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1 Corinthians 14:7-17

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?

7. Quin et inanimia vocem reddentia, sive tibia, sive cithara, nisi distinctionem sonis dederint: quomodo cognoscetur, quod tibia canitur aut cithara?

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

8. Etenim si incertam vocem tuba dederit, quis apparabitur ad bellum?

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.

9. Sic et vos per linguam, nisi significantem sermonem dederitis: quomodo intelligetur quod dicitur? eritis enim in aerem loquentes.

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

10. Tam multa, verbi gratia, genera vocum sunt in mundo, et nihil horum mutum.

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.

11. Itaque si nesciero vim voeis, ero ei qui loquitur, barbarus: et qui loquitur, apud me barbarus.

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

12. Itaque et vos, quandoquidem sectatores estis spirituum, ad aedificationera Ecclesiae quaeerite, ut excellatis.

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

13. Quapropter qui loquitur lingua, oret ut interpretetur.

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

14. Nam si orem lingua, spiritus meus orat, mens autem mea fructu caret.

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.

15. Quid igitur est? orabo spiritu, sed orabo et mente: canam spiritu, sed canam et mente.

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?

16. Alioqui si benedixeris spiritu, is qui implet locum idiotae, quomodo dicturus est Amen ad tuam gratiarum actionem? quandoquidem quid dicas, nescit.

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

17. Nam tu quidem bene gratias agis, sed alius non aedificatur.


7. Nay even things without life. He brings forward similitudes, first from musical instruments, and then afterwards from the nature of things generally, there being no voice that has not some peculiarity, suitable for distinction. 815815     “C’est a dire, pour signifier quelque chose;” — “That is to say, for signifying something.” “Even things without life,” says he, “instruct us.” There are, it is true, many random sounds or crashes, without any modulation, 816816     “Sans mesure ou distinction;” — “Without measure or distinction.” but Paul speaks here of voices in which there is something of art, 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. How absurd then it is, that even men, endowed with intelligence, should utter a confused, indistinguishable sound!”

We must not, however, enter here upon any minute discussion as to musical harmonies, inasmuch as Paul has merely taken what is commonly understood; as, for example, the sound of the trumpet, 817817     “It is well known that trumpets were exclusively employed in almost all ancient armies, for the purpose of directing the movements of the soldiers, and of informing them what they were to do — as when to attack, advance, or retreat. This was the custom in even the most early Jewish armies, as the Law directed two silver trumpets to be made for the purpose. (Numbers 10:1, 2, 9.) Of course, a distinction of tones was necessary, to express the various intimations which were in this manner conveyed; and if the trumpeter did not give the proper intonation, the soldiers could not tell how to act, or were in danger, from misconception, of acting wrongly.” Illustrated Commentary. — Ed. of which he speaks shortly afterwards; for it is so much calculated to raise the spirits, that it rouses up — not only men, but even horses. Hence it is related in historical records, that the Lacedemonians, when joining battle, preferred the use of the flute, 818818     “Ils vsoyent plustost de fluste, que de trompette;” — “They used the flute, rather than the trumpet.” lest the army should, at the first charge, rush forward upon the enemy with too keen an onset. 819819     The use of the flute on such occasions by the Lacedemonians, is supposed by Valerius Maximus to have “been intended to raise the courage of the soldiers, that they might begin the onset with greater violence and fury;” but the reason stated by Calvin accords with the account given of it by Thucydides (with whom the rest of the ancient historians agree) — that it was designed to “render them cool and sedate — trumpets and other instruments being more proper to inspire with heat and rage;” which passions they thought were “fitted rather to beget disorder and confusion, than to produce any noble and memorable actions — valor not being the effect of a sudden and vanishing transport, but proceeding from a settled and habitual firmness and constancy of mind.” Potter’s Gr. Ant. volume 2. — Ed. In fine, we all know by experience what power music has in exciting men’s feelings, so that Plato affirms, and not without good reason, that music has very much effect in influencing, in one way or another, the manners of a state. To speak into the air is to beat the air (1 Corinthians 9:26) to no purpose. “Thy voice will not reach either God or man, but will vanish into air.”

10. None of them dumb 820820     “That in this passage,” says Dr. Henderson, “φωνὴ, which properly signifies sound, then voice, must be taken in the sense of language or dialect, is evident: for it would not be true, that there are no sounds or voices in the world (ἄφωνων) without signification, according as these terms are usually understood. The meaning is — every language is intelligible to some nation or other; and it is only to persons who are ignorant of it, that its words are destitute of signification. This the Apostle illustrates in a very forcible manner: ‘Therefore, if I know not the, meaning of the voice, (τὢς φωνὢς, of the language,) I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.’ We shall be like two foreigners, who do not understand each other’s tongue. The very use of the term interpret and interpretation, as applied to this subject, also proves that he could only have intelligent language in view: it being a contradiction in terms to speak of interpreting that which has no meaning.” Henderson on Inspiration. — Ed He now speaks in a more general way, for he now takes in the natural voices of animals. He uses the term dumb here, to mean confused — as opposed to an articulate voice; for the barking of dogs differs from the neighing of horses, and the roaring of lions from the braying of asses. Every kind of bird, too, has its own particular way of singing and chirping. The whole order of nature, therefore, as appointed by God, invites us to observe a distinction. 821821     “C’est a dire, nous monstre aucunement qu’il faut parler en sorte que nous soyons entendus;” — “That is to say, it shows us, in a manner, that we must speak so as to be understood.”

11. I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian 822822     “The Greeks, after the custom of the Egyptians, mentioned by; Herodotus, (lib. 2,) called all those barbarians who did not speak their language. In process of time, however, the Romans having subdued the Greeks, delivered themselves by the force of arms from that opprobrious appellation; and joined the Greeks in calling all barbarians who did not speak either the Greek or the Latin language. Afterwards, barbarian signified any one who spoke a language which another did not understand. Thus the Scythian philosopher, Anacharsis, said, that among the Athenians the Scythians were barbarians; and among the Scythians the Athenians were barbarians. In like manner Ovid. Trist. 5. 10, ‘Barbarus hic ego sum, quia non intelligor ulli;’ — ‘I am a barbarian here, because I am not understood by any one.’ This is the sense which the Apostle affixes to the word barbarian, in the present passage. McKnight. — Ed. The tongue ought to be an index of the mind — not merely in the sense of the proverb, but in the sense that is explained by Aristotle in the commencement of his book — “On Interpretation.” 823823     “La langue doit estre comme vn image, pour expimer et representer ce qui est en l’entendement;” — “The tongue should be like an image, to express and represent what is in the understanding.” How foolish then it is and preposterous in a man, to utter in an assembly a voice of which the hearer understands nothing — in which he perceives no token from which he may learn what the person means! It is not without good reason, therefore, that Paul views it as the height of absurdity, that a man should be a barbarian to the hearers, by chattering in an unknown tongue, and at the same time he elegantly treats with derision the foolish ambition of the Corinthians, who were eager to obtain praise and fame by this means. “This reward,” says he, “you will earn — that you will be a barbarian.” For the term barbarian, whether it be an artificial one, (as Strabo thinks, 824824     He considers the term βάρβαρος, (barbarian,) to be a term constructed in imitation of the sense — to convey the idea of one that speaks with difficulty and harshness. See Strabo, Book 14. Bloomfield considers the term barbarian to be derived — “not” as some think, “from the Arabic berber, to murmur, but from the Punic berber, a shepherd — having been originally appropriated to the indigenous and pastoral inhabitants of Africa; who, to their more civilized fellow-men on the other side of the Mediterranean, appeared rustics and barbarians. Hence the term βάρβαρος came at length to mean a rustic or clown.” — Ed ) or derived from some other origin, is taken in a bad sense. Hence the Greeks, who looked upon themselves as the only persons who were good speakers, and had a polished language, gave to all others the name of barbarians, from their rude and rustic dialect. No language, however, is so cultivated as not to be reckoned barbarous, when it is not understood. “He that heareth,” says Paul, “will be unto me a barbarian, and I will be so to him in return.” By these words he intimates, that to speak in an unknown tongue, is not to hold fellowship with the Church, but rather to keep aloof from it, and that he who will act this part, will be deservedly despised by others, because he first despises them.

12. Since you are in pursuit of spiritual gifts Paul concludes that the gift of tongues has not been conferred with the view of giving occasion of boasting to a few, without yielding advantage to the Church. “If spiritual gifts,” says he, “delight you, let the end be edification. Then only may you reckon, that you have attained an excellence that is true and praiseworthy — when the Church receives advantage from you. Paul, however, does not hereby give permission to any one to cherish an ambition to excel, even to the benefit of the Church, but by correcting the fault, he shows how far short they come of what they are in pursuit of, and at the same time lets them know who they are that should be most highly esteemed. He would have a man to be held in higher estimation, in proportion as he devotes himself with eagerness to promote edification. In the meantime, it is our part to have this one object in view — that the Lord may be exalted, and that his kingdom may be, from day to day, enlarged.

The term spirits, 825825     “Les dons spirituels, il y a mot a mot, les esprits;” — “Spiritual gifts — it is literally, spirits.” he employs here, by metonymy, to denote spiritual gifts, as the spirit of doctrine, or of understanding, or of judgment, is employed to denote spiritual doctrine, or understanding, or judgment. Otherwise we must keep in view what he stated previously, that it is one and the same Spirit, who distributeth to every man various gifts according to his will. (1 Corinthians 12:11.)

13. Wherefore let him that speaketh in another tongue This is an anticipation, by way of reply to a question which might very readily be proposed to him. “If any one, therefore, is able to speak a foreign language, will the gift be useless? Why should that be kept back, which might be brought out to light, to the glory of God?” He shows the remedy. “Let him,” says he, “ask from God the gift of interpretation also. If he is without this, let him abstain in the meantime from ostentation.” 826826     “De parler a ostentation;” — “From speaking for ostentation’s sake.”

14. For if I pray in another tongue. 827827     “What is it,” says Witsius, (in his “Sacred Dissertations,”) “to pray with the tongue? with the spirit? with the mind? (1 Corinthians 14:14, 15.) The tongue means here a language unknown to others, and employed by one who is endowed with a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit. To pray with the tongue, is to pray in a language unknown to others; as, for instance, to pray in the Hebrew language in presence of Greeks. In that sense he had said, (1 Corinthians 14:2,) ‘He that speaketh with the tongue, speaketh not unto men, but unto God; for no man understandeth him;’ that is, he who speaks in a foreign tongue, the knowledge of which he has acquired by an extraordinary gift of the Spirit, has God only for a witness. He cannot reckon as his witnesses, or as persons aware of what he is doing, those who are ignorant of the language, and to whose edification he has contributed little or nothing. The spirit means here that extraordinary gift, by which a man is led to act in a certain way, accompanied by almost ecstatic emotions, so that sometimes he is neither aware what he says, nor do others understand what he means. To pray with the Spirit, is to pray in such a manner as to show that you feel the presence of an extraordinary gift of the Spirit, which moves and hurries you along, in a powerful manner, to those actions which excite astonishment. Νους, intelligence, mind, seems here to be chiefly used in a transitive sense, to mean what we give another to understand. Such is the meaning of, תבונה, to which νους corresponds. חט אזנך לתבונתי, incline thine ear to my understanding, that is, to those things which I shall give thee to understand. (Proverbs 5:1.) To pray with the mind, is to pray in such a manner that the prayers which you deliberately conceive, may be conceived and understood by others. Paul, accordingly, proposes himself as an example of the proper manner of conducting prayers. If I pray in a tongue unknown to the assembly in whose presence I pray, but which I have learned by Divine inspiration, my spirit prayeth, I am acting under the influence of that gift, which impels and arouses me to unusual and remarkable proceedings; but my understanding is unfruitful, I do not enable another to understand with advantage the conceptions of my mind. What then? I will pray with the Spirit; when the vehement emotion of the Spirit comes upon me, I will not struggle against it, but I will pray with the understanding also; I will show that I am not mad, but possessed of a sound understanding; and I will endeavor that others, as well as myself, be edified by my prayer.” Biblical Cabinet, volume 24. — Ed While this example, too, serves to confirm what he has previously maintained, it forms, at the same time, in my opinion, an additional particular. For it is probable that the Corinthians had been in fault in this respect also, that, as they discoursed, so they also prayed in foreign tongues. At the same time, both abuses took their rise from the same source, as indeed they were comprehended under one class. What is meant by praying in a tongue, 828828     “Que c’est que prier de langue, (car il y a ainsi mot a mot, la ou nous traduisons Prier en langage incognu);” — “What it is to pray in a tongue, for such is the literal meaning, where we render it — to pray in an unknown language.” Wilclif (1380) gives the literal rendering — For if I preie in tunge. Tyndale, (1534,) If I pray with tonges. Cranmer, (1539,) For if I praye with tongue. Rheims, (1582,) For if I pray with the tongue. — Ed. appears from what goes before — to frame a prayer in a foreign language.

The meaning of the term spirit, however, is not so easily explained. The idea of Ambrose, who refers it to the Spirit that we receive in baptism, has not only no foundation, but has not even the appearance of it. Augustine takes it in a more refined way, as denoting that apprehension, which conceives ideas and signs of things, so that it is a faculty of the soul that is inferior to the understanding. There is more plausibility in the opinion of those who interpret it as meaning the breathing of the throat — that is, the breath. This interpretation, however, does not accord with the meaning which the term invariably bears in Paul’s discussion in this place: nay more, it appears to have been repeated the oftener by way of concession. For they gloried in that honorary distinction, which Paul, it is true, allows them, while, on the other hand, he shows how preposterous it is to abuse 829829     “Quel danger il y a, quand on abuse;” — “What danger there is, when one abuses.” a thing that is good and excellent. It is as though he had said — “Thou makest thy boast to me of spirit, but to what purpose, if it is useless?” From this consideration, I am led to agree with Chrysostom, as to the meaning of this term, who explains it, as in the previous instance, (1 Corinthians 14:12,) to mean a spiritual gift. Thus my spirit will meanthe gift conferred upon me. 830830     “What the Apostle means by τὸ πνεῦμα μου, (my spirit,) is, neither the Holy Spirit moving him to speak, nor any spiritual endowment with which he was gifted, but, as the phrase signifies in other passages in which it occurs, (Romans 1:9; 1 Corinthians 5:3; 2 Timothy 4:22; Philemon 25,) his own mind, with which he engaged in the service. By νοῦς, as contrasted with this, it is manifest he cannot mean his faculty of understanding — for it is comprehended under the former. The word must, therefore, signify the meaning or sense which he attached to the language he employed — an acceptation in which he uses the term, ver. 19. So far as he himself was concerned, he derived benefit — connecting, as he did, intelligent ideas with the words to which he gave utterance; but the meaning of what he uttered (ἄκαρπος) produced no fruit in the hearers, inasmuch as they did not understand him. It must be observed, however, that the Apostle is here only supposing a case, such as that which frequently presented itself in the Church at Corinth; not that he would have it to be believed that it ever occurred in his own experience. On the contrary, he avers that, whenever he engaged either in prayer or praise, it was in a way that was intelligible, and consequently profitable both to himself and others, τῷ πνεύματι, — τῶ νωΐ, with the spirit — with the understanding.” Henderson on Inspiration. — Ed

But here a new question arises; for it is not credible (at least we nowhere read of it) that any spoke under the influence of the Spirit in a language that was to themselves unknown. For the gift of tongues was conferred — not for the mere purpose of uttering a sound, but, on the contrary, with the view of making a communication. For how ridiculous a thing it would be, that the tongue of a Roman should be framed by the Spirit of God to pronounce Greek words, which were altogether unknown to the speaker, as parrots, magpies, and crows, are taught to mimic human voices! If, on the other hand, the man who was endowed with the gift of tongues, did not speak without sense and understanding, Paul would have had no occasion to say, that the spirit prays, but the understanding is unfruitful, for the understanding must have been conjoined with the spirit

I answer, that Paul here, for the sake of illustration, makes a supposition, that had no reality, in this way: “If the gift of tongues be disjoined 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?” For it does not, appear that the mind is here said to be unfruitful, (ἄκαρπον) on the ground of no advantage accruing to the Church, inasmuch as Paul is here speaking of the private prayers of an individual. Let us therefore keep it in view, that things that are connected with each other are here disjoined for the sake of illustration — not on the ground that it either can, or usually does, so happen. The meaning is now obvious. “If, therefore, I frame prayers in a language that is not understood by me, and the spirit supplies me with words, the spirit indeed itself, which regulates my tongue, will in that case pray, but my mind will either be wandering somewhere else, or at least will have no part in the prayer.”

Let us take notice, that Paul reckons it a great fault if the mind is not occupied in prayer. And no wonder; for what else do we in prayer, but pour out our thoughts and desires before God? Farther, as prayer is the spiritual worship of God, what is more at variance with the nature of it, than that it should proceed merely from the lips, and not from the inmost soul? And these things must have been perfectly familiar to every mind, had not the devil besotted the world to such a degree, as to make men believe that they pray aright, when they merely make their lips move. So obstinate, too, are Papists in their madness, that they do not merely justify the making of prayers without understanding, but even prefer that the unlearned should mutter in unknown mumblings. 831831     “Mais qui plus est, aiment mieux que les idiots et ignorans barbotent des patinostres en langage qui leur est incognu;” — “But, what is more, they like better that unlearned and ignorant persons should mutter over paternosters in a language which they do not understand.” Meanwhile they mock God by an acute sophism 832832     “Ils ont vne solution bien aigue et peremptoire;” — “They have a very acute and peremptory solution.” — that the final intention is enough, or, in other words, that it is an acceptable service to God, if a Spaniard curses God in the German language, while in his mind he is tossed with various profane cares, provided only he shall, by setting himself to his form of prayer, make up matters with God by means of a thought that quickly vanishes. 833833     “Vne pensee esuanouissante en l’air, qu’ils appellent Intention finale;” — “A thought vanishing into air, which they call final Intention.”

15. I will pray with the spirit Lest any one should ask, by way of objection, “Will the spirit then be useless in prayer?” he teaches, that it is lawful, indeed, to pray with the spirit, provided the mind be at the same time employed, that is, the understanding He allows, therefore, and sanctions the use of a spiritual gift in prayer, but requires, what is the main thing, that the mind be not unemployed. 834834     “Que ne soit point sans intelligence;” — “That it be not without understanding.”

When he says, I will sing Psalms, or, I will sing, he makes use of a particular instance, instead of a general statement. For, as the praises of God were the subject-matter of the Psalms, he means by the singing of Psalms 835835     The original word is ψαλῶI will sing Psalms It is the same verb that is made use of by James, (James 5:13,) εὐθυμεῖ τίς; ψαλλέτωIs any one cheerful: let him sing Psalms. — Ed blessing God, or rendering thanks to him, for in our supplications, we either ask something from God, or we acknowledge some blessing that has been conferred upon us. From this passage, however, we at the same time infer, that the custom of singing was, even at that time, in use among believers, as appears, also, from Pliny, who, writing at least forty years, or thereabouts, after the death of Paul, mentions, that the Christians were accustomed to sing Psalms to Christ before day-break. 836836     Pliny’s letter, referred to by Calvin, (written A.D. 107,) is given at full length (as translated by Dr. Lardner) in Horne’s Introduction, volume 1. — Ed. I have also no doubt, that, from the very first, they followed the custom of the Jewish Church in singing Psalms.

16 Else, if thou wilt bless with the spirit. Hitherto he has been showing, that the prayers of every one of us will be vain and unfruitful, if the understanding does not go along with the voice. He now comes to speak of public prayers also. “If he that frames or utters forth prayers in the name of the people is not understood by the assembly, how will the common people add an expression of their desires in the close, so as to take part in them? For there is no fellowship in prayer, unless when all with one mind unite in the same desires. The same remark applies to blessing, or giving thanks to God.”

Paul’s expression, however, intimates, 837837     “Signifie et presuppose;” — “Intimates and presupposes.” that some one of the ministers uttered or pronounced prayers in a distinct voice, and that the whole assembly followed in their minds the words of that one person, until he had come to a close, and then they all said Amento intimate, that the prayer offered up by that one person was that of all of them in common. 838838     “‘Amen,’ or ‘So be it,’ was, among the Jews, used by the congregation at the end of a prayer or blessing, to denote their assent to, or appropriation of, that which one person had pronounced. Many instances of this practice occur in the Old Testament. From the Jewish Synagogue this, with many other customs of worship, passed to the Christian Church, in which it is still generally retained. Justin Martyr particularly notices the unanimous and loud ‘Amen’ at the conclusion of the Lord’s Supper, observing, that when the minister had finished the prayer and the thanksgiving, all the people present, with a joyful exclamation, said ‘Amen.’ — (Apol. volume 2.)” llustrated Commentary. — Ed. It is known, that Amen is a Hebrew word, derived from the same term from which comes the word that signifies faithfulness or truth. 839839     The word to which Calvin. refers is אמן, (Amen) truth The term occurs in Isaiah 65:16, אלחי אמן, (Elohe Amen,) the God of truth It is, accordingly, a token of confirmation, 840840     “Confirmation et approbation;” — “Confirmation and approbation.” both in alarming, and in desiring. 841841     “Amen,” says Witsius, in his Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer, “is a Hebrew particle, expressive both of strong affection and of ardent desire. Luther, with his wonted liveliness of manner, wrote to Melancthon in the following terms: — ‘I pray for you, I have prayed, and I will pray, and I have no doubt I shall be heard, for I feel the Amen in my heart.’” — Biblical Cabinet, volume 24. — Ed. Farther, as the word was, from long use, familiar among 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. Hence it came to be a term in common use among all nations. Now Paul says — “If in public prayer thou makest use of a foreign tongue, that is not understood by the unlearned and the common people among whom thou speakest, there will be no fellowship, and thy prayer or blessing will be no longer a public one.” “Why?” “No one,” says he, “can add his Amen to thy prayer or psalm, if he does not understand it.”

Papists, on the other hand, reckon that to be a sacred and legitimate observance, which Paul so decidedly rejects. In this they discover an amazing impudence. Nay more, this is a clear token from which we learn how grievously, and with what unbridled liberty, Satan rages in the dogmas of Popery. 842842     “Par lequel nous voyons comment Satan a tenu ses rangs, et domine en la Papaute furieusement, et d’une license merueilleusement desbordee;” — “From which we see how Satan has maintained his place, and has ruled in Popery with fury, and with a liberty amazingly reckless.” For what can be clearer than those words of Paul — than an unlearned person cannot take any part in public prayer if he does not understand what is said? What can be plainer than this prohibition — “let not prayers or thanksgivings be offered up in public, except in the vernacular tongue.” In doing every day, what Paul says should not, or even cannot, be done, do they not reckon him to be illiterate? In observing with the utmost strictness what he forbids, do they not deliberately contemn God? We see, then, how Satan sports among them with impunity. Their diabolical obstinacy shows itself in this — that, when admonished, they are so far from repenting, that they defend this gross abuse by fire and sword.

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