April 6, 2013
Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #8: Questions Concerning Christian Worship, 1 Corinthians 11.2-14.40
Lesson 8.5: Prophesy and Tongues and the Service of Worship
 Scripture: 1 Corinthians 14.1-40

Part 1: Test of Intelligent Social Concern, 1 Corinthians 14.1-25 (KJV)

1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. 2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. 3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
5  I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
6  Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?
8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.
10  There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.
11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.
12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. 13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.
14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?
17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.
18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:
19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.
20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. 22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.
23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:
25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.



During the early stages of the Christian Church different abilities, talents, and graces were given to individual Christians by the Holy Spirit. Some of these were definitely miraculous, such as prophecy, tongues, and the ability to work miracles; others were less spectacular gifts, such as teaching or wisdom; or special graces of Christian character, such as love. The Apostle does not distinguish between these classes, since they are all alike in that they come from the same Source, and are to be exercised for the good of all. The Corinthians were inclined to overvalue the more showy gifts, especially the gift of tongues. Those who possessed this gift were using it to draw attention to them, and those who did not have it envied those who did, and consequently, undervalued their own gifts.

The Apostle Paul laid the foundation for this chapter in the two chapters that come before it. First (1 Corinthians 12) he showed that all these gifts come from the same Spirit, and all contribute in their own unique way to the well-being of the Church. And then he showed (1 Corinthians 13) that love beats all the other gifts; without it they are inept and useless. In this chapter (1 Corinthians 14), prophecy (that is, inspired preaching, revelation of God's will) is shown to be better than tongues because it builds up the Church, and produces a better effect upon unbelievers. But the exercise of both gifts must be regulated in order that all things may be done, (a) to edify the church and the brethren; (b) decently and in order.

It is the belief of this writer that nothing in the history of the church has been any more misunderstood than this chapter. One can only be amazed at the almost-universal acceptance of the idea that what those Corinthians were doing was actually CAUSED by the Holy Spirit! This is considered entirely wrong in light of all of the (bad) conduct which demanded Paul's attention.



1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.

Follow after charity,
“Follow after” is one of Paul’s favorite expressions (Romans 9.30, 31; Romans 14:19; Philippians 3:12, 14; 1 Timothy 6:11, etc). The word which has been translated “follow after,” signifies, “To pursue, with an eagerness like that with which hunters follow their game;" and the apostle may have intended to indicate how hard it is to obtain and sustain such a truly “caring spirit;” taking into account, on the one hand, how much aggravation we are likely to encounter; and, on the other, the pressure pride can bring to bear. In so many instances, these two are ready to break in upon a caring spirit and transform it into one that is vicious and bitter. 

Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has brilliantly declared that for Christians love is superior to all the other gifts and graces: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1; KJV).  Love is superior to all the gifts of God. It is better than the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 13:1); than the gifts of prophecy and knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:2); and the gift of miracles (1 Corinthians 13:2). All the deeds of love, when performed without it are worthless (1 Corinthians 13:3). Love has this superiority, first, because of its inherent excellence; and secondly, because of its perpetuity. Love includes all the forms of kindness; it is humble and modest; it is unselfish; it sympathizes with everything good (1 Corinthians 13.4–7). Now, since love is the greatest, we must pursue it and desire to posses it.

and desire spiritual gifts,
We should “desire spiritual gifts”—I think it would be unusual if a Christian didn’t want that, but in the next phrase he declares “but rather that ye may prophesy.” To prophesy is to give out the Word of God, to speak it simply and to speak it intelligently. The point of view he expresses here may be stated this way: “I do not forbid you, while you make the possession of love the focus of your life, to desire the miraculous gifts of the Spirit and to strive to excel in those gifts; but I do not want you to make the desire for spiritual gifts the cause of envy or strife: “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31; KJV). "I will show you a more excellent way of demonstrating your enthusiasm than by seeking the standing of apostles, prophets, or rulers; and that is, by cultivating charity or love." The main thing was to cultivate a spirit of love. Nevertheless, it was not inappropriate to desire to be endowed with those gifts which would be the most useful in the church, and promote the glory of God. There was nothing wrong with the Corinthian Christian’s desire for spiritual gifts. But they had made a godly desire into an obsessive pursuit, when the only pursuit for Christians should be love.

Observe: He makes a distinction here and in other places, between the gifts which the Spirit gives and the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc., which are more important than the gifts of the Spirit. Some very sincere people have said to me, “Tom, I am going to pray that you receive the gift of the Spirit.” I tell them I appreciate their interest, but I would rather they would pray that I may have the fruit of the Spirit. I wish I could see more fruit of the Spirit in the lives of the believers and in myself. I would like to see more love. That is the essential thing, and that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Only the Spirit of God can produce fruit in our lives.

but rather that ye may prophesy.
Paul would prefer they desire to be qualified for the office of prophesying; but he does not mean to say that prophecy is to be preferred more than love or charity; but that, of those spiritual gifts which it was appropriate for them to desire, ask for and seek, prophecy was the most valuable. To be precise, they were not to sincerely desire to be able to speak foreign languages or to work miracles; but they were to greatly desire to be qualified to speak in a manner that would be edifying to the church; although it would be natural to highly prize the power of working miracles and of speaking foreign languages. The object of this chapter is to show them that the ability to speak in a plain, clear, instructive manner in order to edify the church and persuade sinners, was a more valuable gift than the power of working miracles, or the ability to speak foreign languages.

The spiritual gift of “prophecy” was mainly a teaching gift (see 1 Corinthians 14:3), but in some cases it also included the ability to foretell future events. The teaching phase is what Paul stressed here, signifying that teaching was a much more desirable activity than tongue-speaking. Obviously, in the Corinthian church, there was an over-emphasis on tongues, and an under-emphasis on prophecy. This gift, like all the infancy-age miracles, ceased. There are no miraculously endowed teachers around today, despite Satan's having induced a few to fake even this gift. Professor Robinson has suggested that the prophets were distinguished from the teachers, “in that, while the latter spoke in a calm, connected, didactic discourse adapted to instruct and enlighten the hearers, the prophet spoke more from the impulse of sudden inspiration, from the light of a sudden revelation at the moment, and his discourse was probably more adapted, by means of powerful exhortation, to awaken the feelings and conscience of the hearers.” He adds, “The idea of speaking from ‘revelation,’ seems to be fundamental to the correct idea of the nature of prophecy as it is referred to here. Yet the communications of the prophets were always in the vernacular tongue, and were always in intelligible language and in this respect different from the endowments of those who spoke foreign languages.” Paul will tell us much more about prophecy in this chapter. However, we know he does not mean prophecy is identical to preaching, because there was a Greek word available for “preaching” (kerusso), and Paul did not use this Greek word. Preaching is essentially a merging of the gifts of teaching and motivation, prophecy has the primary elements of prediction and revelation.
In this verse the apostle is speaking of, not so much the gift of foretelling future events, although there was such a gift granted to some persons in those times, and, in certain cases, it was very profitable to the churches; but he prefers they desire the gift of preaching the word, or explaining the prophecies of the Old Testament, and of praying and singing of psalms, all of which, as it appears from some of the following verses of this chapter, were part of prophesy. A person possessing this gift could instantly, and without the use notes or taking time to study or any kind of assistance, preach the word, and explain the more difficult parts of Scripture. He may have had an extraordinary gift of prayer, of which he could avail himself whenever he pleased, and immediately compose and speak a psalm, or sing a hymn, in the public congregation. The same truth might be spoken by both; the influence of the Spirit was equally necessary in both; both were inspired; and both were important to the establishment and edification of the church. The gift of tongues, however, since it was the most impressive and remarkable of the gifts of the Spirit, and probably the rarest, was also the most highly prized and coveted of all of them. The object of Paul here is, to show that tongues was really an endowment of less value, and therefore Christians should desire it less than the gift of prophetic instruction under the immediate influences of the Holy Spirit, or the ability to edify the church in language which intelligible and understood by all.

2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.

For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue
This refers to the true gift of tongues as it existed in some believers in Corinth. Tongues were supposed to be used PRIVATELY; no one other than the possessor was ever to hear it done; God of course could hear. This verse is intended to show that the ability to speak understandably and for the edification of the church is of more value than the ability to speak in a foreign language. The reason is, that regardless of how valuable the gift of tongues may be in itself, and however important the truth which he may state, it is as though he spoke only to God, because no one could understand him. Disregarding this verse leads to one of the most significant misunderstandings regarding the gift of tongues, namely, believing tongues is a supernatural way to communicate “man to man” instead of “man to God.”
1. If we misunderstand this, we misunderstand Acts 2 and believe the disciples were preaching to the crowd in tongues on the day of Pentecost. Instead, they were speaking to God and the multi-national crowd overheard their praises to God. Acts 2:11 says, “We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” Later on, Acts 10:46 describe the hearing of the gift of tongues: they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.
2. If we misunderstand this, we misunderstand what is really happening when someone attempts to interpret a tongue and addresses his or her message to men. A true interpretation of the gift of tongues will be addressed to God, not men. It will be a prayer, praise, or some other communication to God.
3. If we misunderstand this, we can be led to believe the gift of tongues is just the ability to speak another language, and all Paul is speaking about here is interpreting the preacher’s sermon in someone’s native tongue. But no one needs to interpret the preacher’s sermon to God!
4. If we misunderstand this, we can misuse the gift of tongues, by using it in a way that draws unnecessary attention to ourselves. God does not give anyone the gift of tongues for the direct sake of others (though indirectly others are edified), but for that believer and God alone.

“He who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God” is a simple statement, but it is devastating to the idea that tongues is just a human language spoken for human benefit; many of those who believe the miraculous gifts have passed have trouble with this verse. Some have even tried to claim Paul is speaking sarcastically here, and is criticizing the Corinthian Christians for using the gift of tongues to speak to God instead of men. Paul uses plenty of sarcasm in the Corinthian letters, but certainly not here. If we can say Paul means the exact opposite of the plain meaning of the words here, we are on dangerous ground. And accepting that analysis would beg the question: “Why not apply the same interpretive principle (“he really means the opposite of what he seems to be saying”) to other passages of Scripture?”

The inclusion of the word “unknown” in our phrase “In an unknown tongue” is unjustifiable, and shows the danger of yielding to the bias of mere speculation. It is probably this word, which is not found in the original Greek (Note that the word unknown is in italics in your Bible, and that means it is not in the original Greek.), which has given rise to the puzzling, unhistorical, and unwarranted theory that "the gift of tongues" was the ability to speak in foreign languages. “Unknown tongues” cannot be found on any pages of the Bible. A better rendering of our verse would be: “For he that speaketh in a tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” He is not to speak in a language that is unknown to the group, unless somebody there can interpret, because nobody will understand him.

We will see in this chapter that there are three gifts which Paul emphasizes: prophecy, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. Have you ever noticed that there is very little reference to tongues in the Bible except in these three chapters? Those references are located in three places:
1. “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues” (Mark 16:17; NKJV). There were speaking in tongues at the home of Cornelius when the gospel was opened to the Gentiles. “For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God…” Acts 10:46; KJV).
2. “Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:3-4; NKJV)… “Cretans and Arabs--we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11; NKJV). There were speaking in tongues on the Day of Pentecost when the gospel was preached to the multinational nation of Israel.
3. “And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6; NKJV). The disciples of John, while in Ephesus, spoke in tongues after Paul had preached the gospel to them—after that, the gospel moved out into the uttermost parts of the earth.

We understand from these three occurrences, that tongues were used at the conception of the dispensation of grace. Every time tongues were used, they were used in that connection.

In the previous chapter Paul said, “But rather that ye may prophesy.” Actually, Paul was trying to get the Corinthians off this preoccupation with tongues. In effect he is saying to them in this whole section, “Cool it, brethren, don’t go off into fanaticism or an emotional binge. Keep all things in their right proportion.” In the previous chapter he also said that tongues will cease. They will stop. That is the same word that we see posted on street corners. Years ago I got stopped by a cop for failing to stop at a stop sign. Actually, I had ran that sign for five days a week for five years and never noticed it (It was partially hidden by trees). The officer said to me: “Don’t you know that s–t–o–p means stop!” I am afraid a lot of people do not understand what Paul is saying here: “Whether there be tongues, they shall stop.” It was Dr. A. T. Robertson who made this statement: “Tongues seem to have ceased first of all the gifts.” Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers, writing in the third or fourth century, stated: “This whole passage is very obscure; but the obscurity arises from our ignorance of the facts described, which, though familiar to those to whom the apostle wrote, have ceased to occur.”

It is interesting to note that Jesus never spoke in tongues. There is no record of the apostles speaking in tongues after Pentecost. We do not have a historical record of Paul speaking in tongues or any sermon delivered in a tongue—although we know from verse 18 that Paul did speak in tongues because he said, “I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all.” I did not realize the importance of this statement until I was reminded that Paul preached in many churches, and he walked to each of them, traveling hundreds of miles during his lifetime. Along the way he met tribe after tribe speaking different languages. I have often wondered how Paul was able to speak to them. Well, he spoke as the apostles did on the Day of Pentecost. Every man heard him speak in his own tongue. He probably said to the Corinthians, “If you want tongues, go out on the mission field and start speaking in the languages of those people.”

Today God has raised up certain organizations like the Wycliffe Bible Translators who are attempting to translate the Bible into all the known tongues of the world. That, my friend, is the greatest tongues movement that I know anything about!

We know that at one time Paul was caught up to the third heaven. He tells us that he heard unspeakable words. I don’t think those were unknown words or unknown tongues; they were words that he was not permitted to speak. Tongues are not an ecstatic, mysterious language. They are not mere babble spoken in a trance. Tongues were foreign languages. On the Day of Pentecost the apostles spoke in foreign languages so that every man there heard the gospel in his own language.

Anyone who conscientiously reads this chapter must conclude that it was those who had the gift of tongues that caused the confusion in the church of Corinth, by their brazen efforts to interrupt the service, and striving to be heard first; and as a result taking up too much time in the assemblies. The Corinthian believers turned to Paul for a remedy to this disorder. This idea will be confirmed, if we consider, that the first gift which Paul compares with love is tongues, and in the process he extremely undervalues it in comparison to that divine virtue. Tongues was the gift which they displayed more frequently, and the one they valued the most; it was the one that was the most flamboyant, drew the most attention from the other worshippers, and the one emulated the most often. In this chapter the apostle compares their spiritual gifts one with another and several things become apparent:
1. The one he devalues the most is tongues.
2. He gives more than twenty verses to the discussion of tongues.
3. He claims they use the gift of tongues excessively in their assemblies, and that they value it too highly
4. I don’t believe Paul would have said what he did in verses 24 and 25 if many in the Corinthian assembly were not guilty of abusing the gift of tongues.
5. When he instructs them about the exercise of their gifts in their meetings, that of tongues is the only one which he restricts:  “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to Go” (1 Cor 14:27-28; NKJV).

Speaketh not unto men,
As a rule, when one speaks in a tongue no one understands anything that he says; therefore, the brethren are not edified or improved: He is speaking to God; to his praise and glory, and He is the only one who knows what is said. He knows all languages, and every word in every tongue. Therefore, he is speaking to God, and not to the church, unless there in someone present who has the gift of the interpretation of tongues. In that case he may interpret the message of praise and glory to God for the assembly.

It is possible that the power of speaking foreign languages and of prophesying were sometimes united in the same person; but it is evident that the apostle speaks of them as different endowments, and most likely, they were usually found in different individuals.

But unto God: 
There was no one present who could understand what he said; hence, it is as if he spoke to God. This must refer to the discourse “in the church,” when only Christians were present and everyone spoke the same language and were unacquainted with foreign tongues. Paul says that “there” that faculty would be worthless compared with the power of speaking in a manner that would edify the church. He did not undervalue the power of speaking foreign languages when foreigners were present, or when they went to preach to foreigners (see 1 Corinthians 14:22). It was only when it was needless, when all present spoke one language that he speaks of it as if it had comparatively little value.

For no man understandeth him;
That is, no man in the church could understand him, since they all spoke the same language, and that language was different from what was spoken by him who was endowed with the gift of tongues. Seeing that God alone could know the significance of what he said, it would be squandered upon the church, and would be useless. Paul recognized that as a rule, when someone spoke in tongues, no one else could understand him and it appears that the speaker also could not understand it, unless he had the gift of interpretation. The reason is simple: with the gift of tongues, the intention is to speak to God and not man. Therefore, it is fine if no one understands him. The exception to no one understands him is when the tongue is publicly interpreted. Even then, it is not the tongue itself that is understood, but the interpretation of the tongue. In view here is the almost total uselessness of this gift (even the true gift) in the area of instructing the church.

Howbeit in the Spirit
Although, by the aid of the Spirit, those who were endowed with this power may, in fact, deliver the most important and inspirational truths, but they would be “lost” upon those who heard them, because they could not understand them. The phrase “in the Spirit,” evidently means “by the Holy Spirit,” that is, by his assistance and influence. Though he could be “really” under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and though the important truth which he dispenses would be conveyed by His authority and strength, it would be worthless unless it was understood by the church. When the tongues speaker cannot be understood, it does not mean it isn’t really language, or that they are merely speaking “gibberish.” It means they are speaking “in the spirit” and what they are speaking about are “mysteries.”

-Many have done linguistic analysis of people speaking in tongues and have “concluded” they are not speaking a “real” language, but just jabbering in gibberish. Of course it sounds like nonsense to human ears, because it was never intended for human ears. We should expect it to sound like nonsense, because Paul plainly says, “in the spirit he speaks mysteries.”

-However, this does not mean that all unintelligible speech is the legitimate gift of tongues. Some, who do not understanding the gift, may imitate it, or fake it, just to “prove” something.

-Does “in the spirit” refer to the speaker’s spirit, or to the Holy Spirit? It could be either one, because both are true. The translators of the New King James Version believe it to be the speaker’s spirit, because they used a lower-case “s” in “spirit.” It is uncertain, then, whether Paul means "in his own spirit," or "in the Spirit of God," (i.e. as a result of inspiration). It is probably the former, since John 4:24 says: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." Since He is Spirit, He must receive spiritual worship. The spirit is the one Divine part of our human being, and when a man is a true Christian his spirit is in union with the Spirit of God; it is as if it were lost in His Spirit. Paul recognizes that the true tongue might be simulated by hysteria and even by mere physical imitation—as a result of inspiration, that is, of the overpowering dominance of the human spirit by a supernatural power. Nevertheless, he points out the extreme danger of yielding to or self inducing these emotions in public, or in leaving them uncontrolled.

He speaketh mysteries.
Paul spoke of mysteries earlier—In 1 Corinthians 2:7 he said—“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.” The word “mystery” refers to that which is concealed or hidden; that which has not yet been known; and is applied to those truths which, until the revelation of Jesus Christ, were concealed from men, which were either hidden under obscure types and shadows or prophecies, or which had been altogether unrevealed, and unknown to the world. The doctrines to which the word may be applied may in themselves be clear and simple, but they are hidden in mystery until they are revealed. The word mystery can also be applied to that which is mysterious and obscure: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1 Tim 3:16; KJV). It is also applied to the secret plans and purposes of God: “But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets” (Rev 10:7; KJV). The word is most commonly applied by Paul to the secret and long concealed intention of God to make His gospel known to the Gentiles; to break down the wall between Him and them, the gentiles and the Jews; and to spread the blessings of the true religion everywhere. The apostle does not say that their preaching was mysterious or that their doctrine was unintelligible; but he refers to the fact that this wisdom had been hidden in a mystery from men until that time, but was then revealed by the gospel. In other words, he does not say that what they could now declare was hidden in a mystery, but that they declared the Divine wisdom which had been concealed from the minds of men. Today the word mystery is commonly used in the sense of that which is beyond comprehension; and it is often applied to doctrines which we are not able to explain. But this is not the sense in which it is commonly used in the Scriptures. Jesus told his disciples: "…Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”

Here the apostle speaks of the deep things of God, and the mysteries of his grace, the most glorious truths of the Gospel, yet the meaning of the tongue-speaker’s voice and words is unknown. He is a barbarian to them that hear him; and although what he says are truths of the greatest importance, they are mere gobbledygook to others, since they are unintelligible.


It cannot be denied that there was a REAL gift of tongues belonging to some in Corinth, although this chapter does not give us much information on how that genuine gift operated. Many commentators believe that the LEGITIMATE gift of tongues at Corinth was no different from what it was on Pentecost; and there is a considerable weight of evidence to support this. Paul and Luke were friends; and the same word is used to describe God's gift here and in Acts 2; and, since Acts was written by Luke after Paul wrote to the Corinthians, It would seem logical that Luke would have noted the distinction between the two experiences, if any existed.

However, Paul taught that there was a genuine gift of "interpretation of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:10): and this has the effect of denying the gift at Corinth any similarity with the miracle of Pentecost, where no interpreter was needed. Furthermore, Paul said that when an interpreter was present, along with other prescribed conditions, the gift at Corinth might properly be used (1 Corinthians 14:27). From this, it seems mandatory to view the genuine gift at Corinth as different from that of Pentecost, and also of far less importance, even that genuine gift (at Corinth) was ranked last among the spiritual gifts, by Paul.

The genuine gift (at Corinth) was never exercised by Paul (who surely had the gift; 1 Corinthians 14:18), in public assemblies of the church, at least as far as the record goes, and based upon his stated refusal to use it at Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:6ff). It is generally agreed, Paul's use of the gift, was either in private or as part of some missionary effort, but there is no record of either in the New Testament. Certainly, he didn't do it in church assemblies. The question persists regarding the authenticity of those Corinthian tongues. Can it be assumed that the Holy Spirit which led Paul to hide his gift and never use it publicly was moving in those Corinthians? No! I don’t think so.

Whatever the genuine gift was (at Corinth), there is simply no mention of it in this chapter. The genuine gift had to be either identical with that of Pentecost, or a far lesser thing given for the encouragement of individuals and to be used privately (1 Corinthians 14:4). It is my personal conviction that the Corinthians faked the gift of tongues for personal edification, and used the exhibition as proof that he who had it enjoyed possession of the Holy Spirit. The need for an interpreter of the true gift proves that the possessor of it would not have known what he said, unless, of course, he also had the gift of interpreting tongues.

Does this true gift come into view in the Corinthian assemblies? Yes, but only to the extent that it had been perverted by bringing it into the public worship. However, the overwhelming reality is that the visible tongues of Corinth were totally sinful and contrary to the will of God, seeing that it was either: (1) a prostitution of a private gift for public glory in the case of the true gift, or (2) a counterfeit demonstration excited by unrestrained emotion and having no connection whatever with the Holy Spirit.

This mingling of the true (even though perverted in purpose and use) tongues with the false is evidently the reason for Paul's tenderness in dealing with this sin. He simply did not wish to say anything that would discourage those souls who had indeed received from God the private gift of tongues for their encouragement. Since today, we are dealing with a far different situation, it is proper to speak much more plainly of those “illegitimate” tongues at Corinth.



By “THE FALSE GIFT OF TONGUES” is meant the counterfeit, faked and pretended gift of tongues. Billy Graham had this to say about tongues in the United States at this present time (March 26, 1976): "There is much that is counterfeit ... tongues are no evidence that a person has been baptized in the Holy Spirit." It is clearly evident that the genuine gift of tongues, whether like those at Pentecost or at Corinth, perished with the age of miracles, and that all of the tongue-speaking of this generation is spurious.” Graham was correct about the "counterfeit" aspect of it. Barclay also observed this and suggested how it comes about: “It (the true gift) was a dangerous gift ... greatly admired, and the possessor was very liable to develop a certain spiritual pride in his gift ... The very desire to possess it produced, at least in some, a kind of self-hypnotism and a kind of deliberately induced hysteria which issued in a completely false and deluded and synthetic speaking in tongues.”

The phenomenon called tongue-speaking can be faked; I know, because I have seen it faked; and the simple truth is that anybody can fake it. Such a thing, of course, can also be produced through the influence of a kind of mob psychology which is sometimes put on view in religious groups. There can be no true understanding of this chapter without taking into account the deceptiveness of those Corinthian’s tongues, but at the same time not denying that the legitimate gift existed at that time, although it was prostituted for unholy ends. This, as a matter of fact, posed a delicate problem. How could the weeds be pulled up without uprooting the wheat? Paul's method of doing it was amazing. He simply issued apostolic orders that would inevitably, if followed, diminish and destroy the “illegitimate gift,” while at the same time cautioning "not to forbid to speak in tongues" (1 Corinthians 14:39). Metz said, "It was difficult to distinguish the valid gift (of tongues) ... from an invalid expression of personal exultation." It should be remembered, however, that the disappearance of apostolic miracles has removed the necessity of confusion with regard to tongue-speaking. The only kind that has ever existed since the age of the apostles has been the kind Billy Graham called "counterfeit."

Why has the phenomenon of counterfeit tongues persisted? It has been produced by people who earnestly desire to do it, and who have been led to believe it is Scriptural because of the inaccurate and misleading words in many of the "translations" of the New Testament in print today. Such persons are sincere, but sincerely wrong.

However, there is another force operating in the tongue-speaking of post-apostolic times, and that is satanic instigation. The pride, snobbery, envy, strife, factionalism, etc., which marked the original outbreak of counterfeit tongues was initiated and perpetuated by Satan; and without a doubt, the evil one has been active in such things as the recurring appearance of tongue-speaking throughout Christian history.

3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.

But he that prophesieth
Paul is emphasizing the gift of prophecy. He asks them not to concentrate on tongues which inflated their vanity and gave the false impression they were filled with the Spirit; but to speak the Word of God which is for “edification,” for “comfort,” and for “exhortation.” “He that prophesieth” speaks under the influence of inspiration in the common language of his hearers. This seems to be the difference between those who spoke in foreign languages and those who prophesied. Both were under the influence of the Holy Spirit; both might speak the same truths; both might occupy an equally important and necessary place in the church; but the language of the one was intelligible to the church, the other was not; the one was designed to edify the church, the other to give a message to those who spoke foreign tongues, or demonstrate by the power of speaking foreign languages, that the religion they represented was from God.

Here, “the gift of Prophesy” is thought to perform the same services usually associated with ordinary teaching. This shows how unspectacular it was as compared with tongues. “He that prophesieth” preaches, prays, or sings, in a language understood by the common people; he speaks about divine things in a known language; he speaks to men, and provides them edification, and comfort, according to the particular objective and contents of what he says.

Speaketh unto men
Prophecy and tongues differ in whom they are speaking to. A tongue-speaker does not speak to “men” but to God, and as a result no one understands him; however, when he is in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. Not only is the gift of prophecy directed towards men, it is for the most part positive in its nature. Often, when a “negative” word is spoken, it is not really a word from God at all, or it is a word meant only for an individual believer, and not for the assembly. This statement establishes the fact that "prophesy" is helpful to others, because it has the ability to edify, exhort, or comfort others. It is God speaking supernaturally through people to people. In contrast to the gift of prophesy, the second verses established the fact that the gift of tongues is not helpful to men, because no one can understand what is said unless there is someone present who has the gift of interpreting tongues.

To edification
“Edification” means “building up.” It is a construction term, and speaks our being “built up” in the Lord. A word of prophecy will build someone up, not tear him or her down. It will build one up in their faith, so that they grow up as a holy temple to the Lord: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Cor 10:23; NKJV). All things do not tend to build up the church and to advance the interests of religion; and when they do not have this effect, they are not useful, and are in fact improper. Paul acted for the welfare of the church. His object was to save souls. Anything that would promote that object was proper; anything which did not would hinder it, and was in his view improper, though in itself it might not be strictly unlawful. This is a simple rule, and might be easily applied by anyone: that is, if anything will build up the church or a believer it should be promoted.

And exhortation
“Exhortation” is encouragement. It is like the speech from the coach in the locker room, rallying the team to go out and perform as they have been trained to perform. A word of prophecy will encourage someone, not discourage him or her. In Chapter 12, Paul told the Corinthian believers to use the gift they were given; if it was prophesy, they were to use it in proportion to the measure of their faith. This word “Exhortation” refers to one who urges men to carry out the practical duties of religion, which is a form of prophesy distinct from teaching its doctrines. He who exhorts, presents the warnings and the promises of God, in order to motivate men to discharge their duty to God. It is clear that there were persons who were recognized as engaging primarily in this duty, and who were known by this title, which set them apart them from prophets and teachers. There is no way to tell how long this was in effect; but it cannot be denied that it may still be needed, in many times and places, to have persons appointed to this ministry. In most churches this duty is now blended with the other offices of the ministry; such as pastors and deacons: those who scold and reprimand the unruly or disorderly, and who look after the weak and comfort the forgiven prodigals and those who were under the burden of multiple temptations.

And comfort
“Comfort” has the idea of not only consoling, but also strengthening. It doesn’t just cry with someone hurting, it puts its arms around them and strengthens them so they can carry the load. A word of prophecy will strengthen, not weaken someone. Comfort is like exhortation in its ability to bring encouragement. That is, he presents the promises and the “hopes” of the gospel; the various verses adapted to administer comfort in the time of trial. Tongues might be able to do this, but it would be in a foreign language, and would be useless to the church. The “comfort provider” ministers to minds distressed either through the temptations of Satan, or divine desertions, or inward corruptions, or outward afflictions. The Scripture were written to provide comfort for those made miserable by such misfortune, and gifts are conferred on men for the purpose of explaining them. 

4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.

He that speaketh in an unknown tongue
There are some commentators who say that “tongue” in this chapter refers to the Hebrew tongue, which was the language used in the synagogue for reading the scripture, in praying, and in preaching. They argue the point: "If that is the meaning of tongue here, it suits the Apostle's purpose well; which was to persuade them to renounce their false Jewish teachers, who probably promoted this speaking in the Hebrew language in their assemblies." But it appears to me that it is more likely that here the word tongue, signifies any known language, in the general.

Prophecy and tongues differ in whom they edify.  “A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally, but one who speaks a word of prophecy strengthens the entire church. I wish you could all speak in tongues, but even more I wish you could all prophesy. For prophecy is greater than speaking in tongues, unless someone interprets what you are saying so that the whole church will be strengthened” (1 Cor 14:4-5; NLT).Some have mistakenly thought Paul says this as a criticism. Their idea is “you selfish Corinthian Christians! You are using tongues only for edifying yourself, when you should use it to edify others!” This is wrong. Paul is simply stating the nature of the gift of tongues. Since he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, it follows that it is a gift for self-edification, not church edification. As good as the gift of tongues is, Paul sees the gift of prophecy as better for the church as a whole.

In this chapter, Paul is more focused on what the Corinthian Christians do when they come together as a church, than on what they do in their own devotional life. There are things that are fine for Christians to do in their own devotional life, which may be disruptive, annoying, or self-promoting for a Christian to do in a church meeting. The gift of tongues is one of those things. So, since Paul is focusing on when the Corinthian Christians come together as a church, it is clear why he regards the gift of prophecy as greater. However, if one were to ask Paul, “Which is greater for one’s devotional life: the gift of tongues or the gift of prophecy?” He would no doubt say “the gift of tongues,” because who do you prophecy to when you are alone with the Lord in your prayer closet?

The tongue, when it is exercised by the individual, is a selfish sort of gift, but prophesying, or teaching, is for the edification of the church.

edifieth himself
If "speaking in tongues," is the ultimate sign of the Filling of the Spirit; it must rank at the top of Christian experience, and therefore it would be the most desired of all the gifts of God. If that were the case, then, "speaking in tongues," would be a characteristic of the “best” Christians. Men may crown "speaking in tongues" as the greatest; but God confers that noteworthy crown on "prophesying." While it is true that those truths which are communicated to the tongue-speaker by the Spirit, and which he utters in an unknown language, may be valuable, and may be the means of strengthening his faith, they can be of no use to others. His own spirit might be excited by the truths which he would speak, and the awareness of possessing miraculous powers might incite his gratitude; and yet, this man might be in danger of being injured by this gift when he exercises it in a showy manner.

The true gift of tongues is not beneficial to others, but only to the tongue-speaker himself. Since not even he understood what was said, then it follows that "no man understandeth.” The nature of that edification would appear to have been the confirmation to him (by the gift) of his having received the Holy Spirit. But no man today should need any such confirmation because the New Testament makes it clear that all believers who repent of their sins and receive Christ as their Savior enjoy the promise of the sacred Scriptures that they will receive the Holy Spirit [Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38; NKJV)]; and that word is all the confirmation that any true believer really needs.

When the "tongue-speaking" was genuine and under control [“And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor 14:32; KJV).] he evaded the physical and licentious gyrations which often ended with the participants exhibiting a sort of spiritual possession, much like the behavior indicated in the ancient shrines of the gods; when the self-conscious was not entirely obliterated, and a sense of heightened awareness and dignity would be produced by this spiritual outpouring. Those who have experienced this emotion describe this very result. They felt enlarged and elevated—their whole being was for a time expanded—by this emotion.

but he that prophesieth, edifieth the church
By “church” is meant both the body of assembled Christians which he is addressing, and the Church of God in general. The word from which the Pauline expression "edifieth" is translated is related to the construction of a structure, such as a house; and Paul demanded that EVERYTHING ("all things, 1 Corinthians 14:26) be done for the purpose of edifying the church. This requirement alone demanded the omission of tongues from all church services.

Edifying the body of the church  is the objective of the Gospel ministry, therefore that which tends to edify more brethren, even the whole church, must be preferred to that which at most can only edify one person, the tongue-speaker himself.

This passage, and indeed the whole chapter, presents a lively image of an early Christian meeting. Officers in every church were appointed to conduct the services and especially to teach, but the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit were not confined to them or to any particular group of people. Any member present who experienced the working of the Spirit in any of its extraordinary manifestations was authorized to use and exercise his gift. Under such circumstances confusion could hardly fail to ensue. That such disorder did prevail in the public meetings in Corinth is clear enough from this chapter. The apostle's purpose in this whole passage is to correct this evil.

5  I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.

I would that ye all spake with tongues
Because of the tone of this chapter, it is easy to think he was “down” on the gift of tongues, but here he speaks positively about it because he did not want to be misunderstood, since his intention was not to bring the gift of tongues into contempt, or to always characterize it, as he has done several times in this letter, as useless and insignificant. And he did not want them to think that he envied them for having this gift, or that he thought less of them for desiring it; because, he personally wished they all had it, if that was the will of God; though it was his opinion that prophesying was the best gift, since it was more beneficial to the Church. The Christian should not gauge the value of gifts and talents by how eye-catching and dramatic they may be, but by their usefulness. Speaking with tongues was, indeed, very useful for spreading the gospel abroad; but for those who stayed at home, it was much more desirable to be able to speak well on useful subjects in their own language; which might serve to edify the church, and bring visitors to their assembly under conviction [see 1 Corinthians 14:23-25].

Paul valued the gift of tongues in his own life, which we understand from this statement, “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all,” (1 Corinthians 14:18). Now I think Paul means that, as a missionary, he had spoken in at least a dozen different tongues—and probably that could be multiplied by four or five. When he was out on the mission field with a foreign tribe, they couldn’t understand his language and he couldn’t understand theirs. Then he spoke to them in their tongue. He made sense to them, but it didn’t make sense to Paul himself. But when he is in the church where there are believers who speak the same language as he does, he will speak in a tongue that everyone can understand. He wanted them [all] to speak in tongues, but more that that he wanted their tongue-speaking to be beneficial to others. No doubt, Paul knew the value of it in his own life. He was able, when in the spirit to speak mysteries, to unburden his soul before God in a way that exceeds human language and intellect. He could pray, praise, and intercede beyond his ability to understand and articulate. Paul wanted every Christian to know this same blessing!

but rather that ye prophesied
To prophesy means to give forth the Word of God. The important thing is not a tongues meeting but a Bible study. “He that prophesieth” is one that teaches. No one is to speak in tongues unless there is someone there to interpret so learning can take place.

A conscientious, enthusiastic preacher, even if he were unskilled in speaking foreign languages, is much greater in the sight of God, and in the judgment of sound common sense, than an individual who has the gift of tongues; except he interpret: and we seldom find great scholars who are good preachers. This should humble the scholar, who is too quick to be proud of his accomplishments, and too liable to despise his less educated but more useful brother. This judgment of the Apostle Paul is too often disregarded. He wished they were all prophets, as Moses did for all the Lord's people; he was not against their speaking with tongues, but this was a gift that was more beneficial to the church.

for greater is he that prophesieth
The teacher did more good and was therefore greater than the tongue-speaker. This gift is of more value, but he rarely occupies a more elevated rank in the church, even though he is more “useful.” The idea here is that talents are not to be ranked according to how impressive and incredible they may seem, but by their “usefulness.” The power of speaking in an unknown tongue was certainly a more striking gift than speaking simply to be “useful,” and yet the apostle tells us that the latter is the most valuable. That will always be true. A man who is useful, however humble and unknown he may be, really occupies a more elevated and venerable rank in the eyes of God than the man with the most impressive talents and amazing expressiveness, who accomplish nothing when it comes to saving the souls of people. That is, he is more useful and profitable to men and the church, and so, as a result should be thought to be the most honorable, held in higher esteem, and valued more, since he is more beneficial and advantageous to mankind: not morally greater, but greater in the fact of his wider and deeper usefulness.

than he that speaketh with tongues
Tongues were a gift that was not for use in the church, but a “sign to them that believe not,” which seems to be the point of verse 22 [“Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe” (1 Cor 14:22; KJV).] The miraculous gift of tongues was never designed for the benefit of those who have already believed, but for the instruction of unbelievers, so that they might see from such a miracle that this is the work of God; and embrace the Gospel. The desire for this gift presents the same danger today as it did in ancient times: that, by dwelling on the gift, you forget the Giver; and what was designed for you as a blessing, may prove to be a curse, because you have chosen to use the gift in the public assembly for your own magnification where no one understands what you say: God may curse your blessings. On the other hand, when they heard the gospel message in a tongue which the speaker did not understand, but in their own tongue (as on the Day of Pentecost), their wonder was excited, and many would confess that it was the work of God. Greater is he who interprets scripture in order to edify the church than he who speaks tongues to commend himself. What other purpose could one have who spoke with tongues, unless he interpreted what he spoke. Note, that which honors a minister the most is preaching for the church’s edification, not that which draws attention to him and his gifts. He acts within a narrow arena, while he aims at himself; but his spirit and character increase in proportion to his usefulness [his own intention and efforts to be useful].

Paul did admit its importance, but he preferred that they would prophesy. Admitting the value of tongues; the reason, of course, is that the church may receive edifying.

except he interpret
Except he interpret - However important and valuable the truth might he which he uttered, it would be useless to the church, unless he should explain it in language which they could understand. In that case, the apostle does not deny that the power of speaking foreign languages was a higher endowment and more valuable than the gift of prophecy. That the man who spoke foreign languages had the power of interpreting is evident from this verse. From 1 Corinthians 14:27, it appears that the office of interpreting was sometimes performed by others.

except he interpret; what he said; and then he might stand upon an equal foot, and be equally useful with him that prophesieth; but this everyone could not do that spake with tongues; for speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, were two distinct gifts; see 1 Corinthians 12:10 and though a man that had the gift of tongues might understand what he himself said to his own edification, yet not be able to interpret it to the understanding and edification of others; and if he could not do this, his speaking was to no purpose: hence the apostle advises such an one to pray that he might interpret, have the gift of interpretation also, in 1 Corinthians 14:13.

Except he interpret. From this we infer that sometimes, when the passion had spent its force, the speaker in the tongue could give rational explanation of the thoughts and feelings to which he had given ecstatic utterance
“It is an important endowment, and is not, in its place, to be undervalued. It may be of great service in the cause of truth, and if properly regulated, and not abused, I would rejoice if these extraordinary endowments were conferred on all. I have no envy against anyone who possesses it; no opposition to the endowment; but I wish that it should not be overvalued; and would wish to exalt into proper estimation the more useful but humble gift of speaking for the edification of the church.”

that the church may receive edifying.
The one speaking in tongues realizes a wonderful relationship with the Lord but has edified no one else unless someone interprets what he has said so that the whole church can get some good out of it. With interpretation, therefore, the gift of tongues can edify the church. Apparently, the Corinthian believers were exhibiting the gift of tongues in public worship without interpretation, and that was helping no one.

6  Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?

Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues
Paul acknowledged that the gift of tongues was valuable to him [I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all, 1 Corinthians 14:18)]. But it was not beneficial for him to speak to others with the gift of tongues. They could not understand him, so they could not be edified. He asks them what advantage it would be to them, if he were to make use of foreign languages when he spoke to them. He shows them by this request, how much better it is for them to apply their minds to prophesying, instead to tongue-speaking; it was not as unpleasant for him to rebuke this vice in his own person, than in that of another. The apostle is saying to them, “Unless there is a revelation of Christ to the heart, knowledge of our sins, His mercy and His desire for our redemption, a teaching of one’s purpose in Christ, and the doctrines of grace, my ministry among you would be fruitless. Men cannot believe what they do not hear. He offered himself as an example, because he spoke in tongues more than any of them, except in his case the speaking took place when he was alone in his prayer closet. The Corinthians benefited greatly from Paul’s preaching and teaching, whether it was through him explaining the scriptures or passing on to them something God revealed supernaturally to his spirit.

From here, Paul goes on to describe different ways he might communicate that which would be edifying to others.

what shall I profit you
“What shall I profit you” means "I will not benefit you in any way at all," if I speak to you in tongues. This was Paul's refusal to speak in tongues in the Christian assembly at Corinth; and it is safe to assume that he never did so anywhere else. The only way that an apostle could benefit his hearers was by preaching to them—My "tongue" will be useless to you unless I speak to you what I know by revelation, or by my thoughtful study, which may take the form of preaching or of teaching [And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues” (1 Cor 12:28; KJV). Teachers, for the most part, taught truths that had already been revealed; while the prophets made new revelations and spoke all prophesies under the Spirit's influence. Teachers had the "word of knowledge," prophets "the word of wisdom." “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit” (1 Cor 12:8; KJV). Under "teachers" are included "evangelists and pastors.]. In the remainder of the verse, he mentions, four different kinds of edification — revelation, knowledge, prophesying, and doctrine.

Paul is saying, “If I don’t make any sense when I come to talk to you, what is the use of my coming?”

except I shall speak to you either by revelation
“Revelation” signifies something revealed by God immediately to the person: “If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace” (1 Cor 14:30; KJV). If, while one is speaking, an important truth is revealed to another, or is suggested to his mind by the Holy Spirit, which he feels is important and should be communicated to the assembly, then the speaker should stop speaking and the other tell the assembly the message from God. Paul may be speaking of his own awareness that he was being uniquely inspired as an apostle. There may have been times when Paul knew, with apostolic authority; His words were directly and infallibly from God.

or by knowledge
"Or by knowledge" refers to the spiritual gift of knowledge which Paul surely had; particularly, the understanding of the mystical and evangelical passages in the Old Testament, relating to our Savior and the gospel.  Revelation and prophesying can be put in one class, and I am of opinion that the latter is the giving out of the former. What anyone has obtained by revelation, he dispenses by prophesying, in the language common to all, so all could profit. I am of the same opinion concerning knowledge and doctrine.

or by prophesying
“Or of prophesying” refers to intelligible teachings given by the Holy Spirit to Paul as a spiritual gift. Paul knew he could speak by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; that is, that his thoughts and words were being guided and blessed by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, a Prophet will be one who interprets and administers revelation. For we have said that prophesying does not consist merely of a simple and unembellished interpretation of Scripture, but also includes knowledge for applying it to present-day use — which is obtained only by revelation, and the special inspiration of God.

or by doctrine?
“Doctrine” or teaching refers to the ordinary teaching of what was learned from others, orally or through study of their writings; and specifically, any truth of the gospel concerning faith, experience, or manners. Therefore, doctrine is the way of communicating knowledge for the edification of the church.

Paul’s usual method of edifying others was by speaking to them from the Scriptures themselves, as evidenced by the following verses:
1 “Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also” (Acts 15.35; KNJV).
2 “And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11; NKJV).
3 “Boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him” (Acts 28:31; NLT).

 7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?

And even things without life giving sound,
In verses 7-9 Paul gives examples demonstrating the importance of speaking so all can understand and receive some benefit from it. He begins with “things without life,” and using the illustration of the flute and harp, pointing out that when they are played each instrument must make a distinct sound, otherwise it would be impossible to know what was played. Likewise, if the trumpet makes an indistinguishable sound, who will prepare himself for battle? Furthermore, unless the tongue speaks words which are easy to understand, how can anyone know what is spoken? You might as well be speaking into the air. If an illustration like this means anything, it has to be that uninterrupted tongues are as noisy, disagreeable, useless, inharmonious and worthless as a kitten on the keys of a piano. Paul, of course, made the comparison with instruments known in his day.

The indiscriminate use of the tongue is compared here to the discord of jarring and unmodulated instrumental sounds. In harmony there must be the arranged sequence and intervals of sound. There are, it is true, many random sounds or reverberations, without any inflection or pleasing tone, but Paul speaks here of voices in which there is something similar to art or special ability, as though he had said—“A man cannot give life to a harp or flute, but he makes it give forth a sound that is regulated in such a manner, that it can be distinguished; if not, the melody is ruined and the tune is unrecognizable. This is especially true of the human voice; how absurd it is for men endowed with intelligence to utter a confused, indistinguishable sound!”

whether pipe or harp,
In time, we all learn by experience what power music has to excite men’s feelings. Plato insisted, and with good reason, that music has been very effective in influencing, in one way or another, the manners nations.

Our apostle continues to illustrate his former arguments with a example taken from two musical instruments, the one used in peace, specifically, the harp; the other in war, namely, the trumpet; both are useless, if the distinct sound that each makes cannot be recognized; because if a man does not hear or understand the sound of the harp or trumpet, he cannot prepare himself either for the dance, or the battle: likewise, if persons in the church do not speak intelligibly, they will not and indeed cannot edify: it is like beating the air [“Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air” (1 Cor 9:26; NKJV). They strike out at the air as if they were fighting an imaginary opponent; nothing is accomplished.], all is vain and for no purpose. “Thy voice will not reach either God or man, but will vanish into air.”

I have often wished that I could play a musical instrument, since I believe it would be relaxing. In grade school I played the violin, but that was more than fifty years ago.  I wish I could do with a musical instrument what the “unknown tongues” people do with sounds. Although I cannot read music and have no ear for it, I could just toot away on a horn. But of course it would just be a meaningless noise. Even a lifeless instrument like that should have meaning in this world.

except they give a distinction in the sounds,
Musical instruments must give out a certain pitch and beat to communicate a song. If they do not, the music is not enjoyed by the listener. Sounds are produced, but they cannot be understood or enjoyed. It is of no profit for others. It may feel good for a child to bang on a piano, and they may like the sound. But no one else will, because it is unpleasant. Likewise, someone communicating with God through the gift of tongues may be blessed, but no one else is. Therefore, if someone is going make an uncertain sound (speak to God in tongues), let them do so in private, and not among others.

how shall it be known what is piped or harped?
When a person plays a musical instrument, he must play certain notes which are put in order according to a prescribed pitch and beat, or no one will know the song he is playing. The trumpet was used by armies to sound charge or retreat. How will the soldiers know whether to charge or to fall back if there is no clear, understandable note sounded? It is the same with preaching or teaching. If you speak in a language no one understands, he will not know what you are saying. You will just be talking into the air.

“If the trumpet gives an unclear sound, who will prepare himself for the battle?” The trumpet was used to alert the troops for battle. And, my friend, today we need a clear–cut presentation of the gospel.

8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?

The meaning of this verse is exactly the same as 1 Corinthians 14:7. The Apostle used the method of repeating the thought for emphasis; the same method was used by Jesus as well as the writers of both Testaments. Uninterpreted tongues were as devastating to an assembly of believers as the efforts of a military bugler whose unintelligible blasts could not be distinguished from a call to charge, a call to retreat, or a call to go to bed! A spiritual injunction or dictate should be like the "blowing of a trumpet in Heaven;" but if, as with "the tongue," the trumpet only sounds an unintelligible blare, its sounds are useless.

9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.

The impetus of 1 Corinthians 14:7-9 is that the false tongues of Corinth were unintelligible nonsense, meaningless, and nothing more than the jabbering of self-serving demonstrators; however, their demonstrations created a delicate situation. The UNINTERPRETED exhibitions of the genuine gift itself resembled the false tongues so perfectly that no one on earth could have discovered any difference between them! It was a master stroke of the devil that he had influenced some who had the true gift to bring it into the public worship; and therefore, when Paul condemned the false tongue-speaking, he was careful not to discourage the true gift of tongues which resulted in the misunderstanding of this issue for centuries afterward. What Paul said here can be applied to both types of tongues, since both kinds were forbidden to be used in public worship; the true kind because it was not interpreted and had no business in the public worship to start with, and the false kind because it was nothing but pure nonsense anyway.
The essential thing to see is the close likeness in appearance of the two kinds of tongues; and this is important, since it is an indication that the true tongues of Corinth were unlike those of Pentecost.

10  There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.

There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world,
“It may be” is simply an expression of uncertainty; in this case it is uncertainty about the exact number of “voices in the world.” “So many kinds of voices” does not seem to mean "so many languages." The Jews always alleged that there were seventy languages in the world. It seems to mean "classes of expressive sounds."

Originally the whole earth spoke one language [“Now the whole earth had one language and one speech” (Genesis 11:1; NKJV).]; but God gave them many languages [“Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11.7)], so that now there are many tongues and languages, and the words in all languages are significant to those who understand them. I don’t know what language was spoken before God confused their languages at Babel, but I have read some believe it is the language we will all speak in Heaven. After Babel, man was scattered over the face of the earth. They were together in their rebellion, but now they can’t understand one another. You know, a language barrier is a wall that is higher than the Wall of China. It is higher than the Berlin Wall and more effective. It is that which separates people, and it is stronger than any national border and any ocean.

This is a tremendous thing that took place at Babel. Here is a “speaking in tongues” when they couldn’t understand each other. It is a miracle, a miracle of speaking and a miracle of hearing. They spoke different languages, and those who heard could not understand them.

Now let’s compare this tongues movement to those events on the Day of Pentecost. That was another great tongues movement, and at that time we find that the gospel was preached in all the languages that were understood by the people there at the time. This was not speaking in an unknown tongue—that never was involved in the tongues movement, not even at the beginning. On the Day of Pentecost, God is giving His answer to the Tower of Babel. God is saying to mankind, “I have a gospel and a message for you, and I’m coming to you with the gospel in your own language.” This is the thing that God has done, and today the Bible has gone out in more languages than any other book. It is still being translated into tongues and dialects and is being brought to literally hundreds of tribes throughout the world. The gospel is for all mankind, and the reason and the purpose for the talking in tongues was to let the human race know that God had answered the Tower of Babel. He had redemption for man now. The mission has been accomplished. It is no longer necessary for man to try to work out his salvation. He can listen to God’s message and turn to Him. The gospel is for you, whoever you are and whatever tongue you speak. It’s for you. It’s for all the nations of the world. We are told in the final book of the Bible that there will be gathered into His presence “… a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues …” (Rev. 7:9).

These verses (10 and 11) are a recapitulation of the argument in 1 Corinthians 14:7-9, the rationale being that any kind of language or gobbledygook, such as tongues, which cannot be understood by the listeners, is condemned in the Christian assembly. All languages can be understood if one knows the meaning. “There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance.” Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I must be a foreigner to the one who speaks, and the speaker will be a foreigner to me. There cannot be communication between people who do not speak the same language. If you speak in a language that no one in the church can understand, how can this edify the people in the church? That is the important issue. Does it edify the church? Does it build up the believers?

and none of them is without signification.
Now he speaks in a more general way, taking in the natural voices of animals. The words rendered "without signification," literally mean dumb. The meaning must either be that "nothing—no creature—is dumb," or that "every class of sounds has its own distinct meaning." Here Paul uses the term dumb to mean confused—as opposed to an articulate voice; for example, the barking of dogs differs from the neighing of horses, and the roaring of lions from the braying of asses. Every kind of bird, as well, has its own particular way of singing and chirping. The whole order of nature, therefore, as created by God, invites us to observe a distinction that exists in nature, which is that “none of them is without signification;” None of them are dumb.

Language itself is a gift from God. We can communicate with language because we are made in the image of God. Modern linguists know man could not have invented language, any more than our circulatory system. Most modern linguists believe language is so unique, apart from God; it “must” have been part of a unique evolutionary process. Language could not be the product of man putting together sounds all by himself. For example, there are many universal human sounds (like the “raspberry” sound) which are not part of any human language. If man invented language on his own, it would make sense for some language to use that sound. Language is so complex because languages exist as whole systems, not as small parts put together. And, most modern linguists believe all languages come from one original language. Knowing language is a gift from God, and all languages have meaning, we can trust that if we speak in the gift of tongues, God understands, even if no one else—including ourselves—can.

Words easily understood are helpful; therefore, let us seek to excel, not in academic oratory, not in unknown tongues; but in simple illustrative preaching, putting the food down where even the common man, though he might be a fool, may be able to grasp it.

11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.

“A barbarian” is one who speaks a different, or a foreign language. The Greeks said, “All who are not Greeks are barbarians.”  This term barbarian denotes one who speaks a foreign language—a foreigner; and the Greeks applied it to all who did not use their language. The word “barbarian” did not therefore necessarily imply that somebody’s manners were uncouth or vulgar.
“Unto me” means in my eyes.
“The meaning of the voice” refers to the language that is uttered, or the sounds that are made.
“I shall be unto him,” that is, “What I say will be unintelligible to him, and what he says will be unintelligible to me. We cannot understand one another anymore than people can who speak different languages.”

How foolish it is and preposterous for a man to say something in an assembly which no one understands. Therefore, it is not surprising that Paul views it as the height of absurdity for a man to act like a barbarian to those who are listening to him, by chattering in an unknown tongue. But, in spite of his personal feelings, he gracefully addresses the situation in Corinth and expresses disdain for the foolish ambition of those believers, who were eager to obtain praise and fame by this means. “The result of your actions,” he says, “is that you will be a barbarian.” This would not have made them very happy, because it was a derogatory label which was always taken in a bad sense. Consequently, the Greeks, who looked upon themselves as the only persons who were good speakers, and had a polished language, gave all others the name of barbarians, because, as they said, their language was rude and unsophisticated. No language, however, is so cultivated that it cannot be consider barbarous, when it is not understood. “He that heareth,” says Paul, “will be unto me a barbarian, and I will be the same to him in return.” By these words he insinuates that it is not to possible to have fellowship with the Church by speaking in an unknown tongue, but instead the speaker is aloof from it, and will be despised by those who came to listen to him, because he despised them first.

Therefore, if the language is not known to both speaker and hearer, they will be like foreigners to one another.

12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.

In verses 12-14, the “Apostle” explains why the nature of the gift of tongues makes it less practical for edifying the whole church.

Even so ye,
This phrase is used by the New Testament writers as a general form of conclusion arrived at from previous remarks. Here Paul refers to their desire for spiritual gifts which he discussed in the verses that come before this one, where he urges the Corinthians to seek to be able to speak in a clear and intelligible manner, so they may edify the church. This is one of the most valuable gifts of the Spirit and it should be earnestly desired.

forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts,
“Forasmuch as ye are zealous” may be rephrased, “since you earnestly desire.” “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31; NKJV). Having a desire for heavenly things is highly commendable; but desiring earthly things, is profoundly criminal. A man may possess the best of all the gifts of the Spirit, and yet be deficient in what is necessary for his salvation, since he may be without that love or charity which the apostle calls the more excellent way.

“Spiritual gifts” are the supernatural gifts bestowed in the early church by the Spirit. These were especially needed as a guide, and in the inauguration of Christianity, before the church had the New Testament.: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant” (1 Cor 12:1; NKJV).

Those who teach the Word of God are the true heroes, not the tongue-speakers. It is simply incredible that the people who simulate speaking in tongues could really imagine that they are doing any good. One humble teacher of the word of God does more good than a thousand tongue-speakers, even if their alleged "gift" should be accepted as genuine. Why is it then that intelligent people bother with it, or become impressed with it, or make any excuses for doing it? This whole section of this chapter (1 Corinthians 14:1-12), if it had any purpose at all, was to get rid of tongue-speaking in the assemblies of the church in Corinth, with the delicate purpose of Paul, always in view, not to discourage any real gift that might have existed there.

Paul’s conclusion is that the gift of tongues has not been bestowed for the purpose of giving to a few an opportunities for boasting, without benefiting the Church. “If spiritual gifts,” says he, “delight you, use them for the purpose of edifying the Church, so that you can excel. Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.

The Corinthians were very ambitious for spiritual gifts; therefore, Paul advises them to concentrate on seeking those gifts that can be used to edify the Church, and then to use them properly so that the church may be edified. “Seek to excel and abound in gifts for the glory of God and the good of the church.”

seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.
There is little good that can be done by simple noise and excitement which may be more or less carnal; in fact, it may give rise to something harmful, which is certainly true when that which is good is exercised entirely apart from divinely commanded directions.

Perhaps you have wondered, “If tongues are directed to God, how can a legitimate interpretation be edifying to others?” The same way our reading of Psalms can edify. The prayer, or praise, or plea of another unto God can identify powerfully with our own heart before God, and we can agree with what another says to God.

“Seek that ye may excel” means “Ask that you may be able to convey truth in a clear and readily understood manner; desire to be recognize for that.” It is one of the most rare and valuable endowments of the Holy Spirit.

We have no record that Paul ever went into any church and prayed that they might talk with tongues; or that he, in any of his epistles, ever urged that the saints excel in the gift of tongues. He wanted them to excel in edifying. Only then may you conclude that you have managed to attain an excellence that is truly praiseworthy—when the Church benefits from something you have said or done. Paul, however, does not give permission to anyone to idolize one whose ambition is to excel, even for the benefit of the Church, but instead he lets them know who they should highly regard. He would have the value of a man measured in proportion to his eagerness to promote edification. So, if there must be tongues, there must be interpretation, so there can be edification. In the meantime, our part is to have this one goal in view—that the Lord may be exalted, and that His kingdom may be enlarged, from day to day.

13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.

This may have been written in anticipation of a question which might be proposed to him, namely, “If any one, therefore, is able to speak a foreign language, will the gift be useless? Why should that be set aside, which might be brought into the light, for the glory of God?” Paul knows the solution to the problem: “Let him,” he says, “ask God to give him the gift of interpretation also. If he is without this, let him abstain from speaking in a foreign language or in tongues in the congregation.”

Let him ask God for the ability to explain clearly to the Church, what he has just spoken to God in an unknown tongue. It would seem likely that the power of speaking foreign languages, and the power of conveying truth in a clear and distinct manner, was not always found in the same person, which is evident from 1 Corinthians 12.10—“to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.”  And likewise, having one of these gifts did not guarantee that the other gift was also present in the same person. The reality seems to have been, that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit were bestowed upon people in a way which is similar to how “ordinary” talents and mental powers are now conferred; and they became the “distinguishing mental endowments of the individual,” and needless to say were subject to the same laws, and were prone to the same kinds of abuse, as mental endowments are now. And the same situation probably existed then as it does now—that one man has a special ability for expressing himself in a foreign language that may not be capable of conveying his ideas in an interesting manner to a congregation. The apostle gives instructions to such persons to “pray” for the more useful gift of being able to express their thoughts in a clear and intelligible manner in the language of their listeners, instead of priding themselves on their gifts, and instead of always speaking in an unknown tongue, which would he useless to the church. It follows then that they ought to desire to be able to “interpret” the truths they had the ability of speaking in a foreign language, so that they would be intelligible to the people whom they addressed in the church. This seems to be the simple meaning of this passage, which has caused so much confusion among commentators.

It is apparent from this and other places how strongly the apostle pleads with the Corinthians for all their public worship, particularly preaching or prophesying, praying and singing, to be done in a language that is known and understood by all the congregation: “Let him that speaketh,” preacheth, or teacheth, in an unknown tongue, in which he cannot edify others, pray for the edifying gift of interpretation, so that others may be edified as well as himself; otherwise when we pray in an unknown tongue, our spirit prayeth, that is, our own gifts are exercised; but the meaning is lost for anyone else who may be listening. If our goal is to satisfy ourselves, we cannot edify them.

Paul's assertion that they should pray to be able to interpret is an acknowledgment that they could not interpret. But here, Paul points to a way of giving the interpretation of the tongue, without necessarily speaking the tongue itself. He suggests the tongues speaker pray “that he may interpret.” Then, the uncertain sound mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14:8 never needs to be made public, yet the whole church is edified by the interpretation of the tongue. Anything that is said in a tongue should be interpreted. Otherwise it does not make any sense to anyone. If the speaker cannot interpret, then there must be someone else there who has the gift of interpretation.

14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.

For if I pray in an unknown tongue,
The conclusion that must be reached from this and the following verses is that the tongue-speakers had even taken over the songs and prayers of the public worship! Of course, Paul would not tolerate anything like that. The quotation of these verses for the purpose of supporting the idea of people singing and praying in the public services "with the Holy Spirit providing understanding to the participant" is based upon an incorrect understanding of their meaning. It is not the personal understanding of the participant that is meant, but the objective purpose of conveying understanding to others. The reference to prayer here, and to singing in 1 Corinthians 14:15, is intended to show the correctness of the general opinion which he is defending, that public worship should be conducted in a language that would be intelligible to the people. The person singing or praying may be sincere, may be doing it from the heart, and for good reasons, yet unless it was intelligible, it would be conceited and worthless. Evidently the thought is, "I will sing as the Spirit directs or inspires, and I will sing in a language that those who hear can understand, so that they are edified."

my spirit prayeth,
Speaking in tongues is communication with God on a spiritual level and it by-passes our understanding. My “understanding” does not benefit when I speak in tongues (“is unfruitful”), but “my spirit prays.”

The Corinthian believers gloried in that honorary distinction afforded those who spoke in tongues, which Paul allowed them to do, while at the same time, he shows how preposterous it is to abuse a gift that is so good and excellent. It is as though he had said — “You may boast to me of your spiritual gifts, but what purpose do they serve, if they are useless?” From this thought, I am led to believe that “my spirit” means the gift conferred upon me as it does in 1 Corinthians 14:12. The gift of tongues was conferred — not for the purpose of merely uttering sounds, but, on the contrary, with the view of making a communication. When my spirit prays, I am speaking to God only, and I should do so in private, not in the public assembly. But if I speak in an unknown tongue while under the influence of the Holy Spirit, there must be someone present to interpret my words, or I should be still.

In saying my spirit prays, Paul again is emphasizing the essential function of the gift of tongues: to communicate to God, not to man. If my spirit prays and my heart is engaged in devotion, my prayer will be acceptable to God, who looks upon the feelings of the heart, and I may have true enjoyment; but my understanding will be unprofitable, that is, will not profit others. What I say will not be understood by them; and of course, regardless of how much benefit I might derive from my devotions, they would be useless to others.

but my understanding is unfruitful.
That, my friend, is the answer to those who say that they speak in tongues for their private devotions. If the “understanding is unfruitful,” you don’t get a spiritual lift out of it; that is, the Holy Spirit is not ministering to you. If you get a lift, it is merely psychological. Paul says your understanding is unfruitful.

Here Paul uses an illustration, which makes a supposition that has no basis in reality: “If the gift of tongues should be disconnected from the understanding, so that he who speaks is a barbarian to himself, as well as to others, what good would he do by babbling in this manner?” 

It does not appear that the mind is said to be unfruitful, on the ground of no advantage accruing to the Church, since Paul is speaking here of the private prayers of an individual. Therefore, let us keep it in view, that things that are connected with each other are disconnected here for the sake of illustration—not on the ground that it either can, or usually does happen. The meaning is now obvious. “If I speak my prayers in a language that is not understood by me, and the spirit supplies me with words, the spirit itself regulates my tongue, and He is the person who prays; but my mind will either be wandering somewhere else, or at least will have no part in the prayer.

It should be noted that Paul considers it a great mistake if the mind is not involved in the prayer. And no wonder; because what else do we do in prayer, but pour out our thoughts and desires before God? Furthermore, since prayer is the spiritual worship of God, what is more inconsistent with the nature of it, than that it should come merely from the lips, and not from the inmost soul?

Some never want to relate to God except by and through their understanding. While we value our intellect and understanding, and while we dedicate ourselves to loving God with all our mind—“Jesus said to him, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37; NKJV)—we also appreciate the limitations of our understanding, and thank God for a way to relate to Him that goes beyond intellect (by faith). If someone is perfectly satisfied with their ability to relate to God through their understanding, they really have no need for the gift of tongues. But if the day comes when they desire to relate to God beyond the ability to understand, they should seek God for the gift of tongues.

If our understanding is unfruitful, then how does one actually speak in tongues? Everyone’s experience may be slightly different, but generally, we can make some observations. It doesn’t happen as one just opens their mouth and God “takes over” their tongue. It doesn’t happen as they begin to wiggle their tongue and God “takes over.” It doesn’t happen as they are told to repeat a nonsense word or phrase faster and faster until God “takes over.” Actually, the language of tongues works much like languages we understand. A word or a sound occurs to our mind, and we vocalize that word or sound. In the gift of tongues, one simply continues to speak the words and sounds coming into their mind, trusting God is prompting us, and He understands what we are saying, and that what we are saying is perfectly appropriate for the moment.

Is it possible that one could be speaking in tongues, and without knowing, be saying the most horrible blasphemies? No, it is not possible. Paul began this whole section on spiritual gifts with the principle: Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed (1 Corinthians 12:3). Also, Jesus reminded us: For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:10-13) We don’t need to fear we will find Satan when we are sincerely seeking God. We can also remember another general principle relating to the gifts of the Holy Spirit: And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets (1 Corinthians 14:32). The Holy Spirit does not make us do strange, bizarre things. He will never make someone shout in tongues, or speak in tongues in a strange manner, though they may do it on their own initiative. But they should never credit or blame it on the Holy Spirit.

15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

What is it then?
The meaning of this sentence is easier to understand if we rephrase it: “What is the conclusion then?”, “What is the proper course for me to pursue?”, “What is the purpose of my teaching?”, and “What should I do? This is Paul’s answer: “I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. Understanding must be attached to both prayer and singing, otherwise, how will those who are listening say “Amen” when you have finished, since they do not understand what you say? You have certainly prayed well, but no one has been edified by it. I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, so that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

What is the “conclusion” he has reached in view of all the circumstances of the case?

The conclusion: When and when not to use the gift of tongues. When we worship or sing, we must "worship and sing in the spirit," but also “worship and sing praises with understanding."
 “For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding” (Psalms 47:7; KJV).
 “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24; KJV).

I will pray with the spirit,
That is, I will attempt to “combine” all the advantages which can result from prayer; I will “join together” all the benefits which “can” result to me and to others. I consider it of great importance to pray with the spirit in such a way that the “heart” and the “affections” may be involved with it, so that I and everyone who are listening to me may receive benefit from it; I will speak in a language which they understand. It is easy to detect in all that has been said concerning tongues that the Spirit's emphasis is on doing all things unto edification. We know this is not the case in certain circles where public talking in tongues is encouraged. Anything which tends to produce arousal and excitement and humor, to the detriment of the effective presentation of the Gospel in its inspiring power and clarity of understandable truth, should be put to one side.

Paul teaches that it is legitimate and proper for a believer to “pray with the spirit,” provided he understands what he is saying; therefore, he sanctions the use of a spiritual gift in prayer.

and I will pray with the understanding also:
That is to say, "When moved to do so by the Spirit, I will pray in an unknown tongue; but I will not do it unless there is someone present who possesses the gift of interpretation of tongues, so that I and the others can understand what I have said." How absurd it must be to our Lord for a child of God to say anything in a Christian assembly that cannot be understood by all those present. So, I will pray so that others may understand me. I will make the appropriate use of the intellect, so that it may communicate ideas, and make suitable impressions on the minds of others.

I will sing with the spirit,
It is obvious that the same thing might take place in singing which occurred in prayer; singing might be in a foreign language, and might be unintelligible to others. The affections of the singer might be stimulated, and his heart inspired to love God more, but it would be profitless to others. Therefore, Paul says that he would sing praises to God in such a way that the proper affections in his own mind would be excited and so that his song was understandable and profitable to others. This passage proves:
1. That the praises of God are to be celebrated among Christians, and that it is an important part of worship.
2. That the heart should be involved in worship, and it should be performed in a way that excites the proper affections in the hearts of those who are engaged in it.
3. That it should be both “intelligible” and “edifying” to others.

The words should be so voiced so that they are distinct and understood. There should be clear enunciation just as there should be in prayer and preaching, since the purpose of sacred music in the worship of God is not only to express praise, but it is also meant to impress the sentiments of  the heart by the aid of musical sounds and poetic phrases more deeply than could otherwise be done. If this is not the outcome, the singing might as well be voiced in a foreign language. Perhaps there is no part of public worship in which there is greater imperfection than in the form of its worship. At the same time, there is scarcely any part of the devotions of the sanctuary that may be made more edifying or impressive. It has the “advantage”—an advantage which preaching and praying does not—of using the sweet tones of melody and harmony to “make a sentimental impression” on the heart and it should be done. God can give us the freedom to exercise the gift of tongues in a melodic way, so it flows in with worship. However, based on the principles in this chapter, if this is done it should never be done in a way that would draw attention to it or distract others.

and I will sing with the understanding also.
When he says, I will sing Psalms, or, I will sing, he is referring to a particular occasion, instead of making a general statement. Since the praises of God were the subject-matter of the Psalms, he means by the singing of Psalms— blessing God, or giving thanks to him; in our prayers, we either ask God for something, or we acknowledge some blessing that has been conferred upon us. From this passage, however, we discover that the custom of singing was, even at that time, in use among believers. Pliny, who wrote at least forty years after the death of Paul, mentions that the Christians were accustomed to singing Psalms to Christ before day-break. What's more, I have no doubt, that, from the very first, they followed the custom of the Jewish Church in singing Psalms.

Saints should sing with both the Spirit and the understanding. It is right to sing with spiritual enthusiasm, making melody in our hearts unto the Lord. We may hum tunes of psalms, or hymns, or spiritual songs which are profitably to ourselves; we cannot acceptably "hum" or mumble tunes to others who cannot connect the words to the tunes.

Paul used the gift of tongues, both in prayer and in song, and he used it often; but at the same time he said, “Yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding . . . than ten thousand words in a tongue.” Therefore, Paul’s use of tongues was pretty much focused in his devotional life with the Lord.

The conclusion Paul has reached may be expressed as, "Therefore, let's have no more of this tongue business in the songs and prayers; let everything be done in a language everybody can understand."

16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?

Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit,
Up till now he has been showing that the prayers of every one of us will be vain and unfruitful, if understanding does not go along with the voice. Now he begins to speak about public prayers: “If someone prays on behalf of an assembly of believers, but is not understood by them, how will any in that assembly express their agreement with the content of the prayer, at its conclusion.” There is no fellowship in prayer, unless all who participate in it are of the same mind; that is, they desire the same things from God and can truthfully praise Him in concert with the other believers.

Blessing in this verse means giving of thanks to God, which is done either through prayer, (since thanksgiving is a part of prayer), or by singing spiritual songs. Blessing with the spirit either signifies thanking God in the inward man, or giving Him thanks in an unknown tongue, by the supernatural influence of the Spirit of God. If an unknown tongue is used, how can one who does not understand it say Amen to the blessing at the proper place?

how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks,
This expression by Paul implies that someone, perhaps one of the ministers, prayed with words that were clear and understandable, and that the whole assembly listened and followed his words in their minds, until he closed his prayer with “Amen;” and then they all said Amen—to signify that they were in agreement with the prayer offered up by that individual. Amen is a Hebrew word, derived from the same term from which we get the word that signifies faithfulness or truth. It is an indication of confirmation. Furthermore, after long and common use by the Jews, it made its way from them to the Gentiles, and the Greeks made use of it as if it had belonged originally to their own language, and eventually it came to be a term in common use among all nations. I am sorry to say that today it is unusual for anyone to say, “Amen” in most Christian churches. Now Paul says—“If in public prayer you use of a foreign tongue, that is not understood by the “unlearned” [the unlearned are those ordinary worshippers who have no spiritual gifts.] and the common people to whom you are speaking, there will be no fellowship, and your prayer or blessing will no longer be a public one.” “Why?” “No one,” he says, “can add his Amen to your prayer or song, if he does not understand it.”

It is evident from this phrase:
1. That the teachers in the apostolic churches had designated places to set which were separate from the common people, and convenient for speaking, so that when they spoke everyone could hear, understand, and receive some benefit.
2. That in those churches only one person spoke at a time, and the work of the others was only to listen and from a devout heart to say Amen, wishing or praying that God would do that which the one who prayed had asked of God for them, in the name of all. This shows that audible responses to the praises and thanksgivings were the custom of the church.
• “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel From everlasting to everlasting! And all the people said, "Amen!" and praised the LORD” (1 Chron 16:36; NKJV).
• “Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that performeth not this promise, even thus be he shaken out, and emptied. And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the LORD. And the people did according to this promise” (Neh 5:13; KJV).
• “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the LORD” (Psalms 106:48; KJV).

The apostle’s argument is this: The Christian ought to consent to, and agree with the prayers presented unto God, and to give evidence of his consent by saying Amen; but, no man can say Amen to that which he does not understand, nor be edified by that which cannot be understood.

seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?
What can be clearer than these words by Paul—No one can take part in public prayer if he does not understand what is said? What can be plainer than this restriction —“let not prayers be offered up in public, unless they are given in a language that is understood by those who are present.  But in spite of all Paul has said to the contrary, the believers in Corinth continued every day to do what he says should not, or even cannot, be done.  Do they think he is uninformed or that he is only kidding? In faithfully observing what he forbids, they are deliberately insulting God? Their actions show how Satan can create mischief among them with impunity.

People should not to say Amen to anything, unless they understand what is said, since by adding their Amen they are saying they agree with the speaker.

17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.

The same interpretation can be applied here as in the previous verses, which is, “If you use a foreign language and you speak from the heart, it may be accepted by God as your offering; but the other, who cannot understand it, cannot be benefited by it.” But, a new thought is introduced by the expression “Givest thanks well,” which signifies a prayer which is acceptable to God and rewarding to you. This proves that the speaker must have understood what he said, because, if the unintelligible is useless, it must be confusing to the speaker as well as to the hearer. If it was necessary for them to understand in order to be edified, it was no less necessary that he should understand what he said in order to benefit. This verse contradicts all theories of the gift of tongues which assume that those who used them did not understand their own words. The Scriptures recognize no unintelligent worship of God, or any spiritual edification (in the case of adults) disconnected from the truth.

18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:

The Apostle uses himself as an example to shame them for their foolish ambition, and also so that he may avoid all suspicion of him envying them for their gifts. We know there are many who put down others which possess more ability or talent than they; therefore, Paul, so that he might not seem to put down the Corinthians, because he envied their gift of tongues, anticipated that suspicion, and eliminated any basis for it by showing that in tongue-speaking he is superior to all of them. This is not bragging on his part, and while he could put himself on display in this area he is more concerned with edification. Paul’s doctrine does not require the assistance of anything of a spectacular nature, or that which would exalt him; however, in order that he would not appear excessively arrogant, he gives all the credit to God for his ability to speak in tongues. Thus he tempers his boasting with modesty.

This verse shows the Apostle considered tongues a spiritual gift, and that it was a gift present at that time. But why did he “speak with more tongues than all of them?” It was for a good reason: he was the Apostle to the Gentiles, and he preaches the gospel among remote and barbarous nations, who spoke languages he was not familiar with. [Note: I speak with tongues; rather than with a tongue.] He said he spoke in tongues “More than ye all.” This is exactly what we should expect of the emotional, impassioned nature of Paul, who was so completely under the influence of the Spirit of God.

19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

“Yet in the Church” signifies “In any public assembly of Christians.”

Paul had such great regard for the purpose of his ministry—teaching others, and communicating Divine knowledge to them—that he would rather speak a little to that end, than to speak abundantly in a language which those to whom he spoke did not understand.

“I would rather speak five words” is taken by some to mean five sentences; however, scripture should always be understood as it is written, and mere men should never take it upon themselves to correct the Holy Spirit.

“That by my voice I might teach others also” expresses the Apostles objective for the ministry the Lord has appointed to him. The word translated "teach" is more accurately rendered instruct, the root of our word "catechize."

Paul is probably making use of exaggeration when he says “I had rather speak five words with my understanding… than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” Paul, had he chosen to do so, might have reveled proudly in his power of speaking with tongues, yet, he voluntarily refrains from doing it, and, without any demonstration of his personal gifts, aspires exclusively the edification of the Church. By this means, he rebukes the pointless ambition of those that eagerly desire to make an impression with empty tinkling—“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1; KJV). The authority of the Apostle alone should have carried enough weight to draw them away from vanity of this kind. If Paul’s command that “all must be done for edification” is true, then it follows that “all must be understood.” There is a lesson here for preachers who are so proud of their lofty education that their sermons feature expressions that the people cannot understand.

20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

Brethren, be not children in understanding:
There is some speculation that Paul, in this verse is quoting Isaiah 28.11, and if we accept that proposal, we may understand more accurately Paul’s meaning. Many interpreters have been misled, because they have refused to accept this connection. We want to avoid making the same mistake, so we will explain the passage in Isaiah first, and then we will explain Paul’s words.

In Chapter 28, the Prophet severely berates the ten tribes, which had involved themselves in every kind of wickedness. The only consolation is that God still had a remnant of His people in the tribe of Judah who remained uncorrupted by what was going on all around them; but God deplores the corruption of that tribe also; and He reprimands them more sharply, because in their case there was no hope for improvement. This appalling state of affairs led the Prophet to speak in the name of God—whom shall I teach knowledge? those that are weaned from their mother? those that are drawn from the breasts. By this he indicates that they are no more capable of receiving instruction than little children who have been recently weaned. And then he adds— Precept upon precept, instruction upon instruction, charge upon charge, direction upon direction, here a little, and there a little. Here he sounds like a copycat; but he makes a point—their slowness and carelessness is holding them back. “I try to teach them, but it is a waste of time, because they do not make any progress; they are uncultured, and though I spend long hours trying to teach them, it goes in one ear and out the other.” In addition, he adds — He that speaketh to that people is like one that maketh use of stammering lips, and a foreign language. This is the passage that Paul quotes. Now, this is Isaiah’s (God’s) meaning—the people have become both blind and mad; they no more understand what God says to them, than they would understand some barbarian or foreigner, stammering in an unknown tongue. He has not, however, quoted the Prophet’s words accurately, because he believes it is enough to just make a reference to the passage, so that the Corinthians may accept the criticism and give due consideration to his words. Now Paul infers from this—“Brethren, it is necessary to guard against that childishness, which is so severely criticized by the Prophet—so that the words of God do not fall on deaf ears. Now, for fear that the Corinthians would say in reply that Matthew 18:4 commands that we become like children, Paul urges them, to be children in malice, but to beware of being children in understanding. Paul wants all believers to be, as far as possible, fully mature in their understanding.

“Be not children in understanding” would sting the ego of those believers in Corinth who read, or listened as someone else read, these words of the Apostle, because they carried the full weight of the apostolic office. They would understand that he wanted them to use manly good sense and judgment in the church; and not to babble in an unknown tongue like a child.

Little children prefer frivolous and gaudy things, which make a showy spectacle, like the gift of tongues does, rather than things which are more useful. Therefore, do not choose what pleases you the most, but what profits others the most. “I would prefer you be like children in some ways, namely in innocence and harmlessness, and without hatred, meanness, and all kinds of wickedness; but when it comes to understanding, be and act like men, like persons having mature judgment, who know what is appropriate to be spoken, and best to be done.

howbeit in malice be ye children,
You are commanded to be like little children in some things such as innocence and malice, but not when it comes to knowledge and understanding. You should study to be men in your understanding, but with respect to innocence you ought to be like little children.

THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD ALWAYS BE CHILDLIKE: “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” The“Wise and prudent” are the scribes and Pharisees, vain men puffed up by their worldly minds, and whose foolish hearts were darkened, because they refused to submit to the righteousness of God (God's method of saving man by Christ), who are always trying to establish their own righteousness, (their own method of saving themselves); they rejected God's guidance, and God sent the peace and salvation of the Gospel to others, called here babes, (his disciples), simple-hearted persons, who submitted to being instructed and were saved in God's own way.

BUT THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD NEVER BE CHILDISH: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Cor 13:11; KJV). “When I became an adult,” or, having become an adult, I have “put an end to childish ways,” that is, my former childish way of talking, feeling, and thinking.
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph 4:14; KJV) Children are not only unstable but are easily deceived. They fall easy prey to the deceitful and the scheming. The apostle therefore adds, “by the sleight of men.” Here “slight” means trickery, craftiness, and deceit.

I have read that the term “children” may not fit Paul’s meaning as well as ‘infants” does, since children are sometimes vain and malicious. They are more or less controlled by the old Adam. The phrase would then read, “howbeit in malice be ye infants.”

but in understanding be men.
He is scolding the Corinthians again. He has called them carnal—babes in Christ. Now he tells them not to act like children, but rather to be full-grow men, and act like those whose understanding is mature. Paul associates the gift of tongues with spiritual immaturity. He anticipates that as the church matures her concerns will be less in the arena of the spectacular and more in the stimulation of understanding.

It is a shame to have no more understanding at 80 than you had at eight years of age? “For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe” (Heb 5.13; NKJV). When one has reached manhood we do not expect him to live on the food of babes. Likewise, a church member, as time goes on, ought to feed on strong meat, the higher teaching of religion. There should be growth in knowledge. A Christian ought to study, to gain a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures and especially of the New Testament, to become able to teach others, and to explain the higher principles of our religion. In addition he ought to be able to discern the moral character of the situations of life, to know not only what to accept and what to reject, but how to warn his less instructed brethren.

21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.

In the law it is written
There appears to be consensus among Bible commentators concerning Paul’s inspiration for this verse—that he again is motivated by the Prophets words in Isaiah 28:11, 12, which says: “For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, To whom He said, "This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest," And, "This is the refreshing"; Yet they would not hear.” The gist of this verse is: God had warned Israel by his prophets that their safety and security, their deliverance from their present misfortune and from the apprehensions of even greater calamities which were forthcoming, depended entirely on their trust in God, their faith and obedience; but they rejected this gracious warning with disrespect and disdain. They did not receive the word of the prophets who spoke to them in Hebrew, so now they will hear the voice of “men with other tongues and other lips.”

The word “law” is not confined to the first five books of the Old Testament, rather to the completed Old Testament writings. A similar use of the word is found in John 10.34 <1>, and John 15:25 <2>.
<1> “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” (John 10:34; KJV).
<2> “But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause” (John 15:25; KJV).

With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people;
This phrase has its root in the words of the Prophet Isaiah as recorded in Isaiah 28.11, 12, which was also the circumstance of the first clause. The meaning of the verses in Isaiah is that God would teach the rebellious and stubborn Jews submission to himself by punishing them; He would use Assyrians and Babylonian invaders, who spoke another language to conquer them and take them into captivity in a foreign land. There, they would only hear a language which to them was unintelligible and barbarous. Yet, in spite of this discipline, they would remain, to some extent, a rebellious people. The passage in Isaiah does not mention the miraculous gift of tongues; therefore, it cannot have been used by the apostle as a passage which suggests that such miraculous gifts would be imparted. Instead, it seems to have been used by Paul, because the “words” which occurred in Isaiah would “appropriately express” the idea which he wished to convey, that God would make use of foreign languages for some “valuable purpose.” But he in no way implies that Isaiah had any such view in mind; nor does he quote this as a fulfillment of the prophecy; nor does he mean to say, that God would accomplish “the same purpose” by the use of foreign languages, which was envisioned in the passage in Isaiah. The meaning seems to be, “Just like God accomplished an important purpose by the use of a foreign language in regard to his ancient people, as recorded in Isaiah, he will use of foreign languages to accomplish important purposes at this time. They will be used in the Christian church to achieve important objectives, though not in the same manner, or for the same purpose, as in the time of the captivity. The Apostle immediately reveals the purpose foreign languages will serve in the Christian church; 1 Corinthians 14:22-23.

and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.
“Yet for all that” is still a reference to the passage in Isaiah; see Isaiah 28:12. The meaning of the passage is, “Notwithstanding all this chastisement that shall be inflicted on the Jews in a distant land, and among a people of a different language, they will still be a rebellious people.” It is not quoted literally by the apostle, but the main idea is retained. He probably does not want to apply this to the Corinthians, unless it is meant to insinuate that the power of speaking foreign languages did not of necessity guarantee obedience. It might be that this power could be possessed, and yet they would be a sinful people; just as the Jews were rebuked by the judgments of God, inflicted upon them by means of a people speaking a foreign language, and yet they were not reformed or made holy.

It should be noted that Paul could have had a passage in Deuteronomy in mind when he wrote this verse: “And they shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed for ever… The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand” (Deut 28:46, 49; KJV). Compare this passage with the passage in Isaiah 28, and verses 21-25 of 1 Corinthians 14. The Apostle could have been referring to both passages when he wrote to the Corinthians. Both are delivered in a threatening manner, and one is supposed to interpret the other. The point being made is that it is an indication that people are abandoned by God when he gives them up to this sort of discipline, to be punished by those who speak in another language. And unsurprisingly, the apostle's dialogue implies that you should not be fond of the signs of divine displeasure. God cannot have kind regards for those who depend entirely on this sort of instruction; that is, taught in language which they cannot understand. They can never be benefited by such teaching; and, when God leaves them alone and allows them to continue down this path, it is a sad sign that God considers them beyond cure. So, should Christians desire to be in such a state, or to bring the churches into it? Those Corinthian preachers must have wanted just such a thing, since they would always deliver their inspirations in an unknown tongue

Paul adds "saith the Lord," partly for the sake of the authority of the words, and partly to engage the attention of the Corinthians.

22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.

Wherefore tongues are for a sign,
The apostle does not mean to say that what he was about to state was a direct conclusion reached from the passage of Scripture which he had quoted, but that it followed from all that he had said, and from the whole aspect of the subject. “The true statement or doctrine is, that the gift of tongues are given for a sign,” etc.
“Tongues” is used here to mean “the power of speaking foreign languages.”

“Are for a sign” means an “indication,” or evidence, or proof that God has conveyed this power to men, and that He intends for it to be used for the preaching of the gospel. It is a “sign,” or a “miracle,” which, like all other miracles, may be designed to convince the unbelieving world that the Christian religion is from God.

In the Isaiah 28 passage, tongues were a sign of judgment upon the Israelites. Foreigners who spoke in unknown tongues invaded their country. The strange tongues which they spoke were not a blessing, but a curse. Paul is warning, “Take heed that that is not the case now: because, by dwelling on the gift, you may forget the  Gift Giver; and what He designed for you as a blessing, may prove to be a curse instead; God may curse your blessings.” Paul is saying that today, tongues are for a sign, as well.

Here, according to some Bible commentators, the straight reading of the text presents one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament; but it seems to me that the straight reading of the text is plainly saying “tongues is a sign to unbelievers, and prophecy is a sign for those who believe.” However, this passage has been explained in two ways, depending on how the word “therefore” is applied. “Therefore” may refer only to the preceding sentence, or it could be applied generally to the entire foregoing discussion. If the reference is to the particular circumstances of Isaiah 28, the meaning will be—“ You see, brethren, that what you so eagerly desire is not a blessing bestowed by God upon believers, but a punishment, by which he inflicts vengeance upon the rebellious and unbelievers.” It was clearly not an act grace and kindness, as prophesying, or speaking to them by the prophets, was; and so this is an inference from what is said in the preceding verse, and shows, that there was no reason why believers should be so very desirous of the gift of tongues. In this case, Paul would not be viewed as speaking of tongues under all circumstances, but simply as commenting on what had occurred only once. But if these words refer to all that is said before on this subject, the word "sign" may be taken to mean a miracle; and so a new line of reasoning is formed against an over fondness for tongue-speaking, and using it in public worship, which shows that prophecy should be preferred to tongues; because speaking with tongues was used in a miraculous way. This clause can be interpreted either way, since both meanings are correct.


not to them that believe,
Not to Christians, who have no need of miracles to get and to hold their attention, and to give them faith in what has been said. They are already convinced of the truth of religion; and therefore, they would not benefit by that which was spoken in a language which they could not understand.

but to them that believe not:
Tongues were a spiritual gift, intended for the conviction and conversion of infidels so that they might be brought into the Christian church. It was considered a “sign” gift or a “miraculous” gift, since it had the power to capture the attention of unbelievers and to prepare them to listen to what might be suggested to them by persons speaking in their own language, who before that moment, had never spoken their language. This gift of speaking with diverse tongues was used by the apostles on the Day of Pentecost, a fact recorded in Acts 2.4—“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance”—but considering the fact that the Corinthian church consisted of believers, there was no need of such a sign or miracle among them; and for that reason, if they desired such gifts, and to make use of them, they should choose to do it, not in the church, but among unbelievers. It is a miracle designed to convince unbelievers of the truth of the Christian religion. God alone could confer the power; and since it was conferred expressly to aid in the propagation of the gospel, it proved that it was from God.

There advantages derived from tongues were twofold. First, the variety of tongues (languages) could not prevent the Apostles from spreading the gospel over the whole world: consequently, there was NO nation to which they could not go as emissaries of Jesus Christ. Tongues also served to move or terrify unbelievers by the sight and sound of a miracle—because this miracle was designed by God to prepare those who did not know about Jesus Christ to be brought into the fellowship of believers. The gift of tongues was used to spread Christianity, and bring together churches; it was intended to convince unbelievers of that doctrine which Christians had already embraced.

but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not,
“But prophesying” refers to explaining the prophetic writings, or preaching the word, while speaking in a calm, edifying manner, in language understandable to all, while under the influence of inspiration: “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14.1).

“For them that believe not” refers to unbelievers. “Prophesying is not particularly intended for them; but is intended mainly for the edifying of the church. It is not as striking and full of proofs of the divine presence and power as the gift of tongues. Although it may be actually under the influence of the Holy Spirit, yet it is not as obvious and striking as the power of speaking foreign languages. It was, therefore, better adapted to edify the church than to convert sinners. At the same time the “truths” conveyed by it, and the comfort resulting from it, might be as clear evidence to the church of the presence, power, and goodness of God, as the power of speaking foreign languages might be to infidels.

Prophesying, and interpreting scripture in their own language, was mostly for the edification of believers: so that speaking with tongues in Christian assemblies was altogether out of time and place. Note, that for gifts to be used correctly, the purpose for which they are intended to serve must be known. It would have been a hopeless undertaking had the apostles gone about the conversion of infidels without the gift of tongues.

but for them which believe.
Prophesying is mostly for the edification, exhortation, and comfort of believers: “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church” (1 Corinthians 14:4; NKJV). It is the means of building up their faith, stirring them up to do their duty to God, and comforting them when distressed; and therefore it is much more useful to a church of Christ, than speaking with tongues. Speaking in tongues in an assembly of Christians would be disrespectful, because it would be of no advantage to the assembly; not for converting them to the Christian faith, because they had already embraced it; not for their edification, because they did not understand, what they heard. Hence, the Corinthians were using this gift improperly, because while emphasizing it, they were allowing prophecy to be neglected, which was particularly and especially set apart for believers.

23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?

If therefore the whole church be come together into one place,
That is, if all the Christians of the “church,” or the whole congregation, is assembled in “one place.”

and all speak with tongues,
The prestige and good name of Christian assemblies among unbelievers required them to prefer prophesying before speaking with tongues. But, the condition set up here is that their minister, or all those having a part in public worship, talks in an unintelligible language; unknown tongues or foreign languages, which is a very undesirable situation.  Ideally, the church would usually speak the same language spoken by the people among whom they dwelt.

and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers,
“And there come in” is a reference to the worship of God and those who gather for that purpose; which would be predominantly Christians, but there may be some who are unbelievers who have come out of curiosity or were invited by Christian friends.

“Those that are “unlearned” are Christians, who, though they have learned about Christ, and understand the doctrines of the Gospel; the only language they understand is their native tongue.
“Or unbelievers” are heathens, or Jews, who did not believe in Christ. Heathens have no knowledge of Christ, and consequently could have no faith in Him. These unbelievers could understand no other language but their own. It is evident from this that such persons often attended Christian worship services. Curiosity or the fact that they had relatives among Christians might have caused them to do it.

will they not say that ye are mad?
If, while they were all assembled for Christian worship, their ministers, or all those having a part in the service, would talk in incomprehensible language, and unbelievers should drop in, they would assume the tongue-speakers were mad, or a flock of wild fanatics. Who in their right mind could carry on religious worship in such a manner? Or what sort of religion is that which leaves out common sense and understanding? Speaking in a strange language to a congregation that does not know one word of what is said, is speaking to the air, and does not profit those who hear at all; and who but a madman would do this? The apostle points to the scandal and contempt that would be poured upon them by such a practice, since they seek the glory and applause of men, in which, he suggests, they would be sadly disappointed. Would not this type of behavior make Christianity ridiculous to a heathen, to hear the ministers of it pray, or preach, or perform any other religious functions, in a language that neither he nor the assembly understood? The apostles were charged with being intoxicated when they spoke in foreign languages on the Day of Pentecost: “Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine: (Acts 2:13; KJV). Note, The Christian religion is a serious and reasonable thing in itself, and should not be made to look wild or senseless by its ministers. Those who do anything that may degrade the good-name of the Christian religion disgrace their religion, and vilify their own character.

24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:

But if all prophesy,
That is, “if all” that speak publicly in the church, not together, but in the proper order, will state the truths of religion in a language intelligible to all: “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy” (1 Cor 14:1; KJV). Love is to be a supreme pursuit of the Christians life, yet this objective is not intended to belittle spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts may be sought after, but in the seeking, desire above all to possess the gift of “prophecy.” The Apostle has previously showed the Corinthian believers, how much more advantageous prophecy is to those that are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10) than the gift of tongues, so now he shows that it would be useful also to those that are not part of the Household of faith (unbelievers). Verse 24 is a very powerful statement because it shows the Corinthians the error of their ways. It is improper to devalue a gift that is more useful to those both within and without the Household of faith, while emphasizing another gift which is useless to those that are within the Household and offensive to those that are without.
We will find this verse is much easier to understand if we compare it with another that occurs in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:12; KJV). The word of God has awesome power when it is applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit. It can move both believers and unbelievers to commit to the will of God. But unless it is first understood by the mind it is useless.

and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned,
See verse 23 for meaning of  “one that believeth not” and “one unlearned.”

he is convinced of all,
“He is convinced of all” means he will be convinced by all that speak. He will understand what is said; he will see its truth and feel its force, and he will be persuaded that those things said about Christianity are true. The idea of this phrase and the next is the efficiency of the Word of God, as it concerns Christians and non Christians. The consciences of unregenerate men are in a lethargic state, and are not touched with any feeling of dissatisfaction on account of their sins, so long as they are enveloped in the darkness of ignorance. In short, unbelief is like a lethargy that takes away feeling. But the Word of God penetrates even to the farthest recesses of the mind, and by introducing, as it were, a light, dispels darkness, and drives away that deadly lethargy. Consequently, unbelievers are convinced of their need for forgiveness and salvation according to how seriously affected and alarmed they become upon learning they must do business with God and Jesus Christ.  Whereas they were previously engrossed in darkness, and did not perceive their own wretchedness and immorality, they are now brought into the light of day by the Holy Spirit applying the Word of God to their heart, and are forced to bear witness against themselves.

The word here translated “convinced” is rendered “reprove” in John 16:8—“And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin,” etc. Its proper meaning is to “convict,” to show one to be wrong; and then to rebuke, reprove, admonish, etc. He would see that his former opinions and lifestyle had been wrong, and acknowledge the force and truth of the Christian faith. He would be convicted, or convinced of his sin; he would have a profound sense of his sin, his personal unworthiness, and need for salvation through the working of the Holy Spirit, and this becomes a preliminary step toward conversion. The following verse (25) shows that the apostle means something more than a mere convincing of the understanding, or a mere conviction that his opinions had been erroneous. Here, the Apostle evidently refers to what is now known also as “conviction” for sin; that is, a deep sense of the depravity of the heart, of the errors and follies of the past life, accompanied with mental anxiety, distress, and alarm. The force of truth, and the appeals which should be made, and the observation of the happy effects of religion, would convince him that he was a sinner, and show him also his need for a Savior.

If, instead of speaking with tongues, ministers would plainly interpret scripture, or preach the great truths and rules of the gospel in a language understood by all, then, a heathen or unlearned person, visiting the assembly, will probably be convinced, and become a convert to Christianity.

he is judged of all:
“He is judged by all” refers to all that speak in understandable language; to all that they say. The “effect” of what they say is to pass “judgment” on his former life; or to condemn him. What is said will be approved by his conscience, and will have the outcome of his condemning himself as a lost sinner. This is the desired effect of faithful preaching, to produce deep self-condemnation in the minds of sinners.

When he says, that they are “judged” and convinced by all, you must understand him as meaning all that prophesy; because he had said a little before this, “If ye all prophesy.” Paul hopes that what he has said will remove the Corinthian’s dislike for prophecy. He says, “The unbeliever is not convinced simply because I have pronounced judgment upon him either silently in the mind, or openly with the mouth, but because his conscience understands the doctrine that was preached. He is judged, inasmuch as he looks inside himself, and, after a thorough examination, comes to know himself, while previously he was oblivious of himself. Jesus said as much in John’s gospel: “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16.8; NKJV). Jesus said, in effect, “When the Holy Spirit is come, He will convict the world in the way a judge or a prosecuting attorney presents evidence to bring a conviction.” The Spirit of God wants to present evidence in your heart and in my heart to bring us to a place of conviction, and that, of course, means a place of decision. There must be a conviction before we can turn in faith and trust to Jesus Christ.

25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.

And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest;
This can be done through the gift of prophecy, either by an “obvious” word of prophecy, or by an impulsive word of prophecy “hidden” in the message of the teacher or preacher. The Holy Spirit uses this method to convict many: His conscience will be stirred-up, the secrets of his heart will be revealed to him, he will be condemned by the truth he hears, and as a result will be lead to confess his guilt, to pay homage to God, and to acknowledge that God is indeed present in the assembly. The convicted sinner often supposes that the preacher is speaking only to “him,” and he wonders how he knows so much about his feelings and his life; and he may even think that he is planning to disclose his feelings to the congregation. It is possible that Paul may mean here is that the preacher, by inspiration, would be able to reveal some secret facts about the stranger; or to state some things about him which could be known only to him; as was the case with Ananias and Sapphira—“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?” (Acts 5:1-3; KJV). But perhaps it is better to understand this in a more general sense; that is, by describing the more common effect of prophesy (preaching), when it is applied by a man‘s own conscience. Such effects are often witnessed now; for example, effects show the truth of religion; its adaptability to people; the omniscience and the power of God; the intention of the conscience, and its use in the conversion of sinners. Those are general effects. Specific effects are: He may be led to see the “real” plans and motives of his heart. His conscience would be awakened; he would recall his former course of life; he would see that it was evil; and the present state of his heart would be made known to him. It is possible that he would “suppose that the speaker was aiming directly at him, and “revealing” his feelings to others;” for such an effect is often produce in the mind of a sinner as he begins to experience conviction for his sins. The preached word is in His hands; influenced, directed, and applied by the Spirit of God, who is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Note, Scripture-truth, when plainly and properly taught, has a marvelous ability to awaken the conscience, and touch the heart. This does much more for the honor of our religion than when infidels assume our ministers are a bunch of madmen, and their religious actions are only fits of frenzy? Their amusing gyrations together with incoherent sounds and speech would immediately cast contempt on them and their religion too. Instead of procuring for them the appreciation of the Christian community, it would portray them as ridiculous and a spectacle, and involve their religion in the same denunciation.  But prophesying would have the opposite effect, seeing that it would certainly edify the church, enhance their good-name, and most likely convince and convert infidels who might occasionally visit their assembly and hear them.

Observe, Religious exercises in Christian assemblies should be carried out in such a way that the faithful are edified, and unbelievers are convicted, affected, and converted. The ministry was not instituted to make a show of gifts, but to save souls.

and so falling down on his face he will worship God,
“Falling down on his face,” describes the usual posture of worship or reverence in eastern countries. It was performed by sinking to the knees and hands, and then placing the face on the ground. This might be done publicly; or the apostle may mean to say that it would lead him to do it in private.

“He will worship God” infers that He will be converted, and become a Christian. He will pray to God, and earnestly beseech Him to be merciful to him a sinner, and blot out all his transgressions, and forgive him all his sins; and will from that time always acknowledge Him to be the true God, embrace His Gospel, submit to His ordinances, and attend His services.

Only the knowledge of God can dethrone the pride of the flesh. Hence, it is its proper effect and nature of prophecy (preaching) to bring down men from their haughtiness, so that they may offer worship to God. But unfortunately, for many, prophecy does not provide a benefit; instead, they are made worse by what they hear.

and report that God is in you of a truth.
And report: or "declare", freely and openly to the church, to all men, to the world, and to that crowd he formally associated with: that the Spirit of God, who is truly God, and searches the deep things of God, and reveals them, and the deep things of men, and makes them known, is in the prophets and preachers, otherwise they would never be able to reveal the secrets of the heart as they do; and that the presence of God is in the church, and the power of God goes along with all those who will be convinced of their sin, of God’s righteousness, and who repent and have faith in God.

The preaching of the Word is valuable for many important reasons: sinners are converted, God is worshipped and glorified, credit is brought to religion, the church of Christ is spoken well of, and prophets or preachers are honored; therefore prophesying, because it is both for the edification of believers, and conversion of sinners, should be desired, and made use of before speaking with tongues. And, so far as Paul is concerned, it is far more important that the unbeliever hear each message and testimony clearly in his own language.

Do you have any questions or comments?

 Sometimes our limited view of God’s creation actually contributes to a limited view of God himself. The following realization is a good antidote when we start reducing the Creator to someone we can easily comprehend. Our solar system has a diameter of seven hundred light minutes, or eight billion miles. The galaxy that contains our solar system has a diameter of one hundred thousand light years, not minutes. Yet our galaxy, the Milky Way, is but one of over ten billion galaxies in the universe. The God we serve is he who created it all with but the sound of his voice.