All texts are taken from the King James Version unless specified.
This is the chapter that talks the most about speaking in tongues. What you will find as you go through it is that even though it does talk about speaking in tongues, there is no evidence to support the modern day speaking in tongues.
1Co 14:1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
Spiritual gifts are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12. There is a difference between spiritual gifts and the fruit of the Spirit. Please see the article on the truth about speaking in tongues.
As love is our highest aim, spiritual gifts are important. But Paul says that best is to prophesy which simply means to preach.
1Co 14:2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.
The unknown tongue here spoken of can simply mean a language that others do not understand. For example, if we were all to speak English and someone comes in speaking French, which no one understands, then he would simply be speaking to God since God would be the only one that would understand him.
“Howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” The word spirit can and is used in the context of the Holy Spirit sometimes, but the word spirit can also mean breath. The Greek word is pneuma which is where we get our word pneumonia from, which is a disease of the lungs from which we breathe. So this person is speaking mysteries in the spirit, or with his breath (meaning the organ of speech).
1Co 14:3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
1Co 14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
When a person preaches, Paul says that the purpose is to edify (to build up), exhort (to console) and comfort (another form of consoling). But the person that speaks in an unknown tongue just edifies or builds up himself. Why? Because no one else understands it except that person who knows that language that he is speaking in.
Thus far you can see that Paul prefers for people to prophesy rather than to speak in an unknown tongue. Notice that Paul is not saying that speaking in tongues is bad, but rather when you speak in a language that no one else understands except that person, then the preference is for you to preach. You can see his conclusion on that in the next verse.
1Co 14:5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
When Paul is now talking about speaking with tongues, the context of it before this suggests that is not just simply speaking a language, but speaking a language that no one else there understands.
If a person is to speak in tongues, be sure that there is someone present who can interpret so that the whole church can be blessed and edified.
1Co 14:6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
Basically what Paul is saying in verse six is that if he were to come speaking in an unknown tongue, how can it help anyone?
Why does it talk about revelation, knowledge, prophesying or doctrine? All that falls under the category of preaching so that everyone can understand and be edified.
1Co 14:7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?
1Co 14:8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
1Co 14:9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.
Paul now talks about instruments. When we play an instrument, there has to be purpose to it. There must be a distinction in the sound and not just playing anything for the sake of playing. And the example of the trumpet is given. That the person who plays the trumpet must have purpose to it. In ancient times the trumpet was used to call people for war. But if it is not played purposefully, then how can people know if it is for war or some other event such as gathering for worship at the sanctuary?
And the parallel is given in verse nine – words that we speak must be easy to be understood or else how can others understand? And thus far, the words that are hard to be understood are those that are spoken in another language that no one understands at all! There is no significance to it and you might as well be speaking into the air – useless words!
1Co 14:10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.
1Co 14:11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.
Voices must have significance, meaning they must have intellect and meaning behind those words. And when we don’t understand what someone is saying to me and me to them, it might as well really be a barbarian speaking to another barbarian making up their own language like “Unga bunga” and him saying back to me “Bunga unga bunga.”
1Co 14:12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.
And how can we seek to improve ourselves to edify the church? Well in verse four it said that prophesying edifies the church, not speaking in an unknown tongue. So once again, Paul is putting preaching above speaking in an unknown tongue.
1Co 14:13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret.
However, if there is someone that comes in speaking an unknown tongue and wants to say something, find someone that can interpret. Why is this so important? Well Paul continues…
1Co 14:14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
1Co 14:15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
Can we truly pray in an unknown tongue? I guess that is possible when we are first learning a language. Sometimes we might just be repeating phrases that we hear all the time. For example, I don’t know any mandarin (Chinese dialect), but I’ve attended a mandarin speaking church for 9 months before. And even though I didn’t know what they were saying, I caught on to the phrase that they would say just before they ended prayer so I always be ready to say amen with everyone else. Paul says that we must have understanding as well, that is very important.
Singing is the same thing. Believe it or not, I’ve sung songs in mandarin and Cantonese before but never had the slightest clue what it meant. I just read the English pronunciation of that Chinese word (pinyin), even sometimes writing it in my own English version so I would make sure I pronounce it properly when I sing it.
1Co 14:16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?
1Co 14:17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.
So Paul reminds us that when we are to pray in our own language and no one else understands it, how can they say amen and be edified? And he continues…
1Co 14:18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:
1Co 14:19 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.
1Co 14:20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.
Paul is not boasting that he is so smart and knows so many languages. He is simply trying to make his point. If he comes to a church in which no one really understands any of the languages he speaks, it is better he just speaks five words that others understand than speak a whole sermon for one hour in words that no one understands. No one is edified!
Verse 20 is such an important verse in this juncture to remind us that we must be understanding in men. We must be intelligent in these things. My children who are all below the age of 10 sometimes do not understand what I’m saying. Their understanding is very simple and basic. They are still growing. But as adults, we need to have the understanding of those with more knowledge and who can understand an intelligible language.
1Co 14:21 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.
The law here is referring to the Old Testament (John 10:34).
Paul here is referring to Isaiah 28:11 where it writes “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.” It is about their unbelief and where they have despised such simple instruction of “precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” And because they despised this simple instruction, there would be others who would come and speak to them. This would be fulfilled through the Gentiles nations that would come and conquer Israel and help them to learn the lessons that God was trying to teach them in the times of peace and prosperity. Those other tongues are the languages of the Assyrians and Babylonians. In captivity the Jews would hear only a language that to them would be unintelligible and barbarous.
So once again we see that it is referencing tongues as other languages and not those of the more common practice we see today.
1Co 14:22 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.
Conclusion – tongues are just a sign for the Gentiles and not for the believers. Why? Because the missionaries that would come to foreign countries would need the gift of tongues to reach those that were not Christian and of different religion, race and especially language. But prophesying is for the believer so we can deepen our faith as we study the word of God together.
1Co 14:23 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?
Why would the person think we are all mad? Because it would be a marketplace or people speaking different languages and would cause more confusion than anything else!
1Co 14:24 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:
1Co 14:25 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.
Remember how Paul at the beginning of this chapter stated that tongues was for the unbeliever and prophesying was for the believer? But now he says that even if an unbeliever comes in and people are prophesying, that even the unbeliever would benefit from that. He seems to imply again that prophesying is better than speaking in tongues.
1Co 14:26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
1Co 14:27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.
1Co 14:28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
1Co 14:29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.
Paul here now outlines how there must be order when people come in to the church or when there is a gathering together of ourselves. He says that everything must “be done unto edifying.” How is that possible? We must make sure that everyone understands! The person that speaks in tongues and no one understands only edifies himself (verse 4).
Notice how Paul states that if there is a person who wants to speak in tongues they should go and find a person who can interpret first instead of just standing up to speak and expecting it to be translated. And if this person cannot find a translator, then he needs to just be quiet and let him “speak to himself.” This is not the order of how we see speaking in tongues today.
The prophets that would speak by two or three are those that prophesy or preach. And the one that judges would mean to be the one that interprets.
1Co 14:30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.
1Co 14:31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
1Co 14:32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
1Co 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
So what is the main point that Paul is trying to establish? Everything must be done in order and there must not be any confusion, but peace. And that if we think there is something revealed to us, we must hold our peace first and not just stand up and say/shout it out. We must take turns.
1Co 14:34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.
1Co 14:35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
This is more from custom rather than law. Greek and Jewish customs dictated that women should be kept in the background in public affairs. We see this even with the genealogy of people in the Old Testament and even the genealogy of Jesus in the New Testament.
But certainly today we see a very important role of women in the church. Even Paul commended women who laboured with him in the gospel (Phil 4:3). So there is no doubt that women in Bible history and even today play a vital and definite part in the life of the church.
1Co 14:36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
1Co 14:37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.
1Co 14:38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.
1Co 14:39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
1Co 14:40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
Ultimately, Paul in this chapter is dealing with church order (verse 40). The church at Corinth must have been a very raucous and rowdy church. It was a hub of travel and trade where many people from different nations came through and visited temporarily on a daily and weekly basis. Hence the problem of people standing up in church and speaking in their own mother tongue must have interrupted the church service on a regular basis. Thus the need for this letter to the church to maintain order throughout.
This chapter does not support nor disagree with modern day speaking in tongues. If read in isolation we could not come to any logical conclusion for what we see today. One must go back to the book of Acts to determine the true understanding of what speaking in tongues is all about.