Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:26–33 Order through controlled speech

1 Corinthians 14:26–33

26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 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 to God.

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 — as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26–40, Paul concludes his long attempt (1 Corinthians 12–14) to correct the chaotic gatherings of the church in Roman Corinth. As he did in the matter of eating food offered to idols (1 Cor. 10:23–11:1) and issues about marriage (1 Cor. 7), he will conclude with exact instructions. The structure of Paul’s argument will prove to be important in making our interpretation of a controversial section concerning women and speaking out.

David Garland presents an insight into Paul’s thinking: “Openness to the Spirit and to individual expression of spiritual gifts is not to become a pretext for chaos. Paul does not see tongues or prophecy as a solo performance.”[1] Paul has demonstrated the priority of prophecy over tongues due to its value in building up the church (1 Cor. 14:1–25). With those thoughts in mind, here is Garland’s outline[2] (slightly adapted):

Overarching principle (14:26): “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”

1. Restraints concerning speaking in tongues (14:27–28)

2. Restraints concerning prophecy and discernment (14:29–36)

a. Restraints on the number of prophets speaking and others discerning (14:29)

b. Restraints on a prophet speaking (14:30–33a)

c. Restraints on wives in discerning (14:33b–36)

3. Injunction (14:37–38) [Read it and heed it!]

4. Encouragement of prophecy and tongues (14:39)

5. Concluding statement of general principles for worship gatherings: all things must be done in decency and order.

The way to interpret the general principle in verse 26 is to understand that whenever the church comes together the various words and actions (“everything”) must build up the church, no matter what combination of spiritual powers are expressed. Though we are not totally sure what was going wrong with the expression of grace-gifts, Gordon Fee says, “[Paul’s] antidote is to offer guidelines for regulation that, taken together, suggest orderliness, self-control, and concern for others.”[3] In other words, love for others has been joined by communal order. Order is a major theme in the final chapters of 1 Corinthians.

Before we go further, it is probably time to say that the second half of chapter 14 is sometimes interpreted as an effort on Paul’s part to put women in their place, which place, those interpreters believe, was to be in subjection to their husbands or to men. Another group interprets this section as Paul’s attempt to take away the freedom to express manifestations of the Spirit, especially tongues. We do not believe either of these interpretations represents Paul’s teaching, though each has a grain of truth. Some correction was needed in the behavior of women in the Corinthian church and to the expression of tongues there, but Paul’s solution lay in bringing about controlled speech that was ordered to build up the community.[4] As we will see — partly in tomorrow’s lesson — Paul was not trying to end either speech by women or tongues in the gathered church.

In verses 27–28, Paul introduces restrictions on the expression of tongues in the assembled church. The limits are self-explanatory. Once again, it is likely that the “someone” who must put the tongues into intelligible words is the one who spoke them in the first place. Otherwise, how would they know to remain silent (“keep quiet” v. 28) because no interpreter was present? This type of self-control was part of the order that Paul insisted on.

Verse 28 is the first appearance of the Greek verb siga?, which means “a. say nothing, keep still, keep silent . . . . b. stop speaking, become silent.[5] Garland says, “The NIV obscures the fact that the verb [Greek siga?] occurs three times in a row by translating it ‘keep quiet’ in 14:28, ‘should stop’ in 14:30, and ‘remain silent’ in 14:34.”[6] This hidden repetition adds to the case for Paul’s imposition of controlled speech to bring order within the assembled church; he calls in turn on tongues-speakers (14:28), prophecy-speakers (14:30), and women (14:34). The exact role of these women will be described in the next post.

It is apparent that Paul opens the valve more fully for prophecy (verse 29) than he did for tongues (verse 28); no upper limit is placed on the number of prophecy-speakers. However, “the others should weigh carefully what is said” (verse 29). The Greek verb is significant to this passage; the Greek verb diakrin? means “to differentiate or to distinguish between.”[7] As they hear prophetic speech, the others are to distinguish between speech that is God-given and consistent with the gospel of Christ and speech that is self-generated, self-interested or erroneous. Anthony Thiselton explains: “The authentic is to be sifted from the inauthentic or spurious, in light of the OT scriptures, the gospel of Christ, the traditions of all the churches, and critical reflections. Nowhere does Paul hint that preaching or ‘prophecy’ achieves a privileged status which places them above critical reflection.”[8] No one in church can switch off their mind!

Verse 30 gives us the first instance where someone speaking must become silent; one prophet must give way to another “if a revelation comes to someone.” When this discipline occurs, “everyone may be instructed and encouraged” (verse 31).

There is an unexpected and important connection between 1 Cor. 14:32 (concerning the prophets) and 1 Cor. 14:34 (concerning women). The connection lies in the important Greek verb hupotass?, which here means “to subordinate oneself, to be subjected, to place oneself under control.”[9] The prophets are expected to keep their speech in control, and, as we will see, so are the women.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 655.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 655–56.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 688.

[4] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1132.

[5] BDAG-3, siga?, say nothing, q.v.

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 671, footnote 30.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1140.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1140.

[9] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1144.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!