13. Prophecy and Ministry by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 14)

Audio (44:26)

Louis Cheron, detail from Saint Agabus (1687), Notre-Dame de Paris. Agabus was one of the early New Testament prophets.
Louis Cheron, detail from Saint Agabus (1687), Notre-Dame de Paris. Agabus was one of the early New Testament prophets.

The Corinthian church had a number of offensive situations in their worship services that Paul is seeking to correct in chapters 11-14.

  1. Women dressing improperly for worship (11:1-16).
  2. The Lord's Supper being abused by the rich, without concern for the poor in the congregation, who came with nothing to eat (11:17-34).
  3. An over-emphasis on speaking in tongues, and an under-emphasis on prophecy and other gifts in worship services (chapters 12 and 14).
  4. A lack of love towards one another in worship (chapter 13).
  5. Confusion in their worship services (14:26-33a).
  6. Women speaking out of order in the services (14:33b-35).

Paul has laid the groundwork regarding the purpose of spiritual gifts (chapter 12) and love (chapter 13). Now he speaks rather specifically about how tongues and prophecy should fit into a worship service.

Since people's conclusions about tongues and other spiritual gifts often reflect their own experience -- or lack of experience -- you can read about my background in Appendix 2.

Love and Prophecy (14:1)

Paul has shared the wonderful "Love Chapter" to put tongues in perspective. Since love is the highest value, Paul argues, the unrestrained use of tongues in the Corinthian's worship services is selfish; tongues (unless they are interpreted) edify only the tongues-speaker, not those around him or her.

"1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. 3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church." (14:1-4)

These verses teach us a number of things about both tongues and prophecy.

  1. Speaking in tongues is directed to God, while prophecy is directed toward men and women.
  2. Speaking in tongues can be a type of prayer. Later in this chapter Paul links it with praise (14:15-16). Here Paul says that a person is "speaking mysteries (mystērion, "secret truths"510) to God."
  3. The purpose of congregational prophecy is three-fold -- strengthening, encouragement, and comfort.
  4. The tongues speaker builds up himself, while prophecy builds up the church.

The value of a spiritual gift is the degree to which it builds up the church. "Edifies" (NIV, KJV), "build up" (NRSV) is a word from the construction industry, oikodomeō, "to construct a building, build," here used figuratively, "to help improve ability to function in living responsibly and effectively, strengthen, build up, make more able."511 So often we speak in order to further our own personal agenda, rather than the group as a whole. If I speak in tongues for the sake of my own spiritual "release" or to look spiritual to others, I can hurt the body. What is said and contributed in a meeting needs to meet the test of edifying the congregation.

New Testament prophecy seems to differ in some ways from Old Testament prophecy. The Old Testament prophets were sometimes called to speak warning, and judgment if the warning were not heeded. While there may be occasional exceptions to this, Paul's three roles of strengthening, encouragement, and comfort should characterize the tone of prophecy in our churches.

  • "Strengthening" (NIV), "upbuilding" (NRSV), "edification" (KJV) is the noun form (oikodomē) of the verb we discussed above (oikodomeō). It refers here to spiritual strengthening and building up.512
  • "Encouragement" (NIV, NRSV), "exhortation" (KJV) is paraklēsis, "act of emboldening another in belief or course of action, encouragement, exhortation."513 It isn't necessarily harsh, but it is motivating.
  • "Comfort" (NIV, KJV), "consolation" (NRSV) is paramythia, "that which serves as encouragement to one who is depressed or in grief, encouragement, comfort, consolation."514

It's important to be discerning about prophecy in a congregation, as we see in 14:29 and 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22. Sometimes a person's own anger or personal agenda will be expressed in the form of a prophecy. That's why Paul's guidelines can be useful to discern the function and intent of a prophecy.

It is also important to recognize that prophecy in the New Testament did not seem to form the basis of doctrine -- that came from the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.

We must be very careful not to enshrine any prophecy, to put it on a similar plane as the authority of Scripture. Christian groups that have done this have suffered dire consequences -- for example, the Latter Day Saints' adoption of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's prophecies in the Doctrines and Covenants. Our message does not change. We are to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3, KJV). We are not to add to the Bible (Revelation 22:18-19).

Note. Good Christians disagree about some of these matters. Please be loving, even if you disagree with someone.

Q1. (1 Corinthians 14:1-4) What is the value of prophecy over tongues, according to verse 4? What does prophecy typically do to benefit the church, according to verse 3?

The Value and Content of Tongues (14:5)

"I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified." (14:5)

If the Corinthians are out-of-balance with speaking in tongues in their services, why does Paul seem to encourage them?

"I would like every one of you to speak in tongues" (14:5a)
"I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you" (14:18)
"Do not forbid speaking in tongues" (14:39)

Because speaking in tongues is not an evil that hurts people. But it is a gift that is more for personal up-building than congregational up-building.

The way to achieve balance is not to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction, but to try to reach the sweet spot. And, from a practical standpoint, if Paul were to condemn tongues outright (which he has no intention of doing), they wouldn't have listened to what he had to say anyway.

Sometimes scholars have put speaking in tongues into the category of "ecstatic speech," some kind of uncontrolled, uncontrollable babble. You can see by how Paul restricts the use of tongues in 14:27-28 that this isn't what was going on. The tongue-speakers in Corinth could control themselves; they just chose not to.

We learn something very important about tongues and prophecy in this verse.

"He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified." (14:5b)

This does not necessarily mean that interpreted tongues equal prophecy so far as content is concerned. Paul is speaking rather about the "relative edification value" of one vs. the other.

What is the content of speaking in tongues? The scriptures seem to indicate that it is usually prayer (14:2), praise (14:14-17), and perhaps intercession. Paul says to the Roman church,

"The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." (Romans 8:26-27)

It is debatable whether or not Paul is referring to praying in tongues here, but it would fit with what we know from his other teachings.

The final passage that gives us a clue about the content of tongues is from the Day of Pentecost.

"We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" (Acts 2:11)

"Wonders" (NIV), "deeds of power" (NRSV), "wonderful works" (KJV), "mighty works" (ESV) is the adjective megaleios, "magnificent, splendid, grand." In the New Testament, it is used as a noun of what impresses the mind or spirit, "greatness, sublimity."515 Perhaps the content of the tongues on the Day of Pentecost is like many of the Psalms, such as Psalm 47.

"How awesome is the LORD Most High,
the great King over all the earth!
He subdued nations under us,
peoples under our feet." (Psalm 47:2-3)

I know that Pentecostal parlance has the expression "a message in tongues," but the main way the Scripture describes the content is praise and prayer -- though God certainly isn't limited to that.

Notice Paul's point here, "that the church may be edified."

Flutes, Harps, and Bugles (14:6-9)

Now Paul illustrates the importance of intelligible speech vs. unintelligible tongues in a public gathering.

"Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?" (14:6)

Paul is looking for edification in terms of what can be understood or grasped with the mind -- revelation, knowledge, prophecy, or word of instruction. He uses the expression "intelligible"516 in verse 9.

"7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? (14:7-8)

He gives examples from musical fine arts -- flutes and harps -- as well as the military trumpet, our bugle. Before the age of field radios, military commands, such as "advance" or "retreat" or "attack," were communicated to the troops through bugle calls. If a bugle call isn't clear and distinct, the troops won't know what to do.517 Paul concludes from these examples,

"So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air." (14:9)

Notice that the emphasis is on the needs of the hearer, not the needs of the speaker.

Gifts that Build Up the Church (14:10-12)

Next, Paul uses an example from foreign languages.

"10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me." (14:10-11)

Now he brings the application.

"So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church." (14:12)

Paul acknowledges that the Corinthians are (literally) zealots518 for spiritual gifts. He calls on them to desire gifts that build up or edify (oikodomē) the church. They want to excel519? Then excel in love -- caring about the needs of others -- rather than about their own pleasure and pride found in speaking in tongues publicly. The lesson is clear. The purpose of spiritual gifts is building up the church (14:4-5, 12, 26).

Pray to Be Able to Interpret (14:13)

Now Paul applies this purpose of edification directly to tongues. If you speak in tongues publicly, here's what you should do -- pray that you might have an interpretation of the tongues in the local language to benefit others in the group.

"For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says." (14:13)

In verse 13 Paul suggests that the person speaking in tongues could well be able to interpret his own word in tongues -- though others might be given this gift as well. How do you get the gift of interpretation? Pray for it!

Praying and Singing in the Spirit and with the Mind (14:14-15)

Now Paul makes an interesting distinction between the spirit and the mind.

"14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind." (14:14-15)

Based on 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ("your whole spirit, soul and body") and Hebrews 4:12 ("even to dividing of soul and spirit"), some teach a strict division between the soul (psychē) and the spirit (pneuma).520 But that distinction isn't consistent throughout the New Testament. In our passage, "mind" (NIV, NRSV), "understanding" (KJV) is nous, "the faculty of intellectual perception," here, "understanding, mind," as faculty of thinking.521 The ancients didn't localize this in the organ of the brain, however. Pneuma ("spirit") has the basic idea of "wind, breath," then "that which animates or gives life to the body, breath, (life-)spirit," here, "a part of human personality, spirit ... as the source and seat of insight, feeling, and will," generally as the representative part of human inner life.522

Why would a person pray in tongues if his mind can't make sense of it? What's the point? Remember, Paul had told us, "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself" (14:4). Just as time with God can be refreshing, so praying in tongues can be refreshing to one's spirit without the need for cognitive understanding. It's hard to explain, but that's been my experience. Also, tongues seem to be a means of intercession (Romans 8:26-27) and thanksgiving (14:17). If tongues had no value, Paul wouldn't have claimed to speak in tongues more than the Corinthians (14:18), nor would he have encouraged tongues at all -- as he clearly does (14:5, 39).

Paul talks about "praying with his spirit." Does this mean that praying in your own language is not praying in the Spirit? To the Ephesians, Paul says:

"Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests." (Ephesians 6:18)

Based on this verse, Pentecostals use the phrase "praying in the Spirit" to refer to praying in tongues. But the context is different. In 14:14-15 Paul is differentiating between one's own spirit and one's mind. In Ephesians 6:18, he is speaking of praying guided by the Holy Spirit. Those are different concepts. Yes, the gift of tongues is inspired by the Holy Spirit, but that doesn't mean non-tongues prayer is not inspired.

Notice that Paul speaks of "singing with the spirit" (14:15). This may sound a bit bizarre. However, from my experience it can be joyful and expressive praise to the Lord.

Paul's conclusion to this is not: Always pray in tongues. Rather, he suggests both prayer in tongues and with the mind. Balance, not one or the other.

Tongues as a Language of Thanksgiving (14:16-19)

Paul validates prayer and praise in tongues as fine, beautiful praise.

"You may be giving thanks well [enough] ...." (14:17a)

"Well enough" (NIV, NRSV), "well" (KJV) is kalōs, "pertaining to meeting relatively high standards of excellence or expectation, fitly, appropriately, in the right way, splendidly."523 The NIV and NRSV translation "well enough" goes beyond the text and sounds as kind of a back-hand slap at praise in tongues. The word "enough" is not in the text. Tongues are a wonderful vehicle of praise, Paul is saying -- for the individual who is praying.

But he comes back to his principle that in public worship, everything must have the purpose of building up the church, and tongues -- however excellent as a vehicle of personal praise -- do not do this, unless tongues are interpreted.

"16 If you are praising524 God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand525 say 'Amen' to your thanksgiving526, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 You may be giving thanks527 well enough, but the other man is not edified." (14:16-17)

Notice that in 14:18-19, Paul introduces the idea of private worship vs. public worship.

"18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue." (14:18-19)

If Paul speaks in tongues a great deal, then where does he do this? Not in the assembly. So Paul's prayer in tongues must be part of his private devotional time. Many things that are very appropriate in private are not appropriate in public.

Grow Up! (14:20)

Paul has reasoned with the Corinthians about this matter, using one argument after another. Now he scolds them.

"Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults." (14:20)

Grow up! is the message here.

Argument from the Babylonian Captivity (14:21-22)

For an argument from Scripture, Paul turns to a quotation from Isaiah's prophecy to support his view.

"21 In the Law528 it is written:

 'Through men of strange tongues
 and through the lips of foreigners
 I will speak to this people,
 but even then they will not listen to me,'
 says the Lord.

22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers." (14:21-22)

This passage is confusing.529 Isaiah 28:11-12, that he quotes, is a prophecy concerning the time of the Babylonian exile. God's people wouldn't listen to God's warnings in their own language; now they would have to learn lessons from their foreign-speaking oppressors' language. Paul concludes:

  1. Tongues (in the case of the unbelieving Israelites who went into exile) are a sign for unbelievers -- and by extension, a sign of those Corinthians who won't believe Paul's teaching.
  2. Prophecy (in the case of the Israelites, who would not believe the prophets) is a sign for believers, that is, a sign that is received and accepted only by believers.

This seems to be his meaning. What makes it confusing is that his application (oun, "so, therefore") seems to say the opposite -- that unbelievers won't understand tongues, but only prophecy, if they come to your services. Fee comments,

"Tongues and prophecy function as 'signs' in two different ways, precisely in accord with the effect each will have on unbelievers who happen into the Christian assembly."530

The Impression on Unbelievers (14:23-25)

What is the problem with speaking in tongues at church?

"23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand531 or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced532 by all that he is a sinner and will be judged533 by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare534. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, 'God is really among you!'" (14:23-25)

Most of the time the church met in small house churches, probably from 6 to 50 in size, depending upon the size of the house, which related to the wealth of the owner. But here Paul seems to have in mind a larger gathering when (literally) "the whole church comes together in one place," perhaps in a rented hall.

Such a larger gathering will include the believers, of course, but also others who weren't committed believers. These might have been the spouses of believers, or family members who are curious about the Christian faith, but have made no commitment as yet.

It is the reaction of these unbelievers that concerns Paul -- and the impression they have of this Christian community. If these are "seekers," but come to the conclusion that "you are out of your mind"535 (14:23), then these unrestrained, untranslated tongues may turn them away from Christ. They will also spread this impression of Christians as crazy people.

But if unbelievers are present when the gift of prophecy is exercised, God may speak to their hearts directly -- either by a prophetic word about their specific, individual situation, or a more general word that the Holy Spirit speaks powerfully to their hearts, bringing deep conviction.

Untranslated tongues results in an impression of crazy people, while prophecy brings people to the brink of conversion. The choice between the two doesn't seem too difficult.

Q2. (1 Corinthians 14:5-25) Paul does value speaking in tongues. What does its value seem to be according to verses 2, 4, 17, and (perhaps) Romans 8:26-27? How are the Corinthians abusing speaking in tongues?

Guidelines for a Meeting (14:26-32)

Now Paul is more specific in what would be appropriate in one of their gatherings -- especially one at which unbelievers might be present.

"What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church." (14:26)

Notice that with the word "everyone" (hekastos) Paul is describing a meeting where everyone can (and is encouraged to) participate -- unlike most of our church meetings these days. However, many small groups encourage everyone to participate. If you're not in a small group, you're potentially missing out on receiving from others' spiritual gifts as well as offering your own for the upbuilding of others in the group.

Paul gives a very clear guideline by which all contributions are to be judged:

"All of these must be done for the strengthening [of the church]." (14:26c)

As we saw above, "strengthening" (NIV), "building up" (NRSV), "edifying" (KJV) is oikodomē, "building, construction," here used figuratively of spiritual strengthening, "edifying, edification, building up."536 The NIV's words "of the church" are implied, but are not in the Greek text.

Guidelines for Tongues with Interpretation in a Meeting (14:27-28)

Now Paul becomes more specific yet -- not to make new "rules," but to help these out-of-control Corinthians understand what normalcy might look like.

"27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two -- or at the most three -- should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God." (14:27-28)

First, Paul addresses speaking in tongues. He says:

  1. Two or three speaking in tongues is plenty.
  2. People should speak in tongues one at a time.537
  3. Speaking in tongues is not allowed if there is no one with a gift of interpretation present.

I've been in many Pentecostal services where these guidelines are not observed. And I've been in many more Evangelical services where tongues are not allowed at all. It's important to note here that Paul doesn't see tongues as ecstatic and uncontrollable; rather he expects tongue-speakers to control themselves.

Prophecy in a Church Meeting (14:29-33a)

Next, Paul turns to prophecy, a gift that was undervalued and underexercised by the Corinthians.

"29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace." (14:29-33a)

How Can Everyone Prophecy?

Before we consider Paul's guidelines, we need to define some terms and deal with some questions. "Prophets" (prophētēs) can refer to those with an established ministry as a prophet, such as the "prophets and teachers" at Antioch (Acts 13:1). But I think in this context Paul is using a functional definition -- those who might prophecy on this occasion. Notice in Paul's teaching that not all are prophets in the established ministry sense (12:28-29; Ephesians 4:11), but all are encouraged to desire and to exercise the gift of prophecy when God gives them a word (14:1, 5a, 31).

This raises the question of how could "everyone" prophecy? Isn't this a gift given to a few? Let me explain (though I'm sure some will disagree.) I'll explain in the form of several propositions, each of which is probably either true or not true.

  1. When we receive the Holy Spirit as believers, the Holy Spirit indwells us. This is basic, for "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Romans 8:9). I know that some Pentecostals use terminology of "receive the Holy Spirit," as if the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" with speaking in tongues is the only way a person receives the Spirit. Oneness Pentecostals ("Jesus-Only") go so far as to say that if you haven't spoken in tongues, then you're not a real Christian. (To explore further the term "baptism of the Holy Spirit," see my article, "Spirit Baptism, the New Birth, and Speaking in Tongues."538)
  2. The Holy Spirit connects our spirits to the deep things of God, to the mind of Christ (2:10-16). The Holy Spirit is the conduit of God's wisdom, knowledge, and power in and through us. It is not our wisdom, knowledge, and power, but all God's.
  3. Thus, any Spirit-indwelt believer can -- at any time -- be used by God in any of the multitude of spiritual gifts. There is nothing God can't do through you when he desires. It may not be your "normal" ministry, the way God usually uses you, but it is possible. So it's entirely possible that you may prophesy on occasion, but not normally exercise the gift of prophecy.

What prevents God from using you?

  1. God's will -- he may not choose to use you at this time.
  2. Your faith -- your openness to his Spirit and your willingness (obedience) to be used.

Faith can be influenced by your church culture and your experience or lack of it. When God called Samuel, it took him three times to figure out what was going on and how to respond to it (1 Samuel 3:1-10). I think one of the big advantages Pentecostals have is that they often live in a church environment that teaches that God can do anything through them, so that they have faith in the supernatural. Many others of us live in a church environment that tells us God doesn't do those kinds of things any more, at least not in this church. Guess who is more likely to prophesy when God puts a word in their heart?

Guidelines for Prophecy in a Meeting (14:29-33a)

I've taken some time laying the groundwork, but if we believe Paul's instruction to prophesy is important, then we need to deal with issues that can get in the way.

Now let's examine his instructions again

"29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace." (14:29-33a)

Here are Paul's instructions.

1. A few people should speak in prophecy. Notice that the number is the same as his guidelines for the number of people who speak in tongues with interpretation. He is trying to help the Corinthian church get some balance.

2. The other members should weigh carefully what is said. The "others," I think, are not other prophets, but the other people at the meeting. The word "weigh carefully" (NIV), "weigh" (NRSV), "judge" (KJV) is diakrinō, "separate, differentiate," here, "to evaluate by paying careful attention to, evaluate, judge."539 This is the same word used in chapter 11, to "discern the body" (11:29) and to "judge ourselves" (11:31).

This "weighing carefully" should be two-fold. (a) Was this a true word from God? And (b) if so, how is God speaking to me personally and how should this affect my life?

The spiritual leaders and more mature may need to assist others in this weighing process. Testing prophecy is biblical (1 Thessalonians 5:21), not a sign of unbelief.540 The testing process would include (a) comparing the teaching with the Scripture, our ultimate authority for authenticity, as well as (b) the spirit in which the prophecy was given, and (c) the life of the person bringing the prophecy. As I said earlier, contemporary prophecy should never be set on a level with Scripture, but be seen as supplemental, for our "upbuilding and encouragement and consolation" (14:3).

3. Those bringing prophecy should speak one after another and not interrupt each other. Apparently, the Corinthians' meetings had been characterized by confusion and disorder. Like his instructions about speaking in tongues, that they should speak "in turn" (14:27) here he tells them to speak "one by one."541 Paul tells them to wait if someone interrupts them with a "revelation" -- probably another form of inspired prophecy.

4. Prophecy should not be viewed as ecstatic and uncontrollable. In the Old Testament you see ecstatic prophecy, that is, prophecy that cannot be controlled by the speaker. Examples are Saul and those who come to arrest David (1 Samuel 10:6, 10; 19:20-24). In the New Testament we see ecstatic prophecy (sometimes with tongues) when the Holy Spirit first comes upon people. Examples are the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and at Ephesus (Acts 19:6).

But Paul is clear -- at least after an initial filling with the Holy Spirit -- people are able to control their use of the gift of prophecy. They can wait their turn. "The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets" (14:32). The verb is hypotassō, in the passive voice, "subject oneself, be subjected or subordinated, obey."542 Sometimes I've heard people who blurt out something in tongues say, "I couldn't help myself!" The real problem is that they don't discipline themselves according to these instructions.

5. Worship of God is orderly, reflecting his own character. Notice that order does not exclude spontaneity in verses 26-32. The Holy Spirit can prompt people on the spur of the moment to bring something to upbuild the body -- everything doesn't have to be planned. In fact, if everything is planned, where is the room for the intervention of the Holy Spirit if He wants to change things?

Q3. (1 Corinthians 14:26-33) How are Paul's instructions to those who speak in tongues in verses 27-28 similar to his instructions to those who prophecy in verses 29-32? How do they differ? How might we hold meetings today that allow for the Spirit to inspire spontaneous contributions to the gathered people?

Bringing Gentle Discipline When Needed

If the contribution of a member consistently does not result in the spiritual strengthening of the group, then that member needs to be prevented from continuing with that contribution. This may seem heavy handed, but without some order and discipline, this kind of open service becomes chaotic and counter-productive.

Who is to bring order? The pastor and spiritual leaders. That is their role. I was pastoring in a nearby community in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles when Jack Hayford was the senior pastor of Church on the Way in Van Nuys, a large Foursquare congregation. Now Los Angeles is known for all its crazy people and religious heresies. How do you have an orderly but open meeting in that environment?

Hayford's approach was (1) control the microphone. (2) Require any who felt they had a prophecy or word to bring it first to one of the elders scattered throughout the building, and with their approval, bring it to the larger body. Hayford's approach seems like a good balance between complete openness and outright prohibition of prophecy. Yes, he was taking a chance of something getting out of control -- but the danger on the other side is retaining complete control while quenching the Spirit and disobeying 1 Corinthians 14:21 and Paul's command not to despise prophecy (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).

I've seen people interrupt a sermon with tongues or a prophecy. It's disruptive, and not indicative of the God of order.

If this is a continuing problem in your group, instruct the group using Paul's guidelines. Then train several men and women who can gently remove someone from the group if they get out of order. This doesn't have to be heavy-handed, but firm. As people gradually realize that they are required to obey Scripture, they'll stop disrupting the service. You may also find that some who are disruptive are not being moved by the Holy Spirit but another spirit. They'll need help.

Women to Remain Silent in a Meeting (14:33b-35)

Part of the disorder in the meetings of the Corinthian church seems to involve women publicly questioning things during the service in a way that added to the already disorderly service. Their manner was considered disgraceful in Corinth and was causing problems. Exactly what they were doing, we can't tell from this brief reference.

"33b As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." (14:33b-35)

Some have used this passage to reinforce a strong view of male dominance over women. But in this relatively pro-women epistle (in light of chapter 7 and 11:5), it seems unlikely that Paul is trying to restrict women unduly.

There are difficulties with how some use this passage to reinforce male dominance.

The command is not absolute. Women are told to "remain silent" and not "speak" in church. But we know from 11:5 that women have the right to pray and prophecy in the church, so long as they are respectfully attired. Thus the command not to speak cannot be absolute.

The command has a specific context. We don't really know the reason for Paul's statement. The context is important if we want to import the prohibition to our own day. We're guessing that the women were causing a disruption, but we know little more than that. Elsewhere, however, Paul cautions Timothy, when he is in Ephesus:

"A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

So the problem of women acting inappropriately in church seems to have existed in other churches Paul had founded in Greek cities in the Mediterranean.

The reference to the Law is unclear. Paul appeals to "the Law,"543 but it is difficult to find a specific reference there. Some have supposed that the reference was Genesis 3:16; others have looked to Genesis 1:26ff and 2:21ff. The reference is unclear.

There is a clear cultural element in Paul's words. Paul's use of the word "disgraceful" (NIV), "shameful" (NRSV), "a shame" (KJV) is aischron, "pertaining to being socially or morally unacceptable, shameful, base."544 Paul uses the same word in 11:6 to describe the shame of a woman having her hair cut off, where he appeals to the Corinthians' common sense about a woman's longer hair as fitting, while a man wearing long hair would be dishonorable. The shame in our verse doesn't have to do with morality, but with appropriateness in the cultural context.

There is a problem with the textual placement. Verses 34 and 35 hardly seem to belong where they're found in our Bibles. Indeed, a whole group of ancient manuscripts, known as the Western text, place these verses after verse 40.545 Some consider these words not Paul's writing at all, but a very early gloss or comment written in the margin,546 though the words are not missing from any ancient manuscript.

So how are we apply these verses in our churches? In many cultures in our day, it is not considered "shameful" for women to speak in public meetings, as it may have been in first century churches in Mediterranean cities. Paul's statement in verses 34-35 seem to be based on a specific problem in a cultural situation that no longer exists. As Calvin said:

"The discerning reader should come to the decision that the things that Paul is dealing with here are indifferent, neither good nor bad; and that they are forbidden only because they work against seemliness and edification."547

Rebuke and Warning (14:36-38)

It appears that Paul expected some "blowback" or defensiveness on the part of the Corinthians that they were somehow exempt from his instructions. So he rebukes them ahead of time:

"36 Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. 38 If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored." (14:36-38)

Summary (14:39-40)

After a rather complex discussion of the particulars of order in worship, Paul concludes with a summary of his teaching.

"39 Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way." (14:39-40)

"Fitting" (NIV), "decently" (NRSV, KJV) is euschēmonōs, "decently, becomingly," here, "pertaining to being appropriate, correctly."548 "Orderly way" (NIV), "in order" (NRSV, KJV) is two words, kata, "according to," and taxis, originally, arrangement of things in sequence, here, "a state of good order, order, proper procedure."549

1 Corinthians: Discipleship Lessons from a Troubled Church, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available as a book in paperback, PDF, and Kindle formats.

Verse 40 is a helpful summary -- and applicable to our churches today. Some of our churches are full of disorder for failure to apply Paul's directions about tongues and prophecy. They need to apply Paul's words about "decency and in order." Other churches are orderly and predictable because they have essentially banned the spontaneity of the Spirit and participation by the members in the worship. They need to apply the parts about "everything" or "all things should be done...." and Paul's injunctions, "be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues."

May God help us so that our worship may be pleasing to the God we serve, not just convenient for us.

Q4. (1 Corinthians 14:39-40) In your particular congregation, which parts of verses 39-40 are most needed in order to bring your congregation into a biblical balance?


Father, I pray that you will help this chapter to be a corrective for all of our churches, the ones with too little order and the ones with too much order. Please help us to be open to the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our churches, and in our small groups and classes. Have freedom among us, O Holy Spirit! Let your gifts flow freely so that we might be built up. And let the gift of prophecy be restored to our churches in health and balance. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church." (1 Corinthians 14:3-4)

"I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified." (1 Corinthians 14:5)

"Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church." (1 Corinthians 14:12)

"For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind." (1 Corinthians 14:14-15)

"What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church." (1 Corinthians 14:26)

"The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace." (1 Corinthians 14:32-33a)

"Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues." (1 Corinthians 14:39)

"But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way." (1 Corinthians 14:40)


510. Mystērion, BDAG 662, 1b.

511. Oikodomeō, BDAG 696, 3. Acts 9:31; 20:32; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 10:23; 14:4, 17; 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

512. Oikodomē, BDAG 696, 1bα.

513. Paraklēsis, BDAG 760, 1.

514. Paramythia, BDAG 769.

515. Megaleios, BDAG 622.

516. Eusēmos, "readily recognizable, clear, distinct" (BDAG 413).

517. "Clear call" (NIV), "indistinct sound" (NRSV), "uncertain sound" (KJV) is two words, phōnē (from which we get our word "telephone") "sound" and adēlos, "pertaining to not being clearly defined, indistinct" (BDAG 19, 2).

518. "Eager to have" (NIV, NRSV), "zealous" (KJV) is zēlōtēs, "one who is earnestly committed to a side or cause, enthusiast, adherent, loyalist" (BDAG 427, 1aβ).

519. "Excel" is perisseuō, "to abound," here, "have an abundance, abound, be rich in something." (BDAG 805, 1bα).

520. According to scholars, psychē can be used in a number of ways in the New Testament. As "breath of life, life-principle, soul," and as "seat and center of the inner human life in its many and varied aspects, soul" (BDAG 1098-99, 1 and 2). But sometimes it is used of a person's spiritual life as well. There is no consistent distinction between soul and spirit in the New Testament.

521. Nous, BDAG 680, 1b.

522. Pneuma, BDAG 833, 3b.

523. Kalōs, BDAG 505, 1.

524. "Praising" (NIV), "say a blessing" (NRSV), "bless" (KJV) is eulogeō (from which we get our word "eulogy"), "to say something commendatory, speak well of, praise, extol" (BDAG 408, 1).

525. "Those who do not understand" (NIV), "outsiders" (NRSV), "unlearned" (KJV) translate the word idiōtēs (from which we get our word "idiot"), originally, "layperson, amateur," here, "one who is not knowledgeable about some particular group's experience, one not in the know, outsider" (BDAG 468, 2). Some see the idiōtēs as catechumens, but not full-fledged Christians. But probably Paul's meaning here and in verses 23 and 24, is simply someone who doesn't understand the language the tongues-speaker is speaking in (Fee, 1 Corinthians, p. 73).

526. "Thanksgiving" (NIV, NRSV), "giving of thanks" (KJV) is eucharistia (from which we get our word "Eucharist"), "the expression or content of gratitude, the rendering of thanks, thanksgiving" (BDAG 416, 2).

527. Eucharisteō, "to express appreciation for benefits or blessings, give thanks, express thanks, render/return thanks" (BDAG 415, 2).

528. "Law" often refers specifically to the Mosaic Law, but here, as in a few other places, nomos refers to the Holy Scripture in general (John 10:34; 12:34; 15:25; Romans 3:19) (Nomos, BDAG 678, 3b).

529. Translator J.B. Phillips concluded that the text as we have it was "either a slip of the pen on the part of Paul, or, more probably, a copyist's error" (J.B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English (Macmillan, 1962), p. 373 footnote.

530. Fee, 1 Corinthians, p. 683.

531. Idiōtēs, see the footnote on 14:16 above.

532. "Convinced" (NIV, KJV), "reproved" (NRSV) is elenchō, "to bring a person to the point of recognizing wrongdoing, convict, convince" (BDAG 315, 2).

533. "Judged" (NIV, KJV), "called to account" (NRSV) is anakrinō, "question, examine," here, "to examine with a view to finding fault, judge, call to account, discern" (BDAG 66, 3).

534. "Laid bare"(NIV), "disclosed" (NRSV), "made manifest" (KJV) is two words, the verb ginomai, "become" and the adjective phaneros, "pertaining to being evident so as to be readily known, visible, clear, plainly to be seen, open, plain, evident, known" (BDAG 1047-48, 1).

535. The phrase "out of your minds" (NIV) is mainomai, "be mad, be out of one's mind" (BDAG 610), and is used in the New Testament as insanity or the effect of demon possession (John 10:20; Acts 12:15; 26:24-25). In classical Greek it meant, "to rage, to be furious," used of warriors, strong drink, sorrow, desire, rapture, etc. (H. Preisker, TDNT 4:360-361).

536. Oikodomē, BDAG 696, 1bα.

537. Ana meros, "following a sequence, in turn" (ana, BDAG 57, 2).

538. www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/spirit-baptism.htm

539. Diakrinō, BDAG 232, 3b.

540. "Test" (NIV, NRSV), "prove" (KJV) in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 is dokimazō, "to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine" (BDAG 255, 1). We see this word in 1 Corinthians 11:28 ("examine yourselves"), 3:13 ("the fire will test..."); 16:3 ("men you consider qualified").

541. "In turn" (NIV), "one by one" (NRSV, KJV), is the phrase kata heis -- the number one (heis) and the preposition kata used distributively, "marker of division of a greater whole into individual parts, at a time, in detail" (BDAG 513, 3a).

542. Hypotassō, BDAG 1042, 1bβ. We see this same verb in 14:34 regarding women in the assembly.

543. Presumably, Paul is speaking here of the Mosaic Law, not the whole Bible as in 14:21.

544. Aischron, BDAG 29.

545. D F G 88* itd, g. Metzger (Textual Commentary, p. 565) and the Editorial Committee give the current placement of these verses a {B} rating.

546. Fee (1 Corinthians, pp. 699-708), for example, devotes a number of pages to argue that these words are probably an interpolation. So also C.K. Barrett, 1 Corinthians, p. 323-333.

547. John Calvin, Commentary on Corinthians, on 14:35. The translation I have cited comes from Barrett, 1 Corinthians, p. 333.

548. Euschēmonōs, BDAG 414, 2. This is a compound word from eu-, "good" + schēma, "the figure," originally, of elegant figure, shapely, graceful, comely, bearing oneself becomingly in speech or behavior (Thayer, p. 263, on eschēmōn).

549. Taxis, BDAG 989, 2.

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