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14. Gifts of Prophecy and Tongues

Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. 2For 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. 3But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. 4He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. 5I 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. 6Now, 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? 7And 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? 8For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? 9So 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. 10There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. 11Therefore 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. 12Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. 13Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. 14For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15What 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. 16Else 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? 17For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 19Yet 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. 20Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. 21In 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. 22Wherefore 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. 23If 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? 24But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25And 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. 26How 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. 27If 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. 28But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. 29Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. 34Let 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. 35And 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. 36What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? 37If 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. 38But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. 40Let all things be done decently and in order.

20. Brethren, be not children in understanding He proceeds a step farther; for he shows that the Corinthians are so infatuated, that they, of their own accord. draw down upon themselves, and eagerly desire, as though it were a singular benefit, what the Lord threatens that he will send, when he designs to inflict upon his people the severest punishment. What dreadful madness is this — to pursue eagerly with their whole desire, what, in the sight of God, is regarded as a curse! That we may, however, understand more accurately Paul’s meaning, we must, observe, that this statement is grounded on the testimony of Isaiah, which he immediately afterwards subjoins. (Isaiah 28:11, 12.) And as interpreters have been misled, from not observing the connection to be of this nature, to prevent all mistake, we shall first explain the passage in Isaiah, and then we shall come to Paul’s words.

In that chapter the Prophet, inveighs with severity against the ten tribes, which had abandoned themselves to every kind of wickedness. The only consolation is, that God had still a people uncorrupted in the tribe of Judah; but straightway he deplores the corruption of that tribe also; and he does so the more sharply, because there was no hope of amendment. For thus he speaks 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 means, that they are no more capable of instruction than little children but lately weaned.

It is added — Precept upon precept, instruction upon instruction, charge upon charge, direction upon direction, here a little, and there a little In these words he expresses, in the style of a mimic, 843843     Mimetice Our author has here evidently in his eye the Greek adverb,μιμητικῶςimitatively See Plut. 2.18. B. — Ed the slowness and carelessness by which they were kept back. “In teaching them, I lose my labor, for they make no progress, because they are beyond measure uncultivated, and what they had been taught by means of long-continued labor, they in a single moment forget.”

It is added still farther — 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 the meaning is, 844844     “Or le Prophete signifie;” — “Now the Prophet means.” that the people have been visited with such blindness and madness, that they no more understand God when speaking to them, than they would some barbarian or foreigner, stammering in an unknown tongue — which is a dreadful curse. He has not, however, quoted the Prophet’s words with exactness, because he reckoned it enough to make a pointed reference to the passage, that the Corinthians, on being admonished, might attentively consider it. As to his saying that it was written in the law, 845845     “It is written in the law. ‘In the law,’ that is, in the Scripture, in opposition to the words of the Scribes; for that distinction was very usual in the schools. ‘This we learn out of the law, and this from the words of the Scribes. The words of the law (that is, of the Scripture) have no need of confirmation, but the words of the Scribes have need of confirmation.’ The former Prophets, and the latter, and the Hagiographa, are each styled by the name of the law.” Lightfoot. — Ed. this is not at variance with common usage; for the Prophets had not a ministry distinct from the law, but were the interpreters of the law, and their doctrine is, as it were, a sort of appendage to it; hence the law included the whole body of Scripture, up to the advent of Christ. Now Paul from this infers as follows — “Brethren, it is necessary to guard against that childishness, which is so severely reproved by the Prophet — that the word of God sounds in your ears without any fruit. Now, when you reject prophecy, which is placed within your reach, and prefer to stand amazed at empty sound, is not this voluntarily to incur the curse of God? 846846     Henderson on Isaiah, when commenting on the passage here quoted by the Apostle, (Isaiah 28:9-11,) observes, that it “contains the taunting language of the drunken priests and judges of the Jews, who repel with scorn the idea that they should require the plain and reiterated lessons which Jehovah taught by his messengers. Such elementary instruction was fit” (in their view) “only for babes: it was an insult to their understanding to suppose that they stood in need of it. The language of verse 10” (precept pon, precept, etc.) “more resembles that of inebriated persons, than any used by persons in a state of sobriety. The words are obviously selected to suit the character of those supposed to employ them; and, by their monosyllabic and repetitious forms, admirably express the initiatory process of tuition which they indignantly despise. 13-24 The language they employed in caviling at the Prophetic warnings was all but barbarous: it consisted of barely intelligible sounds: they should, by way of condign punishment, hear the foreign, and to them apparently mocking accents of the Chaldeans, whom God would employ as the interpreters of his severe but righteous will. The passage is employed by Paul (1 Corinthians 14:20, 21) quite in the spirit of the connection in which it here stands. He tacitly compares the Corinthian faction, which boasted of the faculty of speaking in unknown tongues, to the puerile characters adverted to, 1 Corinthians 14:9, (παιδία, νηπάζετε, etc.) and then reminds them, that speaking in such languages had been represented in the Jewish Scriptures — ἐν τῷ νόμῳ (in the law) as a punishment, or a mark of the Divine displeasure, and not as a matter of desire or envy.” — Ed

Farther, lest the Corinthians should say in reply, that to be spiritually children, is elsewhere commended, (Matthew 18:4,) Paul anticipates this objection, and exhorts them, indeed, to be children in malice, but to beware of being children in understanding Hence we infer how shameless a part those act, who make Christian simplicity consist in ignorance. Paul would have all believers to be, as far as possible, in full maturity as to understanding The Pope, inasmuch as it is easier to govern asses than men, gives orders, under pretext of simplicity, that all under him shall remain uninstructed. 847847     “En ignorance et bestise“ — “In ignorance and stupidity.” Let us from this draw a comparison between the dominion of Popery, and the institution of Christ, and see how far they agree. 848848     Calvin makes a similar observation when commenting on Ephesians 4:14. “Nam postquam Christo nati sumus, debemus adolescere, ita ut non simus intelligentia pueri. Hine apparet, qualis sub Papatu sit Christianismus, ubi, quam diligentissime possunt, in hoc laborant pastores, ut plebem in prima infantia detineant;” — “For after being born to Christ, we ought to grow, and not to be children in understanding. (1 Corinthians 14:20.) Hence it appears what sort of Christianity there is in connection with Popery, in which the pastors labor as strenuously as they can to keep the people in infancy.” — Ed.


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