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First Corinthians The Epistle of Sanctification - Book 4

An in-depth commentary/study on chapters 14 through 16 of First Corinthians.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 3

Amen with Understanding

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:14,

14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.

Paul wrote this after telling the church that tongues ought to be interpreted during the meetings. Verse 14 is given as a reason for such a need. Here also is a clear indication that when Paul himself spoke in tongues, it did not mean that he was speaking a language that he had learned. For example, he was not praying in Hebrew among Greek-speaking believers. The tongue was a language that rendered his mind “unfruitful.” That is, Paul’s spirit was indeed praying, but his own mind did not understand the prayer.

It is self-evident, of course, that Paul was speaking of his soulish mind, because obviously, Paul’s spiritual mind (the spiritual man of 1 Cor. 2:15) understood perfectly what it was praying. Hence, Paul’s statement clearly separates soul from spirit and distinguishes between the mind, or consciousness, of each.

Paul’s spirit, then, could pray in one of the tongues “of angels,” but unless someone interpreted it into a known earthly language, Paul’s soulish mind would remain “unfruitful.”

The Outcome

Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 14:15,

15 What is the outcome then? I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the [soulish] mind also; I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the [soulish] mind also.

Here we see that the soul has its place, even though it is the “natural mind” and is “carnal.” It is, after all, the seat of consciousness for our natural lives in this world. The soul was pronounced “good” at the beginning. It became evil only when it rebelled and disobeyed the spirit and then usurped its position of leadership. But if one's soul submits to the spirit, then the proper order is re-established.

Paul confirmed and validated both types of prayer and both types of singing. If a believer can pray in tongues, then he can also sing in tongues. The practice of singing with the spirit was revived only recently in the Charismatic movement of the 1960’s. It seems to have been forgotten or neglected by the church for many centuries.

But praying and singing are not the only expression of tongues. Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:16, 17 that we may also “bless in the spirit.”

16 Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.

To bless others in the spirit is much like praying or singing in the spirit. They all involve the gift of tongues that are unknown to the people—unless someone is able to interpret the angelic language into a known earthly language. Paul assumes that his readers know this, of course, for he did not need to explain it to the Corinthian believers. It was common knowledge in those days, though many dispute it today.

Paul’s main focus, of course, is the need for interpretation, so that the church understands what is happening. If someone lays hands on another and blesses him in the spirit (using an angelic tongue), the one being blessed ought to know how he is being blessed. If he remains ignorant of the nature of the blessing, he “is not edified” and cannot be expected to say “Amen” to it. He can only accept it blindly—or, if he does not trust the man blessing him, he might reject it.

The Importance of Amen

Paul implies that a lack of understanding prevents or hinders a person from saying “Amen” to his own blessing. Many say “Amen” today without any serious understanding of its significance. To say “Amen” is a legal act of agreement before the divine court. Israel did this in Deut. 27:15-26 when they agreed to the curses of the law for disobedience (sin). In other words, they agreed that God was righteous and just if He should judge them for their sin.

But if God had spoken to them in an unknown language, how could they say “Amen” to that which they did not understand? Would that not constitute fraud? God clearly specified each aspect of obedience that He required of them, and He did it in their own language so that each point was clearly understood.

For that reason, in later years, when Israel violated the terms under which God had given them the land of Canaan, they would have no valid claim when they disagreed with the judgments of God. They had already borne witness to the curse (judgment) for disobedience.

So in the context of Paul’s discussion of interpretation of tongues, the Amen is important not only for understanding but to validate the blessing by a double witness. It meant that the Israelites understood. The law states clearly that “on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed” (Deut. 19:15). He who says “Amen” is claiming to be a valid witness confirming a matter.

Jesus affirmed this law in Matt. 18:16 and 20. Jesus did not put away this law when He died on the cross, for Paul affirmed this law many years later in 2 Cor. 13:1 and again in 1 Tim. 5:19. Furthermore, everyone today who says “Amen” affirms the validity of the law in Deut. 19:15, whether they are aware of it or not.

Virtually all believers today use the term “Amen” to affirm truth. Most, however, do not really understand the legal significance of this term. Hence, many say “Amen” too lightly and often without a clear understanding of what they are saying. This can get people into difficulty.

In Paul’s letter, he did not feel the need to explain the “Amen,” probably because he had already taught the Corinthian believers about its importance. Amen is a Hebrew term, so there is no doubt that he had already explained its meaning to the newly-converted Greeks.

Amen is the Hebrew word that means “truly” or “verily” (KJV). It is an affirmation of truth. Amen indicates agreement that something is indeed true. More than that, since amen is also the Hebrew word for “faith,” it shows that a person believes what has been said. Such belief and acceptance of the truth is “faith.” Hence, “faith comes from hearing” (Rom. 10:17), but hearing itself comes by agreement, followed by obedience.

So if a person says “Amen,” it means that he has received the word and will act upon it.

The point is that if someone speaks a word to someone else, it is up to the other person to discern the truth of that word. The word can be accepted or rejected accordingly. But if the word or blessing is given in an unknown tongue, how can he say “Amen” to it? Blind amens are not really valid in biblical law.

Paul’s Priority

Paul concludes this section by saying in 1 Cor. 14:18, 19,

18 I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; 19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Where did Paul “speak in tongues more than you all”? Obviously, he spoke most of these words during the week when he was not “in the church,” that is, among the congregation. He did it when he was alone.

The purpose of an assembly was not primarily to engage in tongues, but to “instruct others.” In other words, the believers assembled to be taught. Instruction, or teaching, was the priority. Paul says that in a group setting, it was more profitable to speak five instructive words in an understandable language than to speak ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

Paul did not ban tongues in a group meeting, but if tongues were employed, the message should be interpreted, so that all may be instructed and edified. Paul did not seem to advocate setting aside a time in church where everyone prays in tongues, as is often done in Charismatic and Pentecostal churches today. Such prayer should be done mostly in private, if we are to follow Paul’s example.

In the next section, as we will see shortly, Paul speaks of the difference between tongues and prophecy. Tongues with interpretation is the equivalent of prophecy. The difference is that prophecy comes in a single step in a known language, whereas tongues and interpretation is a two-step process. A tongue by itself is not prophecy, at least not in a practical sense.