Chapter fourteen begins with almost a repeat of 1 Corinthians 12:31. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to pursue the love he just explained and still be eager for the spiritual gifts, but now he began to emphasize one gift – prophecy – especially over speaking in tongues. Apparently, the Corinthians were elevating tongues above the other gifts, so Paul listed it last in the hierarchical list in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and minimized it in this chapter, presenting several principles about tongues versus prophecy: 1
- Tongues were between a believer and God; prophecy was for everyone.
- Tongues built up only the speaker; prophecy built up the whole church.
- Tongues were unproductive for the mind; prophecy used the mind.
- Focus on tongues revealed immaturity; focus on prophecy revealed maturity.
- Tongues were a sign for unbelievers (especially Jews); prophecy was not a sign, and it was for believers.
- Tongues were disorganized; prophecy was structured.
Spiritual gifts are meant for the strengthening of the church (1 Corinthians 14:26), something that tongues could not do without interpretation. Paul’s strong encouragement, especially for those who wanted to speak in tongues, was that they should desire something that was actually beneficial to the church rather than just for themselves (1 Corinthians 14:12); “love is not self-serving” (1 Corinthians 13:5).
Paul also gave a few rules for the use of tongues in church gatherings (1 Corinthians 14:26-40): 2
- No more than two or three were to speak in tongues at any gathering.
- They were always to be interpreted, either by the speaker or someone else.
- Those two or three were not to speak at the same time but one after another.
- Tongues were not to be forbidden.
- The rules for prophecy were a little different, but anyone could prophesy if he or she received a revelation from God, and every prophesy was to be evaluated to see if it was true. This seems to indicate that tongues were not necessarily considered revelatory, since no evaluation was required.
The statement that “women should be silent in the churches” (1 Corinthians 14:34) has been the subject of a great deal of debate and writing. The natural reading seems to indicate that it applied to the topic at hand, e.g., tongues and prophecy. Some say that it has only to do with the evaluation of prophets, because women are to ask their husbands at home, rather than in the meeting (1 Corinthians 14:35). Still others point to 1 Corinthians 11:5 that women could pray and prophesy as long as their heads were covered. If this were only a cultural matter (see notes on chapter 11), then they believe the whole matter should be dropped here as well. Since the context is about orderliness within the meeting (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40), it is important to consider all possible interpretations in that light.
- The use of the past tense in this chapter reflects my belief that tongues are no longer in effect today. However, even if they were, these would still apply, which is not what we see in many or most occurrences. This should give pause to anyone who thinks what we see today is from the Holy Spirit, who cannot contradict the Scriptures. ↩
- Because he spoke specifically about church gatherings, not private homes, some take the mediating position and believe that there are no restrictions on the use of tongues in private (usually private prayer). Whether this is true matters only if tongues are still in effect (see the notes on chapter 13 for a brief explanation of why I believe they are not). ↩