1 Corinthians 14 Commentary
1 Corinthians 14:20-40
20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature.
In verse 20 Paul seems to pause for a moment, and with a great sigh he says, “Brothers, don’t be children in your thinking…” The word “brothers” is the Greek adelphos, and it refers to Christian brothers in this context. It is evident that the Corinthians were immoral, confused, and unorthodox in many areas of their lives, but Paul still addresses them as “brothers.” The mere fact that he wrote to them as he did means that he believed they were truly saved. Their actions were not a reflection of Christ, however, and because they were his brothers it was his responsibility to correct them – not judge them. As professed believers in Christ they had put themselves under the authority of Christ and were accountable to other Christians. Paul himself had already told them that those within the church were to be held accountable for their sinful behavior – not those outside the church who have not professed Christ as Lord and Savior. Paul’s tone is strong, but it’s strong because his brothers were defaming the name of Christ.
When he tells them not to be “children in your thinking” he’s condemning their immature behavior with the issue of speaking in tongues. The whole context is a condemnation against their misuse, and they were acting like children who wanted attention for their tongues-speaking. They thought like children, yet they were adults. Furthermore he tells them “in evil be babes.” Just a child is innocent in his/her ignorance of the evil ways of the world, Paul wants them to be too as adults. They didn’t need to know all that was evil by mingling in with the rest of the world. In other words, Paul was telling them, “Stop thinking selfishly like children, but instead be children in your ignorance of the evil and wicked ways of the world. Grow up! Your misuse of the wonderful spiritual gift of tongues-speaking is reprehensible. Now stop acting like children.”
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. 22 So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers, but to those who believe.
Verse 21 is a quote from Isaiah 28:11-12, and notice that Paul calls this OT prophetic book “the Law.” Technically the Law concerns the Pentateuch (or Torah, the first five books of the OT) as written by Moses, but on occasion in the NT “the Law” is a summarizing statement for all of the Scriptures. The context of Isaiah 28, in relation to the problem of tongues in 1 Corinthians, has to do with the ancient Assyrians who were the dominating world power in the 8th century BC. Isaiah, in chapter 28, was prophesying to the southern kingdom of Judah about 15 years after the fall of the northern kingdom called Israel (the united kingdom split in 930 BC and became the north and the south – Israel and Judah respectively). The northern kingdom had gone into captivity at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 BC because of their rejection of God while the southern kingdom of Judah remained intact. However, Judah was beginning to show signs of disobedience, and Isaiah was sent to prophesy against her behavior. In essence Isaiah was reminding the Jews of what happened to their brothers in the north – how “men of strange tongues” had captured them. Because of their unbelief God sent that pagan nation against them as the rod of His discipline. Even Moses, 800 years before Isaiah, said as much in Deuteronomy 28:49 when he said, “The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand.” And Jeremiah, about 100 years after Isaiah, said, “Behold, I am bringing a nation against you from afar, O house of Israel,… a nation whose language you do not know, nor can you understand what they say” (Jer. 5:15). All of these prophecies of strange tongues coming from foreign nations were prophecies against the Jews concerning their disobedience. Because they were disobedient God sent pagan nations, who spoke in languages they did not understand, to judge them. So Paul’s quote here of the Isaiah passage means that the gift of tongues was given to the Church as a sign of God’s judgment on Israel’s disobedience, specifically for their rejection of their Messiah – Jesus Christ.
So, per verse 22, the message of the tongues were given to show Israel that God had judged them. They were a “sign.” In the same way that the barbaric Assyrians, as referenced in Isaiah 28:11-12, spoke to Israel in foreign and strange tongues as they took them into captivity, so now the Gentiles would speak to the Jews using the spiritual gift of languages as a sign of God’s judgment against them for rejecting their Messiah. God had used His messengers (the prophets) to speak to His people in their own language, and they refused to repent. Now it was judgment time, and this is the clear biblical reason for the gift of tongues. It’s certainly notable here that in the Book of Acts each time the gift of tongues and miracles are used there are Jews present (Acts 2, 8, 10, 19).
It is important also to note that Jesus used parables as a sign of his rejection of the Jews. The kingdom of heaven was offered to the Jews (the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”) in Matthew 10, the Jews rejected Jesus Christ as their Messiah in Matthew 12, and then Jesus rejected them in Matthew 13 through the use of parables. He used these stories to hide the truth to their dull ears and eyes – another example of how strange speech and language is used by God as a sign of judgment on those who reject Him. So 1 Cor. 14:21 is Paul’s way of teaching the Corinthians that they were misusing the gift of tongues. Whereas they saw the gift as a show of their “deep spirituality” Paul was reminding them that it had nothing to do with that. It was predominately a sign of God’s judgment on the Jews.
But tongues were also used as a sign of blessing. The gift served to show that God was no longer working through just one nation, specifically Israel. The gift of tongues also served as a sign that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, was for all nations where many different languages were used. Paul says as much in Galatians 3:28… “There is neither Jew nor Greek… slave or freeman… male or female… for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The transgression of the Jews in their rejection of their Messiah actually brought about salvation for the Gentiles (cf. Romans 11:11-12; 25-26). And the sign of tongues as a blessing was repeated in Acts 10:44-46 when the Gentiles were included in the church of Jesus Christ.
The gift of tongues was also a sign of authority. They were given, first of all, as a sign of judgment against Israel. Second, they were given as a sign of blessing to the Gentiles. And third, they were given as a sign of authority to the apostles and the NT prophets (cf. 2 Cor. 12:12; Rom. 15:9). After the apostles and prophets pointed the way to the Messiah and had their message backed up with the gift of tongues, miracles, and healings, the gift no longer had any reason to exist. This is why Paul even said that it would cease (cf. 1 Cor. 13:8). It would be like following directions to someone’s home. You pass the first landmark, the second, then the third – all are signs pointing you to the house. But when you arrive at your destination you no longer need any landmarks. You’re there! So it was with the gift of tongues as a sign of authority. They pointed to Jesus Christ by validating the ministries of the apostles and prophets. Once there, they were no longer needed. The world knew, the scriptures were written down, and we can either believe the message of salvation from the mouth of validated apostles or not.
Dr. John MacArthur makes the following observation: “It is interesting, and I believe highly significant, that no record is given of a single word spoken in tongues or even interpreted. Every reference to tongues is general. They are always mentioned in relation to their purpose and significance, never in relation to their specific content. The messages given in tongues were not new revelations or new insights, but, as at Pentecost simply unique expressions of old truths, ‘the mighty deeds of God’ (Acts 2:11). Though tongues could edify when interpreted, their purpose was not to teach, but to point, not to reveal God’s truth but to validate the truth of His appointed spokesmen.”
Prophecy, on the other hand, was never given for unbelievers as tongues was. Prophecy was given for believers. Though the English version above says that prophecy is given as a “sign” to believers, in the Greek text “sign” is not there. Prophecy is never called a “sign” in the Bible because it doesn’t point to anything. It isn’t given to point to anything, but it is given for edification. The gift of prophecy (proclaiming God’s Word) concerns inspired speaking in normal human language. It is given not as a sign but as edification for believers. Tongues was inspired speech spoken in a language unlearned by the speaker, needing interpretation, and given as a sign to unbelievers. Paul’s whole admonition was to strive after prophecy because it edifies the church. The Corinthians, however, were only concerned with themselves as evidenced by their tongues-speaking.
23 If therefore the whole church should assemble together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?
Verse 23 draws a conclusion in a hypothetical situation. The situation is that when the church gathers together in one place for worship, if all begin to speak in tongues, anyone who enters who either does not speak in tongues (the “ungifted”) or have the ability to interpret them (not all Christians possess the gift) or if an unbeliever should enter, they would believe the tongues-speakers to be lunatics. Now for a believer in Jesus Christ to be labeled a lunatic is obviously not a good witness for Jesus Christ. If the outside world and/or other Christians who don’t speak in tongues should enter a congregation where tongues are being practiced among other professed believers the bottom line is that those believers will be labeled as a bunch of crazy lunatics. The gift of tongues was not given to be used in public worship of God. Since all do not possess the gift, they consequently cannot be edified by the gift. In Acts 2:11 it is noteworthy that those Jews who came to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost plainly understood what was spoken by Peter and the apostles who received the gift of tongues that day. Tongues were given to be understood, not to bring confusion.
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;
In v. 24 Paul, once again, contrasts the confusion of tongues with the beauty and coherency of prophecy. If, on the other hand, a group of believers gather to worship God and to prophesy (preach and teach God’s Word) – if an unbeliever or another Christian who does not understand tongues should enter, then at least five things are said to occur. First, he is “convicted” by all. This word means “to show fault or error; to expose.” One who enters a worship gathering where God’s Word is proclaimed, whether a believer or unbeliever, has no choice but to be convicted of his/her sin just through the hearing of God’s Word. That’s amazing! But it goes hand-in-hand with Hebrews 4:12… “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The power of God’s Word is made manifest in the preaching of His Word. Preaching God’s Word is of utmost importance in corporate worship. Without it, there is no conviction, and without conviction from God’s Word through prophecy we all die in our sins.
The second thing that is said to transpire when prophecy occurs in church worship is that the person convicted of his/her sin is “called into account by all.” After a person is “convicted” of his/her sin they are “exposed” – they are naked before God, as it were. With their sins exposed and their lives full of humility before God, they stand to “account” for their sins. This word means to be “evaluated; questioned.” In other words, following a conviction through the hearing of God’s Word we then stand before God in judgment as He evaluates us. No one, of course, can stand before God with their head held high. This is the reason He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for us. For when we stand before God in judgment we can only defer to Christ having paid our penalty.
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.
The third thing that transpires upon hearing God’s Word prophesied is that “the secrets of his heart are disclosed.” Once a person is convicted of their sin they stand before God in judgment of their sins. As they stand there by themselves with no one to blame for their sin, God sees right through them. The “secrets” (Greek kryptos) – the “hidden things” are laid bare – they are “disclosed; clearly seen.” All the sins and problems that sinners attempt to hide from others, themselves, and even God are clearly seen by God. At that point – a point every single person who breaths and dies will reach – no one and nothing can help them except the Lord Jesus Christ. He has granted forgiveness for the worst of sins to all those who place their faith in Him alone, apart from works, for salvation.
The fourth thing that transpires after the previous three comes as a result of the previous three: worship. Those who go through this process can do nothing but “fall on their face” and worship God. The word for “fall” here is a word used for buildings that collapse, and in the context here it’s about a person going from a high level to a lower level in humility. The word for “worship” here means “to bow down before someone; to do obeisance to.” What else can a person do who has stood before God full of sin and been forgiven of all? Nothing else but worship.
The final thing that transpires is prophecy. The person who truly experiences God’s forgiveness goes out and “declares” that God is among you. To “declare” something is to proclaim and announce a truth. This is what prophecy is. So the whole experience is circular. It begins with prophecy, and it ends with prophecy – that wonderful gift that edifies the whole church in contrast to the inferior gift of tongues which only edifies the one speaking. This is the crux of the matter in Paul’s dealings with the Corinthians with the issue of tongues. The great apostolic evangelist was attempting the bring the whole issue back down to earth where God’s Word is preached and Christ’s name is proclaimed so as to bring unbelievers to salvation and existing believers into deeper fellowship with their Creator.
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 first 25 verses of 1 Cor. 14 give the doctrinal basis for the use of tongues in the assembly of believers. Paul does this in many of his writings. He always presents a theological basis for the applicational exhortations that follow. In the Book of Romans Paul uses the first 11 chapters to teach theology, then he uses chapters 12-16 as exhortations to proper Christians living. He does the same thing in the first three chapters of Ephesians (doctrine) and the last three chapters (application/exhortation). There is always a theological basis in the biblical writers’ mind for the application they give. In 1 Cor. 14:1-25 Paul gives the doctrinal basis for the verses that follow in vv. 26-40. So, beginning in v. 26 Paul says, “What is the outcome then?” It’s as if to say, “Alright, so what does all this mean?” Then he summarizes what the Corinthians have been doing in their assemblies. Some are singing psalms (likely the Psalms of the OT), some are teaching, some have revelations that they share with others, some speak in unknown languages (while many were speaking with the true gift of tongues as well), and some are giving interpretations of those languages. Paul already affirmed that this church was filled with spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Cor. 1:1-9), and it is evident in v. 26 that they were using them. Paul obviously affirms this in summary, but he commands that all the spiritual gifts being used MUST be done for “edification.” The Corinthians were using all the gifts listed in v. 26 for their own benefit, but Paul commands (imperative verb) that they change their hearts, motives, and goals. Now instead of using God’s beautiful gifts t edify themselves, they are instructed to use them to benefit others. This is why spiritual gifts are given in the first place – to edify the body of Christ not the individual believer.
Notice in the passage that everything listed is used for the worship of God (with the exception of counterfeit tongues). Even the true gift of tongues had a place in serving God, but these folks (and many today) were using legitimate forms of worship and twisting them. Everyone was speaking at the same time, and the result was absolute chaos in what was supposed to be an orderly worship service. No one was listening to the other with the possible exception of a visitor to the congregation who was, no doubt, left to sit and look upon the mayhem in disbelief. They would, as many do today, leave the assembly and relegate the whole church as a bunch of loonies.
27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and let one interpret; 28 but if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.
In v. 27 Paul doesn’t address the aforementioned “psalms, teachings, or revelations,” but he only hones in on the speaking in a tongue and the interpretation thereof. It is likely that those three gifts were also being manifested in foreign languages, so Paul just addresses the issue of tongues and interpretations. He sets up the proper order for speaking in a tongue (the singular use here should be distinguished from the pagan utterance because the subject, “anyone,” is also singular, thus giving credence to the fact that Paul is here speaking about the true gift of tongues). The proper way to speak in tongues in the worship gathering is fourfold: First, only “two or thee at the most” should speak. Second, each one should speak one at a time (“each in turn”). Third, and each one who speaks MUST have an interpreter. Fourth, if no interpreter is present the tongues-speaker should remain silent. God is a God of order, and He is not worshipped apart from truth and out-of-control-slain-in-the-spirit people. He works in those saints who consciously seek Him in spirit and in truth, whose minds are conscious and controlled.
Verse 28 is clear when it teaches that if no interpreter is present when others are speaking in tongues, then those who have the gift must remain silent. Why? Because there is no use for tongues, even the true gift, if no one understands, and understanding comes only from an interpreter. They must remain “silent” if no interpreter is present. But notice where they are to remain silent: the church – the assembly of believers who have come together to worship. They are not commanded to remain silent outside of the church, but neither are they given the commission to use their gift of tongues freely outside the assembly. When the text says, “Let him speak to himself and to God” it does not teach that tongues become some kind of prayer language after one is silenced in the church. It is simply an admonition to go elsewhere since he can’t speak in the church. He is to go “speak to himself and to God,” hence, let him go and pray. He can’t contribute to the assembly of believers with his gift, so let him go and be alone with God. The passage might move us to believe that Paul advocates a time of prayer in tongues with God, but that isn’t what it says. Furthermore, the spiritual gifts are never once used as a ministry to or for God. Those with the gift of teaching don’t go teach God; those who prophesy don’t prophesy to God; those who administrate (or lead) don’t lead God; those with the gift of giving don’t give to God because He’s poor; those with the gift of helps don’t help God. Neither do those with the gift of tongues use their gift to speak to God. God understands all languages, and the gift of languages was given as a sign to unbelievers (v. 22), not as a way to pray to God.
29 And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.
In the same way that tongues-speakers were to speak one at a time, using their gift to proclaim God’s mighty deeds (v. 27), so too were the prophets who proclaimed God’s Word through new revelations given by God. Of course they also repeated God’s former revelations as they taught the gathering of believers. There were two ways in which the NT prophets prophesied. First, some were able to receive new revelation from God. Second, others were simply reiterating what the apostles had taught (this is the function of pastors/teachers today).
There were to be no more than three prophets who had the floor, as it were, and they were to speak in turn (cf. v. 30). Not only this, but the words they spoke were to be evaluated (“judged”) by those they spoke to. Now those that “judged” might have been the congregation as a whole (since all of them prophesied in v. 24). But they were likely a more specialized group who had the spiritual gift of discernment – that special gift that grants the ability to distinguish between true and false spirits and one that evaluates all of the spiritual gifts as true or counterfeit. The “others” in this context then, would be anyone who knew the apostolic teaching – the teaching of the apostles who saw the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. For their words was what prophecy was compared against. If a prophecy uttered by a prophet in the congregation did not line up with apostolic teaching then it was to be discarded. This goes hand-in-hand with the Apostle John’s teaching in 1 John 4:1 where he says to “test the spirits” to see if they are from God.
Now since v. 24 supposes that all are prophesying in the church, this passage cannot actually be limiting the prophetic utterances to only two or three prophets. Rather, the issue seems to concern the judgment of those hearing the prophecy. In other words, all who are gathered can prophesy in the corporate gathering of believers (no matter how many were there), and though v. 29 seems to limit the prophetic speaking to “two or three,” those speaking prophecies must be “judged” by those they speak to before another person prophesies. What Paul is doing is attempting to keep all prophecies orthodox as opposed to letting everyone speak without being heard and evaluated. What he was protecting against was a disorderly worship service where pagan and godless prophecies might enter in and go unnoticed amongst all the mayhem of everyone prophesying out of turn and speaking in tongues. Paul is going to great lengths to make sure that what the prophets were saying was indeed edifying, and he didn’t want un-edifying prophecies (false prophecies) being spoken any more so that he wanted un-interpreted tongues-speaking. The tongues-speaking, without an interpreter, that no one understood was worthless in the worship gathering, and the prophecies spoken were potentially detrimental unless they were “judged” by the others present. Paul simply wanted all prophecies tested to see if they were orthodox.
30 But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, let the first keep silent.
Now if, while one man is speaking God’s Word to the congregation, another man receives a new revelation from God, the first man speaking was to sit down and give his time to the one receiving new revelation. Possibly while one prophet was speaking God would reveal more of Himself to another prophet in that company, and Paul wanted all that God revealed to the prophets to be revealed to the worshipping congregation. The new revelation took precedence over the teaching that already existed and had been taught. It must not be overlooked here that this was an apostolic time period when God was revealing His Word to the apostles and the prophets. These two offices ceased to exist when the writing of the NT was completed. It is clear in the Book of Revelation that Jesus told John explicitly to write: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19). Now even though the specific statements written by John here pertain to the Book of Revelation, it must be noted that Revelation was the final book written by an apostle – the last one standing, as it were. Anything that would be added to the Bible through the so-called “new revelations” that charismatics believe they receive in the modern-day would in fact add to or subtract from God’s written and completed work as found in the Bible as a whole.
31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted;
All were able to tell about God’s mighty works through prophecy in the first century church, but they were to do so “one at a time.” The gift of prophecy was exclusive to a few, but the commission of a prophet was given to all. And all were commissioned to declare God’s glory. The reason for this was “so that all may learn and all may be exhorted.” Instead of handfuls of prophets speaking all at once Paul calls for one to speak at a time, and each in turn, so that all may learn. The word for learn means “to direct one’s mind to something so as to gain an external effect.” That’s what prophecy is for – to learn so as to build up (edify) the body of Christ. The second reason is for “exhortation.” This word can also be translated at “encourage,” but it’s important to note that the nuance is not “to comfort” as that word sometimes rightly taken to mean. It rather refers to a “push to obey; to beg; to plead.” So when one man prophesies about God’s mighty works and what He has commanded for His children to do, one learns from hearing the message of the prophet, and he/she is pushed to obey God’s Word. It’s the twofold nature of teaching in general. First, we share the knowledge of what God has said. Second, we encourage people to obey what God has said. Obedience without knowledge only brings skepticism as to why we do anything. But knowledge without action only makes us more accountable for knowing the truth and yet rejecting our responsibility to act on that truth.
32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; 33a for God is not a God of confusion but of peace,
When God is truly present and being worshipped in spirit and truth in any church there will be no competition or contradiction among those who preach His Word. In the first century Corinthian church Paul commanded this among those that spoke – the prophets. When he says, “And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” what he is saying is this: Each prophet must control his gift, remain in control of himself, and speak only as the Holy Spirit leads him to speak. A rough paraphrase might say, “Now the prophets are responsible for their behavior to be led by the Spirit.” Paul wanted to put an end to the out-of-mind slain-in-the-spirit mentality that the prophets in that church had. They were out of control. But when the Holy Spirit leads the way His prophets are in full control of their faculties. After all, one of the fruits of the Spirit is in fact “self-control” (Gal. 5:23). Those preachers who say things like, “When the Holy Spirit takes over, you can’t worry about clocks!” so as to justify their long-windedness are prophets who are not in control of their spirits. The self-control, or lack thereof, by God’s messengers is one of the tell-tale signs on whether or not the Holy Spirit is at work in the worship gathering of believers. The Holy Spirit has always brought order to chaos, even as far back as Genesis 1:2. It is the devil himself who is the author of confusion and disorderly conduct. As one man has commented, “Chaos and discord in a church meeting is certain proof that the Spirit of God is not in control.” Furthermore, the messages of all prophets must be pitted against the teachings of the NT since the 21st century church does not receive new revelation from God. Every message from the pulpit that is preached must be in line with what the apostles and prophets of the first century taught, for there are many false prophets today that are sent by the devil to trip Christians. The Spirit is to be sought after for guidance, and the spirits are to be tested (2 Peter 2; 1 John 4:1–6). Even true prophets can make mistakes in their interpretations through their own biases, and it is the task of every believer to evaluate their messages carefully.
Introduction to women…
The issue of women and the Bible is a hot topic of discussion among Christians, mainly among those who take the teachings of the Bible seriously. The NT was written during a time when women were little more than third-class citizens. Going backward into the OT women, depending on the time period and the ruling empire, were still regarded as lower than men. Discussions and debates concerning women in the modern day still grind on the uneasy nerves of some. Equal rights, equal pay, and equality in general are still very pertinent issues among women today when compared to their male counterparts. So when the Bible, God’s timeless and inspired Word to mankind, espouses a view that strikes a cord of disdain among His children, teaches a doctrine contrary to the accepted norm of the day, what are Christians to do? How should they handle teachings that seem to reflect a first-century culture that held women in very low regard? The issue seems hopeless to many who have their minds closed to the clear teachings of the Bible and open only to progressive theology where God is supposed to change with the times. Some folks simply refuse to even discuss the issue. But the issue isn’t nearly as volatile as it may seem. First, women are never once in the Bible labeled as lower than men. They are a compliment to men, for the woman was originally created to be the man’s “helpmate.” Adam needed a helper in the beginning, so God made the woman. Clearly man was (and is) not complete without the woman by his side (who was taken out of his side).
The problem came about when the woman fell to the temptation of the serpent in Genesis 3. She succumbed to his logic to disobey God, and then she led her husband (Adam) into the sin. That changed everything, for the it brought about the fall of every human being who would ever be born. Following that terrible event a curse fell upon all of mankind, the earth, and even the animal inhabitants of the earth. God placed a curse upon the woman that not only gave all authority to her husband (a mandate that already existed), but gave her the desire to have his authority. So, though the man was given authority over the woman in everything, the woman’s curse was that she would want his authority, and the very fiber of her being would desire to usurp that authority.
Throughout the OT the women did traditionally submit to their husbands – certainly those of the godly line. This can be seen in women like Sarah, Leah, Ruth, and Hannah. The fact that there was actually a woman who was a judge in Israel (Deborah) can only be viewed in a negative light, for she ruled over God’s people during the most wicked of times – the times of the judges when “There was no king in Israel; everyone did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 18:1; 21:25). Far too often Deborah is used as an example that women can and should rule over men, but this reasoning is faulty. She ruled because the men were spineless as jellyfish, and she is an example of what happens to a society when women are given rulership over men. Even Isaiah the prophet said as much as he mourned the decadence of his day: “O My people! Their oppressors are children, and women rule over them. O My people! Those who guide you lead you astray, and confuse the direction of your paths.”
Now the NT also has much to say concerning women. It should first be noted that the Gospel writer Luke depicts Jesus as showing the utmost compassion and respect for women. And why wouldn’t he? Jesus created women, and he loves them as much as he loves men. They are different from men, not inferior to them. They have differing roles within the sexes, but their roles compliment each other, not contradict each other.
Second, though the Apostle Paul has been accused of having been a male chauvinist with respect to his admonitions for the submission of wives to husbands, his writings are said to be “scripture” by the Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 3:16. Peter goes on to say that it is only “ignorant and unstable” people who twist Paul’s writings “to their own destruction.” So, it is a dangerous task indeed to relegate Paul’s writings as male chauvinistic. Paul teaches that wives are to submit to their husbands and to respect them in everything (Eph. 5:22-23; 33); he teaches that women are never to teach or have authority over a man in the church worship gathering (1 Tim. 2:11-12); he teaches that wives are to submit to their head (husband) as the authority over them in the same way that Jesus Christ submitted himself to God the Father (1 Cor. 11:2-26); and he teaches that though women can teach, their audience must be limited to other women (Titus 2:3-5). All of these passages are consistent with each other and the teaching of the OT. So, when one comes to the admonition in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 it makes sense to understand that what Paul is saying here is consistent with all of scripture.
33b As in all the churches of the saints 34 let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 And 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.
It is noteworthy that the word for “woman” and “wife” are the same word in the Greek text. Context always determines which use is best. In this context “wife” is best used because the woman is told to ask her “husband.” The same is true in Ephesians 5:22-33 where marriage is clearly in view.
First, it must be noted that the latter half of v. 33 (“as in all the churches of the saints”) is better placed as a preface to v. 34 as opposed to being used as an ending to v. 33. Paul is saying that in every orthodox Christian church of the first century the women were to remain silent in their particular congregation. This is what was practiced by all the churches that Paul and the apostles started. Up to this point in the context of the polemic against the Corinthians and their worship, Paul has made it clear that their worship gatherings were out of control. He has corrected the tongues issue by telling them that only two or three at a time can speak, and each one who speaks must speak in his turn. Furthermore, there was to be no tongues-speaking without an interpreter. In each instance Paul uses masculine pronouns for those who were to speak in tongues and/or interpret those tongues. It’s never given to a woman to speak in tongues in the church service or to interpret those tongues. The same is true with prophecy. When someone is prophesying about God, again, only two or three could have the floor at one time. Each one was to speak in his turn, and each pronoun Paul uses is masculine which clearly shows that Paul only has men in view here who were to prophesy in formal worship gatherings.
At this point it is important to remember that 1 Cor. 11:5 seems to grant approval for women praying and prophesying in the public worship gathering. Paul affirms the practice of the Corinthian women in that passage, but does he mandate it there? The answer is no. In 1 Cor. 11:5 there is no mention at all of public worship or of women being formal teachers in the worship service. It is very likely that Paul has in view here the female practice of praying and/or prophesying in public places as opposed to the formal church worship services. There isn’t one instance in the NT where any writer forbids women to pray in public or declare God’s mighty deeds to others – even to their male counterparts. On the contrary, women were commanded to prophesy, but their preaching was to be done to other women and children (1 Tim. 2:15; 5:16; Titus 2:3-4). Some women may even have had (and have) the gift of prophecy as Philip’s four daughters did in Acts 21:9. But even though women are granted this gift and the commission to prophesy they are never given permission to do so in the public worship forum where men are present. Women are to pray and prophesy within the boundaries of what God has prescribed in the whole of scripture, and even that is to be done with proper submission toward their authorities.
So, in vv. 34-35 when Paul tells the women to “remain silent” he does so within the context of speaking in tongues, interpreting those tongues, and/or prophesying. If one man was prophesying and/or giving a new revelation from God, if the woman didn’t understand the prophecy or revelation, she was forbidden to speak out and ask what it meant or protest the contents of the revelation. She was commanded to ask her husband at home as opposed to asking in the public worship.
Paul says that the women were to “subject themselves just as the Law also says.” The “Law” here is a reference to the OT. Some have said that there are no specific OT references that command the women to be silent. But Paul is referencing the woman’s submission in this phrase in relation to the law, not silence. And the Law, namely Gen. 3:16, does command that the wife submit to her husband (“Yet your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you”). This was part of the curse of women after the fall – not that they submit, but that they would have trouble submitting because of their own desire to rule. Now Paul adds that in submission to their husbands they are to remain silent during the church worship while the men interpret the tongues and receive revelation from God. This reference to the “Law” goes to great lengths to keep the passage from being relegated to a cultural norm. Paul doesn’t command women to remain silent in the church because it was cultural but because it was scriptural.
As v. 35 states, because it was completely inappropriate for a woman to speak in church, if she should have any questions about what is being prophesied in the public worship she has only one option: to ask her husband at home.
The entire teaching here regarding women is parallel to Genesis 2-3. God gave Adam the mandate to keep from eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam told Eve of the warning, but she didn’t like it, so she disobeyed it. Her actions subsequently plunged the human race into sin. Why? Because she didn’t like the mandate. Is it any different today? Can mankind expect to fare any better today just because we don’t like God’s Word? Let us be very careful in interpreting scripture, and let us be even more careful when we interpret something that we just don’t agree with. Just because we may not understand it fully or just not approve of it, this doesn’t negate what God has put before us.
36 Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?
This sarcastic statement by Paul is aimed straight between the eyes of the arrogant Corinthians who thought so highly of themselves that they apparently believed that all gospel truth began and ended with them. This is typical of charismatic churches today who look down on those who don’t possess the gift of speaking in tongues. They felt that they alone had all of God’s attention, and this dangerous attitude was leading them down the path to destruction. Paul basically says, “God’s Word did not originate at your church!” The implication is that the Corinthians had no right to decide independently of other Christian communities how Christians should believe. Paul gave them orthodox truth that was pertinent for all Christian churches.
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.
The NT has 27 books, and the Apostle Paul wrote at least 13 of those books (possibly even Hebrews too whose author is unknown). Paul believed that as an apostle of Jesus Christ he was writing the very words of God, that is, Jesus Christ. Verse 37 proves that what the Corinthians were reading were words from God Himself, and it shows that the Apostle Paul was a true apostle and prophet. His office of apostle is the first and foremost of the spiritual gifts (12:28), and even though his credibility was low among the Corinthians, he reminds them who he is and what he’s doing, namely, espousing God’s inspired Words to this immature group of believers caught up in the carnality of their world.
Whoever the prophets and tongues-speakers were in the church at Corinth they would likely have been infuriated at Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians. And the women who took part in the worship service were likely just as miffed by being told to remain silent. After all, Paul was correcting their unorthodox behavior. His sharp words, no doubt, hit a nerve, as it were, with these people, and though they might have greatly resented him for such, Paul claims inspiration for his position. Anyone who was a prophet or who considered themselves “spiritual” was to understand that Paul was speaking directly from God – his words were the “Lord’s commandment.” The prophets were likely the high-ranking “clergy” who were respected by all. Now these pompous Corinthians were receiving a rebuke. Those that thought of themselves as “wise” (3:18) and as “having knowledge” (8:2) were being shown that this wasn’t the case at all. It is likely that Paul was addressing only a few people here, as in 4:18 and 9:3, although his words were for the entire congregation (and the church today!).
It is the basic human reaction for those who think so highly of themselves and their ministries to listen to no one. Their reaction to Paul’s rebuke would determine who “spiritual” they really were. This is a tried and true test for all of us today when we receive criticism for our actions. Do we listen, or do we become defensive? Are we willing to hear those who attack us and vow to pray through the accusation, or are we just convinced that we are always right? Our response will determine if we are as spiritual as we think we are. The long and short of this passage is this: Anyone who considers themselves to be spiritual people (as opposed to non-Christians who are not spiritual), they will heed the words of the apostles as found in the scriptures. They will submit themselves to God’s Word and put their own ideas aside.
38 But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
In verse 38 Paul sums up the place of those who reject his teaching as having come from God Himself. The Greek text literally reads: “But if anyone does not know, he is not known.” The play on words here means that anyone who rejects the words of Scripture as found in the Bible should himself be rejected. Those who reject Paul’s words, Peter’s words, James’ words, Jude’s words, Matthew’s words, Luke’s words, Mark’s words, and John’s words are rejecting God’s Word – the are rejecting Jesus Christ. The litmus test for any false prophet and/or tongues-speaker is this: Do they listen and follow the words of Scripture. Paul’s words, specifically, especially regarding the place of women in the church and the use of tongues, are rejected today by those who simply don’t like what he said. One woman told me that Paul “irks” her with his “opinions.” As a result she has takes what she likes from the Bible and rejects that which offends her. God’s Word, through the Apostle Paul, condemns this kind of thought pattern by commanding that such a person “is not recognized” – they are not “known.” And those who are not “known” are left behind when our Lord returns to the earth. To their bewilderment, Christ leaves them behind even as they plead with him. He tells them, “Depart from me; I never knew you” (emphasis mine; Matthew 7:21-23; 25:12). Do you know Christ? Does he know you? Whether or not he knows you will be determined by your willingness to accept the words of scripture as inspired by God Almighty through the pen of man.
39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40 But let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner.
The word “therefore” is used as the preface to conclusion. Paul’s entire teaching is summed up in three concluding statements. First, they were to “earnestly desire” – they were to “set their hearts on” the setting forth of God’s Word – prophecy. He does not tell them to earnestly desire the “gift” of prophecy but the act of doing so. Some had the gift, but the act of declaring God’s Word was for all, and they were to set their hearts, first and foremost, on this act.
Second, they were not to forbid the legitimate gift of speaking in tongues. Paul never told them to forbid it, but he did set the parameters for its use. Tongues were to be interpreted so that all could benefit, but the legitimate gift was not to be forbidden. The gift had a purpose, and it ceased just as Paul said it would. His words about tongues here were spoken in a day when they were still active. They served their purpose, and during the time in which they were active they were not to be despised because they were given by the Holy Spirit. Because they ceased very soon thereafter, v. 39 has no immediate application for the church today.
Third, in v. 40, all things in the worship service were to be done “properly and in an orderly way.” This included partaking of the Lord’s Supper, the role of women, tongues, and prophecy. Since God Almighty is most certainly a God of order, as seen in His creation, man, and His Laws, so too should the worship of His name be orderly. The word for “properly” literally means “gracefully,” and “orderly” literally means “in turn.” In other words, everything that Paul taught about church worship and order was that it was all to be done with grace and everything in its turn. Males and females had their proper role and place in the worship and tongues and prophecy had their place and their order. This sums up Paul’s teaching to a church that was in tremendous disarray and chaos.