- Prophesy is Superior to Tongues (1-5)
- Real tongues is not meaningless babble (6-12)
- a)The speaking of tongues should have meaning, that when understood can build people up) (6)
- b)Tongues should not be gibberish (7-8)
- c)Real tongues has a meaning and is not babbling (9-10)
- d)Without interpretation, tongues only confuses. Also, it is a real language (11)
- e)Be zealous for spiritual gifts in order to edify the church (12)
III. Tongues must be interpreted (13-19)
- a)Tongues must be interpreted (13)
- b)Tongues might not be understood by the speaker himself without interpretation (14-15). Tongues should not be mindless (14-15)
- c)If there is no interpretation no one can understood or agree with what you said (16)
- d)Tongues should edify other believers (17)
- e)Paul himself spoke in tongues (18)
- f)Nonetheless, tongues is an inferior gift (19)
- Tongues is a sign to unbelievers (20-25)
- a)An exhortation to understand the real purpose of tongues (20)
- b)Prophecy from OT (21)
- c)It is a sign for unbelievers, prophecy for believers (22)
- d)Use tongues properly for its purpose as a sign to unbelievers (23)
- e)Prophecy is superior to tongues even when unbelievers are present (24-25)
- Order in the Church (26-39)
- a)The principle is to let everything edify and build up (26)
- b)Rules for tongues (27-28)
- c)Rules for prophecy (29-32)
- d)There must be no confusion (33)
- e)Rules on the conduct for women in the church (34-35)
- f)Everyone must accept this teaching from Paul as a commandment from the Lord (36-38)
- g)Everything must be done properly and orderly (39-40)
Why does Paul spend so much time on these issues?
What is the gift of tongues?
What is the gift of prophecy (speaking for edification, exhortation and consolation)?
Name all the ways that the Corinthians were abusing the gift of tongues (They were not interpreting it. They were speaking it in order to exalt themselves. It was often just babbling and gibberish without meaning, not real tongues. They didn’t have any meaning or purpose when they spoke. They weren’t speaking to edify the church. Several of them were speaking at once and the church was turning into a place of confusion.)
If all gifts are for the building up of the body, but tongues edified only oneself, how could that even be a gift? (4)
Doesn’t verse 5 go against what Paul taught in chapter 12 that every person has a different gift for a unique purpose?
If tongues can be interpreted, what does this tell us about the gift and its use? (1. It had to have been a real language.)
If tongues was for edifying, what does this tell us about the gift and its use (It couldn’t have been gibberish or random words as that doesn’t edify. It must have been like preaching/praying/worshiping in a foreign language so that when it was interpreted people would be edified.)
What does Paul mean in verse 6? (Tongues was combined with prophecy/knowledge/teaching/revelation. That means people actually taught or prophesied in the other real language.)
What is Paul’s point in verses 7-10 (Tongues must have meaning and be clear, not gibberish. The point is to communicate.)
Why does one’s spirit pray, but their mind is unfruitful if they pray in a tongue? (Because the original speaker cannot understand what they are saying. Therefore this is not for personal use.)
Should you say “Amen” every time someone prays? (No, only if you can understand them and they pray correctly. That is the implication here.)
What was the chief purpose of tongues?
Why was this primarily for unbelievers? (Because if it is teaching and prophesying in another language it is mostly a waste of time to speak in another language and then translate it when it would be easier and faster just to teach in the original language. But if unbelievers were present, it could be a miraculous sign to them of God’s power.)
How could this act as a sign for the unbeliever?
Why does Paul say that tongues if for unbelievers and prophecy is for believers, but then in verses 24-25 seem to say the exact opposite?
What are the specific rules for tongues? Why? If tongues still does exist today, would these rules need to be followed?
What are the specific rules for prophecy? Why?
What are the rules for women speaking in the church? Why? Is this discrimination?
What does Paul say about those who refuse to listen to his commands in these areas?
Acts 2:1-13 – Tongues at Pentecost
Acts 10:46 – Speaking in tongues
Acts 19:6 – Speaking in tongues
Ephesians 4:12 – The purpose of gifts was the building up of the body.
1 Timothy 4:11-14 – Women can’t teach men in the church.
Titus 2:3-5 – Women can teach the younger women and children.
Verse by Verse Commentary:
1-5 – Prophecy is superior to tongues.
Love should be pursued as the greatest mark of all believers. But that in no way means that spiritual gifts are not important. They are also to be desired, but used with love. We need to understand that the Corinthians were greatly abusing the gift of tongues. What they were practicing was often actually very different than the actual gift. MacArthur calls it the counterfeit gift.
In many cases they were speaking gibberish, a fake language in order to show their spirituality. This practice was greatly influenced by the pagan religions who also practiced speaking an ecstatic speech supposedly to their gods and with supposed mysteries that only a few elite could understand. It seems that the Corinthian church’s use of tongues was influenced by this gibberish/babble so that the real gift of tongues was substituted for the counterfeit.
Regardless, prophecy was superior to this and even to the correct use of tongues. Notice that prophesy is not only predicting the future like most people think. The Old Testament prophets spoke a lot of messages and only a small percentage was actually predicting the future. Prophecy was simply speaking God’s message to the people, making the will of God known. It was acting as a messenger/spokesman for God in order to exhort, console, and edify.
4 No real gift is for exalting oneself. They are all for edifying the body. Therefore it is clear that the Corinthians in mind in this verse were not using the real gift, but rather deceived by a counterfeit. The real gift of tongues still edifies others and builds up the church by acting as a sign and being used as a teaching tool.
5 Tongues, used properly, is good. But it is not as good as prophecy.
6-12 In these verses there are a lot of cues about the counterfeit that the Corinthians were using. Apparently they were babbling and speaking gibberish with no real meaning. They weren’t speaking a real language at all. Paul uses a number of analogies to show the uselessness of this kind of practice. If there is no meaning to the words, it is pointless.
On the other hand, this section shows clearly what real tongues are. Real tongues are real languages speaking real words with real meaning to teach people. It is not just random words in another language, but it is using another language to teach/exhort/prophecy etc. Every language has meaning and tongues also have meaning. They are not to confuse or impress or for show. They are in order to communicate. Verse 12 makes this clear and also shows us that a purpose of tongues is to allow people to communicate when without it they would be like barbarians to each other. Therefore I believe the gift of tongues is something like a temporary rolling back of the curse at the Tower of Babel to allow communication as a sign that will let more people to hear and believe the words of God. And just like with English or Chinese, when you speak a language, you don’t speak random words, but you speak sentences in order to convey a thought to others.
13-18 Tongues must be interpreted. Another way the Corinthians were abusing them was speaking them in the midst of church services without any interpretation. This caused confusion. No one understood what the speaker was saying (even the speaker himself probably). It is not profitable to the speaker or to the church if no one can understand it. The mind and spirit need to worship in conjunction. If there is no understanding, true worship is not taking place. Also, gifts are for the building up of the church and not for oneself. So tongues is not helpful if an individual uses it in their own communion with the Lord. It is to be demonstrated in a public place with interpretation so everyone can understand and worship the Lord together.
On a side note, Paul makes it clear that it is ridiculous to say “Amen” if you don’t know what is going on. Our “amen” is like giving support and agreement. Therefore we should understand and agree with what is being said if we are to say “amen”.
In case anyone thought Paul was harsh on tongues because of jealousy that he didn’t have, in verse 18 he tells them that he did speak in tongues more than all of them. There is no specific record of Paul doing this, but he must have. And he must have practiced it in accordance with the rules he laid down. This is to say that proper use of tongues was still good and proper, but not as desirable as prophecy. The Corinthians who thought they had it and thought they were so great, should be humble and realize it is not the supreme spiritual gift.
20-25 – A sign to unbelievers. At first glance it seems to be saying that tongues is a sign to unbelievers so that they will believe. But when looking at Isaiah 28 and then verses 23 through 25 here, it doesn’t seem to be saying that. In fact, in verse 23, it says that when unbelievers enter and hear people speaking tongues they will think that the church is mad. This indeed is what happened in Acts when many Jews thought that the disciples were drunk.
In the Bible there are some signs to belief and there are some signs confirming unbelief. Tongues seems to be the latter. When the Jews saw/heard this gift it confirmed them in their unbelief. It was something like God’s condemnation/judgment upon them. Because they rejected Christ, the gospel was taken to the Gentiles. These “tongues”, actual non-Jewish languages, were a judgment on the Jews unbelief and further evidence of God turning to the Gentiles. This seems to be a general truth where most Jews who witnessed tongues were confirmed in their unbelief, but a few chosen saw it as a sign and believed. The nation as a whole was rejected, but a few were chosen.
What are your thoughts?
Prophecy, on the other hand, was very beneficial and tended to help people believe and repent of their sin. Whatever is the exact meaning of these verses, the main meaning is clear and that is that prophecy is superior to tongues and therefore the Corinthians should not exalt the gift of tongues above all others or become prideful in their use of it.
26-40 – Order in the church.
The chief principle is that all things are done for edification and that all things should be done in an orderly fashion. There should be no confusion or chaos in the church. God is an orderly God. The universe that He made is orderly and the church should be too. So should our homes, our schools, etc.
Rule for tongues – Only one can speak at a time. The most in one service that can speak is three. There must always be an interpreter or they need to be quiet. Basically, it should be orderly and tongues-speaking should not take over a service.
Rules for Prophecy – Very similar to the ones for tongues. Only two or three can speak. They should take turns. The other prophets should judge what they say to see if it is correct. If one who is seated has a sudden revelation from God the one who was talking should give the floor to that person. Prophecy must take place one by one.
Rules for Women – They are not to teach men or exercise authority over men in the church. They should be respectful and calm, contributing to orderly church services and not causing any chaos. Note that the Jews did not allow the women to learn along with the men. The New Testament church was culturally radical in its time by elevating the status of women much higher than in the secular world.
36-38 – Paul knew the Corinthians wouldn’t want to listen to his commands and sarcastically asks if they are the final authority. The answer is no. The word of God didn’t go through them. It went through the apostles. This is His will. It needs to be followed. Everyone had to listen to it and obey it because it was God’s command. If they didn’t recognize the command, they were not to be recognized either. It is very serious to toss out God’s commands. We can’t just pick and choose. We have to follow all of them. The spiritual would not reject it. The spiritual would accept it.
39-40 – Paul’s conclusion is that the gift of tongues is good, but prophecy is better. Finally, everything should be done in a proper and orderly manner. God is a God of order, not chaos.