Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:36-40, The last word on worship

1 Corinthians 14:36-40

36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

In 1 Cor. 14:36, Paul echoes a statement from the start of the letter: To the church of God in Corinth . . . together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:2). He emphasizes with his penetrating questions that the Corinthians are not free to make their own rules, independent of all other believers.

The final three verses of chapter 14 represent the conclusion of Pauls arguments about manifestations of the Spirit and worship in Roman Corinth. David Garland says:[The conclusion] emphatically drives home the point, with no beating around the bush. It is short and not necessarily sweet. The polite speech with which Paul begins in chapter 12 is now put aside for direct, blunt speech.[1]

He begins with a new definition of what it means to be spiritual; those who have the Spirit will agree that Pauls commands come from Jesus (1 Cor. 14:37). In case anyone says otherwise, Paul issues a red-hot threat: They will themselves be ignored (1 Cor. 14:37). Garland explains, It means that the Lord will say to such persons, I do not know you (Matt. 7:22-23).[2] Anyone to whom Jesus says that will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).

In verse 39, Paul strikes the exact balance he wants for all churches. Prophecy is to be emphasized, and tongues are not to be eliminated but must be limited. The principle that governs all is: everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. The phrase translated orderly way has a military background; we can imagine troops lined up in orderly ranks. In this way the church will be built up and unbelievers will be confronted with their need to commit themselves to Jesus Christ, who alone can save them.

Copyright 2014 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) 674.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 674.

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 Pauls 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 Pauls 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 Garlands 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, [Pauls] 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 Pauls 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 Pauls attempt to take away the freedom to express manifestations of the Spirit, especially tongues. We do not believe either of these interpretations represents Pauls 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 Pauls solution lay in bringing about controlled speech that was ordered to build up the community.[4] As we will see — partly in tomorrows 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 sigao, 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 sigao] 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 Pauls 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 diakrino 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 hypotasso, 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, 65556.

[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, sigao, 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.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:1-12, Intelligible speech is one form of love

1 Corinthians 14:1-12

1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

6 Now, brothers and sisters, 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? 7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe 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? 9 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. 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 the speaker is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

The entire Bible passage we are considering today picks up the theme of self-sacrificing love from chapter 13 and applies it in terms of building up other believers during gatherings of the church. Further, verses 1-5 deal with the use of spiritual gifts for the service of others, and verses 6-12 declare the profitless nature of unintelligible noises as far as a fellow Christian (the other) is concerned.[1] Paul continually contrasts prophecy (which builds up) with tongues (which manifests as unintelligible noise).

Remember that we previously defined the grace-gift of tongues as the specific work of the Holy Spirit in actualizing inarticulate yearnings directed toward God from the depths of the heart of the believer. Also, we have said that tongues — often called glossolalia because that term combines the Greek words for tongue and speak — is not just one thing but a set of behaviors that bear a family resemblance.

Paul emphasizes the grace-gift of prophecy in 1 Cor. 14:1 because of its crucial role in building up or edifying the church, a fact that he plainly states in verse 4. Bear in mind that the term “prophecy,” as used in the New Testament, seldom means foretelling future events; verse 4 says the gift is for [other believers] strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

Tongues are meant for God, not for other believers (1 Cor. 14:2), because no one except God understands them. David Garland says, “Tongues constitute communion with God, not communication with others.”[2] As such, they are better suited to private worship than to the public meetings of the church.

Verse 5 contains unexpected issues. In the first place, NIV’s translation (“I would like every one of you to speak in tongues”) runs headlong into 1 Cor. 12:29-30, where Paul stresses that the Holy Spirit is the one who alone decides how the grace-gifts are distributed. Anthony Thiselton analyzes the Greek verb theloand prefers the alternate meaning “take pleasure in.” Using this meaning he translates: “I take pleasure in all of you speaking in tongues, but I would rather that you prophesy.”[3] Second, it is probable that the one who interprets is not someone [else] (NIV, NRSV, ESV, NLT) but means that the one who spoke also interprets (NET, HCSB, CEB, KJV) in accordance with 1 Cor. 14:13. The NET Bible eliminates “someone [else]” by saying, “The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets so that the church may be strengthened” (1 Cor. 14:5b).

Now that we have addressed some of the issues with verse 5, the really important thing is Paul’s statement that “The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues.” The clear reason is that prophecy edifies or builds up the church while an unintelligible utterance does not.

Starting with verse 6, Paul gives hypothetical examples showing that unintelligible sounds benefit no one. The vocabulary of benefit or usefulness is just another way of carrying on the theme of building up the church. The first example is a visit in which Paul envisions himself speaking in tongues; he concludes such a visit is without value to the hearers unless he adds communication they can understand (1 Cor. 14:6).

Paul’s second example involves the pipe or the harp. Unless these instruments are used in such a way as to produce different notes a pattern of distinct sound frequencies — they will only make noise, not a melody (1 Cor. 14:7). This leads to the third example, a trumpet used for signaling troop actions; its sounds do not produce action if they are indistinct. Paul’s final example involves the example of a tongues-speaking Corinthian whose unintelligible words simply vanish into the air, not making any impact on the hearers (1 Cor. 14:9). This reminds us of the gladiator in 1 Cor. 9:26 who missed his blow and simply struck empty air or perhaps was shadow-boxing all along!

Could there be a hint of humor in all this? After noting that garbled speech is the stuff of comedy, Garland summarizes an ancient story: “Lucius turns into a donkey after drinking a magic potion. He tries to free himself from a band of thieves who had commandeered him by invoking the name of the emperor when Roman troops approached. He brayed O with sonorous fluency, but he could not enunciate the word Caesar. The resultant discordant donkey braying caused him to be flayed.”[4] The story is still funny after two thousand years.

But one unfortunate result at Corinth of using unintelligible tongues in worship was no laughing matter. Languages in the world (1 Cor. 14:10) have meaning, but with tongues no earthly lexicon could decipher their meaning.[5] The results is that those believers who do not understand are each made foreigner (1 Cor. 14:11) to the speaker. Garland explains: “Paul’s critique of tongues implies that it does more than simply create frustration; it erects barriers of alienation — the sick feeling that one does not belong. What is worse, these feelings are awakened in a place where one is supposed to feel at home: the community of believers.”[6] The cure is expression of gifts that build up the church (1 Cor. 14:12) when believers are gathered.

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

 


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1074.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 633.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1081 and 1097. See also Mark 12:38 for a similar usage.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 637, citing Metamorphoses by Apuleius.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 636.

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 637.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, If you dont have love; [+ The nature of “tongues”]

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

If you dont have love Part 1

We have said that chapter 12 introduces the grace-gifts (manifestations) the Holy Spirit has given to every Christian according to the Spirits own choice of their distribution. In chapter 13, Paul takes on the daunting challenge of putting the grace-gifts into perspective for a church that is exaggerating their use in worship. Then, in chapter 14, Paul explains how the grace-gifts may be used in worship in such a way that the church is built up rather than falling into the trap of self-exaltation and division.

Even the least informed observer will conclude that chapter 13 is about love, but this obvious fact leads only to more questions: “What is love?” and “What is Paul saying about love?” The Greek noun agapeoccurs ten times in the chapter. This word is rare in Greek literature and finds its dominant use in the New Testament. For that reason, we look to the New Testament to determine its meaning in this context.

Anthony Thiselton explains: Love (agape) denotes above all a stance or attitude which shows itself in acts of will as regard, respect, and concern for the welfare of the other. It is therefore profoundly Christological, for the cross is the paradigm case of the act of will and stance which places welfare of others above the interests of the self.[1] (emphasis original). David Garland adds that this love for others is the check on the exercise of the gifts for personal gratification.[2]

When we explained chapter 12, we deferred a discussion of different kinds of tongues (1 Cor. 12:10) until this point. Note carefully that kinds of tongues — often called glossolalia because that term combines the Greek words for tongue and speak — is not just one thing but a set of behaviors that bear a family resemblance.

In discussing the grace-gift of tongues, we should begin by saying that this use of the word tongue is metaphorical. Obviously, everyone has a physical tongue, so the word refers to some type of spiritual activity involving the tongue. But what? Thiselton cautions that, in answering this question, It is almost universally agreed that reference to modern Pentecostal and charismatic phenomena cannot be used as a means of interpreting Paul and Corinth.[3] In other words, we cannot interpret the past by studying the present. That is backwards!

A few proposals about the nature of tongues

Some have thought tongues to be angelic speech, but not only does Paul distinguish tongues of men and of angels (1 Cor. 13:1), but he also says tongues will pass away (1 Cor. 13:8), which seems an unlikely thing to say for the tongues of angels. If tongues were heavenly speech, there would be no reason for them to pass away.

Others have suggested tongues to be the miraculous power to speak unlearned foreign languages. Presumably that would be useful in evangelizing other peoples. But Thiselton points out, If there were any hint of this use, Paul could not have said the person who speaks in a tongue speaks not to people but to God (14:2), let alone, the person who speaks in a tongue builds up only himself/herself [1 Cor. 14:4].[4] Further, Paul never says anything about such an evangelistic use and, instead, deals with the presence of tongues in the context of Christian worship. Paul makes a point of saying that tongues are an intrinsically noncommunicative form of utterance (1 Cor. 13:1; 14:2, 4, 79, 1617, 23).[5]

Still others propose ecstatic speech as the nature of tongues. However, this idea has drawn heavy criticism, not least because the term ecstasy has not been defined in terms that can be verified in the New Testament. Parallels in the wider Greco-Roman world are unconvincing.

So, where does that leave us? Thiselton suggests a connection with Romans 8:26, which says: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. He explains that what Paul refers to as tongues in First Corinthians 1214 is the specific work of the Holy Spirit in actualizing inarticulate yearnings directed toward God from the depths of the heart of the believer.[6] These unintelligible yearnings can be understood by God but not by others.

Thiselton adds that these yearnings can express a longing for the [final] completion of redemption to take place, prompted by the Spirit through Christ to God, like all authentic Christian prayer.[7] Expressing another description, Thiselton explains, Tongues may then be viewed as the language of the unconscious because it is unintelligible (unless it is interpreted) not only to others but also to the speaker.[8] Garland suggests this might indeed be one kind of tongue and observes: Tongues, from this perspective, are a sign of weakness, not spiritual superiority. . . . As a token of our weakness, it explains why tongues will end (1 Cor. 13:8).[9]

If you don’t have love – part 2

Look back at verses 1-3 and the way Paul has structured his argument. These verses have several elements that need clarification. First, Paul uses the language of probability, suggesting actions that may or may not occur. Greek grammar expert Daniel Wallace says that verses 1-3 all follow the same pattern; Paul argues from an actual case to a hypothetical case.[10] In verse 1, we know that Paul spoke in tongues, but he did not speak in the tongues of angels. In verse 2, the actual-to-hypothetical pattern is more obvious. Paul did have the gift of prophecy, but, Wallace argues, to understand all mysteries and have all knowledge would have made Paul omniscient, like God. Obviously, that result is out of the question!

Another crucial element of Pauls argument is that even if he could do both the actual actions and the hypothetical ones as well, unless they were done with love for others, they would count for nothing before God!

The phrase resounding gong (1 Cor. 13:1) is likely a reference to resonating acoustic bronze jars used to project the voices of actors.[11] These were placed around the edges of stone theaters and amphitheaters to catch the sound of the actors voices and echo the sounds again. But hearing these echoes was not the same as hearing the original voices. Paul says that even the tongues of angels would just be an echo without love.

Garland provides a fine summary of these three verses when he says, Spiritual gifts minus love equal zero.[12]

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

 


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1035.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 606.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 979.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 97677.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 978, quoting L.T. Johnson.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 985

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 985.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 988.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 586.

[10] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 471.

[11] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1036.

[12] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 614.