John Calvin On 1 Corinthians 14:15 and Singing Psalms

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Backwoods Presbyterian

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I was reading through 1 Corinthians 12-14 in my morning devotions today and came upon 1 Corinthians 14:15 which says:

"What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. " -- 1 Corinthians 14:15

I usually do my devotions with Calvin's commentary (if applicable) or Henry (if Calvin does not have a comment on the passage) and so I turned over to Calvin for his reading on this passage. Here is what he says:

"When he says, I will sing Psalms, or, I will sing, he makes use of a particular instance, instead of a general statement. For, as the praises of God were the subject-matter of the Psalms, he means by the singing of Psalms — blessing God, or rendering thanks to him, for in our supplications, we either ask something from God, or we acknowledge some blessing that has been conferred upon us. From this passage, however, we at the same time infer, that the custom of singing was, even at that time, in use among believers, as appears, also, from Pliny, who, writing at least forty years, or thereabouts, after the death of Paul, mentions, that the Christians were accustomed to sing Psalms to Christ before day-break. I have also no doubt, that, from the very first, they followed the custom of the Jewish Church in singing Psalms."

For context here is 1 Corinthians 14:14-16:

"For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. 16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?"

Backwoods Presbyterian

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Another thing I have found, since this has piqued my interest is that the English word translated "Sing" in this passage is the Greek word "ψαλω" which is the verb form of the word we know as "Psalm".


Puritan Board Doctor
A problem with that is - with this slightly mysterious subject of "tongues" - that cessationist writers like O. Palmer Robertson, hold that tongues were new revelations of the Spirit (mysteries, musterion) which were in another language, yet understood by the speaker, but often -or always?- not understood by the hearers.

Someone with the spiritual gift of interpretation of tongues ( translation of languages) would give a an inspired translation to make the prophecy accurately known to the hearers, otherwise there would be no edification for the hearers, and chaos in the worship services, such that visitors would think the Corinthians Christians to be mad.

Psalms, on the other hand, were already part of the canon.

If canonical Psalms were also being abused by tongues speakers/singers, then there is an exception to tongues being new revelation; or maybe Robertson's definition of the gift of languages is erroneous or partial.

After writing the above I now see by reading the quotation more carefully, that Calvin isn't saying that "sing" here (necessarily) means that they were singing the canonical Psalms.

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Rev. Todd Ruddell

Puritan Board Junior
Rev. Glaser,

Have you read Bp. Lightfoot on the passage you have referenced above? I believe you would find his exposition of the passage helpful. This work is available on Logos. It's his 4 volume commentary on selected parts of the NT from the Hebrew and Talmudica.

Backwoods Presbyterian

Puritanboard Amanuensis
For those interested when go to the PDF scroll down to page 262. That is where the pertinent comments begin.

Blessings on your reading. It has already been very profitable to me.
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