1 Corinthians 14:23 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

1 Corinthians 14:23, NIV: So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

1 Corinthians 14:23, ESV: 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?

1 Corinthians 14:23, KJV: If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?

1 Corinthians 14:23, NASB: Therefore if the whole church gathers together and all the people speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are insane?

1 Corinthians 14:23, NLT: Even so, if unbelievers or people who don't understand these things come into your church meeting and hear everyone speaking in an unknown language, they will think you are crazy.

1 Corinthians 14:23, CSB: If, therefore, the whole church assembles together and all are speaking in tongues and people who are outsiders or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your minds?

What does 1 Corinthians 14:23 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

In the previous verse, Paul declared that tongues are a sign for unbelievers. He seems to have meant this as a negative sign: a display of God's supernatural power that would drive unbelievers deeper into their unbelief. He now describes what that might look like.

Imagine, Paul writes, a church service where believers are gathered and everyone is speaking in tongues with no interpretation of what is being said. Now imagine, Paul continues, that outsiders or unbelievers were to come into the service at that very moment. What would they think is going on? Wouldn't they think everyone in the room, all Christians, had lost their minds? They certainly wouldn't be able to gain meaning from the words being spoken.

Paul's example stresses how seriously he took the impression Christians make on unbelievers. That reputation is especially important when it comes to practicing the worship of Christ. Someone with no knowledge of Christianity who witnessed a scene of mass tongue-speaking would easily conclude the group was possessed or hallucinating. Perhaps they would even associate Christianity with the worship of idols, which in ancient Greek culture often involved shrieking and yelling out frenzied gibberish.

It's important to notice that Paul is not questioning the validity of the gift in this verse. He is not denying that, even in this scenario, the Corinthians would be exercising a legitimate gift from God by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. What he is saying is that the display of that power, when used inappropriately, can do more harm than good, especially for unbelievers. This follows in perfect harmony with his explanation in chapter 13, that spiritual gifts must be applied correctly to be of any real use.

In the following verse, he compares the result when the gift of prophecy is being displayed, instead.