1 Corinthians 14:13-19

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 14:13-19

13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.


Paul continues teaching on the Gift of Tongues. To this point, Paul has made the case that Tongues are a lesser gift than others, and that their misuse is improper in a group setting, here he gives some details as to how Tongues should be used, and how we should think about their use. We’ll start by looking at The Pulpit Commentaries notes for verses 13 and 14:

1 Corinthians 14:13

Pray that he may interpret; either, so pray as to be able to interpret, or, pray with the object of afterwards interpreting. The meaning, “pray to have the power of interpretation given him,” seems excluded by the next verse.

1 Corinthians 14:14

My understanding is unfruitful. I am only aware that I am praying. I have no definite consciousness as to what I say.

Paul values interpretation in addition to speaking, so that the mind can be profited. Previously he discussed Tongues with respect to a group setting, but here these verses discuss Tongues from the perspective of an individual. Note that he does not say praying in tongues is bad, however, he says that the mind does not benefit from this use without also having an interpretation. Continuing on, with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary in the next verse:

(15) What is it then?—The Apostle, in answering this question—viz., What, then, is the practical conclusion of the whole matter?—still speaks in the first person, quoting his own conduct and resolution. He will not let his public ministrations as regards prayer and praise evaporate into mere enthusiasm; nor will he, on the other hand, allow a cold intellectual creed to chill and freeze the warm emotions of the spirit.

(16) Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit.—In this and the following verse the Apostle speaks in the second person, for they refer, not to his practice, but to that of some in Corinth. Their conduct and its results are introduced parenthetically here, in contrast with what he is laying down as his own earnest desire and practice.

He that occupieth the room of the unlearned.—Better, he that is in the position of a private individual; as we should say, a “layman”—the one who comes as a private person to the assembly, and does not lead the prayer and thanksgiving. How can he say “Amen” when he does not know what is being said? and he cannot know if you speak in a tongue, without interpreting. It would seem from this verse that from the earliest apostolic times the practice has been for the congregation to join in the thanksgiving by uttering “Amen” (the Hebrew “So be it”) at the conclusion.

(17) For thou verily givest thanks well.—It is here implied that speaking in a tongue was, as regards an individual, an acceptable mode of worship, and it is the public use of it that all throughout this passage the Apostle is dealing with.

Paul thus declares in these verses that he prays and sings praise in both his spirit and his mind. He is also focused on Church order, and returns focus to the way that Tongues without interpretation do not allow for congregational agreement, creating potential confusion and disorder. Paul also roots his reasoning in love, noting too the necessity of building up others, rather than being focused on self.

First note: Paul states that Tongues – when utilized properly – is an acceptable way to worship. This also adds weight to the argument that Tongues are often spoken (perhaps primarily spoken) in non-languages. Either way though, Paul wants words spoken in the Spirit to be interpreted in the Spirit as well.

Second note: “Amen” has been used since the earliest days of the Church.

Amen = ἀμήν amḗn, am-ane’; of Hebrew origin (H543); properly, firm, i.e. (figuratively) trustworthy; adverbially, surely (often as interjection, so be it):—amen, verily.

Finishing the section with notes form The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 14:18

I speak with tongues; rather, with a tongue. More than ye all. This is exactly what we should expect of the emotional, impassioned nature of St. Paul, who was so wholly under the influence of the Spirit of God. But it is clear from all that he has been saying that, while the personal and evidential value of this gift of yielding his whole being to the spiritual impulse, which expressed and relieved itself by inarticulate utterance, was such as to make him “thank God” that he possessed it, he must either have exercised it only in private gatherings or must have always accompanied it by interpretation.

1 Corinthians 14:19

Yet in the Church. In any public assembly of Christians. Five words. No disparagement of the prominence given to glossolaly could be more emphatic. “Rather half of ten of the edifying sort than a thousand times ten of the other” (Besser). That… I might [may] teach others also. The word rendered “teach” is rather instruct, the root of our “catechize” (Luke 1:4Romans 2:8Galatians 6:6, etc.).

I like this conclusion, because it feels done in such a way that it should not shame too much anyone who does have this gift. Paul says he speaks in Tongues even more than they do. So… that should head off any efforts after receiving this letter, by those without the gift, to state outright that it is bad. However, this softened blow is followed by the boiled down practical advice.

He essentially tells the group that uninterpreted tongues should not be spoken in Church. Paul says he speaks even more than the Corinthians in Tongues. He just does so privately. Publicly though, he argues that this gift does not benefit others so it should not be used.

The entirety of Chapter 13 was devoted to the discussion of love. Love should guide the Church. Love is outwardly focused. Building up the Church should take precedence over self considerations. He hammers that point home one more time in the final verses of Chapter 14, which will be covered next time.