Study Notes on 1 Corinthians 14
Hopefully this helps you in your study.
1 Corinthians 14
So this chapter concludes the section on spiritual gifts and the misuse of speaking with tongues that the Corinthians were coveting and elevating too high.
Notice how many times the word "church" is used and the emphasis is that in the local church the common language should be used so that there is understanding (the pagan Catholic church uses Latin which most people don't speak).
1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
So pursue love (the big point of the last chapter since love will never fail) for a certainty. Also desire spiritual gifts (such as wisdom) in order to prophesy. To prophesy is defined in verses 3 & 4. It doesn't always mean to foretell future events.
Albert Barnes says, "That is, they were not most earnestly and especially to desire to be able to speak foreign languages or to work miracles; but they were to desire to be qualified to speak in a manner that would be edifying to the church."
On the secondary definition of prophesy (used here), Albert Barnes again writes, "This word properly means to predict future events, but it also means to declare the divine will; to interpret the purposes of God; or to make known in any way the truth of God, which is designed to influence people."
Prophecy is closely connected with teaching and teachers (Acts 13:1), and perhaps best understood as a class of teachers. The difference can be that a teacher is more like a a professor that gives information and lectures, while one who prophecies has more intention on edifying, encouraging, or motivating people with the Word of God. To prophesy, therefore, can be understood as preaching.
Proverbs 31:1 The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him. And then what follows is teaching on qualities of a good woman.
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.
"Unknown tongue" is what we call a "foreign language." If a Russian dude came to my church and prayed in Russian it won't help anyone else and will be a mystery to us.
The large point of this chapter is that the people in the church should seek to edify, or build up, each other.
Edify, and variations of that word, is used 7 times in this chapter. Church is used 9 times.
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.
When the Russian guy mentioned previously prays in Russian, he edifies himself by praying.
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.
It's great to speak in a variety of languages, but better to prophesy. Unless there's interpretation from one speaking in that foreign language, it doesn't edify anyone except maybe the speaker.
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?
So these illustrations are explained in the next verse and show how it's pointless to speak in a manner that people can't understand.
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.
If you don't speak in the common language you'll just be talking into the wind. It will be useless.
10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.
None of the many voices and languages out there are without meaning.
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.
This whole chapter so out rightly refutes the Charismatic and Pentecostals that it really shows how little value they place on Scripture.
12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.
The Corinthian church was so focused on certain spiritual things, and Paul is trying to redirect their zeal away from things that will soon vanish away and towards lasting things of high importance such as edifying each other.
Desire spiritual gifts? Great! Seek them in order to build each other up.
13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.
If a foreigner comes to church speaking a foreign language he should pray that he'll be able to interpret and be able to speak in the commonly understood language.
14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
As John Gill restates, "that is, what I say with understanding to myself is unprofitable to others, not being understood by them."
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.
The point is to pray and sing with understanding, to the benefit of the whole church.
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.
How can the church say "Amen", expressing agreement, if they don't know what was said? You can't hold a service, or pray, or do anything in church unless a common language is used.
18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:
Paul spoke Greek, Hebrew, at least some Aramaic if not fluent, and possibly other languages as well.
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.
He says he speaks more languages than the rest of them but "so what?" This goes back to 1 Corinthians 13:1.
20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
Elevate your understanding above that of children to that of men. But in innocence and harmlessness be like children.
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.
This is from Deuteronomy 28:49; & Isaiah 28:11-12. And the context is that God used people of other nations/languages to pronounce judgment on Israel, like Babylon or Assyria.
Even in Acts 2 the gift of languages was given to share the gospel but the gospel is a warning (Colossians 1:28).
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.
The point of these two verses is that God uses foreign languages as a warning towards people that reject Him. Therefore the Corinthian church should not be so covetous of this gift which was a sign of judgment. Less than 40 years after the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 (where this miracle was given for them that believe not), Israel was conquered by the Romans.
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 everyone is talking in different languages a newcomer will walk in that door and run out right away!
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.
If all prophesy and speak to edification and speak the truth of God's Word (decently and in order), that newcomer will be convicted in his heart. He will hear that God knows his sinful nature and need for salvation.
Hebrews 4:12 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.
26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
As Adam Clarke writes, "each of them wished to put himself forward, and occupy the time and attention of the congregation: hence confusion must necessarily take place, and perhaps not a little contention."
This was a very prideful church and each one wanted to show off his own thing.
27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.
If anyone speaks in a foreign language do it with up to 3 people, in order, with an interpreter.
28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
Don't speak at all unless there's someone who can interpret! How greatly this whole chapter contrasts and rebukes the bizarre Pentecostals and their circus act of spewing nonsense. Funny how we NEVER see videos of someone miraculously speaking in a foreign language they've never studied while someone who also has never studied that language miraculously interprets. Miracles are only given for a specific purpose for a specific duration.
Spiritual gifts of a miraculous nature have ceased long ago.
Feel free to talk to God privately in whatever REAL language you like.
29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.
In turn, one after another, in service. Let he who shares the gospel or explains biblical prophecy do it one after the other while others listen.
Let each person judge that what is being said is true and in accordance with Scripture. See Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.
31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
Kind of like in a bible study, where one person is speaking which brings something to the mind of someone else. Let the other person share his thoughts while the rest listen.
This is also more likely referencing the preaching in the church. No more than three people should preach in a service.
32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
In other words, each should have the self-control to speak or not to speak and to do it orderly, allowing others to speak as well.
33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
Adam Clarke, "Let not the persons who act in the congregation in this disorderly manner, say, that they are under the influence of God; for he is not the author of confusion; but two, three, or more, praying or teaching in the same place, at the same time, is confusion; and God is not the author of such work; and let men beware how they attribute such disorder to the God of order and peace."
Another great verse in a great chapter refuting the bizarre antics of the Charismatic new agers.
34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.
It says what it says! Men and woman are not the same! They have equal value but different roles.
In context this is referring to women speaking up in a service, or public speaking or teaching in the church, see 1 Timothy 2:12.
They can pray (1 Corinthians 11:5), they can serve in the church (Romans 16:1), they can teach the younger women (Titus 2:3-4), but leadership is a role God has ordained to be exclusive to men.
"Under obedience" means to be under obedience to their husbands (1 Corinthians 11:3), as the law says in Genesis 3:16.
35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
If they desire more information about what has been spoken they should not ask in the church but in home.
36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
This section begins to close with a very strong rebuke to the strange & incorrect customs the church at Corinth had adopted. Were you the first church that spread the gospel elsewhere? Did only you and nobody else receive the gospel?
37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.
If you call yourself a believer, take heed to what I say. A sincere believer will acknowledge that what you've just been taught is the truth.
38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.
Going back to the start of this section, 1 Corinthians 12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
If you want to ignore what you've been taught, do so at your own peril.
39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
Back to the first verse of this chapter to "bookend" it. Prophecy, or preaching, is encouraged while speaking in different languages is merely allowed within the guidelines given.
40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
Concluding statement about this section but it could really be applied to many things thus far discussed in this epistle.