Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Four essential events

1 Corinthians 15:3-8

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Paul stresses the continuity of tradition[1] in 1 Cor. 15:3. The essentials of Christian faith did not begin with Paul and did not end with the Christians in Roman Corinth — or with us! Note with greatest care the matters of first importance (verses 3-8):

that Christ died for our sins (v. 3)

that he was buried (v. 4)

that he was raised on the third day (v. 4)

that he appeared [to many] . . . . (vs. 5-8)

David Garland explains the first point by saying: Christs atoning death is a central tenet of the faith (Rom. 5:6, 8; 8:32; 1 Cor. 8:11; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Eph. 5:2; Titus 2:14; cf. Gal. 1:4). This death was not a sad misadventure but something God destined for him because of (or with reference to, concerning . . .) the sins of humankind.[2] The Romans presented the death of Jesus as that of a rebel, a man guilty of treason — though Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, knew better. The leaders of the Jews saw the death of Jesus as the necessary elimination of a dangerous threat. What Paul gives us is Gods viewpoint on the reason Christ died, the view which will stand. If this were a murder mystery showing on PBS, the final scene would show the reason Christ died to be: us— each of us individually and all of us together. Our sins had doomed us, apart from the death of Christ on our behalf.

The second point, Jesus burial (1 Cor. 15:4a), relates to his death. Garland says, Death and burial are interconnected in Scripture. This detail verifies the reality and finality of Christs death.[3] An empty tomb can mean many things, but burial quite simply tells us that death has occurred.

The third point will prove crucial in chapter 15, because it describes the resurrection of Christ. In 1 Cor. 15:4b, Paul probably makes a deliberate choice to use the Greek perfect tense to say he was raised (NIV). Since the entire chapter is about the implications of Christs resurrection, Paul used the perfect tense here to emphasize the results or present state produced by a past action.[4] As a result, Gordon Fee concludes that Paul is implying that he [Jesus] was both raised and still lives.[5] Oh yes he does!

The tradition Paul is reciting also provides the extra details that Jesus was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:4b).This resurrection on the third day was exactly what Jesus told his disciples would happen (Matt. 16:21; Luke 9:22). One vital lesson for us is that God is totally faithful to his promises. We will see later in chapter 15 that the resurrection of Jesus was the precursor of our own future resurrection as believers in Jesus Christ. God will prove equally faithful to raise us!

Cephas is the Aramaic name for Peter (John 1:42). The tradition Paul is recounting includes appearances by the resurrected Christ to individuals and groups (1 Cor. 15:5-8). Paul notes that many eyewitnesses to the resurrection are still alive — making verification possible — but some have fallen asleep (verse 6), the encouraging Christian term for dying. Thiselton says, Paul did not think of the resurrection as some sort of [indescribable] truth beyond history; rather, it was an event . . . for which historical eyewitness testimony was readily available.[6] Even more encouraging, Thiselton adds, The metaphor of falling asleep . . . to denote the death of Christian believers carried with it the grammar of being awakened at the resurrection.[7]

The fact that Jesus appeared to James (1 Cor. 15:7) is interesting. Fee reminds us that This James is the Lords brother, who, along with his other brothers, did not believe in him during Jesus earthly ministry (John 7:2-9) but who appear with the disciples after the resurrection.[8] The resurrection of Jesus transformed people in his own time and still does today.

One final phrase requiring explanation is Pauls reference to himself as to one abnormally born (1 Cor. 15:8). Thiselton accepts the meaning a prematurely born dead fetus which figuratively reflects a use found in the [Greek Old Testament] to denote dire human wretchedness.[9] Paul looks back on his life at the moment Jesus appeared to him and considers his condition. Even though he had been highly educated in the Law of Moses, Paul not only failed to identify Jesus as the Messiah but also actively persecuted those who had committed themselves to Jesus, his assembly of believers that we call the church (1 Cor. 15:9). Viewing the gravity of this failure, Paul compares himself metaphorically to a prematurely born dead fetus, a figure of dire spiritual wretchedness. But the appearance to Paul by the resurrected Christ brought life-giving grace to the dead. Paul was never the same again.

Copyright 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] David Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 683.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 684.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 686.

[4] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 574.

[5] Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 726.

[6] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1205, quoting R.B. Hays.

[7] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 12067.

[8] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 731.

[9] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1209, quoting J. Munck.

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 14:34-35, 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 eperotao in 1 Cor. 14:35 (“they should ask their own husbands at home”) has a lot more punch than “ask” can express. 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, 115960.

[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 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.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:4-10, Love is a verb

1 Corinthians 13:4-10

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

The main issue with 1 Cor. 13:4-7 is that we tend to put it on a pedestal as exalted poetry or use it in a wedding ceremony rather than let its actual meaning pierce our hearts every day.

David Garland explains something important about Paul’s words: “Many observe that [Paul] does not use adjectives to describe love but verbs, fifteen of them in three verses. Love is dynamic and active, not something static.”[1] How does this make a difference in interpretation and application? Using adjectives in English versions tends to make us think that Paul is listing desired character traits for an individual believer: “Love is patient. love is kind. . . . [Love] is not proud” (1 Cor. 13:4, NIV). But that idea does not fit Paul’s argument to the Corinthians.

Using verbs, as Paul does, brings out more of the relational aspect of what he is saying: “Love waits patiently; love shows kindness. Love does not burn with envy; does not brag — is not inflated with its own importance” (Anthony Thiselton[2]). There is a wide gulf between thinking a person can be kind in their heart (is kind) and understanding that kindness — such as that shown by Christ on the cross —involves actions toward others (shows kindness).

At one critical point, NIV has the excellent “[love] keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 1:5) rather than the abstract idea “[love] is not . . . resentful” (ESV, NET and NRSV) or the impossible “[love] thinketh no evil” (KJV). Not many of us could figure out how to stop being resentful, and none of us could manage thinking no evil. But we all know what it means to keep a list of grievances against someone else. (HCSB and NLT join NIV in making this improvement.)

Many of us go numb at the mere mention of philosophy, and that makes us easy prey to the attacks on Christianity by postmodern philosophers. When Paul says that love rejoices with the truth (1 Cor. 13:6), these philosophers claim that our Christian truth is designed to bring us power over others either for our selfish advantage or that of our peer group. They further claim that when Paul says, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7, ESV, NET, HCSB, NRSV), his teaching promotes conformist docility. They charge Paul, and by extension Christian faith, with teaching people to silently accept whatever the overlords dish out.

But, Jesus Christ could not be said to be a conformist; his death on the cross on behalf of others occurred precisely because he did not conform to the expectations of this world. Further, he did not die to gain power over others but to offer them an opportunity to escape judgment for their sins. Far from promoting unthinking acceptance of the status quo, the love Paul advocates cares deeply about pleasing God and caring for others. In service of that idea, Paul says that such love “never tires of support, never loses faith, never exhausts hope, never gives up” (1 Cor. 13:7, Thiselton[3]). Bible translation must always be mindful of how Christian thought is being undermined and frontally attacked.

Verse 8 begins the final section, which extends through verse 13. Garland says, “In the concluding paragraph, Paul attests to the permanence of love in comparison with spiritual gifts so prominent in Corinth — prophecy, knowledge, and tongues.”[4]

NIV says, “Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8), but Thiselton prefers “Love never falls apart.” He does so because he disdains using an abstraction (fails) when Paul “has consciously used images and metaphors of burning or boiling, inflating, bad manners, having a sharp point stuck into one, and reckoning up accounts.”[5] The verb means “to fall down, to fall to the ground, to collapse, or to fall apart.” Love will endure beyond the day when God judges this world!

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)616.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000)1026.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1026 and 1057.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 620.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1060.