Holy Spirit Bible Study Session 5
Prophecy. Paul clearly understands prophecy not merely as bold speech making critical comment on current issues but as inspired speech—like prophecy of old, as words given to the speaker to speak by divine compulsion (cf. ; ; ). Though it comes sixth in the list of , prophecy is (next to apostleship, ) clearly the most important gift for Paul (; ; , ; cf. ; ; ). This was presumably for several reasons.
First, it was the mark of the outpouring of the Spirit in the “last days” (; ). The widespread experience of prophecy among the earliest Christians was therefore proof that the climax to God’s salvation history was already in train. Unlike glossolalia, prophecy spoke to mind as well as spirit (). In other words, it addressed the whole man, expressing the wholeness of God’s saving power, thus preventing the believer from setting rational and spiritual against each other. Thus, consequently it built up the church more than any other gift, ministering both encouragement and consolation (vv 3, 31), bringing new revelation (vv 6, 26, 30)—of guidance for life or of God’s plan of salvation confirming the believers in their faith and converting the unbelievers (vv 22–25).
Discernment of Spirits. Not properly a gift of inspired utterance, it nevertheless has to be included here, since Paul sometimes associates it with prophecy (; ; , ). Claims of inspired speaking were no proof that the words were from God (). Those who have also received the Spirit have the responsibility of evaluating the utterance as to its source and significance (2:12, 13; 14:29; also ); they must test the charisma and hold only to that which is good, rejecting what is bad (). In other words, this gift is not independent of prophecy; it serves as a check on it. To put it the other way round, prophecy is not independent of discernment of spirits. Prophecy is a community gift, and the gift of prophecy is only complete when the community has tested and approved the message of God in it.
Glossolalia and Interpretation of Tongues. Like prophecy and discernment of spirits these last two members of the list hang together, the latter providing a check on the former lest it be abused in the ecstasy of inspiration. That glossolalia (speaking in tongues) was experienced in ecstasy at Corinth seems clear from the picture of uncritical enthusiasm and confusion that emerges from Paul’s rebukes (12:2, 3; 14:12, 23, 27–28, 33, 40). Similarly, ecstasy is implied in Acts (2:4, 6, 13; 10:44–46; 19:6).
Ruins at Corinth, the city where the church had to be corrected by Paul regarding spiritual gifts.
Paul values glossolalia, not as ecstatic speech, but as a quieter, less abandoned gift (), particularly in his own private worship (v 18). He seems to think of glossolalia rather as language: the word “tongue” certainly implies this, and “interpretation of tongues” could equally well be rendered “translation of languages.” However, the language is not that of men (as in ); it is rather the language of angels (), whereby the believer speaks to God (14:2). Paul values it as such, as enabling a different level of communication with God (“praying with the Spirit”—vv 4–7; cf. , ). In the assembly, however, he would prefer that the gift was restrained and only manifested if a subsequent utterance in the vernacular (interpretation of tongues) enabled the worshiping assembly to share in the individual glossolalist’s blessing (, , ).
Other forms of inspired utterance mentioned by Paul include preaching (; ; ; cf. ; ; ; ), teaching (; , ; ), exhortation (); “the Paraclete” could be called “the Exhorter” (, ; ; ), singing (, ; , ; ), and prayer (, , , ; , ; ; ; cf. ).[ii]