1 Corinthians 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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(27) If any man speak in an unknown tongue.—Better, If any man speak in a tongue. Here is the practical application of the general rule just laid down to the exercise of the gift of tongues. Those who had that gift were not all to speak together, and so cause confusion; only two, or at the most three, were to speak in each assembly, and each of such group was to speak in turn, one at a time. There was to be with each group one who had the gift of interpretation, and he was to interpret to the listeners.

1 Corinthians 14:27-28. If any man speak — That is, be moved to speak; in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or, at the most, three — Let not above two or three speak at one meeting; and that by course — That is, one after another; and let one interpret — What is said, into the vulgar tongue. It seems, the gift of tongues was an instantaneous knowledge of a tongue, till then unknown, which he that received it could afterward speak when he thought fit, without any new miracle. But if there be no interpreter present, let him — The person speaking in a foreign language; be silent in the church — Where he can do no manner of service by uttering what none but himself can understand; and let him speak in that tongue to himself and to God — Make use of his gift in his own private devotions, if he find it profitable so to do. From its being here ordered that, if no interpreter were present, the person who spoke in a foreign language must be silent, Macknight infers that, even if the inspired person were able to interpret the foreign language in which a revelation was given to him, he was not permitted to do it; “because, to have delivered the revelation first in the foreign language, and then in a known tongue, would have been an ostentation of inspiration, of which the church would not approve; not to mention that it would have wasted much time to no purpose. Whereas, when one spake a revelation in a foreign language, and another interpreted what he spake, the church was edified, not only by the things spoken, thus made known to them, but also by having an undoubted proof of the inspiration of the person who spake, given them in the inspired interpretation of what he spake.’14:26-33 Religious exercises in public assemblies should have this view; Let all be done to edifying. As to the speaking in an unknown tongue, if another were present who could interpret, two miraculous gifts might be exercised at once, and thereby the church be edified, and the faith of the hearers confirmed at the same time. As to prophesying, two or three only should speak at one meeting, and this one after the other, not all at once. The man who is inspired by the Spirit of God will observe order and decency in delivering his revelations. God never teaches men to neglect their duties, or to act in any way unbecoming their age or station.Let it be by two, or at the most by three - That is, two, or at most three in one day, or in one meeting. So Grotius, Rosenmuller, Doddridge, Bloomfield, and Locke, understand it. It is probable that many were endowed with the gift of tongues; and it is certain that they were disposed to exercise the gift even when it could be of no real advantage, and when it was done only for ostentation. Paul had shown to them 1 Corinthians 14:22, that the main design of the gift of tongues was to convince unbelievers; he here shows them that if that gift was exercised in the church, it should be in such a way as to promote edification. They should not speak at the same time; nor should they regard it as necessary that all should speak at the same meeting. It should not be so as to produce disorder and confusion nor should it be so as to detain the people beyond a reasonable time. The speakers, therefore, in any one assembly should not exceed two or three.

And that by course - Separately; one after another. They should not all speak at the same time.

And let one interpret - One who has the gift of interpreting foreign languages, (Note, 1 Corinthians 12:10), so that they may be understood, and the church be edified.

27. let it be by two—at each time, in one assembly; not more than two or three might speak with tongues at each meeting.

by course—in turns.

let one interpret—one who has the gift of interpreting tongues; and not more than one.

Concerning the use of their gift of tongues, he directeth three things:

1. That every one that had it should not be ambitious to show it at all times, but

two or three at most at a time.

2. That they should do it

by course, not together, confusedly.

3. Not without

one to interpret, that people might understand. For though these were extraordinary gifts, flowing from a more than ordinary influence of the Spirit of God, yet they were abiding habits, not coming upon them at some certain times, by an impulse; for then they would not have been under human government, as it is apparent this gift of tongues was, else Paul could not have so governed himself in the use of it, as he lets us know he did, 1 Corinthians 14:19. If any man speak in an unknown tongue,.... He begins with the gift of tongues, with speaking in an unknown tongue, as the Hebrew language, because this they were desirous of: and the rule for this he would have observed is,

let it be by two, or at most by three, and that by course. The Arabic version reads it, "let him speak to two, or at most three, and separately"; as if it respected the number of persons he was to speak to at a time, and that in a separate and private manner: but the apostle's sense is, that two such persons as had the gift of speaking in an unknown tongue, or three at most, should be only employed at one opportunity, lest too much time should be taken up this way, and prevent a more useful and edifying exercise; and that these should speak not together, which would be a mere jargon and confusion, and make them took like madmen, and render them entirely useless indeed; but in course, one after another, that so an interpreter might be able to take their sense, and render what they said, and express it in a language the people understood: for it follows,

let one interpret what the two or three had said. This practice seems to be borrowed from the Jews, who had such an officer in the synagogue as a "Methurgeman", or "an interpreter". The rise of which office, and the rules to be observed in the performance of it, are as follow, delivered by Maimonides (s):

"from the times of Ezra it has been customary that an interpreter should interpret to the people what the reader reads in the law, so that they may understand the nature of things; and the reader reads one verse only, and is silent until the interpreter has interpreted it; then he returns and reads a second verse: a reader may not raise his voice above the interpreter, nor the interpreter raise his voice above the reader. The interpreter may not interpret until the verse is finished out of the mouth of the reader, and the reader may not read a verse until the interpretation is finished out of the mouth of the interpreter; and the interpreter might not lean neither upon a pillar, nor a beam, but must stand in trembling, and in fear; and he may not interpret by writing, but by mouth: and the reader may not help the interpreter; and they may not say the interpretation written in the law; and a little one may interpret by the means of a grown person, but it is no honour to a grown person to interpret by the means of a little one; and two may not interpret as one, but one reads , "and one interprets" (t).''

An interpreter might not interpret according to his own sense, nor according to the form of the words, or its literal sense; nor might he add of his own, but was obliged to go according to the Targum of Onkelos (u), which they say was the same that was delivered on Mount Sinai. The place they stood in was just before the reader; for so it is said (w),

"the interpreters stand before the wise man on the sabbath days, and hear from his mouth, and cause the multitude to hear.''

And elsewhere it is said (x),

"the interpreter stands before the wise man, the preacher, and the wise man (or doctor) whispers to him in the Hebrew language, and he interprets to the multitude in a language they hear,''

or understand. And sometimes these sat at his side, and only reported what the doctor whispered privately. So

"it is said (y), that when the son of R. Judah bar Ilai died, he went into the house of Midrash, or the school, and R. Chaniah ben Akabia went in and sat by his side, and he whispered to him, and he to the interpreter, and the interpreter caused the multitude to hear.''

And they never put any man into this office until he was fifty years of age (z). Several of the Jewish Rabbins were interpreters, as R. Chananiah before mentioned, and R. Chutzphit, and others (a).

(s) Hilchot Tephilla, c. 12 sect. 10. ll. (t) Vid. T. Bab. Roshhashana, fol. 27. 1. & Megilla, fol. 21. 2.((u) T. Bab. Kiddushin, fol. 49. 1. & Maimon. Hilchot Ishot, c. 8. sect. 4. (w) T. Bab. Pesachim, fol. 50. 2. Gloss. in ib. (x) Gloss. in T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 20. 2.((y) T. Bab. Moed Katon, fol. 21. 1.((z) Juchasin, fol. 44. 2.((a) Ib. fol. 42. 1. & 44. 1, 2.

{13} 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.

(13) The manner how to use the gift of tongues. It may be lawful for one or two, or at the most for three, to use the gift of tongues, one after another in an assembly, so that there is someone to expound their utterances. But if there are none to expound, let him that has the gift speak to himself alone.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 Corinthians 14:27. After this general rule come now particular precepts: suppose that one wishes to speak with a tongue; comp. γλῶσσαν ἔχει, 1 Corinthians 14:26. There is no other εἴτε to correspond to this εἴτε (sive, Vulgate); but the plan of sentence first thought of and begun is so disturbed by the apodosis and 1 Corinthians 14:28, that it is quite abandoned, and 1 Corinthians 14:29, instead of commencing with a new εἴτε, is not even continued in hypothetic form at all. See Maetzner, ad Antiph. p. 194. Comp. Klotz, ad Devar. p. 538. According to Hofmann (who writes εἴ τε separately), τέ is annexive, namely, to πάντα π. οἰκ. γ. In that case εἴ τε would be: in like manner if (Hartung, Partik. I. p. 106 f.), which, however, would be logically suitable only on the supposition that γλῶσσα did not already occur also in 1 Corinthians 14:26.

κατὰ δύο κ.τ.λ.] sc. λαλείτωσαν (comp. 1 Peter 4:11), and this is to be taken declaratively (as in 1 Corinthians 11:16): let him know that they should speak by two, or at most by three; in each assembly not more than two, or at most three, speakers with tongues should come forward. As to the supplying of λαλείτ., see Kühner, II. p. 603; Fritzsche, ad Rom. III. p. 65.

τὸ πλεῖστον] adverbially. See Matthiae, p. 1000.

Καὶ ἀνὰ μέρος, and that according to order, one after the other, not several together. See Valck. ad Phoen. 481; Schweigh. Lex. Polyb. p. 380. Doubtless—and this seems to have given occasion for this addition—the case had often occurred in Corinth, that those who spoke with tongues had so little controlled their impulse that several came to speak togethe.

Καὶ εἷς διερμ.] and let one (not several) give the interpretation, of that, namely, which the said two or three speakers with tongues have spoken in succession. Grotius puts it rightly: “unus aliquis, qui id donum habet;” and it is plain from 1 Corinthians 14:5; 1 Corinthians 14:13 (in opposition to Ewald) that the speaker with tongues himself might also be the interpreter. Paul will not allow several interpreters to speak, because that would have been unnecessary, and would only have shortened the time for the more useful prophetic and other addresses.1 Corinthians 14:27-28. The maxim πρὸς τ. οἰκοδομὴν κ.τ.λ. is applied to Tongues and Prophecy, as the two main competing gifts: “Whether any one speaks with a tongue (let them speak: sc. λαλείτωσαν) to the number of two (κατὰ δύο), or at the most three” (at one meeting)—“fiat per binos, aut ad plurimum ternos” (Bz[2151]).—καὶ ἀνὰ μέρος, “and in turn,” idque vicissim (Cv[2152])—not all confusedly speaking at once. Ed[2153] ingeniously renders the κατὰ and ἀνὰ clauses “by two or at most three together, and in turns” (antiphonally), as though the Tongues could be combined in a duet—“the beginning of Church music and antiphonal singing amongst Christians”: but this does not comport with the ecstatic nature of the Glossolalia; moreover, the sense thus given to the second clause would be properly expressed by ἐν μέρει, not ἀνὰ μέρος (Hn[2154]).—“And let one person interpret”: whether one of the γλωσσολαλοῦντες (1 Corinthians 14:13), or someone else present (ἄλλος, 1 Corinthians 12:10); the use of several interpreters at the same meeting might occasion delay or confusion. “If however there be no interpreter (present), let him (the speaker with the Tongue) keep silence in the Church, but let him talk to himself and to God”: unless his utterance can be translated, he must refrain in public, and be content to enjoy his charism in solitude and in secret converse with God (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:2 ff.); the instruction to “speak in his heart, noiselessly” (so Cm[2155], Est., Hf[2156]) would be contrary to λαλεῖν, and indeed to the nature of a tongue. “ for cl[2157] παρῇ, sit for adsit; cf. Luke 5:17; Iliad ix. 688” (Ed[2158]).

[2151] Beza’s Nov. Testamentum: Interpretatio et Annotationes (Cantab., 1642).

[2152] Calvin’s In Nov. Testamentum Commentarii.

[2153] T. C. Edwards’ Commentary on the First Ep. to the Corinthians.2

[2154] C. F. G. Heinrici’s Erklärung der Korintherbriefe (1880), or 1 Korinther in Meyer’s krit.-exegetisches Kommentar (1896).

[2155] John Chrysostom’s Homiliœ († 407).

[2156] J. C. K. von Hofmann’s Die heilige Schrift N.T. untersucht, ii. 2 (2te Auflage, 1874).

[2157] classical.

[2158] T. C. Edwards’ Commentary on the First Ep. to the Corinthians.227. let it be by two, or at the most by three] Because the long utterance in an unknown tongue would weary the Church without a sufficient corresponding benefit.

and that by course] Literally, and in turn.

and let one interpret] Let there be one, and only one, interpreter of each speech; for if the second interpretation were the same as the first it were unnecessary; if different, it would be perplexing.1 Corinthians 14:27. Εἴτε, If) He now more particularly explains how all things may be done for edification.—τὶς, any man) Merely one person ought never to have spoken in an unknown tongue; but if one did speak, one or two should have followed to vindicate the abundance of the Spirit.—τρεῖς, three) may speak.—ἀνὰ μέρος) by a division of the times or even of the places of speaking.Verse 27. - And that by course; rather, and that in turn. He does not allow more than one glossolalist to speak at a time, and not more than three at the most in any one service. This rule alone tended to extinguish the disorderly exhibition of" tongues." To control the passion which leads to it is, sooner or later, to stop the manifestation - a result which St. Paul would probably have been the last to regret, when its purpose had been accomplished. By two, etc.

That is, to the number of two or three at each meeting.

By course (ἀνὰ μέρος)

Rev., correctly, in turn. Edwards' explanation, antiphonally, is quite beside the mark.

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