1 Corinthians 14


We should earnestly desire spiritual gifts; but prophesying

is to be preferred, because it is superior to the gift of

tongues, 1, 2.

Prophesying defined, 3.

How to regulate this supernatural gift of tongues, in teaching

for the edification of the Church, 4-13.

In praying and giving thanks, 14-17.

Those who speak with tongues should interpret that others may

be edified, 18-22

What benefit may accrue from this in the public assemblies,


How the prophets or teachers should act in the Church, 29-33.

Women should keep silence in the church, 34, 35.

All should be humble, and every thing should be done in love,



Verse 1. Follow after charity] Most earnestly labour to be

put in possession of that love which beareth, believeth, hopeth,

and endureth all things. It may be difficult to acquire, and

difficult to retain this blessed state, but it is essential to

your present peace and eternal happiness. This clause belongs to

the preceding chapter.

Desire spiritual gifts] Ye are very intent on getting those

splendid gifts which may add to your worldly consequence, and

please your carnal minds-but labour rather to get the gifts of

God's Spirit, by which ye may grow in grace, and be useful to

others-and particularly desire that ye may prophesy-that ye may be

able to teach and instruct others in the things of their


Verse 2. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue] This

chapter is crowded with difficulties. It is not likely that the

Holy Spirit should, in the church, suddenly inspire a man with the

knowledge of some foreign language, which none in the church

understood but himself; and lead him to treat the mysteries of

Christianity in that language, though none in the place could

profit by his teaching.

Dr. Lightfoot's mode of reconciling these difficulties is the

most likely I have met with. He supposes that by the unknown

tongue the Hebrew is meant, and that God restored the true

knowledge of this language when he gave the apostles the gift of

tongues. As the Scriptures of the Old Testament were contained in

this language, and it has beauties, energies, and depths in it

which no verbal translation can reach, it was necessary, for the

proper elucidation of the prophecies concerning the Messiah, and

the establishment of the Christian religion, that the full meaning

of the words of this sacred language should be properly

understood. And it is possible that the Hebrew Scriptures were

sometimes read in the Christian congregations as they were in the

Jewish synagogues; and if the person who read and understood them

had not the power and faculty of explaining them to others, in

vain did he read and understand them himself. And we know that it

is possible for a man to understand a language, the force,

phraseology, and idioms of which he is incapable of explaining

even in his mother tongue. We shall see, in the course of these

notes, how this view of the subject will apply to the illustration

of the apostle's words throughout the chapter.

Speaketh not unto men, but unto God] None present

understanding the language, God alone knowing the truth and import

of what he says:-

In the spirit he speaketh mysteries.] Though his own mind (for

so πνευματι is understood here by many eminent critics) apprehends

the mysteries contained in the words which he reads or utters; but

if, by the spirit, we understand the Spirit of God, it only shows

that it is by that Spirit that he is enabled to speak and

apprehend these mysteries. See Clarke on 1Co 14:19.

Verse 3. But he that prophesieth] The person who has the gift

of teaching is much more useful to the Church than he is who has

only the gift of tongues, because he speaks to the profit of men:

viz. to their edification, by the Scriptures he expounds; to their

exhortation, by what he teaches; and to their comfort, by his

revelation.-Whitby. I must here refer to my sermon on this text,

intitled, "The Christian Prophet and his Work," in which I have

endeavoured to consider the whole of this subject at large.

Verse 4. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue] In the Hebrew

for instance, the knowledge of the depth and power of which he has

got by a Divine revelation, edifieth himself by that knowledge.

But he that prophesieth] Has the gift of preaching.

Edifieth the Church.] Speaketh unto men to edification,

exhortation, and comfort, 1Co 14:3.

Verse 5. I would that ye all spake with tongues] The word

θελω does not so much imply a wish or desire, as a command or

permission. As if he had said: I do not restrain you to

prophesying or teaching though I prefer that; but I give you full

permission to speak in Hebrew whenever it is proper, and when one

is present who can interpret for the edification of the Church,

provided yourselves have not that gift, though you understand the

language. The apostle said tongue, in the singular number,

1Co 14:2, 4,

because he spoke of a single man; now he says tongues, in the

plural number, because he speaks of many speaking; but he has the

same meaning in both places.-Lightfoot.

Greater is he that prophesieth] A useful, zealous preacher,

though unskilled in learned languages, is much greater in the

sight of God, and in the eye of sound common sense, than he who

has the gift of those learned tongues; except he interpret: and we

seldom find great scholars good preachers. This should humble the

scholar, who is too apt to be proud of his attainments, and

despise his less learned but more useful brother. This judgment

of St. Paul is too little regarded.

Verse 6. Speaking with tongues] Without interpreting.

What shall I profit you?] i.e. I shall not profit you;

Except I shall speak to you either by revelation] Of some

secret thing; or by knowledge, of some mystery; or by prophesying,

foretelling some future event; or by doctrine, instructing you

what to believe and practise.-See Whitby. These four words are

taken in different acceptations by learned men. The general sense

of the terms is that given above: but the peculiar meaning of the

apostle is perhaps not easily discerned.

Verse 7. And even things without life] I may, as if he had

said, illustrate this farther by referring to a pipe or harp; if

these were to utter mere sounds without order, harmony, or melody,

though every tone of music might be in the sounds, surely no

person could discern a tune in such sounds, nor receive pleasure

from such discords: even so is the person who speaks in an unknown

tongue, but does not interpret. His speech tends no more to

edification than those discordant and unmeaning sounds do to

pleasure and delight.

Verse 8. If the trumpet give an uncertain sound] If, when the

soldier should prepare himself for the battle, the trumpet should

give a different sound to that which is ordinarily used on such

occasions, the soldier is not informed of what he should do, and

therefore does not arm himself; consequently, that vague,

unintelligible sound of the trumpet, is of no use.

Verse 9. Likewise ye] If ye do not speak in the Church so as

to be understood, your labour is useless; ye shall speak into the

air-your speech will be lost and dissipated in the air, without

conveying any meaning to any person: there will be a noise or

sound, but nothing else. Gifts of that kind, thus used, are good

for nothing.

Verse 10. There are, it may be] ειτυχοι, For example.

So many kinds of voices] So many different languages, each of

which has its distinct articulation, pronunciation, emphasis, and

meaning; or there may be so many different nations, each

possessing a different language, &c.

Verse 11. If I know not the meaning of the voice] τηνδυναμις

τηςφωνης, The power and signification of the language.

I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian] I shall appear

to him, and he to me, as a person who had no distinct and

articulate sounds which can convey any kind of meaning. This

observation is very natural: when we hear persons speaking in a

language of which we know nothing, we wonder how they can

understand each other, as, in their speech, there appears to us no

regular distinction of sounds or words. For the meaning and

origin of the word barbarian, See Clarke on Ac 28:2.

Verse 12. For as much as ye are zealous] Seeing ye affect so

much to have spiritual gifts, seek that ye may get those by which

ye may excel in edifying the Church.

Verse 13. Pray that he may interpret.] Let him who speaks or

reads the prophetic declarations in the Old Testament, in that

tongue in which they were originally spoken and written, pray to

God that he may so understand them himself, and receive the gift

of interpretation, that he may be able to explain them in all

their depth and latitude to others.

Verse 14. For if I pray in an unknown tongue] If my prayers

are composed of sentences and sayings taken out of the prophets,

&c., and in their own language-my spirit prayeth, my heart is

engaged in the work, and my prayers answer all the purpose of

prayers to myself; but my understanding is unfruitful to all

others, because they do not understand my prayers, and I either do

not or cannot interpret them. See Clarke on 1Co 14:19.

Verse 16. He that occupieth the room of the unlearned] One

who is not acquainted with the language in which you speak, sing,

or pray.

Say Amen] Give his assent and ratification to what he does not

understand. It was very frequent in primitive times to express

their approbation in the public assemblies by Amen. This

practice, soberly and piously conducted, might still be of great

use in the Church of Christ.

This response was of the highest authority and merit among the

Jews; they even promised the remission of all sins, the

annihilation of the sentence of damnation, and the opening of the

gates of paradise, to those who fervently say Amen. And it is one

of their maxims that "greater is he who says Amen than he who

prays." See many testimonies of this kind in Schoettgen. Now,

allowing that this was of so much consequence in tho time of St.

Paul, it was a very serious matter for a person to be in a

congregation where prayer was offered, who could not say Amen,

because the prayers were in a language which he did not


Verse 17. Thou verily givest thanks well] Because he felt

gratitude, and, from a sense of his obligation, gave praise to

God; but because this was in an unknown tongue, those who heard

him received no edification.

Verse 18. I speak with tongues more than ye all] He

understood more languages than any of them did: and this was

indispensably necessary, as he was the apostle of the Gentiles in

general, and had to preach to different provinces where different

dialects, if not languages, were used. In the Hebrew, Syriac,

Greek, and Latin, he was undoubtedly well skilled from his

education; and how many he might understand by miraculous gift we

cannot tell. But, even literally understood, it is very probable

that he knew more languages than any man in the Church of Corinth.

Verse 19. Yet in the church] As the grand object of public

worship is the edification of those who attend, five words spoken

so as to convey edification, were of much more consequence than

ten thousand which, not being understood, could convey none. By

the word γλωσση, tongue, to which we add unknown, I suppose the

apostle always means the Hebrew, for the reasons offered in

Clarke's note on "1Co 14:1".

One of the greatest difficulties, says Bishop Pearce, in this

epistle is contained in the words πνευμα and νους, spirit and

understanding, which are frequently used in this chapter; and

fixing the true meaning of these words will solve the difficulty.

In this verse the apostle explains λαλειντωςοι, to speak with

the understanding, by ινααλλουςκατηχησω, that I might teach

others; so that the sense of νους, understanding, seems to be,

that understanding which the hearer has of what is said; and this

sense will agree well with, I will sing with the spirit, and with

the understanding, 1Co 14:15.

He observes also that πνευμα spirit, and νους, understanding,

have a sense opposite to each other; so that if νους is rightly

rendered, the understanding which another has of what is said;

then πνευμα will signify a man's own mind, i.e. his own

understanding of what he himself speaks; and this sense agrees

well with 1Co 14:2:

In the spirit he speaketh mysteries.

Verse 20. Be not children in understanding] There are three

words here to which we must endeavour to affix the proper sense.

1. παιδια signifies children in general, but particularly such as

are grown up, so as to be fit to send to school in order to

receive instruction; 2. νηπιος, from νη, not, and ειπω,

I speak, signifies an infant; one that cannot yet speak, and is

in the lowest stage of infancy; 3. τελειοι, from τελεω, I complete

or perfect, signifies those who are arrived at perfect maturity,

both of growth and understanding. We shall now see the apostle's

meaning: Brethren, be not, παιδια, as little children, just

beginning to go to school, in order to learn the first elements of

their mother tongue, and with an understanding only sufficient to

apprehend those elements.

In malice] κακια, In wickedness, νηπιαζετε, be ye as

infants, who neither speak, do, nor purpose evil.

But in understanding] τελειοιγινεσθε, Be ye perfect men,

whose vigour of body, and energy of mind show a complete

growth, and a well cultivated understanding.

Verse 21. In the law it is written] But the passage quoted is

in Isa 28:11. Here is no contradiction, for the term

torah, LAW, was frequently used by the Jews to express the whole

Scriptures, law, prophets, and hagiographia; and they used it to

distinguish these sacred writings from the words of the scribes.

With men of other tongues] Bishop Pearce paraphrases this

verse as follows: "With the tongues of foreigners and with the

lips of foreigners will I speak to this people; and yet, for all

that, will they not hear me, saith the Lord." To enter into the

apostle's meaning we must enter into that of the prophet. The

Jewish people were under the teaching of the prophets who were

sent from God; these instructed, reproved, and corrected them by

this Divine authority. They however became so refractory and

disobedient that God purposed to cast them off, and abandon them

to the Babylonians: then, they had a people to teach, correct, and

reprove them, whose language they did not understand. The

discipline that they received in this way was widely different

from that which they received while under the teaching of the

prophets and the government of God; and yet for all this they did

not humble themselves before their Maker that this affliction

might be removed from them.

Verse 22. Wherefore tongues are for a sign] The miraculous

gift of tongues was never designed for the benefit of those who

have already believed, but for the instruction of unbelievers,

that they might see from such a miracle that this is the work of

God; and so embrace the Gospel. But as, in the times of the

prophet, the strange Babylonish tongues came in the way of

punishment, and not in the way of mercy; take heed that it be not

the case now: that, by dwelling on the gift, ye forget the Giver;

and what was designed for you as a blessing, may prove to you to

be a curse. For if, because ye have the gift of tongues, ye will

choose for your own aggrandizement to use them in the public

congregation where none understands them, God may curse your


Prophesying] Teaching the things of God in a known language is

of infinitely more consequence than speaking in all the foreign

tongues in the universe.

Verse 23. Will they not say that ye are mad?] So they well

might, finding a whole assembly of people talking languages which

those who had most need of instruction could not understand.

Verse 24. But if all prophecy] If all those who teach do it

in the tongue which all understand; if an unbeliever, or one who

knows nothing of the sacred language, come in and hear things just

suited to his own state, he is convicted by all, and he is judged

by all.

Verse 25. And thus are the secrets of his heart] As these,

who were the prophets or teachers, had often the discernment of

spirits, they were able in certain cases, and probably very

frequently, to tell a man the secrets of his own heart; and, where

this was not directly the case, God often led his ministers to

speak those things that were suitable to the case before them,

though they themselves had no particular design. The sinner,

therefore, convinced that God alone could uncover the secrets of

his heart, would be often obliged to fall down on his face,

abashed and confounded, and acknowledge that God was truly among

them. This seems to be the plain meaning of the passages before


Verse 26. How is it-every one of you hath a psalm, &c.] Dr.

Lightfoot understands this in the following manner: When the

congregation came together, some were for spending the time in

psalmody; others in explaining particular doctrines; others in

reading, praying, or speaking in the Hebrew tongue; others were

curious to hear of farther revelations; and others wished to spend

the time in the interpretation of what had already been spoken.

This may be specious, but to me it is not satisfactory. It seems

more likely that, when the whole Church came together, among whom

there were many persons with extraordinary gifts, each of them

wished to put himself forward, and occupy the time and attention

of the congregation: hence confusion must necessarily take place,

and perhaps not a little contention. This was contrary to that

edifying which was the intention of these gifts.

Verse 27. Speak in an unknown tongue] The Hebrew, as has

already been conjectured.

Let it be by two; or at the most by three, and that by course]

Let only two or three in one assembly act in this way, that too

much time may not be taken up with one exercise; and let this be

done by course, the one after the other, that two may not be

speaking at the same time: and let one interpret for all that

shall thus speak.

Verse 28. But if there be no interpreter] If there be none

present who can give the proper sense of this Hebrew reading and

speaking, then let him keep silence, and not occupy the time of

the Church, by speaking in a language which only himself can


Verse 29. Let the prophets] Those who have the gift of

speaking to men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort;

1Co 14:3.

Two or three] As prophesying implied psalmody, teaching, and

exhortation, Dr. Lightfoot thinks that the meaning of the place is

this: Let one sing who has a psalm; let another teach who has a

doctrine; and let a third exhort, or comfort, who has a gift of

that kind.

And let the other judge.] The other prophets, or qualified

persons, judge of the propriety of what had been spoken; or let

them discern, διακριντωσαν, how the revelation under the new

covenant confirmed and illustrated the revelation granted under

the Old Testament. It appears to have been taken for granted,

that a man might pretend to this spirit of prophecy who was not

sent of God; and therefore it was the duty of the accredited

teachers to examine whether what he spoke was according to truth,

and the analogy of faith. For the spirits of the prophets are

subject to the prophets; every man's gift was to be judged of by

those whose age, experience, and wisdom, gave them a right to

decide. Besides, though the person who did speak might do it from

an impulse of God, yet, if he was not sufficiently known, his

testimony ought to be received with caution; and therefore the

aged prophets should judge of his gift, lest false doctrines

should slide into the Church.

But all these provisions, as Schoettgen justly observes, were

in imitation of the practice in the Jewish synagogues; for there

it was customary for them to object, interrogate, judge, refute,


Verse 30. Be revealed to another that sitteth by] Probably

those who were teachers sat on a particular seat, or place, from

which they might most readily address the people; and this may be

the meaning of sitting by. If such a person could say, I have

just received a particular revelation from God, then let him have

the liberty immediately to speak it; as it might possibly relate

to the circumstances of that time and place.

Verse 31. For ye may all prophesy one by one] The gifts which

God grants are given for the purpose of edification; but there can

be no edification where there is confusion; therefore let them

speak one by one.

Verse 32. And the spirits of the prophets, &c.] Let no one

interrupt another; and let all be ready to prefer others before

themselves; and let each feel a spirit of subjection to his

brethren. God grants no ungovernable gifts.

Verse 33. For God is not the author of confusion] Let not the

persons who act in the congregation in this disorderly manner,

say, that they are under the influence of God; for he is not the

author of confusion; but two, three, or more, praying or teaching

in the same place, at the same time, is confusion; and God is not

the author of such work; and let men beware how they attribute

such disorder to the God of order and peace. The apostle calls

such conduct ακαταστασια, tumult, sedition; and such it is in the

sight of God, and in the sight of all good men. How often is a

work of God marred and discredited by the folly of men! for nature

will always, and Satan too, mingle themselves as far as they can

in the genuine work of the Spirit, in order to discredit and

destroy it. Nevertheless, in great revivals of religion it is

almost impossible to prevent wild-fire from getting in amongst the

true fire; but it is the duty of the ministers of God to watch

against and prudently check this; but if themselves encourage it,

then there will be confusion and every evil work.

Verse 34. Let your women keep silence in the churches] This

was a Jewish ordinance; women were not permitted to teach in the

assemblies, or even to ask questions. The rabbins taught that "a

woman should know nothing but the use of her distaff." And the

sayings of Rabbi Eliezer, as delivered, Bammidbar Rabba, sec. 9,

fol. 204, are both worthy of remark and of execration; they are

these: yisrephu dibrey torah veal

yimsaru lenashim, "Let the words of the law be burned, rather than

that they should be delivered to women."

This was their condition till the time of the Gospel, when,

according to the prediction of Joel, the Spirit of God was to be

poured out on the women as well as the men, that they might

prophesy, i.e. teach. And that they did prophesy or teach

is evident from what the apostle says, 1Co 11:5, where he lays

down rules to regulate this part of their conduct while

ministering in the church.

But does not what the apostle says here contradict that

statement, and show that the words in chap. 11 should be

understood in another sense? For, here it is expressly said that

they should keep silence in the church; for it was not permitted

to a woman to speak. Both places seem perfectly consistent. It

is evident from the context that the apostle refers here to asking

questions, and what we call dictating in the assemblies. It was

permitted to any man to ask questions, to object, altercate,

attempt to refute, &c., in the synagogue; but this liberty was not

allowed to any woman. St. Paul confirms this in reference also to

the Christian Church; he orders them to keep silence; and, if they

wished to learn any thing, let them inquire of their husbands at

home; because it was perfectly indecorous for women to be

contending with men in public assemblies, on points of doctrine,

cases of conscience, &c. But this by no means intimated that when

a woman received any particular influence from God to enable her

to teach, that she was not to obey that influence; on the

contrary, she was to obey it, and the apostle lays down directions

in chap. 11 for regulating her personal appearance when thus

employed. All that the apostle opposes here is their questioning,

finding fault, disputing, &c., in the Christian Church, as the

Jewish men were permitted to do in their synagogues; together with

the attempts to usurp any authority over the man, by setting up

their judgment in opposition to them; for the apostle has in view,

especially, acts of disobedience, arrogance, &c., of which no

woman would be guilty who was under the influence of the Spirit of


But-to be under obedience, as also saith the law.] This is a

reference to Ge 3:16:

Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

From this it is evident that it was the disorderly and disobedient

that the apostle had in view; and not any of those on whom God had

poured out his Spirit.

Verse 35. For it is a shame for women to speak in the church.]

The Jews would not suffer a woman to read in the synagogue; though

a servant or even a child, had this permission; but the apostle

refers to irregular conduct, such conduct as proved that they were

not under obedience, 1Co 14:34.

Verse 36. Came the word of God out from you?] Was it from you

that other Churches received the Gospel? Are you the mother

Church? that you should have rules, and orders, and customs,

different from all others; and set yourselves up for a model to be

copied by all the Churches of Christ?

Or came it unto you only?] Are you the only Church of God?

Are there not many others founded before you that have no such

customs, and permit no such disorders?

Verse 37. If any man think himself to be a prophet, &c.] He

who is really a spiritual man, under the influence of the Spirit

of God, and capable of teaching the Divine will, he will

acknowledge that what I now say is from the same Spirit; and that

the things which I now write are the commandments of God, and must

be obeyed on pain of his displeasure.

Verse 38. But if any man be ignorant] If he affect to be so,

or pretend that he is ignorant; let him be ignorant-let him be so

at his peril.

Verse 39. Covet to prophesy] Let it be your endeavour and

prayer to be able to teach the way of God to the ignorant; this is

the most valuable, because the most useful gift of the Spirit.

And forbid not to speak with tongues.] Let every gift have its

own place and operation; let none envy another; nor prevent him

from doing that part of the work to which God, by giving the

qualification, has evidently called him.

Verse 40. Let all things be done decently] ευσξημονως. In

their proper forms; with becoming reverence; according to their

dignity and importance, Every thing in the Church of God should be

conducted with gravity and composure, suitable to the importance

of the things, the infinite dignity of the object of worship, and

the necessity of the souls in behalf of which those religious

ordinances are instituted.

And in order.] καταταξιν. Every thing in its place, every

thing in its time, and every thing suitably.

Let all things be done decently and in order, is a direction of

infinite moment in all the concerns of religion, and of no small

consequence in all the concerns of life. How much pain,

confusion, and loss would be prevented, were this rule followed!

There is scarcely an embarrassment in civil or domestic life that

does not originate in a neglect of this precept. No business,

trade, art, or science, can be carried on to any advantage or

comfort, unless peculiar attention be paid to it. And as to

religion, there can be absolutely none without it. Where decency

and order are not observed in every part of the worship of God, no

spiritual worship can be performed. The manner of doing a thing

is always of as much consequence as the act itself. And often the

act derives all its consequence and utility from the manner in

which it is performed.

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