Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:13-19, Love for others and an engaged mind

1 Corinthians 14:13-19

13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 16 Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? 17 You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.

18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Having made his case about unintelligible speech having no value to others, Paul urges those who speak in tongues to pray for the gift to put that speech into plain words (1 Cor. 14:13). Clearly that would benefit others, and that is also the point in verse 14, where the inability of a tongues speaker to understand their own speech also robs others of any fruitful result.

Thiselton explains 1 Cor. 14:15 by saying: Paul declares that being spiritual, i.e., of the Holy Spirit, occurs when the Holy Spirit controls both the spirit and the mind. . . . If both are open to the Holy Spirit, the result can build up the community and bear the fruit (v. 14a) of love for the other.[1] Garland agrees and says that Paul makes the case for intelligibility of worship and Garland adds that this is a principle that has wide-ranging implications for contemporary worship.[2] Indeed it does!

There is, however, an alternative idea that constitutes the very error made by the Corinthians, an error that is repeated today: the disengagement of the mind. Some fall into this trap by associating the operation of the Holy Spirit more closely with non-cognitive spontaneous phenomena than with self-critical reflection upon the word of God, which when understood by the mind will transform the heart.[3] Disengaging the mind leads to mere raving rather than the intelligent expression of gospel truth.

Otherwise (1 Cor. 14:16) introduces the negative consequences of a spiritual expression that is unintelligible to others within a church setting. They cannot even say Amen because they do not know what has been said. What might even be worthy praise of God, if expressed in a tongue in private, edifies no one when expressed in the church (1 Cor. 14:17). Thiselton says that Paul is attacking the individualism and self-centeredness which assume that corporate worship is simply about God and me rather than God and all of us.[4] (emphasis original).

It would be equally erroneous to claim that Paul opposes the use of tongues altogether, as he makes clear in 1 Cor. 14:18. But Paul is adamant that in the church (1 Cor. 14:19) there must be an overwhelming preference for intelligible words. Garland expresses Pauls viewpoint: The criterion governing Pauls conclusion is what will do the most good for the community . . . . Public worship is for mutual edification, not private enrichment.[5]

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1113, quoting Kistemaker.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 640.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1112-13.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1116-17.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 643.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!