Prophecy Greater than Tongues. 1#1 Cor 14:1b returns to the thought of 1 Cor 12:31a and reveals Paul’s primary concern. The series of contrasts in 1 Cor 14:2–5 discloses the problem at Corinth: a disproportionate interest in tongues, with a corresponding failure to appreciate the worth of prophecy. Paul attempts to clarify the relative values of those gifts by indicating the kind of communication achieved in each and the kind of effect each produces. Pursue love, but strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts, above all that you may prophesy.#14:5, 12, 39. 2#14:2–3a] They involve two kinds of communication: tongues, private speech toward God in inarticulate terms that need interpretation to be intelligible to others (see 1 Cor 14:27–28); prophecy, communication with others in the community. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to human beings but to God, for no one listens; he utters mysteries in spirit. 3On the other hand, one who prophesies does speak to human beings, for their building up,#14:3b–5] They produce two kinds of effect. One who speaks in tongues builds himself up; it is a matter of individual experience and personal perfection, which inevitably recalls Paul’s previous remarks about being inflated, seeking one’s own good, pleasing oneself. But a prophet builds up the church: the theme of “building up” or “edifying” others, the main theme of the letter, comes to clearest expression in this chapter (1 Cor 14:3, 4, 5, 12, 17). It has been anticipated at 1 Cor 8:1 and 1 Cor 10:23, and by the related concept of “the beneficial” in 1 Cor 6:12; 10:23; 12:7; etc. encouragement, and solace.#14:4–5, 12, 17, 26; 3:9; 8:1, 10; 10:23. 4Whoever speaks in a tongue builds himself up, but whoever prophesies builds up the church. 5Now I should 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 he interprets, so that the church may be built up.
6#Sound, in order to be useful, must be intelligible. This principle is illustrated by a series of analogies from music (1 Cor 14:7–8) and from ordinary human speech (1 Cor 14:10–11); it is applied to the case at hand in 1 Cor 14:9, 12. Now, brothers, if I should come to you speaking in tongues, what good will I do you if I do not speak to you by way of revelation, or knowledge, or prophecy, or instruction? 7Likewise, if inanimate things that produce sound, such as flute or harp, do not give out the tones distinctly, how will what is being played on flute or harp be recognized? 8And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9Similarly, if you, because of speaking in tongues, do not utter intelligible speech, how will anyone know what is being said? For you will be talking to the air. 10It happens that there are many different languages in the world, and none is meaningless; 11but if I do not know the meaning of a language, I shall be a foreigner to one who speaks it, and one who speaks it a foreigner to me. 12So with yourselves: since you strive eagerly for spirits, seek to have an abundance of them for building up the church.
Need for Interpretation.#The charism of interpretation lifts tongues to the level of intelligibility, enabling them to produce the same effect as prophecy (cf. 1 Cor 14:5, 26–28). 13Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray to be able to interpret. 14[For] if I pray in a tongue, my spirit#My spirit: Paul emphasizes the exclusively ecstatic, nonrational quality of tongues. The tongues at Pentecost are also described as an ecstatic experience (Acts 2:4, 12–13), though Luke superimposes further interpretations of his own. My mind: the ecstatic element, dominant in earliest Old Testament prophecy as depicted in 1 Sm 10:5–13; 19:20–24, seems entirely absent from Paul’s notion of prophecy and completely relegated to tongues. He emphasizes the role of reason when he specifies instruction as a function of prophecy (1 Cor 14:6, 19, 31). But he does not exclude intuition and emotion; cf. references to encouragement and consolation (1 Cor 14:3, 31) and the scene describing the ideal exercise of prophecy (1 Cor 14:24–25). is at prayer but my mind is unproductive. 15So what is to be done? I will pray with the spirit, but I will also pray with the mind. I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will also sing praise with the mind.#Eph 5:19; Col 3:16. 16Otherwise, if you pronounce a blessing [with] the spirit, how shall one who holds the place of the uninstructed say the “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? 17For you may be giving thanks very well, but the other is not built up. 18I give thanks to God that I speak in tongues more than any of you, 19but in the church I would rather speak five words with my mind, so as to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Functions of These Gifts. 20#The Corinthians pride themselves on tongues as a sign of God’s favor, a means of direct communication with him (2:28). To challenge them to a more mature appraisal, Paul draws from scripture a less flattering explanation of what speaking in tongues may signify. Isaiah threatened the people that if they failed to listen to their prophets, the Lord would speak to them (in punishment) through the lips of Assyrian conquerors (Is 28:11–12). Paul compresses Isaiah’s text and makes God address his people directly. Equating tongues with foreign languages (cf. 1 Cor 14:10–11), Paul concludes from Isaiah that tongues are a sign not for those who believe, i.e., not a mark of God’s pleasure for those who listen to him but a mark of his displeasure with those in the community who are faithless, who have not heeded the message that he has sent through the prophets. Brothers, stop being childish in your thinking. In respect to evil be like infants, but in your thinking be mature.#Mt 10:16; Rom 16:19; Eph 4:14. 21It is written in the law:
“By people speaking strange tongues
and by the lips of foreigners
I will speak to this people,
and even so they will not listen to me,#Is 28:11–12; Dt 28:49.
says the Lord.” 22Thus, tongues are a sign not for those who believe but for unbelievers, whereas prophecy is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.
23#Paul projects the possible missionary effect of two hypothetical liturgical experiences, one consisting wholly of tongues, the other entirely of prophecy. Uninstructed (idiōtai): the term may simply mean people who do not speak or understand tongues, as in 1 Cor 14:16, where it seems to designate Christians. But coupled with the term “unbelievers” it may be another way of designating those who have not been initiated into the community of faith; some believe it denotes a special class of non-Christians who are close to the community, such as catechumens. Unbelievers (apistoi): he has shifted from the inner-community perspective of 1 Cor 14:22; the term here designates non-Christians (cf. 1 Cor 6:6; 7:15; 10:27). So if the whole church meets in one place and everyone speaks in tongues, and then uninstructed people or unbelievers should come in, will they not say that you are out of your minds?#Acts 2:6, 13. 24But if everyone is prophesying, and an unbeliever or uninstructed person should come in, he will be convinced by everyone and judged by everyone, 25and the secrets of his heart will be disclosed, and so he will fall down and worship God, declaring, “God is really in your midst.”#4:5 / Is 45:14; Zec 8:23.
Rules of Order. 26#14:26–33a] Paul concludes with specific directives regarding exercise of the gifts in their assemblies. Verse 26 enunciates the basic criterion in the use of any gift: it must contribute to “building up.” So what is to be done, brothers? When you assemble, one has a psalm, another an instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Everything should be done for building up.#Eph 4:12. 27If anyone speaks in a tongue, let it be two or at most three, and each in turn, and one should interpret. 28But if there is no interpreter, the person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God.
29Two or three prophets should speak, and the others discern. 30But if a revelation is given to another person sitting there, the first one should be silent. 31For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. 32Indeed, the spirits of prophets are under the prophets’ control, 33since he is not the God of disorder but of peace.
As in all the churches of the holy ones,#14:33b–36] Verse 33b may belong with what precedes, so that the new paragraph would begin only with 1 Cor 14:34. 1 Cor 14:34–35 change the subject. These two verses have the theme of submission in common with 1 Cor 14:11 despite differences in vocabulary, and a concern with what is or is not becoming; but it is difficult to harmonize the injunction to silence here with 1 Cor 11 which appears to take it for granted that women do pray and prophesy aloud in the assembly (cf. 1 Cor 11:5, 13). Hence the verses are often considered an interpolation, reflecting the discipline of later churches; such an interpolation would have to have antedated our manuscripts, all of which contain them, though some transpose them to the very end of the chapter. 34women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not allowed to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says.#1 Tm 2:11–15; 1 Pt 3:1. 35But if they want to learn anything, they should ask their husbands at home. For it is improper for a woman to speak in the church. 36Did the word of God go forth from you? Or has it come to you alone?
37If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or a spiritual person, he should recognize that what I am writing to you is a commandment of the Lord. 38If anyone does not acknowledge this, he is not acknowledged. 39So, [my] brothers, strive eagerly to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues, 40but everything must be done properly and in order.