About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Chapters 14

ch. 14:1- 26     ch. 14:27-39

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Gifts Of Prophecy And Tongues (ch. 14:1 - 26)

There is only one chapter in the entire Bible that tells us how to conduct a gathering of the saints in a meeting, and this is that chapter.  It's sad to say, but most churches don't follow Paul's instructions here at all.  Our modern day church service looks nothing like you will see in this chapter.  It is my thinking that we are way too spectator orientated in our meetings, especially on a Sunday morning.  What Paul says in this chapter is participatory.  He wants everyone involved because that is the nature of a body, and we are the Body of Christ.      

 

Paul connects his previous thoughts concerning love by telling the Corinthian believers to "follow the way of love and to eagerly desire spiritual gifts."  These words clearly say that love is a way in which the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit are to be worked out.  Love is not a gift, but "a way" in which we should express our gifts.  While in this way of love, we should eagerly desire spiritual gifts.  It is not wrong to desire the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  As a matter of fact, I would say it is wrong not to desire spiritual gifts according to Paul's admonition here.

 

When I was young and first entering into the Charismatic Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s I was told by a church leader in our denomination that I was not to seek after the gifts of the Spirit.  I should in fact seek after the giver of the gifts, or so I was told.  That sounds nice but it is not Scriptural.  It is obvious that we are to seek after Jesus.  There is no controversy over that.  We can also seek after the gifts as we seek after Jesus.  Paul tells us to do just that in this verse.

 

When I was told to seek the giver of the gifts instead of the gifts, my only thought was this.  If the giver of the gifts has something He wants to give me, then what is wrong with asking for something He wants to give me.  I still believe that today.

 

The Greek word "zeloo" is translated into English as "earnestly desire" here in verse 1.  It is also translated as "covet" in other New Testament passages because that is part of its meaning.  We often think of the word "covet" in relation to a sinful action, but here Paul uses it in a good sense.  We are to covet the gifts of the Spirit.  I'm not sure why the church leader told me that I should not seek the gifts of the Spirit when Paul clearly says that we are to covet them.        

 

Paul goes on to say that the gift that we should be seeking most is the gift of prophecy.  Prophecy is in its simplest definition is speaking forth the Word of the Lord.  It's repeating something you hear from God to those who need to hear it.  Charismatic style Christians sometimes limit prophecy to a special message prefixed by the words "thus says the Lord," but it is more than that.  Inspired preaching can also be prophecy.  Foretelling the future can be prophecy.  Sharing Jesus over a cup of coffee in a coffee shop can be considered prophecy.  As a matter of fact, any words spoken about Jesus is somewhat prophetic if led by the Holy Spirit. 

 

In verse 2 Paul states the reason why prophecy is a good gift to desire.  He says that one who speaks in tongues does not speak to men but to God.  Prophecy, on the other hand, is God speaking to men through men.  The obvious implication is that prophecy is a gift directed specifically to people.  So, if you want people to benefit, speak something that is directed to them and not to God, something they can clearly understand.   

 

Note that Paul says that tongues are man speaking to God.  It is interesting to note that nearly every tongue that is interpreted in a Pentecostal or Charismatic meeting is God speaking to man through man.  If tongues are man praying to God, why are all of the interpretations God speaking to man.  That makes no sense.  Should not the interpretation sound like a prayer to God instead of a prophecy to the church?  I heard one teacher say that most of our interpretations are really prophecies.  If that is indeed the case, then the tongues never get interpreted, something Paul says later should always take place in a meeting.   

 

In verse 2 Paul says that when someone speaks in tongues, he is "uttering mysteries with his spirit."  No one can understand what the person is saying when speaking in tongues.  For this reason it doesn’t benefit the church, but, the one who does speak in tongues is being edified, according to Paul.  He is being lifted up in his own spirit because of the gift he is using. For this reason Paul suggests that in a church gathering we prophesy so everyone can benefit.

 

In New Testament terms, a mystery is something that cannot be attained or understood in human ways.  It takes a divine intervention to make the mystery known to the human understanding. 

 

The word "spirit" here is translated from the Greek word "pneuma."  This word in its simplest root form means breath or spirit.  The point to be made here is, if we translated pnuema as spirit, should we capitalize the letter "S" to mean the Holy Spirit or should we not capitalize the letter "s" to mean a human spirit.  In Koine Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, there are no capital letters.  So, it is up to the translator's bias or thinking how he should translate this Greek word.  You will note that some version of the Bible use the word "Spirit" as in Holy Spirit while others use the word "spirit" as in a human spirit as the NIV does. 

 

Another thing to note here is that the 1994 edition of the NIV uses the term "his spirit," as in Paul's spirit.  The NIV suggests that when one speaks or prays in tongues that it is the individual's spirit who speaks or prays in tongues.  Other translations use the words "the spirit" instead of "his spirit."  This would suggest that it is the Holy Spirit that is doing the speaking or the praying.  This issue cannot be resolved from the grammar of the Greek text.  It is thus a matter of interpretation and theological position that will determine how one translates this verse.  On the other hand, when you read verse 14, as we will later, you might prefer to use the phrase "his spirit."                

 

In verse 3 Paul says that when one prophesies, that is, speaks the Word of the Lord, no matter the format, speaks to people for their benefit.  They benefit because they can understand what is being said.  That's simple common sense.  With this in mind, sometimes I think that some pastors speak way over the heads of those they are speaking to.  They may use huge theological words that may impress the people, but the people fail to understand what is being said.  The best way to convey the Word of the Lord is to speak in such a way that those who are listening will understand, and that means the speaker must know the type of people to whom he is speaking.

 

In verse 4 Paul says that "He who speaks in tongues edifies himself."  For those who have never prayed or spoken in tongues, will not really know what Paul means.  I have been praying in tongues since 1971, so I understand what Paul is saying here.  There is a real personal benefit to having the gift of tongues.  On the other hand, as Paul has already said, he who prophesies edifies the church because the church can understand what is being said.

 

I'm not convinced that Paul is saying that the gift of prophecy is more important than the gift of tongues.  Each has its place and when properly used in its place is important.  I was raised in a church that did not believe in speaking in tongues and for those might have conceded on the issue a bit, they said that tongues was the least of the gifts, thus suggesting there is no need for them.  I disagree.  Like all the gifts of the Spirit, each gift is important when used in its proper place.  When used out of its proper place the gift becomes not so beneficial.                   

 

In verse 5 Paul says that he would like everyone to speak in tongues, but I would rather have everyone prophesy.  Once again prophecy is more beneficial to those who are listening than one praying in a language that cannot be understood. 

 

When Paul said that I would, or as the Greek implies, I wish, every one of you would speak in tongues, the Greek verb "speak" is an infinitive verb.  You could say that Paul wished everyone would be "tongue speakers."  I mentioned it before, but when I began to enter the Charismatic Movement of the 1970's as a youth certain adults in the church my family was a member of, told me not to seek tongues.  I did not accept the advice back then, mainly because of what Paul says here.  Paul wished that everyone spoke in tongues.  Therefore, there is nothing wrong with speaking in tongues or wanting to speak in tongues. 

 

Another thing to note about this statement of Paul's is that if he said "I wish you all spoke in tongues," to me, that suggests that not all spoke in tongues.  I believe I can safely say this.        

 

Paul even goes as far to say that the one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues.  I don’t think that we should reduce the importance of tongues from reading this verse as some have done.  Tongues have its place, and so does prophecy.  All the gifts have their proper place and should be used accordingly.  A gift used in its proper place is a greater gift than one used out of place.  In the context of the gathering of the saints, one who prophesies is more effective than one who speaks in tongues, unless as Paul says, one interprets the tongues.

 

I would be careful making too much of a big deal over the use of the word "greater" here.  Paul is not one to speak of some people being greater or more important than others.  I believe we have seen that already in chapter 12 and elsewhere.  Every person is great in the Body of Christ.  No one is less great, but, when people are using their gifts in an appropriate way, they are more effective than those who are using their gifts in an inappropriate way.   

 

I think it's a good idea to think of the word "greater" here as being more beneficial for the instance in which one finds himself in.  Another way to put it is that the one who prophesies in a gathering of the saints if more effective than the one who speaks in tongues.  

 

In verse 6 Paul basically says that if he came to their gathering speaking in an unknown tongue without any interpretation, how would that benefit them.  He says what is more appropriate in this situation is to prophesy, teach, or speak forth a revelation or special knowledge.  Again, it's all about what is important at any given time.  What is the Lord's will to benefit all in a meeting?  

 

In verse 7 Paul uses an analogy of musical instruments.  Unless there is a distinction in the notes, no one would be able to hear or understand what melody is being played.  I often think of a church sound person when I read this verse, that is, a person who operates a music sound system in a church.  From a musician's standpoint, our instruments need to be heard or how can those listening benefit.  If the sound is not balanced and some instruments cannot be heard, then it is not worth the effort to play the instrument.  People should be able to clearly hear the particular notes and sounds being played by every instrument.  This is what Paul is saying here, yet, he is relating it to prophecy and tongues.  If we can’t hear or understand the words, it makes no sense to speak or listen.  This is also important in our larger churches where prophecies are spoken from the congregation.  If someone speaks out a prophecy from his seat and no one can hear him, then the words spoken are useless.  Those who speak forth the Word of the Lord should learn to speak loudly and clearly enough for all to hear and benefit. 

 

In verse 8 Paul says that if the trumpet does not make a clear sound, how will people know to be prepared for a battle.  This is a cultural idiom.  The trumpet was a multi-use instrument.  In Jewish culture the blast of a trumpet meant something.  It could be a call to gather for a meeting, or, as Paul says here, it could be a call to gather for war.  The trumpet blast must go forth in clarity in order for people to know how to respond.  The same is true in a meeting of the saints.  All that is spoken must be spoken in a way in which people know how to respond.  This would include the words that are said in a meeting.  Some preachers like to show off by using huge theological words that most do not understand.  That might do a lot for their ego but it does little for those who are listening to what is being said.

 

Verse 9 says that "unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue how will anyone know what you are saying."  Paul is repeating himself as he often does.  His point is simple.  Speak in a way that you are both heard and understood.  Use words that people can understand.  Speak loud enough that people can hear, but most of all, speak under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for this is what this chapter and the preceding two chapters are all about.  Too often these days people speak under the inspiration of themselves and not the Lord.  This is pure humanism and as far as I'm concerned, there is way too much humanism in the church these days.       

 

In verse 10 Paul says that there are all sorts of languages in the world.  They say that there are roughly 7000 different languages in the world.  Paul says "that none of them are without meaning," yet even though all these languages have meaning, if we cannot understand them, they have no meaning to us.  For this reason in verse 11 Paul says that if I can't understand the one speaking and if the one speaking can't understand me, it's clear that we are foreigners to each other.  We have no real way to communicate.

 

In verse 12 Paul states a bit of a conclusion.  He tells these believers that since they are eager to use their spiritual gifts, they should use the ones that are most edifying to the church as a whole.  Again, I don't think Paul is saying that prophecy is a better gift than tongues.  Prophecy is only better when in a larger gathering of the saints where people need to understand what you are saying.  Tongues have their place, and in certain situations may be more relevant than prophecy.  Paul is speaking of using the gifts of the Spirit in the context of a meeting.  That's why he is majoring on prophecy more than tongues.  

 

There are a couple of things to note from verse 12.  One is that Paul is pointing out their zeal for spiritual gifts.  He is not condemning these people for their zeal.  This man is not doing what a man told me in my youth.  He said that I should seek the giver of the gifts, not the gifts.  Paul is not saying that here. Secondly, Paul speaks of "excelling" in the gifts of the Spirit.  This suggests that there is room to grow in whatever gift that you have.  I strongly believe that there is room for one to grow in whatever gift the Holy Spirit gives him.    

 

Verse 13 is just a matter of common sense.  If someone is going to speak in tongues in a gathering of the saints, he must pray for the interpretation so everyone knows what he is speaking.  There is nothing overly hard to figure out there.  

 

Also in verse 14 Paul introduces a new word into the discussion on tongues.  To date he has been using the phrase "speaking in tongues."  Now he uses the phrase "praying in tongues."  Why would he use the words speak and pray interchangeably as he appears to be doing here?  I think the answer goes back to verse 2 where he says that tongues are speaking mysteries to God.  Tongues are a prayer to God, not a message from God to the church, as is prophecy. 

 

Note also, as I noted in verse 2, that the NIV says the words "my spirit" prays.  Most all translations use the words "my spirit" and not "the spirit" as seen back in verse 2.  Both context and grammar suggest the words "my spirit" is the best interpretation of this verse.    

 

Paul then says that when he prays in tongues, or prays in the spirit, his understanding is unfruitful.  This simply means that he does not know what he is praying about.  He does not understand the words he is uttering.  I can certainly attest to that since I pray n tongues every day.

 

In verse 15 Paul continues by saying that he will both sing and pray with both his spirit and with his mind.  He will pray in tongues, and he will pray with his understanding. He will do both.  We should, therefore, encourage those who are able to pray in tongues.  We should make room for praying and singing in tongues in our meetings as a form of worship to the Lord.  The first time I ever heard a group sing in tongues collectively was amazing.  From that point on I knew I wanted to be able to sing and pray in tongues, which I do. 

 

Again in verse 15, in my 1994 edition of the NIV we see the term "my spirit."  It would seem to me that because of the use of this term throughout this chapter, praying or speaking in tongues is a matter of one's spirit praying.  

 

In verses 15 and 16 Paul simply makes another common sense statement.  If you pray or speak in tongues in a meeting of believers, you might well be praising God, but no one knows what you are saying.  Note again, that praying or speaking in tongues is a matter of praising God and not a matter of God speaking to you.    

 

In verse 18 Paul thanks God that he prays in tongues more than all of the believers in Corinth .  I would say that is saying a lot.  This must mean that Paul spoke and prayed in tongues every day of his life.  If this is the case, then we should not put down the gift of tongues as a second class gift of the Spirit.  There are no second class gifts.  "Yet in the church," Paul says, "I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue."  Paul's point is simple.  It's common sense.  He is a teacher and he needs to instruct in a way that is understandable.

 

The whole thing boils down to where tongues are being spoken.  If they are spoken out lout in a gathering of the saints then they need an interpretation or else they are a waste of time.  If they are spoken in prayer by yourself, then they don't need an interpretation.  As Paul says in verse 15, he will pray and sing in tongues.                         

 

Paul appeals to the Corinthian's intellect in verse 20 by telling them to stop thinking like children.  They need to start thinking like adults in the way they conduct their gatherings, and really, in all of life.  I think this is a word that the present Evangelical church really needs to hear.  I believe much of the Christian Evangelical world is Biblically illiterate and thus is influenced by humanistic thought.  This makes us like children.  We need to grow up in our understanding of Biblical truth but that takes effort, effort to study the Bible.  I think Paul would be very disheartened to see the church in today's world.    

 

Verses 21 through to verse 25 are very hard to understand as you will see.  Commentators will point out the difficulty in these verses but most have no real answer to solve the difficulty.  Many commentators simply ignore this portion of Paul's letter and skip to the next part.  I'll try to explain what I think might be going on here, but even my explanation may not be correct. 

 

Paul says, "In the Law it is written."  The word "Law" for the most part in the New Testament refers to the Law of Moses, not to the prophets.  In many cases you will read the phrase "the Law and the Prophets" which makes a distinction between those two portions of the Old Testament.  Paul may be combining both Law and Prophets here into one category since he does not quote from the Law of Moses but from the prophetic book of Isaiah.  On the other hand, the Law of Moses does come into play when understanding the Isaiah passage that Paul quotes.

 

Deuteronomy 28 describes the curses God would bring on Israel if it failed to live up to their commitment to obey the Law.  As a matter of fact, if you read Deuteronomy closely, you will note that in itself it is a prophetic passage because it actually predicts the future of Israel and the curses Israel would encounter, one of which is found in Isaiah 28, the passage Paul quotes from.         

 

Paul quotes from Isaiah 28:11 and 12 to back up his point.  Many commentators say that he is neither quoting from the Old Testament Hebrew text or the Septuagint, the Old Testament Greek text.  They say he seems to be quoting from another Semitic text.  "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then, they will not listen to me, says the Lord."  There are two things we need to know and understand to even begin to understand why Paul quotes this passage and why he uses it to back up what he says in verse 22.  The first thing to know is what Isaiah 28 is all about. 

 

In Isaiah 28 Isaiah is warning the southern kingdom of Israel which is Judah that unless the nation repents it will fall to an invading people which everyone understands to be Assyrians.  King Sennacherib of Assyria did invade Jerusalem in and around 701 B.C..  This is what Isaiah was warning his people about but as we see in Isaiah 28 the people mocked him, thinking he was being childish.  The fact of the matter is that the people were the childish ones, not Isaiah.  Isaiah's prediction came true when the Assyrians invade Judah .

 

The point that Isaiah made, and which Paul appears to be referencing is that if Judah did not repent and listen to the prophet Isaiah who spoke their  own language, then another people who spoke a foreign tongue would invade them and those foreigners Judah would be forced to hear.  The background to the Isaiah quote Paul uses in this passage, but how does this apply to what Paul is saying?  That's part of the difficulty of this passage in 1 Corinthians 14. 

 

The second thing to understand why Paul quoted the Isaiah passage right after he admonished the Corinthians not to be childish is that some of the Corinthians were being as childish as the Jews in Isaiah's day.  Do you see how the idea of childishness brings verses 20 and 21 together?

 

Basically, the Isaiah quote is saying that if the Jews are going to remain childish and unbeliever the prophetic word, then they would be forced to hear those of foreign tongues.  It might well be for this reason why Paul in verse 21 says that tongues are for the unbeliever.  This means that when an unbeliever hears the wonders of God through the interpreted tongues, as they did in Acts 2, they would be forced to make their decision for or against the Lord.  The tongues and their interpretation would convict their hearts, as was the case in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, but there's more to the difficulty as we are about to see.  First of all, the second part of verse 21 states that prophecy is for the believer.  Prophecy is a gift of the Spirit that God uses to speak to His people.

 

At this point I'd like to make a point again about the Acts 2 tongues.  Many people believe those tongues were actually preaching the gospel to those who heard, but I do not believe this to be the case.  If that were the case, why did Peter feel the need to preach the gospel again after the tongues died down?  Besides, Acts 2:11 specifically states that those speaking in tongues were declaring the wonders of God and I don't see that as preaching the good news of the cross of Christ.  Many commentators actually connect Acts 2:11 with 1 Corinthians 14:21, and for good reason.   

 

Note in verse 22 the word "sign."  If you are an unbeliever and if you hear tongues, then those tongues are a sign pointing you into the right direction.  The sign is telling you that you're on the wrong road and you better get on the right road.  

 

In verse 23 Paul keeps on the topic of tongues not being beneficial if there is no interpretation.  He says that when the whole church comes together, meaning a large body of people - not a small home group -  if an unbeliever or one who has little understanding concerning tongues comes in and hears everyone talking in tongues, these people will think the tongues speakers are out of their mind.  This is not the case with prophecy because an unbeliever or one with little understanding could at least understand the words being spoken. 

 

It's interesting to note that Paul just said that tongues is for the unbeliever but here in verse 23 he says the opposite.  This is the rest of the problem I spoke about earlier.   Unbelievers will think you are mad or out of your mind if you speak in tongues, that is, without an interpretation, which isn't stated in the text but I think is implied.  

 

It is also interesting, which furthers our ongoing difficulty over this passage, to note that in verse 23 Paul said that prophecy is for the believer, yet now in verse 24 and 25 he says that if an unbeliever hears prophecy the secrets of his heart will be laid bare.  So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, God is really among you.  This is one important reason why we should allow the gifts of the Spirit in our gathering.  It is so that unbelievers will be convicted by the presence of God and fall and worship Him.  Remember, Paul is teaching these people how to conduct their meetings.  We have a lot to learn when it comes to these matters.  So now we learn that prophecy is for both the believer and unbeliever, depending on the circumstances.

 

Paul says that where there is prophecy, unbelievers will see the power of God and come to Jesus.  Isn’t this what we want in our gatherings today?  This should tell us something about the gift of prophecy.  For me, it says that the prophetic word can reveal hidden things in people's lives, something many people want to steer clear of today.   

 

Note in verse 23 the 1994 edition of the NIV says, "those who do not understand."  Other translations says something like the "unlearned."  The Greek word translated as into these words is "idiotes."  I'm sure you can recognize that this is where we get out English word "idiot" from.  This Greek word means, "unlearned, not a professional, an ordinary street level person without knowledge, or something similar.    

In conclusion, Paul appears to be contradicting himself in verses 21 through 25, but I'm sure in his mind he doesn't see any contradiction.  For this reason, I'm not convinced we can read Paul's mind on this issue.  The best I can do is to say what I've said, that is, until I can come up with a better explanation for this apparent contradiction. 

 

It seems to me that Paul is saying that in one respect tongues is for the unbeliever at times yet in another respect it is for the believer.  Tongues can be used at times to convict the heart of the unbeliever and then at other times prophecy can be used to convict the heart of the unbeliever.  It all depends on the situation at hand.    

 

 

 

Orderly Worship (ch. 14:26 - 39)

 

Paul opens this section by saying,  “what shall we say brothers”.  He is including his readers in the comments that he is about to say.  He expects them to agree with him concerning the conclusions and instructions that he is about to pass on to them.

 

He says that when everyone comes together as a church some “will have a hymn, a word of encouragement, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.”  The implication here is that everyone brings something to the gathering for the common good of everyone present.  Church meetings are not a spectator event but a participation event.  Our church meetings should be structured to allow everyone to participate. 

 

Paul continues his theme about tongues and how this gift should be used in the church.  He says that two or three can speak in tongues, but someone must be there to interpret the tongues.  I am not sure that Paul would stop at three people speaking in tongues.  His point by using these numbers is “orderliness”.  There must be sufficient time for everyone’s gifts to be used.

 

In verse 28 Paul says “that if there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church, and speak to himself and God”.  To me, this would suggest that before the person speaking in tongues actually speaks out, he should know if there is one there with the gift of interpretation.  If not, then he should speak to himself and God.  This is a little different than what normally happens in a Pentecostal or Charismatic church today.  Most of the time a person speaks out in tongues, hoping and praying that someone will interpret. 

 

On the other hand, Paul says that the one speaking in tongues should sit down, that is after he begins to speak, if there is not anyone present who can interpret the tongues.  Therefore, in this case, the person does get up to speak in tongues, and maybe doesn't know if there is someone in the gathering that can interpret what he says.  

 

If there is no interpreter, then the person should speak to himself and God.  This suggests that one can speak in tongues, or pray in tongues as previously stated quietly to the Lord as a prayer.  There is nothing wrong with people quietly praying in tongues in a worship service.

 

In verse 29 Paul says that “two or three prophets should speak and the others should weigh carefully what he said”.  Once again Paul uses the numbers two or three.  Paul specifically calls these people prophets.  He does not say that two or three people should prophesy.  He is speaking about the “gifts of Christ” as  seen in Eph. 4:11.  The ministry of a prophet is one of these gifts of Christ.  One important thing to note here is that the rest of the people should “weigh carefully” what is said.  What is said should line up with good Biblical teaching.  All prophecy should be judged and if something is said that is clearly wrong, there should be an immediate response to what was said.  I've seldom seen an immediate response to a false prophecy.  That shouldn't be.  Truth should be more important than the fear of hurting someone's feelings.   

 

Paul says an interesting thing in the next verse.  He says that while someone is speaking, if someone gets a revelation from the Lord, then the speaker should stop what he is saying, sit down, and let the person with the revelation speak.  Now the person who is already speaking may feel what he has to say is from the Lord, and should not have to stop until he is finished.  But Paul doesn’t say that.  He says that this person should wrap up what he is saying and sit down.

 

Why does Paul say such a thing.  In verse 32 he says “that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets”.  This means that our spirit is subject to us.  We have control over our own spirit.  Even though our spirit may be inspired to say something that the Lord has showed to us, it is still subject to our understanding of what is orderly.  Even though we may have to cut our speaking short, we can do that, even though it is inspired.  So we control the orderliness of our gatherings, even though what we are doing is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

 

Back a couple of verses Paul said, “let the prophets speak…”.  Now in verse 31 he says that “you may all prophesy in turn…”.  One by one, in an orderly fashion, everyone who has a prophecy can speak forth the Word of the Lord as he feels led.    

 

Paul's remarks in verses 34 and 35 have been debated over for centuries.  They can be pretty controversial, especially from a woman's point of view.  Paul says that women should remain silent in the congregation of the saints.  They shouldn't speak.  If they have a question they should ask their own husband at home.  He then says that it is a disgrace for a woman to speak in the congregation of the saints.  How should we view this?  Is there a cultural element to Paul's thinking?  If there is a cultural element, how far do we take culture in attempting to interpret the Bible?  What is culture and what is the Word of the Lord?  Understanding culture is important, but, saying something is cultural so we don't have to follow the instructions is tricky and can lead to wrong thinking.

 

There is a bit of history that is important for us to understand here.  In the Roman Greek world that Paul was speaking to, women were beginning to have more independence than in days past.  You may remember Lydia in the book of Acts.  She was a business woman.  That being said, in general terms men were more educated than women.  Women would often have to ask their husbands questions to gain an understanding about things.  This plays a part in what Paul is saying here in verses 34 and 35. 

 

Back in verse 31 Paul said that "you can all prophesy".  Does all mean all men or all in attendance?  I personally believe all means all in attendance, so, in my thinking, women were permitted to prophesy, which, they were permitted to speak.  The obvious question arises then, "Why does Paul tell women not to speak here in verses 34 and 35?  I think the context and the above history might give us the answer. 

 

In verse 33 Paul says that a gathering of the saints must be performed in an orderly fashion.  Simply put, people shouldn't be talking over each other.  Each should have a turn to speak.  No one should manipulate the conversation.  If women were less educated than men, which are the historical fact, then, it appears that women were asking their husbands and maybe other men questions to help understand what was being said or prophesied.  These questions would have interrupted the flow of the gathering and maybe led to some confusion which would take away the orderly format to the gathering.  Therefore, Paul said that women should ask their own husbands at home the questions they were asking in the meeting.  When Paul was saying women could not speak in the meeting, I believe he was saying women could not, should not, ask these questions in the meetings.  However, if they had a prophetic word, then they were allowed to speak.  Paul says that this is how all the churches handle these matters. 

 

It is interesting that Paul uses the Law of Moses as a defense to what he is saying; especially when Paul believes the Law's significance has been greatly decreased when it comes to matter of faith, doctrine, and church practice.  What I believe Paul might have had in mind when he used the Law to defend his point is that he was not using the Law to defend the point that women must be silent in a meeting.  He was using the Law to defend his statement that wives should be in submission to their own husbands.  Of course, the aspect of the Law was not done away with because it reflects God's intent at creation as seen in the Genesis account.

 

To sum this up, what Paul teaches about women and how they relate to matters of salvation and church was a huge departure from the Roman Greek culture in which he lived.  Women today might put Paul down because they think he was anti-women, but that's not true.  He was not anti-women.  He was ahead of his time when it came to women.  He taught things about women that men of his day would cringe at.  I would also go as far to say that Paul's teaching about women has formed the basis for our western thinking about women today, that is, other than the ultra-feminist movement.  I believe Paul would allow women to speak the Word of the Lord in a gathering of the saints.  We do know there were women prophetesses.  See Acts 21:9.  I doubt if these women just prophesied outside the context of a meeting.  Paul simply did not want women, and I would believe the same would apply to men, to interrupt the flow of a meeting with questions.                      

 

It is not just a suggestion for them to consider.  He asked in verse 36, “Did the Word of God originate with you?  Or are you the only people it has reached”?  The answer Is surely “no”.  The  Corinthians are not the only Christians that have received the Word of God.  They do not have all of the answers.  Paul strongly believes what he is saying is God’s command to the churches.

 

If the Corinthians “ignore” these commands then they in turn should be ignored, says Paul.  This is a strong exhortation by Paul to these people to get their meetings on the right track.

 

The important thing for us here is that if these words are in fact the words of the Lord, then like the Corinthians, we should be following what Paul teaches here, but we don't.  How then can we expect the moving of the Holy Spirit in our meetings when we don't follow His teaching. 

 

Paul closes the chapter by saying, “be eager to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues.  But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way”.  Paul definitely encourages the use of the gifts of the Spirit, especially tongues and prophecy as seen in this verse.  The only qualification he has is that things should be done in a “fitting and orderly way”.  That only makes sense. 

 

One thing I've noticed over the years is that many Evangelicals have taken this verse to an extreme and have been so orderly that the moving of the Holy Spirit can't take place.  There is no place for spontaneity.  I don't believe this is what Paul is speaking about here.  I think Paul is teaching orderly spontaneity.

 

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