What 1 Corinthians 14 Really Teaches

An old-fashioned Bible study here. There is a lot of confusion in certain quarters of the global Renewal Movement. How can we clear up the confusion? What did Paul really teach in 1 Corinthians 14? Are we willing to obey his teaching or just run roughshod over it?

I write as an insider to the Renewal Movements, not as a harsh outsider. I have attended countless numbers of charismatic meetings since the Jesus Movement back in the 1970s. (Read my brief story here.) Most of the meetings have been right, but some jumped off the rails, led by men with extra-strong personalities who ignore Scripture (or don’t know it).

Let’s exegete 1 Corinthians 14, to finally get clarity on what to do and not do, what is biblical and unbiblical.

As usual, I write to learn. Let’s learn together.

This post is divided into four sections:

INTRODUCTION

TRANSLATION

COMMENTARY

CONCLUSION

Let’s begin.

INTRODUCTION

Let’s start off with a description of a recent gathering, led by “super-confident” men, which I observed on Christian television. It illustrates other (smaller) meetings I have actually participated in, throughout my journey with God.

In April 2022, several thousand Christians of various denominations rallied in an arena to oppose all of the leftwing policies that destroy biblical standards and morality. Possibly unbelievers and inquirers were there or for sure tuned in through television. Then a prophet-pastor stood up, claiming he “saw” the following instruction earlier in his hotel room. He ordered all the people to stand up and speak in tongues. If they were not Spirit-filled and did not know how, then they should just pray in English.

This prophet-pastor was completely unbiblical. He violated Paul’s clear teaching in 1 Corinthians 14. What he “saw” in his hotel room did not come from God, for God does not violate Scripture. This prophet-pastor appears to have become unteachable and ungovernable since his unfulfilled Trump prophecies. He had said Trump would win in November 2020 and occupy the Whitehouse in January 2021; and he said nothing clearly about fraud that would prevent Trump from winning, before the election (with a verifiable time stamp on any recording).

This scenario leads us into 1 Corinthians 14. In Paul’s day, a certain group called themselves pneumatikoi, (“persons of the Spirit” or “spiritual ones”; the singular is pneumatikos). They were running roughshod over peace and order and decorum in the public gathering. They were apparently demanding that everyone speak in tongues in the assembly of the Corinthian Christians, to show that they had arrived at a new sort of spiritual reality or Eschaton or something. They also believed that they were endowed with special wisdom (Chapters 1-4), superior knowledge (Chapters 8-10), and an extra-dose of spiritual gifts (Chapters 12-14). They may have believed that they were speaking the tongues (or languages) of angels (13:1), as if they were in constant contact with the angelic heavenly dimension.

However, in those sections of his letter Paul teaches them that they must cool their extra-enthusiasm. To counter them, he even refers to himself as “spiritual” (2:13). Then he says that he cannot address them as persons of the Spirit, but as people who are still worldly, infants (3:1; see 13:11). He again calls them infants in 14:20.

Though the pneumatikoi were few (1:12; 4:3, 6, 18-20; 9:3; 10:29-30; 14:37; 15:12), they were just as much a menace as the “super-apostles” were in 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11). I don’t like to misapply modern terms to ancient ones, because the modern ones are so vaguely defined, but maybe the pneumatikoi were the “hyper-charismatics” of their day, though exact parallels are hard to pin down when separated by 2000 years.

So what does 1 Corinthians 14 really teach about an out-of-balance exercise of spiritual gifts, particularly tongues, as I saw on television at the April 2022 political rally. And how do Renewal churches bring back decorum and order and peace to the public assembly?

As an aside, in Paul’s day the issue was the misuse of tongues in the public gathering, but Paul’s instructions could just as easily apply to lion roaring, barking, uncontrolled laughter, and all other sorts of verbal manifestations that scare away inquirers and unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:22-25; 40).

Now let’s begin the translation and exegesis.

TRANSLATION

The translation is mine, unless otherwise noted. I produce this translation just to learn what Paul really wrote. If you don’t read Greek, ignore the left column and read the one on the right.

If you want to see many translations, I encourage you to click on biblegateway.com.

1 Διώκετε τὴν ἀγάπην, ζηλοῦτε δὲ τὰ πνευματικά, μᾶλλον δὲ ἵνα προφητεύητε. 2 ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ ἀλλὰ θεῷ· οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀκούει, πνεύματι δὲ λαλεῖ μυστήρια· 3 ὁ δὲ προφητεύων ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ οἰκοδομὴν καὶ παράκλησιν καὶ παραμυθίαν. 4 ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ ἑαυτὸν οἰκοδομεῖ· ὁ δὲ προφητεύων ἐκκλησίαν οἰκοδομεῖ. 5 θέλω δὲ πάντας ὑμᾶς λαλεῖν γλώσσαις, μᾶλλον δὲ ἵνα προφητεύητε· μείζων δὲ ὁ προφητεύων ἢ ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσαις ἐκτὸς εἰ μὴ διερμηνεύῃ, ἵνα ἡ ἐκκλησία οἰκοδομὴν λάβῃ.

6 Νῦν δέ, ἀδελφοί, ἐὰν ἔλθω πρὸς ὑμᾶς γλώσσαις λαλῶν, τί ὑμᾶς ὠφελήσω ἐὰν μὴ ὑμῖν λαλήσω ἢ ἐν ἀποκαλύψει ἢ ἐν γνώσει ἢ ἐν προφητείᾳ ἢ [ἐν] διδαχῇ; 7 ὅμως τὰ ἄψυχα φωνὴν διδόντα, εἴτε αὐλὸς εἴτε κιθάρα, ἐὰν διαστολὴν τοῖς φθόγγοις μὴ δῷ, πῶς γνωσθήσεται τὸ αὐλούμενον ἢ τὸ κιθαριζόμενον; 8 καὶ γὰρ ἐὰν ἄδηλον σάλπιγξ φωνὴν δῷ, τίς παρασκευάσεται εἰς πόλεμον; 9 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς διὰ τῆς γλώσσης ἐὰν μὴ εὔσημον λόγον δῶτε, πῶς γνωσθήσεται τὸ λαλούμενον; ἔσεσθε γὰρ εἰς ἀέρα λαλοῦντες. 10 τοσαῦτα εἰ τύχοι γένη φωνῶν εἰσιν ἐν κόσμῳ καὶ οὐδὲν ἄφωνον· 11 ἐὰν οὖν μὴ εἰδῶ τὴν δύναμιν τῆς φωνῆς, ἔσομαι τῷ λαλοῦντι βάρβαρος καὶ ὁ λαλῶν ἐν ἐμοὶ βάρβαρος. 12 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς, ἐπεὶ ζηλωταί ἐστε πνευμάτων, πρὸς τὴν οἰκοδομὴν τῆς ἐκκλησίας ζητεῖτε ἵνα περισσεύητε. 13 Διὸ ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ προσευχέσθω ἵνα διερμηνεύῃ. 14 ἐὰν  [γὰρ]  προσεύχωμαι γλώσσῃ, τὸ πνεῦμά μου προσεύχεται, ὁ δὲ νοῦς μου ἄκαρπός ἐστιν.

15 τί οὖν ἐστιν; προσεύξομαι τῷ πνεύματι, προσεύξομαι δὲ καὶ τῷ νοΐ· ψαλῶ τῷ πνεύματι, ψαλῶ δὲ καὶ τῷ νοΐ. 16 ἐπεὶ ἐὰν εὐλογῇς [ἐν] πνεύματι, ὁ ἀναπληρῶν τὸν τόπον τοῦ ἰδιώτου πῶς ἐρεῖ τὸ ἀμὴν ἐπὶ τῇ σῇ εὐχαριστίᾳ; ἐπειδὴ τί λέγεις οὐκ οἶδεν· 17 σὺ μὲν γὰρ καλῶς εὐχαριστεῖς ἀλλʼ ὁ ἕτερος οὐκ οἰκοδομεῖται. 18 Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ, πάντων ὑμῶν μᾶλλον γλώσσαις λαλῶ· 19 ἀλλὰ ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ θέλω πέντε λόγους τῷ νοΐ μου λαλῆσαι, ἵνα καὶ ἄλλους κατηχήσω, ἢ μυρίους λόγους ἐν γλώσσῃ.

20 Ἀδελφοί, μὴ παιδία γίνεσθε ταῖς φρεσὶν ἀλλὰ τῇ κακίᾳ νηπιάζετε, ταῖς δὲ φρεσὶν τέλειοι γίνεσθε. 21 ἐν τῷ νόμῳ γέγραπται ὅτι

ἐν ἑτερογλώσσοις καὶ ἐν χείλεσιν ἑτέρων λαλήσω τῷ λαῷ τούτῳ
καὶ οὐδʼ οὕτως εἰσακούσονταί μου, λέγει κύριος.

22 ὥστε αἱ γλῶσσαι εἰς σημεῖόν εἰσιν οὐ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν ἀλλὰ τοῖς ἀπίστοις, ἡ δὲ προφητεία οὐ τοῖς ἀπίστοις ἀλλὰ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν. 23 Ἐὰν οὖν συνέλθῃ ἡ ἐκκλησία ὅλη ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ καὶ πάντες λαλῶσιν γλώσσαις, εἰσέλθωσιν δὲ ἰδιῶται ἢ ἄπιστοι, οὐκ ἐροῦσιν ὅτι μαίνεσθε; 24 ἐὰν δὲ πάντες προφητεύωσιν, εἰσέλθῃ δέ τις ἄπιστος ἢ ἰδιώτης, ἐλέγχεται ὑπὸ πάντων, ἀνακρίνεται ὑπὸ πάντων, 25 τὰ κρυπτὰ τῆς καρδίας αὐτοῦ φανερὰ γίνεται, καὶ οὕτως πεσὼν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον προσκυνήσει τῷ θεῷ ἀπαγγέλλων ὅτι ὄντως ὁ θεὸς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐστιν.

26 Τί οὖν ἐστιν, ἀδελφοί; ὅταν συνέρχησθε, ἕκαστος ψαλμὸν ἔχει, διδαχὴν ἔχει, ἀποκάλυψιν ἔχει, γλῶσσαν ἔχει, ἑρμηνείαν ἔχει· πάντα πρὸς οἰκοδομὴν γινέσθω. 27 εἴτε γλώσσῃ τις λαλεῖ, κατὰ δύο ἢ τὸ πλεῖστον τρεῖς καὶ ἀνὰ μέρος, καὶ εἷς διερμηνευέτω· 28 ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ᾖ διερμηνευτής, σιγάτω ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ, ἑαυτῷ δὲ λαλείτω καὶ τῷ θεῷ. 29 προφῆται δὲ δύο ἢ τρεῖς λαλείτωσαν καὶ οἱ ἄλλοι διακρινέτωσαν· 30 ἐὰν δὲ ἄλλῳ ἀποκαλυφθῇ καθημένῳ, ὁ πρῶτος σιγάτω. 31 δύνασθε γὰρ καθʼ ἕνα πάντες προφητεύειν, ἵνα πάντες μανθάνωσιν καὶ πάντες παρακαλῶνται. 32 καὶ πνεύματα προφητῶν προφήταις ὑποτάσσεται, 33 οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἀκαταστασίας ὁ θεὸς ἀλλὰ εἰρήνης, Ὡς ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῶν ἁγίων

34 αἱ γυναῖκες ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις σιγάτωσαν· οὐ γὰρ ἐπιτρέπεται αὐταῖς λαλεῖν, ἀλλὰ ὑποτασσέσθωσαν, καθὼς καὶ ὁ νόμος λέγει. 35 εἰ δέ τι μαθεῖν θέλουσιν, ἐν οἴκῳ τοὺς ἰδίους ἄνδρας ἐπερωτάτωσαν· αἰσχρὸν γάρ ἐστιν γυναικὶ λαλεῖν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ. 36 ἢ ἀφʼ ὑμῶν ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθεν, ἢ εἰς ὑμᾶς μόνους κατήντησεν;

37 Εἴ τις δοκεῖ προφήτης εἶναι ἢ πνευματικός, ἐπιγινωσκέτω ἃ γράφω ὑμῖν ὅτι κυρίου ἐστὶν ἐντολή· 38 εἰ δέ τις ἀγνοεῖ, ἀγνοεῖται.

39 Ὥστε, ἀδελφοί [μου], ζηλοῦτε τὸ προφητεύειν καὶ τὸ λαλεῖν μὴ κωλύετε γλώσσαις· 40 πάντα δὲ εὐσχημόνως καὶ κατὰ τάξιν γινέσθω.

 

1 Pursue love and be zealous for spiritual things, but more so that you may prophesy. 2 For the one speaking in a tongue speaks not to people but to God, for no one understands, but he speaks mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and comfort. 4 The one speaking in tongues edifies himself, but the one who prophesies edifies the assembly. 5 I want all of you to speak in tongues but more so that you would prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless he may interpret, so that the assembly may receive edification.

6 Now, as it is, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, in what way will I benefit you unless I speak to you by revelation, by knowledge, by prophecy or by teaching? 7 Although lifeless things produce a sound, whether a flute or a lyre, for example, if they do not produce distinct sounds, how will what is played on the flute or what is played on the lyre be recognized? 8 Indeed, if a trumpet produces a sound that is indistinct, who will prepare for battle? 9 And so it is that you also, if you do not produce an intelligible sound, how will what is being spoken be recognized? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, perhaps, many kinds of sounds in the world, and none of them without a voice. 11 If therefore I do not understand the meaning of the voice, I will be a foreigner to the one speaking and the one speaking a foreigner to me. 12 And so it is that you also, since you are zealots for spiritual things, seek that you may abound in the edification of the assembly. 13 Therefore, the one speaking in a tongue, let him pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.

15 What then is (the argument so far)? I will pray with the spirit; I will pray also with my mind. I will sing with the spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. 16 Otherwise, if you bless in the Spirit, how will the one filling the role of the inquirer say “Amen” at your blessing, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up. 18 I thank God I speak in tongues more (often) than all of you. 19 However, in the assembly I would rather speak five words with my mind, so that I may instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

20 Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking, but be little children in regards to evil. And be mature in your thinking.

21 In the law it is written that:

With foreign tongues
and with lips of foreigners,
I will speak to this people,
But even then they will not obey me,
Says the Lord [Is. 28:11-12]

22 And thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, but prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If therefore the whole assembly comes together in one place, and everyone is speaking in tongues, and an inquirer or unbeliever enters, will they not say, “You are crazy!” 24 But if everyone prophesies, and if an unbeliever or inquirer enters, he is convicted by all and examined by all; 25 the hidden things of his heart becomes manifest, and thus when he falls on his face, he worships God, declaring, “Truly God is among you!”

26 What then is (the conclusion so far), brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a teaching, has a tongue, has an interpretation—let everything be done for edification. 27 If someone speaks in a tongue, let it be by two and at the most three, and in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is not an interpreter, let him keep quiet in the assembly, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others discern. 30 And if something is revealed to someone else sitting by, let the first person keep quiet. 31 For you can prophesy—all of you—one at a time, so that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subjected to the prophets, 33 for God is not (a God) of disorder, but of peace, just as in all the assemblies of the consecrated ones.

34 Women are to be quiet in the assemblies, for it is not permitted for them to speak, but let them be submissive, just as the law also says. 35 If they want to learn something, let them inquire of their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God originate from you or come to you alone?

37 If someone thinks he is a prophet or a spiritual person, let him understand what I have written to you that (it) is a command of the Lord. 38 If someone is ignorant about this, he is ignorant.

39 And thus, my brothers and sisters, be zealous for prophesying, and do not stop the speaking in tongues. 40 Let everything be done with decorum and in order.

COMMENTARY

Let me note these two things before I begin:

(1) The noun assembly in my translation comes from the Greek noun ekklēsia, which is often (and correctly) translated as “church.” You may certainly prefer it. I chose assembly to highlight the public / private contexts for tongues, which is the key to understanding this chapter.

Bible Basics about the Church

What Is the Church?

(2) The noun tongue comes from the Greek noun glōssa, which means either the physical tongue or a language, much like the word tongue had the same dual meaning in older English. In 1 Cor. 12-14, it means “Spirit-inspired language,” when it caused by the Spirit and not the flesh. But for clarity and simplicity, I translate the term as everyone else does: “tongue,” but Paul meant a language, not gibberish.

Should We Call It ‘Tongues’?

COMMENTARY

Now let’s get started.

Verses 1-5

1 Διώκετε τὴν ἀγάπην, ζηλοῦτε δὲ τὰ πνευματικά, μᾶλλον δὲ ἵνα προφητεύητε. 2 ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ ἀλλὰ θεῷ· οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀκούει, πνεύματι δὲ λαλεῖ μυστήρια· 3 ὁ δὲ προφητεύων ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ οἰκοδομὴν καὶ παράκλησιν καὶ παραμυθίαν. 4 ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ ἑαυτὸν οἰκοδομεῖ· ὁ δὲ προφητεύων ἐκκλησίαν οἰκοδομεῖ. 5 θέλω δὲ πάντας ὑμᾶς λαλεῖν γλώσσαις, μᾶλλον δὲ ἵνα προφητεύητε· μείζων δὲ ὁ προφητεύων ἢ ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσαις ἐκτὸς εἰ μὴ διερμηνεύῃ, ἵνα ἡ ἐκκλησία οἰκοδομὴν λάβῃ. 1 Pursue love and be zealous for spiritual things, but more so that you may prophesy. 2 For the one speaking in a tongue speaks not to people but to God, for no one understands, but he speaks mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and comfort. 4 The one speaking in tongues edifies himself, but the one who prophesies edifies the assembly. 5 I want all of you to speak in tongues but more so that you would prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless he may interpret, so that the assembly may receive edification.

In the first sentence in this section, Paul carries on his teaching about the practice of love from 1 Cor. 13. It is a reminder to keep love in the forefront.

Now he shifts gears and discusses spiritual gifts, which could be translated as “spirituals” (I chose “spiritual things”), though most translations go with “spiritual gifts.”  He is probably punning on this group called the pneumatikoi, because Paul uses another word for gifts in chapter 12, namely, charismata.

In any case, Paul immediately tells them to cool their enthusiasm for speaking in tongues in the public assembly, but they should seek to prophesy instead, because it is spoken in the native language, which everyone could understand (Greek for them or English for us). Paul is not putting down speaking in tongues, because he wants everyone to exercise this gift, but no one can understand it, unless the speaker (or someone else) interprets it. The speaker utters mysteries to himself and to others and edifies only himself. Only God understands it. It is for private use.

In contrast, the one who prophesies in public edifies, encourages (or exhorts), and comforts people in the assembly. The one who prophesies is “greater” than the one speaking in tongues. In this context “greater” does not connote a greater salvation, but one who puts the public assembly and its edification first (v. 26) and does not look to himself and his own personal, private spirituality which he carries with him into the assembly. Keep it private. Don’t be self-centered.

Paul’s goal is to edify the entire assembly (v. 26). Tongues do not accomplish this goal. Prophecy does.

Verses 6-14
6 Νῦν δέ, ἀδελφοί, ἐὰν ἔλθω πρὸς ὑμᾶς γλώσσαις λαλῶν, τί ὑμᾶς ὠφελήσω ἐὰν μὴ ὑμῖν λαλήσω ἢ ἐν ἀποκαλύψει ἢ ἐν γνώσει ἢ ἐν προφητείᾳ ἢ [ἐν] διδαχῇ; 7 ὅμως τὰ ἄψυχα φωνὴν διδόντα, εἴτε αὐλὸς εἴτε κιθάρα, ἐὰν διαστολὴν τοῖς φθόγγοις μὴ δῷ, πῶς γνωσθήσεται τὸ αὐλούμενον ἢ τὸ κιθαριζόμενον; 8 καὶ γὰρ ἐὰν ἄδηλον σάλπιγξ φωνὴν δῷ, τίς παρασκευάσεται εἰς πόλεμον; 9 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς διὰ τῆς γλώσσης ἐὰν μὴ εὔσημον λόγον δῶτε, πῶς γνωσθήσεται τὸ λαλούμενον; ἔσεσθε γὰρ εἰς ἀέρα λαλοῦντες. 10 τοσαῦτα εἰ τύχοι γένη φωνῶν εἰσιν ἐν κόσμῳ καὶ οὐδὲν ἄφωνον· 11 ἐὰν οὖν μὴ εἰδῶ τὴν δύναμιν τῆς φωνῆς, ἔσομαι τῷ λαλοῦντι βάρβαρος καὶ ὁ λαλῶν ἐν ἐμοὶ βάρβαρος. 12 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς, ἐπεὶ ζηλωταί ἐστε πνευμάτων, πρὸς τὴν οἰκοδομὴν τῆς ἐκκλησίας ζητεῖτε ἵνα περισσεύητε. 13 Διὸ ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ προσευχέσθω ἵνα διερμηνεύῃ. 14 ἐὰν  [γὰρ]  προσεύχωμαι γλώσσῃ, τὸ πνεῦμά μου προσεύχεται, ὁ δὲ νοῦς μου ἄκαρπός ἐστιν. 6 Now, as it is, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, in what way will I benefit you unless I speak to you by revelation, by knowledge, by prophecy or by teaching? 7 Although lifeless things produce a sound, whether a flute or a lyre, for example, if they do not produce distinct sounds, how will what is played on the flute or what is played on the lyre be recognized? 8 Indeed, if a trumpet produces a sound that is indistinct, who will prepare for battle? 9 And so it is that you also, if you do not produce an intelligible sound, how will what is being spoken be recognized? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are, perhaps, many kinds of sounds in the world, and none of them without a voice. 11 If therefore I do not understand the meaning of the voice, I will be a foreigner to the one speaking and the one speaking a foreigner to me. 12 And so it is that you also, since you are zealots for spiritual things, seek that you may abound in the edification of the assembly. 13 Therefore, the one speaking in a tongue, let him pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.

Speaking in the native language of the public assembly and offering a revelation, knowledge, prophecy, or teaching is better than speaking in tongues to fellow believers who do not understand the tongue (language). This is obviously true.

As a sidebar comment, note that prophecy and teaching are not the same thing. Prophecy ≠ study and teaching or sermon preparation, though it is easy to imagine that sometimes a teaching or sermon can shift to have a prophetic edge.

Paul uses the analogy of three musical instruments: a flute, a lyre (a small harp with four to thirteen strings), and a trumpet. He asks us to imagine that these lifeless instruments produce (literally “give”) a sound or notes that cannot be distinguished. What good does the instrument serve in its confused sounds? Nothing whatsoever.

Bottom line for the musical instrument analogy:

Speaking in tongues in an assembly = musical instruments with no intelligible sound = nothing beneficial to listeners = nothing beneficial to the assembly.

Next, in Greek, a foreigner was labelled a “barbarian,” from the gibberish words bar-bar (equivalent to our blah-blah). The one speaking in a tongue is a blah-blah-bian to the human listener, though God understands him (v. 2) and the speaker thanks God well enough (v. 17). Paul does not put down tongue talking at all, but if we misuse it, then it does not edify anyone, except the speaker in his own spirit; but in public, this is deficient. The notion of the tongue talker being a “barbarian” or foreigner will be important for Paul’s argument from Isaiah 28:11-12, in v. 21, below, because foreign tongues were spoken to ancient Israel as a sign of judgment.

In v. 12, Paul calls the pneumatikoi “zealots.” They are zealots for spiritual things. They are the persons of the Spirit. He tells them that they must redirect their enthusiasm and unbridled outburst of tongues towards edification of the assembly, and Paul orders them to prophesy or share a revelation or knowledge or teaching in an understandable language. If a pneumatikos does speak in a tongue, he must pray that he interprets. Implied: If he cannot interpret, he must not speak in a tongue in the assembly (vv. 27-28). Reason: his spirit is built up, but the tongue is unintelligible, so his mind–his own mind–cannot understand it. Therefore, how much less can a hearer not understand it in a public assembly? Don’t broadcast unintelligible speech in the public gathering.

In v. 14, Paul says that the human spirit prays, which bypasses the mind. One’s intellect does not pray in a tongue, but it comes from the deepest part of the human spirit, prompted by the Holy Spirit. Commentator Gordon Fee sometimes advocates translating it as “S/spirit” to show the close connection between the human spirit and Holy Spirit when tongues are being spoken.

Verses 15-19
15 τί οὖν ἐστιν; προσεύξομαι τῷ πνεύματι, προσεύξομαι δὲ καὶ τῷ νοΐ· ψαλῶ τῷ πνεύματι, ψαλῶ δὲ καὶ τῷ νοΐ. 16 ἐπεὶ ἐὰν εὐλογῇς [ἐν] πνεύματι, ὁ ἀναπληρῶν τὸν τόπον τοῦ ἰδιώτου πῶς ἐρεῖ τὸ ἀμὴν ἐπὶ τῇ σῇ εὐχαριστίᾳ; ἐπειδὴ τί λέγεις οὐκ οἶδεν· 17 σὺ μὲν γὰρ καλῶς εὐχαριστεῖς ἀλλʼ ὁ ἕτερος οὐκ οἰκοδομεῖται. 18 Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ, πάντων ὑμῶν μᾶλλον γλώσσαις λαλῶ· 19 ἀλλὰ ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ θέλω πέντε λόγους τῷ νοΐ μου λαλῆσαι, ἵνα καὶ ἄλλους κατηχήσω, ἢ μυρίους λόγους ἐν γλώσσῃ. 15 What then is (the argument so far)? I will pray with the spirit; I will pray also with my mind. I will sing with the spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. 16 Otherwise, if you bless in the Spirit, how will the one filling the role of the inquirer say “Amen” at your blessing, since he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up. 18 I thank God I speak in tongues more (often) than all of you. 19 But in the assembly I would rather speak five words with my mind, so that I may instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Now Paul sums up the argument so far. The tongue, which comes from the human spirit, by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and the native language (Greek for the Corinthians), which comes from the mind, are good things. Paul does not “slam” tongues with faint praise. It’s a gift of God, after all. Who would be so bold to put it down?

So far, this is a private, personal setting.

It is easy to imagine that when Paul was sailing on a ship or walking along in his missionary journeys, he found a private corner on the ship or walked ahead of everyone else on his team and prayed in his native language (Greek or Aramaic), and he also prayed in the Spirit, in a language unknown to his mind, but his spirit was built up and God understood it. He also sang songs–a wonderful image of him–both in Greek or Aramaic or a Spirit-prompted song in a language unknown to his intellect, but known only to God.

Or if he was with a small group who all spoke in tongues, for all we know they spoke out in tongues in private amongst themselves, provided an unlearned outsider did not hear them, but this is not the point of his teaching here, so let’s move on.

“Otherwise”: now Paul shifts back to a public setting, the assembly of the Corinthian Christians (see v. 17).

A tongue talker, blessing God by the Spirit, does not edify anyone else in the assembly. He give thanks well enough, but his words are unintelligible, so no one can say “Amen” with knowledge. Then Paul says that in the public assembly he would rather speak five words in the understandable native tongue (Greek) than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue, even though it may be inspired by the Spirit. Of course the numbers five and ten thousand are designed for rhetorical effect, so let’s not take them literally.

Yet the point is made: with the goal of instructing others, in the assembly five words in Greek is more edifying for the Corinthians than ten thousand words in an unintelligible language–unintelligible to them, but not to God who understands it.

This teaching on only an understandable language in a public assembly even argues against congregational singing in tongues. Sorry.

In v. 16 (and vv. 23, 24), I struggled with how to translate the noun idiōtēs (pronounced ih-dee-oh-tayss). It is about a person (hence the suffix –tēs). But what does the idiō part mean? It seems that many scholars say it means an “outsider” or someone “uninitiated” in a religious practice, like tongues. He is “unlearned” or “untutored” or “untrained”  or “unskilled.” Brookins and Longenecker suggest “seeker.” Any of those other words are perfect. I’ll stick with “inquirer,” even though Fee does not like it.

Then in v. 18 Paul startles the listener. He thanks God he speaks in tongues more (often) than everyone else in Corinth. I take this to mean that he spoke in tongues very often, but in private. He is informing the pneumatikoi that he really is just as spiritual as they are. They should stop looking down their noses at him. He too is a “person of the Spirit” or a “spiritual person.” Further, in v. 37 he will inform them that he has the command of the Lord. If anyone is ignorant about this, he is simply ignorant (v. 38). In 1 Cor. 12:28, he wrote that God placed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, and third teachers. It could be that the pneumatikoi fancied themselves to be prophets (vv. 29, 32). He reminds them that apostles are ranked first. Yes, Paul really is asserting his authority.

Verses 20-25
20 Ἀδελφοί, μὴ παιδία γίνεσθε ταῖς φρεσὶν ἀλλὰ τῇ κακίᾳ νηπιάζετε, ταῖς δὲ φρεσὶν τέλειοι γίνεσθε. 21 ἐν τῷ νόμῳ γέγραπται ὅτι

ἐν ἑτερογλώσσοις καὶ ἐν χείλεσιν ἑτέρων λαλήσω τῷ λαῷ τούτῳ
καὶ οὐδʼ οὕτως εἰσακούσονταί μου, λέγει κύριος.

22 ὥστε αἱ γλῶσσαι εἰς σημεῖόν εἰσιν οὐ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν ἀλλὰ τοῖς ἀπίστοις, ἡ δὲ προφητεία οὐ τοῖς ἀπίστοις ἀλλὰ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν. 23 Ἐὰν οὖν συνέλθῃ ἡ ἐκκλησία ὅλη ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ καὶ πάντες λαλῶσιν γλώσσαις, εἰσέλθωσιν δὲ ἰδιῶται ἢ ἄπιστοι, οὐκ ἐροῦσιν ὅτι μαίνεσθε; 24 ἐὰν δὲ πάντες προφητεύωσιν, εἰσέλθῃ δέ τις ἄπιστος ἢ ἰδιώτης, ἐλέγχεται ὑπὸ πάντων, ἀνακρίνεται ὑπὸ πάντων, 25 τὰ κρυπτὰ τῆς καρδίας αὐτοῦ φανερὰ γίνεται, καὶ οὕτως πεσὼν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον προσκυνήσει τῷ θεῷ ἀπαγγέλλων ὅτι ὄντως ὁ θεὸς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐστιν.

20 Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking, but be little children in regards to evil. And be mature in (your) thinking.

21 In the law it is written:

With foreign tongues
and with lips of foreigners,
I will speak to this people,
But even then they will not obey me, says the Lord [Is. 28:11-12]

22 And thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, but prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If therefore the whole assembly comes together in one place, and everyone is speaking in tongues, and an inquirer or unbeliever enter, will they not say, “You are crazy!” 24 But if everyone prophesies, and if an unbeliever or inquirer enters, he is convicted by all and examined by all, 25 the hidden things of his heart becomes manifest, and thus when he falls on his face, he worships God, declaring, “Truly God is among you!”

This section has baffled interpreters (me included) for many decades. One translator / paraphraser performs radical surgery and switches the words around in his paraphrase (!). But I believe that Gordon Fee, a high-level commentator (in my view), cracked the meaning open, so I follow his interpretation, though I simplify his thick, dense commentary, in its second edition (2014). (And I sometimes go my own way.)

And no, the “sign” function of the tongues has nothing to do with Pentecost, which was a special kind of miraculous tongues: the listeners did not need interpreters, for the 120 disciples were speaking in the listeners’ native languages. And we have all heard stories about an American (or someone else) who speaks no Chinese and talks in tongues and a Chinese man informs him that he was speaking perfect Chinese. Here in 1 Corinthians 14, in contrast, the tongues need an interpreter or else they were causing confusion. Different miracles, different contexts.

Did 12 or 120 Speak in ‘Spirit-Inspired Languages’ (‘Tongues’) at Pentecost?

So how, then, is a tongue a sign in 1 Corinthians 14? Let’s find out.

Seven points:

First, Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians generally that they were children in their thinking, and he tells them to stop (see 3:1; 13:11). This goes along with Paul’s earlier words about how they must use their minds in the public assembly (vv. 15, 17, 19). So their hyper-enthusiasm must be set aside, and they must be mature in their thinking. The pneumatikoi must also think and not reject their minds as unspiritual.

Further, the word evil comes from kakia, which can just mean wrongdoing. That is, Paul tells them they are wrong about uninterpreted tongues in the public assembly; it’s time for the extra-enthusiastic Christians to grow up and be mature in their thinking.

Second, now we come to the difficult verses. Starting off, recall Paul’s two main points thus far in this chapter:

A.. He disapproves of uninterpreted tongues in the assembly, for doing so when others are present turns the speaker into a “barbarian” or foreigner. (He is about to introduce us to the Assyrian barbarians “speaking in tongues” to the ancient Israelites.)

B.. He approves of prophecy in the public assembly; uninterpreted tongues ≠ prophecy, for prophecy is better in the assembly because prophecy edifies, because people can understand it since it was spoken in Greek (and English for us).

Armed with those two data points, let’s get to the crux of Paul’s argument in these verses.

Third, Isaiah 28:11-12 reveals a sign of judgment because in its original context the Assyrians (“barbarians”) were about to teach Israel a lesson, and these foreign invaders spoke foreign tongues (languages). And Isaiah says that when the ancient Israelites hear the foreign tongues, they will not listen or obey or repent. Blomberg  (p. 271) reminds us that in Is. 28:10, 13, which sandwiches vv. 11-12, these are words that sound like tongues in Hebrew: sav lasav sav lasav kav lakav kav lakav. It is difficult for Hebrew readers to translate the phrase, even today. It may have prompted Paul’s memory, so he used 28:11-12 to illustrate his larger point. And so in context, the foreign tongues were a sign of judgment on ancient Israel.

Fourth, likewise, in Corinth, when the inquirer or unbeliever comes into the public assembly and hears foreign tongues, he will conclude that the gathered people are mad or crazy and turn 180º and walk out. The speakers in tongues are “barbarians” or foreigners to him. He cannot even hear the gospel and therefore remains unrepentant, disobedient, and unsaved, as he walks out. Now, unredeemed, he is under God’s judgment. So foreign (uninterpreted) tongues are a sign of God’s judgment, as it was in Isaiah’s day, because the one who walks out of the assembly has nowhere else to go to hear the gospel of salvation (unlike today where churches are everywhere). How can the inquirer or unbeliever get saved elsewhere in Corinth? Paul’s church start-up was the only one in town. For its foul-up, the church itself may come under judgment, not just the unsaved person.

Therefore it is misguided to say approvingly that tongues is a “signs gift.” It is actually a sign of judgment! Instead, we should say that Paul’s main point is the public / private use of uninterpreted tongues. In public it is useless because it does not edify or lead outsiders to repentance. In private it edifies the speaker’s spirit, so uninterpreted tongues are useful for that focused purpose. Prophecy is better because it edifies the assembly and convicts the inquirer and unbeliever.

An important sidebar comment: This issue of unbelievers and inquirers walking out due to the verbal chaos in the assembly can apply to phenomena like roaring, barking, squawking, uncontrolled laughter, or other irrational speech phenomena. Inquirers and unbelievers will conclude that the assembled believers are crazy and walk out. If an uninterpreted tongue, which is a language, is inappropriate in a public assembly, how much more are those other verbal outbursts, which are not languages, inappropriate in a public setting. Those who manifest such things are not mature in their thinking; their minds are unfruitful. However, it is a blessing that the inquirers and unbelievers can go somewhere else to hear the gospel today.

Pastors who are open to the Spirit should not feel guilty when they don’t allow those uninterpreted (and uninterpretable) vocal outbursts in their churches. Tell the promoters and doers of them–no.

Fifth, Paul now leaves behind the foreign tongues in Isaiah because prophesying ≠ speaking in tongues, which is like a tongue from a “barbarian” or foreigner. Paul had been advocating public prophecy up to now in this chapter, so it will not be a sign of judgment. Prophecy is greater than uninterpreted tongues in the public assembly.

Prophecy is the right gift for believers in public because the inquirer and unbeliever gets saved; that is, God “reads his mail,” and he falls on his face and proclaims that truly God is in their midst–in the assembly. Therefore prophecy is a sign of God’s approval on the public assembly (though Paul does not use the word sign, but it can be carried over.) Prophecy is a sign of blessing on the believers who gather together publicly because judgment is lifted off the inquirer or unbeliever because he gets saved. Prophecy has accomplished its work of edification for the believers and salvation for the inquirer and unbeliever.

Alternatively, some commentators say that Paul did not leave behind the topic of judgment in Isaiah when Paul shifts over to prophecy. God approves of this gift for the assembly of believers because only prophecy edifies and saves the believers and inquirers and unbelievers, respectively. Therefore, the judgment of God is positive.

Sixth, Paul’s argument in vv. 20-25, boiled down, is as follows (the arrow means “leads to”):

Foreign (uninterpreted) tongues in Corinthian assembly = foreign tongues in Isaiah’s day → unrepentance, disobedience, and no salvation = a sign of judgment in Isaiah’s day on Israelites = a sign of judgment on the inquirer and unbeliever in Corinth (and possibly on the whole church)

Another, simpler way of saying it:

Uninterpreted tongues in the assembly → departure of inquirer or unbeliever → God’s judgment on his unsaved state → sign of judgment for inquirer or unbeliever → God’s disapproval (judgment) of the Corinthian public assembly

So this is why the Corinthians must grow up and be mature in their thinking; it is serious! Eternal salvation is at stake!

In contrast:

Prophecy in Corinthian assembly ≠ “barbarian,” foreign tongues in Corinth or in Isaiah’s day ≠ judgment because public prophecy → conversion of inquirer or unbeliever → God’s approval of their assembly (a positive judgment)

Another way of saying it:

Prophecy in assembly → repentance, obedience, and salvation for inquirer and unbeliever → no judgment on them → God’s approval of prophecy → his positive judgment on the assembly

Therefore, prophecy is for believers because they are following God’s instructions in the public assembly.

And seventh, to conclude:

As Paul has been saying up to now, no more public, unbridled displays of uninterpreted tongues! Believers are not edified and inquirers and unbelievers go away unsaved. God disapproves of this practice in the public assembly.

Prophesy publicly instead! This spiritual gift will lead to the edification of believers and the salvation of inquirers and unbelievers. God approves of this practice in the assembly.

The pneumatikoi must grow up, be mature in their thinking, and stop pushing for unbridled, uninterpreted public tongues; they must instead seek to prophesy in the assembly.

And so in vv. 20-25, Paul has repeated this basic point in a powerful way related to the salvation of unbelievers and inquirers:

Public prophecy > Uninterpreted public tongues

Verses 26-33
26 Τί οὖν ἐστιν, ἀδελφοί; ὅταν συνέρχησθε, ἕκαστος ψαλμὸν ἔχει, διδαχὴν ἔχει, ἀποκάλυψιν ἔχει, γλῶσσαν ἔχει, ἑρμηνείαν ἔχει· πάντα πρὸς οἰκοδομὴν γινέσθω. 27 εἴτε γλώσσῃ τις λαλεῖ, κατὰ δύο ἢ τὸ πλεῖστον τρεῖς καὶ ἀνὰ μέρος, καὶ εἷς διερμηνευέτω· 28 ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ᾖ διερμηνευτής, σιγάτω ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ, ἑαυτῷ δὲ λαλείτω καὶ τῷ θεῷ. 29 προφῆται δὲ δύο ἢ τρεῖς λαλείτωσαν καὶ οἱ ἄλλοι διακρινέτωσαν· 30 ἐὰν δὲ ἄλλῳ ἀποκαλυφθῇ καθημένῳ, ὁ πρῶτος σιγάτω. 31 δύνασθε γὰρ καθʼ ἕνα πάντες προφητεύειν, ἵνα πάντες μανθάνωσιν καὶ πάντες παρακαλῶνται. 32 καὶ πνεύματα προφητῶν προφήταις ὑποτάσσεται, 33 οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἀκαταστασίας ὁ θεὸς ἀλλὰ εἰρήνης, Ὡς ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῶν ἁγίων 26 What then is (the conclusion so far), brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a teaching, has a tongue, has an interpretation—let everything be done for edification. 27 If someone speaks in a tongue, let it be by two and at the most three, and in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is not an interpreter, let him keep quiet in the assembly, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others discern. 30 And if something is revealed to someone else sitting by, let the first person keep quiet. 31 For you can prophesy—all of you—one at a time, so that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subjected to the prophets, 33 for God is not (a God) of disorder, but of peace, just as in all the assemblies of the consecrated ones.

Verse 26 is the most important verse in the chapter because it summarizes Paul’s encouragement of the gifts of the Spirit. He is generous here. Each one can bring his or her gift to the public assembly. It is true that the masculine singular pronoun “each” is used, but this is a generic use, like our “mankind” includes women too. Each one–man or woman–can have a gift and bring it to share. Once again Paul links public tongue speaking with interpretation. The gifts are not only for the “persons of the Spirit” or the “spiritual ones,” the pneumatikoi alone. “Everyone gets to play,” as someone said back in the 1980’s. The whole point, though, is edification of everyone.

In vv. 27-28, Paul restricts the number of public displays of speaking in tongues to two or at most three, with the condition that someone must interpret. He had already said that if no one interprets, the speaker must not exercise this gift (vv. 5, 19). If the speaker is not confident that he or someone else will stand up to interpret, he should keep quiet. In 12:10 the interpretation of tongues is a gift, and perhaps someone “flows” in this gift more often than others do (vv. 27-28 seem to imply this). Nevertheless, regardless of an interpreter being present or not, the good news is that he who speaks in tongues is permitted to do so quietly to himself and to God, while in the assembly. He can “mutter” his tongues privately, softly.

In vv. 29-31 Paul restricts the prophets to a limited number who can speak in an assembly: two or three. With each prophecy, the others may discern. The verb for discern is diakrinō (pronounced dee-ah-kree-noh), which literally means “judge through” (any nonsense). The standard definitions, depending on the context, are as follows: “make a distinction, differentiate” (sort out the good from the bad); “single out” (the good ones); “pass judgment” (the Shorter Lexicon recommends this translation for v. 29); “judge correctly.”

Who are the “others” who judge? We can have a healthy debate on the “others,” but here is my take. They are not other prophets only, like an elite club. No. It is the others in the assembly. Letting the prophets loose to form their club is too risky, for there is no balance of power (and 1 Corinthians in its entirety is all about a power grab from Paul by the pneumatikoi). The pneumatikoi went too far and saw themselves as elites, even more powerful than Paul, their church planter and apostle. This interpretation is supported by Paul’s emphatic “all of you”; all of you have the capacity or the potential to prophesy. There is not an exclusive club of pneumatic prophets. Anyone and everyone can prophesy, but only two or three at most can speak up in any one assembly. If someone else receives a revelation–anyone else, not just a pneumatikos — then the prophet should keep quiet and listen.

The wording “something is revealed” shows us that a revelation occurs during the assembly. It is not a prepared sermon. Think of Agabus who spoke his prophecies (Acts 11:28; 21:10). He did not prepare a teaching after many hours of study. He simply spoke prophetically. Anyone who has been in a charismatic meeting where prophecies flow knows what this is like. Often someone gets a revelation right at the moment when it is needed.

In any case, Paul is restricting the super-star prophets who dominate a charismatic gathering. This restriction applies to meetings today.

New Testament Restricts Authority of Modern Prophets

Verse 32 must be learned by everyone who manifests “unusual” charismatic phenomena. No one is ever out of control in an assembly under the New Covenant (what Old Sinai Covenant prophets did is another matter). Biblically, there is no such thing as uncontrolled laughter or other utterances, like roaring or barking. If Jonathan Edwards (and other revivalists) allowed those things, then however great he was in other areas, he was short-sighted about extra-enthusiastic charismatic vocal outbursts in his revival meetings. Jesus was the Anointed One, but those things did not happen in his ministry. And throughout Acts the apostles and others (like Philip and Stephen) were also anointed by the ascended Anointed One, and those out-of-control phenomena never happened among believers at a gathering.

Why are the spirits of the prophets subject to the prophets? Paul explains in v. 33: For God is (the God) not of confusion, but of peace. This implies that the pneumatikoi (and other unwise, extra-charismatic Corinthian charismatics) were stirring up confusion, and peace did not reign in their meetings. I heard a pastor back in about 1994 say, “But how do you define ‘order’? How do you define ‘peace’?” For him, then, the definitions were open ended. He asked this so as to allow all sorts of unedifying, “unusual” charismatic vocal outbursts in his meeting. However, Paul would say no to them right now, if he could, just as he has been saying no to unbridled, uninterpreted tongues in the assembly in his day. If an uninterpreted tongue, which is a real language, spoken in an assembly, does not edify and is prohibited, then how much more will these other utterances, which are not languages, not edify and must be prohibited. They cannot be interpreted because they are not languages, as tongues are.

Paul puts these restrictions on all of the assemblies which he planted. This implies that Paul’s churches were very charismatic.

“Consecrated ones” could be translated as “holy ones” or “saints.” They are everyone who has repented and been born again and saved. On their repentance and being born again and saved, God consecrates them to himself and for himself.

Verses 34-36
34 αἱ γυναῖκες ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις σιγάτωσαν· οὐ γὰρ ἐπιτρέπεται αὐταῖς λαλεῖν, ἀλλὰ ὑποτασσέσθωσαν, καθὼς καὶ ὁ νόμος λέγει. 35 εἰ δέ τι μαθεῖν θέλουσιν, ἐν οἴκῳ τοὺς ἰδίους ἄνδρας ἐπερωτάτωσαν· αἰσχρὸν γάρ ἐστιν γυναικὶ λαλεῖν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ. 36 ἢ ἀφʼ ὑμῶν ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθεν, ἢ εἰς ὑμᾶς μόνους κατήντησεν; 34 Women are to be quiet in the assemblies, for it is not permitted for them to speak, but let them be submissive, just as the law also says. 35 If they want to learn something, let them inquire of their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God originate from you or come to you alone?

I’m not going to spend a lot of time here because my purposes in this long post is different from settling this issue. I have already covered this issue more thoroughly here:

What 1 Corinthians 14 Really Teaches

At that link, I concluded the following:

All of this implies that when the Corinthian church comes back into order, women can speak up at the right time, as they operated in the gifts of the Spirit, listed in 1 Cor. 12:7-11 and 12:28. (This latter verse includes apostles, prophets, and teachers.) The prohibitions in 14:34-36 were not absolute and universal. Therefore, women in all ages and cultures can speak up when order and decorum reigns in the church service and house churches.

Therefore, it is best read those verses as if they were not written two weeks ago, but in their original cultural and textual context, two thousand years ago. Yet order and decorum are universal and must be maintained at every time and in every place.

That’s all I have to say on this matter because my goal is to apply Paul’s teaching on order and decorum and peace to the Renewal churches today in regards to public tongues. But I say women should pray and prophesy and speak up in an orderly way, in an orderly assembly, even offering a teaching.

Women, Men, and Five Ministry Gifts in Ephesians 4:11

Are Women Allowed to Teach Men? A Close Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Verses 37-38
37 Εἴ τις δοκεῖ προφήτης εἶναι ἢ πνευματικός, ἐπιγινωσκέτω ἃ γράφω ὑμῖν ὅτι κυρίου ἐστὶν ἐντολή· 38 εἰ δέ τις ἀγνοεῖ, ἀγνοεῖται. 37 If someone thinks he is a prophet or a spiritual person, let him understand what I have written to you that (it) is a command of the Lord. 38 If someone is ignorant about this, he is ignorant.

Paul uses the word pneumatikos (second line, first word). Evidently, they may have seen themselves as prophets, too, or maybe they were separate but overlapping groups. In either case, Paul says he got his teaching by a command of the Lord. This must include Isaiah 28:11-12 (see v. 21, above), but very likely it also refers to revelations and insights he got while he was writing his letter and even before writing it, as he pondered and prayed over how to respond to the problems which the Corinthians were brewing for themselves. God was granting him wisdom about how to deal with their problems; and because of his apostolic authority, they were commands of the Lord.

If any pneumatikos is ignorant (about this), meaning his command from the Lord, at a minimum, then he is simply ignorant. He may be also talking about his apostolic authority to get the Lord’s command. If any pneumatikos is ignorant of Paul’s apostolic authority, he is simply ignorant.

Other versions of v. 38:

CSB: If anyone ignores this, he will be ignored.

ESV and NET: If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

NIV: But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

NKJV: But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.

My translation, influenced by the one by Brookins and Longenecker, looks like the NKJV. But I really like the others. Paul is once again asserting his authority. He is not lagging behind the pneumatikoi. If they can’t see this, then the others believers in the Corinthian church should just ignore them.

Verses 39-40
39 Ὥστε, ἀδελφοί [μου], ζηλοῦτε τὸ προφητεύειν καὶ τὸ λαλεῖν μὴ κωλύετε γλώσσαις· 40 πάντα δὲ εὐσχημόνως καὶ κατὰ τάξιν γινέσθω. 39 And thus, my brothers and sisters, be zealous for prophesying, and do not stop the speaking in tongues. 40 Let everything be done with decorum and in order.

And now, after a long and superb argument, which Paul summarized as a “command” of the Lord (v. 37), he wraps things up. He wants the Corinthian believers to understand that prophesying in the public assembly is best, but he in no way wants tongues to stop. No one should misunderstand his argument and tell everyone in the church that tongues are unimportant or second-class, and therefore this gift from God should be stopped completely. Tongues have their place in the believers’ life, so they should continue using them.

Recall that I had heard a pastor say he did not know how to define peace or order (or decorum), while wild things were going on in his church, back in about 1994. He even told his assistant pastors that it was good for people to attend a church where they could feel free to express themselves as they were doing. For him, these terms were open-ended, without clear lines that could be drawn between the manifestations in his church and the teaching here in 1 Corinthians 14.

But now I learn that he was wrong. As I already said, if uninterpreted public tongues is considered out of order, then how much more would barking and roaring and other odd vocal utterances be out of order! I believe Paul would immediately put a stop to them because they did not edify the believers with a known linguistic meaning (and therefore cannot be interpreted), and they would scare away the inquirers and unbelievers. I seem to recall that they actually did scare people away.

Decorum: go here: https://biblehub.com/greek/2156.htm

Orderly: go here: https://biblehub.com/greek/taxin_5010.htm

Other translations of v. 40:

CSB: But everything is to be done decently and in order.

(Most translations have the two terms “decently” and “orderly”, so they are not repeated here. But I don’t believe “decently” is the right word to translate euschēmonōs.)

CEB: Everything should be done with dignity and in proper order.

CEV: But do everything properly and in order.

NIV: But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

NLV: All things should be done in the right way, one after the other.

I like “dignity” of the CEB.

CONCLUSION

Paul’s main point is the edification of the assembly and the salvation of the inquirer and unbeliever who comes into the assembly. Uninterpreted tongues do not accomplish this goal, but prophecy does. Keep the tongues private, for personal edification, unless the speaker is sure the tongue can be interpreted. Don’t forbid speaking in tongues, in the right context. But seek to prophesy, instead, in the public assembly.

RELATED

Should Women Not Speak One Word in Church? A Close Look at 1 Cor. 14:34-36

8. Gifts of the Spirit: Spirit-Inspired Languages (‘Tongues’)

9. Gifts of the Spirit: Interpretation of Spirit-Inspired Languages

Did 12 or 120 Speak in ‘Spirit-Inspired Languages’ (‘Tongues’) at Pentecost?

Questions and Answers about Spirit-Inspired Languages

The Purpose and Importance of Spiritual Languages

Are ‘Tongues’ the Sign of Baptism with Spirit in Acts?

Should We Call It ‘Tongues’?

Women, Men, and Five Ministry Gifts in Ephesians 4:11

Are Women Allowed to Teach Men? A Close Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Yes, Junia Really Was a Female Apostle: A Close Look at Roman 16:7

SOURCES

Aland, Barbara and Kurt Aland. Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. 27th edition.

The 28th edition is available online:

https://www.academic-bible.com/en/online-bibles/novum-testamentum-graece-na-28/read-the-bible-text/

Blomberg. Craig. 1 Corinthians: NIV Application Commentary. Zondervan, 1994.

Brookins, Timothy A. and Bruce W. Longenecker. 1 Corinthians 10-16: A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor, 2016.

Fee, Gordon F. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 2014.

Gardner, Paul. 1 Corinthians: Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2018.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1 Corinthians: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Intervarsity, 2018.

Thiselton, Anthony C. 1 Corinthians: The New International Greek Commentary. Eerdmans, 2000.

 

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