What does 1 Corinthians 14:7 mean?
ESV: If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played?
NIV: Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes?
NASB: Yet even lifeless instruments, whether flute or harp, in producing a sound, if they do not produce a distinction in the tones, how will it be known what is played on the flute or on the harp?
CSB: Even lifeless instruments that produce sounds--whether flute or harp--if they don't make a distinction in the notes, how will what is played on the flute or harp be recognized?
NLT: Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody.
KJV: And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?
NKJV: Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?
Verse Commentary:
Apparently, speaking in tongues without anyone to interpret had become a normal part of the worship services in Corinth. Paul is showing why, in this case, the use of the gift of prophecy is far better than the display of the gift of tongues.

Paul does not dismiss those given this gift as fakes. He has acknowledged that this gift from God can bring genuine benefit to the spiritual life of the speaker, even when no interpretation of what he or she is saying is available. The problem is with using the gift in church without interpretation. In that case, Paul insists, the gift does not benefit anyone else.

Perhaps those speaking in tongues imagined their display of God's power as beautiful on its own, as a musical performance might be. Paul counters that idea with the illustration in this verse. If nobody can understand what is being spoken, then to hear tongues spoken is like listening to music played without a melody. Just hearing flutes and harps produce random sounds in random order, not guided by any human mind, isn't pleasant to listen to. It is simply noise.
Verse Context:
First Corinthians 14:1–25 describes why the gift of prophecy is superior to the gift of tongues in church services, especially when nobody with the gift of interpreting tongues is available. Prophecy benefits everyone in the room with a revelation from God. Praying in a tongue, when nobody can interpret, only benefits the one praying. In fact, displaying the gift of tongues without interpretation may do more harm than good—it generates confusion and division. In contrast, the use of prophecy provides the opportunity for unbelievers to hear from God, be convicted about sin, and come to faith in Christ and genuine worship.
Chapter Summary:
Paul encourages the Corinthians to desire the gift of prophecy, especially, among the other gifts. He shows why its use in the church service is superior to the use of the gift of tongues if nobody is available to interpret. Prophecy benefits everyone; praying in tongues with nobody to interpret benefits only the speaker. Only two or three tongues-speakers should contribute to any service, and only then one at a time and followed by interpreters. The same applies to prophecy and the gift of discerning spirits. Orderliness and building up the church are guiding principles for any worship meeting. Modern churches are divided on the extent to who which these gifts are given, or should be practiced.
Chapter Context:
1 Corinthians 14 concludes Paul's teaching on the spiritual gifts begun in chapter 12. Between them, chapter 13 declared that Christlike love matters most of all. The gift of prophecy is better than the display of the gift of tongues in worship services unless someone with the gift of interpreting tongues is available. Even then, only those things which build up the church should be included in any service, and everything should be done in an orderly way, reflecting the character of God. The final two chapters of this letter discuss the resurrection of Christ and Paul's concluding remarks.
Book Summary:
First Corinthians is one of the more practical books of the New Testament. Paul writes to a church immersed in a city associated with trade, but also with corruption and immorality. These believers are struggling to properly apply spiritual gifts and to resist the ungodly practices of the surrounding culture. Paul's letter gives instructions for real-life concerns such as marriage and spirituality. He also deals with the importance of unity and gives one of the Bible's more well-known descriptions of love in chapter 13.
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