1 Corinthians 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.
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(15) What is it then?—The Apostle, in answering this question—viz., What, then, is the practical conclusion of the whole matter?—still speaks in the first person, quoting his own conduct and resolution. He will not let his public ministrations as regards prayer and praise evaporate into mere enthusiasm; nor will he, on the other hand, allow a cold intellectual creed to chill and freeze the warm emotions of the spirit.

1 Corinthians 14:15-17. What is it then? — What is my duty in these circumstances? What must I do when the Spirit moves me to pray in the church in an unknown tongue? Why this: I will pray with the Spirit — Under his influence, uttering the words which he suggests; and I will pray with the understanding also — So that my meaning, being interpreted into the common language, may be understood by others, 1 Corinthians 14:19. I will sing with the inspiration of the Spirit — And with my meaning interpreted also. I will use my understanding as well as the power of the Spirit. I will not act so foolishly as to utter in a congregation what can edify none but myself, and leave it uninterpreted. Else, when thou shalt bless God with the inspiration of the Spirit in an unknown language, how shall he that occupieth the room — That filleth the place; of the unlearned — That is, any private hearer; say amen at thy giving of thanks — Assent to and confirm thy words, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest — Can form no idea of thy meaning. The word ιδιωτης, here rendered unlearned, is used by Josephus, (Antiq., 3. c. 9,) to denote a private person, as distinguished from the priests. In like manner it here denotes those of the assembly who had not the gift of languages, and who were not teachers, but hearers only. The apostle’s question, How shall he say Amen? implies that it was the custom in the Christian church from the beginning, for all the people, in imitation of the ancient worship, to signify their assent to the public prayers by saying amen, at the conclusion of them. Of this custom in the Jewish Church we have many examples. See Deuteronomy 27:15, &c.; Nehemiah 8:6; Esd. 9:47. For thou verily givest thanks well — We will grant that there is nothing improper either in thy sentiments or expressions, if they were understood. But the other is not edified — In order to which it is absolutely necessary that he should understand what is spoken.

14:15-25 There can be no assent to prayers that are not understood. A truly Christian minister will seek much more to do spiritual good to men's souls, than to get the greatest applause to himself. This is proving himself the servant of Christ. Children are apt to be struck with novelty; but do not act like them. Christians should be like children, void of guile and malice; yet they should not be unskilful as to the word of righteousness, but only as to the arts of mischief. It is a proof that a people are forsaken of God, when he gives them up to the rule of those who teach them to worship in another language. They can never be benefitted by such teaching. Yet thus the preachers did who delivered their instructions in an unknown tongue. Would it not make Christianity ridiculous to a heathen, to hear the ministers pray or preach in a language which neither he nor the assembly understood? But if those who minister, plainly interpret Scripture, or preach the great truths and rules of the gospel, a heathen or unlearned person might become a convert to Christianity. His conscience might be touched, the secrets of his heart might be revealed to him, and so he might be brought to confess his guilt, and to own that God was present in the assembly. Scripture truth, plainly and duly taught, has a wonderful power to awaken the conscience and touch the heart.What is it then? - What shall I do? What is the proper course for me to pursue? What is my practice and my desire; see the same form of expression in Romans 3:9, and Romans 6:15. It indicates the "conclusion" to which the reasoning had conducted him, or the course which he would pursue in view of all the circumstances of the case.

I will pray with the spirit ... - I will endeavor to "blend" all the advantages which can be derived from prayer; I will "unite" all the benefits which "can" result to myself and to others. I deem it of vast importance to pray with the spirit in such a way that the "heart" and the "affections" may be engaged, so that I may myself derive benefit from it; but I will also unite with that, utility to others; I will use such language that they may understand it, and be profited.

And I will pray with the understanding also - So that others may understand me. I will make the appropriate use of the intellect, so that it may convey ideas, and make suitable impressions on the minds of others.

I will sing with the spirit - It is evident that the same thing might take place in singing which occurred in prayer. It might be in a foreign language, and might be unintelligible to others. The affections of the man himself might be excited, and his heart engaged in the duty, but it would be profitless to others. Paul, therefore, says that he would so celebrate the praises of God as to excite the proper affections in his own mind, and so as to be intelligible and profitable to others. This passage proves:

(1) That the praises of God are to be celebrated among Christians, and that it is an important part of worship;

(2) That the heart should be engaged in it, and that it should be so performed as to excite proper affections in the hearts of those who are engaged in it; and,

(3) That it should be so done as to be "intelligible" and edifying to others.

The words should be so uttered as to be distinct and understood. There should be clear enunciation as well as in prayer and preaching, since the design of sacred music in the worship of God is not only to utter praise, but it is to impress the sentiments which are sung on the heart by the aid of musical sounds and expression more deeply than could otherwise be done. If this is not done, the singing might as well be in a foreign language. Perhaps there is no part of public worship in which there is greater imperfection than in the mode of its psalmody. At the same time, there is scarcely any part of the devotions of the sanctuary that may be made more edifying or impressive. It has the "advantage" - an advantage which preaching and praying have not - of using the sweet tones of melody and harmony to "impress" sentiment on the heart and it should be done.

15. What is it then?—What is my determination thereupon?

and—rather as Greek, "but"; I will not only pray with my spirit, which (1Co 14:14) might leave the understanding unedified, BUT with the understanding also [Alford and Ellicott].

pray with the understanding also—and, by inference, I will keep silence altogether if I cannot pray with the understanding (so as to make myself understood by others). A prescient warning, mutatis mutandis, against the Roman and Greek practice of keeping liturgies in dead languages, which long since have become unintelligible to the masses; though their forefathers spoke them at a time when those liturgies were framed for general use.

What is to be done then? I will (saith the apostle) pray with the spirit; that is, either use the extraordinary influences of the Spirit of God upon me; or with my own spirit, with the inward attention of my thoughts, and the utmost intension of my mind, and the greatest devotion and fervour of affections.

And I will pray with the understanding also; but I will so pray, that myself and others may understand what I say; I will neither so pray, that myself shall not understand what I say, nor yet so, that others shall not understand me.

Understanding is here taken in a passive sense, though the active sense of the term be not to be excluded. The same thing he also saith of singing, to let us know, that all our religious acts in public assemblies ought to be so performed, that others may be benefited by them, which they cannot be, if they do not understand what we say, whether it be in preaching, praying, or singing.

What is it then?.... A Talmudic way of speaking, and answers to often used when a difficulty arises in any case, then the question is, "what is it then?" what is to be done? what is most prudent, advisable, and eligible? what is proper to be determined and resolved on in such a case? the same with "what then is to be said?" used by Philo the Jew (b): as here, shall I not pray with the Spirit at all, because my understanding, or that which I understand, is of no use to others, being not understood by them? shall I entirely neglect, lay aside, and make no use of the extraordinary gift of the Spirit, bestowed upon me on this account? no:

I will pray with the Spirit; meaning not with the human breath, or spirit only, vocally, with an articulate voice, and distinct sounds, so as to he understood; nor with his own spirit, or in a spiritual way, with a spirit of devotion and fervency, with his whole heart and soul engaged in such service, though this is necessary to it; nor with the common and ordinary assistance of the Spirit of God, though without this prayer cannot be performed aright, with faith and fervency, freedom and boldness; but with the extraordinary gift of the Spirit, so as to pray in an extraordinary manner, with divers tongues, in an unknown language; this, as the apostle was capable of, he determined to use at proper times, and on proper occasions: but then he also resolves,

and I will pray with the understanding also; not merely so as to understand himself, or with an understanding enlightened by the Spirit of God; with a spiritual experimental understanding of things, so as to know the object of prayer, the way of access to him, the need of the Spirit's influence, his own wants and necessities, and that he shall have the petitions he asks in faith, according to the will of God, all which is very requisite in prayer; but so as to be understood by others: his sense is, that though on some occasions he might choose to make use of his extraordinary gift, yet he would also pray in a language, in which he might be understood by the people; that so they might be able to join with him, and receive some fruit and advantage thereby; and that their souls might be refreshed, as well as his:

I will sing with the Spirit; meaning also not with the spirit, or breath, singing vocally only; nor with his own Spirit, with his heart engaged in the work, with grace in it, in the lively exercise of faith, hope, and love, with much spiritual light, knowledge, experience, and judgment, which are very necessary to the due discharge of this duty; nor merely with the ordinary aid of the Spirit of God, which yet is greatly needful to excite attention, assist meditation, enlighten the understanding, raise the affections, strengthen faith, and make a comfortable application of what is sung; but as before, with the extraordinary gift of the Spirit, by which the apostle was capable of delivering out a psalm, or hymn, extempore, and that in an unknown tongue: but then he also determines,

I will sing with the understanding also; not to his own understanding, or by or with the understanding of what is sung, though that is absolutely needful; but to the understanding of others, and in a language also which may be understood by others, and in which they could join with him in that service: perhaps the apostle may have some respect to the title of some of David's psalms, "Maschil", which signifies "causing to understand".

(b) Leg. Alleg. l. 1. p. 48.

What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the {m} understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.

(m) So that I may be understood by others, and may instruct others.

1 Corinthians 14:15. Τί οὖν ἐστι;] what then takes place? How then does the matter stand? namely, in consistency with the foregoing, i.e. what follows then? Comp. 1 Corinthians 14:26 and Acts 21:22, and the classical and N. T. phrases: τί οὖν; τί γάρ; by which we are prepared in a vivid way for what is to follow. See generally, Dissen, ad Dem. de Cor. p. 346 f.

προσεύξομαι] the future denotes what in consistency will be done by me. The adhortative subjunctive in both clauses (προσεύξωμαι, A D E F G) is a bad emendation, which in א is carried out only in the first claus.

προσεύξ. κ. τῷ νοΐ] (dative of instrument) is to be understood, in accordance with 1 Corinthians 14:14, of the interpretation following, which the person speaking with tongues gives of his tongue-prayer (προσευχ. τῷ πν.) in a way suited to the understanding, and by consequence intelligibl.

ψαλῶ] applies to improvised psalms, which in the glossolalia were sung with the spirit, and after an intelligible manner in the way of interpretation. Comp. generally on Ephesians 5:19.

1 Corinthians 14:15. It is the part of nous to share in and aid the exercises of pneuma: “What is (the case) then? I will pray with the spirit; but I will also pray with the understanding: I will sing with the spirit; but I will also sing with the understanding”.—τί οὖν ἐστιν; “How then stands the matter?” (Quid ergo est? Vg[2081]): one of the lively phrases of Greek dialogue; it “calls attention, with some little alacrity, to the upshot of what has just been said” (El[2082]).—ψάλλω denoted, first, playing on strings, then singing to such accompaniment; Ephesians 5:19 distinguishes this vb[2083] from ᾄδω. Ed[2084] thinks that instrumentation is implied; unless forbidden, Gr[2085] Christians would be sure to grace their songs with music. Through its LXX use, esp. in the title ψαλμοί, t’hillim (Heb.), the word came to signify the singing of praise to God; but the connexion indicates a larger ref[2086] than to the singing of the O.T. Psalms; it included the “improvised psalms which were sung in the Glossolalia, and could only be made intelligible by interpretation” (Mr[2087]). Ecstatic utterance commonly falls into a kind of chant or rhapsody, without articulate words.

[2081] Latin Vulgate Translation.

[2082] C. J. Ellicott’s St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.

[2083] verb

[2084] T. C. Edwards’ Commentary on the First Ep. to the Corinthians.2

[2085] Greek, or Grotius’ Annotationes in N.T.


[2087] Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary (Eng. Trans.).

15. What is it then?] “What is the purport of what I have been saying? That it is desirable that the spirit and understanding should combine in all the public utterances of a teacher.”

1 Corinthians 14:15. Προσεύξομαι, I will pray) with the voice; the first person singular for the second person plural.—ψαλῶ, I will sing) with the voice, or play on an instrument.

Verse 15. - What is it then? A phrase like the Latin quorsum haec? What is the purport of my exhortations? I will sing. This shows that the glossolaly sometimes took the form of singing. With the understanding also. When we worship or sing we must indeed "worship in spirit," but also worship and "sing praises with understanding" (Psalm 47:7; John 4:24). 1 Corinthians 14:15I will sing (ψαλῶ)

See on James 5:13. The verb, ᾄδω is also used for sing, Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:3; Revelation 15:3. In the last two passages it is combined with playing on harps. In Ephesians 5:19 we have both verbs. The noun ψαλμός psalm (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:26), which is etymologically akin to this verb, is used in the New Testament of a religious song in general, having the character of an Old Testament psalm; though in Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26, ὑμνέω hymneo, whence our hymn, is used of singing an Old Testament psalm. Here applied to such songs improvised under the spiritual ecstasy (1 Corinthians 14:26). Some think that the verb has here its original signification of singing with an instrument. This is its dominant sense in the Septuagint, and both Basil and Gregory of Nyssa define a psalm as implying instrumental accompaniment; and Clement of Alexandria, while forbidding the use of the flute in the agapae, permitted the harp. But neither Basil nor Ambrose nor Chrysostom, in their panegyrics upon music, mention instrumental music, and Basil expressly condemns it. Bingham dismisses the matter summarily, and sites Justin Martyr as saying expressly that instrumental music was not used in the Christian Church. The verb is used here in the general sense of singing praise.

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