Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/1 Corinthians/Chapter 14



1 Corinthians 14 is the end of a section of the letter to the Corinthians. The section deals with spiritual gifts. These gifts are listed in chapter 12 verse 7: words of wisdom, words of knowledge, faith, healings, miracle workers, prophesy, discerning spirits, different tongues, and interpretation of tongues. A list of gifts given to churches in verse 28 is in this order, apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, administrators, and speakers of tongues. We need to be happy with whatever gift we get because not everyone gets every gift, but every gift is equally important. Verse 11 says, "But one and the same spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills." And verse 14 states, "For in fact the body is not one member but many." Chapter 13 is generally considered the love chapter because it is all about what love is, etc. The key parts of chapter 13 are verses 4 which explains what love is and verse 13, which is a choice, not something you fall into or out of (Ephesians 5:25). Verse 4 says love suffers long is kind, does not envy, boast, is not proud, rude, selfish, keeps no records of wrongs, is not provoked and never fails. Verse 13 says, "And these three remain, faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love."

1 Corinthians 14 is about the spiritual gifts of prophesy and tongues and using those gifts for worship and edification. Sometimes people connect this with another passage that says that not everyone has the same gifts. Not everyone may get tongues or prophesying or both. There are other gifts such as teachers, and healers, etc. When people think that everyone should have the gift of tongues they are taking their opinion from that passage. Other people believe that everyone can get tongues and according to 1 Corinthians 14 it sounds that way.

Some people think that the gift of tongues is not real and that our imaginations make up babble and things for us to say. Some people think that unless you are actually speaking in another language that you do not understand you are not speaking in tongues. Verse 21 states this well: “In the Law it is written: "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me,” says the Lord.”

Other people also believe that the gift of tongues is good for each individual person to have because it is their way of talking to the Lord. Paul writes of this mentality in verse 2: “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.”

Paul is saying that anything you do should edify the whole church. If you speak in tongues there should be a translator. If you prophesy that edifies everyone. Also in verse 22 it says, “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.” He wants unbelievers to be edified as well so when they come to the church they will know they are sinners and repent. All things you do should point and lead others to Christ. If you can speak in tongues it will amaze visitors and they will know there is a God and repent.

Katharine Bushnell in her book, "God's Word to Women", contends that the odd instruction in verses 34-35 should actually be phrased as a quotation from individuals in Corinth who were attempting to oppress women in churches. Paul sharply rebukes and opposes this idea in the following verses 36-38 (KJV), "What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant." This should be considered a direct opposition by Paul to the repression of women, saying that this quotation is certainly not God's command, but that, instead, what Paul has written earlier is God's command, which allows everyone to freely speak and pray and prophesy.

Passage From the New International Version


1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. 3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified. 6 Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church. 13 For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. 16 If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. 20 Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21 In the Law it is written: "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me," says the Lord. 22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. 23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!" 26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. 29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. 36 Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. 38 If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored. 39 Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

Other Versions Looked At

  • New King James Version
  • New Century Version



1 You should want to love and crave spiritual gifts, especially prophesy. 2 Anyone who should speak in a different language does not speak to men because they don’t understand, he speaks to God and utters mysteries with his spirit. 3 Prophesying builds up other people and comforts them. 4 The person who uses other languages builds up only his own character, but the person who prophesies builds up the church. 5 I wish you could all speak in other languages, but I wish more so that you could prophesy. Prophesying is better than speaking in tongues unless with tongues or other languages you can interpret so everyone can understand. 6 If I speak to you in only other languages how then can you understand me? How can you gain knowledge by hearing the word? 7 Even inanimate objects, like the flute and harp, make noise. No one will know what instrument is being played if it makes a funny sound. 8 In battle the trumpet is important and without playing the right notes no one will be ready for the battle. 9 If you speak in languages that no one understands you are speaking to the air because there is no knowledge being gained. 10 There are a lot of languages in the world and each and every one is just as important as the others. 11 But if I don’t know the language I am a foreigner to it and it to me. 12 Since you really want spiritual gifts you should want those that build up the church body. 13 Hence, try to also get the gift of interpretation that way when you prophesy you will also understand and gain knowledge. 14 When I pray in a language I don’t know my mind isn’t being productive. 15 What should I do to help my mind be productive then? I should pray with my mind and my spirit. I should sing with my mind and my spirit. 16 If someone is with you and he/she doesn’t understand the other language you are speaking, how can they agree with you and say “amen” and give thanks since he/she doesn’t understand what he/she has just heard. 17 You are really giving thanks well, but the other person is not built up by it. 18 I thank God that I speak in a lot of languages, more than you. 19 But in church I would rather speak five words to edify or build others up than ten thousand in another language that no one understands. 20 Friends, don’t be like children when it comes to your understanding only in understanding evil be like children, but in everything else good and pure be like mature adults. 21 For it is written in the law: “Through strangers and other languages I will speak to you, but you won’t hear me.” Says the Lord. 22 So then speaking in other languages is a sign to the unbelievers, but prophesying is for the believers. 23 So then if a visitor or nonbeliever comes to your church and you are all speaking in other languages he/she will say you are crazy, 24 but if you are all prophesying he/she will be convinced that God is real. 25 He/she will fall down and worship the Lord because the secrets of his/her heart have been made known and he/she will know that God is really alive. 26 Why then when you meet everyone has either a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, or an interpretation? It is so everyone will be built up. 27 If anyone does speak in another language let only two or three people speak the whole time at most and there has to be someone there who can interpret. 28 If not, then the person with the message in another language should not speak unless just to himself/herself and God. 29 Once the two or three people have spoken everyone should seriously weigh and consider what has just been heard. 30 If a second person gets a message while the first person is still talking the first person should sit down. 31 Everyone should take turns so that everyone is encouraged and understands. 32 The spirits of the prophets can and should be controlled by the prophets. 33 For God will not make confusion, but peace. 34 [Verses 34-35: Quotation from Corinthian church, which Paul then dismisses in verse 36] "Also women should not speak in the church, but be submissive as the law suggests. 35 If women want to know something or have a question about what they heard they should ask their husbands at home because it is not right for women to speak in church." 36 Did you write the word of God? Did it only reach you? 37 No! But those who have the gifts of prophesying or speaking in other languages should know that this is not me speaking to you, it’s the Lord telling you this through me. 38 Those who don’t listen to that fact will not be listened to by God. 39 Dear friends, in the end, you should want to gift of prophesy, but if you speak in other languages don’t stop it. 40 Just do so orderly and peacefully.

Word Studies

  • Toungues-at Corinth were "mystic utterances". Isaiah 28:11 states that, "Another tongue he will speak to his people", so naturally it seems like 1 Corinthians 14 is the fulfillment of prophesy. It is important that we realize that tongues are not madness, but a gift from God. They are a sign to the unbeliever to help them believe and need to be interpreted.
  • Prophesy-It is important to remember that prophesy isn't just making a prediction, it includes that, but is also much more, some people reduce prediction to nothing and that is a common mistake that must not be made. Generally figurative language is used in most Biblical prophesies and generally are more clear than actually writing it out word for word, literally. It is wrong to just draw out of the passage whatever you think it says. Sometimes it is literal sometimes figurative, but either way you have to look at the genre first and see how you should be looking at the passage. There are several different reasons for people to prophesy, rebuke, encourage, reveal facts about God or creation, authenticating a divine leadership appointment, indication of a certain action for a certain occasion, and laying a foundation for the Messiah. Most of the prophesies are for rebuking and should be listened too. If God had them be in the Bible they are important. Encouragement is focused on a lot in modern times and is also very important.
  • Desire-In this sense Paul is using the word as craving. That you should crave or really want to have spiritual gifts, especially that of prophesy
  • Interprets-correct thoughts of another, usually from another language
  • Edify-Generally used to build up character, as a metaphor



1-2 Paul makes a difference between speaking in tongues in general and at Pentecost when masses spoke in different languages and other people understood. 3-5 In this sense, Paul means that speaking in tongues, is our spirit speaking to God. We don’t know what we are saying so how can others be edified and built up. Paul really wants the church to support everyone. Everyone should be growing and changing through out their meetings. He wants everyone to speak in tongues and doesn’t care if they do it on their own time or at their house, but he wants only things that benefit the church in the church. The church is a place to grow and fellowship. He does state that if we can interpret what we are saying of if someone in the assembly can then we are fine to go ahead and do so. Paul wants people to speak in tongues, but not in the assembly of people, unless someone can understand and interpret. If other people can't understand it's not edifying anyone. The point of tongues he says is to build up the body. We should speak everything in order though. 6-11 Knowledge comes from understanding or revelation. In order to have knowledge we have to be speaking the same language. If someone comes up to you and starts talking to you in a different language you are not going to understand the end goal or message unless you also speak the same language. Any instrument played has to play those notes that it makes or no one will know what is being played, indicating the song or the type of instrument. So just like instruments, when you don’t know the language you are like a foreigner and the person speaking the other language is also a foreigner, to you. 12-13 Paul says, “Even though you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.” He knows that most people would be happy with any of the spiritual gifts, but he says that prophesying is the best gift and you should want that one. It is the best because it benefits the most people, unlike tongues which only benefits the person speaking. 14-15 When people pray in tongues even the person speaking doesn’t know what they are saying, but God does because it’s your spirit praying for things that needed to be prayed for, but because the person doesn’t understand Paul says that the mind is not being built up because you have no idea what you are saying. So he says you must pray with your mind as well. Then he says the same thing for singing. 16-17 If you only speak in tongues how can anyone else around you say amen or agree with you at all? They have no idea what you are saying. You may be praying just fine, but others are not edified. 18-19 When first read verse 18 sounds like Paul is being conceited sounding like he is better than anyone else because he speaks in tongues more, but no. In reality Paul is stating the fact that he speaks in more languages than most people. Paul was highly educated. He then goes on to say speaking in different languages and tongues is fine when you are at your house, but in the church it is better to speak a few words that benefit everyone, rather than thousands of words that benefit only the speaker. 20 He then tells the people of Corinth that in understanding evil ways they should not try to be knowledgeable, but be like kids that don't know anything about the subject. In understanding good things we should be very knowledgeable. We should also focus and channel our thinking to be mature. We need to act like adults if we are adults. 21-25 Paul then quotes the Old Testament "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me." Speaking in different languages is a sign for the unbelievers. If someone who has never been to church before comes and is visiting or even just someone who is an unbeliever comes and visits your church and everyone is speaking in tongues the person is going to think all the church goers are crazy because they have no idea what you are saying and you have no idea what you are saying. But if everyone is prophesying the person understands and the message gets across. The person will begin worshipping God and realize that there really is a God and he is among you who are worshipping.It is also important to mention that Paul does not believe that tongues is just babbling. He believes it is from the Holy Spirit given to us by God. 26-31 Verse 26 explains how church was during the time period that the letter was written in approximately 54 A.D. Each person had a song to sing/psalm/hymn, a message/teaching, a tongue/word, a revelation/new truth from God, or interpretation. It was a group effort and every person there put something in to get something out, to edify themselves. If people get words from the Lord in the forms of tongues there needs to be an interpreter there so everyone can understand.There should also be only three at the most, mosly for orderly reasons, but if someone is talking and someone else gets a word the first person should sit down. Everyone should take turns and everyone could speak. It was a time of sharing and a time of learning. 32-33 The prophesying spirit can be controlled because God does not cause confusion. He would not make the spirit overpower you and make everyone speak at once. Everything should be orderly. God is a God of peace. 34-35 This should be a quotation from the church in Corinth that had been reported to Paul, about the suggestions made by those there. Paul subsequently sharply rebukes and opposes and dismisses such repression of women in the following verse, verse 36, continuing his assertion that men and women in church should speak equally. 36 Paul writes, "Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?" He means were you the ones that wrote it? No. In the New King James version it says, "Or did the word of God come origninally from you?" Was it only written for you? No, it was written for everyone. 37-38 If people thought they were prophets or that they could give words or interpret words and tongues they really need to be paying attention to this chapter because it's not from Paul, it's from God. But if they don't pay attention, then God is not going to pay attention to them. He wanted the church to be organized and realize that they could control tongues and that some people had it, but not everyone would. 39-40 It's okay to speak in tongues, anywhere, but in church. If someone did speak in church there needed to be an interpreter present. If you wanted any spiritual gifts, especially to help with your walk and relationship with the Lord, you should want to have prophesy. And again be orderly and conscientious, direct to the point and do it decently.

Works Cited

  • Conzelmann, Hans. “1 Corinthians.” Hermeneia: a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. 1975.
  • Fee, Gordon D. "The first Epistle to the Corinthians." The New International Commentary on the New Testament. 1987.
  • Gaebelein, Frank G. and W. Harold Mare. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 1979.
  • Garland, David E. “1 Corinthians.” Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. 2003.
  • Greathouse, William M., Donald S. Metz, and Frank G. Carver. “Romans 1 and II Corinthians.” Beacon Bible Commentary. 1968.
  • Hays, Richard B. “First Corinthians.” Interpretation: a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. 1977.
  • Pfeiffer, Charles F. and Everett F. Harrison. “1 Corinthians 14.” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary. 1962.
  • Tenney, Merrill C. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. 1975.
  • Thiselton, Anthony C. "The First Epistle to the Corinthians." The New International Greek Testament Commentary. 2000.
  • Bushnell, Katharine "God's Word to Women" See: