Paul hopes everybody will speak in tongues. But prophecy benefits everybody. Paul wants women in Corinth to be silent in church.
SUMMARY: We should desire more and more spiritual gifts. The gift of speaking in tongues is great. But it only ministers to yourself. The gift of prophecy benefits the whole assembly.
VERSE 1. Follow after love and earnestly desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
earnestly desire spiritual gifts. We should desire more and more spiritual gifts.
The fact that Paul urges us to desire more of them implies something. It implies that you can receive more and more gifts.
especially that you may prophesy. Of the many Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Paul favors the gift of prophet. See our study: Are You Gifted As a Prophet?
A prophet is an interpreter or a forth-teller of God’s will. They speak forth under inspiration from God, and tell us the mind of God for a particular situation. Many of the Old Testament prophets exhibited this gift.
The word “prophet” can also mean a person who is gifted at expositing divine truth.
VERSE 2. For he who speaks in another language speaks not to men, but to God; for no one understands; but in the Spirit he speaks mysteries.
another language … no one understands. When we speak in tongues, it has a limited value to the assembly. Sure, it might edify ourself. However, other people do not understand what is being said, and so they are not built up.
he who prophesies speaks. When we speak as a prophet, there is a high value to the assembly. People are built up. They are edified and exhorted and consoled.
VERSE 4. He who speaks in another language edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the assembly.
VERSE 5. Now I desire to have you all speak with other languages, but rather that you would prophesy. For he is greater who prophesies than he who speaks with other languages, unless he interprets, that the assembly may be built up.
I desire to have you all speak with other languages. By his favoring of the gift of prophecy, Paul does not wish for the gift of tongues to fall into disfavor. Paul wishes we could all speak in tongues!
he is greater who prophesies. Its simply that the gift of prophecy is much more beneficial to the assembly.
This notion is echoed in verse 39 below.
VERSE 6. But now, brothers, if I come to you speaking with other languages, what would I profit you, unless I speak to you either by way of revelation, or of knowledge, or of prophesying, or of teaching?
VERSE 7. Even things without life, giving a voice, whether pipe or harp, if they didn’t give a distinction in the sounds, how would it be known what is piped or harped?
Hosea 8:1. “Put the shofar to your lips! Something like an eagle is over the LORD’s house, because they have broken my covenant, and rebelled against my law.
VERSE 9. So also you, unless you uttered by the tongue words easy to understand, how would it be known what is spoken? For you would be speaking into the air.
VERSE 10. There are, it may be, so many kinds of sounds in the world, and none of them is without meaning.
VERSE 11. If then I don’t know the meaning of the sound, I would be to him who speaks a foreigner, and he who speaks would be a foreigner to me.
VERSE 12. So also you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, seek that you may abound to the building up of the assembly.
abound to the building up of the assembly. The gift of tongues is fine. But it only benefits oneself. So why not seek the gift of prophecy? It benefits the whole assembly!
pray that he may interpret. If you are going to speak in tongues to the assembly, you need to also seek an interpretation. Otherwise, there is no benefit to anybody but yourself.
VERSE 14. For if I pray in another language, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.
VERSE 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.
VERSE 16. Otherwise if you bless with the spirit, how will he who fills the place of the unlearned say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, seeing he doesn’t know what you say?
VERSE 17. For you most certainly give thanks well, but the other person is not built up.
VERSE 18. I thank my God, I speak with other languages more than you all.
VERSE 19. However in the assembly I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in another language.
I would rather speak five words with my understanding. The priority is on the gift of prophecy. Paul would rather speak a mere five words of prophecy than …
than ten thousand words in another language. Speaking in tongues for ten thousand words is of lesser value than speaking a mere five words of prophecy.
VERSE 20. Brothers, don’t be children in thoughts, yet in malice be babies, but in thoughts be mature.
VERSE 21. In the law it is written, “By men of strange languages and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people. They won’t even hear me that way, says the Lord.”
VERSE 22. Therefore other languages are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to the unbelieving; but prophesying is for a sign, not to the unbelieving, but to those who believe.
other languages are a sign … to the unbelieving. The purpose of the gift of tongues is to be a sign for non-Christians. It stands out as a sort of miraculous phenomenon. It helps convince them of the reality of the Christian faith.
prophesying is for a sign … to those who believe. The purpose of the gift of prophecy is to be a sign for Christian believers.
VERSE 23. If therefore the whole assembly is assembled together and all speak with other languages, and unlearned or unbelieving people come in, won’t they say that you are crazy?
VERSE 24. But if all prophesy, and someone unbelieving or unlearned comes in, he is reproved by all, and he is judged by all.
VERSE 25. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed. So he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed.
VERSE 26. What is it then, brothers? When you come together, each one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has another language, or has an interpretation. Let all things be done to build each other up.
When you come together. All these people were showing up to the assembly and wanting to take centerstage. They treated the church as if its purpose was to be a stage for them to show off their fancy spiritual gifts.
Let all things be done to build each other up. The church does not exist to be a stage for people to show off. Rather, its purpose is to build people up.
VERSE 27. If any man speaks in another language, let it be two, or at the most three, and in turn; and let one interpret.
If any man speaks in another language. Paul tells us the requirements for people to be allowed to speak in tongues in church.
let it be two, or at the most three. The number of people who speak in tongues is to be limited. It can be no more than two or three.
let one interpret. There needs to be at least one interpreter.
VERSE 28. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the assembly, and let him speak to himself, and to God.
if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent. If there is no interpreter, then people are not allowed to speak in tongues.
Let the prophets speak. In those days, those with the gift of prophecy would que up to speak.
two or three. The number of people who prophecy is to be limited. It can be no more than two or three.
let the others discern. What the prophets say is not to be accepted at face value. Rather, it is to be evaluated. That would be done by people with the gift of discernment.
if a revelation is made to another sitting by. While a prophet is standing in front and prophecying, somebody in the congregation might jump up and butt in with a different message. What should be done about this?
let the first keep silent. They are to let the interrupter keep going.
you all can prophesy one by one. The urgency is that only one speak at a time. Otherwise, if many speak at once, it devolves into a cacophany of noise.
Some people wonder if the Holy Spirit takes over a prophet, and the prophet loses control. Paul says no. The prophet remains in control. There is no need to fear these gifts.
God is not a God of confusion.
VERSE 33. for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints.
SUMMARY: Paul wants women in Corinth to be silent in church. Perhaps in Corinth it was dangerous for women to speak — more so than in Galatia where Paul himself says there is no male or female.
VERSE 34. Let the wives be quiet in the assemblies, for it has not been permitted for them to be talking except in submission, as the law also says,
wives. The Greek word is γυναῖκες (“gynaikes”). The first part of that word is “gyn-.”
be quiet in the assemblies. The Greek word is σιγάτωσαν (“sigatōsan”). It means to keep silent, to keep secret, to be quiet, to stop speaking.
In the cultures of those days, it was standard practice for women to be submissive in all situations, except for some domestic functions like deciding what we eat or how to cook it. Women were essentially slaves.
to be talking. The Greek word is λαλεῖν (“lalein”). It means talk, chatter, speak, say.
Some say this women should not chatter during the church assembly.
submission. The Greek word is ὑποτασσέσθωσαν (“hypotassesthōsan”). It means to place or rank under, to subject, to obey, to put self into subjection.
We understand this Greek word to mean that Paul does not want women to “preside” at the church assembly. This is what most churches have done for 20 centuries.
A very different interpretation is that each woman must be subordinated to a particular man. The man is a priest who presides over her and has spiritual authority over her. If a woman does not have such a man, she is probably “lost.”
That interpretation does not fit with the notion of Jesus Christ as the one and only intermediary. Also, it ignores that in Jesus Christ, all are equal …
Galatians 3:28. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
law. The Greek word is νόμος (“nomos”). It means usage, custom, law, especially the Pentateuch, or the Old Testament scriptures in general.
VERSE 35. if they desire to learn anything. “Let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a wife to be talking in the assembly.”
Let them ask their own husbands at home. Taken literalistically, this imposeS the husband as a mediator between his wife and Jesus Christ. However, there is only one mediator, as we see in 1 Timothy chapter 2:
1 Timothy 2:5. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
husbands. This assumes a woman is married. What about single women?
talking. The Greek word is λαλεῖν (“lalein”). It means talk, chatter, speak, say.
VERSE 36. What!? Was it from you that the word of God went out? Or did it come to you alone?
VERSE 37. If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him recognize the things which I write to you, that they are the commandment of the Lord.
VERSE 38. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.
VERSE 39. Therefore, brothers, desire earnestly to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking with other languages.
desire earnestly to prophesy. Its simply that the gift of prophecy is much more beneficial to the assembly.
This notion is echoed in verse 5 above.
VERSE 40. Let all things be done decently and in order.
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.