First Corinthians 14:13-19 –
Effect of Tongues on Assembled Believers


Paul begins the application of the argument of unintelligible 


ean     gar     proseucwmai           glwssh              to         pneuma      

if          For         I pray                        in a tongue           the          spirit


mou       proseucetai      o     de     nouV      mou      akarpoV     estin

of me        prays                 but   the     mind     of me     unfruitful      is


Notice the “mou” or the “of me” in reference to “spirit” in verse 14 compared to only “spirit” in verse 15.  But, “spirit” should be kept in context with “mind” in verse 15.


unfruitfulakarpoVmeans clearly “unfruitful”


A poor comment from a commentary says concerning this verse:

“The gift of Tongues is inferior to other gifts, because in it the reason has no control; and the Apostle has misgivings about devotions in which the reason has no part.  (see verse 14:19)  Strange that Corinthians should need to be told that intellect is not to be ignored, but ought to be brought to full development (see verse 14:20) ‘Feeling is a precious gift; but when men parade it and give way to it, it is weakness instead of strength (Robertson)’ ” (Driver, Plummer, Briggs in The International Critical Commentary)




ti      oun      estin         proseuxomai                   tw          pneumati   

What   therefore   is it                    I will pray                                 with the           spirit

  (future middle is assertive or volitive
expressing the determined decisioin of Paul’s will)

proseuxomai      de      kai      to       noi      yalw       tw      pneumati  

I will pray                    and       also     with the   mind      I will sing     with the         spirit


yalw         de          kai         tw           noi

I will sing        and            also        with the        mind






epei         ean        euloghV       en       pneumati       o        anaplhrwn

otherwise      if             you bless            in              spirit            the one       occupying


ton        topon        tou        idiwtou       pwV        erei       to      amhn

the            place              of the       uninstructed       how       will he say     the      amen


epi      th          sh       eucaristia      epeidh    ti     legeiV    ouk     oiden

at             -              your       giving thanks            since       what     you say      not      he knows



NIV “those who do not understand” is literally “uninstructed” or Greek “idiwtou”.

  • It means “unskilled, unlearned, a layman in contrast to an expert”


“Amen” amhnwas a Jewish and early Christian custom to express agreement in prayer.



First Corinthians 14:20-25 –

Effect of Tongues on Unbelievers


The previous section (13-19) basically makes tongues inappropriate for public use since it is incapable of edifying in church meaning among a group of assembled believers.


Now Paul discusses the effects of tongues on the unbelievers. 


This is what follows:

14:20 – an exhortation

14:21 – OT text

14:22 – Application

  • Tongues a sign for unbelievers not for believers
  • Prophecy a sign for believers not unbelievers

14:23 – Example of the above application of the effect of tongues on unbelievers

14:24-25 – Example of above application of effect of prophecy on unbelievers.


Notice the discussion still focuses on an assembled group of people not on tongues in private for self edification.


Just like tongues does not edify the believer in a group setting,

So tongues does not lead an unbeliever to repentance


What occurs when tongues are used among unbelievers is a fulfillment of Isaiah 28:11-12.  In that case the fact that the people in Isaiah’s day did not understand the language was an indication of judgment.



1)     Do not be children in your thinking

a.      The Corinthians thought speaking in tongues in public was a sign they had reached the height of spirituality.

b.      Do not be like the people (children) of Isaiah’s day who rejected the word of God.

2)     Be infants in evil

a.      Selfish behavior, self-promotion, jealousy are areas you should be undeveloped in.

b.      Be infants in pursuing tongues spoken in public since it does not edify the people but instead serves to draw meaningless attention to the person speaking.

3)     Point: In your thinking be adults

a.      Take this information and figure this out!



Isaiah 28:11-12

The “tongues” of Isaiah’s day was a sign that judgment had come and the people had no idea why it was happening nor what was being said.


Paul adapts this Isaiah passage and applies it to the effect of tongues on an unbeliever.


These are the adaptations Paul makes to Isaiah 28:11-12:

  1. Inverts “stammering lips” and “other tongues” to make his issue (“other tongues”) first.
  2. Changes “stammering lips” to “the lips of others” which refers to the tongue talkers in Corinth.
  3. Paul concludes the verse with “says the Lord” which may indicate he is using his apostolic authority to back up his teaching and his adaptations.  Plus, the spiritual ones of Corinth may have been using this formula at the end of their tongues, interpretation or prophecy.
  4. Replaces “and they would not hear (akouo)” the understandable words of the prophet Isaiah to “and even so they will not obey (eisakouo) me”.  The change refers to the unbelievers not being able obey a message in tongues.


The point:  The Assyrian language made no sense and brought no change to Israel in 721 BC.  The Corinthian’s tongues do not communicate and so can bring no change to unbelievers in Paul’s day.



so then” or “then” indicates Paul is about to make his point or application of the Isaiah verse.


The Corinthians thought tongues were “proof” or a “sign” that the Christian speaking in tongues was spiritual. 

  • But, Paul says, tongues are not a sign for believers because in Isaiah’s day tongues served as a “sign” to the unbelievers and the disobedient believers. 
  • Tongues, if they are a sign to anyone, they are a sign to unbelievers. 
  • And the sign they provide is a sign of judgment. 
  • If that is the case then during the church age tongues should not be used as a  sign to unbelievers because the time of judgment has not yet come.


Point of Doctrine:

  1. Tongues do not prove anything to a believer (“Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers.”
  2. Tongues are a sign of judgment on unbelievers and disobedient (Isaiah 28 and Acts 2)
  3. Tongues are a sign that is not to be understood (Isaiah 28, Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14:23



Here we have another indication of what an early church service would have been like.

  1. They met in homes
  2. There was general participation among the believers during the worship service (1 Cor. 11:2-16 – women and men were praying and prophesying while the church was assembled)
  3. There was a charismatic element included in this participation.


Notice the use of “all” or “everyone” is to describe speaking in tongues:

    • 14:5 –“I would like every one of you to speak in tongues.”
    • 14:18 –“I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.”
    • 14:23 –“If the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues. . .”
    • 14:24 – in context and in contrast: “while everybody is prophesying”
    • Balanced this with 12:30 –“Do all speak in tongues?” (Rhetorical answer: “No.”)


you are out of your mind” is not the response we want to present to unbelievers or the uneducated believer. 


Understand, there will be people who flock after the chaotic, emotional, super-natural atmosphere of an entire room of people speaking in tongues (etc.) but that does not mean they should nor does it mean the church should act this way to draw people.  Paul did not say no one would stay.  Certain people are drawn to this as is seen in cults around the world and through out history including false churches.  Paul says they would not repent indicating they could not find Christ there.



Now “everybody is prophesying” indicating the potential of Joel 2:28-30 and Acts 2:17-18


Not all are prophets but potentially all can prophesy.


In this case the unbeliever is “elegcetai” or “he is convicted”

  • Convict” means “to convict, to so present the evidence that one is driven to the conclusion that the argument is correct.”
  • Present, Indicative, Passive
  • This is the work of the Holy Spirit
  • John 8:46 – Jesus could not be judged or convicted by the people
  • Hebrews 4:12 – the word of God judges us