1 Corinthians Chapter Fourteen
I. Content of the Chapter
The Gathering in Which the Spiritual Gifts Are Functioned
A. The comparisons between the gift of prophesying and the gift of speaking with tongues (v.1-25):
1. Speaking the tongues edifies oneself, and the prophesying edifies the church (v.1-5).
2. The tongues cannot be understood by others (v.6-11).
3. One would rather speak five words with his understanding, that he may edify others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue (v.12-19).
4. The prophesying excels speaking the tongues (v.20-25).
B. The principles of gatherings in which the gifts are functioned (v.26-40):
1. The principles of speaking the tongues in the gathering (v.26-28);
2. The principles of the prophesying in the gathering (v.29-33);
3. Women should not teach in the gathering (v.34-38);
4. All things should be done decently and in order in the gathering (v.39-40);
II. Verse by Verse Commentary
1Cor. 14:1 “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.”
YLT: “Pursue the love, and seek earnestly the spiritual things, and rather that ye may prophecy,”
Meaning of Words: “pursue”: capture, hunt; “desire”: zeal, envy;
Literal Meaning: “pursue love”, since “love” is a way of more surpassing excellence (1Cor. 12:31), which gives value to various gifts (1Cor. 13:1-3) and is the greatest one among the three abiding ones: faith, hope and love (1Cor. 13:13). Therefore, love should be the goal of our pursuit.
“And desire spiritual gifts”, there is
not the word “gifts” in the original. Since believers at
“But especially that you may prophesy”, it is speaking for God and teaching God Himself and what is of God to men so that men will know more about God and walk in the light of God. Thus the purpose of God who saves men will be fulfilled.
Prophesy is only one gift among all
the gifts (see 1Cor. 12:8-10, 28). Paul mentioned this gift to compare it with
the gift of tongues (v.2) so as to correct the wrong ideas of believers at
In fact, spiritual gifts are not obtained by man’s pursuit, but are distributed to each in particular according as the Spirit pleases (1Cor. 12:11). And moreover, not all the members are “prophets or those speak the tongues” (1Cor. 12:29-30). Therefore, Paul encourages us to “desire”, not “pursue”.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) “Pursue love, and desire spiritual” (the original). After we have been saved, we shall pursue love and have fellowship with the Lord and let love filled in us. We shall also be emulous of spiritual and pursue to be spiritual and take part in the gatherings, read the Bible, pray and have fellowship with all the saints and seek spiritual together.
2) Though the gift like prophesying is distributed by the Spirit (see 1Cor. 12:11), man’s desire will still influence the working and functioning of the gift.
1Cor. 14:2 “For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.”
YLT: “for he who is speaking in an tongue -- to men he doth not speak, but to God, for no one doth hearken, and in spirit he doth speak secrets;”
Literal Meaning: “for he who speaks in a tongue”, the apostle Paul here mentioned speaking in a tongue, for believers at Corinth liked to show off their gifts of tongues in the gathering without considering whether others could understand them at all (see v.26-28). Therefore, Paul taught them the right views about tongues with nearly the whole chapter.
“Does not speak to men but to God”, the Spirit distributes the tongues to men not for the purpose of man’s prophesying but that men can utter exultant praise to God. Therefore, when believers speak in tongues, others may see them as exultant as drunken men (see Acts 2:13).
“For no one understands him”, it points that if there is no one who can translate the tongue on the spot, no one can understand the tongues.
“For”, it is explaining why “the tongues are not spoken to men, but to God”. Tongues cannot be understood by men without interpretation, so they are not spoken to men.
“However, in the spirit he speaks mysteries”, we can see here that the tongue is by no means a meaningless voice, but talking about many things about God. Therefore, since men cannot understand them without interpretation, they are “mysteries”.
“In the spirit”, even the one who speaks the tongue cannot understand what he speaks, so he does not speak in mind but in spirit (see v.14).
Controversial Clarification: the Lee’s Sect misunderstands this verse, holding that: 1) the tongue is not spoken to men, but to God. Therefore, he who speaks in tongue does not need to care for the feelings of others, but needs to care for the fellowship of the speaker with God; 2) since man cannot understand the tongue, so it is a kind of disordered and meaningless voice; 3) he who speaks the tongue speaks mysteries in his spirit. Since it is mystery, it is certainly unknown by men.
The right meaning of this verse is that: without interpretation, “the tongues” are “mysteries” “that no one can understand”. Therefore, they have no profit to men, so they are not “spoken to men but to God”.
“Speak in a tongue”, the word “speak” is
“laleo” in the original. There is also another “speak” (“lego”) in the Bible
which is frequently used. Those who are “of the Lee’s Sect” think the former
word (laleo) is “speaking” without arrangement or logics. And the latter word
(lego) is “speaking” with arrangement and logics. Therefore, they hold that
speaking “the tongues” are uttering disorderly “tongues” with arrangement but
without logics. However, such opinion can not stand in the Scriptures, for Paul
also preaches (laleo) the gospel (Phil. 1:14;
The word “tongue” itself is “glossa” in Greek, which carries two meanings: one is the physical organ “tongue”, and the other is “language”. There are three times of the record of “tongues” in the Book of Acts (Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6). All of them in the original were the same word “glossa” in the original, and all those who were on the sidelines could clearly hear what they were saying: “speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God”, “speak with tongues, and magnify God” and etc. Therefore, “glossa” refers to “other languages” instead of “the physical organ”.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) Since the tongue is spoken to God not man, it is appropriate to speak the tongue in private fellowship with God, not in public gathering.
2) The true tongues are not boring and meaningless voices, but mysteries spoken in spirit. Therefore, it is suspicious of the verity of most of the so-called tongues of the Lee’s Sect
1Cor. 14:3 “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.”
YLT: “and he who is prophesying to men doth speak edification, and exhortation, and comfort;”
Meaning of Words: “edification”: build, edify, teach; “exhortation”: encourage, call near; “comfort”: encourage, close to;
Literal Meaning: “but he who prophesies speaks…to men”, here, it puts forth the first contrast between prophesying and tongues: the former is “spoken to men”, and the latter is not “spoken to men but to God” (v.2).
“Edification and exhortation and comfort”, the main purposes of prophesying are: 1) “edification”: to edify the spiritual life of believers; 2) “exhortation”: to revive and strengthen the spiritual life of believers; 3) “comfort”: to encourage believers to go on walking on the spiritual way and not to be discouraged or stumbled. The meanings of “exhortation” and “comfort” are similar and can be regarded as synonyms.
1Cor. 14:4 “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.”
YLT: “he who is speaking in an tongue, himself doth edify, and he who is prophesying, an assembly doth edify;”
Literal Meaning: “he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself”, he who speaks the true tongues may enjoy the exultant joy before God and will be benefited to his spiritual life. However, if there is no interpretation, other men cannot understand it and thus receive no edifications. Therefore, the tongues only profits man personally. However, such edification has nothing to do with one’s mind, for he does not understand what he is speaking.
“But he who prophesies edifies the church”, this is the second contrast between prophesying and tongues: the former edifies “the church” and the latter edifies “oneself”.
The apostle Paul has early set the principle of the walking of Christians in chapter ten: one shall not seek his own profit, but that of the many (1Cor. 10:24, 33). In other words, one does not seek to edify himself, but seeks to edify others (see 1Cor. 10:23).
We should judge whether we can speak tongues or prophesy before men or in the gathering according to the above-mentioned principles of the walking of Christians. Since speaking the tongues cannot edify others, it is inappropriate to do it before men or in the gathering, except that there is someone who interprets the tongues. Since prophesying can edify the church, it can be done and should be done.
Enlightenment in the Word:
the tongues” is to edify oneself. However, it is not the only way to edify
oneself, and there are many other ways, such as the truth, spiritual milk,
pray, prophesying, service, and even the environment and difficulty in our
daily life ---- all of them can edify believers. It is quite popular of “speaking
the tongues” in the church at
2) The gift of “building the church” lies firstly in “prophesying”, because the prophet is the Seer of God (1Sam. 9:9) who is the first to see the focal vision of God. The prophet is the “spokesman” of God (prophet means spokesman) who preaches the eternal will of God. And the vision or will is none other than the full Christ, namely, the nature of the building of the church. Therefore, the apostle encourages us to “desire to prophesy” (v.39) so as to build the church. If we despise or depreciate or even remove the prophesying, the church can never be built.
3) “He who prophesies edifies the church”, it fits for the principle of love: seek the profit of others. Therefore, such gift is what we Christians should desire (v.1).
1Cor. 14:5 “I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.”
YLT: “and I wish you all to speak with tongues, and more that ye may prophecy, for greater is he who is prophesying than he who is speaking with tongues, except one may interpret, that the assembly may receive edification.”
Literal Meaning: “I wish you all spoke with tongues”, “I wish”, in fact, not everyone can speak the tongues, for it is mentioned “do all speak with tongues” (1Cor. 12:30), which means that not all believers speak with tongues. The right meaning of Paul is: the tongues can edify oneself, and all profitable things should not be opposed or profited (see v.39). If someone obtains the gift of speaking with tongues distributed by the Spirit, it is worthy of rejoicing for him.
“But even more that you prophesied”, the attitude of Paul is quite clear here: he passively approves the one who speaks the tongues and yet positively encourages the one who prophesies. We should catch the hidden meaning of the Scriptures, but not catch the previous passive or less important words without paying attention to the positive words.
“For…unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification”, if one speaks the tongues with interpretation, he is like the prophet and can edify the church. However, the tongue is the last gift among all the gifts (see 1Cor. 12:8-10, 28). It edifies the church much less than the prophesying. Moreover, the verity of many so-called tongues and interpretation of tongues are doubtful.
“He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues”, no matter the importance of gifts (see 1Cor. 12:28) or the effect of edification to the church, prophesying is better than tongues.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) The motive of our desire of spiritual gifts should be edifying the church instead of edifying oneself. Any selfish motive is not pleased by God. However, God honors our desire of devotion to the church and all.
2) The Spirit still intends to distribute the gift of speaking with tongues to some believers. If anyone has obtained such gift, he should pray to the Lord to grant the gift of interpreting the tongues for the sake of edifying the church. If there be no interpreter, let him be silent in assembly (see v.28).
3) Paul here does not encourage believers to speak with tongues at all. He just puts the gift of tongues on a proper position with a mild attitude. Strictly speaking, Paul does not encourage in chapter fourteen but sets many limitations upon the tongues.
4) The spirit in us can inspire us to draw near God, just like the children who love their parents. And the spirit can also let us sober in mind and teach us to present clear preachments, thus making us a teacher with clear orderliness and in good manner.
1Cor. 14:6 “But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?”
YLT: “And now, brethren, if I may come unto you speaking tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either in revelation, or in knowledge, or in prophesying, or in teaching?”
Literal Meaning: “but now, brethren, if I come to you”, Paul takes himself as an example to show the effect of tongues to the church.
“Speaking with tongues…unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching”, “revelation”: to reveal things of God to men ---- it is illuminating instruction; “knowledge”: the knowledge about the truth ---- it is deliverance of knowledge; “prophesying”: it shares the same etymon with the word “prophesy” (see v.1) ---- it is preachment of prophecy; “teaching”: it shares the same etymon with the word “teacher” (see 1Cor. 12:28) ---- it is explanation.
“What shall I profit you?” ---- Paul says that if he only speaks the tongues but does not use any among the four above-mentioned ones (revelation, knowledge, prophesying, and teaching), he profits nothing of his coming to them.
1Cor. 14:7 “Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?”
YLT: “yet the things without life giving sound -- whether pipe or harp -- if a difference in the sounds they may not give, how shall be known that which is piped or that which is harped?”
Literal Meaning: “even things without life, whether flute or harp”, “flute and harp” were musical instruments that were popularly known by all at that time.
“When they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?” ---- He who pipes with flute or plays with harp should utter some melody and rhythm so that the audience can understand and appreciate. Likewise, if one speaks the tongues without interpreter, the voice is meaningless to the hearers.
Enlightenment in the Word: I desire to be a flute or harp in order to let the Spirit pipe or play. And I desire more to have someone who can interpret or have the understanding in my mind so that I can be made great sound to profit others.
1Cor. 14:8 “For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?”
YLT: “for if also an uncertain sound a trumpet may give, who shall prepare himself for battle?”
Literal Meaning: “trumpet”, it is commonly used in the army; “sound”, it should be a certain sound so that the whole army can do according to the sign of the certain sound. If one speaks the tongues without interpretation, it will be in chaos and believers cannot prepare for the spiritual battle.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) That one speaks many tongues uncertainly is like uttering sounds without distinction (v.7) or like “making an uncertain sound”. It is meaningless and will cause men in confusion.
2) The ministry of prophet includes “edification, comfort and encouragement” (v.3) and “revelation, knowledge, prophecy and teaching” (v.6). However, all these should be oriented towards the full Christ, who is the clear goal of our service. If not so, it will be “an uncertain sound” and “speaking into the air” (v.9) so that men will not know what to do, thus profiting nothing to the building of the church.
1Cor. 14:9 “So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.”
YLT: “so also ye, if through the tongue, speech easily understood ye may not give -- how shall that which is spoken be known? for ye shall be speaking to air.”
Literal Meaning: “so likewise you”, men are also like instruments that utter various voices.
“Unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken”? ---- “Easy to understand”, it means speaking clearly so that man can understand.
When man speaks, he utters various tones with his tongue, which become meaningful words so that the hearers can understand. However, if there is only voice without meaning, no one can understand it.
“For you will be speaking into the air”, it indicates that it is totally not spoken to men and all the men on the spot are regarded as nothing.
1Cor. 14:10 “There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance.”
YLT: “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is unmeaning,”
Literal Meaning: “there are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world”, it means that there are many sorts of languages in the world and each of them utters its particular voice.
“And none of them is without significance”, all the languages deliver significance.
If man wants to deliver his feeling to the other one, he should use words that the other one can understand. Each language has its significance.
1Cor. 14:11 “Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me.”
YLT: “if, then, I do not know the power of the voice, I shall be to him who is speaking a foreigner, and he who is speaking, is to me a foreigner;”
Literal Meaning: “therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language”, it means that I do not understand the meaning of the language.
“I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me”, “foreigner” refers to the one who has not received the education of Greek, namely, the barbarian. It carries a despising tone. The purpose of languages is communication. If one does not care whether the hearer understands his words but continues to speak, he is just like the barbarian who has not been cultivated by culture.
1Cor. 14:12 “Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.”
YLT: “so also ye, since ye are earnestly desirous of spiritual gifts, for the building up of the assembly seek that ye may abound;”
Literal Meaning: “even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts”: you are men who are zealous for spiritual gifts;
“Let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel”, it means that we should seek to be one who prophesies (see v.4).
1Cor. 14:13 “Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.”
YLT: “wherefore he who is speaking in an tongue -- let him pray that he may interpret;”
Literal Meaning: “pray that he may interpret”, the one who interprets may be the one who speaks the tongues or others.
Those who are of the Lee’s Sect emphasize that the tongue is a kind of voice that no one can understand and even the speaker himself cannot remember or understand. However, this verse tells that the tongues can be interpreted and voices that have the law and can be distinguished. Otherwise, if the interpreter does not distinguish the voices that men cannot distinguish in the inspiration of the Spirit, he just interprets wantonly. It is self - deception and is a great evil before God.
Enlightenment in the Word: we do not deny that the gift of the tongues may still be given to men today. However, it can not be used unless there is believer who can understand and interpret the tongues. This is an important principle of working the gift of speaking with tongues.
1Cor. 14:14 “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.”
YLT: “for if I pray in an tongue, my spirit doth pray, and my understanding is unfruitful.”
Literal Meaning: “for if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays”, “spirit” is the organ through which man touches spiritual things.
“But my understanding is unfruitful”, “understanding” refers to the mind of man’s soul, which gives man thoughts and understanding. “Unfruitful”, it means that one does not understand what he is praying.
1Cor. 14:15 “What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.”
YLT: “What then is it? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray also with the understanding; I will sing psalms with the spirit, and I will sing psalms also with the understanding;”
Literal Meaning: “what is the conclusion then”? ---- What shall I do then?
“I will pray with the spirit, and I
will also pray with the understanding”. Believers should pray in spirit (see
Eph. 6:18; Jude 20) and utter the words in spirit with understanding. If we
want to attain to such step, we should often practice putting our mind in
“I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding”, “sing” can be divided into psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (see Eph. 5:19). Psalms and hymns are fit to sing with the understanding. And spiritual songs are fit to sing with spirit.
1Cor. 14:16 “Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?”
YLT: “since, if thou mayest bless with the spirit, he who is filling the place of the unlearned, how shall he say the Amen at thy giving of thanks, since what thou dost say he hath not known?”
Literal Meaning: “otherwise, if you bless with the spirit”, “bless” refers to blessing and giving of thanks. Here it may refer to giving of thanks more (see v.17).
“He who occupies the place of the uninformed”, “the uninformed”, it refers to the one who is ignorant of the tongues.
“How will …say "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?” ---- “Amen”, sincerely wish, yes, verily.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) No matter prayers, or songs, or thank-giving, or fellowship or preachment in the gathering, we should consider the feelings of all. Some situations should be avoided, e.g. the voice is too low to hear clearly, or uttering some words that are improper or unworthy of the situation.
2) The words strongly prove that believers should response to those who serve with “amen”. Many churches are used to silence and say “amen” quietly only in the end of the prayer, thus lacking the power of upholding the gathering.
1Cor. 14:17 “For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.”
YLT: “for thou, indeed, dost give thanks well, but the other is not built up!”
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) In the gathering, not only shall the one who prophesies shall edify others but also he that prays and gives thanks to the Lord shall also edify others.
2) We should have the spirit of “edifying others” in all our actions in the church. This is exactly the principle of love mentioned in chapter thirteen ---- “not seek one’s own” (1Cor. 13:5).
1Cor. 14:18 “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all;”
YLT: “I give thanks to my God -- more than you all with tongues speaking --”
Literal Meaning: after the apostle Paul had saved, he began to keep intimate fellowship with the Lord and many time received the revelation of the Lord directly (see Acts 23:11; 2Cor. 12:1-4; Gal. 2:2; Eph. 3:3-4; 2Tim. 4:17). Therefore, he might have spoken with tongues when he fell into a trance, but he spoke in a private occasion.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) The commentary of a specialist naturally has its influential power, for he is experienced in that aspect. If we lack the experience in a certain spiritual matter, we’d better not give opinions flippantly.
2) Though Paul regards prophesying as important, he does not ignore speaking with tongues. He points that the spiritual value of speaking with tongues lies in “edifying oneself” (v.4) and besides he himself has rich experience in this aspect ---- “I speak with tongues more than you all”. On the contrary, though he has such knowledge and experience of tongues, he still values the importance of the gift of prophesying to the building of the church. Besides, he himself is a great “prophet”. It teaches us that we should have a large capacity and balanced pursuit towards spiritual things. If we appreciate one thing but despise another thing according to our own knowledge and experience, it shows that we still do not have sufficient knowledge of the full Christ.
1Cor. 14:19 “yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
YLT: “but in an assembly I wish to speak five words through my understanding, that others also I may instruct, rather than myriads of words in an tongue.”
Literal Meaning: Paul here manifestly depreciates the value of tongues in the gathering.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) Ten thousand words are less than five words of instruction. Therefore, in the gathering, what is important is not showing yourselves but showing that how you see others.
2) We should in no wise measure the stature of the spiritual life of others by the tongues, nor evaluate whether the church has received profit according to the length of words.
1Cor. 14:20 “Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.”
YLT: “Brethren, become not children in the understanding, but in the evil be ye babes, and in the understanding become ye perfect;”
Meaning of Words: “understanding”: thought, mind;
Literal Meaning: “brethren, do not be children in understanding”, it means that we should not be as childish as the children who lack understanding or judgments.
“However, in malice be babes”, “malice”: show off the gift of tongues in the gathering and flatter oneself that he is better than others. It may cause envy and divisions. “Babes”: they are simple and innocent.
“But in understanding be mature”, “mature”: one is fully grown in understanding and has rich thoughts and judgments.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) It is an immature condition in spirit of exceeding emphasis of a certain gift, e.g. speaking with tongues.
2) We should be as innocent as the babes, but should not be ignorant as them. We Christians shall have less first hand knowledge of sin, and yet more first hand knowledge of the spiritual truth.
3) We should seek mature and strong “understanding” as “those who are mature” in the pursuit of the Lord. However, we should be as ignorant as babes in malice. We can not please the Lord if we are always childish or weak or if we are very experienced in and familiar with sins,
1Cor. 14:21 “In the law it is written: "With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me," says the Lord.”
YLT: “in the law it hath been written, that, `With other tongues and with other lips I will speak to this people, and not even so will they hear Me, saith the Lord;'”
Literal Meaning: “in the law it is written…says the Lord”, “law” here refers to the Old Testament instead of the Pentateuch. The following words are quoted from the Book of Isaiah (28:11-12).
“With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people”,
it is speaking to the people of God with foreign languages. Since the people of
“And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me”, it meant that they still did not believe. Paul quoted this verse to prove that the tongues were a sign for unbelievers (see v.22).
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) The tongues may bring little effect to man’s faith, for they merely satisfy man’s curiosity and itching ears.
God speaks to you with tongues, you should be careful, for it shows that your
situation is abnormal, just like the people of
1Cor. 14:22 “Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.”
YLT: “so that the tongues are for a sign, not to the believing, but to the unbelieving; and the prophesy not for the unbelieving, but for the believing,”
Meaning of Words: “sign”: mark, indicator, token, wonder;
tongues were originated from the
Literal Meaning: “therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers”, “unbelievers” refer to men in the world. The tongues are bearing witness before unbelievers in the world so that they may be confused, astonished and surprised and will hear the gospel carefully and thus believe the Lord (see Acts 2:6-8; 37-41). We should know that it is not “the tongues” make man believe the Lord but “the prophesying” makes unbelievers believe the Lord (see v.24-25). The function of “the tongues” is to prove the speaker is of God.
Tongues do not bear witness to believers, so it is unnecessary to speak the tongues among believers.
“But prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.” ---- Prophesying is to convince unbelievers to believe the Lord with understandable words (see v.24-25) and to edify believers (see v.5, 19), so it bears witness to believers.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) Speaking with tongues is not a sign of believers, but that of unbelievers. He who likes to speak with tongues feels that his faith is strengthened. Actually it is a misconception. Speaking with tongues even proves that he has no faith.
2) If God speaks to you with tongues, it shows that you are of little faith. Since man has no faith mixed with the words of God (Heb. 4:2), God has to speak to man with tongues. Where there is the tongue, there must be of no faith. However, prophesying is not a sign of unbelievers, but that of believers.
1Cor. 14:23 “Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?”
YLT: “If, therefore, the whole assembly may come together, to the same place, and all may speak with tongues, and there may come in unlearned or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?”
Literal Meaning: “and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers”, “uninformed”: see the commentary of verse sixteen.
“Will they not say that you are out of your mind?” ---- The disordered conditions in the gathering are disagreeable to men.
Enlightenment in the Word: we can see that it is totally wrong of encouraging men to speak with tongues in the gathering and it is crazy and has disobeyed the teachings of the Scriptures.
1Cor. 14:24 “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all.”
YLT: “and if all may prophecy, and any one may come in, an unbeliever or unlearned, he is convicted by all, he is discerned by all,”
Meaning of Words: “convince”: the real situation is exposed; “convict”: be searched, be scrutinized;
1Cor. 14:25 “And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.”
YLT: “and so the secrets of his heart become manifest, and so having fallen upon face, he will bow before God, declaring that God really is among you.”
Literal Meaning: “and thus the secrets of his heart are revealed”, he who prophesies in Spirit may utter some words surprising himself and satisfying the need of some hearers who feel pricked in their heart (Acts. 2:37) so that men are bound to surrender.
“And so, falling down on his face, he will worship God”, it is a spontaneous response after one has met God.
“And report that God is truly among you”, it indicates that the prophesying has the function of bringing men unto God.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) “Unbeliever” (v.24) can be compared to the one who lacks faith in the word of God and does not have the word of God as the lamp unto his feet and the light unto his path (Ps. 119:105). Therefore, he falls into the darkness and does not know God or himself. When he comes to the gathering, in which many prophets speak for God, he sees God and is enlightened. Therefore, the secrets of his heart are revealed so that he falls down on his face.
2) The peak of the gathering is to let men see God therein. He who prophesies does not explains the words of God clearly only but more makes God appear again in the flesh. Then man can see God there.
3) The reality of the church is the presence of God and the power of God. There is a group of saints in such church. When they are gathered, the presence and power of God will be manifestly revealed and even the Gentiles have to fall down on their faces to confess that only such saints can really stand for “the whole assembly” (v.23).
1Cor. 14:26 “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
YLT: “What then is it, brethren? whenever ye may come together, each of you hath a psalm, hath a teaching, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation? let all things be for building up;”
Literal Meaning: “how is it then, brethren?” ---- What have we learned from all the above-mentioned things?
“Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” In the gathering, someone has a psalm, someone has a teaching, someone has a tongue, someone has a revelation, and someone has an interpretation ---- they use what they have to edify the church. The word “have” here does not refer to personal interest, or the production of one’s thought, or the transient emotional impulsion, but refers to the spiritual accumulation ---- what we have ordinarily received in our life before God as well as what have been constituted in our spirit are what we “have”. Thus, we can supply to the church in the guidance of the Spirit in the gathering.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) There are two difficulties in the church. The first is that the one who has nothing thinks he “has”. Frequently, some of the children of God utter some words that they actually are not fit to speak. God has neither spoken in them nor worked in them at all. They are empty inside, but they like to speak, thus bringing no edification to the church at all. The other difficulty is that he who “has” is unwilling to walk according to the guidance of the Spirit. The Lord has already spoken to some brothers and sisters, but they still wait there and constrain them from speaking, thus failing to give what is supposed to give to the church. In a word, if you feel you are empty inside, you should not speak. If you know you have, you should supply to the church.
2) Someone who comes to the gathering seems to come to visit or come to stand by. Such believer is just bringing death to the gathering. There are many times that death appears in the gathering on account of such onlookers. Fellowship is a law of the body. The fellowship in the body is supplying each other. Whenever a member disobeys the law, we have brought death to the body and it will become the burden of the body.
3) What you can give to the church is neither what you remember suddenly nor what is interesting in you sight, but what you “have” ordinarily and what God has given to you during these days. It is God that brings you to such a position during these days and perfects you into such a man, and then God will use what you have to distribute to the poor.
4) God pleases that His children use the gifts they have in the gathering. We cannot use the gifts that we do not have, but shall use the gifts that we “have”. The gathering of using the gifts is not the gathering in which anyone can speak, but the gathering in which whoever has the gift can speak. It is inappropriate to fulfill the ministry by an individual only, or by many ones. Such a gathering is not publicly prepared to all the brothers or sisters, but prepared in public to brothers those who have gifts and ministries. It is no wonder that there is no provision in the gathering when the mouth does not speak but hopes that the hands or the feet speak.
5) The activities in the gathering should not be according to the arrangements but according to what we “have” ---- “has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation”. Such “have” is the guidance and mission of the Spirit. Therefore if the one who has no psalm leads the psalms, or the one who has not teaching instructs others, or the one who has no revelation preaches according to the fixed arrangements, there will certainly be of no presence of God and no blessing of the Spirit.
6) If a gathering relies on a pastor or one or two spiritual giants only, the water in a wineskin is not sufficient enough for many believers. And even a load of water is still not enough for many, for the water will be consumed soon. Today, we shall not rely on one or two men, but shall turn to the body. And when everyone manifests the Christ inside him, everyone will meet Christ only. The body is rich and full of service and provision. One servant of God says, I myself has only two eyes and can only look ahead. However, in the gathering of the church, there are many eyes all around us.
1Cor. 14:27 “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret.”
YLT: “if an tongue any one do speak, by two, or at the most, by three, and in turn, and let one interpret;”
Literal Meaning: here it lists three basic requirements of speaking in a tongue in the gathering: 1) it should not be more than three; 2) they should speak in turn instead of speaking together; 3) the tongue should be interpreted by someone so that the rest can understand.
1Cor. 14:28 “But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.”
YLT: “and if there may be no interpreter, let him be silent in an assembly, and to himself let him speak, and to God.”
Literal Meaning: if there is no interpreter of the tongues, no one can understand the tongues and thus cannot be edified. Therefore, the tongue is inappropriate to be spoken in the gathering, but spoken to God in private situation.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) There is only one basic principle of all the gatherings, namely, edification for others, not for oneself. Paul says speaking the tongues edifies man individually and the interpretation of the tongues edifies others (v.4). Paul says if there is no interpreter, the tongues should be forbidden. In other words, all that can only edify man himself without edifying others are speaking the tongues.
2) The principle of the interpretation of the tongues is that we impart what we have been edified to others so as to edify others. Therefore, if there is no interpreter, the tongue should not be spoken in public. That is to say, if the tongue can only edify any individual instead of all believers, it should not be spoken in the gathering.
1Cor. 14:29 “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.”
YLT: “And prophets -- let two or three speak, and let the others discern,”
Meaning of Words: “judge”: distinguish, discern, and separate;
Literal Meaning: “let two or three prophets speak”, it indicates that there should be less than three who prophesies in a gathering.
“And let the others judge”, “others”, it may refer to other prophets or the assembly. “Judge”, it is to prove the talking of the prophet and judge whether it is right (see 1Thess. 5:20-22) so as to try the prophet (see Rev. 2:2).
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) There are two mistakes in the gathering of the Christianity: a) all the hearers listen to one speaker, and admire the authority of him and have never found any fault in his message. b) Many believers strive to speak, which seems as if there are hundreds of birds who twitter in the gathering, thus making the gathering lacking in a focus or a theme.
2) It is proved in this verse that someone who prophesies may not be of God, so believers should judge. Today, the greatest crisis in the Christianity is that many false apostles or prophets rise and attract men unto them.
1Cor. 14:30 “But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.”
YLT: “and if to another sitting may be revealed, let the first be silent;”
Literal Meaning: there is a prerequisite for this verse: the prophet who sits by has to be truly “revealed”. That is to say, he can speak only when the Spirit has truly worked and inspired in him. Otherwise, there should be in disorder. If one speaks on account of the revelation and inspiration of the Spirit, his words will be consistent with the former speaker without any contradiction.
1Cor. 14:31 “For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.”
YLT: “for ye are able, one by one, all to prophesy, that all may learn, and all may be exhorted,”
Literal Meaning: “for you can all prophesy one by one”, someone thinks that “you can all” indicates every believer has the gift of prophesying, which is contradictory to the scriptures “are all prophets” (1Cor. 12:29). Therefore, it can be explained as that “you are all likely to…”. “One by one”, it means those who have gifts should be restricted by others and the environment (see v.29-30) rather than speak as they wish.
1Cor. 14:32 “And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”
YLT: “and the spiritual gift of prophets to prophets are subject,”
Literal Meaning: it is not the prophets but the spirits of the prophets that are subject to the prophets. Though the spirits of the prophets are revealed by the Spirit, it is still the prophets who preach the revelation. The prophets fulfill their ministries through the spirits of the prophets. The prophets have the right to decide how to fulfill their ministries or when and where they perform their functions.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) The principle of the evil spirit’s working is obliterating the freewill of men so that men will be out of control. The principle of the Spirit’s working is contrarily different. Though He is infinitely mighty, He is still as gentle as a dove. He honors man’s will and provides man according to the man’s will. Therefore, one needs not to force himself or force others. All should be done according to the Spirit.
2) It is the spirit that speaks the tongue. And it is the spirit that prophesies. And it is still the spirit that reveals. Therefore, the gathering cannot be without the spirit, and the speaker cannot speak without the spirit. We should feel the spirit, touch the spirit, obey the spirit as well as judge the spirit.
3) When man is filled with the Spirit, he cannot lose the power of self-control. The more one is spiritual, the more he can control and govern his spirit. Therefore, anyone should not use the excuse that he is urged by the spirit so he can not control himself and becomes even out of control and cries wildly.
1Cor. 14:33 “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
YLT: “for God is not of tumult, but of peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints.”
Meaning of Words: “peace”: quietness, rest;
Literal Meaning: it indicates that all is out of God’s revelation and works must be very peaceful and in order.
1Cor. 14:34 “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.”
YLT: “Your women in the assemblies let them be silent, for it hath not been permitted to them to speak, but to be subject, as also the law saith;”
that time, there were some women in the church at
Literal Meaning: “let your women keep silent in the churches”, “keep silent”, it means that the women should not exceed their authority in words.
“For they are not permitted to speak”, in the early church, the women were not allowed to teach or to exercise authority over man (1Tim. 2:12). They could pray or prophesy with their head covered (see 1Tim. 11:5). That was to say, they prayed to the Lord and spoke for the Lord under the covering of brothers (see Acts 2:17-18; 21:9).
“But they are to be submissive, as the law also says”, “the law” referred to the Old Testament. It is always taught in the Old Testament that woman should obey man (see Gen. 3:16).
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) Sisters do not strive to be the head in the saints of the churches for the purpose of obeying the order of God in the universe (see 1Cor. 11:3). Therefore, it is not unfair, but is natural and worthy of God’s will.
2) It does not say sisters shall not speak in the gathering at all, but that: a) sisters should not teach things concerning the church; b) sisters should not give any commanding teaching to brothers; c) sisters should stand in the position of being covered.
1Cor. 14:35 “And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.”
YLT: “and if they wish to learn anything, at home their own husbands let them question, for it is a shame to women to speak in an assembly.”
it was shameful at that time that women spoke in public. Meanwhile, the level
of woman’s education was comparatively low and they could not understand the
knowledge, so the question they asked might very childish. Moreover, the women
Literal Meaning: Paul gave such instruction in this verse according to the background at that time and suggested sisters to withhold their questions
1Cor. 14:36 “Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?”
YLT: “From you did the word of God come forth? or to you alone did it come?”
“or did the word of God come originally from you”?: “could it be said that the
“Or was it you only that it reached?”: “could it be said that the revelation of God only reaches the church?”
The questions of Paul here suggested
that believers in
1Cor. 14:37 “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.”
YLT: “if any one doth think to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge the things that I write to you -- that of the Lord they are commands;”
“if anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual”, it suggested that
there was a group of believers in the church at
“Let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord”, in the early church, the teachings of the apostle had great authority, which were kept by all believers and churches (see Acts 2:42) and became the foundation of building the church (see Eph. 2:20). Therefore, the teachings of the apostle were equal to the commandment of the Lord.
1Cor. 14:38 “But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.”
YLT: “and if any one is ignorant -- let him be ignorant;”
Literal Meaning: the words of the apostle were the Lord’s commandments (v.37). If one is ignorant of the highest authority in the church, let him be ignorant. “Let him be ignorant”, it is “let him be unknown (not confessed)” in some old scriptures.
1Cor. 14:39 “Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.”
YLT: “so that, brethren, earnestly desire to prophesy, and to speak with tongues do not forbid;”
Literal Meaning: Paul insists this principle in this chapter: he encourages the prophesying, and does not forbid the tongues.
Controversial Clarification: someone quotes the words of Paul, “do not forbid to speak with tongues”, and turns a blind eye to the “tongues” for fear of offending the Spirit. Actually, Paul has clearly declared in this chapter:
1) The true “tongue” has its meaning and is speaking many mysteries. Therefore, if someone speaks the meaningless tongues with disorderly voices, it must be false “tongues”. Even though there is an interpreter, the translation is false.
2) Even though the “tongue” is true, if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church (v.28). Therefore, if someone is unwilling to keep the order in the gathering, and perform his “tongues”, it should also be forbidden.
3) If the true “tongue” is interpreted, the church should be edified. So such tongues can be regarded as prophesying. It is not only speaking “one by one”, but also should “be two or at the most three” (1Cor. 14:29-33). Otherwise, it should be forbidden.
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) This verse still indicates that how balanced the attitude of Paul is and how large his capacity is. What a strong contrast with the present condition of endless contentions concerning spiritual things in Christianity!
2) It is taught in the scriptures that we should pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy (v.1). And we are not encouraged to speak with tongues” in the scriptures, but pursue the greater gifts ---- “love” (1Cor. 12:31-13:1).
1Cor. 14:40 “Let all things be done decently and in order.”
YLT: “let all things be done decently and in order.”
Literal Meaning: “be done decently”: well-formed, comely; “in order”: regular arrangement;
Enlightenment in the Word:
1) In the church, all things should be done in order. Therefore, we should not make proposals or walk flippantly in the church, but should be instructed and learn and do everything decently and in order.
2) The church should avoid things being done changeably or impulsively or disorderedly.
The Comparisons between Man Who Speaks in a Tongue and Man Who Prophesies
A. He who speaks in a tongue is private; and he who prophesies is in public (v.4);
B. He who speaks in a tongue is not spoken to man, but to God; and he who prophesies is not spoken to God but to man (v.2);
C. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; and he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men (v.3-4);
D. No one understands the one who speaks in a tongue; and he who prophesies is easily understood (v.2-3);
E. Tongue should be interpreted; and the prophesying needs not interpretation (v.13);
F. He who speaks in a tongue speaks mysteries in his spirit; and he who prophesies speaks various mysteries with his mouth (v.2, 24-25);
G. He who speaks in a tongue speaks according to his spirit, not his mind; and he who prophesies speaks according to both his spirit and his mind (v.14, 19);
H. He who speaks in a tongue and he who prophesies are both in the spirit, but the former is still a baby and the latter is mature (v.20);
I. The tongue may inspire man and also may make man misunderstand; and the prophecy can both inspire man and reveal man (v.23-25);
J. The tongue proves the presence of God and is for a sign to unbelievers. However, only when God opens his heart, he can believe. The effect of the tongue in one’s mind is less than the prophesying (v.22-25);
K. Paul wishes us all spoke with tongues, but even more that we prophesied (v.5);
L. The tongue is not forbidden; we shall desire earnestly to prophesy (v.39);
Seeing Speaking with Tongues from Chapter Fourteen of the First Epistle to the Corinthians
A. The tongue is not spoken to man, but to God (v.2a).
B. He who speaks in a tongue speaks various mysteries in his spirit (v.2b).
C. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself (v.4).
D. If there is no interpretation, the tongue brings no edification to the church (v.5b).
E. The edifying effect of the tongue is still less than the prophesying (v.5c).
F. If the tongue cannot be understood by man’s mind, it edifies no man (v.6-17).
G. In the church one would rather speak five words with his understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue (v.19).
H. He who speaks in a tongue is still a baby (v.20).
I. The tongue is for a sign to unbelievers, not to believers (v.21-25).
J. If the tongue is spoken in the gathering, it should fulfill the principle of edification (v.26).
K. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn (v.27).
L. If there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church (v.27-28).
M. Do not forbid to speak with tongues (v.39).
The Relation of Believers’ Understanding and Spirit with the Church Life
A. Teaching with one’s understanding is better than speaking with tongues (v.6, 19).
B. One shall pray with the spirit, and will also pray with the understanding (v.14-15a).
C. One shall sing with the spirit, and will also sing with the understanding (v.15b).
D. If one blesses with the spirit but not with the understanding, it brings no edification (v.16-17).
Three “Keep Silent”s
A. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church (v.28).
B. If anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent (v.30).
C. Let the women who do not understand keep silent in the churches (v.34).
Principles of the Gatherings
A. He who “has” something form God can opens his mouth (v.26a).
B. Let all things be done for edification so that all may learn and all may be encouraged (v.26, 31b).
C. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three (v.27a, 29a).
D. Each of those who speak with tongues should be in turn (v.27b, 31a).
E. If there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church (v.27c-28).
F. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge (v.29b).
G. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent (v.30).
H. The spirits of the prophets never make the gather in disorder (v.32-33).
I. Women should keep silent in the churches and learn to be submissive (v.34-36).
J. Let all things be done decently and in order (v.40).
── Caleb Huang《Christian Digest Bible Commentary Series》
Translated by Mary Zhou