1 Corinthians 14:6-12

Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

1 Corinthians 14:6-12

Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.


Here in this section, Paul really narrows down on the Gift of Tongues. The impression given is that the Church in Corinth was speaking on tongues, perhaps openly and without an accompanying interpretation. Further, based on evidence from the previous chapters, we might also infer that the Corinthians who were doing this were also perhaps being boastful about the gift and elevating its importance over other gifts. As Paul continues to make clear, he sees this gift as less important than some others, particularly when utilized improperly. We’ll start looking at this section with a note from Ellicott’s Bible Commentary on verse 6:

(6) Now, brethren.—Transferring these things to himself in an image the Apostle reinforces the preceding teaching. Now (i.e., seeing that these things are so), what profit would I be to come to you speaking in tongues? I have been telling you that you cannot profit others: I ask you, do you think I speaking in tongues could profit you?

Except I shall speak to you either . . .—Here is an expansion of the “interpretation of tongues” of the previous verse, and which is the condition on which depends any usefulness of the gift. The “revelation” and the “knowledge” are the internal gifts in the teacher himself which are the sources of his power to communicate “prophecy” (i.e., general exhortation), or “doctrine” (i.e., systematic religious instruction) to his hearers.

Paul reinforces and softens the teaching here by presenting himself in the position of the one with the Gift of Tongues. He explains that using this gift does not benefit or uplift the church UNLESS the gift brings revelation, knowledge, or prophesy along.

The gift of tongues is often associated with strong feelings of emotion. Paul here seems to be making a call for order. He is not opposed to emotion, but he is teaching that it is does not benefit the larger Church. It must exist in a support role to other things. Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries note for verse 7, as Paul makes an analogy to drive home this point:

1 Corinthians 14:7

Even things without life giving sound. Even musical instruments—flute or harp—dead instruments as they are, must be so played as to keep up the distinction of intervals, without which the melody is ruined and the tune is unrecognizable. Much more is this the ease with the human voice.

“How sour sweet music is,
When time is broke and no proportion kept!”

The indiscriminate use of the tongue is here compared to the dissonance of jarring and unmodulated instrumental sounds, In harmony there must be due sequence and intervals of sound.

1 Corinthians 14:8

If the trumpet give an uncertain sound. A spiritual exhortation should be like the “blowing of a trumpet in Zion;” but if, as in “the tongue,” the trumpet only gave forth an unintelligible blare, its sounds were useless.

Paul compares the use of the gift of tongues to making non-musical sounds on a flute, harp, and trumpet. This type of thing is not only pointless, the discordant sound actively drives people away or cause confusion that disrupts purpose.

If you attend large Church gatherings where Tongues are spoken, in an open, uninterpreted manner, that gathering would seem to be operating in opposition to Paul’s teaching here. There are a lot of examples of exactly this that you can view on technology platforms such as YouTube.

Here is an interesting thing to consider, though. Does Paul rebuke the improper use of Tongues? Yes. Does he consider the improper use of tongues – by itself – as cause for an end to unity in Christ? No. He does lump the misuse of this gift in with the sins he mentions in chapter 5 which must be purged from the Church. As he delivers this teaching on Tongues, he does so in love toward Brothers in Christ. Would Paul want someone to be in a teaching role, who is operating in open opposition to his own teaching on this point? Given his own appeals, to his own Apostolic authority, we should assume the answer is no. Thus, we have some difficult ground to cover as Believers, on this topic, particularly given its pervasiveness in the last century.

Returning to Ellicott in verse 9:

(9) So likewise ye.—This is not the application of the foregoing, but the introduction of a third illustration, viz., the varieties of human language. The “tongue” here is simply the actual organ of speech, distinguished in the Greek, by the insertion of the article, from “tongues” which flow from the spiritual gift. If a human being does not use words that those spoken to understand, it is useless; such words pass as sounds into the air and are useless.

(10) There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world.—There are a great many voices or languages in the world, and none of them but has a right meaning when spoken rightly and to the right person. No word in any language can be meaningless, but must correspond to some thought—for the thought exists first, and the word is invented as the expression of it.

Paul is very clear here. “You will be speaking into the air.” Remember that Paul wants to order our actions beneath love, discussed throughout Chapter 13. So let’s revisit that:

Love IsLove is Not
Celebratory about TruthArrogant
Bears all thingsRude
Believes all thingsInsistent on its own way
Hopes all thingsIrritable
Endures all thingsResentful
Never endingCelebratory about wrongdoing

Should you infer some things, from the column on the right, if someone is speaking into the air and creating confusion, for his or her own benefit, at the expense of the Church? I don’t know. God sees the heart. That said, I do believe you should approach that type of behavior with caution, seeking spiritual insight. We’ll look at notes from The Pulpit Commentaries to complete this section:

1 Corinthians 14:11

A barbarian; in other words, unintelligible, according to the definition of the word by Ovid—

“Barbarus hic ego sum, quia non intelligor ulli.”

Unto me; rather, in my eyes.

1 Corinthians 14:12

Even so ye. A general form of conclusion from the previous remarks. Of spiritual gifts; literally, since ye are zealots of spirits. That ye may excel to the edifying of the Church; rather, seek them to the edifying of the Church, that ye may abound. The same word is used in Matthew 5:20 (“exceed”); 1 Corinthians 8:8 (“are we the better”).

Paul finishes this section looking for an underlying good motive from the people he is rebuking. This creates an open invitation, in love, for unity alongside the giving of the rebuke. He sees that the misuse of this gift is born out of a desire to see manifestations of the Spirit. That desire is not necessarily a bad desire. However, he does not want the manifestations to be prized over love for the Church as a whole. Thus, the argument is that Tongues is a lesser Gift. It is lesser than the Gifts which build up the Church