1 Corinthians 14:5
I would that you all spoke with tongues but rather that you prophesied: for greater is he that prophesies than he that speaks with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(5) I would that ye all spake with tongues.—To avoid danger of misunderstanding or misrepresentation the Apostle emphatically asserts here that the error which he is combating is the undue exaltation of the gift of tongues to the depreciation of other gifts. The teacher of religious truth to others, who thereby builds up the whole edifice of the body of Christ, is a greater one than he who is himself benefited by being possessed of profound but uncommunicable emotion.

Except he interpret.—The gift of interpreting might therefore belong to the same person who had the gift of tongues: and if he had this power of articulating for the benefit of others the emotion which he incoherently expresses in reverie, then the gift of tongues was useful to the Church at large, and so was as valuable as prophecy.

1 Corinthians 14:5. I would that ye all spake with tongues — In as great a variety as God hath imparted that gift to any man living; but rather that ye prophesied — For when we consider the different effects and tendencies of these different gifts, we must acknowledge that, with respect to the prospects of usefulness by which these things are to be estimated, greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues — Which those who hear him cannot understand; except he interpret — Or rather, except some one interpret; for it appears from 1 Corinthians 14:28, that what was spoken in an unknown tongue was usually interpreted by another person, and not by the person who spoke it, the interpretation of tongues being, in the first church, a distinct gift. See on 1 Corinthians 12:10. That the church may receive edifying — Which it might, it seems, equally receive if the things spoken had been delivered only in a language understood by the auditory, and not first in an unknown tongue. “How happily does the apostle here teach us to estimate the value of gifts and talents, not by their brilliancy, but usefulness. Speaking with tongues was indeed very serviceable for spreading the gospel abroad; but for those who remained at home, it was much more desirable to be able to discourse well on useful subjects in their own language, which might serve more for the improvement of the society they belonged to, and the conviction of such of their unbelieving neighbours as might, out of curiosity, happen to step into the assemblies.” — Doddridge.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.I would that ye all spake with tongues - "It is an important endowment, and is not, in its place, to be undervalued. It maybe of great service in the cause of truth, and if properly regulated, and not abused, I would rejoice if these extraordinary endowments were conferred on all. I have no envy against anyone who possesses it; no opposition to the endowment; but I wish that it should not be overvalued; and would wish to exalt into proper estimation the more useful but humble gift of speaking for the edification of the church."

Greater is he that prophesieth - This gift is of more value, and he really occupies a more elevated rank in the church. He is more "useful." The idea here is, that talents are not to he estimated by their "brilliancy," but by their "usefulness." The power of speaking in an unknown tongue was certainly a more striking endowment than that of speaking so as simply to be "useful," and yet the apostle tells us that the latter is the more valuable. So it is always. A man who is useful, however humble and unknown he may be, really occupies a more elevated and venerable rank than the man of most splendid talents and dazzling eloquence, who accomplishes nothing in saving the souls of people.

Except he interpret - However important and valuable the truth might he which he uttered, it would be useless to the church, unless he should explain it in language which they could understand. In that case, the apostle does not deny that the power of speaking foreign languages was a higher endowment and more valuable than the gift of prophecy. That the man who spoke foreign languages had the power of interpreting, is evident from this verse. From 1 Corinthians 14:27, it appears that the office of interpreting was sometimes performed by others.

5. Translate, "Now I wish you all to speak with tongues (so far am I from thus speaking through having any objection to tongues), but rather IN ORDER THAT (as my ulterior and higher wish for you) ye should prophesy." Tongues must therefore mean languages, not ecstatic, unintelligible rhapsodie (as Neander fancied): for Paul could never "wish" for the latter in their behalf.

greater—because more useful.

except he interpret—the unknown tongue which he speaks, "that the Church may receive edifying (building up)."

I would, in this place, signifies no more than either I could wish, or I could be content that you could all speak with tongues, if God pleased. It should seem by this speech of the apostle’s, that this speaking in unknown tongues was that extraordinary gift, which, above all others, this church, or the several members of it, were proud and ambitious of. St. Paul tells them, that if God pleased he wished they could all do it. But of the two, he rather wished them all a power to open and apply the Holy Scriptures to men’s understandings and conscience. He addeth the reason, because it was a more honourable gift and work, and made men truly greater. But he adds,

except he interpret, for then he prophesied also.

That, saith he, the church, that is, those that heard him prophesying, may receive edifying. Whence we learn:

1. That spiritual growth, and proficiency in Divine knowledge and habits of grace, ought to be the great end of all preachers; and whose doth not propound this as his end, abuseth his office, and trifles in a pulpit.

2. That whose maketh this his end, will make it his business, to the best of his skill, to use such a language, style, and method, as the generality of his hearers may best understand; for without their understanding, there can be no edifying. And this lets us see the vanity of using much Latin, or Greek, or a lofty style, or a cryptic method, not obvious to poor people in popular sermons, where the people understand not those languages; or philosophical ratiocinations before a plain people that understand none of these things. Such preaching is neither justifiable by reason, nor by the practice either of Christ or his apostles. I would that ye all spake with tongues,.... This the apostle says, to prevent being misunderstood; for his view was not to bring the gift of tongues into contempt, or to represent it as at all times, and on all occasions, useless and insignificant; nor would he be thought to envy them this gift, or beat them off of desiring it; for, for his own part, he could wish they all had it, was it the will of God; though he must needs say, that prophesying was most desirable by him, as being most profitable;

but rather that ye prophesied; he wished them all prophets, as Moses did all the Lord's people; he was not against their speaking with tongues, but this was the most eligible, for which he gives this reason:

for greater is he that prophesieth, than he that speaketh with tongues; that is, he is more useful and profitable to men, and so consequently more honourable, in higher esteem, and more valued, and in greater dignity, being in a more serviceable post and office, and which is more beneficial and advantageous to mankind:

except he interpret; what he said; and then he might stand upon an equal foot, and be equally useful with him that prophesieth; but this everyone could not do that spake with tongues; for speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, were two distinct gifts; see 1 Corinthians 12:10 and though a man that had the gift of tongues might understand what he himself said to his own edification, yet not be able to interpret it to the understanding and edification of others; and if he could not do this, his speaking was to no purpose: hence the apostle advises such an one to pray that he might interpret, have the gift of interpretation also, in 1 Corinthians 14:13.

That the church may receive edifying: which otherwise cannot be thought it should, or be expected, and then an opportunity and ordinance would be wholly lost.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 Corinthians 14:5. Δέ] ἐπειδὴ παρʼ αὐτοῖς ἐλάλουν γλώσσαις πολλοὶ, ἵνα μὴ δόξῃ διὰ φθόνον κατασμικρίνειν τὰς γλώσσας, θέλω, φησὶ, πάντας κ.τ.λ., Theophylact. Comp. the δέ, 1 Corinthians 12:31.

μᾶλλον δὲ κ.τ.λ.] rather, however, I wish that ye should speak prophetically. Note here the distinction between the accusative with the infinitive and ἵνα after θέλω (see on Luke 6:31). The former puts the thing absolutely as object; the latter, as the design of the θέλω to be fulfilled by the readers (Nägelsbach on the Iliad, p. 62, ed. 3); so that it approaches the imperative force (Fritzsche, ad Matth. p. 839).

μείζων] preferable, of more worth, 1 Corinthians 13:13, because more useful for edification, 1 Corinthians 14:6; 1 Corinthians 14:26.

ἑκτὸς εἰ μὴ διερμ.] the case being excepted, if he interpret (what has been spoken with tongues). ἑκτὸς εἰ μή is a mixing up of two modes of expression, so that μή now seems pleonastic. Comp. 1 Corinthians 15:2; 1 Timothy 5:19. Not a Hebraism (Grotius), but found also in the later Greek writers (Lucian, Dial. Mer. 1; Soloec. 7). See Wetstein; Lobeck, ad Phryn. p. 459.

Regarding εἰ with the subjunctive, see on 1 Corinthians 9:11. The subject to διερμ. is not a τίς to be supplied (Flatt, comp. Ewald), but ὁ λαλῶν γλ. The passage shows (comp. 1 Corinthians 14:13) that one and the same person might be endowed with glossolalia and interpretation.1 Corinthians 14:5. Notwithstanding the above drawback, the Tongues are a real and desirable charism; the better is preferred to the good: “Yet I would have you all speak with tongues,—but rather that you might prophesy.” μᾶλλον ἵνα προφητεύητε is repeated from 1 Corinthians 14:1 : what the Ap. bids his readers prefer, he prefers for them—not to the exclusion of the Tongues, for the two gifts might be held at once (1 Corinthians 14:6; 1 Corinthians 14:18), but as looking beyond them.—θέλω ἵνα occurs several times in the Gospels without any marked telic force (Matthew 7:12, Mark 6:25; Mark 9:30, John 17:24), but only here in P.; its substitution for the inf[2024] (λαλεῖν) of the coordinate clause is significant.—“Moreover he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues”—attached by the part. δὲ where one expected γάρ (T.R.); P. is not justifying his own preference just stated, but giving a further reason why the Cor[2025] should covet Prophecy more than Tongues: the main reason lies in the eminent usefulness of this charism (1 Corinthians 14:2-4); besides that (δέ), its possessor is a “greater” person (μείζων: cf. 1 Corinthians 12:31) “than the speaker with tongues—except in the case that he interprets (his ecstatic utterance), that the Church may get edification”. The power to interpret superadded to the glossolalia (see 1 Corinthians 14:13; 1 Corinthians 14:26 ff., 1 Corinthians 12:10) puts the mystic speaker on a level with the prophet: first “uttering mysteries” (1 Corinthians 14:2) and then making them plain to his hearers, he accomplishes in two acts what the prophet does in one. ἐκτὸς εἰ μὴ is a Pauline pleonasm (see parls.), consisting of ἐκτὸς εἰ (except if) and εἰ μή (unless) run together; “with this exception,—unless he interpret” (Wr[2026], p. 756). For εἰ with sbj[2027], in distinction from ἐάν, see Wr[2028], p. 368; it “represents that the event will decide the point” (El[2029]). To supply τις with διερμην., supposing another interpreter meant, is ungrammatical; the identity of Speaker and interpreter is the essential point. He interprets with the express intention that the Church may be edified (ἵναοἰκοδομὴν λάβῃ).

[2024] infinitive mood.

[2025] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.

[2026] Winer-Moulton’s Grammar of N.T. Greek (8th ed., 1877).

[2027] subjunctive mood.

[2028] Winer-Moulton’s Grammar of N.T. Greek (8th ed., 1877).

[2029] C. J. Ellicott’s St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.5. for greater is he] Cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 12:31.

except he interpret] This passage clearly implies that a man might speak in another language without himself knowing what he was saying, see 1 Corinthians 14:14. Some, however, regard the speaking with tongues as ecstatic utterances in no human language, such as took place among the Montanists in ancient, and the Irvingites in modern times. See Stanley’s introduction to this section. Cf. note on ch. 1 Corinthians 12:10.1 Corinthians 14:5. Γλώσσαις, with tongues) The Corinthians chiefly cultivated this gift; and Paul does not consider them as doing wrong, but he reduces it to order: see 1 Corinthians 14:12.—μείζων, greater) more useful, 1 Corinthians 14:6.—διερμηνεύει) διὰ elegantly expresses the position of the interpreter between him, who speaks in an unknown tongue, and the hearer. If the very same person, who speaks in an unknown tongue, also acts as interpreter, then the very same person in a manner comes in between himself and the hearer; according to the different point of view in which he is regarded.—ἠ ἐκκλησία, the Church) seeking [1 Corinthians 14:12] edification; may receive it in consonance with this [viz. with seeking].Verse 5. - I would that ye all spake with tongues. The language of relative disparagement which St. Paul uses throughout these chapters may lead us to regard this with surprise. Yet it is perfectly intelligible. Montanus truly said that each human spirit is like a harp, which the Holy Spirit strikes as with a plectrum, and which yields itself to the mighty hand by which the chords are swept. We have seen all along - and history has in various ages confirmed the impression, on every occasion when these phenomena have been reproduced in seasons of great spiritual revival - that the external symptoms may be imitated with most dangerous and objectionable results both to the speaker and to others. But when the expression is genuine, the fact that the tides of the Spirit can thus sweep through the narrow channels of individuality is in itself a sign that the spirit of the man is alive and not dead; and thus he is an evidence of God's power both to himself and to others. Those who have heard "the tongue" have told me that its force, melody, and penetrative quality produced an impression not to be forgotten. When we see the stuffed and stopped-up hearts and lives of thousands of frivolous and worldly money worshippers, we might well echo St. Paul's wish. Greater. Not of necessity greater absolutely or morally, but greater in the fact of his wider and deeper usefulness. Except he interpret. From this we infer that sometimes, when the passion had spent its force, the speaker in the tongue could give rational explanation of the thoughts and feelings to which he had given ecstatic utterance.
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