What does 1 Corinthians 14:8 mean?
ESV: And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?
NIV: Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?
NASB: For if the trumpet produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?
CSB: In fact, if the bugle makes an unclear sound, who will prepare for battle?
NLT: And if the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle?
KJV: For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
NKJV: For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?
Verse Commentary:
Paul is showing why it is not helpful for people to display the gift of tongues during the church service if nobody can interpret what is being said. He has compared it to flutes and harps, "lifeless instruments," producing a series of random notes in random order. That is not music; it is noise, and it is unhelpful to those who hear it.

Now he ups the stakes. Then, as now, bugles were used in military settings to signal the troops to take designated actions. Different melodies represented different orders. Most importantly, one specific melody blasted on the bugle was used to call the army to go to battle.

If the bugle just blurts out an indistinct sound, notes in no sensible order, how will the soldiers know what to do? Bugle noise would lead only to confusion, not action. Paul will show in the following verse how this parallels what happens when tongues are spoken in church settings with no interpretation.
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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