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Gifts of Prophecy and Tongues


Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy. 2For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit. 3On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church. 5Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

6 Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I speak to you in some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? 7It is the same way with lifeless instruments that produce sound, such as the flute or the harp. If they do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is being played? 8And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9So with yourselves; if in a tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is being said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10There are doubtless many different kinds of sounds in the world, and nothing is without sound. 11If then I do not know the meaning of a sound, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church.

13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. 14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive. 15What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also. 16Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying? 17For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up. 18I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you; 19nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

20 Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults. 21In the law it is written,

“By people of strange tongues

and by the lips of foreigners

I will speak to this people;

yet even then they will not listen to me,”

says the Lord. 22Tongues, then, are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers. 23If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24But if all prophesy, an unbeliever or outsider who enters is reproved by all and called to account by all. 25After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, “God is really among you.”

Orderly Worship

26 What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. 28But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God. 29Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. 31For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. 32And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, 33for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.

(As in all the churches of the saints, 34women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)

37 Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. 38Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized. 39So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; 40but all things should be done decently and in order.


4. He that speaketh in another tongue, edifieth himself. In place of what he had said before — that he speaketh unto God, he now says — he speaketh to himself But whatever is done in the Church, ought to be for the common benefit. Away, then, with that misdirected ambition, which gives occasion for the advantage of the people generally being hindered! Besides, Paul speaks by way of concession: for when ambition makes use of such empty vauntings, 811811     “Iettent ainsi de grandes bouffees et se brauent en leur parler;” — “Make use in this way of great puffings, and boast themselves in their talk.” there is inwardly no desire of doing good; but Paul does, in effect, order away from the common society of believers those men of mere show, who look only to themselves.

5. I would that ye all spake with tongues Again he declares that he does not give such a preference to prophecy, as not to leave some place for foreign tongues. This must be carefully observed. For God has conferred nothing upon his Church in vain, and languages were of some benefit. 812812     “Les langues aidoyent lors aucunement a l’auancement des Eglises;” — “Languages, at that time, were of some help for the advancement of the Churches.” Hence, although the Corinthians, by a misdirected eagerness for show, had rendered that gift partly useless and worthless, and partly even injurious, yet Paul, nevertheless, commends the use of tongues. So far is he from wishing them abolished or thrown away. At the present day, while a knowledge of languages is more than simply necessary, and while God has at this time, in his wonderful kindness, brought them forward from darkness into light, there are at present great theologians, who declaim against them with furious zeal. As it is certain, that the Holy Spirit has here honored the use of tongues with never-dying praise, we may very readily gather, what is the kind of spirit that actuates those reformers, 813813     “Ces gentils reformateurs;” — “Those pretty reformers.” who level as many reproaches as they can against the pursuit of them. At the same time the cases are very different. For Paul takes in languages of any sort — such as served merely for the publication of the gospel among all nations. They, on the other hand, condemn those languages, from which, as fountains, the pure truth of scripture is to be drawn. An exception is added — that we must not be so taken up with the use of languages, as to treat with neglect prophecy, which ought to have the first place.

Unless he interpret. For if interpretation is added, there will then be prophecy. You must not, however, understand Paul to give liberty here to any one to take up the time of the Church to no profit by muttering words in a foreign tongue. For how ridiculous it were, to repeat the same thing in a variety of languages without any necessity! But it often happens, that the use of a foreign tongue is seasonable. In short, let us simply have an eye to this as our end — that edification may redound to the Church.

6. Now, brethren, if I should come. He proposes himself as an example, because in his person the case was exhibited more strikingly 814814     “Estoit plus propre pour leur imprimer ce qu’il dit;” — “Was the more calculated to impress upon them what he says.” The Corinthians experienced in themselves abundant fruit from his doctrine. He asks them, then, of what advantage it would be to them, if he were to make use of foreign languages among them. He shows them by this instance, how much better it were to apply their minds to prophesyings. Besides, it was less invidious to reprove this vice in his own person, than in that of another.

He mentions, however, four different kinds of edification — revelation, knowledge, prophesying, and doctrine As there are a variety of opinions among interpreters respecting them, let me be permitted, also, to bring forward my conjecture. As, however, it is but a conjecture, I leave my readers to judge of it. Revelation and prophesying I put in one class, and I am of opinion that the latter is the administration of the former. I am of the same opinion as to knowledge and doctrine What, therefore, any one has obtained by revelation, he dispenses by prophesying. Doctrine is the way of communicating knowledge. Thus a Prophet will be — one who interprets and administers revelation. This is rather in favor of the definition that I have given above, than at variance with it. For we have said that prophesying does not consist of a simple and bare interpretation of Scripture, but includes also knowledge for applying it to present use — which is obtained only by revelation, and the special inspiration of God.

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.

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