From:  A Torah Commentary on First  Corinthians 7-13      Return to Home

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2011







Chapter 14 – Part 1:

Theme Development and Old Testament Usage






            Paul’s discussion in chapter 13 prepared for this chapter by warning them of the moral context of love in which genuine spiritual gifts were to function.[1]  Paul now stresses that they were victims of a fundamental misunderstanding of which divine gift was the most important.  They took such pride in the ability to speak in foreign languages, that they had blinded themselves to the reality that such were tools to an end, a means to establish the credibility of the gospel message and to encourage the hearers to embrace it.  Hence prophesying—the ability to supernaturally teach God’s word, not merely predict the future—was greater because it did this directly. 

Yet foreign tongues could provide the needed instruction as well, so long as there was someone present to do the translating.  The purpose of instruction would occur  because all would then understand it.  In those cases where the foreigner was from a land where it was regularly spoken, the impact would be even greater.  He would recognize that the message had been accurately rendered from his own tongue.  Two miraculous actions and not just one.  How could this do anything but enhance the credibility of the gospel in the hearers’ eyes?

            (Those who believe the tongues were “gibberish”—whatever their psychological or supernatural “inspiration”—run into a real problem with Paul’s insistence that the tongues be translated.  This implies that he saw an objectively real revelation of God speaking through men and women.  And that it conveyed meaningful and relevant teaching and not a mere spiritual “high” for the participants)

            Paul was willing to go so far as to demand that the speaking in tongues be omitted if there were no translator available (14:7).  He could hardly be more emphatic that the spiritual goal was to convey useful teaching for others and not provide a mere “spiritual experience” for the speaker.  Without a translation, the messages were no more useful than musical instruments designed to communicate melody or a battle call, but which were so out of tune or usability that all they did was convey empty, meaningless noise (14:7-9).

            When one wants to rein in the excess of others, the standard reaction of many is to impugn the motives of the person demanding it.  To get this objection out of the way, Paul stresses how proud he was that he himself exercised the gift of speaking in tongues far more than they did (14:18).  This gave extra power to his argument that without the listener being able to grasp the (literally) foreign words, nothing could be gained (14:19-[Page 58]   20).  Especially was this true for the unbeliever and it was for them—not the believer’s own spiritual exaltation—that the gift was being given at all (14:21-23).  Speak without a translation and the phenomena will likely be dismissed by the outsider as mere empty gibberish. 

            Anything done in the church assembly was to be for the benefit of those present (14:26) and not merely for that of the person doing the speaking.  (Perhaps an apt warning for modern day preachers?)  Presumably to keep the services to a reasonable length, only two or three people were to speak in tongues in a given meeting and then only if a translator were available (14:27-28).  In a similar vein, the number of prophetic speakers was also limited to a maximum of three (10:29).

Of prophets in particular, it is ordered that they were to take turns addressing the congregation and were to yield the floor to the next person wishing to speak (14:30-31).  The reason was to keep the assembly orderly and thereby avoid chaos (14:33).  In light of the prophetic precedent and the motive given for it, one must infer that a similar restriction was placed on prophesying. 

            It is in this context of miraculous gifts of tongue speaking and prophesying,  that we read that married women were to exercise their gifts at home and if they had questions about what was going on they were to lodge them with their spouses (14:34-35).  Although many look upon this today as terribly “sexist,” it should be noted that this also put the male on the spot:  if male attitudes were anything like those of today, many would be inclined to “leave the religion to the women.”  Paul is telling them:  You aren’t going to get away with it.

            (The intriguing question for us today is:  What about the unmarried women?  The teaching concerning limitation of public speaking in the assembly is exclusively addressed to the wives.  Paul does not provide a clear answer or all that much to work with in regard to the former, likely, in part, because it would have involved so few adults.  He also does not touch on the role of widows left without a spouse.)

            If anyone wishes to challenge him on any of the teaching of this chapter, he closes it with the admonition that he obtained it all from God rather than pulling it out of his own mind.  Furthermore, he implies, the principles and practices were recognized throughout all the other congregations (14:36-39); who were they to try to ignore them?  Hence they are “the Lord’s commandments” (14:37) and not uniquely Paul’s.  






How the Themes Are Developed  





[Page 59]


The relative merits of addressing the congregation

in alien languages versus teaching

an inspired lesson (14:1-14:5)



            ATP text:  1Pursue love, but still earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may be miraculously given God’s message.  2For one who speaks in an unknown language speaks not to others but to God for no one understands him.  Yet he speaks divine secrets by the power of the Spirit.  3On the other hand, he who miraculously speaks what God has revealed, speaks to others for their growth and encouragement and consolation.  4When you speak in languages that others do not know, you build up yourself, but the one who reveals a message from God causes the whole congregation to grow.  5Though I wish that you all spoke in other languages, I even more wish that you would teach God’s message.  Greater is one who teaches God’s revelation than one who speaks in languages--unless the interpretation is provided, so that the assembly may receive spiritual building up.”

            Development of the argument:  Any religious teaching that emphasizes one point runs the danger of encouraging others to become so preoccupied with it that they neglect other areas of their spirituality.  Having painted so vividly the importance and nature of love, it would have been easy for readers to believe that all there is to Christianity is a constructive attitude and helpfulness toward others—an improved social relationship, if you will.  So Paul begins the next chapter with a strong emphasis that however important that may be, it in no way excludes the development of one’s spirituality and knowledge of God’s will.

At the forefront of his concern in this section is that they recognize that possessing miraculous gifts do not give a person carte blanche to turn an orderly meeting into chaos.  Not only would this be wrong because such an assembly would lack the needed order and control (14:40), it would also discredit the church in the eyes of unbelieving visitors (14:23-24).  Hence, even though the immediate topics are gifts of tongue speaking and prophecy, Paul ties it in with the earlier theme (chapters five and six) of maintaining respect among outsiders as well.  And coming immediately after chapter 13, we seem to have the implicit argument that it would also violate our obligation of mutual, constructive, up-building love.

            Unlike many in the twentieth century, Paul did not consider speaking in tongues the supreme miraculous gift.  To him it was the ability to prophesy (14:1).  Typically the tongue speaker made no sense to the listeners because they did not know the language being spoken (14:2).  Whether the tongue speaker himself understood it is not stated.[2]  Arguing against it is the prohibition of tongue speaking without the presence of a translator (14:27-28); if the speaker understood the words would not that automatically have made a translator available?  On the other hand, there is translation and there is translation; he might have a rudimentary knowledge of the language (learned or divinely given) but be nowhere near prepared to give the polished version of a proper translator.

In contrast, the one who prophesied--either in the sense of giving supernaturally guided teaching or even the narrower sense of prediction--was doing so in the language they spoke.  It might consist of the application of known truths to everyday life,[3] new ways to express old truths, or even something that was being revealed that they were previously unaware of.  Whatever form it took, it provided three things:  (1) spiritual [Page 60]   uplift (“edification”), (2) encouragement and motivating others to act[4] (“exhortation”),  and (4) sympathy (“comfort”) to those in need of it (14:3).

            This is not to deny that the tongue speaker built up himself (or herself--as the gender of the person varied in different social contexts), but the untranslated words were of benefit only to the speaker while the prophesier was of benefit to everyone (14:4).   There was an exception to this limitation, however:  if someone in the congregation either knew the language being spoken because of having learned it--or being miraculously blessed by God with the translation capacity--then the message would be rendered into words the audience could readily understand and comprehend (14:5). 






The underlying premise of why it was wrong

to speak in alien languages unless an interpreter

were available:  it would not benefit

the audience (14:6)



            ATP text:  “ 6Now, comrades, if I come to you speaking in languages unknown to you, how shall I benefit you unless I also bring you some additional revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?”
            Development of the argument: 
The principle of the superiority of prophetic speech to tongue speaking would hold true even if the speaker were Paul himself—which makes the argument as all-encompassing and personal as he possibly could.  Unlike the Corinthians, who were so obsessed with “having” a supernatural gift, Paul was centered on how it would benefit others. 

To use a modern parallel:  if Paul were to stand before a contemporary congregation and speak in fluent Chinese it might impress the audience, but how would it be of value to them?  Even a miraculous act was not to be an act of “showmanship,” an idle wonder.  Something that puts all the attention on the speaker and builds up his/her reputation and prestige.[5]  Rather its value lay in its helpfulness and usefulness to the listener.  This was to be the standard by which they were to judge their acts of worship.

            The instruction could come in a number of forms, “by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching.”  One reconstruction of the differences (there are others)[6] would make “revelation” a new teaching—at least to them—being revealed on some topic, “knowledge,” the telling of what one knows by personal experience, “prophesying,” supernaturally endowed teaching ability, and “teaching,” the conveying of the message without anything supernatural guiding it.  Whatever distinctions one prefers to make here, it comes down to one basic reality:  any form of teaching about God’s will and His acts is of no value to the audience unless it is in a language they can understand.   




[Page 61]


A musical parallel:  the sound of instruments was

of no interest or value unless they played

something that was understandable (14:7-14:9)


            ATP text:  7If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will any one recognize what is played?  8And if the war bugle gives an unclear call, who will prepare for combat?  9So with yourselves:  if the language you are miraculously given is not intelligible to your listeners, how will anyone know what is said?  For your words will vanish into the thin air without being understood.”

            Development of the argument:  To be pleasing to the human ear, musical instruments must use different “sounds” so that a coherent instrumental theme is being conveyed (14:7).  It is not speaking words, yet it is clearly conveying a “message” that is intended to have an impact upon the listener.  And unless the sounds are distinct and “understandable” no such “message” is communicated.  Likewise a foreign language that is not interpreted for the listener.

Similarly, an army’s trumpeter will be of no value if the army can not understand the specific battle order being called for by the trumpet signal (14:8).  If one can’t tell whether “attack” or “retreat” is being signaled, disaster is in the offing!   Again, not human words, but still a humanly perceived and understood message is being communicated by the distinct signals.

Finally, in the field of human communication itself, the same is also true:  unless the tongue can convey knowledge to the listener, it is of no value (14:9).  That could occur because the speaker is using intellectual mumbo-jumbo or when valid vocabulary is being utilized but is far beyond anything the listener could be expected to understand.  But here the idea is of a different limiting factor—a language that no one present knows.  If understood, it might contain a very valuable message.  But without translation, it is as meaningless to them as if they were hearing a language spoken only in the most obscure and isolated part of the world where they and no one they know has ever gone.






If the language was not understandable,

one would be looked upon as no more than

a strange speaking foreigner (14:10-14:11)



[Page 62]         ATP text:  10There are doubtless many different languages in the world and all have meaning, 11but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be looked upon as a foreigner by the speaker and the speaker will seem a foreigner to me.”

            Development of the argument:  Paul does not speculate about how many languages there are in the world for that is really an irrelevancy.  What is important is only that there are numerous ones:  From their own experience of multitudes of foreigners passing through the city—especially sailors—they had to already know it was a very large number.[7]

Hence he can use that reality as an “accepted fact” and argue from it:   All these languages of the world mean something to their speakers (14:10) but if I do not know them, everything they say will be incomprehensible to me.  The reverse is also true:  everything I say in my own, will be incomprehensible and mark me as a foreigner in their eyes as well (14:11).   Hence it was vital for the “tongues” spoken in the church assembly to be translated to remove the mystery as to their meaning. 

This does not rule out the possibility that they would be able to recognize a word here or there; nor does it rule out the possibility that a listener or two might speak it well enough to grasp what is being said.[8]  But that would not alter the fact that most in the audience would not.  And that the native of that land would still be able to tell—by dialect, mispronunciation, and such like—that we are not really from that region or nation.





Therefore they were to pray for an

interpreter whenever the gift of tongues

was utilized (14:12-14:13)



            ATP text:  12So you, since you are zealous for supernatural spiritual gifts, seek those that maximize the spiritual building up of the assembly.  13Therefore let any one who speaks in an alien tongue pray for the power to explain it.”

            Development of the argument:  It was good that the Corinthians desired spiritual gifts so the church could be built up (14:12).  Note that the importance was far above and beyond what they personally received from the experience; indeed, it would not be much of an exaggeration to say that the latter was a virtual irrelevancy.  But for the church as a whole to be benefited to the maximum, it meant that tongues needed to be interpreted; hence, they needed to pray that this might be done. 

Intriguingly, unlike later (14:27-28) where Paul distinguishes between the person speaking in tongues and the one with the gift to translate it, in 14:5 and 14:13 he holds out the possibility that the tongue speaker may be personally given that gift as well.[9]  Apparently there was no fully uniform pattern, but the emphasis on having a second person to translate would seemingly argue that for the same person to have the dual gifts of tongue and translator was an unusual occurrence. 

[Page 63]         It also worked against a spiritually over wrought member presenting emotional gibberish as a real tongue and proceeding to provide a “translation” of the non-existent language.  Since few or, more often, none of the people in the congregation would know the language—the wording of the text seems to imply the latter—a two-person tongue speaker / translator situation worked to maximize the credibility of the phenomena.  Paul was a firm advocate of faith—but not gullibility.   





Reiterating the underlying premise of the

previous argumentation:  To maximize the

spiritual benefit, it was essential to understand

what was being said (14:14-14:17)



            ATP text:  14For if I pray in such a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is not being used.  15What is the conclusion then?  I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the understanding mind as well; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with a mentally aware mind also.  16Otherwise if you bless with a language only the spirit understands, how will the one who is unknowledgeable say the "Amen" of approval at your giving of thanks, since there is no comprehension of what your words mean?  17True, you give thanks well, but the other person is not spiritually benefited.”

            Development of the argument:  At least two closely related approaches can be taken to verse fourteen.  The first is that even though the Holy Spirit is providing the message, the inner spirit (“my spirit”),  prays as well even though the conscious mind (“understanding”) is not carrying out its customary role of analysis--seeking for comprehension, and application of what is being heard and repeated in prayer.  It doesn’t understand what is going on, but something deeper within ourselves does.

The second approach is that the prayer is in Spirit inspired words that we do understand,[10] but which the conscious mind has not composed; because of the lack of such personal intellectual input “my understanding is unfruitful.”  We do not share the interpretation with others because, though we grasp what is being said—at least its general tenor and intent--we lack the natural or supernaturally granted skills to adequately translate it for those who are merely listening.  However useful either might be for the individual, Paul does not consider this a desirable situation for the entire congregation to be in because they are not participating in the benefit of the gift as we are.

            Hence there was the need to recognize that neither component (spirit and understanding) was to be neglected.  Praying with the inner spirit did not exclude praying with understanding any more than singing with “heart felt conviction” (one but not the only sense “spirit” can be taken in) did not exclude singing one with just one’s unassisted understanding, paying attention solely to the words and not the power of emotion running beneath the text.

  Whatever might work best in private for a specific individual must yield to what will work best for the general congregation when it is gathered together.  In that context, [Page 64]   means of understanding what the Spirit has been revealing to our inner spirit must be provided through a translation of the message.

Unless one does so, how are others to express their concurrence with our words by saying “Amen (ATP:  ‘Amen’ of approval)” to it (14:16)?   Hence the fact that it benefits us, personally, is not adequate to justify speaking in languages others do not comprehend (14:17).

            Yet carefully note the flip side of this:  that Paul never denies that there is a personal benefit of tongue speaking even when it is contained within and not spoken out loud.  In 14:4 he speaks of how “he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.”  “Edifies himself” still implies that some good is being done—but just for the speaker personally.  How can this be—either in the church service or outside it--since he himself understands none of it?  We have touched upon this above, but perhaps some additional consideration would be useful as well.

            If we factor in one additional element, a solution might begin to be found.  In 14:2 we read, “He who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God,” which seems to suggest the idea of at least some foreign tongue speaking taking on overtones of prayer.  The close of the verse (“in the spirit he speaks mysteries”) would still argue that spiritual truths were being revealed—but in the context of prayer?  (Insights, thoughts, ideas about ourselves and our situation that were useful and desirable to mention, but which would not have occurred unassisted?)

            The same perplexing situation is found in 14:28, “But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.”  So we again have the combination of spiritual truths being spoken and addressed to God as well.  And note that he is instructed to use the gift, but just not out loud where it would interrupt the service.

            Although in the context of modern tongue speaking rather than the Biblical form of the phenomena, Larry Christenson makes an observation that might well explain this paradox, “Praying in tongues edifies (builds up) other aspects of the person than the understanding.  Our experience has been that this way of praying has a profound effect on the deep feelings and attitude that the mind cannot always directly control.  And it seems to develop in one a greater sensitivity to spiritual realities than he had before.”[11]

If he is correct in his speculation, then the idea would seem to be that praying in tongues was building up one’s inner self in areas that are not under conscious control and repeating to God those religious truths that He was trying to drive deep into the inner person of the speaker.  We function on conscious and unconscious levels and the prayer in tongues may well have been designed to shape the latter.  Whether this particular approach is fully correct or not, Paul’s endorsement of silent speaking in unknown tongues makes sense only if it was going to be of some kind of benefit to the recipient.

            From above we can rightly argue that a form of tongue speaking was as a “prayer language” (so to speak).  Indeed some have evolved a theology arguing that it should be exclusively regarded as such and is to be sharply distinguished from the prophesying / teaching that also went on.  However 1 Corinthians 14:5 tells us “I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.  Hence we have a situation of “tongues plus interpretation / explanation / prophecy resulting in the edification of the church.”[12]  A message was being conveyed, in [Page 65]    such cases--not just a prayer—for that would be centered on our own needs rather than those of the group, would it not?    





This plea to rein-in tongue speaking

did not grow out of personal bias or envy:

Paul practiced the gift far more than

any of them (14:18-14:20)



            ATP text:  18I thank God that I speak in alien languages more than any of you, 19yet in the assembly I would rather speak five words that I comprehend—words that would be useful to instruct others--than ten thousand words in a tongue that no one understands.  20Comrades, do not be childish in your thinking:  in your reasoning be mature, but be infants in evil.”

            Development of the argument:  “Paul is not “downgrading” the importance of tongue-speaking out of hostility or envy.  Indeed, he is quite proud that “I speak with tongues (ATP:  alien languages) more than you all” (14:18).  This is one of those tantalizing statements that—from our standpoint two millenniums later—raises questions we wished he had answered.

First of all, he passes by entirely the question of when and under what circumstances he was first given that gift.[13]  However intriguing it may be to us not to have the answer to such questions, it was irrelevant to his argument and his need to establish his credibility with his readers.  He advances his assertion with such confidence that it argues that his practice was so well known in Corinth that none were likely to challenge it. 

Secondly, in what context did he utilize the gift?  The gift was utilized to bring the redemptive message to others in Acts 2, so could Paul be referring to using it to convert others?  One person argues (conspicuously without any scriptural citation as proof), “Each time he went into a city he would visit a Jewish synagogue, and regardless of the language they spoke, he was enabled by the Spirit of God to offer a prayer of praise in a language he had never learned, and those who heard understood as on the day of Pentecost.”[14]

Doug Banister effectively argues against such an approach, “First, nowhere in Scripture is there any evidence that Paul used the gift this way.  Second, the context of 1 Corinthians 12-14 is not cross-cultural evangelism, but worship.  Finally, in 14:2, the gift of tongues is described as speaking mysteries to God in the Spirit, which is far more likely to be a description of prayer than of proclamation.”[15]  Hence the most likely context for Pauline usage would either be purely private or in the context of a church worship service.     

His regular exercise of the gift—in whatever context--did not change the fact that there needed to be constructive and controlled tongue speaking:  the church was not to be [Page 66]   a place of anarchy.  In that churchly situation, Paul would rather speak a handful of words that the audience could grasp than thousands that would have no meaning (14:19).  They needed to be “mature” adults in their ability to understand (14:20); tongue speaking, uninterpreted, did not accomplish this. 

Paul’s standard is bluntly utilitarian:  what will benefit the most people.  The fact that it benefits you is nice; but choosing between what benefits a single individual and that which will benefit the entire group, then the choice has to be for the later. 

There seems to be a bit of a barb in verse 20, “Brethren do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.”  It is hard to read his direct rebuke of “malice” and his implicit one of lack of “understanding” on their part, without calling to mind his strong reproof of their divisiveness at the beginning of the epistle.  He seems, in effect, to be saying that they should avoid making the same mistakes in regard to personal ego and fraction-centeredness that had plagued them in other areas of their relationships. 

And one can easily see how such a plea was needed:  telling “no” to would be tongue-speakers or prophets could, indeed, call forth annoyance and even “malice” due to not being permitted to exercise their gifts whenever they wanted.  Furthermore it is quite probable that they regarded the gift of tongues with the fond affection of a child who does not recognize that it has a purpose and not only his personal pleasure.[16]  Like a child with his favorite toy, they might take unkindly to any limitations and be outright annoyed (have “malice”) towards those who had the opportunity to use their gift when they couldn’t.           






The value of speaking in alien languages was

primarily for the benefit of unbelievers who were

present and also knew those languages (14:21-14:23)



            ATP text:  21In the Law it is written: "With those of other tongues and by the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, and even then they will not heed Me," declares the Lord.  22So then, miraculous languages are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while inspired preaching is intended not for unbelievers but for believers.  23If, therefore, the whole congregation assembles and everyone speaks in unknown languages, and the uninformed or unbelievers visit, will they not say that you are raving mad?”

            Development of the argument:  The Old Testament had spoken of how people speaking other languages would provide messages from God (14:21).[17]  In that context, the intended significance was that “if you do not obey God, He will send unbelieving foreign foes such as us to conquer and subjugate you.”  That was not the words they heard, of course, but it was the message God wanted them to deduce from having to listen to foreign occupiers speak in their own language.  Not to mention having to learn at least [Page 67]   some of it in order to communicate with them even though the tongue  had been “unknown” to them previously. 

In the first century setting, it was not God’s people being rebuked, but of God utilizing alien languages to deliver a message that would be of value to outsiders in the assembly (14:22), assuming of course that they themselves knew the language.  (Irony:  some of these could well be among the descendants of those very same ancestor conquerors!)  Furthermore, there might just be the implicit warning that those “foreign words” could be utilized to rebuke the sin not just of the non-Christian but simultaneously the Christians present who were doing exactly the same thing.  This would be quite appropriate since God’s moral code applied equally to all and since, in the Old Testament context, it was God’s own (disobedient) people who were being rebuked by the foreign tongue.   

But there are limits to everything; nearly every virtue can be carried to such an excess that it becomes a hindrance to imitation rather than an encouragement.  The visitors were unlikely to be widely proficient in more than two or three languages beyond their own inherited one.  If virtually everyone was doing such speaking, dozens could easily be simultaneously involved and there is no reason to assume all of them would be using the same language.  Hence the reminder that if “all” believers present were “speak[ing] with tongues” and nothing else, how could the visitors avoid being  convinced that the congregation had lost its collective sanity (14:23)?  

            Yet the situation would only be alleviated—but not removed—if only a few were speaking but none were being interpreted.  Yes, tongues will be a “sign” to any visitors who know them (14:22)—a sign of God’s power at work among these people since they would know what the words meant and that these people would not normally be acquainted with the foreign language.  Even so, most visitors would be just as unacquainted with it as natives of the city and even the most genuine tongue could, and would, be dismissed as madness unless the words were translated for their benefit (14:23).  Producing a positive result, not mere “showmanship” is yet again the center of emphasis.

In contrast, both those visitors and the bulk of local Christians who were unacquainted with the language, would be profited by the prophetic message they heard (14:22).  Since believers would dominate the assembly, such “prophecy” is described as being (primarily) for their benefit (14:22), though, of course, not denying its value as well to any outsiders who might be present (14:24-25).






In contrast to tongue speaking, the value of a

miraculously revealed lesson was that it openly

uncovered the visitor’s moral failures

and need to reform (14:24-14:25)



[Page 68]         ATP text:  24On the other hand, if all miraculously teach God’s word, and an unbeliever or uninformed person enters, that person is convicted of sin by what is heard and is called to account by all they teach:  25The secrets of the heart are disclosed; and so, bowing with the face toward the ground, is convinced to honor God and admit that God is clearly among you.”

            Development of the argument:  Here Paul builds upon the argument he has  constructed in the previous verses:  if everyone had the gift of prophetic insight, the unbeliever would be “convinced (ATP:  convicted)” (14:24) by the ability to penetrate and reveal “the secrets of his heart” (14:25).  Since the bulk of the visitors would be like the Corinthian Christians, with the same linguistic limitations, the key factor would be the spoken message demanding personal responsibility (14:24) and rebuking the type of sins they practiced (14:25).  

Though the prophetic message was designed primarily for Christians (14:22)—the majority of those attending--its relevance to unbelievers was also obvious and is emphasized in this section.  Indeed, 14:25 suggests a miraculous revelation of either the specific sins of the unbeliever needing to be rebuked or of a message that, in some appropriate manner, would cover their situation without necessarily giving the details.

            The presence of unbelievers reveals something of the social and religious freedom then currently available for Christians in Corinth:  church meetings were neither closed nor secret.  Unbelievers had ready access.[18]  Since there was deep concern about how they would react to tongue speaking, this implies that they had not been forewarned by church members of all of what they would see and hear. 

This, in turn, seems to carry the implication that the church was able to function so openly that it was possible to have spontaneous and unexpected outside visitors.  Whatever the church’s status might be officially or theoretically, in practice this argues that its status was sufficiently ambiguous that it was not automatically considered an “illegal” religion to be suppressed by government action.

            By “benign government neglect,” doors of opportunity were opened to reach others.  Any rational individual would be jittery about a blatantly illegal “sect” however much they might admire the members that were known.  But a situation such as this, where they would be able to enter the service itself without a sense of foreboding, increased the capacity of the church to reach far more than it otherwise could. 

For one thing religion is inevitably a “social” matter as well as an intellectual one:  you may be intrigued by what they believe, you may even be tempted by its tenets, but religion inevitably also involves social interaction.  By attending Christian worship you gained an insight into whether these were people you would feel comfortable being around.  Even the most compatible, appealing, and even convincing set of doctrines has a mountain to overcome when the people give every indication of obnoxiousness toward each other and a lack of dignity in their treatment of others. 

To expect people to become—and stay—Christians in spite of the church is to expect more than many can give.  To feel like you are clinging on to the back of the bus by your fingertips because of their attitude toward you, is far more conducive to “letting go” than to maintaining loyalty and steadfastness.    




[Page 69]


The appropriate restrictions that should

accompany their tongue speaking (14:26-14:28)



            ATP text:  26What is the conclusion then, comrades in the faith?  When you assemble together, each one has a song of praise, has something to teach, has a foreign tongue, has a revelation of God’s will, has an explanation of it.  Let all things be done for your spiritual improvement.  27If anyone speaks in an alien language, let there be only two or at most three speakers.  Let each take their turn and let one explain the meaning.  28If there is no one to interpret, let each of them remain silent in the assembly and speak only inwardly and to God.”

            Development of the argument:  Everyone in the congregation had something to contribute to the church service, but care had to be taken that it all be exercised in a way that would spiritually enhance the group (14:26).[19]  In order to assure orderly procedure in regard to the supernatural gift of tongue speaking, at most only three people could speak this way and each had to take a turn (14:27).  Furthermore it was essential that there be an interpreter (14:28).  No interpreter, no tongue speaking.

In other words, “speaking in tongues is not simply a means of expression; it is the expression of an intelligible word that is useful to the community. . . .”[20]  However much  joy and excitement it might provide for the speaker, its deeper importance was for the community as a whole.  They became, in effect, the tools for group betterment.  Hence if their “gift” could not be utilized for this purpose due to the lack of translators, it was not to be exercised at all.  

            Just as religious rituals have been developed through the centuries that have become, effectively, rote repetitions with little or no meaning to many (most?) participants, even spiritual gifts were not to develop a routine set in concrete.  There might be tongue speaking or there might not be; if there were, there might be one, two or three individuals.  Not enough where the mind might be “numbed” or drift away into a non-participatory fog, but few enough to maintain the interest. 

Then there were the other things such as “psalm[s]” and “teaching[s]” that would also be present (14:26).  By their very nature, who would have what to contribute would vary over the weeks. 

The element of variability on such a variety of matters minimized the danger of spiritual stagnation.  It virtually eliminated the option of setting one’s “mind in neutral” and coasting along throughout the service—with the body there, but not the intellect.  Hence there would be “constants” in every service (such as the Communion) but there was also a maximum for flexibility and variation from week to week as well.  Neither chaos nor stagnation was to rule.   




[Page 70]


The appropriate restrictions that should

accompany their use of inspired teachers

in the assembly (14:29-14:33)



            ATP text:  29Let two or three prophets speak and let the others evaluate what is said.  30If a revelation is made to another person who is seated, let the first yield the right to speak.  31You can all prophesy one by one, so that all may gain the knowledge and all be uplifted.  32Remember that the spirits of inspired teachers remain under the control of the prophets themselves.  33For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.  As in all the congregations of those set apart for God’s service,”

            Development of the argument:  Just as tongue speakers were to exercise self-discipline, similar control was to be exercised over the prophetic gift as well.  Again, at most three were to take turns speaking (14:29).  Some have taken this to mean in any one speaking cycle,[21] i.e., after interruptions for other worship matters another such cycle might begin.  “At most three” is explicitly stated of tongue speaking (14:27) while here (14:29) that limitation is missing.[22]  But was it even needed so quickly after giving the previous limitation? 

Unless one postulates an extremely long service multi-rounds of prophesying  seems inherently unlikely.  Furthermore, from the psychological standpoint, there is such a thing as overwhelming one’s ability to absorb and do full justice to everything that is going on.  One would anticipate this would be especially true when blatantly supernatural phenomena such as these were at work.  Hence it seems far more likely that Paul wants no more than three individuals to speak at any time during one service. 

               And the content was not to be unthinkingly embraced either:  the congregational members were to “judge” it (14:29),[23] a statement broad enough to encompass both its genuineness and its immediate and long-term relevance in their individual lives.  “In no case were the early Christians expected to swallow uncritically everything they heard (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1).”[24]  Either as to its authority/genuineness or as to its application.[25]  (For additional thoughts on what is covered see the difficult texts section below.)

If another was given a message to immediately reveal, the current speaker was to “keep silent” until the other person was finished (14:30).  This way everyone would be able to “learn (ATP:  gain the knowledge)” and “be encouraged (ATP:  uplifted)” (14:31).  It would also help assure that no one person monopolized the phenomena and assured that a variety of members had active involvement in the service.[26]

The instruction to yield to others could refer (on a negative note) to the congregation’s ugly track record of divisiveness.  From a positive approach, however, it could hint that some of the prophesying was a repetition of what had occurred elsewhere, such as at home.  If the Lord chose to speak now to some different individual, it would be natural to assume, from that immediacy, that God wished that teaching to take priority.[27]

            What is implicit in regard to the tongue speaking talent is made explicit in regard to prophets, “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (14:31).  The Holy Spirit did not empty one of self-control; that was always retained.  To claim that one had to speak regardless, would have been an admission that whatever spirit was controlling a [Page 71]   person, it was certainly not that of God. 

The reason this self-control is required is because God is determined to avoid needless “confusion” in His worship and desires to encourage “peace” and quiet among His people (14:33).  Furthermore, this was the case in regard to all other congregations as well (14:33).

            Jean Hering points out that there was not only a matter of decorum involved in such restrictions, but also the very practical need to assure that there was enough time to get everything done within the service:  There were to be at the most three tongue speakers and each was to have an interpreter (14:27), giving a potential total of six participants.  There was also to be a maximum of three prophets to speak (14:29), increasing the involvement to a potential nine individuals. 

Furthermore, there needed to be time for anyone who had “a psalm” to present, had a “teaching” to deliver or a “revelation” to share (14:26), increasing participation to possibly a minimum of twelve individuals.  Add to this the time “for reading from the Bible or of epistles sent by the Apostle Paul, or by other Churches, as well as for the singing of psalms and for prayers.”[28] 

Paul’s implication seems to be that though the goal was for maximum or even “universal” participation, the practicalities of time meant that not every one might have the opportunity to participate at a given service.  Alternatively, that each individual was to carefully limit the length of his own contribution so that all others who desired to participate would have adequate time as well.     






Married women—wherever else they might exercise

their supernatural gifts—were not to do so when

the congregation gathered for

collective worship (14:34-35)



            ATP text:  34The married women should keep quiet in the assemblies.  For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even Moses’ Law teaches.  35If there is anything they desire to know more about, let them question their own husbands at home.  For it is grievously inappropriate for a married woman to speak in the assembly.”

            Development of the argument:  How does 14:33 relate to this section?  Some end the verse with a period (NKJV, NASB, BBE, Darby, Rotherham, Weymouth), making “as in all the churches of the saints” refer to how God is “not the author of confusion,” i.e. anywhere.  Other translations end it with a comma (RSV, CEV, GW, Holman, ISV, TEV), transforming the thought flow into “as in all the churches of the saints” the women are to keep silent (14:34).  Older translations utilized the period, while newer ones have increasingly utilized the comma.[29] 

Actually the admonition has an obvious implicit application in both directions:  God no more wanted confusion in the assemblies due to disorganized and disorderly [Page 72]   worship involving supernatural gifts (14:29-33), than He wanted confusion and divisive assemblying created by women (14:33-35).  Misuse of the Divine guidelines for worship that created disruption was opposed because it was inherently wrong rather than because it came from only one of these specific sources.

The underlying theme was that the practice of the Corinthian congregation was to match that of the other churches of the day (14:33).  No matter how highly they might think of themselves, no matter how exaggerated their evaluation of their supernatural gifts, the utilization of them—and, surely, the rest of their practices--was to be in conformity with that found in the other communities of faith scattered throughout the Roman Empire.

            However, it is within this context of supernaturally granted powers to prophesy and speak foreign tongues—a topic resumed immediately after this “digression” about exercising self- and group-control over the exercise of the miraculous gifts--that Paul specifically insists that women are to “keep silent (ATP:  quiet) in the churches” (14:34) and to “ask their own husbands at home” if they have questions (objections?) to raise (14:35).[30]  It is not so much any “absolute” female silence he has in mind, as one involving miraculous abilities and, in particular, those exercised by the married women of the congregation—a status that most grown women of the day would have shared in.    

            Although the “women” of verse 34 utilizes the Greek word that can cover any female of any age, whether married, unmarried, or widowed, the women Paul is specifically describing in this text are those who have a husband at home to ask questions of (14:35)—i.e., one who is married.  Oddly enough, Walter A. Maier, who strongly argues that the most all encompassing meaning of the term should be embraced here, cites 1 Corinthians 7:2, Romans 7:2, and Luke 4:26 to support his argument for it encompassing all these categories and not being limited to one segment of it.[31] 

Luke 4:26 refers to a woman who is identified as a “widow.”  Romans 7:2 refers to “the woman who has a husband” (a married woman).  1 Corinthians 7:2 speaks of the unmarried as individuals who should seek out a spouse.  Hence one text refers to women who are married, a second to women who should be, and the final one to women who had been married.  Do not these allusions distinguish those women from females in general and limit their application to those specifically under discussion?  Should not the reference in 1 Corinthians 14:35 be similarly limited to the married women who are under discussion?        

            Maier contends against the limitation being to that grouping on the grounds of there “being no preparation for the restriction in Paul’s discourse up to this point.”[32]  Which is not unexpected since he is introducing a dramatically new aspect of avoiding divisiveness in the congregation, shifting from the use of supernatural gifts to the proper role of women in avoiding it. 

            More tellingly is 1 Timothy 2:11-11’s “instruction similar to what [Paul] says here,” which is introduced to prove “that women in general and not wives only” are under consideration.[33]  We certainly have there another congregational setting; to speak of “let[ing] a woman learn in silence” makes little sense outside that implicit context. 

It does not, however, deal with how a woman is to get her questions answered.  Since 1 Corinthians 14 tells her how (ask your husband at home), it makes far greater interpretive sense, in my judgment, to make this a married woman-man situation as well.  Not to mention that his confirmatory argument is, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” [Page 73]   (1 Timothy 2:13)—a husband wife relationship, not a mere male-female one.  Hence we are dealing, again, with regulations on married women and not—at least explicitly or directly—on women in general.

            The best way to arrive at the destination he seeks, is to begin with the fact we have mentioned in passing:  most adult females were married in that day; it was a cultural truism.  Any others were, effectively an exception—a temporary one.  Hence the most natural first century reading of the text would have been to apply it to all females.

            On the other hand, if Paul was objectively inspired by God with a revelation applicable to the end of this earth, then any limitations he puts on his words were intended to be taken seriously in cultures that were far different, as well as the immediate one.  But might not those “details” alter the application from that most first century people likely read into it?  (And if the limitation weren’t intended then and later, why include the limitation in the first place?  Why not just make a flat out, unlimited prohibitive statement?)

Hence when Paul specifies married women--and he mentions only them--and we have a culture in which a goodly percentage of women are unmarried for much or the bulk of their adult life, how do we respect Paul’s self-imposed limitation on the type of women under discussion by expanding it to cover all of them?  In that kind of cultural context are we not, actually, defying him?  He put a limitation and we refuse to honor it!  Thus would go the argument.  (For that matter, was the application contemporaries likely deduced not taken issue with because the dispute would actually affect few and would undermine the acceptance of the basic premise he is embracing—don’t let anything be disruptive in the church meeting?)

            However, if we take that approach, we would still be left with the matter of what the unmarried and widows’ proper role in the church service would be.  Just as we are left, even in the first century application of the text, with another subject that Paul barely, if at all, touches upon—what is the role of married women in the church service?  The context regards supernatural gifts in particular.  What is the married woman’s role in regard to parts of the church service that does not involve such?  Hence, either approaches leaves us with yet additional questions to resolve.






These criteria were to be accepted not only

because Paul was presenting the Lord’s will,

but also in order to preserve order and decorum

in their religious assembly (14:36-14:40)


            ATP text:  36If you question this, consider:  Did the word of God originate with you and only then spread elsewhere?  Or are you the only ones it has reached?  37If you think of yourself as a prophet or spiritual, then recognize and accept that what I write to you are the Lord's commandments.  38Whoever ignores this, should be ignored by you.  [Page 74]   39So, my comrades, earnestly desire to teach God’s message, yet do not prohibit speaking in other tongues.  40Let all things be done in the right way and in an orderly manner.”

            Development of text:  They needed to accept the limitation concerning married women’s public role in the church gathering because this constraint was part of  “the word of God” and that “word” did not apply just to them but was shared with those in other places as well (14:36).  The implication is that this restrictive teaching had been given in other communities and that it was the standard practice of the individual groups. 

            They couldn’t be egocentric about this:  the preached “word” had not originated in Corinth, so they were in no position to define what it should or should not include (14:36).  Likewise they were far from the only place who had heard it (14:36), so they were in no position to redefine the truth from Paul’s teaching to whatever they themselves preferred to believe—it was the accepted norm wherever they looked.  It would have been ludicrous for them to say otherwise[34] and he uses this reality to pound home the need to accept what he had taught.

            Furthermore, “if anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge (ATP:  recognize and accept) that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (14:37).  The plural “things” certainly encompasses all of his teaching in the epistle, but coming immediately after the instruction about women’s “silence,” it has that as Paul’s immediate point of reference.  Paul does not want to leave any doubt of the importance of the matter.  He is firmly putting his teaching authority on the line.  Earlier in the epistle, Paul had to weight in against how they thought too highly of themselves.  Here he uses their very pride against them:  to the extent that you do have something to brag about spiritually, you will acknowledge the validity of what I have taught in this epistle.

            He understands that not everyone will be able to accept his teaching about miraculous gifts and he expresses a sense of annoyance.  In the NKJV the text reads, “if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant” (14:38).  Since Paul was far from one to condone ignorance (why did he so bluntly express his instructions throughout the epistle if he thought such were acceptable?), he presumably has the idea that they are willfully ignorant.  It is not that they can’t understand; it is that they won’t.  And with such people, continued argument is futile so it is better to simply wash one’s hands of them. 

            Although the above observations are valid, translators part company here.  Darby, Young, and Weymouth utilize “ignorant” and synonymous ideas are found in Rotherham (“if anyone knoweth not”) and the BBE (“is without knowledge”).  Most newer translations use a variety of substitutes including “recognize” (NASB, RSV), “pay attention to” (CEV), “ignores” (God’s Word, Holman, ISV, our own ATP).  Here too the same observations would apply as to the cause of Paul’s advice.   Paul’s teachings are authoritative even if certain members will still refuse to accept it.  The end result is the same:  “getting on with business” and not permitting them to stop one from doing the right thing.[35]

The apostle concludes his teaching on these supernatural gifts by reaffirming his encouragement of prophetic speaking while cautioning his readers lest they misinterpret this as an attempt to forbid speaking in tongues (14:39).  The guiding rule of thumb in the assembly is simple, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (14:40).                    





[Page 75]


Invoking of Explicit Old Testament

Quotations to Justify His Teaching







            14:21:  Isaiah as precedent for speaking in tongues.  To justify his assertion that “tongues (ATP:  miraculous languages) are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers” (14:22), Paul turns to one of the Major Prophets, “With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear me” (“With those of other tongues and by the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, and even then they will not heed Me,” ATP).

            Paul has edited this down from a slightly longer reading found in Isaiah 28:11-12, to which we will add verses 9-10 for completeness of analysis.  Whether he has adjusted the LXX text in light of the Hebrew original or whether he has utilized a non-Septuagint rendition of the Hebrew has been the subject of considerable discussion.[36]  Origen wrote, “I found the equivalent of this saying in the translation of Aquila” of the Old Testament.[37]  We do not have a manuscript of Aquila’s version, however, and the term “equivalent” doesn’t have to carry the connotation of a verbatim quotation but of something whose substance (but not necessarily wording) is identical.[38]

As our English translation has it, it reads,


                        “Whom will he teach knowledge?  And whom will he make to understand          the message?  Those just weaned from milk?  Those just drawn from the breasts?            For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon             line, here a little, there a little.”  For with stammering lips and another tongue He             will speak to this people.  To whom He said, ‘This is the rest with which You           must cause the weary to rest,’ and ‘This is the refreshing’; yet they would not         hear.” 


            Explicitly through Hebrew prophets and implicitly through those who spoke other languages, Yahweh had a message for Israel--if it would heed it.  The point of the text is that in neither case would they accept it and learn the point God intended.[39]  As here rendered, their taunt may carry the connotation that Isaiah is demanding too radical a change, that things must proceed one step at a time (“here a little, there a little” etc.).

            Yet the translation is far from certain and it has been suggested that verse 10 really means that Isaiah is speaking incoherent nonsense, things fit for the small babies of verse 9.  As Joseph Jensen lays out the matter,[40]

[Page 76]

                        [The] Revised Standard Version’s “precept upon precept, etc., in verse 10        is a doubtful solution to a very difficult verse; the text of the first part of the verse simply does not add up to normal Hebrew words, and it is not clear that it is             supposed to.  The mocking words read like repetitious sing-song (sau lasau sau             lasau qau laqau qua laqau) and it has been suggested that they represent a learning    exercise or a very young pupil’s recitation, something like our ABC’s.  In any       case, Isaiah turns this taunt back upon them.  They don’t like the way Yahweh   instructs them through his prophet?  Very well!  He will instruct them through   much harsher masters.  The reference (“strange lips, alien tongue”) is to the           Assyrians, whose advent the present policy assures.


            It has been argued that Paul is indicating, by using this passage, that the Corinthian tongues were “gibberish:”  ecstatic tongues become an excuse for continued unbelief by the outsider, just as hearing the speech of their foreign conquerors in Isaiah served as an excuse to harden their hearts.[41]  The text from neither author implies that what was spoken was “gibberish:”   In both cases, however, it was intended as a sign that God was acting and that the people should pay heed (1 Corinthians14:22).  Most important, perhaps, is the fact that the Old Testament precedent of Isaiah makes the “tongues” of Corinth equivalent to genuine foreign languages--in Isaiah, that of the foreign conqueror.        

            Paul quotes the Isaiah text as evidence that “tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers” (14:22).  The word “unbelievers” deserves special attention in its own right:  are they the people Isaiah addressed or the conquerors--or both?

            No major power was without its intelligence sources of what was going on in an enemy’s kingdom.  Isaiah dissenting voice would certainly have come to their attention, either before or after the invasion.  If they had stopped to think things through, the fact that he alone predicted that Yahweh would permit foreign conquerors their success would have been a message (= be a “sign”) to the conquerors that this strange Israelite God might be uniquely different and superior to the ones they served.

            More likely (as we assumed in our initial analysis, above) is that the “unbelievers” are not the polytheists but the theoretical monotheists of Israel.  Claiming to be followers of Yahweh, they would still not heed His message.  The successful fulfillment of Isaiah’s dissenting message would be a “sign” to them to change their ways.  This could point to Jewish visitors being in the mind of Paul (as Isaiah’s message was directed to such); more likely Paul is arguing from analogy and uses the Jewish example as precedent for any and all unbelievers who might be present in the Christian assembly.       







[Page 77]

How Old Testament Concepts Are

Repeatedly Introduced and Woven

into the Heart of His Argument





            14:1:  Desiring spiritual gifts, “especially prophecy.”  Two of the seventy leaders who were to assist Moses in governing the people remained in the camp when the rest gathered at the tabernacle (Numbers 11:24-25).  When the Spirit bestowed upon those with Moses a one-time gift of prophecy, the same occurred to those who had been left behind (11:26).  When this was reported to Joshua and Moses, Joshua was indignant, “Moses my lord, forbid them!” (11:27-28). 

Moses first questioned the real motive for Joshua’s protest and then expressed the wish that “all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” (11:29; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:5).  Although this is not a case of someone desiring the prophetic gift for himself or herself, it is a clear case of someone with it desiring it for others.


            14:2:  The person who speaks in a foreign “tongue” can speak only “to God” since “no one understands him.”   Unless one has happened to have learned that language, it means nothing at all.  In the Genesis account the inability to comprehend is attributed to Divine punishment at the Tower of Babel.  Erected to be a unifying point for the human species, Yahweh rejected it as an attempt to keep the growing population from spreading out over the earth as He intended. 

            Hence His decision to “go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (11:7; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:11).   As the result the need for an interpreter arose (cf. Genesis 42:23 and Paul’s demand for such in 1 Corinthians 14:27-28).  The further away a person originated, the more likely that the speech would be unknown to local residents (Deuteronomy 23:49).  In such cases “no one understands him” and the ability to communicate is reduced to hand motions and little more.       



            14:3:  The prophet “speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.”   Although we typically picture OT prophets as predictors of the future, an actual examination of their work shows that it is normally secondary to their role of teaching the immediate generation.  The predictions typically come to play to verify or warn the listeners of what the future will bring if they persist in their defiance of the Divine will.  Perhaps the best and most concise example of this is Jonah:  He prophesied the imminent fall of Nineveh but his message was one of moral reform (repentance) so that that destiny might be escaped.

            Deuteronomy 18:18-20 brings out vividly the role of prophet as moral and

[Page 78]   spiritual instructor:  “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.  And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.  But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.”  



            14:8:  The blowing of trumpets (ATP:  “war bugle”).  Paul alludes to the blowing of trumpet signals for a defending or attacking a foe.  Numbers 10:9 refers to “sound[ing] an alarm with the trumpets” when faced with an opposing military force (cf. Nehemiah 4:18-20; Amos 3:6). 

            During the siege of Jericho, there was an apparently continued blowing of “seven trumpets of rams’ horns” as the ark was ceremonially carried around the city each day (Joshua 6:4).  On the final day of the procession, the people were to be signaled with “a long blast with the rams’ horn” to begin to “shout with a great shout” and begin the actual assault (6:5).             

            Distinct signals are also alluded to in a non-conflict context.  For example, there was a special type of trumpet signal to tell each of the geographic sections of the massed Israelite camp to begin their next journey (Numbers 10:5-7).      

            Yet there were other occasions when trumpets were utilized as well.  For example, they were used as part of religious ceremonial, “Also in the day of your gladness, in your appointed feasts, and at the beginning of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be a memorial for you before your God:  I am the Lord your God” (Numbers 10:10).

            Sometimes the number of trumpets being blown conveyed a message as well.  During the wilderness wanderings (Numbers 10), one trumpet alone meant that the leaders of Israel were to assemble together with Moses (10:4).  When two trumpets were blown, the entire people were to mass together “at the door of the tabernacle of meeting (10:3). 

            In a military context, the more trumpets that were blown, the greater the size of the attacking army.  This truism was utilized by Gideon when he provided each of his three hundred men a trumpet for a night attack on the massed Midianites.  Their noise and their shouts panicked the enemy camp and put them on the run, giving the Israelites a short-term psychological victory and a long-term military one (Judges 7:15-23).  He proved to his people that the Midianites were not ten feet tall and could be successfully humbled. 



            14:15-16:  The need to engage in one’s singing with “understanding (ATP:  a mentally aware mind).”  They were to know what the words meant and the ideas that were being conveyed.  Implied is the idea that it was to be not only a manner of honoring God but also a mode of self-instruction. 

            The Psalms also speak of the need to comprehend what is being sung, “For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with understanding” (47:7).  The thought appears to [Page 79]   be that since God is King, then the very act of understanding what is being sung constitutes part of the respect He is owed as a monarch.  Even earthly monarchs can often tell empty rhetoric from the sincere; how much more so Jehovah?



            14:16:  Saying “Amen” to indicate agreement or concurrence.  In the Pauline text it is “Amen” at the end of a prayer, to indicate that one agrees with what has been said and the petitions that have been offered.  There was precedent for this in the Psalms, which were both songs of joy and sadness and yet commonly functioned as prayers as well.  Hence we read that when a certain psalm of David was first read to the people (1 Chronicles 16:7-36a), “all the people” responded with a hearty “ ‘Amen’ and praised the Lord” (36b).  In the book of Psalms itself, some end with a double “Amen” (Psalms 41:13; 72:19; 89:52).  Psalms 106:48 ends with the injunction that “all the people [should] say, ‘Amen’!” 

            The technique could be used in other contexts as well.  Deuteronomy 24 records that the people were instructed, “Take heed and listen, O Israel:  This day you have become the people of the Lord your God.  Therefore you shall obey the voice of the Lord your God and observe His commandments and His statutes which I command you today” (24:9-10). 

            A noble sentiment, but how to assure that the people agreed to accept this obligation?  To do this, all of them were assembled on the slopes of two mountains.  In the middle stood the Levites who spoke in their loudest voices a series of injunctions.  To each of these the people were to respond with an “Amen” to indicate they would observe it (24:11-26).  The list did not cover anywhere near all that the Torah taught, but it included a representative cross section so that no one could claim to have accepted the covenant obligations in ignorance.      



            14:25:  Nonbelievers being intellectually compelled to admit God’s presence among His people/God knowing the secrets of the heart.  Paul speaks here of how prophecy could reveal an unbeliever’s secrets; this would so shock the person that the recognition would be inescapable “that God is truly among you.”

            The unbelieving nations also sometimes felt required to admit that a true God was working on Israel’s behalf--though the admission may well, in most, have fallen considerably short of accepting the full implications of the admission.  Of a period of Israel’s future triumph, Isaiah predicts that their captors will face the truth of Israelite monotheism, “They will make supplication to you, saying, ‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other; there is no other God’ ” (Isaiah 45:14b).  A similar prediction is given in Zechariah 8:23.[42]  Just as through Israel the nations would acknowledge Yahweh—grudgingly and unhappily in many cases—through the new Israel of the church the people of the first century would also acknowledge Him.[43] 

            The underlying assumption—that God is fully capable of knowing those intimate and hidden realities that human beings hide from others and, sometimes, even from their own conscious recognition—represents a teaching that the Psalmist echoed, “Would not God search this out?  For He knows the secrets of the heart” (Psalms 44:21).       

            There is yet another sense of the word “secret” that is relevant in a revelatory [Page 80]   context:  the divine ability to know the future.  Humans guess and give probabilities, at best; God knows.   Hence in Daniel 2, the prophet reassures the king that, “there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days,” the mode being “dreams” and “visions” (2:28).  “He who reveals secrets has made known to you what will be” (2:29). 

That Daniel was capable of making understandable and logical sense out of the imagery of the visions/dreams causes the ruler to put the Hebrew God above those of his own heritage, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could  reveal this secret” (2:47)



            14:25:  “Falling down on [the] face (ATP:  bowing with the face toward the ground)” as an expression of humility, respect, and reverence.  The latter is the emphasis in the current text since it is linked with the idea that “he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.”  The term is used in the symbolic sense of subjecting oneself to Yahweh and His will in Psalms 72:11, a linkage of symbolism and act that Paul is here utilizing.   In Isaiah 45:14 it is used of conquered enemies bowing down to their Israelite conquerors and admitting that “Surely God is in you and there is no other; there is no other God.”  Literally bowing down to their human conqueror; symbolically to Yahweh who caused the victory to occur.

            The image is used in these senses of honor and respect both in regard to prayer and to other subjects in the Old Testament.  In the religious sense that is most common to us, we read of Moses and how he “fell down before the Lord” to beg mercy for his people (Deuteronomy 9:18).  The text makes explicit reference to how he had done this previously as well.  In a “secular” sense, we read of how the brothers of Joseph, when hauled before an Egyptian official and accused of thievery, “fell before him on the ground” (Genesis 44:14).  Their fate was in his hands and they gave him the respect due their judge.



            14:27, 30:  Waiting for others to speak first.  In a different context, this would be called “courtesy.”  In the context of a meeting, some type of agreed-to procedure was essential to keep things orderly and under control (the principle Paul explicitly refers to in 14:40).

            In Job we read of such restraint in the conversation between suffering Job and his alleged friends.  Elihu listens to the bulk of what is said before expressing his own view.  Having done so, he finally tells the participants, “Listen to me, I also will declare my opinion.  Indeed I also listened to your reasonings while you searched out what to say.  I paid close attention to you . . .” (32:10-12).  This restraint had been because he was much younger than the other participants and thought they should have first say; even so he was convinced that they had failed to make their case (32:6-9).

            Likewise Elihu beseeched Job to “hold your peace” and let him speak first in the hope that he would have something to say that would “justify” him and yet also “teach [him] wisdom” (33:31-33).



[Page 81]         14:31:  The purpose of teaching being done by one person at a time (rather than simultaneously) was so that all would be benefited.   The two specific benefits mentioned are so “that all may learn and all may be encouraged (ATP:  so that all may gain the knowledge and all be uplifted).”  If all had been utilizing their prophetic gift simultaneously, missing something of potential value was inescapable.  Like a modern three ring circus, there is simply no way one can give equal attention to all that is going on.

            Hence the injunction to have only one teacher at a time grows out of the pragmatic concern that the audience be benefited.  Proverbs also emphasizes this idea that teaching is for the benefit of the listener or reader, “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles” (1:6-7).  He makes no pretense that all teaching is easily comprehensible, but the possibility of learning is always present, nonetheless, so long as they are “hear[ing] and “increas[ing]” in their knowledge. 

            The benefit, in part, however, grows out of one’s existing character, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning” (9:9).  If you have learned nothing and don’t want to learn, it won’t benefit you; if your basic character is amoral, moral admonition will not take root and shape your life.    



            14:32:  Self-control over the use of one’s miraculous gifts.  Of teaching by prophecy, Paul insists that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets (ATP:  remain under the control of the prophets themselves).”  They are not so overcome by the supernatural that they have to act.  Personal control remains both possible and required. 

            The ability of a prophet to control what came out of his mouth is implied by the accountability to which they are held in both testaments.  If they “had to say” what came out of their mouths this would be incomprehensible.

            The closest we seem to come, however, to a direct statement of Paul’s point occurs in 2 Kings.  On two occasions on the day the event was to occur, “the sons of the prophets” implored Elisha, “Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?”  On the first occasion they were from Bethel; on the second they were residents of Jericho.  On both occasions Elisha responded, “Yes, I know; keep silent!” (2 Kings 2:3, 5). 

            Presumably the imploring was in hope he could do something about it.  Whether the “sons of the prophets” were speaking revelation given them or not--the text does not assert the matter one way or another--they were quite capable of exercising the kind of control Paul expected:  they were silent.  And even if they had not been, the admonition implied that they should have been.



            14:34-35:  The “submissive[ness] (ATP:  subordinate[ness])” of married women taught by “the law (ATP:  Moses’ Law).”   Christopher D. Stanley is clearly right when he asserts that, “The reference is so vague as to render all efforts at [specific] identification useless.”[44]  Hence Paul is clearly giving his summation of the theme or intent of Old Testament teaching rather than limiting himself to an appeal to any one [Page 82]   passage alone.  Since anyone brought up in traditional Judaism was hardly likely to challenge his interpretation, this strengthened his argument rather than weakened it: one might dispute the meaning of one text, but if one had been raised to believe that the ongoing purpose of varied passages (either directly or by implication) carried this intent, then dissent was undermined before it was even expressed.  

Even if Paul was not relying on any single particular verse(s), what might some of them be that led to his conclusion?

Possible male egos not withstanding, the “submissiveness” taught by the Torah was not introduced as some inherent part of the natural order but as part of the four-fold punishment for Eve’s sin.  Genesis 3:16 words the four consequences for Eve in this manner, “(1) I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception,” i.e., there would be many more of them than otherwise would occur; (2) “in pain you shall bring forth children,” implying that all or most women would suffer more anguish in the birthing than would have occurred otherwise; (3) “your desire shall be for your husband,” suggesting psychological dependence (?); (4) “he [i.e., the husband] shall rule over you.” 

            It is quite possible that to a lesser degree all of these would have been present  even if the prototype couple had not fallen into sin.  Certainly the commandment to populate the world was given before the transgression and that required childbearing.  Hence we are likely dealing with a picture of intensification of phenomena that are assumed to have always been intended.  Yet it was as punishment for sin that they are made explicit and spelled out.  

            This principle of “subordination” was illustrated (Numbers 30:3-8) in regard to religious vows promising one thing or another to Yahweh.  If a wife made such a vow, then the husband had the right to veto it and she would not be held responsible for carrying it out (Numbers 30:3-8).  This also applied to other commitments she had made independent of her spouse (30:9-15).  There was one important limitation on this veto power:  it had to be made the same day she told her husband about the vow or promise (30:7, 11).  There was power or authority, but it was carefully limited.

            “Subordination” was certainly not strictly a Jewish phenomena, but one common throughout the world--though scholars love to debate the degree and possible exceptions.  In the Old Testament we read in Esther of a similar expectation being enacted into Persian law that “all wives will honor their husbands, both great and small” (1:20).  This is presented as growing out of the Queen’s refusal to come to the male only feast that the King was holding, which thoroughly embarrassed him in front of his most important associates (1:8-19).              



            14:36:  The Corinthians were expected to obey Paul’s teaching because it was given to one and all and was not a special demand imposed on them alone.  The apostle stresses that they neither originated the “word of God” that they had accepted nor had it “reached” only Corinth.  In short, the “word of God” was to be the standard rather than their personal preference.  What he wrote concerned not only their own local practice but also was that enjoined in other places as well (cf. 11:16; 14:33).

            In this vein of revealed teaching being universally binding, comes the Messianic prediction that “all nations” would flow into His kingdom.  A new law would go forth “out of Zion” and be spread among the nations and those in this new kingdom would live [Page 83]   at peace, rather than war, with each other (Isaiah 2:1-4; cf. Micah 4:1-3).  This would require a perceived unity of acceptable practice if it were to function. 



            14:38:  A time to stop teaching.  Paul has presented all he has to say; it is hard to imagine how he could have said anything more than would change the minds of the wavering.  Hence his admonition, “but if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.”  He tired of arguing the point.  If people persisted in blinding themselves, he is ready to wash his hands of them. 

In the ATP and similar renderings, the idea shifts a bit, “whoever ignores this, should be ignored by you.”  Here the idea is that if they wish to ignore what is proper they themselves should be treated the same way, which carries with it the idea of refusing to act in a similar manner.  As well as a refusal to accept their behavior as the norm or congregational ideal.

            As to the idea of letting the “ignorant” remain such rather than further wasting  one’s time, there was certainly Old Testament precedent.  In a similar vein Hosea 4:17 exhibits  exasperation when all has been done and said that could be, “Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.”  The warnings had been abundant; the teaching clear.  Saying anything more would do no good.  The responsibility is now on his own shoulders. 

The admonition to “ignore” those refusing to accept God’s will bears far more abundant precedent:  every instruction to reject and refuse to follow the teaching of false prophets has at its conceptual heart such an “ignoring” of rival appeals.  Whether we leave them “ignorant” or “ignore” them, the end result is that we have determined to do the right thing regardless of their own choice.



            14:40:  Maintaining decorum in public worship.  When Paul insists that “all things [must] be done decently and in order (ATP:  in the right way and in an orderly manner),” he is simply asserting that decorum must be preserved.  Spirituality is not to result in excess, nor the worship of God to fly out of control. 

The regulations of worship under the Torah are so numerous and detailed that they almost become mind-numbing if read for chapter after chapter.  Yet all of this had a very practical result:  when observed, it assured that what was done stayed in the endorsed mode and that excess enthusiasm did not result in the pattern being altered or changed in any way.  Paul appeals to their conscience to produce this result of orderliness and decorum while the Torah appealed to the need to faithfully execute the details of its law.  The end result would be the same.   








Historical Allusions to the

                                    Old Testament:  None





 [Page 121]



[1] Ron Ritchie, “Order Out of Chaos.”  Dated:  February 11, 1996.  At: files/messages/8325/4481.html [January 2011].


[2] Arguing in favor of it is Frank Shallieu, “1 Corinthians Chapter 14: Ground Rules for Speaking in Tongues and Prophesying.”  Dated 1979, 1997, 2001, January 4, 2010.  On the FinalTrump.Com web site.  At: [January 2011].


[3] Ritchie, “Order.”


[4] Gutzke, 130.  

[5] Shallieu, “Ground Rules.”


[6] For example, Ibid.


[7] Robert Zerhusen, “A New Look at Tongues, Part II:  The Problem of Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14,”   Biblical Theology Bulletin (volume 27; 1997).  At:  http://www.,,PTID307086_CHID560462_CIID1415642,00.html [December 2010]. 


[8] Cf. Ibid. 


[9] Ibid. argues that the tongue speaking “gift of the Spirit” is unlike certain other “gifts of the Spirit”—a non-miraculous one.  He utilizes these two verses to argue that it was the speaker’s own native language—Greek being assumed to be his secondary one—that was being spoken.  But in such cases, the need of a translator would never be required since he already knew what he was saying.  He responds to this objection by arguing that translation is an art and that even if one was “born” into a language, he may still not be the best and most effective person in translating the words from one tongue into another.  Hence the cases where a second person, working solely as translator, would be required.  For his analysis of this and other difficulties for his approach see his entire article.

            For his far less effective effort to redefine non-miraculously the Pentecostal speaking in tongues see his analysis, “A New Look at Tongues, Part I:  A Linguistic Approach to the Understanding of the ‘Other Tongues’ in Acts 2,”  Biblical Theology Bulletin (volume 26; 1996).  At:,,

PTID307086_CHID560462_CIID1415640,00.html [December 2010].  


[10] The approach of O. Palmer Robertson, “Tongues Today?”  At: [January 2011].


[Page 122]       [11] Larry Christenson, Asking Your Questions about Speaking in Tongues (Bloomington, Minnesota:  Bethany Press, 1968, 2005; Google e-books), unnumbered page under the general heading “Biblical Teaching.”


[12] Speaking of Acts 2 though after citing this verse, Benny C. Aker, “The Gift of Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:1-5.”  At: Resources/Holy%20Spirit/Articles/GiftofTongues.pdf [January 2011].


[13] Adolf Holl, The Left Hand of God:  A Biography of the Holy Spirit, translated from the German by John Cullen (New York:  Doubleday, 1997), 38.    


[14] Ritchie, “Order.”  For a similar view see Alfred E. Boulter, “Speaking in Tongues.”  Dated 2004,  Voice in the Wilderness web site.  At: library/tongues.htm [January 2011].


[15] Doug Banister, The Word & Power Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan, 1995; Google e-book), in “Appendix 2:  Is Paul Referring to Personal Prayer Language in 1 Corinthians 14?”


[16] Shallieu, “Ground Rules.”


[17] For a discussion of various ways Paul may be using this as a proof text (and the question of its legitimacy) see, Francis C. R. Thee, “An Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:20-25.”  Originally appeared in Enrichment magazine.  At: [January 2011].


[18] Sampley, 30.  It is common to speak of the Ante-Nicene period as one in which the church worship took place in secret or in private.  For example, John F.  Baldovin, “Christian Worship to the Eve of the Reformation,” in, The Making of Jewish and Christian Worship, edited by Paul F. Bradshaw and Lawrence A. Hoffman (Notre Dame:  University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), 158.  This text and the general New Testament record argues that, in spite of local sporadic periods of persecution, the ability of the church to function more or less openly was usually far greater than often assumed. 


[19] D. Gerhard Delling, Worship in the New Testament, translated by Percy Scott (London:  Darton, Longman and Todd, 1962), 26, argues that since this situation already existed in Corinth, that it indicates that individuals with messages prepared ahead of time were a common phenomena in that group.  This argues “that a certain order was usual there,” giving structure and organization to what their excesses and lack of restraint was pushing in a chaotic direction.   


[20] Congar, 35.

[21] J. Garrett Kell, “Prophets on Trial:  Judging ‘Words from God’ Today with the Model [Page 123]   Found in 1 Corinthians 14:29-33.”  Master’s Degree Thesis, July 2006, 26.  At: [January 2011].


[22] Ibid, n. 2, p. 26.



[23] For a detailed argument that Paul has in mind not the fellow prophets but the entire assembly, see Wayne A. Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians (Washington, D.C.:  University Press of America, 1982), 58-62.  The heart of his argument is that in a book that stresses maximum individual involvement in the assembly, it is hard to imagine that the bulk of those in attendance were supposed to set in passive noninvolvement while an important part of their service was underway.  


[24] Allen, 174.  

[25] Grudem, Gift, 62-67, argues that there is no hint that they were in danger of hearing false prophecy.  What they did need to judge was how it applied to their group and their individual lives.  He compromises his argument, however, by conceding that “Each prophecy might have both true and false elements in it” (66).  Wouldn’t that, by definition, make the speaker a false prophet?  Either that or the supposedly externally Holy Spirit delivered message was actually coming from the individual’s own intellect and subject to all the perceptive limitations that would accompany such a source.  He ultimately opts for the latter approach (67-70) by arguing that if the prophets were considered as giving a miraculous revelation—in the strict sense of the idea—then it would have made more sense to let the first speaker finish and then let the second begin.


[26] Shallieu, “Ground Rules.”


[27] Kell, 33.


[28] Hering, 154-155.   

[29] Robert G. Bratcher, A Translator’s Guide to Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, in the Helps for Translators Series (New York:  United Bible Societies, 1982).  140.


[30]For a detailed discussion of whether 14:34-35 might be an interpolation into the Pauline text, see Horrell, 184-194.  Danielou, 10, makes the intriguing argument that by specifying tongue speaking and prophesying (= teaching and preaching) in the preceding verses that he implicitly permits women to engage in all other forms of church meeting participation.  


[31] Walter A. Maier, “An Exegetical Study of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38.”  Christ-Centered Cross-Focused Talk Radio web site.  At: [January 2011].   


[Page 124]   [32] Ibid.


[33] Ibid.


[34] Ibid.


[35] For alternative/additional points Paul may be hinting at, see Ibid.


[36] For a detailed summary of the problems involved, see Christopher D. Stanley, Language, 198-205.   


[37] Philocalia 9:2, as quoted by Heil, n. 1, p. 192.


[38] Ibid.


[39] Cf. Mare,  274. 

[40] Jensen, 217.

[41] Thrall, 100.

[42] Hays, Imagination, 1-2, for citations of those seeing Isaiah 45:15 and Zechariah 8:23 as being intentionally referred to by the apostle.


[43] Ibid, 3-4, argues in this general direction.


[44] Christopher D. Stanley, Arguing with Scripture:  The Rhetoric of Quotations in the Letters of Paul (New York:  T. & T. Clark, 2004), 118.