1 Corinthians 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.
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(2) For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue.—Better, For he that speaketh in a tongue. The word “unknown” is not in the original, but it has been inserted in connection with the word tongue “all through this chapter, so as to make the various passages seem to be consistent with the theory that the gift of tongues was a gift of languages. This is not the place to enter into the question of what particular external manifestation of this gift was evidenced on the Day of Pentecost. (See Acts 2:1-13.) Still, believing that the gift of tongues here spoken of is identical with the gift of tongues which was first bestowed at Pentecost, I would say that the phenomena described as occurring then must be explained by the fuller and more elaborate account of the nature of the gift which is given to us here. Against the theory that the gift was one of a capacity to speak various languages we have three considerations. (1) The word dialectos, which is repeatedly used to express languages (Acts 1:19; Acts 2:6; Acts 2:8; Acts 21:40; Acts 22:2; Acts 26:14), is never used by St. Paul or by the author of the Acts in reference to the utterances of those who possessed the gift of tongues, but the other word, glossa, which is, literally, the physical organ of speech—as if the utterances were simply sounds that proceeded from it. (2) There is no trace whatever of this knowledge of languages having been ever used for the purpose of preaching to those who spoke foreign languages. The language of the Lycaonians was evidently not understood by the Apostles when they were addressed in it (see Acts 14:11), and they did not speak in it. That the hearers at Pentecost said they heard those who were filled with the Spirit “speak in our own language” would only imply, either that the outpouring on Pentecost had for the moment a miraculous effect, which immediately ceased, or that “all the various elements of Aramaic and Hellenistic speech, latent in the usual language of the time, were quickened, under the power of this gift, into a new life, sometimes intelligible, sometimes unintelligible to those who heard it, but always expressive of the vitality and energy of the Spirit by which it was animated.” (3) The description of the gift in this chapter is utterly inconsistent with it being a gift of languages. The gift was the result of a quickened spiritual power by the action of the Holy Ghost (see also Acts 2:4; Acts 10:44-46; Acts 19:6); it poured itself forth in wild, impassioned utterances, which were sometimes mistaken for delirium (1Corinthians 14:23); and these were the expressions, not of thoughts, but of feelings, unintelligible always, if uninterpreted, to the listener, and sometimes to the utterer himself.

It is to be observed that very notable spiritual phenomena, not unlike what are recorded here, accompanied many periods of great spiritual revival. The histories of the early work of Wesley and Whitfield, and of Irving—to take examples in England alone—afford some very remarkable illustrations. The general subject of the first part of this chapter (1Corinthians 14:1-25) is the Gift of Tongues, and is thus dealt with:—


Because (1)Tongues are the means of communion between the individual and God, whereas prophecy is communion with other men (1Corinthians 14:2-3).

(2)Tongues do yourself good; prophecy does good to others (1Corinthians 14:4-6).

This truth is illustrated (a) by the variety of musical instruments (1Corinthians 14:7); (b) by the distinction of musical notes (1Corinthians 14:8-9); (c) by the varieties of human language (1Corinthians 14:10-11).


(1)What the aim and object of the Christians should be (1Corinthians 14:12-13).

(2)His own example (1Corinthians 14:14-19).


(1)The Old Testament teaches the same principle (1Corinthians 14:21-22).

(2)The gift of prophecy is a means of spreading Christianity, and the gift of tongues is not (1Corinthians 14:23-25).

In the spirit he speaketh mysteries.—The utterances come, not from his mind, but from his spirit, stirred by the Holy Spirit; and he speaks mysteries unintelligible to others.

14:1-5 Prophesying, that is, explaining Scripture, is compared with speaking with tongues. This drew attention, more than the plain interpretation of Scripture; it gratified pride more, but promoted the purposes of Christian charity less; it would not equally do good to the souls of men. What cannot be understood, never can edify. No advantage can be reaped from the most excellent discourses, if delivered in language such as the hearers cannot speak or understand. Every ability or possession is valuable in proportion to its usefulness. Even fervent, spiritual affection must be governed by the exercise of the understanding, else men will disgrace the truths they profess to promote.For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue - This verse is designed to show that the faculty of speaking intelligibly, and to the edification of the church, is of more value than the power of speaking a foreign language. The reason is, that however valuable may be the endowment in itself, and however important the truth which he may utter, yet it is as if he spoke to God only. No one could understand him.

Speaketh not unto men - Does not speak so that people can understand him. His address is really not made to people, that is, to the church. He might have this faculty without being able to speak to the edification of the church. It is possible that the power of speaking foreign languages and of prophesying were sometimes united in the same person; but it is evident that the apostle speaks of them as different endowments, and they probably were found usually in different individuals.

But unto God - It is as if he spoke to God. No one could understand him but God. This must evidently refer to the addresses "in the church," when Christians only were present, or when those only were present who spoke the same language, and who were unacquainted with foreign tongues. Paul says that "there" that faculty would be valueless compared with the power of speaking in a manner that should edify the church. He did not undervalue the power of speaking foreign languages when foreigners were present, or when they went to preach to foreigners; see 1 Corinthians 14:22. It was only when it was needless, when all present spoke one language, that he speaks of it as of comparatively little value.

For no man understandeth him - That is, no man in the church, since they all spoke the same language, and that language was different from what was spoken by him who was endowed with the gift of tongues. As God only could know the import of what he said, it would be lost upon the church, and would be useless.

Howbeit in the Spirit - Although, by the aid of the Spirit, he should, in fact, deliver the most important and sublime truths. This would doubtless be the case, that those who were thus endowed would deliver most important truths, but they would be "lost" upon those who heard them, because they could not understand them. The phrase "in the Spirit," evidently means "by the Holy Spirit," that is, by his aid and influence. Though he should be "really" under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and though the important truth which he delivers should be imparted by his aid, yet all would be valueless unless it were understood by the church.

He speaketh mysteries - For the meaning of the word "mystery," see Note, 1 Corinthians 2:7. The word here seems to be synonymous with sublime and elevated truth; truth that was not before known, and that might be of the utmost importance.

2. speaketh … unto God—who alone understands all languages.

no man understandeth—generally speaking; the few who have the gift of interpreting tongues are the exception.

in the spirit—as opposed to "the understanding" (1Co 14:14).

mysteries—unintelligible to the hearers, exciting their wonder, rather than instructing them. Corinth, being a mart resorted to by merchants from Asia, Africa, and Europe, would give scope amidst its mixed population for the exercise of the gift of tongues; but its legitimate use was in an audience understanding the tongue of the speaker, not, as the Corinthians abused it, in mere display.

For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue; by a tongue (for unkown is not in the Greek, but necessarily added by our translators, for he speaketh of such a language) he meaneth a language not known to all, or at least not to the most of them that hear him. It may be asked, what unknown language the apostle here meaneth? Shall we think that any pastors or teachers in the church of Corinth were so vain, as to preach in the Arabic, Scythian, or Parthian language to a people who understood only the Greek? Our learned Lightfoot thinks this not probable, and that if any had been so vain for ostentation, the apostle would rather have chid them for suffering such an abuse, and have forbidden such further practice, than have given direction, than if any so spake he should interpret, as he doth, 1 Corinthians 14:5. He rather thinks, therefore, that the apostle meaneth the Hebrew tongue; the use of which, though it was by this time much lost through the Jews’ mixture with other nations, yet was restored in a great measure to the guides of churches, for their better understanding the Scriptures of the Old Testament; and continued amongst the Jews in their reading of the law in the synagogues. Now there being many Jews in this church, and the service of God being ordinarily in the Jewish synagogues performed in that language, it is very probable, that some of these Jews that were Christianized (to show their skill) might, when they spake to the whole church of Corinth, use to speak in Hebrew, though few or none understood that language. The apostle saith, he that did so, spake

not unto men, that is, not to those men who did not understand that language, not to the generality of his hearers, though possibly here and there some might understand him,

but unto God, who being the Author of all languages, must necessarily know the significancy of all words in them: for (he saith) scarce any man understood him.

Howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries; howbeit he may speak mysterious things to himself, and to the understanding of his own soul and spirit. Others think that it was possible, that some who thus spake, being but the instruments of the Holy Spirit, might not themselves understand all which they said; but that is hardly probable.

For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue,.... Or with tongues, as some copies and the Ethiopic version read: Dr. Lightfoot thinks, that the Hebrew tongue, which was become a dead language, and understood but by few, is here meant, and that not without reason; seeing the public prayers, preaching, and singing of psalms among the Jews, were in this languages (x); in imitation of whom, such ministers, who had the gift of speaking this language, read the Scriptures, preached, prayed, and sung psalms in it, which were no ways to the edification of the people, who understood it not; upon which account the apostle recommends prophesying, praying, and singing, in a language that was understood: otherwise he

speaketh not unto men; to the understanding, profit, and edification of men: but unto God: to his praise and glory, and he only knowing, who knows all languages, and every word in the tongue what is said; excepting himself, unless there should be any present capable of interpreting:

for no man understandeth him: or "heareth him": that is, hears him, so as to understand him; he may hear a sound, but he cannot tell the meaning of it, and so it is of no use and advantage to him:

howbeit in the Spirit he speaketh mysteries; though under the influence and by the extraordinary gift of the Spirit he has, and to his own Spirit and understanding, and with great affection and devotion within himself, he speaks of the deep things of God, and the mysteries of his grace, the most glorious truths of the Gospel, yet the meaning of his voice and words not being known, he is a barbarian to them that hear him; and though what he delivers are truths of the greatest importance, they are a mere jargon to others, being unintelligible.

(x) Vid. Gloss. in T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 3. 1. & in Yoma, fol. 20. 2.

{2} For he that speaketh in an unknown {b} tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the {c} spirit he speaketh mysteries.

(2) He reprehends their perverse judgment concerning the gift of tongues. For why was it given? The answer: so that the mysteries of God might be the better known to a greater number. By this it is evident that prophecy, which the gift of tongues ought to serve, is better than this: and therefore the Corinthians judged incorrectly, in that they made more account of the gift of tongues than of prophesying: because no doubt the gift of tongues was a thing more to be bragged of. And hereupon followed another abuse of the gift of tongues, in that the Corinthians used tongues in the congregation without an interpreter. And although this thing might be done to some profit of him that spoke them, yet he corrupted the right use of that gift because there came by it no profit to the hearers. And common assemblies were instituted and appointed not for any private man's commodity, but for the profit of the whole company.

(b) A strange language, which no man can understand without an interpreter.

(c) By that inspiration which he has received of the Spirit, which nonetheless he abuses, when he speaks mysteries which none of the company can understand.

1 Corinthians 14:2-3 give the ground of the μᾶλλον δὲ ἵνα προφ. by comparing prophecy with the glossolalia in particular, which was in such high repute among the Corinthians.

For he who speaks with the tongue (see on 1 Corinthians 12:10) speaks not to men (does not with his discourse stand in the relation of communicating to men), but to God, who understands the Holy Spirit’s deepest and most fervent movements in prayer (Romans 8:26 f.). Comp. 1 Corinthians 14:28.

οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀκούει] for no one hears it, has an ear for it. So too Porphyr. de Abst. iii. 22; Athen. ix. p. 383 A. What is not understood is as if it were not heard. Comp. Mark 4:33; Genesis 11:7; Genesis 42:23, and see 1 Corinthians 14:16 : τί λέγεις οὐκ οἶδε.[1] Wieseler, in 1838, took advantage of ἀκούει in support of his theory of the soft and inaudible character of the speaking with tongues, against which the very expression λαλεῖν, the whole context (see especially 1 Corinthians 14:7 f.) and the analogy of the event of Pentecost, as well as Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6, are conclusive. See also on 1 Corinthians 12:10, 1 Corinthians 13:1. The emphatic οὐκ ἀνθρ. λαλεῖ, ἀλλὰ τ. Θεῷ militates against Fritzsche, Nov. opusc. pp. 327, 333, who takes οὐδεὶς γ. ἀκούει in a hyperbolic sense (“nam paucissimi intelligunt, cf. John 1:10-11”). No one understands it,—that is the rule, the exceptional case being only, of course, that some one gifted with the χάρισμα of interpretation is present; but in and of itself the speaking with tongues is of such a nature that no one understands it. Had Paul meant the speaking in foreign languages, he could all the less have laid down that rule, since, according to 1 Corinthians 14:23, it was a possible case that all the members of the church should speak γλώσσαις, and consequently there would always be some present who would have understood the foreign language of an addres.

πνεύματι δὲ λαλεῖ μυστ.] δέ—not the German “sondern” (Rückert)—is the however or on the other hand frequent after a negative statement (see Hartung, Partik. I. p. 172; Baeumlein, p. 95). We are not to understand πνεύματι of the objective Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 14:14 being against this, but of the higher spiritual nature of the man (different from the ψυχή). This, the seat of his self-consciousness, is filled in the inspired man by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16), which, according to the different degrees of inspiration, may either leave the reflective activity of the understanding (νοῦς, 1 Corinthians 14:14) at work, or suspend it for the time during which this degree of inspiration continues. The latter is what is meant here, and πνεύματι λαλεῖν signifies, therefore, to speak through an activity of the higher organ of the inner life, which directly (without the medium of the νοῦς) apprehends and contemplates the divine; so that in πνεύματι is implied the exclusion of that discursive activity, which could, as in the case of prophecy, present clearly to itself in thought the movements and suggestions of the Holy Spirit, could work these out, connect them with things present, and communicate them to others in an intelligible wa.

μυστήρια] secrets, namely, for the hearers, hence what was unintelligible, the sense of which was shut up from the audience. The mysterious character of the speaking with tongues did not consist in the things themselves (for the same subjects might be treated of by other speakers also), but in the mode of expression, which, as not being brought about and determined by the intellectual activity of the νοῦς, thereby lacked the condition connecting it with the intellectual activity of the hearer, for which it was only made ready by the interpretation. Comp. Delitzsch, Psychol. p. 362.

οἰκοδ. κ. παρακλ. κ. παραμ.] The first is the genus, the second and third are species of it:[2] edification (Christian perfection generally) and (and in particular) exhortation (comp. on Php 2:1) and consolation.

παραμυθία, only here in the N. T., means address in general (Heindorf, Stallbaum, ad Plat. Phaed. p. 70 B), then comfort in particular; Plato, Ax. p. 365 A; Aeschin. Dial. Socr. ii. 3; Lucian, Mort. D. xv. 3; de Dea Syr. 22; Ael. V. H. xii. 1; Wis 19:12. Comp. on παραμύθιον, Php 2:1.

[1] Comp. also Holsten, z. Ev. d. Paul. u. Petr. p. 382.

[2] Ver. 4, where the οἰκοδομή is named alone, testifies to this relation of the three words (in opposition to Rückert). Comp. Bengel, who has noted well the edifying significance of the two latter points: “παράκλησις tollit tarditatem, παραμυθία tristitiam.”

1 Corinthians 14:2-3. The reason for preferring Prophecy, on the principles laid down, is that one’s fellows receive no benefit from the Tongues: except God, “no one hears” the latter—i.e. hears understandingly (cf. Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:29, etc.). There was sound enough in the glossolalia (1 Corinthians 13:1), but no sense (1 Corinthians 14:23). πνεύματι δὲ λαλεῖ κ.τ.λ., “but in spirit he is speaking mysteries”; δὲ points a contrast to the οὐδεὶςἀκούει: there is something worth hearing—deep things muttered by those quivering lips, that should be rationally spoken. For μυστήριον, see note on 1 Corinthians 2:7, and Cr[2020] s.v.: mystery in Scripture is the correlate of revelation; here it stops short of disclosure, tantalizing the Church, which hears and hears not. πνεύματι, dat[2021] of manner or instr.,—“with the spirit,” but without the “understanding” (νοῦς: 1 Corinthians 14:14 ff.; cf. note to 1 Corinthians 12:8).—“But he who prophesies does speak to men—edification and exhortation and comfort.” παράκλησις and παραμυθία are distinct from οἰκοδομή: prophetic speech serves for (a) “the further upbuilding of the Christian life, (b) the stimulation of the Christian will, (c) the strengthening of the Christian spirit” (Hf[2022]). παραμυθία has ref[2023] to sorrow or fear (see parls.); παράκλησις (far commoner) to duty; οἰκοδομή, in the widest sense, to knowledge and character and the progress of the Church: this last stands alone in the sequel.

[2020] Cremer’s Biblico-Theological Lexicon of N.T. Greek (Eng. Trans.).

[2021] dative case.

[2022] J. C. K. von Hofmann’s Die heilige Schrift N.T. untersucht, ii. 2 (2te Auflage, 1874).

[2023] reference.

2. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue] The word unknown is not in the original. The word translated tongue signifies a human language in ch. 1 Corinthians 13:1. Cf. Revelation 13:7; Revelation 14:6; Revelation 17:15.

speaketh not unto men, but unto God] Because the language is not the language of those to whom he is speaking, and therefore what he says is hidden from them. For mysteries, see ch. 1 Corinthians 4:1.

1 Corinthians 14:2. Τῷ Θεῷ, to God) alone, who understands all tongues.—ἀκούει, hears) i.e. understands.—πνεύματι, in spirit) 1 Corinthians 14:14.—μυστήρια, mysteries) which others may rather admire, than learn. The article is not added.

Verse 2. - In an unknown tongue. The interpolation of the word "unknown" in our Authorized Version is quite unjustifiable, and shows the danger of giving way to the bias of mere conjectures. Probably it is this word, not found in the original, which has given rise to the perplexing, unhistoric, and unwarranted theory that "the gift of tongues" was a power of speaking in foreign languages. Speaketh not unto men. Because, as a rule, no one understands anything that he says. The word literally means "hears." It may, perhaps, imply that no special attention was given to those who gave way to these impulses of utterance. The whole of this chapter proves in a most striking way the close analogy between "the tongue" and the impassioned soliloquies of inarticulate utterance which were poured forth in tones of thrilling power among the Montanists, and in modern times among the Irvingites. In the spirit. It is uncertain whether this means "in his own spirit," or "in the Spirit of God," i.e. as a result of inspiration. Probably the former (John 4:24; Romans 8:13, etc.). Perhaps, however, the two imply the same thing. The spirit is the one Divine part of our human being, and when a man is a true Christian his spirit is in union with, is as it were lost in, the Spirit of God. St. Paul recognizes the true tongue - for it might be simulated by hysteria and even by mere physical imposture - as a result of inspiration, that is, of the overpowering dominance of the human spirit by a supernatural power. Nevertheless, he points out the extreme peril of yielding to or self inducing these emotions public, or in leaving them uncontrolled. Mysteries. Secrets revealed possibly to him, but unrevealed by this strange "tongue" to others. 1 Corinthians 14:2
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