First Corinthians 14:1-14


Paul is concerned about edification of the church.

The problem is that tongues are not intelligible and so unable to edify the church.

Paul is going to indicate he prefers prophecy over tongues.

The issue, though, is not tongues itself but instead uninterrupted tongues.



14:1 “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.”


Paul sums up chapter 13 and resumes the thought of 12:31

The following two imperatives (“follow” and “desire”) serve as a transition from chapter 13 (a comparison of love and charismata) into the real issue (non-intelligible gifts)


“Follow the way of love” is in the present imperative. 

  • The imperative mood makes it a command.
  • The present tense makes it a call for continuous action


Eagerly desire spiritual gifts”, also present imperative.

  • indicates that the gifts God graciously gives must be pursued.
  • And again, it is a command for continuous habitual action


Paul had ended chapter 12:31 by saying “eagerly desire the greater gifts”.

Now he adds “especially the gift of prophecy” which serves as a definition for or a sample of the “greater gifts.”  The greater gifts are gifts that communicate and edify.  The lesser gifts would be the unintelligible gifts like tongues that can not communicate or edify.


In 12:31 Paul writes:

            “Eagerly desire     the      greater gifts” (NIV)


zhloute       de            ta          capismata           ta    meizona

            “you desire eagerly    the           gifts                        greater”


In 14:1 Paul writes:

            “eagerly desire spiritual gifts”


zjloute       de                 ta        pneumatika

“you desire eagerly       the        spirituals



14:2 “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.”


Important to decide:  If tongues are a known human language supernaturally spoken then the interpreter could understand them in one of two ways.  One, they could understand it because they academically knew the language.  Two, they supernaturally understood a foreign language (tongues) they had never known before.  If this is the case then on the day of Pentecost the disciples where speaking different human languages that the people listening naturally understood. But, if tongues are an ecstatic speech that is not a human language then both on the day of Pentecost and in the Corinthian church no one could understand them naturally.  They were not speaking a human language.  If this is the case then tongues could only be understood supernaturally by the gift of interpretation.  Scripture supports this second method and nowhere (not even at Pentecost) are tongues a natural language nor are they naturally understood.


“Anyone who speaks in a tongue”:

  1. Does not speak to men
    1. Tongues are not spoken to men
    2. Tongues are then clearly not used for speaking the gospel to men
  2. Speaks to God
    1. Notice it does not say speaks for God
    2. Speaking to God would be prayer or praise
    3. The charismatic concept of a message given to the church through tongues is not mentioned in this verse
  3. No one understands him
    1. When it says “No one understands him” this means no man with his natural ability or language development understands the language of tongues.
    2. Since it says “No one understands” we might assume that it does not mean “only people who know the language” will understand
  4. He utters mysteries
    1. Mysteries refers to things that have always been true but have not always been revealed to man
    2. Mysteries are things not naturally known to man
    3. Does God need to hear these mysteries?  Verse14:4 tells us this speaking edifies the speaker. The answer is found in 14:14, 15
  5. He utters with his spirit
    1. A distinction between the mind and the spirit will be made latter
    2. Tongues do not come from the mind or the intellect but from the spirit
    3. Thus, once again, tongues cannot be a human language that can be learned, studied or understood by the mind.


The point of this information in context:  Tongues are of no value in a congregation of people who have gathered for edification and exhortation.



14:3  “But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.”


Official Apostles

The Twelve and the Apostle Paul

Functional (unofficial) apostles

Church planters and missionaries

Official Prophets

Communicated new revelation

Functional (unofficial) prophets

Communicated edification, exhortation, and consolation


  1. Strengthening oikodomh” means “edification, building up”
    1. This word “edification” or “building up” is a theme

                                                              i.      8:1 – “love builds up”

                                                            ii.      14:3 – here prophecy “builds up”

                                                          iii.      Thus, prophecy in a congregation is easily aligned with love since they both “build up”

  1. EncouragementparaklhsiV” means “exhortation, encouragement, consolation”
    1. This word may be used by Paul to say exhort since the next word clearly speaks of consolation.
  2. Comfortparamuqia’ means encouragement, consolation. 
    1. It is a synonym with “paraklhsiV” above, but is used in the NT to describe the comfort that God provides.


Please note:  There is nothing said of prophecy predicting the future.  Even the OT prophets who spoke of future events where doing so primarily to provide the people of Israel with “strength”, “exhortation”, and “comfort”.  The prophetic element that we use to build our eschatological frame work on was secondary.


14:4  “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.”


Tongues and prophecy “edifies” “oikodimei” (same word)

  • Means “to edify” or “to build up”
  • It is present indicative active which “emphasizes the continual action that which is habitual and always true.” (Linguistic Key)


Tongues even though it is not understood with the mind (14:2) builds up the speaker (14:4) in his spirit (14:14-15).


This quote misses the entire concept of “spirit” and makes it sound like a person speaking in tongues is a cheerleader at a pep rally:

"Though he himself would not comprehend the content of that praise, his feelings and emotions would be enlivened, leading to a general exhilaration and euphoria. This was not a bad thing. Paul certainly was no advocate of cold, dispassionate worship.  (Lowery, 1 Corinthians, p. 538)



14:5  “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.”


The point continues here:  Edification of the people at a meeting of the congregation is the purpose for the assembly.  Thus, the gifts that accomplish this are “greater” in this context.


Tongues are not said here to be a lesser gift over all, but a lesser gift or less productive and less beneficial when the church is gathered for exhortation.


Paul says he wishes everyone would speak in tongues.  Why?  So they could be edified or built-up in their spirit.  Does not an edified employee do better work for the company?  Does not a built-up athlete produce better results in the game for the team?  It is ridiculous for some teachers to say tongues are a selfish gift based on this verse.  To follow the logic then an athlete who lifts weights during the off season is only thinking of themselves and not the team.  So a true team player would stop lifting weights?



 14:6  “Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?”



14:7  “Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes?”



14:8  “Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”



14:9  “So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.”



14:10  “Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning.”



14:11  “If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me.”



14:12  “So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.”



14:13  “For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says.”



14:14  “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.”