evil in the sense that they were in a form that was meant to catch people in their rebellious focus upon this world. Tongues promoted sin in the lives of those who loved the spectacular outward manifestation of the gift rather than a message of edification (Matt. 12:39).

Putting all the pieces of verse 20 together, we can say the idea is that they should not be immature in spiritual things (paidia in understanding). On the other hand, they should be inexperienced in evil (nepios in malice). Paul wants them to learn all they can about the grace of God, but not to experience any of the evil that is associated with the gift of tongues.

In verse 7, the gift of tongues was compared to a trumpet. There is one particular use of the trumpet in the Bible to which the gift of tongues identifies. The trumpet was a sound that often threatened impending doom. Sometimes the trumpet warned, in the sense that it alarmed those to whom it was directed and gave them an opportunity to escape judgment. However, there were other times when the intent of the trumpet blast was to declare, "It is too late." For example, the trumpet sometimes sounded a warning of condemnation similar to the way that the Israelites' trumpet blasts preceded the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 6:20,21).

As we will learn in the next verses, the intent of the gift of tongues was a warning of condemnation. It turned out that when the words of those who spoke in a tongue were interpreted, the message was judgment, not in the sense of advice that hopefully would lead to repentance, but as an announcement of condemnation for those to whom it was directed. The gift of tongues was used by God to seal people in their unbelief. Paul does not want that evil message to be for them. He is saying in verse 20 that he does not want them to be evil people and so merit an evil judgment.

Verse 21, "In the law it is written"

This refers to Isaiah 28:11. This quote is not thrown in incoherently. It is brought in to support the previous verses, especially verse 20. In addition, we should state that the link is not just between I Corinthians 14:21 and Isaiah 28:11. The two chapters, I Corinthians 14 and Isaiah. 28, have parallel ideas which can be compared in order to help us add to our understanding of tongues.

Let us look at Isaiah 28:

Verse 7, "they have erred through wine...strong drink" This is a reference to the message of a false prophet (Micah 2:11; Isa. 56:11,12).

"the priest and the prophet" It is the church leadership which is corrupting the church.

"they err in vision" They have no understanding of God's spiritual truth. This idea is repeated in verse 10.

Verse 8, "all...full...no place" The apostate leadership and the rebellious members of the congregation fill up the church (Jer. 5:30,31; II Pet. 2:2).

Verse 9, The answer to the question in this verse is, "No one can be taught or be made to understand." They are like children who cannot learn or understand unless someone gives them grace. These people are not children in malice. They are mature in malice. This verse is the background for I Corinthians 14:20 in which Paul warns the Corinthians to be children in malice.

Verses 10 and 11 say the same thing.

In verse 10, we learn that the result of apostasy is always the same. God will not teach them anymore. In verse 11, we learn that their judgment will come to them in a tongue that needs interpretation. This verse is quoted in I Corinthians 14:21.

There was no edification going on in the church. God would see to it that none would be going on later either. Isaiah 28 illustrates how God comes to an apostate church in judgment. In fact, the scenario of Isaiah 28 was described as a principle in Deuteronomy 28:49. God uses people who speak in a tongue that needs interpretation to judge people called by His name but who turned from Him. Notice that this particular type of judgment is one which God reserves for those who call themselves the people of God.

This method or principle of judgment was the warning given to the ten northern tribes called Israel in Isaiah 28:11. A description of its historical fulfillment in 709 B.C. is found in II Kings 17:6-33. The warning also came against the two southern tribes called Judah (II Kings 20:17; Jer. 5:15). A description of that historical fulfillment in 587 B.C. is described in II Kings 24:1-6. A tongue that needs interpretation is that instrument that God uses to judge His church. This contrasts with the truth of prophesy that brings an understandable message of condemnation and grace which can stimulate a person to turn away from his sin and turn to God.

To complete the overview of Isaiah 28, we continue with a few more verses.

Verse 12, "To whom (Israel) he (God) said this is the rest...ye may cause the weary to rest." That is, Israel was supposed to bring the Gospel of God so that the hearers could trust in God and rest from their sins.

Verse 13, However, since they were not satisfied with God's salvation plan and wanted one of their own design (as predicted in Deut. 28:47), truth was taken away from them, as a part of the judgment upon them.

Verse 15, They manufactured their own gospel plan.

Verse 16, In contrast, God had His own plan.

Verse 18, Their plan would not survive.

Therefore, I Corinthians 14:21 explains that the "malice" mentioned in verse 20 describes the fact that God will speak a message of judgment upon the Corinthian church by means of a tongue that needs interpretation.

It would be good at this point for the reader to review and understand the supplements to this chapter, one is a summary of the Bible's teaching on the gift of tongues.  It is found at 1Cor 14 Suppl A.  Another is entitled "The Drama of Judgment."  You can find it at 1Cor 14 Suppl B.

Verse 22, "Wherefore"

Through a careful comparison of verses 20 and 21 with Isaiah 28, we concluded that the gift of tongues was given by God for the purpose of bringing judgment upon unbelievers in the congregation. Whatever we have deduced indirectly, verse 22 states explicitly. This verse functions as a conclusion to what has been said so far.

"tongues are for a sign"

The word "for" is eis or "into." The phrase could be understood as "tongues fit into the role of a sign." The word "sign" is seemeion. The Bible also uses this word to describe what an evil generation seeks after (Matt. 12:39). So, we can say this phrase means tongues fits into the role of a phenomenon which an evil generation seeks after. The word "sign" is also used to describe curses from God (Deut. 28:45,46). That, together with the fact that the gift of tongues brings a message of judgment, leads us to conclude that an apostate church seeks after the very thing that will destroy it. This phrase confirms our understanding of the word "malice" in verse 20.

People may have all sorts of opinions about the gift of tongues, but one thing is for sure. The sign of tongues is used to identify something which is opposite from that which will save (I Cor. 1:22,23).

Romans 14:17 tells us that the kingdom of God has no material basis, nor any physical support (Luke 17:20; II Cor. 5:7). It is based upon righteousness as revealed in God's Word and upon the peace that our Lord Jesus Christ obtained for us when He died on the cross for our sins. Our joy in the Holy Ghost is rooted in a quiet confidence that He has placed in our hearts, the testimony of His Word that we are His, and the evidence that we are able to do as He wills. Some in the Corinthian church did not have that holy cheerfulness. They had a recklessness rather than a good or godly humor. Their joy was exhilarating rather than comforting. Their hope was built upon a longing for some physical fulfillment rather than a trust in God's Word, which shines like a star, steadfast and clear, for those who are truly spiritual. They wanted a sign, and God gave them a sign. According to Luke 16:31, even the greatest sign of all, the miracle of the resurrection, will not produce faith. So, we certainly cannot expect the sign of tongues to either. In fact, it is an instrument, not of grace, but of judgment.

The gift of tongues, described as a sign, did contain a message from God, but the content and purpose of that message was not blessing but judgment. As we learned in verse two, the gift of tongues had content which was found also in the Gospel, but it shared only the Gospel's message of judgment. There was no message of grace. This was not a happy gift. Those members of the Corinthian congregation who had a material focus would have been impressed by the outward sign of tongues. However, it was the attraction a flame has for a moth, destruction was sure to follow. That is the frightening message of this verse.

Prophesy also contains a message of judgment, but people can understand it and cry out to the Lord for mercy. Furthermore, the full message of prophesy also includes the solution for avoiding judgment, the rescue in the Lord Jesus as Savior. The purpose of prophesy is to edify, to build up in the Gospel. Someone might say, "Well, with interpretation, tongues could be understood and lead someone to repentance." This is true. Perhaps at times the warning was understood by members of the congregation. Nevertheless, the plan of God was that tongues would be a test in the form of a word to the unbeliever that he would not understand because he focused only upon the spectacular part of it. The gift of tongues was not meant to be used to bring them to their spiritual senses. Instead, it was meant to reveal them for what they were and condemn them.

An important aspect of the Corinthian phenomenon of the gift of tongues is that it was indeed a message from God. So, it had an aura of holiness. That was an important part of the test. Those who loved this world but wanted to identify with Christianity could find in tongues an experience that they could appropriate to give them an appearance of holiness but really hide their true carnal nature. This agrees with the biblical principle that many who try to destroy the church appear to be quite holy (Matt. 7:22-23; 24:24; II Cor. 11:13-15; II Thess. 2:9-12; I John 2:18,19; 4:1; Rev. 12:15).

"to ... to ... for ... for"

All four of these prepositions are the same in Greek. They are all translations of the word tois, which is the dative plural form of the article that belongs with the nouns "believers" and "unbelievers." The words "them that believe" are really one word "believers." Also the words "them that believe not" are really the single word "un" or "nonbelievers." The words "believer" and "unbeliever," together with their articles, are all in the dative case which refers to an indirect object. In the sentence "We carry the shoe," "shoe" is the direct object which receives the action of being carried. On the other hand, in the sentence "We carry the shoe to the man," "man" is the indirect object. The emphasis is upon the person on whose behalf or in whose interest the action is being performed. So, according to the rules of grammar, we can understand verse 22 to mean that the gift of tongues was brought to the congregation in Corinth with unbelievers in mind. However, the gift was not for their spiritual benefit, but to judge them.

The fact that a person had the gift of tongues did not make that person an unbeliever. Paul had that gift. Rather, the gift of tongues was brought to the congregation by a few of God's ministers and was aimed at certain members because they were unbelievers. It was a tool for sealing them in their desire for material things and in their rejection of the spiritual salvation offered by God in His Gospel. In the example of the shoe, we can say, "We carry the shoe to the man because it belongs to him, it fits him." Similarly, the gift of tongues fits perfectly into the mentality of people with a materialistic focus, it fit into their own salvation plan.

In summary, we can say verse 21 states that the gift of tongues is used as a kind of test. Verse 22 adds that this test was used in the church at Corinth to separate believers from unbelievers. Comparing this chapter with the previous chapter, we can say chapter 13 asked the questions "Do you love God? Does God's love dwell in you too? Is the Gospel of God's spiritual love attractive enough and sufficient for you?" Chapter 14 adds the question, "Or do you still seek another message from God? Do you want a materially and physically exciting dimension to your Christian experience?"

There is another gift that is designed for the spiritual benefit of believers. It is the gift of prophesy. This thought will be developed in verses 24 and 25.

The frightening message which this chapter presents is that if a person seeks something other than God's Gospel, God will allow him to have it, but God will use what he seeks to destroy him. An enormous truth of the Bible is that people always get what they want, whether for good (Ps. 37:4) or evil (Ps. 106:14,15). Unsaved men in the world say, "I do not want God," and they eventually get their desire. They will be forever without Him in hell. Those in the church who desire their own salvation plan are allowed to have that as well, but their homemade gospel will fail. Their feet are really rooted in this world and they shall perish with it. All true believers must praise God that they do not get what their carnal nature wants. All believers must rejoice that their hearts desire has been shaped to conform to God's will. Believers are given a new heart with a different desire than what they previously had. One of the amazing dimensions to the work of grace is that believers now have a desire that is identical to God's desire. The joy is that desire is also fulfilled.

Verse 23, "unlearned or unbelievers"

As we discussed in verse 16, the word "unlearned" refers to those who have only their own natural abilities in respect to the gift of tongues. That is, they do not have the gift of interpretation. So this verse is describing the situation in which a person in the congregation is speaking in a tongue but no one is present who can interpret the tongue. There may be believing members of the church or unbelieving visitors present when the man speaks, but they do not understand what he is saying. In fact, they may not even recognize it as a tongue and think that the man who spoke is crazy and making incoherent sounds. Essentially, this verse is repeating the fact that the gift of tongues does not bring the Gospel. It does not edify.

Verses 24,25

Bringing God's Word in an understandable way, such as prophesy, leads to repentance. God's one great purpose in dealing with men is to cause men to face their sin and the wrath it deserves, and then come to repentance and faith in the Savior. "The secrets of his heart are made manifest" by means of the Word of God which can penetrate to the very core of a man and show him for what he really is (Heb. 4:12,13), causing him to cry out to God for mercy. These verses show the power of God's Gospel. Prophesy, an understandable presentation of the Word of God, applies that Gospel to the lives of the hearers.

Incidentally, the manifestation of a man's secrets are really to himself. The secrets are not manifest to God. He knows all, already. Neither are the secrets manifest to other members of the congregation. It is pointless and unwise for a person to reveal all his personal sins in public. He alone is the one who must realize his own spiritual dilemma and fall "down on his face" in worship, seeking salvation not from men, but from the Lord. His controversy is with God. It is to God alone that he must go to for forgiveness and help (Ps. 51:4; Luke 18:13).

There is an historical incident that illustrates the value of prophesy, just as verse 21 gave an historical incident that illustrates the danger of tongues. The incident concerns the time when Assyria attacked and destroyed Israel, that is, the 10 tribes that lived in the north of Palestine and then continued south to attack the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. In Isaiah 36, we read that Assyria spoke to Judah in the Jews' language. Those were words that did not need interpretation and they corresponded to prophesy. Those words eventually led to correction in the life of the people of Judah. The reason God arranged things that way was that Judah was not yet ripe for judgment. The words were a warning, just like the words spoken to Israel. To Israel, Assyria spoke words in a tongue they could not understand. That form of speaking marked Israel as a nation ripe for judgment. Also, if Israel could have understood the content of the Assyrian language, they would have learned that it was a message of judgment that would be fulfilled. To Judah, Assyria spoke words in a tongue that the people could understand, which caused them to turn back to God.

Before we leave these verses, we should say something about the words "all" and "prophesy." The implication of the word "all" is that the gift of prophesy was common to all, as if everyone in the congregation who is a true believer could expect to have that gift. This is in opposition to the gift of tongues, which was a gift given to only a few. Also, "prophesy" is brought up in these two verses as a contrast to tongues in the sense that it edifies, by itself, without the assistance of an additional gift. The idea of prophesy is not that all members of the congregation could predict the future, but that all members ought to be faithful stewards of God's Word (I Cor. 4:2; II Tim. 2:15; 3:16,17) and bring words that can spiritually build up the church.

Verse 26

This verse presents a principle which verses 27 and 28 will apply to the gift of tongues and verses 29-32 will apply to the gift of prophesy.

"How is it then, brethren?"

In other words, the question is, "How do you think the right way for church members to handle these gifts is?"

"when ye came together"

This verb is the same one used in I Corinthians 11:18 and 20 and refers to the specific situation in which they came together for worship. It is a distinctly Christian act in that they are outwardly doing things which say they are people of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit.

"everyone ... interpretation"

Each person in the congregation has his gift. It could be any one of many different gifts which God gives.

"Let ... edifying"

The principle of this verse is that no matter what gift is used in the congregation, the goal, motivation, and results should be the clear teaching of God's Word, in order that the members of the congregation can grow spiritually. In light of our discussion of verses 20-22, in which we learned that the gift of tongues was sent to judge unbelievers, why is it included among the gifts that ought to edify? The answer is that while the gift of speaking in tongues was not used by God as a means of grace to change nonbelievers into believers, it did edify the congregation in the sense that those who were spiritual would learn and understand how God deals with those who want to identify with the church of Jesus Christ but do not have the heart to do His will. True believers would learn something about God's methods of judgment (see the discussion on verse 18).

Verses 27,28

These verses explain how the principle of verse 26 can be achieved by means of the gift of tongues. These verses give us the rules for tongues.

Verse 27, "If any man speak in a tongue ..."

1. "by two or at the most by three" In the Corinthian case, the message in a tongue was from God. We can understand this first rule in the following way. In order to confirm that it was from God, at least two and no more than three people should bring the message. This fulfills the requirement which God had set down in the Old Testament (Num. 35:30) and continued in the New Testament (II Cor. 13:1).

2. "and that by course" The word "course," mers, really means "part." The second rule can be understood in this way. Each of the two or three men who had a message in a tongue must take a part of the time or session to deliver it. That is, they must take turns. The same word is used in Luke 1:8 to show that only one priest served in the Holy of Holies at a time. Never can more than one person speak in a tongue at a time.

3. "and let one interpret" The third rule meant that the message delivered in a tongue had to be extracted.

These three rules had no exceptions. The episodes described in the book of Acts that include the word "tongue" clearly violate these three rules, showing that they are a different phenomenon than that of the gift of tongues described in I Corinthians. In fact, there is no biblical evidence of any similar event happening anywhere else. We can conclude that the Corinthian tongue experience was unique and restricted to that church.

According to Rule 3, tongues must be interpreted. That was based on the fact that tongues had content. It had a message that had to be clearly and coherently presented. Some people today insist that the experience of speaking in a tongue is necessary or desirable verification of a person's salvation. The Bible states that the experience by itself was spiritually useless. It was only a tool. Its value was only in the concrete and specific message it contained. That message could be extracted, written down, read, studied, and obeyed. That message could be added to all the other written bodies of Scripture and had equal authority with them. In that way, the gift of tongues was of the same nature as prophesy.

Because of the similarity of the two gifts, we should not be surprised to learn in verses 27 through 32 that the same rules which apply to prophesy apply to tongues. This leads to another very important observation. There is one more rule mentioned in Revelation 22:18 which can be applied to tongues, because it is applied to prophesy. The rule is that God has stopped giving new information to the church, inasmuch as the Bible contains all that He wants to say to men. Therefore, we can be sure that as God closed the avenue of new revelation through prophesy, He also stopped the gift of tongues. Prophesy continues today in the sense that it means to declare those things which are already written in the Bible. No new messages are given by God. The gift of tongues does not continue in any form at all because it was always a direct revelation from God with content. God would never violate His own rules by giving more messages (Rev. 22:18). Besides, the gift of tongues is unnecessary because its content was judgment. There are plenty of warning judgments in God's Word of prophesy to condemn the stubborn unbeliever and to drive the repentant sinner to the cross.

Verse 28, "But if ... silence in the church"

This phrase emphasizes the fact that the rules must never be broken. We are not sure exactly of what kind of abuse the Corinthians were guilty. If they were violating the rules, then they were certainly not edifying the church. In fact, there is a hint that whatever they were doing, it was clearly not from God (verse 33).

The word "silence" is a form of the word sigao and is used nine times in the Bible. For example, in Luke 9:36, it is translated "kept close" and means they told no man. In Luke 20:26, it is rendered "held ... peace," which clearly means there was no talking. The point of this phrase then is that the sound of a tongue should never be heard in a church when there was no other person present who could interpret.

"to himself ... to God"

These are dative words. That is, the speaking is not "to himself" or "to God," as if they were the object to which the speaking was directed, as in speaking to a person. Rather, it means "in behalf of," indicating in whose interest the speaking occurs. In some way, a tongue without interpretation had some personal nonverbal value to the man who received the gift (verses 4,14). In some way, a tongue given in that situation helped to further God's purposes. The benefit of the experience was personal and not shared with anyone else. The idea is that without an interpreter present, a tongue must never be heard. If a tongue was given to a man, he must remain silent.

Verses 29-32

These verses explain how the principle of verse 26 can be achieved by means of the gift of prophesy. The rules are the same as those in verses 27 and 28.

Verse 29, "Let the prophets speak two or three"

Just as for the gift of tongues, the principle set down in Numbers 35:30 still applies. Rule one holds for prophesy too.

"and let the other judge"

The word "other" is really a plural word, alloi, and should be translated "others." The word properly refers to the rest of the congregation. They "judge" (diakrino = "through" plus "judge") or check out the content of the prophesy in the manner described by verse 32. This phrase is a restatement of the third rule.

Verse 30, "If anything be revealed ... peace"

The words "hold his peace" are really the same single word "silence" in verse 28. After one man has spoken, he must remain absolutely quiet while the next man speaks. This is the same as the second rule that applies to tongues. Those who prophesy must take turns to speak to the congregation.

Verse 31, "For ye may all prophesy one by one"

This phrase completes the description of Rule 2.

"that all may ... comforted"

The portion of the verse repeats the principle stated at the end of verse 26, but is written a little differently. In verse 31, it is written, "that all may learn, and all may be comforted." Comfort only comes to those who understand the word of comfort. There is a comfort from a concrete and specific hope, not from a vague impression or a noisy confusion.

Verse 32, "And the spirits ... prophets"

This rule is the same as the third rule that applies to tongues. The rule is that there must be understanding by the hearers of what is said. Prophecy is different in its form than tongues in that the words are understandable to the hearers without interpretation. The question can still be asked, "What is the spiritual point God is making by means of these words?" An unbeliever certainly can read, hear and understand the vocabulary and grammar of prophesy, but he can never understand the spiritual truth the words convey (I Cor. 2:14). Believers, on the other hand, are equipped to understand (I Cor. 2:12). What is the method by which the words of prophesy can be understood and therefore edify? How do we understand God's Word? The answer, given in I Corinthians 2:13, is repeated here in I Corinthians 14:32. Let us see how this is so.

"the spirits of the prophets"

The word "spirits" is plural and does not refer to the Holy Spirit. The phrase refers to the spiritual part of those men who are sensitive to the spiritual information God gives them.

"are subject"

This verb is composed of the prefix hupo, "under," and the root tassetai, translated "appointed" (Matt. 28:16), "set" (Luke 7:8), or "ordained" (Acts 13:48). The emphasis of the verb is to be under an authority which has the power to assign or arrange things. The verb is translated "to be under obedience" in verse 34; "put under" in I Corinthians 15:27 and Ephesians 1:22; "submit" in James 4:7; and "hath put in subjection" in Hebrews 2:5 and 8.

"to the prophets"

These are other prophets under whose authority the spirits of the prophets are subject. Who are these other prophets? Before we answer that question, we can say that we know one thing for sure. This verse does not say that several men must get together and discuss the prophesies they each had and then form some sort of consensus about what God meant. Rather, these other prophets are those prophets who spoke long ago and whose prophesies have been written down. In short, the other prophets are those men of God who wrote the Scriptures, namely, all of the Bible that existed up to the time Paul had written this letter to Corinth.

Let us put all these phrases together and try to make some sense out of verse 32. According to I Corinthians 2:12-15, a believer has the Holy Spirit within him. He also has a spiritual part which is alive. That means that he is qualified and equipped with what is necessary to receive spiritual wisdom from God. It is that spiritual part of a man that is subject to the Word of God. A man who is made spiritually alive is not an independent, autonomous person, but is subject to God's will as expressed in the Bible. Therefore, the content of the message which God gives him through his spiritual part is also under the authority of the Bible.

The idea of verse 32 is that any message from God that a man brings to the congregation has an appointed meaning, assigned to it by the other prophets, that is, the Word of God. It is the job of the congregation to find out what that meaning is by comparing prophesy with prophesy. Any new prophesy is under the authority of the former prophets and ultimately of God, who is the authority behind all Scripture.

Throughout history, a true prophet of God willingly cooperated in the evaluation of what he said by applying God's written Word to what he said. Today, a faithful steward of God's Word, who brings the Word of God to the church in the sense that he brings a message based upon the written Word, the Bible, does not get upset at other people's reaction to his witness, because if it is God's truth, it will endure scrutiny. If it is not God's Word, then he is grateful for correction and happily abandons his ideas.

False teaching, after time, will not stand under the pressure of a thorough comparison with the prophets of the Scriptures. Eventually, it will be clear that those who hold false teaching did not get that teaching from God. It must necessarily be their own invention. False prophets react strongly against any perceived opposition to their position, either because pride makes them angry that their position is challenged, or because insecurity makes them fear that their position will be found to be false. However, the faithful believer does not take criticism personally. The truth will stand on its own legs. The Gospel is God's invention. He is able to defend it. So, the believer is submissive and relaxed.

This verse is illustrated by an actual historical incident. Before Paul arrived in Corinth, the people of Berea listened to him and were noble enough to check what he said against the Scriptures they had at hand (Acts 17:10,11). Notice that the principle or goal stated in I Corinthians 14:26 was achieved (Acts 17:12). Today, of course, those prophets who bring messages to the church talk not about new revelation but what has already been written in the Bible. Nevertheless, what they say is evaluated in the same way.

The rule that we are to compare Scripture with Scripture reveals the unity of the Bible. The Bible truly is the Word of one author, God. He has spoken through all His prophets, and we should expect that all parts of the Bible should agree (Heb. 12:1,2).

Verse 33, "For"

This verse is sort of a summary or conclusion in the form of a restatement of the principle in verse 26, but put in different words.

"God ... confusion"

The Greek word translated "confusion" is used five times in the Bible. It is translated in a similar way each time, and a comparison of the verses in which it occurs does not help us gain much insight into its meaning. It is helpful to notice that in Greek it is akatastasias, composed of the prefix a, "no," the prefix kata, "down" and the root stasias, translated "insurrection" in Mark 15:7 or "uproar" in Acts 19:40. We could then render the word as "not putting down the uproar." Applying that idea to our verse here, we can say that God is not a God who idly stands by and allows lots of different voices in the church to make such uproar that no clear message gets through.

The noise of a mad, unruly crowd does not belong to God. God's way is peace. The image is not the idyllic peace of a quiet forest glen. Rather, the word "peace" focuses upon the absence of conflict and opposition. It is the peace that is a result of discipline and order (verse 40). The Gospel of peace that works in a man's heart to produce spiritual restoration with God and spiritual edification in his life works best in an environment under control, and is in that sense peaceful (I Tim. 2:2).

We can also think of this verse as saying that God does not contradict Himself. He does not speak with more than one voice, in the sense of different voices saying different things. There are not different, conflicting messages from God which result in a noise without a message or which result in argument and riot. Rather, he speaks with a message that brings peace. All of God's prophets speak with one voice, in the sense that they agree with each other. In other words, all of God's prophets are speaking the words of one God.

In a large measure, a gift reflects upon the giver. The gifts God gives to the church tell us something about Him. One thing is certain. His gifts never create confusion, because He is not a God of mindless confusion but of peace. God never comes to man with a sound without sense because what He has to say is purposeful. Some people hear the Word, understand, and are saved. Some people who hear the Word are offended and are condemned. However the words of peace are from one God who speaks with a clear message.

We can think of this verse in a more general way to mean that God is in the business of peace, that is, the peace of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is peace to all His people in the world. It is His desire to bring peace to His people throughout the world by means of the gospel of salvation. It was clear to Paul from first hand experience that confusion prevented any effective progress of the gospel (Acts 19:28-30). Therefore, we can think of the verse to mean that God would never promote any kind of confusion that would hinder the building of His Kingdom in the world, although this verse is really focusing upon a confusion of words in the church, rather than a civil anarchy.

"as in all ... saints"

If we think of these words as the final thoughts of the previous verses, the idea then would be, "The rules about tongues and prophesy which God laid down to avoid confusion, to insure order and promote edification, apply in all the churches, not just in Corinth."

If we take the final words of verse 33 to begin a sentence that continues into verse 34, then there ought to be a period after the word "peace" in verse 33. The word "as" would then begin a new sentence. That is, Paul is saying, "What I will now say about women in the church is true, no matter where you go and no matter what minister of God you hear. After all, different roles of men and women in the church is God's invention to avoid confusion."

Essentially, the idea of phrase is that God is not two faced, fickle or arbitrary. The principles He brings to His people in one part of the world are the same ones He brings to all of His people (cf. 4:17; 7:17).

Verses 34, 35

These two verses do not introduce a sudden break in the subject matter of Chapter 14. They are similar to verses 7 and 8, in that they illustrate a point in the discussion of the gift of tongues and the gift of prophesy. We can show how verses 34 and 35 fit into the flow of logic in the following way. Verse 26 states the principle, "Let all things be done unto edifying." Verses 27 and 28 give the rules for fulfilling the principle by means of the gift of tongues. Verses 29 through 32 illustrate how it can be fulfilled by means of prophesy. Verse 33 tells us why the principle and the rules exist. Verses 34 and 35 illustrate how the principle is fulfilled in the congregation composed of men and women who have been assigned different positions of authority by God. For completion, we ought to add that verses 36 through the end of the chapter face the fact that some members of the Corinthian church had made their own rules and were not content with the rules God had made.

Verse 34, "Let ... churches"

This phrase is almost identical to the phrase in verse 28, "let him keep silent in the church." By comparison then, we can conclude that women were not to exercise the gift of speaking in tongues in the worship service. Additionally, since tongues was a gift given to edify the church, and with interpretation was like prophesy, and since the gift of tongues was only exercised in the worship service, we can also conclude that women were never to speak in a tongue. That is what the next phrase states.

"for it is not permitted ... speak"

This phrase is an ellipsis. It is like saying, "John cleaned his room and Mary hers." Her what? Her room. The additional word "room" completes the thought. Similarly, the words "by means of a tongue" or "by means of prophesy" must be added to the end of the phrase to complete the thought.

We must not think that the denial of permission for woman to speak in a tongue or to prophesy is based on the strength of Paul's personal decision. The permission comes from God and not man. Why was permission not given? One thing we know for sure is that the exclusion is not based on value (Gal. 3:28). Instead, God is trying to illustrate His Gospel in the rules of the church. According to I Corinthians 11:3, there is a chain of command in which the link between man and woman illustrates the link between Christ and His people. Similarly, God's distribution of gifts highlights the different roles His people have on this earth. The issue is one of temporary delegated authority given to accomplish specific purposes. Eternity has a different economy (Matt. 22:30).

"But ... obedience"

The word "obedience" is the same Greek word that is translated "subject" in verse 32. Women have a place in the chain of command that places them authoritatively subordinate to men. The idea is that women are to be subject to God's will in His organization of the church and plan for their lives on earth.

"as also saith the law"

This phrase refers to Genesis 3:16, which is part of the law of Moses. The pertinent phrase in Genesis is "rule over thee." Once sin came, God in grace put in place the proper machinery to ...

1. Teach the Gospel in a general way by means of the man/woman relationship (Eph. 5).

2. Teach the Gospel through the structure of the church (I Cor. 11).

3. Divide the roles in which the female participated in the salvation program (I Tim. 2:11,12) and the male proclaims it in the church.

Verse 35

There is a positive contribution which women can make in the church. It is through their home. If a woman is gifted with more insight into the Word of God than her husband or other men in the congregation, she is not to begin to teach others in the church as men do. Instead, she is to use her insight in the home and be an influence there. It is God who gives understanding of His Word. He has a purpose in allowing some people to understand and other people to not understand. We can never say it is a waste for God to give a woman spiritual gifts and then limit her exercise of those gifts. God is wiser than we are and has a purpose in all that He does. He distributes gifts as He wills and never violates His other rules to make up for apparent deficiencies in His assignment of gifts.

Verse 36

With this verse, the discussion has returned its focus to the whole congregation. The discussion is no longer just about women.

"What...out from you"

The word "you" is in the genitive case. The idea of this question is, "Do you own the Gospel? Did the Gospel originate and come out of you?" The implication of the question is, "Did you make all the rules by which the Gospel works in the world? Did you invent the Gospel? Does it belong to you as your exclusive property?"

"or...you only"

The word "you" is in the accusative case. The idea of the question is, "Has the Gospel reached and ended with you?" The implication is, "Are you the only Christians in the world? Does your behavior then define what a Christian is supposed to be like?"

Together, the two question could be, "Are you the first Christians and will you be the last Christians?" The answer is, "No." The Gospel is God's. Paul is reminding them that they do not set the rules concerning how to use the gifts. According to Chapter 14, God sets the rules.

Verse 37

We can understand this verse as saying, "If a man really thinks that he is saved and has the ability to receive spiritual things, then he will understand what I write and agree that it is from the Lord (I Cor. 2:12). A spiritual believer recognizes that what Paul writes is true, the Word of God. A spiritual believer will then have the power to obey it. Again, the message is, "You do not set rules. If you are spiritual, you will understand, agree with and abide by the rules God describes through the apostle Paul."

Verse 38

The message of this verse is that if a man is not saved, he cannot receive spiritual things and so remains incapable of understanding what Paul writes. An unbeliever will dismiss, ignore, or argue. He will not obey (I Cor. 2:14).

Verses 37 and 38 recall the intent of Chapters 12 through 14. Paul said in 12:1, "I don't want you to be ignorant." Paul is not saying by this statement that his greatest desire is to have a lot of smart people in the church. The statement means that he wants all those in the church to be saved and act like it.

I Corinthians 14:38 is a hideous warning, a Gospel call in a way. Paul is not saying that if a person is an unbeliever, he is without hope. He is reminding the Corinthians that now is the day of salvation (II Cor. 6:2). A time will come when it will be impossible for people to change, and they will be ignorant forever (compare with Rev. 22:11).

Verse 39, "Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophecy"

This is not a suggestion, but a positive command. All members of the congregation should seek to edify the church. Prophesy in its widest sense is a gift common to all.

"and forbid not to speak with tongues"

This command is also the Word of God, but it does not imply that we should seek the gift of tongues. At that time, it was a legitimate gift. However, in contrast to prophesy, tongues was not a gift that people should seek. The idea is that, if someone in Corinth had the gift of tongues, no one in the congregation should forbid it, because God has purpose in it. We can think of this phrase as saying, "Do not take matters into your own hands. You do not set the rules. You do not forbid it. God will forbid it as He sees fit."

At that time God did forbid half the congregation from speaking in tongues (I Cor. 14:34). Also, he did not permit all men to exercise the gift (I Cor. 12:30). Eventually, God did forbid all men to speak with a tongue as was done by the Corinthians (Rev. 22:18).

Verse 40, "Let...order"

This is not a maxim like "neatness counts" or "a stitch in time saves nine," as if it was something nice to know and helpful to follow. It is not a handy saying. Rather, it is a command of God. Decency and order provide the best environment in which to bring the Gospel. These things are necessary to accomplish the spiritual purposes of God.

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