1 Corinthians 14:1
Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
(a) Pursue love. Love is not highly valued in this dog-eat-dog world, but love is a prize worth pursuing. We are to pursue love in our homes, churches, and workplaces.
(b) Spiritual gifts include wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues (1 Cor. 12:8–10). The purpose of spiritual gifts is to edify and strengthen the church (Rom. 1:11, 1 Cor. 14:3–4).
1 Corinthians 14:2
For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.
(a) Tongue. The gift of tongues is the ability to speak, pray, or praise the Lord in unknown languages. Other languages include human languages (e.g., Acts 2:4–6) and angelic or heavenly languages. When we speak in an unknown tongue, we are speaking to God with our spirits instead of our minds (1 Cor. 14:14). See entry for 1 Cor. 12:10.
(b) Mysteries are spiritual truths uttered in words that cannot be understood. For this reason, speaking in tongues in a public setting should ideally be accompanied by the gift of interpretation (1 Cor. 14:13, 27).
1 Corinthians 14:4
One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church.
(a) Tongue; see entry for 1 Cor. 12:10.
(b) Edifies himself. When we speak or pray in an unknown tongue, we are speaking to God with our spirits instead of our minds (1 Cor. 14:14). Although our minds cannot comprehend what we are saying, we are not speaking empty words into the empty air. The Holy Spirit is praying along with us, interceding for us, and coaching us (see entry for Rom. 8:26). When we speak or pray in tongues, we can be sure that we are hitting the target with our prayers. As we pray, our spirits are edified, and if revelation follows, our minds are encouraged too. For this reason, speaking in tongues is to be encouraged and never forbidden (1 Cor. 14:5, 39).
(c) Prophesies. The gift of prophecy is the ability to impart truth from God’s heart in a way that encourages, strengthens, and comforts people (see entry for 1 Cor. 13:2).
1 Corinthians 14:5
Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.
(a) I wish that you all spoke in tongues because doing so is good for you (see previous verse).
(b) Greater. The one who prophesies makes a greater contribution than the one who speaks in tongues because prophecy benefits everyone. Speaking in tongues only edifies the speaker (unless there is an interpretation).
1 Corinthians 14:6
But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?
(a) Brethren. In the New Testament, the word brethren typically refers to Christian brothers and sisters (see entry for Heb. 2:11).
(b) Tongues. Although speaking in tongues edifies the individual (see 1 Cor. 14:4), it does nothing for others unless it there is an interpretation (1 Cor. 14:9. 13).
(c) Profit. Paul lists four ministry types that are beneficial to the church.
(d) Revelation. A spiritual revelation is a truth about the character and purpose of God revealed to you by the Holy Spirit. A revelation, which is typically specific and precise, can be contrasted with a spiritual perception, which can be vague and impressionistic.
(e) Knowledge. While spiritual revelation will usually reveal something about God’s character, a word of knowledge will usually pertain to a specific situation or circumstance (e.g., Acts 9:11–12, 10:19–20). It is knowledge that comes by the spirit rather than through natural senses. See also the entry for 1 Cor. 12:8.
(f) Prophecy. A prophecy is an encouraging or comforting truth that helps us understand spiritual mysteries. See also the entry for 1 Cor. 13:2.
(g) Teaching. The gift of teaching is the ability to reveal Jesus the Living Word of God (Acts 4:2, 13:12, 15:35, 18:11, 28:31, Col. 3:16, 2 John 1:9). Teaching also includes the ability to unpack the scriptures (Acts 2:42).
1 Corinthians 14:9
So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.
(a) Speech that is clear includes a revelation, a word of knowledge, a prophecy, or a teaching (1 Cor. 14:6). Five words that people can understand is better than 10,000 words they cannot (1 Cor. 14:19).
(b) Speaking into the air. Speaking in tongues sounds meaningless to the natural mind. This does not mean we should cease or forbid speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:5, 39). But when done in public, speaking in tongues should ideally be accompanied by an interpretation (1 Cor. 14:27).
1 Corinthians 14:13
Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.
Interpret. If we are to put the needs of others before ourselves, we need to interpret words spoken in tongues.
1 Corinthians 14:14
For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.
(a) My spirit. Your spirit is that part of you that makes you spiritually aware or God-conscious. For want of a better analogy, your spirit is like an antenna. Just as our physical bodies connect us to the physical realm, our spirits connect us to the spiritual realm. Just as we have natural senses (sight, smell, hearing, etc.), we have spiritual senses (e.g., intuition).
See entry for Spirit and Soul.
(b) My mind. When we speak or pray in an unknown tongue, we are speaking to God with our spirits instead of our minds (1 Cor. 14:14). Without an interpretation, our minds cannot comprehend what we are saying.
1 Corinthians 14:18
I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all;
Tongues. Speaking in tongues is to be encouraged. It would be wrong to conclude from Paul’s caveats that he was opposed to the exercise of this gift. He was not. But he was opposed to those who forbade speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:39).
1 Corinthians 14:19
however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.
(a) In the church. In a public setting. Speaking in tongues is an excellent aid to private prayer (1 Cor. 14:4). But in a public setting, it can lead to unbelievers thinking you have lost your mind (1 Cor. 14:23). For this reason, the interpretation of tongues was an essential complement to speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:27).
(b) Five words that people can understand is better than 10,000 words they cannot (1 Cor. 14:9).
1 Corinthians 14:20
Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.
(a) Mature. Don’t be naive or immature in your thinking or reasoning. Don’t be ignorant of the devil’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11).
(b) Infants. When it comes to evil, be as innocent as babes.
1 Corinthians 14:21
In the Law it is written, “BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,” says the Lord.
In the Law. Paul is quoting from Isaiah 28:11. The prophets do not form part of the Law of Moses or the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). He is referring to the Hebrew Scriptures or the Old Testament. For similar examples, see John 10:34, 12:34, 15:25.
1 Corinthians 14:22
So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.
(a) A sign… to unbelievers. Speaking in unknown tongues is a sign that has intrigued unbelievers since the very birth of the church (Acts 2:4, 6). However, if the tongues go unrecognized or uninterpreted, unbelievers will think we are out of our minds.
(b) A sign… to believers. In contrast with speaking in uninterpreted tongues, the gift of prophecy strengthens the faith of believers.
1 Corinthians 14:23
Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?
You are mad. The things of the spirit make no sense to the unbeliever. They appear as foolishness (1 Cor. 2:14).
It would be a mistake to forbid the speaking of tongues in a service (1 Cor. 14:39). But the gift of tongues needs to be accompanied by the gift of interpretation (1 Cor. 14:13, 27).
1 Corinthians 14:26
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
Each one. Everyone can exercise their spiritual gifts in church meetings.
If each one can have a teaching or a revelation, then each one can teach and preach. There is no difference. The only requirement for teaching and preaching is the message should strengthen the church. Your gender or race have nothing to do with it (Gal. 3:28).
(b) A tongue; see entry for 1 Cor. 12:10.
(c) An interpretation; see entry for 1 Cor. 12:10.
1 Corinthians 14:27
If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret;
(a) A tongue; see entry for 1 Cor. 12:10.
(b) One must interpret. Speaking in tongues is an excellent aid to private prayer (1 Cor. 14:4). But in a public setting, it can lead to unbelievers thinking you have lost your mind (1 Cor. 14:23). For this reason, the interpretation of tongues is an essential complement to speaking in tongues.
1 Corinthians 14:28
but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.
(a) No interpreter. Not everyone has the gift of interpretation (1 Cor. 12:30).
(b) Keep silent. Paul is not forbidding speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:39). He’s saying it’s unwise to speak in tongues publicly unless there is an interpretation.
(c) Speak to himself. Speak in tongues quietly and privately.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.
(a) The women are to keep silent in the churches. No other scripture has been used to muzzle women more than this one. We should have no doubt that the Bible offers a clear answer to the question of whether women stay silent in church: They shouldn’t. Numerous scriptures exhort women to speak in church, and most of them were written by Paul (e.g., Acts 1:14, 2:4, 17, 18, 4:31, 21:9, Rom. 12:6, 16:1, 3, 6, 12, 1 Cor. 12:7, 11, 27, 14:5, 26, 27, 29, 31, 39, 2 Cor. 5:17, Heb. 5:12, 1 Pet. 2:9, 4:10–11).
Given the unequivocal instruction of scripture, why does Paul seem to contradict himself by telling women to remain silent? He doesn’t. This pair of verses is an interpolation. It should be in block quotes because he is quoting the Corinthians. They are the ones who wondered whether women should keep silent in the church.
The second half of this letter contains Paul’s responses to Corinthian questions: “Now concerning the things about which you wrote” (1 Cor. 7:1). “Now concerning virgins…” (1 Cor. 7:25). “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols…” (1 Cor. 8:1). “Now concerning spiritual gifts…” (1 Cor. 12:1)
“Now concerning the collection for the saints…” (1 Cor. 16:1). It’s the same here. The Corinthians had wondered whether women should remain silent in churches and they put the issue to Paul.
(b) They are not permitted to speak … as the Law also says. What law? There was no Old Testament law forbidding women from speaking. However, the Greeks had civic laws forbidding women from speaking in public assemblies, and it’s these laws that Paul was referring to. There were also rabbinical teachings that were later codified in the Talmud that said much the same thing. According to the Greek philosophers and the Jewish rabbis, woman were meant to stay silent while the men did all the talking.
Further reading: “Should women be silent in church?”
1 Corinthians 14:36
Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?
(a) Was it from you? The Corinthians wondered whether women should stay silent in church and Paul’s response is one of shock and disbelief. “Are you guys nuts? By commanding women to be silent do you think you are speaking from the heart of the Father? Do you really think that you have heard from God?”
The Source New Testament translates this verse as follows: “Utter rubbish! Did the Word of God come originally from you! Utter rubbish! Were you the only ones that it reached!?”
Further reading: “What a difference a word can make”
(b) The word of God refers to the revealed will of God. Paul is saying, “Do you really think you know the mind of God on this matter?” If we really want to know what God thinks about women in the church, we should consider the way Jesus treated women. In contrast with the “civilized” Greeks and the religious Jews, Jesus did not silence women. He let them speak and listened to them.
Further reading: “Jesus listened to women: Why don’t we?”
1 Corinthians 14:37
If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.
(a) If anyone thinks. In other words, “If you think you’re spiritual, stop following manmade traditions and listen to what I have to say about the matter.
(b) Spiritual. To be spiritual is to be mindful of spiritual things as opposed to natural things. It’s being led by the spirit rather than walking after the flesh. See entry for 1 Cor. 2:15.
(c) The Lord’s commandment. The apostle of grace felt so strongly about the question of women speaking in church, that he was prepared to lay down the law. “You want a law? I’ll give you a law. Of course they can speak and they should! We need the whole body of Christ to function.”
1 Corinthians 14:38
But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
In other words, “Anyone who doesn’t agree with my teaching about women is an ignorant yahoo.” (The original word for recognize and recognized means ignorant.)
1 Corinthians 14:39
Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.
(a) Brethren. In the New Testament, the word brethren typically refers to Christian brothers and sisters (see entry for Heb. 2:11).
Paul closes the debate by repeating what he said earlier, which is that he was eager for all, male and female, to prophesy and speak in tongues (1 Cor. 12:7, 11). End of discussion.
Like the American revivalist Charles Finney, Paul understood that “the church that silences the women is shorn of half its power.” Every part of the body of Christ, whether male or female, young or old, is needed. Since no believer is excluded from the priesthood of all believers, all should be encouraged to participate in a way that is edifying to the church.
(b) Tongues; see entry for 1 Cor. 12:10.
1 Corinthians 14:40
But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.
Should women be forbidden to speak in church, as some have said? Far from it! Paul encouraged women to speak, prophesy, sing, speak in tongues, and do whatever is proper and fitting so that the whole church may be built up.
Further reading: The Silent Queen: Why the Church Needs Women to Find their Voice
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- 1 Corinthians 14:1
- 1 Corinthians 14:2
- 1 Corinthians 14:4
- 1 Corinthians 14:5
- 1 Corinthians 14:6
- 1 Corinthians 14:9
- 1 Corinthians 14:13
- 1 Corinthians 14:14
- 1 Corinthians 14:18
- 1 Corinthians 14:19
- 1 Corinthians 14:20
- 1 Corinthians 14:21
- 1 Corinthians 14:22
- 1 Corinthians 14:23
- 1 Corinthians 14:26
- 1 Corinthians 14:27
- 1 Corinthians 14:28
- 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
- 1 Corinthians 14:36
- 1 Corinthians 14:37
- 1 Corinthians 14:38
- 1 Corinthians 14:39
- 1 Corinthians 14:40