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 13:11-13 At childhood’s end — Love

1 Corinthians 13:11-13

11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Paul has just said, when completeness comes, what is in part disappears (1 Cor. 13:10). At this point (1 Cor. 13:11) he switches to a metaphor well known in the ancient world for advancing the same idea: childhood must eventually be replaced by adulthood.

The verbs in the first half of verse 11 refer to how children speak, how they form opinions and how they assign value or evaluate things. All those actions change as we become adults, and this is common knowledge. The ways of childhood are temporary.

However, we must move from metaphor to meaning by asking questions. What is Paul referring to when he speaks of childhood? Three views have been proposed:

1. Some say that Paul is talking about the period during which we know in part and prophecy in part (1 Cor. 13:9). He may also be talking about that period which ends when prophecies cease, tongues are stilled and our partial knowledge passes away (1 Cor. 13:8). This view makes childhood the entire church age beginning just after Christs death and ending with the return of Christ in power.

2. Some would suggest that Paul is denigrating the use of tongues as a sign of immaturity. David Garland discounts this view[1] based partly on Gordon Fee’s refutation: “It is perhaps an indictment of Western Christianity that we should consider mature our rather totally cerebral and domesticated but bland brand of faith, with the [associated] absence of the Spirit in terms of supernatural gifts!”[2]

3. Paul is not referring to the fact that spiritual gifts are being expressed in worship, but he is concerned with how they are expressed, what opinions are held about them, and how they are valued. This is Anthony Thiselton’s view, and he further explains, “It is time for a more mature ordering of priorities which places first the welfare of the whole [church] over the rights of the individual believer to express their particular spiritual gift.”[3] To demonstrate their maturity, the Corinthian believers must embrace self-sacrificing love as their priority over the unchecked expression of spiritual gifts within a worship setting. In short, they must accept the most excellent way (1 Cor. 12:31). This is the view we prefer due to its fit with Paul’s purpose.

In using the metaphor of the mirror (1 Cor. 13:12), Paul cleverly taps into two things well known among the Corinthians. First, Corinth produced good quality bronze mirrors. Second, Thiselton explains, “Common in Greco-Roman first-century thought was the use of mirror as a metaphor for indirect knowledge.”[4] Paul says that, for now, indirect knowledge is the best we can get. But when we are with Christ, “we shall see face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12), a metaphor meaning the most intimate kind of knowledge. At that time we will not only know fully but will be fully known by God.

Paul finishes his argument about love with a surprising flourish. First he brings in faith and hope to join love (1 Cor. 13:13); these three spiritual pillars occur together in many of Paul’s letters (Rom. 5:1-5;Gal. 5:5-6). Garland explains: “Paul probably added faith and hope to love here to allow the familiar combination to balance the triad of prophecy, knowledge, and tongues. The inclusion of faith and hope also allows Paul to magnify love even more.”[5]

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) 623.

[2] 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) 645, footnote 23.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1067.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1069.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 625.