ONE: Big Church. August 2, Corinthians 14: Study Notes

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1 ONE: Big Church August 2, Corinthians 14: Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, "By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord." 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. 26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order. 1 More study helps at

2 14:21 25 Effects on Visitors of Intelligible and Unintelligible Speech 14:21. Here Paul quotes Isaiah 28:11, which in context refers to a sign of judgment; because his people could hear nothing else, God would speak to them through the Assyrians (cf. 33:19; Deut 28:49). (Many Jewish teachers used law loosely to refer to anything in the Old Testament; later it was even applied to earlier Jewish traditions.) 14:22. On one view, Paul here refers to tongues as a sign of judgment that causes nonbelievers to stumble (cf. 14:21); on another, Paul quotes the Corinthians in 14:22 and refutes them in 14:23 25 (cf. 6:12 14). 14: Prophecy was a known phenomenon in the ancient world, whereas tongues was not (or at least, its parallels were extremely rare); ancients respected prophecy, but if they did not know beforehand to expect speaking in tongues, they would not know what was happening (cf. Acts 2:13). Perhaps Paul would not object to a whole group simultaneously worshiping charismatically under other circumstances (e.g., Acts 2:4 21), such as if they were by themselves (cf. 1 Sam 10:5; 19:20); but these are not the circumstances of the Corinthian house churches. 14:26 33 Regulations to Keep Order That Paul had spent over a year and a half with them (Acts 18:11, 18) and had apparently not told them these rules before suggests that these rules are directed toward the specific situation in Corinth. The rules necessary to keep worship edifying to everyone might vary from one culture and setting to another, but the principle of keeping it edifying to everyone is much more universal. 14:26. Although prayer in the synagogues may have been more spontaneous in Paul s day than later, he advocates more individual participation here than would have been natural in other worship settings of his day. We should keep in mind, however, that the house churches in Corinth probably comprised at the most only fifty members. Psalms were used regularly in Jewish worship (here Paul may mean either biblical psalms or newly composed ones), as was teaching; but the revelations, tongues and interpretations are distinctly Christian features of worship. 14:27. Order was very important in lecture settings and public assemblies in antiquity, as 2 More study helps at

3 is clear from the frequent practice of seating according to rank. In Essene assemblies, one had to have permission to speak, and one spoke in order according to rank. Paul is not so strict here, but he wishes to balance spontaneity with order; not everything that was inherently good was necessarily good for the gathered assembly. In the Old Testament, charismatic worship was not incompatible with order (1 Chron 25:1 5; cf. also Philo s description of an Egyptian Jewish sect of worshipers called the Therapeutae). 14:28. Speak to himself and to God probably means so that only he and God can hear it. It is also possible, however, that this expression implies that tongues could be used not only as prayer but also as a vehicle of God s Spirit speaking to an individual s spirit (cf. prophecy coming thus in 2 Sam 23:2 3; Hos 1:2; cf. Ps 46:10; 91:14), although perhaps this speaking is mainly in the form of inspired prayer. 14:29. Most Old Testament prophets were apparently trained in groups of prophets, with more experienced prophets like Samuel presiding over them (1 Sam 19:20; also in the Elijah and Elisha narratives). The young churches of Paul s day had few prophets as experienced or trusted as Samuel, so the experience and testing has to be carried out in the public service by all those prophetically endowed. Testing, examining and interpreting prophecies was not necessarily viewed as incompatible with their general inspiration (cf. Plato on inspired poets, and Jewish sages answering Scripture with Scripture). 14:30. Ancient teachers practiced various customs with regard to sitting and standing; at least in later times, rabbis would sit and disciples stand to teach; those who read Scripture would stand. Among the Essenes, each would speak in turn; often the person speaking to an assembly would stand, while others would be seated. 14:31. On all prophesying see comment on 14:5; Paul here adds teaching to possible functions of prophecy (i.e., hearers could learn from it). 14:32. In most contemporary Jewish teaching, prophecy involved complete possession by the Spirit; one dare not seek to control one s utterance. For Paul, however, inspiration can be regulated, and regulating the timing and manner of one s utterance is not the same as quenching it altogether. On regulating one s spirit, cf. Proverbs 16:32 and 25:28. 14:33. For an appeal to the conduct of the churches, see comment on 1 Corinthians 11:16. 14:34 35 Interruptions at Lectures While addressing the topic of church order, Paul briefly digresses from his contrast of 3 More study helps at

4 prophecy and tongues and regulations concerning them to address the interruptions of some women occurring during the teaching period of the church service. Unless Paul changes the subject from women s universal silence (v. 34) to asking questions (v. 35a) and back to universal silence again (v. 35b), his general statement about women s silence in church addresses only the specific issue of their challenges in verse 34a. The issue here is thus their weakness in Scripture, not their gender. 14:34. Biblical law includes no specific text that enjoins silence or submission on women, although Paul could refer back to his creation argument in 11:8 9 or to the effects of the curse in Genesis 3:16. But he can also use law generally (1 Cor 14:21); thus here he could be referring only to the generally subordinate position of women in Old Testament times. (On this reading, Paul counters an objection of Corinthian prophetesses, who do not think they should be in subjection; although Paul may not believe they should be subjected in all cultures, that they were in the Old Testament period suggests that it is not wrong for them to be submissive in some cultural settings. According to another view, Paul cites the Corinthians view in 14:34 35 and refutes it in 14:36; cf. comment on 14:22. Others object that 14:36 is too weak to supply a refutation for 14:34 35.) 14:35. Informed listeners customarily asked questions during lectures, but it was considered rude for the ignorant to do so. Although by modern standards literacy was generally low in antiquity (less so in the cities), women were far less trained in the Scriptures and public reasoning than men were. Paul does not expect these uneducated women to refrain from learning (indeed, that most of their culture had kept them from learning was the problem ). Instead he provides the most progressive model of his day: their husbands are to respect their intellectual capabilities and give them private instruction. He wants them to stop interrupting the teaching period of the church service, however, because until they know more, they are distracting everyone and disrupting church order. 14:36 40 Final Exhortations on Gifts 14: Some prophets in the Old Testament stood out as stronger spokespersons for God than their peers Elijah, Elisha, Samuel and so forth. Most prophets in the early church were not comparable in authority to New Testament prophets like Agabus and apostles like Paul; if some prophets at Corinth appeal to their pro-phetic capabilities to advance their views, Paul can do so even more to refute their views he claims to speak for God. 14: Here Paul summarizes the rest of the chapter; concluding summaries were not 4 More study helps at

5 1 uncommon, even though they were not always used. 20. The address brothers, a further reminder of Paul s affection, softens the rebuke and also serves to slow up the progress of the argument and to focus attention on what follows. Stop thinking (present imperative) like children implies that the readers were in fact doing this and Paul calls on them to cease. More literally, he says stop being children in mind, where his word for mind differs from that in v. 14. Here he has the plural of phrēn, the midriff, the diaphragm. The ancients located thought in this part of the body, so that the word came to mean much the same as our mind. There is not a great deal of difference from nous. Paul just wants his friends to stop being infantile in their thinking. Godet comments: It is indeed the characteristic of the child to prefer the amusing to the useful, the brilliant to the solid. And this is what the Corinthians did by their marked taste for glossolalia (glossolalia = speaking with tongues). It is good to be infants where evil is concerned; that is the place for the childlike attitude. But, when it comes to thinking, they should be adults ( teleioi, mature ). 21. The Law here is the Old Testament in general, not specifically the Pentateuch. Paul quotes Isaiah 28:11f., agreeing neither with LXX nor the Hebrew (it is not unlike the translation of Aquila). The reference is to the failure of the Israelites to heed the prophet. Their judgment will be to be delivered over to men of strange speech, the Assyrian invaders. The connection with the present argument is not obvious. Perhaps Paul means that, as those who had refused to heed the prophet were punished by hearing speech that was not intelligible to them, so would it be in his day. Those who would not believe would hear unintelligible tongues, but be quite unable to understand the wonderful meaning. 22. There is a problem in that at first sight what Paul says in this verse is contradicted by what follows. Here tongues are for unbelievers, but in v. 23, when unbelievers are confronted with tongues, they think the speakers are mad. Again, prophecy is said to be for believers, but Paul speaks only of its effect on unbelievers (vv ). The meaning may be that tongues are a judgment on wilful unbelief (as in v. 21), while prophecy is for believers in the sense that it makes believers of unbelievers (Bengel). But perhaps the best suggestion is that of B. C. Johanson ( NTS, 25, , pp ), who argues that v. 22 should be seen as a rhetorical question (like that in Gal. 4:16, where the construction is similar). The Corinthians may well have argued that a man speaking in tongues would be a sign to outsiders that God was at work, whereas prophecy did no more than convey a 1 Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (1 Co 14:21 40). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 5 More study helps at

6 message to the believer. Paul asks, Are tongues, then, a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers, and prophecy for believers, not for unbelievers? He proceeds to refute this view in the examples that follow. 23. Paul imagines the whole church assembled, with everyone speaking in tongues (the complete fulfilment of the wildest dreams of those who saw tongues as the most desirable of the gifts). If now there come in some inquirers ( idiōtai, see on v. 16) or some unbelievers, the result will be disastrous. The effect of a massive display of tongues on non-christians, whether inquirers or rank unbelievers, will be to convince them that Christians are crazy The effect of prophecy is different. This time Paul uses the singular for unbeliever and for inquirer (he employed the plural in v. 23), but the change is not significant, unless he is suggesting that conversion is always an individual matter. The effect of a display of prophecy on an outsider is given in striking terms. Prophecy conveys a divine message (see on 12:10), and this will have powerful effects. Convinced ( elenchetai ) means convicted ; it is used of the Holy Spirit s work of convicting the world of sin (John 16:8). The divine word comes to the non-christian with convicting power. For judged ( anakrinetai ) see on 2:14. The effect of the prophetic word is to reveal to the man his state. His whole inner being is searched out. Those things he fondly imagined to be hidden in his heart he finds reproved and judged, and he can ascribe this only to the activity of God. The result of prophecy is that he comes to worship God, recognizing that God is present in his church. Prophecy leads him to God. 5. The practical outcome (14:26 33) This little paragraph is very important as giving us the most intimate glimpse we have of the early church at worship. It is not complete and, for example, it does not say whether passages of Scripture were read or not. But it is our earliest account of a service and it enables us to see something of what the first Christians actually did when they assembled to worship God. Clearly their services were more spontaneous and less structured than was normally the case in later days. We have no way of knowing how typical of the whole church worship at Corinth was, but it cannot have been very far from the norm, else Paul would have said so. 26. Come together means come together for worship. We need not press everyone (or each, hekastos ), as though it meant that every member of the congregation always had something to contribute. But it does mean that any of them might be expected to take part in the service. It is curious that Paul does not speak of anyone having a prophecy, but perhaps a revelation means much the same. A hymn or psalm ( AV, JB ; psalmos ) properly denotes a song sung to the accompaniment of an instrument, but then more generally, a 6 More study helps at

7 song. It was used especially of the psalms in the Old Testament, and some think that a Corinthian would come with one of these and perhaps a meditation on it. But singing was common among the early Christians (cf. v. 15; Matt. 26:30; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and the New Testament has a number of Christian songs (e.g. Luke 1:46 55, 68 79, and the songs in Revelation). The more likely meaning is that a worshipper would bring a song of his own composition for the service. A word of instruction ( didachē ) is a piece of Christian teaching. A revelation will be some specific matter that God has revealed to the believer, perhaps a prophecy or something akin to it. An interpretation will be the interpretation of a tongue. There was thus a variety of ingredients in the service. But the guiding rule is Let all things be done for edification ( NASB ), as Paul has been insisting As tongues presented the principal difficulty, Paul deals with that subject first. He limits the number of speakers to two or at the most three. Enthusiasts tend to go on and on, but there is a limit to what a congregation can take! They are to speak one at a time, which seems to show that the Corinthians had had experience of a number of people exercising this gift simultaneously, which must have been very confusing. Paul forbids it. Someone must interpret carries on the position Paul has consistently taken up. Edification is the supreme consideration, so tongues must not be used unless there is an interpreter. This shows that we are not to think of tongues as the result of an irresistible impulse of the Spirit, driving the man willy-nilly into ecstatic speech. He could keep quiet, and that, Paul says, is what he must do unless there is an interpreter. This also implies that he knows beforehand that he intends to speak otherwise he would not be checking whether there was an interpreter present Prophecy is also subject to regulation. Just as in the case of tongues, there should be no more than two or three prophets speaking at one service. It is not certain who are the others who are to weigh carefully what is said. This may refer to all the other prophets, but as there is a special gift of distinguishing between spirits (12:10), it is more likely to refer to people who have this gift. It is also possible that the whole church is meant (cf. 1 John 4:1), as Grudem holds (p. 62; so Barrett). The utterance of one who claims to be a prophet is thus not to be accepted uncritically, but is to be tested in the appropriate way. It would seem that certain prophets would normally be selected to speak, but the possibility might arise of a direct revelation to someone who is sitting down (apparently the speaker would have been standing; cf. Acts 13:16; the usual posture for teaching in antiquity was sitting, TDNT, iii, p. 443, and for the synagogue, cf. Luke 4:20). The designated speaker should in this case give way. In the course of time all, which might mean all the congregation (Barrett), but more likely all the prophets, will have the opportunity of engaging in prophecy. The purpose is that everyone may be instructed and encouraged Just as those speaking with tongues had the ability to keep silent when they chose, so is it with prophecy. It is not an irresistible divine compulsion that comes upon the 7 More study helps at

8 prophet. The early church sometimes thought of such compulsion, and, for example, when the officers came to arrest Polycarp he prayed for two hours and could not be silent ( mē dynasthai sigēsai, this last word is the verb used in v. 28; Martyrdom of Polycarp, 7). All three nouns in v. 32 are without the article, which makes it read like a proverb, Spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. Prophecy is a means of divine illumination, but It is for prophets to control prophetic inspiration ( NEB ). This arises from the fact that God is not a God of disorder but of peace. If the prophets had no control over their spirits, any prospect of an orderly assembly would vanish. But Paul sees the character of God as a guarantee against such disorder. God, because he is the kind of God he is, will produce peace, not disorder. We should probably place a full stop after peace and take what follows with the next verse (as NIV ). It is true that some follow AV and take it with the preceding (Robertson and Plummer, Barrett). But it is difficult to think that such a far-reaching principle should be qualified as no more than the custom of the churches. 6. Women in church (14:34 36) Paul was concerned with the status of women in 11:2ff. (where see notes). This is a further application of the principles he set out there. Christian women ought not to be forward, they should not needlessly flout the accepted ideas of the day. Barclay comments: In all likelihood what was uppermost in his mind was the lax moral state of Corinth and the feeling that nothing, absolutely nothing, must be done which would bring upon the infant Church the faintest suspicion of immodesty. It would certainly be very wrong to take these words of Paul out of the context for which they were written. We must exercise due caution in applying his principle to our own very different situation. For example, in recent discussions this passage is often cited as deciding the question of the ordination of women. But it should be applied to that question only with reserve. Paul is not discussing whether and how qualified women may minister, but how women should learn (v. 35) If As in all the congregations of the saints (cf. 4:17) goes with this verse, Paul is calling on the Corinthians to conform to accepted Christian practice. For women to take on themselves the role of instructors would have been to discredit Christianity in the eyes of most people. Indeed, among the Greeks women were discouraged from saying anything in public. Plutarch says that the virtuous woman ought to be modest and guarded about saying anything in the hearing of outsiders ( Advice to Bride and Groom, 31); again, a woman ought to do her talking either to her husband or through her husband (ibid., 32). Paul calls on them to observe the customs. He does more. He refers to the Law to remind them that they are to be in submission (he does not add to their husbands ; it is a general status of which he speaks, cf. Eph. 5:21). Most think he has in mind Genesis 3:16 (though, as elsewhere, he may be thinking of Gen. 1:26ff.; 2:21ff.). The silence of women in the 8 More study helps at

9 churches is something of a problem. As Paul has countenanced their praying or prophesying (11:5), the rule against their speaking is not absolute (cf. Acts 2:18f.; 21:9). Moffatt takes the view that Paul never vetoed a devout woman from exercising, even at public worship, the prophetic gift which so many women in the primitive Church enjoyed. He understands this prohibition to refer to matrons taking part in the discussion or interpretation of what had been said by some prophet or teacher during the service (Grudem, pp , essentially agrees, as do Thrall and others). Héring finds a clear distinction between a preaching woman and a woman who is merely present at worship as an ordinary member of the congregation. G. Delling sees here the prevention of self-willed speaking ( TDNT, viii, p. 43). Calvin took Paul to mean that, while the necessity may arise for a woman to speak in public, she must not speak in a regular church service. We must bear in mind that in the first century women were uneducated. The Jews regarded it as a sin to teach a woman, and the position was not much better elsewhere. The Corinthian women should keep quiet in church if for no other reason than because they could have had little or nothing worthwhile to say. It is not noticed as frequently as it should be, that Christianity from the very first assumed that women would learn as freely as men (cf. Luke 10:39 42). Paul is here concerned with the way women should learn. He does not argue for this; he takes it for granted. He simply says that they should ask their questions of their husbands at home and not disturb the assembly. That would outrage propriety; it would be disgraceful (the same word as in 11:6), which Bultmann understands as that which is disgraceful in the judgment of men ( TDNT, i, p. 190). 36. This seems to indicate that the practice had actually been taking place at Corinth. More than once Paul has had occasion to complain of the pride of the Corinthians. Clearly they felt free to strike out on new lines, justified only by their own understanding of things Christian. It is in the light of such a temper that Paul inquires ironically whether the word of God took its earthly origin from the Corinthians, or whether it was to them only that it came. They must not think that they alone know what is Christian. They must give due attention to the customs and the thinking of all the congregations of the saints (v. 33). 7. Conclusion (14:37 40) Paul sums up the discussion in words reminiscent of the Whether they will hear or whether they will forbear of the prophets. He has given his judgment faithfully on the matters raised and he is in no doubt that God has guided him in what he has said. 37. Paul makes the high claim for what he is writing, that it is the Lord s command (there is emphasis on Lord ). He could not possibly make a higher claim (which we should not overlook for its bearing on the question of the way the New Testament writers viewed their inspiration). Not only is this the Lord s command, but anyone who is a prophet or spiritually gifted will recognize the fact. Some of the Corinthians claimed to have spiritual 9 More study helps at

10 discernment. Let them show it by recognizing inspiration when they saw it. 38. There is a very difficult textual problem with this verse. Many MSS support the text behind AV (and LB ), if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant ( agnoeitō ), but probably most students now agree with Metzger that we should read agnoeitai. This can mean he is not recognized ( RSV, NASB ). But not recognized by whom? JB reads you should not recognize him, while NEB has God does not acknowledge him. It is also possible to take the verb as future, in which case the meaning is as Moffatt, Anyone who disregards this will be himself disregarded (i.e. on judgment day). Any one of these is possible and we have no way of knowing for certain which should be accepted. Fortunately the main thrust is clear: any spiritual person will recognize the voice of God in what Paul says and will ignore this at his peril. 39. In keeping with his attitude all along, Paul enjoins his friends to seek prophecy rather than tongues. But they should not despise tongues. These, too, are a gift from the Lord, and their use should not be forbidden. 40. The chapter closes with a notable principle. Public worship is very important. Everything in it must be done in as seemly a manner as possible, and with due regard for 2 order. Indecorousness and undue innovation are alike discouraged. 2 Morris, L. (1985). 1 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 7, pp ). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 10 More study helps at

11 Order and Authority: Restraining Spiritual Gifts (14:20 40) The Relation of Tongues and Prophecies to Unbelievers (14:20 25) Order in Public Worship (14:26 36) Tongues (14:27, 28) Prophecy (14:29 33a) Restrictions on Women (14:33b 36) Warning (14:37 38) Summary (14:39 40) Concluding Reflections There is a sense in which the contrast between the gifts of prophecy and tongues, developed by Paul in the first nineteen verses of this chapter, continues in the second half of the chapter. Certainly tongues and prophecy are set over against each other in verses Although verse 26 lists several of the χαρίσµατα ( charismata ), its primary function is to set the stage for renewed discussion of tongues (vv ) and prophecy (vv ). Even verses 33b 36, on what I judge to be the most likely interpretation, are not unrelated to the gift of prophecy. The closing verses include a warning (vv ) and a final pithy contrast between prophecy and tongues (vv ). Nevertheless several noteworthy characteristics set this part of the chapter off from what precedes. Paul s tone becomes a shade more strident, heralded in the first instance by the words brothers, stop thinking like children (14:20). The contrast between prophecy and tongues in verses 20 25, though still related to the themes of intelligibility and edification, introduces unbelievers as a new factor. Here Paul cites antecedent Scripture as precedent for the very purpose of tongues. Verses assume that the values of intelligibility and edification have been adopted, and seek to implement those values with simple, practical rules, rules shaped by an overarching conviction that public worship must mirror the orderliness and peace of the God whom we worship. We shall examine each of the sections in turn. The Relation of Tongues and Prophecies to Unbelievers (14:20 25) The word brothers (14:20) helps to soften the sharpness of the rebuke that follows it. The Corinthians thought of themselves as mature; Paul for his part has already had occasion in this epistle to tell them he considers them so infantile they have not even attained the place where they can consume solid foods (3:2). In the context of chapter 14, this can only mean that Paul sees the errors he is correcting as indices of spiritual 11 More study helps at

12 immaturity. The very gift that some exercise as a token, in their view, of special enduement of the Spirit, has become so overblown in their minds and thereby so distortive of proper spiritual proportion that Paul can accuse them of remarkable childishness. Overconcentration on glossolalia is a mark of immaturity. There is indeed a right way for Christians to be childlike in their freedom from guile ; but in their intelligence they ought to be mature. At least some Corinthians wanted to measure their maturity by the intensity of their spiritual experiences, without consideration of other constraints, such as love s demands that brothers and sisters in Christ be edified; and thus they became mature or advanced, wittingly or unwittingly, in evil, and immature in their thinking. Paul wants to reverse this trend. The relation between verse 20 and verses is uncertain. Probably Paul is casting about for another way to show the Corinthians that the high estimation in which they hold tongues is misplaced, and decides to tackle the relation of tongues to unbelievers, hitherto not considered. These verses are extraordinarily difficult, primarily because tongues are said to be a sign for unbelievers in verse 22, while in verses unbelievers respond negatively to tongues and positively to prophecy, at first glance contradicting the judgment of verse 22. Of the many explanations that have been advanced, the following deserve mention. First, Edgar, eager to show that tongues are always real, human, known languages, argues that tongues are a sign for unbelievers in that, as on the day of Pentecost, they serve as an evangelistic tool. This means, of course, that the connection Paul makes with the strange tongues of the quotation from Isaiah (v. 21) is a little obscure. Edgar dogmatically affirms that his view is the only one that makes sense of the passage; and it stands in line, he says, with Acts 2, where real languages are used, and for evangelistic purpose. But as we shall see in my last chapter, it is not entirely clear that the tongues of Acts 2 were used evangelistically, except in the derivative sense that they attracted many people together who heard the first Christians praising God in the diverse languages of the hearers. The evangelistic message of Acts 2 is found in Peter s sermon, delivered in one language (presumably Aramaic), and cast as an explanation of the tongues. Edgar s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:22 not only requires him to adopt incredible interpretations of much of the rest of the chapter, but, astonishingly, he does not comment on verse 23. Yet that is precisely where the nub of the debate lies. Sadly, Edgar s work is angry, and will therefore not receive the attention that parts of it deserve (for instance, his examination of the meaning of γλῶσσαι). A variation on this view is that of Thomas, who with more sophistication argues that tongues were used evangelistically to communicate with the unbeliever and frankly admits that Paul is divorcing his use of Isaiah 28:11 12 from its own context. The explanation that he offers for verses is that these verses point out the inappropriateness of tongues 12 More study helps at

13 in an assembly composed primarily of believers. The gift had a perfectly valid purpose in a group where unbelievers predominated (v. 22), but prophecy is much more useful among Christians. This view provides the only adequate way of reconciling verse 22 with verses But I am afraid it is not adequate; for verses do not give as the reason for the inappropriateness of tongues the predomination of believers over unbelievers, but that the unbeliever himself will conclude that the tongues-speaker is raving. One would have thought, under Thomas s reconstruction, that the only person who appreciated what was going on was the unbeliever; but that is precisely what Paul does not say. Second, some writers of dispensational persuasion say that Paul s point quoting the passage from Isaiah is to affirm that tongues are a sign exclusively for Jewish people from which it follows, writes Hodges, that the average heathen visitor to the Christian assembly (far more likely to be a Gentile than a hostile Jew) would be exposed to a phenomenon never intended for him in the first place. The exegetical naïveté is somewhat staggering, and turns in part on how the New Testament writers use the Old Testament. Such fundamental issues aside, however, it is remarkable that in verses Paul does not distinguish the unbeliever s response to tongues and to prophecy along the lines of his race and what is appropriate to it, but along the lines that the unbeliever deduces from the one activity, tongues, that the speaker is raving; and from the other, prophecy, from which he gains understanding, that he is a sinner and in need of the grace of God. Third, a far more sophisticated variation on a racial distinction, or perhaps better, a covenantal distinction, is that of Robertson. He rightly draws attention to the fact that behind Isaiah 28:11 stands the covenantal curse of Deuteronomy 28:49 50: if the people of God turn from him, they are told, The L ORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. Robertson then notes that Isaiah 28:11, picking up this theme in connection with the Assyrian invasion of Israel as divine punishment, is followed by the messianic promise of Isaiah 28:16: God will lay a stone in Zion, a tested and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts will never be dismayed cited by Paul in Romans 9: Even the tongues at Pentecost are in line with this: even though all present on that day were presumably Jewish or committed proselytes, nevertheless tongues at Pentecost represent the taking of the kingdom away from Israel and the giving of the kingdom to men of all nations. No longer will God confine himself to one people, speaking a single language. Thus, Tongues serve as a sign to indicate that God s redemptive program has shifted from a Jewish-centered activity to an activity involving all nations of the world. As for the apparent awkwardness between verse 22 and verses 23 25, Robertson observes that in verse 22 only tongues, strictly speaking, are said to be a sign for anyone, in this case unbelievers; prophecy is 13 More study helps at

14 merely for believers. Paul, Robertson admits, has had to transfer unbelievers from a Jewish context to a Gentile context; but the point is that tongues constitute a sign and prophecy does not: Tongues serve as an indicator; prophecy serves as a communicator. Tongues call attention to the mighty acts of God; prophecy calls to repentance and faith in response to the mighty Acts of God. Since this crucial change in God s covenantal purposes is now ancient history, there is now no longer any purpose to tongues, which are attached vitally but irretrievably to a particular juncture in the history of redemption. 10 This last sentence, of course, is again remarkably reductionistic; for even if Robertson s interpretation of 14:21 25 were right, that would not prove he has exhausted all that the Bible has to say about the purpose of tongues. It is certainly difficult to think how the use of tongues in private devotion (discussed in the last chapter) can be integrated into Robertson s synthesis. A more devastating weakness with this interpretation, however, is that the unbeliever in 1 Corinthians 14 is a Gentile. Robertson cannot legitimately retreat to the observation that Old Testament categories of unbelief, primarily Jewish, are habitually transferred to the Gentile unbelief of Paul s world; for his argument turns on seeing signs as a covenantal curse on Jews. Moreover, it is far more likely that Paul in verse 22 is saying that tongues are a sign for unbelievers, and prophecy is a sign for believers (not simply prophecy is for believers, as Robertson s interpretation demands), even though the extra words are left out. The omission is not unexpected in Greek. The matter is well discussed by Turner. Moreover, the dichotomy that makes tongues an indicator and prophecy a communicator is not very felicitous anyway; for Paul has gone to considerable trouble in verses 1 19, especially verse 5, to say that tongues themselves may be a communicator provided there is an interpretation. Fourth, Johanson resolves the tension between verse 22 and verses by postulating that verse 22 is in fact a rhetorical question, Paul s summing up of his opponents views in order to oppose them in verses This is part of the trend I mentioned in the second chapter the trend to discover quotations of the opponents positions wherever there is an exegetical difficulty. This one does not meet the three criteria I set out in that chapter. The Johanson thesis labors under the further disadvantage that the connectors are inappropriate. For instance, at the beginning of verse 23, instead of a strong adversative we find ὥστε ( hōste, so then), which can be salvaged for the theory only by postulating an ellipsis. Fifth, another proposal argues that tongues must be understood as a positive sign here. Ruef suggests that it was the sign by which Gentile Christians were accepted by Christian Jews, in the same way that the tongues-speaking of Cornelius and those with him apparently opened the way to their acceptance as Christians by the believers in Jerusalem (Acts 10 11). But once these Gentiles have actually been accepted as believers, Ruef argues, the proper sign for them, as for other believers, is prophecy. Continuing the practice of 14 More study helps at

15 tongues at that point will only confuse the outsider, the unbeliever who is watching. There seems little to commend this view. For reasons we shall see in the next chapter, the episode with Cornelius is best understood as a critical salvation-historical turning point, not a paradigm of the way Jews commonly tested the validity of the conversion of Gentiles. In epistles with demonstrated focus on Jew/Christian/Gentile relationships (e.g., Galatians), the test of tongues Ruef advances is nowhere in view. Moreover, the flow of the argument through 1 Corinthians spawns no suspicion that Jew/Gentile conflict lurks behind the abuse of tongues. To put the same issue more positively, these chapters consistently pit prophecy against tongues in the area of intelligible communication. That context is lost by this interpretation. Ruef s proposal also means that Paul has abused Isaiah 28:11, for God was not speaking a positive sign through the Assyrians. This is of some importance, for verse 22 opens with the logical so then. Recently a more believable variation on this proposal has been advanced by Thiessen. He removes the Jew/Gentile conflict from the discussion and suggests that the Corinthian church was trying to make tongues a criterion for membership. Paul replies, in effect, that this is inappropriate because tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, just as in Isaiah 28 the strange tongues come to those who do not hear, who do not belong to the Gemeinde (the believing community). Prophecy is the appropriate sign of the believer. This preserves a positive sense to sign in both cases. But a central weakness to the interpretation remains: the text focuses attention not on confirmation of the church s assessment of the individual, but of the individual s reaction before the two phenomena, tongues and prophecy. Sixth, Roberts suggests that tongues would have been a sign of some kind of spiritual activity, and thus positive, without it being clear just what the source of that tongues phenomenon was. Tongues are therefore a positive sign, but not communicative. If an unbeliever enters the church and hears everyone speaking tongues, he will say, You are possessed not a reproach, merely a statement of fact, possibly mingled with mild admiration. But that is not enough to make the unbelieving onlooker a Christian. That requires content, and the resulting moral reformation. That is why prophecy is superior to tongues. The point of the quotation from Isaiah is simply that tongues are an ineffective means of communicating God s will. This is surely an abuse of Isaiah 28:11. The measure of the effectiveness of the strange tongues, in the context of Isaiah, is not in their ability to communicate but in their signal of divine judgment which was remarkably effective. Moreover, the contrast in verse 22 is not between a gift that serves as a mildly positive but incommunicative sign to unbelievers, and another gift that serves as a positive and communicative sign, also to unbelievers, but 15 More study helps at

16 between a sign to unbelievers and a sign to believers. Seventh, there is a growing number of scholars who adopt one form or another of the interpretation that I shall briefly defend here. Not all of them agree on the details, but the general shape of the proposal is capturing majority approval. In the context of Isaiah 28:9 13, the strange tongues of foreigners (i.e., the Assyrian troops) represent God s visitation in judgment on his people. They had refused to listen to him and repent when he spoke clearly; now he will visit them through invading hordes by whom he will speak in a language (Assyrian) whose content they will not understand, even though in it they will hear a message of judgment. The strange tongues therefore do not convey content to the unbelieving Israelites, but they do serve as a sign a negative sign, a sign of judgment. This is the example to which Paul appeals. In the Law it is written (and by Law here he means what we would call the Old Testament Scriptures) that at a crucial juncture in the history of the covenant community, God spoke to his people through strange tongues. But when he did so, he was speaking a message of judgment. It appears, then, that when God speaks through strange tongues and the lips of foreigners to unbelievers, at least here it is a sign of his judgment upon them. It may have been that some believers in Corinth were justifying their undiscriminating overemphasis on tongues by extolling their virtue as a witness to unbelievers, as a sign to them of God s powerful presence in the life of the church. Paul replies, in effect: Yes, you are partly right. Tongues are a sign for unbelievers. But if you examine how the Scriptures describe the relationship between unbelievers and strange (i.e., foreign and unknown) tongues, you discover that they constitute a negative sign. They are a sign of God s commitment to bring judgment. But when in the same verse (v. 22), Paul says that prophecy is a sign for believers, does he not mean this in a positive sense? Indeed, the most frequent criticism of this interpretation in fact, the only one that is regularly raised against it is that it uses sign in a negative sense with respect to the gift of tongues, and in a positive sense with respect to the gift of prophecy. But two things must be said in defense of this interpretation. First, it is possible that verse 22 is commenting on the situation in Isaiah s day. The unbelievers faced judgment, and were addressed by God in the unintelligible language of foreigners; but there remained a godly remnant who benefited, not from tongues, but from prophecy Isaiah s prophecy (see Isa. 8:16). In other words, the distinction as to whether a certain phenomenon served as a positive sign or a negative sign extends back into the context of Isaiah. Second, the word σηµεῖον ( sēmeion, sign), especially in the Septuagint, often simply means an indication of God s attitude. Whether those indications are positive or negative is a subordinate issue. Grudem provides long lists of examples in which signs are entirely positive (e.g., the rainbow [Gen. 9:12, 13, 14]; the blood on the doorpost [Exod. 12:13]; the mark on the 16 More study helps at

17 forehead [Ezek. 9:4, 6]), entirely negative (the bronze censers of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram [Num. 16:38]; the defeat of Pharaoh Hophra [Jer. 44:29]). In the former series, the signs show God s approval and blessing; in the latter, his disapproval and impending judgment. Indeed, many signs are simultaneously negative and positive: negative to the rebellious and unbelieving, and positive to the Lord s faithful people (e.g., the signs and wonders at the time of the exodus were negative to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians [Exod. 10:1 2; 11:9 10; Deut. 6:22; Neh. 9:10]; but they were positive to Israel [Deut. 4:34 35; 6:22; 7:19]). Even in the New Testament, a sign can indicate God s approval and blessing (e.g., Acts 2:22, 43; 4:30; John 2:11) or God s disapproval and threat of impending judgment (Luke 11:30; 21:11, 25; Acts 2:19). In other words, it is more intrinsic to the word sign (σηµεῖον, sēmeion ) that something about God be signified than that the sign-al be positive or negative. Paul may therefore not have cared if the sign of tongues is negative and the sign of prophecy is positive, even within the same verse; for in both instances the commonality was for him more decisive. If this approach to the sign value of tongues is taken in verse 22, then there is no longer any difficulty in understanding verse 23. When outsiders or unbelievers come into a Christian assembly where everyone is speaking in tongues, it will not be surprising if they simply conclude that the believers are possessed (which is probably what the word µαίνεσθε [ mainesthe ] means). The two words I have rendered outsider and unbeliever probably refer to the same kinds of people: non-christians. Because the first word is used in 14:16 to refer to the Christian without the gift of tongues, some have preferred to think it here refers to some sort of halfway Christian, a catechumen perhaps. But that imposes too narrow a referent on the term, and fails to recognize its intrinsic genius: it simply means outsider ; but what this person stands outside of can be determined only by context. Because the flow of the argument in these verses contrasts believers with unbelievers, newcomers with the established Christian community, it seems best to see in outsiders and unbelievers a double description of the non-christian visitor to the congregation. It appears, then, that these tongues do not have exactly the same function as those in Acts 2; but I shall return to this point in the last chapter. If an unbeliever enters the congregation when everyone is prophesying, instead of speaking in tongues, then communication takes place. It may even be communication designed by the Spirit to expose the secrets of his own heart and thereby to convict him of sin, bringing him to repentance and worship (14:24 25). Schlatter rightly observes that this picture fosters the assumption that Paul was concerned, in evangelism, to begin by producing a consciousness of guilt. 23 Certainly his goal was not so much to generate the maximum possible number of tongues-speakers as to bring sinners to their knees in repentance and worship. Moral renewal, like love, is one of the essential factors that 17 More study helps at

18 distinguishes genuine Christianity from all its rivals. Of course, this interpretation of the passage means that although prophecy serves as a sign to believers, it also has more positive effect on unbelievers than does the gift of tongues. This does not mean Paul is reversing ground; for the prophesying of verse 24 is not evangelistic preaching. The unbeliever comes in and overhears what is going on in the assembly, and by that means is brought to recognition of need, and to repentance and worship. The point is that even so far as outreach is concerned, tongues must take a back seat to prophecy. The question of intelligibility has returned, but now with reference to unbelievers. Those of us who have spent any time on the borders between the ranks of the charismatic movement and the noncharismatics can easily sympathize with Paul s warnings. I have known more than one Christian group in a university setting, for instance, where the leadership was taken over by aggressive charismatics. These leaders succeeded not only in splitting the group, but also in driving away some students who had become interested in Christian things but who were now alienated by the perplexing phenomenon of tongues. One other issue emerges from these verses. When Paul says that the unbeliever comes into the assembly while everyone is speaking in tongues (v. 23) or while everyone is prophesying (v. 24), how far can the universality of such descriptions be pressed? That leads us to the next section. Order in Public Worship (14:26 36) The preliminary question this section raises, then, is this: Who may prophesy? At one level, the answer is obvious: only those who are so gifted. In Paul s view, that is only part of the church, since his rhetorical question are all prophets? in 12:29 demands a resounding no! Within that framework, 14:24 may not mean that everyone in the congregation either was or could be prophesying when the unbeliever walked in, still less that they were all doing so simultaneously. It may simply mean that when the unbeliever entered, all that he heard from everyone who participated, one by one, was prophesying (or, in v. 23, speaking in tongues). But verse 31 is more difficult: You can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. Is it fair to restrict the scope of this verse? If not, how can it be reconciled with Paul s repeatedly expressed commitment to the principle that the various spiritual gifts are distributed to the church, with no gift universally poured out? There are, I think, only three possible answers. It is possible that verse 31 is not as comprehensive as it first sounds. It may be that you all does not refer to every person in the church without exception, but to every person in the church without distinction men, 18 More study helps at