Exposition of 1 Corinthians 16:19–24 “My love to all of you in Christ Jesus”

1 Corinthians 16:19–24

19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

21 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.

22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

24 My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.

When Paul mentions “the churches in the province of Asia” (1 Cor. 16:19), he is again sending actual greeting but also making the Corinthians see that they are part of the larger body of Christ. Let them look above not only their factional divisions but also outward to see the bond of love between Christians everywhere. The Roman province of Asia was located in what is now western Turkey.

The role of Aquila and Prisca (a shortened form of Pricilla) is notable. Acts 18:1–3 informs us that Aquila was a Jew who, along with his wife Pricilla, was expelled from Rome (probably as a Christian) in A.D. 49, when Emperor Claudius “closed down a Roman synagogue because of continuous disturbances centering on the figure of Christ.”[1] They emigrated to Roman Corinth where they met Paul, another tentmaker, and both hosted him and worked with him in the trade. They also joined Paul in Ephesus, where a church met in their home.

Anthony Thiselton approvingly describes the research of another scholar concerning Paul’s stay in Corinth: “Murphy-O’Connor convincingly paints a picture of Aquila and Prisca having their home in the loft of one of the shops around the market square (approximately 13 ft. x 13 ft. x 8 ft. without running water) ‘while Paul slept below amid the tool-strewn workbenches and the rolls of leather and canvas.’”[2] Are you feeling the hardship?

Though Paul dictated his letter to a professional scribe or secretary, he could not resist writing a greeting in his own hand (1 Cor. 16:21). This was all typical. One of Paul’s scribes actually identifies himself in Rom. 16:23.

Verses 22–24 serve as a sharp conclusion to the entire letter. The purpose of such a rhetorical conclusion was to reinforce the argument of the letter with emotional force. Here the vocabulary emphasizes Jesus Christ, love, and either the grace or the judgment that all will receive when Christ returns.

It seems most probable that in verse 22 the verb “love” refers to covenant loyalty. Covenant loyalty essentially amounts to obedience, just as Jesus emphasized with his disciples: “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). In the Old Testament, the result of maintaining covenant loyalty to God was blessing, while breaking the covenant resulted in curses. The curse is expressed by the famous Greek noun anathema, which has been adopted into English most frequently in reference to a person who has been excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

Thiselton summarizes: “Paul has reproached the [message] of the cross and the content of the gospel through the array of pastoral, ethical, and theological issues that bubble away at Corinth: Come on, he concludes; are you ‘in’ or are you ‘out’?”[3] The return of Christ will resolve this question once and for all.

“Come, Lord!” represents the Aramaic term “Maranatha.” Generations of Christians have echoed this appeal.

Paul closes by mentioning the grace represented uniquely by Jesus Christ and Paul’s own special love for all who are joined to Christ (verses 23–24). Amen!

Copyright © 2014 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) 1343.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1343.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1351.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 16:10–18 Helping each other

1 Corinthians 16:10–18

10 When Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. 11 No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.

12 Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.

13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.

15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. 17 I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. 18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.

As he has just said, Paul will remain for a time in Ephesus because of the unusual opportunity there to spread the gospel. He had previously told the believers in Roman Corinth that he had dispatched Timothy to Corinth to teach and model Paul’s ways, just as those ways are taught in all the churches (1 Cor. 4:17). Next he calls on the Corinthians to pay close attention to how Timothy is treated “for he is carrying on the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 16:10). It is not Timothy who should fear, but anyone who obstructs him should fear the Lord!

Knowing that some in Corinth struggle with pride, Paul makes clear that Timothy is not to be disrespected or undervalued. He must also be enabled to return to Paul with other brothers (1 Cor. 16:11). As the apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul speaks with authority and without apology. But Paul was not a king. Apollos made up his own mind to delay his departure for Corinth, perhaps because he saw the same opportunity that kept Paul in Ephesus. Since it is also possible that Paul was imitating Christ in self-sacrifice (1 Cor. 11:1) by sending his associates to Corinth, Apollos may have decided enough was enough. Paul needed his help.

Many have observed how Paul generally follows the letter style of the early Imperial Roman period, and this becomes most apparent in his openings and closings. What made Paul’s letters more distinctive was (1) he spoke as Christ’s apostle, and (2) he inserted Christian content into the standard letter style. Ancient writers often included exhortations in closing a letter, and Paul puts five on them in verses 13–14.

However, several things make this letter distinctive among all of Paul’s letters. Nowhere else does Paul stress the importance of love so many times (verses 14, 22, 24). No other letter concludes with a potential curse (Greek anathema) against covenant breakers. The postscript expressing Paul’s love for the Corinthians is also unique (1 Cor. 16:24).

It is notable that the four commands in verse 13 are all present tense in Greek, meaning here that the need to do these activities is ongoing. He caps all four with the global “Do everything in love” (1 Cor. 16:14).

In verses 15–18, Paul recognizes the commitment of certain men and women (“household”) to serving the Lord’s people. Accordingly, Paul makes a personal request (verse 15b) based on his personal relationship to the believers in Roman Corinth: “submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it” (1 Cor. 16:16). Recognizing leaders who model love and service in the church is a critical task in churches today, but submitting ourselves to work under their leadership clashes directly with values we learn from an American culture of personal independence. We also need to expand our concept of family to include our Christian brothers and sisters.

Though verse 17 may sound like a rebuke toward the Corinthians, Paul is actually saying that what is lacking is the presence of all the Corinthians so that he might enjoy them as well. In Stephanus, Fortunatus and Achaicus, Paul was experiencing a bit of Corinth and wanting more!

Thiselton notes that improvement is needed in 1 Cor. 16:18b: “Fee rightly comments that NIV’s ‘such men deserve recognition’ captures the broad sense but fails to communicate Paul’s use of the imperative [command].”[1] Thiselton applies this to the church today by saying: “It is a live issue in the church today to what extent, if at all, Christian congregations wish to ‘honor’ leaders in the Christian sphere. . . . This may apply at any level of service to the church, where often loyal hard work is simply taken for granted rather than publicly and consciously recognized.”[2] Food for thought! It is not too much to ask that a personal “Thank you!” be words that those who lovingly serve us — both staff and volunteers — hear regularly!

Copyright © 2014 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) 1342.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1342.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 16:1–9 Sharing the burdens of others

1 Corinthians 16:1–9

1 Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. 4 If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.

5 After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you — for I will be going through Macedonia. 6 Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

As I said in commenting on chapter 15, the Apostle Paul was a very practical theologian and church planter. In chapter 16 he deals with vital matters of human need within the body of Christ (verses 1–4) as well as plans for further contact and travel by himself (verses 5–9) and others (verses 11–12). He concludes chapter 16 with a series of exhortations and greetings; they are worthy of more attention than they sometimes receive.

Starting in 1 Cor. 1:2, Paul has stressed the relationship of the believers in Roman Corinth to all others belonging to Christ elsewhere. This expansion of their viewpoint was undoubtedly designed to help them discover their solidarity with Christians outside their own factions in Corinth. In verse 1, Paul reminds them of about the collection being taken to relieve the needs of believers in Jerusalem and urges them to imitate the similar effort of the churches in Galatia (located in what today would be central Turkey).

David Garland explains, “We know from 2 Corinthians and Romans that he [Paul] hoped that the gift would cement the bond between the Gentile and Jewish Christian communities and that it would demonstrate that Christian unity transcended ethnic barriers and did not require Gentile Christians to become Jewish proselytes.”[1] He further states that, in Greco-Roman society, charity toward strangers was not considered a virtue and was not connected with any expectation of reward from the gods. Jesus Christ demonstrated quite the opposite!

It was the common custom of Christians to gather on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:2), in honor of both the resurrection of Christ and the coming day of the Lord. At that time every person in the church was expected to set aside their own money privately for the collection so that all would be ready for Paul’s arrival. Of course, this begs the question: How much?

The key phrase about “how much” in 1 Cor. 16:2 has been translated as follows:

(NIV) in keeping with your income

(Revised English Bible) whatever he can afford

(New Jerusalem Bible) as each can spare

(NET Bible) to the extent that God has blessed you

(ESV) as he may prosper

(Garland) whatever he or she has been prospered

(Thiselton) in accordance with how you may fare

In our view, the translations shown above get progressively better as you near the bottom of the list. The rare Greek verb means “to be led along a good road, to get along well, to prosper” in its biblical and secular uses.[2] The verb is used in 3 John 2, where the writer prays that “all may go well with you.” Paul has much more to say favoring generosity in 2 Corinthians 8–9.

As was his custom, Paul labored to earn his way while establishing a church, but it was also his custom to permit a local church to meet his needs for travel expenses and companions when he set out for a new destination (1 Cor. 16:6). We all share the mission!

It is easy to sense Paul’s wishes as well as his uncertainty about being able to act on them (verses 5–7). It is obvious that he intended to stay in Ephesus before coming to Corinth because of an unusually great opportunity for evangelism (verse 9). Paul found that when the gospel was moving in a community, the opposition grew more intense; the identical pattern may be seen in the public ministry of Christ in the Gospels. We too must spread the gospel and expect opposition when we do so.

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) 752.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1323.

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 Paul’s 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 Paul’s 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 14:34–35 What about women?

1 Corinthians 14:34–35

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.

Imagine for a moment that one of our pastors is preaching on Sunday when his wife rises from her seat and says in an audible voice, “I don’t see how you can teach this church after the way you treated me and the kids yesterday.” A lot of things might happen after that, but spiritual growth or worship are probably not among them! Something like this was going on during the church gatherings in Roman Corinth, and Paul was determined to stop it.

The first thing to remember about the women in Roman Corinth is that they lived in another time and culture. We have previously stressed the interpretive principle that a biblical text cannot mean today what it did not mean at the time it was spoken. So, our initial task is to determine what Paul was trying to achieve in Corinth. Only then will we be in a position to faithfully apply Paul’s instructions in our time and culture.

We have previously considered another highly-charged biblical passage about head coverings for women during worship (1 Cor. 11:2–16). There we found that a crucial cultural concern in Roman Corinth was shame and honor — whether those conditions applied to the individual, the community, the faction, or to the metaphorical “head” of the person involved. This cultural focus on shame and honor will also play a part in discussing women’s role in controlled speech during church gatherings in Corinth.

The very first thing we must say in sum about women speaking in church during the first century is that such speech was common. Concerning 1 Cor. 11:5, Garland says, “Paul affirms that it is quite permissible for women to pray or prophesy as long as they attend to their head covering.”[1] David Garland further draws attention to 1 Cor. 14:31, where Paul says that “all” may prophesy in turn. Most readers who give 1 Corinthians a close reading know that Paul was a brilliant man; the likelihood that he would contradict himself is zero!

So, what do we conclude? First, we say on the basis of 1 Cor. 11:5 and 14:31 that Paul not only permitted but encouraged women to speak when the church assembled. How then do we account for Paul saying “Women should remain silent in the churches” (1 Cor. 14:34a)? Thiselton gets the ball rolling: “If we concur with Ben Witherington and others that what is at issue is not ‘speech’ as much as ‘abuse of speech,’ a probable scenario begins to emerge.”[2] We will now develop what “abuse of speech” is in question. Keep in mind that Paul had received a letter from Corinth as well as personal reports about what was going on there.

Yesterday we saw that in 1 Cor. 14:30–33a, Paul was dealing with specific restraints on wives who were in the process of sifting prophetic speech for soundness. In fact, we saw that 1 Cor. 14:29–36 all deals with restraints on prophecy and the evaluation of those messages for their faithfulness to Christ. The point is that the abuse of speech we are dealing with involved women who were sifting or discerning prophetic speech. You can see that this focus is much narrower than all-speech-by-women in church settings.

Thiselton[3] and Witherington suggest that the women in question were sifting the words of prophets by asking probing questions about their theology and lifestyle. This practice became particularly explosive — and disruptive to order — when wives cross-examined their husbands in a personal way that undermined their claim to be uttering prophetic speech. Such an exchange needs to take place at home (1 Cor. 14:35) not in church!

When Paul says, “It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:35b), he brings honor and shame into the picture. This specific abuse of speech by certain women in relation to their husbands was shaming their husbands. Things got worse from there! Recall that: “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). By shaming her husband, such a woman was bringing shame on her head, and he in turn was bringing shame on Christ, and that was bringing shame on God.

Such conduct created many problems, all serious. First, it was not loving toward others in the manner of Christ. Second, it could easily give the community the idea that Christians were overturning public order and decency; that would be a serious blow to the spread of the gospel of Christ crucified. (Such a charge created a riot in Ephesus, Acts 19:21–41.) Third, such conduct utterly failed to communicate the love, order, sharing and reciprocity that reflect God’s own nature. A calamity like this could not be allowed to continue, and Paul stepped on it hard!

The practice of abusing prophets should not be surprising. Jesus told the people of Nazareth, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home” (Matt. 13:57). They demonstrated their appreciation of this insight by trying to throw Jesus down a cliff (Luke 4:29)! This teaching is repeated in all four Gospels and was a well-known concept among the churches. Such boorish behavior may be common, but it does not please God.

Thiselton convincingly argues that the Greek verb eper?ta? in 1 Cor. 14:35 (“they should ask their own husbands at home”) has a lot more punch than “ask.” Here the verb means “interrogate” or “cross-examine.”[4] For example, in Mark 11:29, Jesus interrogates the chief priests and scribes about how they can reject his authority and yet accept the authority of John the Baptist. There is an earnest, demanding quality about this Greek verb. A wife should speak such words to her husband at home, not in church.

There is little question that similar conduct by men in Roman Corinth, if directed toward other men in a public meeting, would have been considered aggressive but acceptable. But for a first-century woman in Greco-Roman culture to speak in such a manner about her husband would create a scandal. This difference may or may not be fair, but a culture will have its way.

A far more important matter is that interrupting or contradicting a true prophet displeases God! Consider the clause that says, “[The women] must be in submission, as the law says” (1 Cor. 14:34b). Garland notes that “The problem is that he does not cite a text from the law, and no OT passage instructs women to be silent.”[5] However, what Paul likely has in mind is Numbers 12:1–15, where Miriam challenges Moses’ right to speak as God’s prophet on the grounds of his marriage to an Ethiopian woman. God intervenes very sharply against this attack on his prophet, and Miriam is shut out from the camp for seven days, shaming her. The Lord explicitly mentions her shame (Num. 12:14). Moses is said to be humble, and this contrasts with Miriam’s self-promotion and self-assertion that she too could speak as a prophet. The parallels to Roman Corinth are plain.

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) 665.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1156.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1158.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1159–60.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 672.

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.

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 in Week 3 we 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 thel? and 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.