1 Corinthians 14:20-25

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 14:20-25

20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.


Paul continues making his point regarding the (mis)use of the Gift of Tongues in Church. He does not want them to be misused anywhere that an unbeliever might be present. We’ll pick up, looking at the note from The Pulpit Commentaries, as to verse 20:

1 Corinthians 14:20

Be not children in understanding; rather, in your minds. Your tendency to overvalue glossolaly shows you to be somewhat childish. It is remarkable that this is the only verse of the New Testament in which the common Greek word “mind” (phren) occurs. Howbeit in malice be ye children; better, but in wickedness be babes. The Authorized Version misses the climax involved in the change of the word. The Christian should always be childlike (Matthew 11:25Matthew 19:4), but never childish (1 Corinthians 13:11Ephesians 4:14). Be men; rather, become or prove yourselves full-grown; literally, perfect.

What are the negative characteristics of children Paul refers to here? In context, Paul seems to be warning against selfishness and thinking in too narrow a way. The problem in Corinth, as to this topic, seems to be that the over-users of Tongues were justifying that practice on the basis of how it helped the individual, with no regard for how that might also hurt the group. To make it worse, it seems they may also have been self-justifying in a way wherein the people with this gift were viewing themselves as better than those who do not have it.

What are the characteristics of infants that Paul calls for with respect to evil? This is a little easier to understand. Be pure and innocent. We do not often encounter an evil baby outside of imagination and fiction. Babies are innocent. Paul wants the Church to be innocent.

As for maturity, Paul wants adult thinkers. He wants the Church to know right from wrong, to behave morally, to think in a way that is guided by love (Ch. 13), and as a result, to make decisions that benefit the Church as a whole. Continuing on, with the Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 14:21

In the Law. The quotation is from Isaiah 28:11Isaiah 28:12, but the term “the Law” was applied generally to the Old Testament, as in John 10:34John 12:34John 15:25Romans 3:19). With men of other tongues, etc. The application of this Old Testament quotation furnishes one of the many singular instances of quotation which prove that the Jews often referred to the words without any direct reference to their context or original meaning. He here wishes to show that glossolaly had little or no value except as an evidence to unbelievers, and illustrates this by Isaiah 28:11Isaiah 28:12. Now, in that passage Isaiah tells the drunken priests, who scornfully imitated his style, that, since they derided God’s message so delivered to them, God would address them in a very different way by the Assyrians, whose language they did not understand; and that even to this stern lesson, taught them by people of alien tongue, they would remain deaf. In the original, therefore, there is not the least allusion to any phenomenon resembling the “gift of tongues.” But the mere words of a scriptural passage always came to Jews with all the force of an argument, independently of their primary meaning; and it was enough for St. Paul’s purpose that in Isaiah the allusion is to unintelligible utterance, and to the fact that the teaching which it was meant to convey would be in vain. And other lips. St. Paul does not quote the LXX. The Hebrew has “with stammerings of lips and another tongue will he speak” (comp. Deuteronomy 28:49).

The note explains the origin of the quote, its original context, and the context to which Paul uses it.

With Biblical prophecy, particularly Christian interpretation of Old Testament prophecy, there is a regularly recurring phenomenon of “now, and again in the future.” The text in Isaiah refers to occurrences in Isaiah’s present, but they also refer to things that will happen in the distant future (Paul’s time.) This form of interpretation is adjacent, I think, to the idea of applying Old Testament Types to Jesus. Contining with the next verse:

1 Corinthians 14:22

Wherefore. In accordance with this illustration. Not to them that believe. Because their belief depends on other and far deeper grounds. Serveth. This word is wrongly supplied; it should be, is for a sign. Not for them that believe not. Because there is nothing necessarily startling in preaching. It might, indeed, produce conviction in the unbelieving (1 Corinthians 14:25), but it was not a special “sign” “The unbelieving” are those who used to drop in at the Christian services out of curiosity.

This point regarding Tongues might seem to be contradictory, initially. Paul discourages the use of the Gift of Tongues in front of people who are not believers, however, he also says that this gift is a sign for unbelievers. How can it be both? Fortunately, there is a familiar example – Pentecost. The Tongues used properly at Pentecost included interpretation. As the gift is most often used by individual believers, without an interpreter, the problem arises when one does that publicly.

What does Paul mean that prophecy is a sign for believers? I think the simplest way to interpret that statement is that prophecy is *useful* for believers. Continuing on, with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary in verse 23:

(23) If therefore.—Intended, as tongues were, for a “sign,” they cease to be thus useful if not properly employed. The report of the strange utterances which take place in the assembled Church may lead some unbeliever to come there: but if there be tongues alone, and they uninterpreted, the stranger will simply think those present are mad. (See Acts 2:13.) It is not meant here that all commence shouting out at the same time, neither is it in the next verse that all prophesy simultaneously; but the thought presented is the undue and exclusive cultivation of this gift by all in the Corinthian Church.

If you’re a believer, and you doubt the potential problems associated with speaking on Tongues, publicly and uninterpreted, I encourage you to visit YouTube and see how people who are not Christian react to it when they see it in Churches. It’s almost never positive. Continuing in Ellicott:

(24) But if all prophesy.—There is no danger of exaggeration regarding this gift. Each one uttering prophecy, telling forth the gospel truth, and revealing the mind of God, will have a message that will be useful to the unbeliever. As one after another they utter the words of divine truth, they each send something that pierces into his soul. By all of them he is convicted in his own conscience of some sin. He is condemned in his own eyes, a searching light is turned upon his heart. The secrets of his heart are made manifest, and he makes terrible discoveries of his guilt (Hebrews 4:12-13).

If someone who does not believe walks in on a Church where prophecy is occurring, he or she does not necessarily react as though the people in the congregation are insane.

As a result, prophecy is a sign for believers, but is potentially a positive thing for unbelievers to be present for and to experience. Tongues is a sign for unbelievers, but if misused it will drive people away. Paul does not go into detail here about the dangers of an unbeliever being present for the misuse of prophecy, but it seems implied that the immediate danger of misused prophecy is not as great (“these people are insane”) as the misuse of Tongues. We’ll finish up these verses, returning to The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 14:25

The secrets of his heart. “The Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,.., and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Falling down on his face. An Oriental. mode of showing humility and deep conviction (Isaiah 45:141 Samuel 19:24). It does not furnish the shadow of an excuse for the encouragement of catalepsy by the mechanical excitement of revivalism. That God is in you of a truth. St. Paul is probably thinking both of Isaiah 45:14 and Zechariah 8:23, where similar phrases are used.

“Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway,
And fools, who came to scoff, remained to pray.”


Paul’s primary point here, regarding the misuse of Tongues, is that they take away from orderly worship and create confusion for anyone who does not believe who might then observe it. He talks about this more explicitly in the next section of verses.