1 Corinthians 14
PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS
|Decorum in Public Worship (11:2-14:40)|
|Tongues and Prophecy||Prophecy and Tongues||Among Gifts, Prophecy Outranks Tongues||More About Gifts from the Spirit||Spiritual Gifts:
Their Perspective Importance in the Community
|Tongues Must be Interpreted||14:5-6|
|Tongues a Sign to Unbelievers||14:18-19|
|All Things To Be Done In Order||Order In Church Meetings||Order in the Church||Regulating Spiritual Gifts|
READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")
FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL
This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.
1. First paragraph
2. Second paragraph
3. Third paragraph
CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO 14:1-40
A. This continues Paul's guidelines for gathered worship begun in chapter 11. The church at Corinth was worshiping in inappropriate, non-standard ways in several areas.
B. The main criteria for evaluation of worship practices is, "Does this edify the whole church?" Gathered worship has two foci:
1. the needs of the lost who are present
2. the needs of the believers who are present
This follows Jesus' Great Commission (cf. Matt. 28:19-20). Hard Sayings of the Bible says,
"Paul's operative principle for congregational life and worship is constant. Whatever hinders the movement of the gospel, causes confusion rather than growth, offends rather than encourages or strengthens, builds up the self at the expense of others-all this is contrary to God's intention. And insofar as the women in Corinth and elsewhere in the young churches used their gifts contrary to God's intention, the injunction to silence is an appropriate, authoritative word. The principle which underlies the injunction is authoritative for both men and women in all churches" (p. 616).
C. Now about the contentious issue of women's participation in gathered worship. If you read five commentators you get five different views. The problem seems to be that we all come to this chapter with personal, denominational, experiential, and hermeneutical agendas! None of us is neutral. We take the Bible seriously, but in the Bible, even Paul speaks with two voices (cf. 11:5 vs. 14:34).
Some commentators even try to remove vv. 34-35 as scribal additions (MSS D, F, G put these verses after v. 40) or relegate them to Paul quoting a slogan of the false teachers. Either way these approaches make the chapter say exactly opposite of what it seems to say.
D. Paul's words in vv. 34-35 fit Jewish custom and Greco-Roman culture. However, in many significant ways Paul's ministry is against Jewish customs and Greco-Roman culture.
E. The first century Mediterranean world was a society based on slavery and male domination. For Jesus or Paul to have radically altered either of these social institutions would have negatively affected the church's growth, even its survival. Both Jesus and Paul affirm the dignity and worth of all humans. The gospel in time will destroy both aspects of abuse. It is safe to say that they spoke to their day with inspired power and that their words pointed to a future day of dignity and equality.
F. Women or slave leaders in the early church would have negatively affected evangelism. The same is true today, but from the opposite end. In our society articulate women gifted for ministry will reach an aspect of our society more effectively than others. This in no way is to desire a majority feminine clergy, but the realization that all believers are called, gifted, gospel ministers; all believers! I am not advocating women for any particular ministry task, but forcefully asserting the ministry of all believers (cf. Eph. 4:12).
WORD AND PHRASE STUDY
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:14:1-5
1Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. 4 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.
14:1 "Pursue love" This is a present active imperative (cf. Rom. 14:19; I Thess. 5:15; I Tim. 6:11; II Tim. 2:22). It shows the contextual link with chapter 13. Love is the characteristic of God and His people (cf. Gal. 5:22; I John 4:7-21). Remember, chapters 11-14 are a literary unit on problems related to gathered worship in Corinth.
NASB"desire earnestly spiritual gifts"
NKJV"desire spiritual gifts"
NRSV"strive for the spiritual gifts"
TEV"set your hearts on spiritual gifts"
NJB"be eager, too, for spiritual gifts"
This is another present active imperative from the root "to boil" (cf. 12:31). This shows the contextual link with chapter 12. In a sense chapter 13 breaks into the context. Remember that chapters 12-14 are one unified account on the appropriate use of spiritual gifts.
The term "spiritual" is the same one used in 12:1 (cf. 2:13,15; 3:1; 9:11; 10:3,4; 14:37; 15:44,46). It can relate to gifts, people, things, etc. Context determines connotation.
▣ "but especially that you may prophesy" The term "prophesy" is used in I Corinthians in a specialized sense. It does not refer to the prophetic activity of OT prophets (i.e., written Scripture), but to a clear communication of the gospel whether by public preaching or private witness. It is to be desired for all believers (cf. 14:39), but it is also a spiritual gift (cf. 12:10,28-29). All believers participate at some level in all of the gifts of the Spirit, but one or another is energized and empowered by the Spirit within individual believers for special effectiveness. This diversity demands a co-operative and loving spirit between believers. We are called to unity, not uniformity, for the gospel. We are only effective corporately! We desperately need other believers. The church is a community of called, gifted, full-time ministers. We are gifted for the spread of the gospel and the health and wholeness of the church.
This gift is compared with tongues by the criteria of "does it edify the whole church?" It means in this context "proclaiming the gospel," which is then a blessing to the whole church as well as visitors. Speaking in tongues is only a blessing to the individual believer until it is interpreted for the whole church. This term is not to be understood in its OT sense of inspired revelation (see SPECIAL TOPIC: OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY at 12:10).
NRSV, NJB"in a tongue"
KJV"in an unknown tongue"
TEV"in strange tongues"
This is the Greek word glōssa, which was used metaphorically to refer to a particular human language or dialect. The experience of "tongues" at Pentecost obviously referred to a known human language (cf. Acts 2:6-10). The miracle seems to be at the ear (i.e., "they were each one hearing them speak in his own language"). This same phenomena occurred several times in Acts for the purpose of assuring the Jewish believers that God had accepted another group of people (i.e., Samaritans, Roman military people, Gentiles).
However, I Corinthian "tongues" seems more in line with the ecstatic utterances of the Greek oracles, like Delphi, where a woman went into a trance and another person interpreted what she said. Corinth was a cosmopolitan city. People from all over the known world were in Corinth, yet the text assigns "interpretation of tongues" as a spiritual gift (cf. I Cor. 12:10,30; 14:26), not just a person who happens to speak a foreign language.
▣ "does not speak to men but to God" Corinthian tongues are a private conversation between God and a believer (cf. v. 24). Tongues are in themselves not a means of communication, but intimate fellowship with God. Only if they are interpreted do the speaker and the hearers understand.
▣ "for no one understands" Tongues at Corinth seem to be unknown, articulated sounds. At Delphi one special person (usually a woman) would utter inarticulate sounds, then another would interpret these for the ones present. This procedure seems to parallel the experience of "tongues" at Corinth. There is no "interpreter" in Acts!
14:3 "edification" This is the third test used to evaluate spiritual gifts (see contextual Insights at chapter 12, C). Do they edify, or build up, the church? This theme is repeated over and over again in this chapter, vv. 3,4,5,12,17,26. This is why "prophesy," understood as sharing the gospel, is to be desired more than "tongues." Prophecy proclaims the gospel to all present, while tongues only blesses the speaker unless they are interpreted. If interpreted, tongues and their interpretation serve the same purpose of proclaiming the gospel (i.e., prophesying). See SPECIAL TOPIC: EDIFY at I Cor. 8:1.
▣ "and exhortation and consolation" The purpose of gospel proclamation is not for evangelism exclusively, but also for the encouragement of the church (i.e., edification, exhortation, and consolation).
14:4 "One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself" Corinthian tongues without interpretation are individual-oriented gifts.
▣ "the church" This is the term ekklesia with no article which refers to the entire body of believers. Paul's desire is that all believers, not just a select few, be blessed in gathered worship. See Special Topic at 1:2.
14:5 "I wish that you all spoke in tongues" Compare 12:30 and remember this phrase is a dependent clause on what follows. Paul is not disparaging tongues, but (1) asserting their proper relationship to other spiritual gifts and (2) setting some practical guidelines. The Corinthians were apparently seeking this gift for egotistical, personal glory and prestige.
▣ "greater is the one who prophesies" This is an evaluation based on Paul's criteria that tongues are of less value in edifying the gathered church. But remember that speaking in tongues is a valid gift of the Spirit (cf. vv. 18,39)!
▣ "unless he interprets" This is a third class conditional sentence, introduced by ei instead of ean. Is it possible for one person to have both the gift of tongues and interpretation? It is obvious from other texts that Christian leaders had more than one spiritual gift (cf. Acts 13:1; II Tim. 1:11). However, if it were possible for the same person to speak in tongues and then interpret why would one need an interpreter? How would this combination differ from prophecy? Maybe it is possible that one believer have both gifts which are used at different times, but it is not common (cf. v. 13). More probable is that Paul is using a literary technique to underscore the need for understandable communication in gathered worship.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:14:6-12
6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching? 7Yet even lifeless things, either 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? 8 For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle? 9So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. 10There are, perhaps, a great many kinds of languages in the world, and no kind is without meaning. 11If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me. 12So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.
14:6 "if" There are four third class conditional sentences in the paragraph, vv. 6-12, which implies potential action (cf. vv. 6,7,8,11). Both vv. 6 and 7 are questions that expect a "no" answer (as does v. 9).
▣ "by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy" These terms seem to reflect different gifts, but the distinctions are uncertain. Possibly since several gifted leaders are mentioned in Eph. 4:11 each proclaiming the gospel, but with different emphases, so too, here. God reveals His truths in differing ways, but the same content. Many gifts, one gospel; many gifted believers, one purpose (i.e., edification of the church and the growth of the church, cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8).
14:7-8 Paul uses musical instruments to make his point, flutes and harps in v. 7 and a military bugle in v. 8. Musical instruments are used for differing purposes (i.e., to make music or to signal). If the instrument makes the wrong sound it causes confusion. The human voice is meant to communicate information to other humans. If it makes sounds that have no significance to other humans it fails in its purpose (cf. v. 9).
14:10 This is a rare Fourth class conditional sentence. This verse cannot be used to prove that tongues are a known language. Paul uses a different term (i.e., phōnē not glōssa) in both vv. 10 and 11. It is an illustration of the difficulty in understanding an improperly spoken language or foreign language. Human language is meant to be understood.
This was an onomatopoetic word (i.e., barbaros) for the strange sounds of other languages to the Greeks and Romans, especially the tribal groups to the north of the Roman Empire. The Greeks and Romans said that these tribal languages sounded like "bar, bar" to them. Hence, the term "barbarian."
14:12 "since you are zealous of spiritual gifts" Paul does not criticize their zeal (cf. v. 1), but tries to channel it for the edification of the entire church (cf. 12:7).
NRSV, NIV"spiritual gifts"
RSV"manifestations of the Spirit"
TEV"the gifts of the Spirit"
This is not the same Greek word as in 12:1 (i.e., pneumatikōn), but the genitive plural of pneuma (see Special Topic: Spirit in the Bible at 12:1), which means "breath," "wind," "spirit." This form is also found in 12:10, where it refers to a particular gift (i.e., discerning of spirits, cf. I John 4:1). In context it seems that it refers to different spiritual gifts given by the Spirit (cf. 12:11) for the common good of the body (cf. 12:7).
▣ "seek to abound for the edification of the church" This is a present active imperative plural. The goal of spiritual gifts is not the elevation and glory of an individual, but the health and growth of the body of Christ, the church.
For "abound" see Special Topic at II Cor. 2:7.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:14:13-19
13Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. 14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also. 16Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the "Amen" at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? 17For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. 18I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; 19however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.
14:13 In context this implies that communicating the gospel to all is preferable to personal ecstacy (cf. v. 15). Does this verse imply that believers receive one gift at salvation (cf. 12:11), but can later ask for another? This question must remain unanswered. It is certain that some had several gifts (cf. Acts 13:1; I Tim. 2:7; II Tim. 1:11).
14:14 "if" This is another third class conditional, like vv. 6,7,8,11,23,24,28, and 29.
▣ "my spirit prays" This refers to the human spirit. It was a literary metaphor for personhood.
▣ "my mind is unfruitful" Paul was playing on the Corinthian's love for wisdom. He was also reaffirming that tongues alone do not communicate, even to the speaker.
NASB"What is the outcome then"
NKJV"What is the result then"
NRSV, TEV"What should I do then"
This is an idiom (cf. 14:26; Acts 21:22). Paul wants to draw a conclusion to his discussion.
▣ "I will sing with the spirit" Does this imply another spiritual gift (cf. v. 26; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19)?
14:16 "if" This is another third class conditional sentence, like vv. 6,7,8,11 and 14.
NASB"the one who fills the place of the ungifted"
NKJV"he who occupies the place of the uninformed"
NRSV"how can anyone in the position of an outsider"
TEV"how can ordinary people taking part in the meeting"
NJB"the uninitiated person"
This term was used of someone who was uninformed or untrained in a certain area, therefore, an unprofessional or lay person (cf. Acts 4:13; II Cor. 11:6). The usage here and in vv. 23-24 can have one of two possible meanings.
1. a regular visitor to a Christian meeting while in v. 23 possibly a first time visitor
2. possibly a new Christian, but one without the gifts of tongues or interpretation
The phrase "the place of" is referring either to (1) visitors or possibly new Christians who had designated seats where they could hear clearly or (2) an idiom for one who is uninformed.
▣ "say the 'Amen'" See Special Topic below.
It is surely possible that the above term could relate to an ungifted believer (see F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, p. 98). If it is true then Paul wanted the believers to "check" or "pass judgment on" the prophetic words spoken in gathered worship (cf. 2:12,15; 14:29,37; I Thess. 5:20-21; also note I John 4:1). No one could say "amen" unless
1. they understood what was being said
2. they had a way (i.e., the Spirit) to evaluate what was said
14:16,17 "at your giving thanks" This phrase may refer to the Lord's Supper, which was called the Eucharist from the Greek term "give thanks." Verse 17, however, implies that it refers to prayer.
▣ "the other person" See note at 6:1.
14:18 "I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all" Paul knew what he was talking about. This verse, combined with v. 39, should make modern Christians think twice before criticizing the concept of tongues in our day. It should also make those who emphasize it to think twice. Paul admits to it so as to depreciate it.
It is interesting how this chapter switches between the singular, vv. 2,4,9,13,14,19,26,17, and the plural, vv. 5,6,18, 22,23,39.
The tension in this church was (1) between social classes and (2) between individual giftedness and corporate edification. In the church the individual always serves the corporate (cf. 12:7)!
This is another example of Paul trying to identify, at least in some measure, with the over-zealous believers at Corinth. As he affirmed knowledge, but emphasized love, he now affirms tongues, but emphasizes edification.
14:19 "however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind. . .rather than ten thousand words in a tongue" The literary unit of chapters 11-14 is dealing with public, gathered worship (cf. vv. 23,28,34). In this setting personal worship in tongues is less desirable because no one else is taught and thereby converted (cf. vv. 24-25) or edified ("so that I may instruct others also," cf. vv. 3,4,5,12,1,19,26).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:14:20-25
20Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. 21In the Law it is written, "By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me," says the Lord. 22So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. 23Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? 24But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
14:20 "do not be children" This is a present imperative with a negative article, which usually means to stop an act in process. They were being children in this area (cf. Eph. 4:14), though they thought they were so spiritual and wise!
▣ "in your thinking" This is from the Greek word for diaphragm or midriff. This, not the brain, was thought to be the physiological site of the intellect for the ancients.
▣ "yet in evil be infants" In some areas believers should be uninformed (cf. Matt. 10:16; Rom. 16:19). One of the greatest protections against evil is ignorance or naivete.
▣ "be mature" Paul uses this term (i.e., teleios) to describe the believer who fully understands the gospel and lives it (cf. 2:6; 13:10; 14:20; Eph. 4:13; Phil. 3:15; Col. 1:28). All believers start as baby Christians and must grow. There are levels of understanding and godly living. However, this term does not imply a sinlessness, but a spiritual fullness and equipment for service.
14:21-22 This is a partial quote from Isa. 28:11-12. It relates to the Assyrian invasion of Israel. Verse 22 is related to this quote and not to the entire context. This sentence is exactly opposite to all else Paul says in this context. It must only relate to the OT quote. Paul is using "sign" in two ways: judgment and grace.
14:21 "In the Law" Usually in a Jewish context this would refer to the writings of Moses (i.e., Genesis - Deuteronomy), but not always. In John 10:34; 12:34; and 15:25, this phrase refers to a quote from the Psalms, as it does in Rom. 3:9. This same phrase is used in v. 34, but it is uncertain to which texts it refers unless possibly Genesis 3.
Walter Kaiser, in Toward An Exegetical Theology, p. 110, makes the interesting comment that verses 34 and 35 are a quote from the letter which Paul received from the Corinthian church. Usually Paul's answers to their written questions are introduced by the phrase, "now concerning" (cf. 7:1,25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1), but not always (i.e., the apparent quote from the letter found in 6:12 and 10:23). If this is true then "the Law also says" may refer to Ps. 68:11, which is alluded to without quoting in v. 36! Psalm 68:11 affirms the proclamation of the good news in gathered worship by women. Gordon Fee, in his commentary on I Corinthians (New International Commentary) also asserts that Paul did not write vv. 34-35 (pp. 699-708).
14:23 "if" This is another third class conditional sentence (cf. vv. 6,7,8,11, and 14).
▣ "the whole church assembles together" The literary context of chapters 11-14 deals with guidelines for gathered worship.
Usually these early churches (see Special Topic at 1:2) met in private homes (i.e., house churches). Often in a city the size of Corinth there would be several homes involved. This may be one of the reasons for the development of factions within the church. Paul's words imply a larger group meeting possible to celebrate the love feast (cf. 11:17-34) and Lord's Supper. How often or where they met is uncertain. From this verse obviously guests were allowed, which shows it was not a secret or closed meeting.
NASB"you are mad"
NKJV, NRSV"you are out of your mind"
TEV"you are all crazy"
NJB"you are all raving"
This term (i.e., mainomai) is used in Acts 12:15 and 26:24-25. In John 10:20 it is used to describe demon possession. This term does not imply insanity, but possession by a spirit. In Greek culture this would have been seen as a privileged spiritual state, but no so in Christianity.
14:24 "if" This is another third class conditional sentence (cf. vv. 6,7,8,11,14,23,24,28,29).
NASB"convicted. . .called to account"
NKJV"convinced. . .judged"
NRSV"reproved. . .called to account"
TEV"convinced of their sin. . .judged"
NJB"find himself put to the test. . .judged"
Prophecy brings understanding and conviction; tongues bring confusion to visiting unbelievers or new believers.
▣ "all. . .all. . .all" This does not imply that every believer spoke at every worship service, but that all that was done at the worship service added to the spiritual conviction which the visitors and possible new believers experienced. The "all" surely includes women believers present.
14:25 "the secrets of his heart are disclosed" This may refer to the truth that
1. God knows the thoughts of mankind and brings conviction by His Spirit (cf. 24)
2. public confession of sin was a part of first century worship (cf. Matt. 3:6; Mark 1:5; Acts 19:18; and James 5:16)
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:14:26-33
26What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; 28but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. 29Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. 30But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. 31For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; 32and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; 33for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
14:26-33 This gives us a real insight into the dynamic, unstructured worship service of the early church. Apparently there was, as of yet, no professional clergy. Anyone could and did speak freely. Problems arose in two areas.
1. there was confusion because too many wanted to speak
2. they were interrupting each other
Paul is attempting to structure the gathered worship service in such a way as not to limit the freedom of the Spirit, but to accentuate the purpose of the meeting, which is the salvation of the unsaved and the maturity of the saved (cf. Matt. 28:19-20). This is not structure for structure's sake (cf. v. 32)! Paul is not seeking a controlled worship setting!
14:26 "What is the outcome" See note at verse 15.
▣ "Let all things be done for edification" This is the recurrent mandate (i.e., present passive [deponent] imperative). The purpose of spiritual gifts is not the elevation of an individual, but the growth (both in numbers and maturity) of the church. To put it another way "Does this act or structure accomplish the purpose of the Great Commission of Jesus" (cf. Matt. 28:19-20)?
14:27 "If" This is a first class conditional sentence. Paul is not affirming their actions, but noting their actions.
14:28 "if" This is a third class conditional sentence. Paul desires that gathered worship provides spiritual information to all present. Tongues is acceptable if interpreted. Gathered worship is not the time and place for private experience and devotion to dominate the purpose of the corporate.
▣ "if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church" This is a present active imperative. Tongues and prophecy are controllable by the person who is gifted (cf. v. 30). Edification of the body of Christ and evangelism, not personal freedom, are the keys to public worship.
14:29 Prophets do not have uncontested freedom (i.e., subject, time, or content) to speak. They are to be evaluated by other gifted believers (cf. 14:30 and 12:10; I John 4:1-3). Remember that the demonic were present when Jesus spoke in both the Synagogue and in outdoor preaching.
▣ "pass judgment" See note at 4:7 and Special Topic at I Cor. 10:29.
14:30 "if" This is another third class conditional sentence (cf. cf. 6,7,8,11,23,24,28,29).
▣ "the first must keep silent" This is parallel to v. 28 (i.e., present active imperative). This implies that a speaker may be interrupted by another believer and that the current speaker must hear the new speaker before responding or adding to the revelation. These early services were very dynamic and extemporaneous. This appeals to some personalities as strongly as a strict order appeals to other personalities!
Now the question is "was this a standard structure in all of Paul's churches or a unique aspect of the Corinthian church? Do we take this discussion as NT evidence of how all services should be structured or just an example of how to handle problems in this area?
14:31 "For you can all prophesy one by one" How literally should this phrase be taken? Is Paul asserting a structure or an unlimited opportunity for any and all believers to speak in the same worship service? Were there no time restraints on the early gathered services? This is an example of a literary statement, not a literal statement. In context Paul is limiting their freedom, not extending their freedom!
However, the term "all" surely implies that both women and men can prophesy (cf. 11:5). All believers, male and female, are gifted for the common good (cf. 12:7; 14:26). This adds a further need to clarify v. 34!
▣ "so that all may learn and all may be exhorted" This purpose clause (i.e., hina) states Paul's main concern, not that all are able to speak, but that all are built up, edified, and matured! This is the recurrent theme of this chapter.
NRSV"the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets"
TEV"the gift of proclaiming God's message should be under the speaker's control"
NJB"the prophetic spirit is to be under the prophet's control"
These translation options show the two different ways this phrase can be understood.
1. Those who proclaim God's message are subject (i.e., Present passive indicative) to others who proclaim God's message (i.e., prophets check prophets, v. 29).
2. The one who proclaims God's message has personal control (i.e., present middle indicative) over when and what to say (cf. v. 30).
The term "spirit" is used in the same way as vv. 2,14,15 (twice), 16. It is an idiomatic way of referring to the personhood of an individual (cf. 2:11; 5:3-4; 7:34; 16:18). See notes on "subjection" at 16:16 and Special Topic at II Cor. 9:13.
NASB"for God is not a God of confusion but of peace"
NKJV"for God is not the author of confusion but of peace"
NRSV, NJB"for God is a God not of disorder but of peace"
TEV"because God does not want us to be in disorder but in harmony and peace"
This does not refer to creation. This is not order versus chaos, but factional infighting or egotism versus peace. This is not belittling the dynamic character of first century worship (cf. vv. 39-40), but the jealous, egotistical attitude of some of the gifted speakers (cf. II Cor. 6:5; 12:20; James 3:16). Both our worship style and attitude reflect on the God we claim to be worshiping (cf. 11:17-34).
▣ "as in all the churches of the saints" It is uncertain if this phrase goes with v. 33a (NASB, NKJV) or with v. 34 (NRSV, TEV, NJB). Because the phrase "in the churches" repeats the v. 33b it is probable that 33b forms a concluding remark as it does in 4:17 and 7:17. This phrase states clearly to all the Corinthian house churches that they are not special, superior, or uniquely gifted (cf. 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33,36; 16:1). See SPECIAL TOPIC: SAINTS at I Cor. 1:2.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:14:34-36
34The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 36Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?
14:34 "The women are to keep silent in the churches" This verse has become a major theological issue in certain segments of the modern church. The modern western social, cultural trend toward individual rights and equality has made the NT, and especially Paul, seem judgmental and negative on this issue. In Paul's day his theology relating to women was radically positive (cf. Eph. 5:22-23). Paul obviously worked with many women, as his list of co-workers in Romans 16 shows. Also see the Special Topic: Women in the Bible at 7:5.
Even in this context, Paul states the balance, 11:5 versus 14:34. Somehow vv. 34-35 relate uniquely to Corinth and the first century. The theories are legion (see Special Topic below)! How it relates to our day is problematic. Dogmatism and proof-texting are inappropriate. The biblical witness is not uniform or monolithic on this issue.
Paul limits several groups in the Corinthian worship setting, "keep silent," vv. 28,30,34. There was a problem in gathered worship at Corinth. Christian women were a part of that problem. Their new freedom in Christ (or their being part of a Roman societal woman's freedom movement) was causing cultural, theological, and evangelistic problems. In our day the opposite may be true. Gifted women leaders will help the twenty-first century church reach the world with the gospel. This does not affect the God-given order of creation, but it does show the priority of evangelism (cf. 9:22). This issue is not a gospel or doctrinal issue.
NASB"are to subject themselves"
NKJV"they are to be submissive"
NRSV"should be subordinate"
TEV"they must not be in charge"
NJB"theirs is a subordinate part"
This is a present passive imperative. "Subject" was a military term describing the chain of command. It is used of Jesus (cf. Luke 2:51 to His earthly parents and I Cor. 15:28 to His Heavenly Father) and is a universal truth for the church (cf. Eph. 5:21).
▣ "just as the Law also says" Is Paul referring to a specific text or a general principle? There is no OT text that says this. It is possible that in light of 11:8-9 that Gen. 2:20-24 is the referent (cf. I Tim. 2:13). Some think that the result of the fall and that Gen. 3:16 is the referent. It is also contextually possible that the "subjection" is related to the use of the word in v. 32, where it would refer to submission to other prophets (cf. Hard Sayings of the Bible, p. 616).
There is a fluidity in Paul's writings in using this term "law." Most often it refers to Mosaic Law, the old covenant, but sometimes it refers to the concept of law in general. If that is true here then it refers to the general tenets of this patriarchal, "men first," culture.
If women were allowed to be in charge, even in appearance, it would have hurt the cause of Christ in the first century Greco-Roman world. In this way it is similar to how the NT treats the issue of slavery. See note at v. 21 for a different understanding of this phrase.
14:35 This verse shows that the term "woman" in v. 34 refers to "wives." Does this imply a single woman can speak? This same ambiguity is in chapter 11:5.
This verse is related to I Tim. 2:11-12 and Titus 2:5. Is it theological or cultural in I Tim. 2:13-14? Is it locked into a unique historical setting or is it a universal truth for all cultures, all ages? The biblical witness is speaking with two voices (cf. How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, pp. 15,63,72.74).
▣ "If" This is a first class conditional sentence. Christian wives were asking questions in gathered worship at Corinth. The church meetings were already being interrupted by singers, tongue speakers, tongue interpreters, and prophets. Now curious wives or wives flaunting their freedom were also becoming actively involved in the chaos!
▣ "let them ask" This is a present active imperative. These women are told who to ask and when to ask and why! Their actions were affecting the effectiveness of gathered worship.
Please read the note on Walter C. Kaiser's understanding of vv. 34-36 at v. 21, paragraph two.
14:36 This was a sarcastic question to shock the prideful Corinthian church into spiritual reality and their place among the other congregations. The grammatical form of the two questions in v. 36 expects a "no" answer.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:14:37-38
37If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment. 38But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
14:37-38 Paul is asserting that those with true spiritual gifts should recognize others who speak and are gifted from God (cf. v. 32; Matt. 11:15; 13:9,15,16,43). Paul's description of his sense of leadership is expressed in 7:40 and 14:38. Paul recognized his Apostolic gift and its authority to speak for Christ. His apostleship was being questioned and challenged by some at Corinth.
Verse 38 implies a divine curse (present passive indicative) on those who reject Apostolic authority (cf. Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in I Corinthians, p. 52 footnote #104).
▣ "if. . .if" These are both first class conditional sentences, which are assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Some at Corinth "think" they are "spiritual" (i.e., pneumatikos, cf. 12:1), but their actions and their relationship to Apostolic authority (i.e., Paul's authority) show they are not. If they do not recognize and submit to Paul's authority then they should not be recognized as spiritual leaders.
NASB"he is not recognized"
NKJV"let him be ignorant"
NRSV"is not to be recognized"
TEV"pay no attention to him"
NJB"that person is not recognized himself"
There is a variation in the verb tense in the Greek manuscripts, between present passive indicative (MSS א*, A*) and present active imperative (MSS P46, א2, Ac, B, D2) . The passive indicative implies "ignored or unrecognized by God." The imperative commands the believers at Corinth to reject the person who rejects Paul's authority or possibly Paul's authority represented in his advocate and representative, Timothy. The UBS4 gives the indicative a "B" rating (almost certain).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:14:39
39Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.
14:39 "desire earnestly" This is Paul's term for strong desire (cf. 12:31; 14:1). The TEV has "set your heart on." For Paul in this cultural setting the desire is directed toward proclaiming/sharing the gospel for the good of the believer and unbeliever. Compare this with Num. 29:11.
It seems that Paul's opening statement in 14:1 is also his concluding statement in v. 39. The Greek term ōste, followed by an imperative, may be a way of introducing apostolic summaries (cf. 10:12; 11:33; 14:39; 15:58; Phil. 2:12; I Thess. 4:18).
▣ "do not forbid to speak in tongues" This is a needed balance to the problems at Corinth and today. We tend to overreact in our attitudes about spiritual matters. The road of truth has a ditch of error on each side (i.e., everyone speaks in tongues versus no one speaks in tongues)!
NASB"properly and in an orderly manner"
NKJV, NRSV"decently and in order"
TEV"proper and orderly way"
NJB"proper and orderly fashion"
The first term is from a combination of the adverb"good" (eu) and the noun "fashion" or "form" (cf. Rom. 13:13; I Thess. 4:12).
The second term means "to arrange in a proper way, to give orderliness" (cf. Col. 2:5). This phrase parallels v. 33. It has to do, not with a preset order (i.e., controlling agenda), but with the purpose of the gathered worship service, which is evangelism and discipleship (cf. Matt. 28:19-20).
This is Paul's concluding statement on the subject of gathered worship, which began in chapter 11.
This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.
1. What are the three criteria for judging spiritual gifts?
2. Why are tongues depreciated in this chapter to prophesy? Are tongues an inferior spiritual gift?
3. How is the mind related to tongues?
4. What is the problem with verse 22?
5. Is the church at Corinth to be used as a guideline for all churches?
6. Are women to be quiet in church? Explain your answer comparing 11:5 and 14:34.
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