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1 Corinthians Chapter 14, Part 2

by Karl Kemp  
6/15/2012 / Bible Studies

The verse-by-verse study of 1 Corinthians chapter 14 continues here in Part 2.

(20) Brethren, do not be children [The NIV has "infants." Compare Eph. 4:14.] in your thinking [Some of the Corinthian Christians were quite immature (fleshly) in their thinking, including their thinking about spiritual gifts.]; yet in evil be infants [That is, do not permit any evil - be innocent (cf. Rom. 16:19).], but in your thinking be mature. [The Word of God, backed up by the enabling grace of the indwelling Spirit of God, enables Christians to think right. On having a renewed mind (by the Word of God and) by the Spirit, see under 1 Cor. 14:14.] (21) In the Law it is written, 'BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,' says the Lord. [[Here "the Law" is used in a fuller sense than the Mosaic Law (as in John 10:34; 15:25; and Rom. 3:19). Paul is quoting part of Isa. 28:11, 12. If we do not understand Paul's use of this quotation, we will never understand the following verses. These prophetic words of Isaiah were quite negative; they spoke of the coming invasions (of Israel) by the victorious Assyrian and then Babylonian armies, who would speak with "strange tongues" (that is, they would speak their own languages, languages strange to the Israelites; cf. Isa. 33:19; Deut. 28:49). These armies came, as judgment from God, because His people would not repent and be faithful to Him. This quotation (in the form "quoted" by Paul) stated that the people would not repent and listen to God even after this judgment.]] (22) So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers [[unbelievers who aren't about to repent and become believers. As we discussed under 14:21, Paul is speaking of a negative sign, a sign appropriate for a rebellious, unrepentant people. The apostle takes it for a fact that the body of Christ is not characterized by rebellious, unrepentant people. Even at Corinth, where there was a lot of fleshiness and quite a bit of sin, the church was not characterized by unrepentant rebels. And, as Paul shows in this epistle, where there was sin at Corinth, there was discipline/chastisement from God to deal with it (see on 1 Cor. 11:28-32 in the article on 1 Corinthians chapter 11; and see 1 Cor. 5:1-13).

It would not be appropriate, therefore, for God to send such a negative sign (a sign like the one pictured in 1 Cor. 14:21) to the church at Corinth, nor did God send such a sign; however, and this is Paul's point, the misuse of tongues at Corinth (including the excessive amount of tongues and especially the fact that the tongues were not being interpreted and understood by the church) had all too much similarity with the "strange tongues" of Isa. 28:11. The apostle was still trying to wake up the Corinthians (those who needed to be awakened) that their misuse of tongues was a serious negative - it was time for them to stop this foolish behavior.

Many misunderstand Paul here because they wrongly assume that he was speaking of a positive sign, like what happened with tongues on the Day of Pentecost. For one thing, there is nothing positive in 1 Cor. 14:21. Furthermore, seeing tongues as a positive sign for unbelievers here would lead to a contradiction with what Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:23, where he asks if the unbelievers will think that they mad/crazy.]]; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. [[The words "is for a sign" are in italics in the NASB because these words were not included in the Greek. I would just as soon skip the added words "for a sign." (The verb "is" must often be supplied in the English when it was not included [or required] in the Greek. The comma after sign would also be omitted. We don't have Paul's original punctuation.) Paul's meaning is simply that prophecy (where God speaks to His people in a language they can understand) is appropriate for a believer's meeting, whereas tongues/languages that are not understood by those hearing them (as in 14:21) are not appropriate for a believer's meeting, but for a group of unrepentant rebels (for an unbeliever's meeting).

If we leave in the words "for a sign" (which is reasonable), the sign would be positive, a sign appropriate for a gathering of the believers at Corinth. By speaking of a positive sign, I do not mean to say that God's prophetic word to Christians or to a church could not contain any negative elements like a call to repentance (see under 1 Cor. 14:3). It is a loving, positive thing for God to call His people to repentance when such a call is needed (cf., e.g., Rev. 3:19, 20).]] (23) Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? [[On "ungifted men," see under 1 Cor. 14:16. Paul's point here was that the ungifted men and even the unbelievers (those who had not yet become believers in Christ) would be enough in contact with reality to see that it did not make sense for God to continue to speak to His people (whom He supposedly loved as His born-again children) in languages they did not understand. It was time for the Christians at Corinth who were doing all the uninterpreted tongue speaking in the church to wake up.

When Paul said, "all speak in tongues," he was picturing an exaggerated case where uninterpreted tongues were all that was being spoken throughout the church service. (Some of the Christians at Corinth may have desired a meeting close to this.) The picture was not, as I have heard it said, that Paul was concerned that they were all speaking with tongues at the same time. Note that in the next verse Paul spoke of a meeting where all prophesy. It is clear that he was not thinking of all prophesying at the same time. That would have caused chaos, and it would not have led to the positive results pictured in 14:24, 25. It would, of course, have been out of balance to have nothing but prophecy throughout the meeting (cf. 14:26, 29), but there still would be much good fruit, unlike a meeting in which there was nothing but uninterpreted tongues.

One last comment, and I am not being dogmatic on this point, I do not believe that Paul (or, much more importantly, God) would have considered it inappropriate for all the saints to pray and/or worship and/or sing in tongues together for a period of time (it would necessarily be without interpretation, except as God chose to give some special interpretation) as long as no one was being left out or needlessly being offended. I am not making a big deal out of this concept, but I do not believe that this practice by some in our day violates the guidelines set down by Paul in this chapter. Paul did not give a complete teaching on tongues or prophecy in this chapter; what he said was designed to meet the immediate needs of the church at Corinth.]] (24) But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; (25) the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. [[See under 1 Cor. 14:23. If an entire meeting consisted of prophecy, even though the meeting would be out of balance, it would still make sense, and the truths of the gospel could go forth. The idea here is not of a specific prophetic word spoken to an unbeliever or an ungifted man (though that could happen, as God wills); note that "he is convicted BY ALL, he is called to account BY ALL." (There is no guarantee, of course, that unbelievers will respond to the gospel no matter how much things are in order. Many never will repent; they willfully reject God and His gospel.) This certainly is a lot better result than the result mentioned if all speak with tongues: "will they not say that you are mad?" (14:23). As I mentioned, the apostle contrasts uninterpreted tongues and prophecy (using prophecy as an illustration of a charismatic gift that edifies) throughout this chapter.]] (26) What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. [The apostle is calling for a proper balance in the church service. On "each one," see under 1 Cor. 12:7. On "edification," see under 1 Cor. 14:3.] (27) If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret [[The apostle Paul limits the public speaking in tongues to two or three in a service. He does not specify how long a person would be permitted to speak with tongues, but it would definitely be limited. Throughout this chapter Paul insists that public tongues must be interpreted. I do not believe that Paul meant to say that all the interpreting must be done by one person; cf. 1 Cor. 14:13, 38. I'm sure the apostle would leave room for a message in tongues that was directed (by God) to a person(s) in the congregation who could understand the language, like on the day of Pentecost. Such a message would not need to be interpreted, but typically the rest of the people in the congregation would be informed what had happened when it became known.]; (28) but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. [Compare 14:2. To speak to himself and to God here includes not speaking out loud (that is, keeping silent in the church, so as not to distract others).] (29) Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. [[As with tongues and interpretation, prophesying is also to be limited to leave room for other ministries and activities. On prophets, see under 1 Cor. 12:28; 14:1, 3. Does the word "prophets," as it is used here, include the Christians who speak with Spirit-inspired utterance (cf. 1 Cor. 12:10) but do not receive revelations like in 14:30? It is possible; for one thing, such Spirit-inspired utterance is comparable with the interpreted tongues just spoken of in 14:27, 28 (cf. 14:5). It is important to see that the word prophet can be used in flexible ways.

Who are the others that are to pass judgment? Paul probably was thinking especially of the other prophets; however, I am sure he would agree that all Christians have some responsibility to judge what is spoken (cf., e.g., 1 Thess. 5:21, 22), and especially the other ministers that are present. For one thing, all prophecies must be tested against the Scriptures. In the days before the New Testament was completed, they would be tested against the accepted apostolic foundation of the new covenant (including the epistles of Paul that were available). Compare, for example, 1 John 4:1-6. They would also be tested, where applicable, against the Old Testament. Although Paul didn't mention it here, revelation received through tongues with interpretation (along with every other revelation or teaching) must also be tested. Prophets (and all ministers and all Christians) must also be tested by how they live (cf., e.g., Matt. 7:15-23).]] (30) But if a revelation is made to another who is seated [The one prophesying is pictured standing.], the first one must keep silent. [It is clear that Paul was speaking here of something beyond Spirit-inspired utterance, though that is probably included in what Paul means by prophesying in 14:31. The idea here is that the one prophesying must yield to the other prophets, not to mention the other ministries.] (31) For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted [[This verse is often used to support the idea that all Christians can, and should, be prophesying; however, it seems clear to me that Paul addressed these words to those who were gifted to prophesy, not to all Christians. See under 1 Cor. 14:5. If we exhort all Christians (especially those young in the faith) that the Bible says they should be prophesying (and this happened to me as a young charismatic), we are opening the door for potential big trouble if the Bible doesn't really say that (and I don't believe it does say that).]; (32) and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets [[Paul's point here is that it will not do for the prophets to say the Spirit made me prophesy, or that He made me keep on prophesying so that I could not stop and share the floor with the other prophets (and other ministries). The same thing is true for those speaking in tongues. The Spirit does not force us speak with tongues; He does not force us speak out loud during church services; He does not force us to keep on speaking; He does not force us to us stop speaking; and He does not force us to not speak at inappropriate times (for example, interrupting another person). Demon spirits, on the other hand, do tend to drive/force people to do things.]]; (33) for God is not a God of confusion [The NIV has "disorder."] but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. [God is a God of peace, and His people and the gatherings of His people will be characterized by peace to the extent His people cooperate with Him and do things His way. The NIV (and others) takes the last words of this verse with the next verse; the NIV has, "As in all the congregations of the saints, women...." I prefer the translation of the NASB.] (34) The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says, (35) If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. [[In the first place, I should mention that Paul was undoubtedly addressing a specific problem that he had learned of; this applies to much that the apostle says in this epistle (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 1:11; 5:1; 7:1; 11:18; 15:12; and 16:15-18). Secondly, we must recognize that the apostle was not requesting complete silence by women in church, but of their refraining from speech that was considered improper (out of order). First Corinthians 11:5 made it clear, for example, that women could pray and prophesy in church, but in 1 Cor. 11:2-16 the apostle dealt with the need for women to be submissive in church (which included having the head covered, as a symbol of submission, while praying or prophesying). See the discussion under those verses in the article on 1 Corinthians chapter 11. As discussed there, there is room to see some difference in what submission means in different, subsequent cultures.

In Paul's day for a woman to be involved in the theological discussions in church, even asking questions, was considered to be out of order and manifesting a lack of submission. First Timothy 2:11, 12 say, "Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet." In our day women asking questions, etc. is commonly done, and I believe (in most cases at least) it is proper.]] (36) Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? [The answer to these questions is obvious. The gospel did not originate at Corinth; it came there through the ministry of the apostle Paul. That being the case, it was time for the Corinthians to submit to the Word of God as it was delivered to them and stop trying to change it. They also needed to be submissive to the present ministry of the apostle Paul. I assume these words apply in a general way, and not just back to 14:34, 35.] (37) If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment. [These words (and many other words) demonstrate that Paul took his apostolic authority very seriously. I assume he wrote these words with some particular people in mind, who at least thought they were "prophet(s) or spiritual." It is clear there were some "Christians" at Corinth who were sure they did not need to submit to the ministry of the apostle Paul; surely they knew more than he did, and surely they were above him in the Lord, they thought.] (38) But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. [The NIV has, "if he ignores this, he himself will be ignored." In other words, as far as the apostle Paul was concerned, those who did not recognize (who disregarded/ignored) his apostolic authority were not to be recognized (they were to be disregarded/ignored by the church).] (39) Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy [cf. 1 Cor. 14:1], and do not forbid to speak with tongues. [This verse somewhat summarizes the message of this entire chapter; however, as Paul emphasizes in this chapter, the tongues must be interpreted if they are spoken out loud in church.] (40) But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. [Amen!]

May God's will be fully accomplished through this study of 1 Corinthians chapter 14.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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