New Defender's Study Bible Notes
14:4 edifieth the church. Paul was especially concerned about the misuse of tongues or other spiritual gifts (Greek pneumatikos) “in the church” (I Corinthians 14:19). It should be remembered that the instructions given here apply in their details only to the church at Corinth, not necessarily to other churches with different problems. For example, the problem of “eating meats,” discussed in chapters 8 and 10, and that of the “collection for the saints” in chapter 16, were peculiar to Corinth, as also were some of these problems with the misuse of their gifts. The broad principles, however, do apply to all churches (charity, edification, unity, etc.).
14:8 uncertain sound. This pungent question applies not only to the use of unintelligible languages in the church but to its whole ministry. If the prophets or teachers or pastors or evangelists do not proclaim God’s Word in its truth and fullness, without compromising with evolutionism or current standards of worldly conduct or anything else, then the whole congregation will be unfit for service as “good soldier[s] of Jesus Christ” (II Timothy 2:3).
14:13 interpret. The word “interpret” in this verse is the Greek diermeneuo, meaning “explain” or “expound” or (if from another language) “translate.” It is also the word used in I Corinthians 12:30; 14:5; 14:27; 14:28. The only two other occurrences in the New Testament are in Acts 9:36 and Luke 24:27. However, the word translated “interpretation” in I Corinthians 12:10 and 14:26 is hermeneia, from which we get our English word “hermeneutics” (see also its only other occurrences in John 1:38,42; 9:7 and Hebrews 7:2). It seems to be used only of actual “translation” applications. In any case, Paul here stresses again that speaking in a foreign tongue is of no value if no one could understand what the speaker said.
The gift of interpretation enabled its possessor to translate what someone of another nation was saying, an ability which would have particular value when trying to communicate with “barbarians” (I Corinthians 14:11). If there was no such person present, however, then the responsibility fell to one who would presume to speak to the congregation in a foreign language also to translate it for them. This restriction would obviously put a serious curb on the wanton display of the gift of tongues to a group of people unable to comprehend its message.
14:14 spirit prayeth. A person with the gift of languages may edify himself (I Corinthians 14:4) by praying in that language, but the edification will be only emotional, since he cannot understand it. It may bring a blessing of sorts to the individual, assuming he does it when by himself, but, according to Paul, it should not be done in the church unless either he or another translator is there to explain what was said (I Corinthians 14:28).
14:18 I speak with tongues. The Apostle Paul was well educated and could undoubtedly speak in Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek and Latin, and possibly other languages as well. If, in addition, he had the supernatural gift of tongues, as this verse may imply, there is no record of his ever using it. He stressed that he would far rather speak in the church words that all could understand (I Corinthians 14:19).
14:20 be not children. Two different words for “children” are used in this verse. Paul is saying they should be like “infants” in malice and that, instead of being like toddlers in understanding God’s Word, they should be mature men.
14:21 it is written. This passage is quoted from Isaiah 28:11, with a possible reference also to Deuteronomy 28:49. The Lord was warning in both that he would teach unbelieving Israel obedience by punishing them through a nation of different language. This further proves that the “tongues” of this chapter are not ecstatic utterances but intelligible foreign languages. As the invading language of an alien people would speak forcibly to the rebellious Israelites, so the miraculous manifestation of a message given in a language unknown to the speaker but known to the hearers would be a convincing “sign” to unbelievers that God was, indeed, speaking to them (I Corinthians 14:22). This had been exactly the effect of the tongues on the day of Pentecost, and so it should be whenever they are used (if ever) today. These “tongues” were (and are today) being badly misused, and Paul was trying diligently to circumscribe their use to situations comparable to that at Pentecost.
14:22 prophesying serveth. Before the New Testament was codified, the gift of prophecy and the comparable gift of teaching (which would supplement and eventually supersede that of prophecy) were intended primarily to build up believers, and thus were for more beneficial in the church than the gift of tongues.
14:23 church be come together. The section from verse 23 through the end of the chapter specifically lays down principles for order in church meetings. The specific details are not binding for all churches, of course, only the principles. It should always be remembered that true New Testament churches cannot exist today (despite claims to that effect by various sects) for the simple reason that the churches described in the New Testament did not yet have the New Testament to guide them. Therefore they needed those who had the gift of apostleship, the gift of prophecy and other supernatural gifts to guide them, whereas our present-day churches do have God’s Word in its entirety, and this ought to be sufficient! Some exceptions may exist, especially when missionaries seek to reach those tribes who still do not have God’s Word in a language they can understand. As a general rule, however, the complete Old and New Testaments (with all passages taken in proper context) should be our sole and sufficient guide in faith and practice.
14:23 ye are mad. Our word “maniac” is derived from the Greek word translated “mad” in this verse. This natural reaction of anyone encountering a person who seems to be speaking in gibberish, would be greatly augmented if he came into a building where many people were doing this simultaneously. Rather than being a sign which would bring unbelievers to Christ, this would drive them away.
14:24 convinced of all. Even though the gift of prophesy is intended primarily for the edification of believers, an orderly exposition of the Word of God, whether coming directly from God through prophets or indirectly through God-called teachers expounding the Scriptures, will often bring an unbeliever to accept Christ.
14:28 keep silence in the church. In verse 27, Paul insists that only one man speak in a foreign language at a time, with never more than three doing this at one meeting, and then only if there is someone present who can translate each message. Since one could only plan to use his gift of tongues if he knew in advance that an interpreter would be there who could explain his message, this restriction would have the practical effect of essentially eliminating this practice in the church. Nevertheless, Paul would not forbid the use of this gift (and neither should we—note I Corinthians 14:39) in case some circumstance should develop comparable to that at Pentecost.
14:32 subject to the prophets. The gift of prophecy was not to be exercised in a trance-like state, with the prophet being used like a robot. Each true “prophet” was in full control of his faculties, so the prophets could speak one at a time, each in proper order, with any one fully capable of stopping and deferring to another if it was clear that he also had a message from God. Although this gift is no longer needed and has probably ceased (I Corinthians 13:8), the same principle might still be applicable in a church where there is more than one pastor or teacher with the Spirit’s gift of teaching. They would not have direct revelations from God, but they all might have fresh insights that could be shared from God’s now-complete revelation, the Holy Scriptures.
14:33 confusion. The “confusion” here mentioned applies in context specifically to churches with uncontrolled and disorderly manifestations of tongues and supposed prophecies. The principle, however, applies in general to the entire creation. Its beautiful and intricate order and complexity offer a compelling testimony to their Creator (Romans 1:20), rendering inexcusable anyone who would try to attribute it all to primeval chaos and chance development.
14:34 women keep silence. This command is, of course, quite controversial in this age of militant feminism. Nevertheless, as Paul insists (I Corinthians 14:37), it is a command of God, and can only be disobeyed in peril of divine judgment. In context, however, Paul is specifically prohibiting women only from speaking in tongues “in the churches.” This gift, for reasons related to the divinely ordained roles for men and women, had been restricted to men, at least in church meetings. However, women were permitted to pray (I Corinthians 11:5) or even to prophesy in church, as long as the other rules were observed. With respect to women as teachers, see notes on I Timothy 2:11-15.
14:37 spiritual. “Spiritual” here is the same word (pneumaticos) as “spiritual gifts” (I Corinthians 14:1). Thus Paul is claiming that any man who truly possessed one of the spiritual gifts (especially, perhaps, that of discernment) would have to recognize the divine inspiration of his own writings. This is a very clear and emphatic affirmation by Paul himself of the inerrant verbal inspiration of his epistles.
14:38 be ignorant. The intent here is to tell the Corinthian church (and, by extension, any other true church) that if any of its leaders refused to recognize the inerrant authority of the Pauline epistles (or, presumably, of any other Scriptures—note what Paul affirmed in II Timothy 3:16-17 and Galatians 1:8-12), then he should be regarded as “ignorant” of God’s will, and no longer regarded as a leader.