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Print Version Main Index : Commentaries : JFB Commentary : 1st Corinthians Index : Chapter 14

1st Corinthians, Chapter 14
Chapter 13 | Chapter 15
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Matthew Henry
JFB Commentary
Wesley's Notes
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      1. Follow after charity--as your first and chief aim, seeing that it is "the greatest" (1Co 13:13).
      and desire--Translate, "Yet (as a secondary aim) desire zealously (see on 1Co 12:31) spiritual gifts."
      but rather--"but chiefly that ye may prophesy" (speak and exhort under inspiration) (Pr 29:18 Ac 13:1 1Th 5:20), whether as to future events, that is, strict prophecy, or explaining obscure parts of Scripture, especially the prophetical Scriptures or illustrating and setting forth questions of Christian doctrine and practice. Our modern preaching is the successor of prophecy, but without the inspiration. Desire zealously this (prophecy) more than any other spiritual gift; or in preference to "tongues" (1Co 14:2, &c.) [BENGEL].

      2. speaketh . . . unto God--who alone understands all languages.
      no man understandeth--generally speaking; the few who have the gift of interpreting tongues are the exception.
      in the spirit--as opposed to "the understanding" (1Co 14:14).
      mysteries--unintelligible to the hearers, exciting their wonder, rather than instructing them. Corinth, being a mart resorted to by merchants from Asia, Africa, and Europe, would give scope amidst its mixed population for the exercise of the gift of tongues; but its legitimate use was in an audience understanding the tongue of the speaker, not, as the Corinthians abused it, in mere display.

      3. But--on the other hand.
      edification--of which the two principal species given are "exhortation" to remove sluggishness, "comfort" or consolation to remove sadness [BENGEL]. Omit "to."

      4. edifieth himself--as he understands the meaning of what the particular "tongue" expresses; but "the church," that is, the congregation, does not.

      5. Translate, "Now I wish you all to speak with tongues (so far am I from thus speaking through having any objection to tongues), but rather IN ORDER THAT (as my ulterior and higher wish for you) ye should prophesy." Tongues must therefore mean languages, not ecstatic, unintelligible rhapsodie (as NEANDER fancied): for Paul could never "wish" for the latter in their behalf.
      greater--because more useful.
      except he interpret--the unknown tongue which he speaks, "that the Church may receive edifying (building up)."

      6. Translate, "But now"; seeing there is no edification without interpretation.
      revelation . . . prophesying--corresponding one to the other; "revelation" being the supernatural unveiling of divine truths to man, "prophesying" the enunciation to men of such revelations. So "knowledge" corresponds to "doctrine," which is the gift of teaching to others our knowledge. As the former pair refers to specially revealed mysteries, so the latter pair refers to the general obvious truths of salvation, brought from the common storehouse of believers.

      7. Translate, "And things without life-giving sound, whether pipe or harp, YET (notwithstanding their giving sound) if they give not a distinction in the tones (that is, notes) how?" &c.
      what is piped or harped--that is, what tune is played on the pipe or harp.

      8. Translate, "For if also," an additional step in the argument.
      uncertain sound--having no definite meaning: whereas it ought to be so. marked that one succession of notes on the trumpet should summon the soldiers to attack; another, to retreat; another, to some other evolution.

      9. So . . . ye--who have life; as opposed to "things without life" (1Co 14:7).
      by the tongue--the language which ye speak in.
      ye shall speak--Ye will be speaking into the air, that is, in vain (1Co 9:26).

      10. it may be--that is, perhaps, speaking by conjecture. "It may chance" (1Co 15:37).
      so many--as may be enumerated by investigators of such matters. Compare "so much," used generally for a definite number left undefined (Ac 5:8; also 2Sa 12:8).
      kinds of voices--kinds of articulate speech.
      without signification--without articulate voice (that is, distinct meaning). None is without its own voice, or mode of speech, distinct from the rest.

      11. Therefore--seeing that none is without meaning.
      a barbarian--a foreigner (Ac 28:2). Not in the depreciatory sense as the term is now used, but one speaking a foreign language.

      12. zealous--emulously desirous.
      spiritual gifts--literally, "spirits"; that is, emanations from the one Spirit.
      seek that ye may excel to--Translate, "Seek them, that ye may abound in them to the edifying," &c.

      13. Explain, "Let him who speaketh with a tongue [unknown] in his prayer (or, when praying) strive that he may interpret" [ALFORD]. This explanation of "pray" is needed by its logical connection with "prayer in an unknown tongue" (1Co 14:14). Though his words be unintelligible to his hearers, let him in them pray that he may obtain the gift of interpreting, which will make them "edifying" to "the church" (1Co 14:12).

      14. spirit--my higher being, the passive object of the Holy Spirit's operations, and the instrument of prayer in the unknown tongue, distinguished from the "understanding," the active instrument of thought and reasoning; which in this case must be "unfruitful" in edifying others, since the vehicle of expression is unintelligible to them. On the distinction of soul or mind and spirit, see Eph 4:23 Heb 4:12.

      15. What is it then?--What is my determination thereupon?
      and--rather as Greek, "but"; I will not only pray with my spirit, which (1Co 14:14) might leave the understanding unedified, BUT with the understanding also [ALFORD and ELLICOTT].
      pray with the understanding also--and, by inference, I will keep silence altogether if I cannot pray with the understanding (so as to make myself understood by others). A prescient warning, mutatis mutandis, against the Roman and Greek practice of keeping liturgies in dead languages, which long since have become unintelligible to the masses; though their forefathers spoke them at a time when those liturgies were framed for general use.

      16. Else . . . thou--He changes from the first person, as he had just expressed his own resolution, "I will pray with the understanding," whatever "thou" doest.
      bless--the highest kind of prayer.
      occupieth the room of the unlearned--one who, whatever other gifts he may possess, yet, as wanting the gift of interpretation, is reduced by the speaking in an unknown tongue to the position of one unlearned, or "a private person."
      say Amen--Prayer is not a vicarious duty done by others for us; as in Rome's liturgies and masses. We must join with the leader of the prayers and praises of the congregation, and say aloud our responsive "Amen" in assent, as was the usage of the Jewish (De 27:15-26 Ne 8:6) and Christian primitive churches [JUSTIN MARTYR, Apology, 2. 97].

      17. givest thanks--The prayers of the synagogue were called "eulogies," because to each prayer was joined a thanksgiving. Hence the prayers of the Christian Church also were called blessings and giving of thanks. This illustrates Col 4:2 1Th 5:17,18. So the Kaddisch and Keduscha, the synagogue formulæ of "hallowing" the divine "name" and of prayer for the "coming of God's kingdom," answer to the Church's Lord's Prayer, repeated often and made the foundation on which the other prayers are built [TERTULLIAN, Prayer].

      18. tongues--The oldest manuscripts have the singular, "in a tongue [foreign]."

      19. I had rather--The Greek verb more literally expresses this meaning, "I WISH to speak five words with my understanding (rather) than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue"; even the two thousandth part of ten thousand. The Greek for "I would rather," would be a different verb. Paul would NOT wish at all to speak "ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."

      20. Brethren--an appellation calculated to conciliate their favorable reception of his exhortation.
      children in understanding--as preference of gifts abused to nonedification would make you (compare 1Co 3:1 Mt 10:16 Ro 16:19 Eph 4:14). The Greek for "understanding" expresses the will of one's spirit, Ro 8:6 (it is not found elsewhere); as the "heart" is the will of the "soul." The same Greek is used for "minded" in Ro 8:6.
      men--full-grown. Be childlike, not childish.

      21. In the law--as the whole Old Testament is called, being all of it the law of God. Compare the citation of the Psalms as the "law," Joh 10:34. Here the quotation is from Isa 28:11,12, where God virtually says of Israel, This people hear Me not, though I speak to. them in the language with which they are familiar; I will therefore speak to them in other tongues, namely, those of the foes whom I will send against them; but even then they will not hearken to Me; which Paul thus applies, Ye see that it is a penalty to be associated with men of a strange tongue, yet ye impose this on the Church [GROTIUS]; they who speak in foreign tongues are like "children" just "weaned from the milk" (Isa 28:9), "with stammering lips" speaking unintelligibly to the hearers, appearing ridiculous (Isa 28:14), or as babbling drunkards (Ac 2:13), or madmen (1Co 14:23).

      22. Thus from Isaiah it appears, reasons Paul, that "tongues" (unknown and uninterpreted) are not a sign mainly intended for believers (though at the conversion of Cornelius and the Gentiles with him, tongues were vouchsafed to him and them to confirm their faith), but mainly to be a condemnation to those, the majority, who, like Israel in Isaiah's day, reject the sign and the accompanying message. Compare "yet . . . will they not hear Me" (1Co 14:21). "Sign" is often used for a condemnatory sign (Eze 4:3,4 Mt 12:39-42). Since they will not understand, they shall not understand.
      prophesying . . . not for them that believe not, but . . . believe--that is, prophesying has no effect on them that are radically and obstinately like Israel (Isa 28:11,12), unbelievers, but on them that are either in receptivity or in fact believers; it makes believers of those not wilfully unbelievers (1Co 14:24,25 Ro 10:17), and spiritually nourishes those that already believe.

      23. whole . . . all . . . tongues--The more there are assembled, and the more that speak in unknown tongues, the more will the impression be conveyed to strangers "coming in" from curiosity ("unbelievers"), or even from a better motive ("unlearned"), that the whole body of worshippers is a mob of fanatical "madmen"; and that "the Church is like the company of builders of Babel after the confusion of tongues, or like the cause tried between two deaf men before a deaf judge, celebrated in the Greek epigram" [GROTIUS].
      unlearned--having some degree of faith, but not gifts [BENGEL].

      24. all--one by one (1Co 14:31).
      prophesy--speak the truth by the Spirit intelligibly, and not in unintelligible tongues.
      one--"anyone." Here singular; implying that this effect, namely, conviction by all, would be produced on anyone, who might happen to enter. In 1Co 14:23 the plural is used; "unlearned or unbelievers"; implying that however many there might be, not one would profit by the tongues; yea, their being many would confirm them in rejecting the sign, as many unbelieving men together strengthen one another in unbelief; individuals are more easily won [BENGEL].
      convinced--convicted in conscience; said of the "one that believeth not" (Joh 16:8,9).
      judged--His secret character is opened out. "Is searched into" [ALFORD]. Said of the "one unlearned" (compare 1Co 2:15).

      25. And thus--omitted in the oldest manuscripts and versions.
      secrets of his heart made manifest--He sees his own inner character opened out by the sword of the Spirit (Heb 4:12 Jas 1:23), the word of God, in the hand of him who prophesieth. Compare the same effect produced on Nebuchadnezzar (Da 2:30 and end of Da 2:47). No argument is stronger for the truth of religion than its manifestation of men to themselves in their true character. Hence hearers even now often think the preacher must have aimed his sermon particularly at them.
      and so--convicted at last, judged, and manifested to himself. Compare the effect on the woman of Samaria produced by Jesus' unfolding of her character to herself (Joh 4:19,29).
      and report--to his friends at home, as the woman of Samaria did. Rather, as the Greek is, "He will worship God, announcing," that is, openly avowing then and there, "that God is in you of a truth," and by implication that the God who is in you is of a truth the God.


      26. How is it then?--rather, "What then is the true rule to be observed as to the use of gifts?" Compare 1Co 14:15, where the same Greek occurs.
      a psalm--extemporary, inspired by the Spirit, as that of Mary, Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna (Lu 1:46-55,67-79 2:34-38).
      a doctrine--to impart and set forth to the congregation.
      a tongue . . . a revelation--The oldest manuscripts transpose the order: "revelation . . . tongue"; "interpretation" properly following "tongue" (1Co 14:13).
      Let all things be done unto edifying--The general rule under which this particular case fails; an answer to the question at the beginning of this verse. Each is bound to obey the ordinances of his church not adverse to Scripture. See Article XXXIV, Church of England Prayer Book.

      27. let it be by two--at each time, in one assembly; not more than two or three might speak with tongues at each meeting.
      by course--in turns.
      let one interpret--one who has the gift of interpreting tongues; and not more than one.

      28. let him--the speaker in unknown tongues.
      speak to himself, and to God--(compare 1Co 14:2,4)--privately and not in the hearing of others.

      29. two or three--at one meeting (he does not add "at the most," as in 1Co 14:27, lest he should seem to "quench prophesyings," the most edifying of gifts), and these "one by one," in turn (1Co 14:27, "by course," and 1Co 14:31). Paul gives here similar rules to the prophets, as previously to those speaking in unknown tongues.
      judge--by their power of "discerning spirits" (1Co 12:10), whether the person prophesying was really speaking under the influence of the Spirit (compare 1Co 12:3 1Jo 4:13).

      30. If any thing--Translate, "But if any thing."
      another that sitteth by--a hearer.
      let the first hold his peace--Let him who heretofore spoke, and who came to the assembly furnished with a previous ordinary (in those times) revelation from God (1Co 14:26), give place to him who at the assembly is moved to prophesy by a sudden revelation from the Spirit.

      31. For ye may--rather, "For ye can [if ye will] all prophesy one by one," giving way to one another. The "for" justifies the precept (1Co 14:30), "let the first hold his peace."

      32. And--following up the assertion in 1Co 14:31, "Ye can (if ye will) prophesy one by one," that is, restrain yourselves from speaking all together; "and the spirits of the prophets," that is, their own spirits, acted on by the Holy Spirit, are not so hurried away by His influence, as to cease to be under their own control; they can if they will hear others, and not demand that they alone should be heard uttering communications from God.

      33. In all the churches of the saints God is a God of peace; let Him not among you be supposed to be a God of confusion [ALFORD]. Compare the same argument in 1Co 11:16. LACHMANN and others put a full stop at "peace," and connect the following words thus: "As in all churches of the saints, let your women keep silence in your churches."

      34. (1Ti 2:11,12). For women to speak in public would be an act of independence, as if they were not subject to their husbands (compare 1Co 11:3 Eph 5:22 Tit 2:5 1Pe 3:1). For "under obedience," translate, "in subjection" or "submission," as the Greek is translated (Eph 5:21,22,24).
      the law--a term applied to the whole Old Testament; here, Ge 3:16.

      35. Anticipation of an objection. Women may say, "But if we do not understand something, may we not 'ask' a question publicly so as to 'learn'? Nay, replies Paul, if you want information, 'ask' not in public, but 'at home'; ask not other men, but 'your own particular (so the Greek) husbands.'"

      36. What!--Greek, "Or." Are you about to obey me? Or, if you set up your judgment above that of other churches. I wish to know, do you pretend that your church is the first church FROM which the gospel word came, that you should give the law to all others? Or are you the only persons In, fro whom it has come?

      37. prophet--the species.
      spiritual--the genus: spiritually endowed. The followers of Apollos prided themselves as "spiritual" (1Co 3:1-3; compare Ga 6:1). Here one capable of discerning spirits is specially meant.
      things that I write . . . commandments of the Lord--a direct assertion of inspiration. Paul's words as an apostle are Christ's words. Paul appeals not merely to one or two, but to a body of men, for the reality of three facts about which no body of men could possibly be mistaken: (1) that his having converted them was not due to mere eloquence, but to the "demonstration of the Spirit and of power"; (2) that part of this demonstration consisted in the communication of miraculous power, which they were then exercising so generally as to require to be corrected in the irregular employment of it; (3) that among these miraculous gifts was one which enabled the "prophet" or "spiritual person" to decide whether Paul's Epistle was Scripture or not. He could not have written so, unless the facts were notoriously true: for he takes them for granted, as consciously known by the whole body of men whom he addresses [HINDS, On Inspiration].

      38. if any man be ignorant--wilfully; not wishing to recognize these ordinances and my apostolic authority in enjoining them.
      let him be ignorant--I leave him to his ignorance: it will be at his own peril; I feel it a waste of words to speak anything further to convince him. An argument likely to have weight with the Corinthians, who admired "knowledge" so much.

      39. covet--earnestly desire. Stronger than "forbid not"; marking how much higher he esteemed "prophecy" than "tongues."

      40. Let, &c.--The oldest manuscripts read, "But let," &c. This verse is connected with 1Co 14:39, "But (while desiring prophecy, and not forbidding tongues) let all things be done decently." "Church government is the best security for Christian liberty" [J. NEWTON]. (Compare 1Co 14:23,26-33).

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