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1 Corinthians 14:18-25

18. I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:

18. Gratias ago Deo meo, quod magis quam vos omnes linguis loquor:

19. Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

19. Sed in Ecclesia volo quinque verba mente mea loqui, ut et alios instituam, potius quam decem millia verborum, lingua.

20. Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

20. Fratres, ne sitis pueri sensibus, sed malitia pueri sitis: sensibus vero sitis perfecti.

21. In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.

21. In lege scriptum est: (Ies. 28:11,12;) Alienis linguis et labiis alienis loquar populo huic: et ne sic quidem audient me, dicit Dominus.

22. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.

22. Itaque linguae signi vice sunt, non iis qui credunt, sed ineredulis: contra prophetia non incredulis, sed s credentibus.

23. If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?

23. Ergo si convenerit Ecclesia tota simul, et omnes linguis loquantur, ingrediantur autem indocti aut increduli, nonne dicent vos insanire?

24. But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:

24. Quodsi omnes prophetent, ingrediatur autem ineredulus aut indoctus, coarguitur ab omnibus, diiudieatur ab omnibus,

25. And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.

25. Et sic occulta cordis eius manifesta fiunt; atque ita procidens in faciem, adorabit Deum, renuntians, quod Deus revera in vobis sit.


18. I thank, etc. As there are many that detract from another’s excellencies, in which they cannot themselves have distinction, Paul, that he might not seem to depreciate, through malignity or envy, the gift of tongues, anticipates that suspicion, by showing that he is, in this respect, superior to them all. “See,” says he, “how little occasion you have to suspect the design of my discourse, as if I depreciated what I myself lacked; for if we were to contend as to tongues, there is not one of you that could bear comparison with me. While, however, I might display myself to advantage in this department., I am more concerned for edification.” Paul’s doctrine derives no small weight from the circumstance, that he has not an eye to himself. Lest, however, he should appear excessively arrogant, in preferring himself before all others, he ascribes it all to God. Thus he tempers his boasting with modesty.

19. I would rather speak five words. This is spoken hyperbolically, unless you understand five words, as meaning five sentences. Now as Paul, who might otherwise have exulted loftily in his power of speaking with tongues, voluntarily abstains from it, and, without any show, aims at edification exclusively, he reproves, by this means, the empty ambition of those, that are eagerly desirous to show themselves off with empty tinkling. (1 Corinthians 13:1.) The authority of the Apostle ought, also, to have no little weight in drawing them off from vanity of this kind.

20. Brethren, be not children in understanding He proceeds a step farther; for he shows that the Corinthians are so infatuated, that they, of their own accord. draw down upon themselves, and eagerly desire, as though it were a singular benefit, what the Lord threatens that he will send, when he designs to inflict upon his people the severest punishment. What dreadful madness is this — to pursue eagerly with their whole desire, what, in the sight of God, is regarded as a curse! That we may, however, understand more accurately Paul’s meaning, we must, observe, that this statement is grounded on the testimony of Isaiah, which he immediately afterwards subjoins. (Isaiah 28:11, 12.) And as interpreters have been misled, from not observing the connection to be of this nature, to prevent all mistake, we shall first explain the passage in Isaiah, and then we shall come to Paul’s words.

In that chapter the Prophet, inveighs with severity against the ten tribes, which had abandoned themselves to every kind of wickedness. The only consolation is, that God had still a people uncorrupted in the tribe of Judah; but straightway he deplores the corruption of that tribe also; and he does so the more sharply, because there was no hope of amendment. For thus he speaks in the name of God — Whom shall I teach knowledge? those that are weaned from their mother? those that are drawn from the breasts By this he means, that they are no more capable of instruction than little children but lately weaned.

It is added — Precept upon precept, instruction upon instruction, charge upon charge, direction upon direction, here a little, and there a little In these words he expresses, in the style of a mimic, 843843     Mimetice Our author has here evidently in his eye the Greek adverb,μιμητικῶςimitatively See Plut. 2.18. B. — Ed the slowness and carelessness by which they were kept back. “In teaching them, I lose my labor, for they make no progress, because they are beyond measure uncultivated, and what they had been taught by means of long-continued labor, they in a single moment forget.”

It is added still farther — He that speaketh to that people is like one that maketh use of stammering lips, and a foreign language This is the passage that Paul quotes. Now the meaning is, 844844     “Or le Prophete signifie;” — “Now the Prophet means.” that the people have been visited with such blindness and madness, that they no more understand God when speaking to them, than they would some barbarian or foreigner, stammering in an unknown tongue — which is a dreadful curse. He has not, however, quoted the Prophet’s words with exactness, because he reckoned it enough to make a pointed reference to the passage, that the Corinthians, on being admonished, might attentively consider it. As to his saying that it was written in the law, 845845     “It is written in the law. ‘In the law,’ that is, in the Scripture, in opposition to the words of the Scribes; for that distinction was very usual in the schools. ‘This we learn out of the law, and this from the words of the Scribes. The words of the law (that is, of the Scripture) have no need of confirmation, but the words of the Scribes have need of confirmation.’ The former Prophets, and the latter, and the Hagiographa, are each styled by the name of the law.” Lightfoot. — Ed. this is not at variance with common usage; for the Prophets had not a ministry distinct from the law, but were the interpreters of the law, and their doctrine is, as it were, a sort of appendage to it; hence the law included the whole body of Scripture, up to the advent of Christ. Now Paul from this infers as follows — “Brethren, it is necessary to guard against that childishness, which is so severely reproved by the Prophet — that the word of God sounds in your ears without any fruit. Now, when you reject prophecy, which is placed within your reach, and prefer to stand amazed at empty sound, is not this voluntarily to incur the curse of God? 846846     Henderson on Isaiah, when commenting on the passage here quoted by the Apostle, (Isaiah 28:9-11,) observes, that it “contains the taunting language of the drunken priests and judges of the Jews, who repel with scorn the idea that they should require the plain and reiterated lessons which Jehovah taught by his messengers. Such elementary instruction was fit” (in their view) “only for babes: it was an insult to their understanding to suppose that they stood in need of it. The language of verse 10” (precept pon, precept, etc.) “more resembles that of inebriated persons, than any used by persons in a state of sobriety. The words are obviously selected to suit the character of those supposed to employ them; and, by their monosyllabic and repetitious forms, admirably express the initiatory process of tuition which they indignantly despise. 13-24 The language they employed in caviling at the Prophetic warnings was all but barbarous: it consisted of barely intelligible sounds: they should, by way of condign punishment, hear the foreign, and to them apparently mocking accents of the Chaldeans, whom God would employ as the interpreters of his severe but righteous will. The passage is employed by Paul (1 Corinthians 14:20, 21) quite in the spirit of the connection in which it here stands. He tacitly compares the Corinthian faction, which boasted of the faculty of speaking in unknown tongues, to the puerile characters adverted to, 1 Corinthians 14:9, (παιδία, νηπάζετε, etc.) and then reminds them, that speaking in such languages had been represented in the Jewish Scriptures — ἐν τῷ νόμῳ (in the law) as a punishment, or a mark of the Divine displeasure, and not as a matter of desire or envy.” — Ed

Farther, lest the Corinthians should say in reply, that to be spiritually children, is elsewhere commended, (Matthew 18:4,) Paul anticipates this objection, and exhorts them, indeed, to be children in malice, but to beware of being children in understanding Hence we infer how shameless a part those act, who make Christian simplicity consist in ignorance. Paul would have all believers to be, as far as possible, in full maturity as to understanding The Pope, inasmuch as it is easier to govern asses than men, gives orders, under pretext of simplicity, that all under him shall remain uninstructed. 847847     “En ignorance et bestise“ — “In ignorance and stupidity.” Let us from this draw a comparison between the dominion of Popery, and the institution of Christ, and see how far they agree. 848848     Calvin makes a similar observation when commenting on Ephesians 4:14. “Nam postquam Christo nati sumus, debemus adolescere, ita ut non simus intelligentia pueri. Hine apparet, qualis sub Papatu sit Christianismus, ubi, quam diligentissime possunt, in hoc laborant pastores, ut plebem in prima infantia detineant;” — “For after being born to Christ, we ought to grow, and not to be children in understanding. (1 Corinthians 14:20.) Hence it appears what sort of Christianity there is in connection with Popery, in which the pastors labor as strenuously as they can to keep the people in infancy.” — Ed.

22. Therefore tongues are for a sign This passage may be explained in two ways, by considering the word therefore as referring merely to the preceding sentence, or as having a bearing generally on the whole of the foregoing discussion. If it is a particular inference, the meaning will be — You see, brethren, that what you so eagerly desire is not a blessing bestowed by God upon believers, but a punishment, by which he inflicts vengeance upon unbelievers.” In this way, Paul would not be viewed as taking in the use of tongues under all circumstances, but simply as touching upon what had in one instance occurred. Should any one, however, prefer to extend it to the whole discussion, I have no objection, though I do not dislike the former interpretation.

Taking it in a general way, the meaning will be “Tongues, in so far as they are given for a sign — that is, for a miracle — are appointed not properly for believers, but for unbelievers.” The advantages derived from tongues were various. They provided against necessity — that diversity of tongues might not prevent the Apostles from disseminating the gospel over the whole world: there was, consequently, no nation with which they could not hold fellowship. They served also to move or terrify unbelievers by the sight of a miracle — for the design of this miracle, equally with others, was to prepare those who were as yet at a distance from Christ for rendering obedience to him. Believers, who had already devoted themselves to his doctrine, did not stand so much in need of such preparation. Hence, the Corinthians brought forward that gift improperly and out of its right place, allowing prophecy in the meantime to be neglected, which was peculiarly and specially set apart for believers, and ought, therefore, to be familiar to them, for in tongues they looked to nothing farther than the miracle.

23. If therefore the whole Church come together As they did not see their fault, in consequence of having their minds pre-occupied with a foolish and depraved desire, he tells them that they will be exposed to the scorn of the wicked or the unlearned, if any, on coming into their assembly, should hear them uttering a sound, but not speaking. For what unlearned person will not reckon those to be out of their right mind, who, in place of speech, utter empty sound, and are taken up with that vanity, while they were gathered together for the purpose of hearing the doctrine of God? This statement has much that is cutting: “You applaud yourselves in your own sleeve; but the wicked and the unlearned laugh at your fooleries. You do not, therefore, see what to the unlearned and unbelieving is perfectly manifest.”

Here Chrysostom starts a question’ “If tongues were given to unbelievers for a sign, why does the Apostle say now, that they will be derided by them?” He answers, that they are for a sign to fill them with astonishment — not to instruct them, or to reform them. At the same time he adds, that it is owing to their wickedness, that they look upon the sign as madness. This explanation does not satisfy me; for however an unbeliever or unlearned person may be affected by a miracle, and may regard with reverence the gift of God, he does not cease on that account to deride and condemn an unseasonable abuse of the gift, 849849     “Le sot abus de ce don, quand on le met en auant sans raison et consideration;” — “The foolish abuse of this gift, when they bring it forward without, reason and consideration.” and think thus with himself: “What do these men mean, by wearying out themselves and others to no purpose? Of what avail is their speaking, if nothing is to be learned from it?” Paul’s meaning, therefore, is — that the Corinthians would be justly convicted of madness by the unbelieving and unlearned, however much they might please themselves. 850850     “En ceste faqon de faire;” — “In this manner of acting.”

24. But if all prophesy As he had previously showed them, how much more advantageous prophecy is to those that are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10) than the gift of tongues, so he now shows that it would be useful also to those that are without. (1 Corinthians 5:13.) This is a most powerful consideration for showing the Corinthians their error. For what a base part it is to depreciate a gift that is most useful both within and without, and to be wholly taken up with another gift which is useless to those that are within the house; and, in addition to this, gives occasion of offense to those that are without. He sets before them this advantage of prophecy, that it summons the consciences of the wicked to the tribunal of God, and strikes them with a lively apprehension of divine judgment in such a manner, that he who before in utter regardlessness despised sound doctrine, is constrained to give glory to God.

We shall find it, however, much easier to understand this passage, if we compare it with another that occurs in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 4:12.)

The Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword; piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow — a discerner of the thoughts of the heart. 851851     “Des pensees et intentions du coeur;” — “Of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

For in both passages, it is the same kind of efficacy of the Word of God that is spoken of: only in that other passage it is spoken of more fully and distinctly. So far as the passage before us is concerned, it is not difficult to understand now, what is meant by being convinced and judged. The consciences of men are in a torpid state, 852852     “Elles sont comme endormies et stupides;” “They are, as it were, drowsy and stupid.” and are not touched with any feeling of dissatisfaction on account of their sins, so long as they are enveloped in the darkness of ignorance. In short, unbelief is like a lethargy that takes away feeling. But the Word of God penetrates even to the farthest recesses of the mind, and by introducing, as it were, a light, dispels darkness, and drives away that deadly torpor. Thus, then, unbelievers are convinced, inasmuch as they are seriously affected and alarmed, on coming to know that they have to do with God; and, in like manner, they are judged in this respect, that whereas they were previously involved in darkness, and did not perceive their own wretchedness and baseness, they are now brought into the light of day, and are constrained to bear witness against themselves.

When he says, that they are judged and convinced by all, you must understand him as meaning all that prophesy; for he had said a little before, If ye all prophesy, (1 Corinthians 14:24.) He has expressly made use of a general term, with the view of removing the dislike that they felt for prophecy. 853853     “Afin de monstrer qu’il ne se faut point lasser de la prophetic;” — “In order to show that they ought not to entertain a feeling of dislike for prophecy.” The unbeliever, I say, is convincednot as if the Prophet pronounced a judgment upon him either silently in the mind, or openly with the mouth, but because the conscience of the hearer apprehends from the doctrine his own judgment. He is judged, inasmuch as he descends into himself, and, after thorough examination, comes to know himself, while previously he was unmindful of himself. To the same purpose, too, is that saying of Christ:

The Spirit, when he is come, will convince the world of sin,
(John 16:8;)

and this is what he immediately adds — that the secrets of his heart are made manifest For he does not mean, in my opinion, that it becomes manifest to others what sort of person he is, but rather that his own conscience is aroused, so that he perceives his sins, which previously lay hid from his view.

Here again Chrysostom asks, how it comes to pass that prophecy is so effectual for arousing unbelievers, while Paul had said a little before that it was not given to them. He answers, that it was not given to them as a useless sign, but for the purpose of instructing them. For my part, however, I think that it will be simpler, and therefore more suitable, to say that it was not given to unbelievers, who perish, whose hearts

Satan has blinded, that they may not see the light which shines forth from it.
(2 Corinthians 4:3, 4.)

It will also suit better to connect this statement with the prophecy 854854     The reader will observe that this is the prophecy to which the Apostle refers in 1 Corinthians 14:21. — Ed. of Isaiah (Isaiah 28:11,12,) because the Prophet speaks of unbelievers, among whom prophecy is of no profit or advantage.

25. Falling down on his face, he will worship For it is only the knowledge of God that can bring down the pride of the flesh. To that, prophecy brings us. Hence, it is its proper effect and nature to bring down men from their loftiness, that they may, with prostrate homage, render worship to God. To many, however, prophecy also is of no benefit — nay more, they are made worse by what they hear. Nor was it even Paul’s intention to ascribe this effect to prophecy, as if it were always the result of it. He simply designed to show how much advantage is derived from it, and what is its office. It is therefore a singular commendation, that it extorts from unbelievers this confession — that God is present with his people, and that his majesty shines forth in the midst of their assembly.

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