1 Corinthians 14
1Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
2For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.
3But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.
4One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.
5Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.
The Corinthians must pursue love above all things, yet spiritual gifts are good and desirable as well, especially prophecy because it edifies other believers to grow in Christ. It gives them revelation of God to grow in knowledge and understanding of God. Those who speak in tongues don’t speak to men but to God because no one understands, unless of course it is in their language. But for the believers gathered, a foreign tongue is a foreign language, and thus not edifying in anyway. In order for a corporate gathering to be edifying, there must be understanding, and therefore, the teaching must be in a language understandable by those gathered for worship. Even the person speaking in a tongue does so in his spirit, but the message is mysterious even to him. Yet those who prophecy give understanding to themselves and to others as God speaks through them. The prophets in the early church were there to give God’s Word which was as of yet unwritten to the people of God so that they could grow, change, mature, be comforted, and know how to live. Those who speak in a tongue edify themselves only in the sense that they experience a work of the Spirit, for they don’t even understand what they are saying. This is why an interpreter is required (1 Corinthians 14:28). Yet those who prophesy build up and strengthen the rest of the body. Thus, tongues are valuable, but prophecy is even more valuable. Paul wishes that all would speak in tongues and that more would prophesy. Perhaps the Corinthians were thinking that tongues were more valuable, and they needed to be corrected so that they put a higher emphasis on prophecy. The priority for the church is edification, which prophecy always did if it was of God, and which tongues only did if interpreted.
6But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?
7Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp?
8For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?
9So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.
10There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning.
11If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me.
12So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.
13Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.
If Paul came to visit the Corinthians, he wouldn’t be able to profit them at all if he came speaking in foreign tongues, even if it was a miraculous work of the Spirit, unless of course, his speech was interpreted. Paul clearly put a higher value and emphasis on giving the believers revelation from God (which now is fully contained in the Bible) through words of knowledge, prophecy, and teaching (teaching being the only remaining active gift- 1 Corinthians 13:8). Tongues without interpretation are merely like a musical instrument making indistinct sounds such that the melody cannot even be discerned. There is to be some kind of understanding that is given, and that requires an interpreter. Otherwise, the foreign tongue merely evaporates into the air without edifying anyone else. There are a great many languages in the world, certainly many of which hadn’t heard the gospel yet or even yet in our time, and each of them have meaning to those who understand the languages (thus, grouping this verse (v. 10) with how tongues were used in Acts (e.g. Acts 2:8), it makes sense that they were not mystery languages or ecstatic babbling speech but actual languages). Communication and edification are only possible if the languages can be understood, and this is what the church needed. Since the Corinthians were zealous for spiritual gifts, a good thing, they needed to focus on using them for the purpose of edification. Thus, if someone were to speak in a tongue, they should pray for someone to interpret (even if it is they themselves), so that they and the others could be edified.
14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.
15What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.
16Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?
17For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified.
Rather than empty-minded pagan worship which surrounding the Corinthians, Paul emphasized that the worship of God goes through the mind. It is mind-engaging rather than mind-emptying. Prayer is done in the spirit and in the mind as is singing. Prayer that is meaningless ramble with the mind tuned out is not God-honoring. Neither is singing that focuses more on feelings than the message of the words sung. The mind must be engaged in worship so that it can be edified. This is God’s desire. He wants the mind to have a fruitful experience in singing and prayer, and in this instance, in the hearts of those who spoke in tongues. Thus, an interpretation was needed. Otherwise, those who were assembled with the one speaking in tongues would not be able to agree with what was said or to bless God along with the one speaking in a tongue. In order for corporate worship to work, everyone must understand what is being said. Paul is not undermining that God is getting praise through the language spoken, but it is just that no one else is able to participate and praise God along with the one speaking in the tongue. This is not right or good.
18I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all;
19however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Paul says that he spoke in tongues more than the Corinthians did, so he is not undermining the value or purpose of tongues in this time. Yet, he is trying to demonstrate that the purpose of corporate worship is for the mind to be edified and engaged, which requires that what is being said is understandable and can benefit others. No amount of speaking in tongues can do this without an interpretation. Thus, the Corinthians needed to start valuing prophecy and teaching more than tongues.
20Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.
Paul wants the Corinthians to keep seeking to grow in their understanding of the Lord, but he wants them to be innocent when it comes to evil. The more we know about sin and evil, the more vulnerable we get. We are best to be ignorant about what sin is like, but we should be knowledgeable about what sin is and what it is not and about its devastating effects. Maturity is always God’s desire for believers (Ephesians 4:11-16).
21In the Law it is written, "BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME," says the Lord.
22So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.
23Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?
24But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all;
25the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
Paul references Isaiah 28:11-12, though putting it into words God had given him, to explain that part of the reason tongues were given was for a sign to Israel of their judgment. People of foreign tongues would speak to them, which Paul and the church did, and still they would not listen. Thus, their judgment was sure. So this leads Paul to the conclusion that tongues are not a sign to those who believe but to unbelievers. It is a sign of their condemnation for those who reject Christ and a sign of Christ for those who believe. Prophecy was a sign of Christ at work to those who believed, but it was not a sign for unbelievers. Prophecy’s purpose was for the edification of the church, therefore showing that the Spirit was alive and at work in His church. The world didn’t care to grow in truth which it rejected. But tongues were a sign to them that, when they heard the truth in their own language, they might believe (Acts 2:8). When the church gathers it is for edification, not for a bunch of chaotic foreign speech that no one understands. If an unbeliever or those who had not been gifted with tongues witnessed such an event, they might conclude that the church is full of crazy people. Thus, tongues should be given in an orderly manner with an interpretation, and prophecy needs to be the main event in the assembly of the church. Tongues are for an outward testimony and sign more than for inward edification. Prophecy could also have a benefit for unbelievers because, if they walked into a church where revelation from God was being given in an understandable and orderly way, they could be convicted of sin and call upon Christ. The truth that each person spoke in turn could add up to repentance for the listener, particularly given that part of the gift of prophecy worked to reveal things unknown. Sometimes it might be about future events (Acts 11:28), whereas in this case it might be about some secret sin of the unbeliever who was in attendance. He would hear, be convicted, and call out to God to be saved. Thus, prophecy, though not a sign for unbelievers, could still be used to effectively reach unbelievers with the truth.
26What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation Let all things be done for edification.
What should happen, then, according to Paul, is that, when the believers assemble together, there should be some of each as the Spirit leads, and all should be orderly. There should be singing, teaching (which would have been from the Old Testament), prophecy (which would have given new revelation), and tongues which should be interpreted for edification. When each left for the day, all should leave edified, having grown closer to God and deeper in the understanding of Him and His ways.
27If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret;
28but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.
When tongues are spoken in the assembly, there should be no more than two or three total instances. They should be one at a time, and there must be an interpretation for each. Tongues in the church was not a time for incoherent babbling on the part of all in attendance, but it was done for edification, one by one, and no more than two or three times. If there was no one gifted to interpret, then tongues should not be exercised in the church. Edification is the main purpose, so a person gifted in tongues could speak to himself and to God in the tongue. This would have to be silent prayer so as not to be a distraction.
29Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.
30But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent.
31For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted;
32and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets;
33for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
Similarly, there should be no more than two or three prophets which get up and speak the Word of God, exhorting the assembly to truth. The others (presumably the others gifted in prophecy) should pass judgment on what is said to make sure that it is of God, by the Spirit, and in line with what God has revealed up to that point. The one prophesying would stand and speak God’s truth, while the others would sit. But if a prophecy came to one seated, then the one standing would defer to him. Prophecy should be one by one so that all can hear, learn, be exhorted, and grow to maturity. The spirits of prophets are subject to prophets, meaning that God would give coherent and complementary words to all who are of the Spirit. Thus, one can be free to sit down and let another take over. One by one, the Word of God will get delivered in an orderly fashion without chaos and confusion. This should lead to edification, harmony, and unity if done rightly, not discord or division as had been occurring. This was to be the rule in all the churches, which presumably had the same gifts to work with and through.
34The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.
35If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.
Paul had earlier directed the women to wear headcoverings while praying or prophesying (1 Corinthians 11:5). The reason for this was to be a symbol of their inward desire to be subject to God and to their husbands. Here, his emphasis of submission is the same, just as it was back in the law when Sarah deferred to Abraham, calling him “lord” (1 Peter 3:6). Submission has been God’s plan from the beginning, and it must be respected in the coming together of the church. Now, it is true that women had the revelatory gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge just as men did as Acts 21:8-9 indicates, speaking of Philip’s daughters who were prophetesses. So it is not that women could not prophesy. It is just that they were not to prophesy during the coming together of the church for worship because men were to lead. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 says, “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” The message to Timothy is thus that women need to not teach men or lead in the church. Since a prophet’s job was often to exhort the assembly to change, such would involve instructing men, a form of leading. Thus, Paul did not want the women to be active in the leadership roles of the church, which included the teaching and prophetic roles. Women were to remain quiet during the assembly and receive instruction quietly. If they disagreed with something said, they needed to speak with their husbands afterward who could then go to the other men on her behalf if needed. If she simply had a question, he needed to be spiritually grounded enough to help answer it. If a woman was single and had no husband, then she would have to approach the elders after the service had ended. It was not that women didn’t have a right to participate in worship. It was just that they needed to give their input in the right times and places which would respect God’s design and the men. To Timothy, Paul says nothing indicating that the women cannot sing or pray. The implication is simply that they should not exercise authority over men such as calling the church to prayer, leading the church in prayer, or directing the church in singing. If they wanted to see something done differently, they needed to ask their husbands afterward. So Paul’s exhortation here to the Corinthians parallels his exhortation to Timothy that women must not take on the authoritative roles over men, they must not teach men, and they ought not to usurp the leadership roles that God has designed for men to have in the church. Women are not to use their gifts of teaching or prophesy in the church assembly, but they need to keep quiet in that respect. Elsewhere, such as when teaching other women or children or when giving prophecy outside of the corporate assembly, they could and should use their gifts. Paul just didn’t want women curtailing the service to their will and ways or speaking out of turn or in an authoritative way over the men. This would not be God-honoring. Could they sing? Yes, for God desires both women and men to edify one another in song. Ezra 2:65 recounts that Israel returned to Jerusalem with 200 male and female singers, presumably for worship (v. 70), not for mere social entertainment (see also 2 Chronicles 35:25, Nehemiah 7:67). Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 indicate that the body of Christ as a whole was to sing songs so that each could be edified. Could women pray, just not in a directing sort of way? Sure, because God desires all of His saints to pray (Ephesians 6:18), including the women (Acts 1:14). Acts 21:5 and James 5:16 seem to imply that there was occasion for women and children to pray while the body was gathered. If men lead and give the women permission to sing and pray, then they can do it, as long as they don’t do anything to disrespect the men or God. If the men grant permission for the women to share a prayer request, share a testimony, ask a question, or suggest a song, for example, this still respects the authority of the men. The key point is that the service must be led by the men, the women must be submissive, and the service must be orderly. It is not good for women to teach the men, for God calls the men to do this. But it would be a stretch to suppose that God is telling the women not to talk at all such as not to be able to discipline a child who is acting out or to respond if their husbands ask them a question. The message Paul is trying to communicate is not that women can’t make noise at all but that they must do all things in a submissive way. If they do this, things will work properly.
36Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?
Lest the Corinthians fail to cooperate with God’s will in the matter of gifts and order in the church, he rebukes them, reminding them that they are not the ones making the rules but God. God gave the Word of God, not the Corinthians, and God’s Word is for all people, not just them. Thus, they must do as God says just as the others churches must. They have no right to set their own rules.
37If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment.
38But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
Those who are spiritual or prophets must show themselves to be so by obeying the commands of God. If they do not, they must not be considered spiritual or allowed to be a prophet. No man can set up his own rules to defy God and be allowed to do so in the church.
39Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.
40But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.
Paul sums up his exhortations by reminding the Corinthians to be sure that they are orderly during their coming together for worship. They must do things according to the commands of God, and they must earnestly desire to prophesy because of its edification. Tongues should be allowed, though prophesy is more valuable simply because it is understandable and involves the mind.