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

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2011







Chapter 14—Part 2:  Problem Texts






            14:2:  The nature of tongue speaking on Corinth:  Ecstatic expressions or genuine languages unknown to the speaker?  A minority, including myself, hold to the view that the Corinthian tongues were understood by Paul as being genuine languages.  With a version of this view in mind, one scholar describes the practitioners as individuals who “make proclamations in languages that no one else (including themselves) knew. . . .”[1]  Another hedges by contending that it “normally sounds like a news broadcast in a language completely unknown to the hearer.  It is a question of the sequence of vowels and consonants with a certain speech melody and rhythm. . . .”[2]  In other words, it leaves at least the impression of being a genuine human language—but why go to the trouble to leave the impression if it isn’t that at all?  Wouldn’t that be deception?

            Some see the text as referring to two different types of tongue speaking in Corinth:  one of genuine languages and one that was ecstatic, self-induced psychologically.[3]   Because of the undesirability of banishing the real along with the fraudulent, the requirement for translators solved the problem:  the genuine language could be translated and the ecstatic speaker would be silenced because there would be no one capable of rendering a non-existent language.[4] 

This scenario is open to serious challenge on the ground that if religious excess can lead a person to sprout gibberish, then an equally zealous individual might mislead himself into believing that he can provide a “translation” of it into the local tongue.[5]  And if the person is actually “faking” the tongue, isn’t s/he, in blunt reality, no less than a blatant false teacher?  Rather than passing by in silence, don’t they deserve the sternest rebuke?

            It is a far more common interpretation of “tongues” in Corinth, however, that they were exclusively “sacred gibberish:”  “sacred” to the speaker; “gibberish” so far as being coherent speech in contemporary, genuine languages.[6]  Archibald M. Hunter, for example, contends that these were “ecstatic speech addressed to God under the stress of strong religious emotion.”[7]  Edgar J. Goodspeed describes it as both “ecstatic” and “unintelligible babble.”[8]

            External factors (both first century and modern) encourage such an approach.  Certain ancient pagan cults spoke in ecstatic tongues and if Christians were doing so as well, there was an obvious need for Paul to rein in any excesses lest Christianity be dismissed as of no greater importance than one of its polytheistic rivals.[9]  Furthermore, the fact that the vast bulk of alleged “tongue speaking” today is of this nature also encourages the identification of the two phenomena as one and the same.[10]  But was this [Page 85]   the case in the first century and was Paul embracing such? 

            Eighteenth and nineteenth century commentators usually contended that the tongues were intended to be taken by readers as a known language; if not literally the identical phenomena with that recorded in Acts 2, then the same essential type of event.  Although a large number of dissenters still exist, the twentieth century saw a dramatic shift to the “ecstatic” reading of the events to the point where that now dominates the field as we move deeper into the twenty-first century.[11]  This has been produced by a convergence of religious “liberals” who discount the existence of the genuinely miraculous in much, most, or all of the New Testament and “pentecostal types” who have spread the practice wide and far in their missionary enthusiasm.

            Perhaps the best way to answer the question of which approach is best, is by analyzing the words and phrases that can be cited in behalf of the two interpretations.  We will be mainly dealing with chapter 14, with a text or two from other places. 


First, evidence pointing to the “tongue” being an authentic human language, but simply unknown to the speaker.  The ATP works from the premise that Paul considered the “tongues” to be genuine languages and that assumption is reflected, with varying degrees of explicitness, throughout its rendering of the chapter.  Hence, we will not be introducing much of that version of the text in the current section but limit ourselves to the NKJV, which leaves the question far more open.


A.  Initially we should suggest that there is a powerful argument from silence that works against the ecstatic interpretation:  “there is no reference in the text of 1 Corinthians 14 to the emotional or mental state of the tongue-speaker.”[12]  The whole premise of the chapter is that the phenomena was under the control of the participant.  However, an ecstatic state (as the expression is normally used), is, by definition, beyond control. 

If it existed, the Corinthians would have needed an instruction concerning what to do with the person who was “losing it” and entering into such a state in spite of themselves.  If it were the norm, they would also have needed to be told how to handle those who insisted on continuing when someone else now wanted to speak.  Indeed, if beyond self-control and ecstatic, how could Paul realistically even attempt to limit the phenomena the way he does?  The absence of teaching dealing with such matters weighs heavily against defining speaking in tongues in such terms.  


B.  14:2:  Paul’s explanation of what a tongue speaker was saying—“in the Spirit he speaks mysteries.”  Today we would probably call this a euphemism or code language, words which made good sense to the listeners but not necessarily to us.  The words, today, are easily read as if referring to the idea of occult truths not given to the normal population of believers--or things so “mysterious” we are unlikely to understand it.  Hence the reason it could be introduced as a “proof” of the ecstatic/gibberish understanding of the phenomena.

 We introduce it here, however, because the language actually conveyed the idea of Divine truths that had not been previously disclosed and things we could not have reasoned to on our own initiative[13] (or, perhaps, even wanted to try to!); hence the “divine secrets” in the ATP.

[Page 86]   The broader use of the term outside Corinthians argues for “mysteries” being things now being revealed that had previously not been provided.[14]  “It has been given to you to know the mysteries of heaven” (Matthew 13:11); “I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery” (Romans 11:25); “according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began” (Romans 16:25), i.e., it was no longer being kept under wraps. 

Other texts include, “Having made known to us the mystery of His will” (Ephesians 1:9); “by revelation he made known to me the mystery, as I have briefly written already” (Ephesians 3:3) and “when you read” his words “you may understand . . . my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4).

In Corinthians itself we have a pattern of similar usage.[15]  1 Corinthians 2:7:  “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory.”  1 Corinthians 13:2:  “Though I . . . understand all mysteries and all knowledge.”  1 Corinthians 15:51:  “Behold, I tell you a mystery.”  

Hence we are dealing with Pauline terminology for spiritual truths and insights that human perceptivity alone could never obtain.  This argues that--unlike gibberish--we are dealing with a tongue that can communicate thoughts, ideas, and convictions.  That implies a genuine language though one “no one understands” among the local Corinthians without a translation being provided.


            C.  14:5, 13, 27:  Such tongues can be “interpret[ed].”  It is conceptually hard to justify that term if what is being spoken means absolutely nothing in the first place.  Robert Gerhusen cites (from Ernest Best) a famous nonsensical piece of non-genuine language from Through the Looking Glass, “ ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe:  All mimsy were the borogroves, and the mome raths othgrabe.’  This is incapable of translation as it contains no cognitive information or meaning and is not a language. It cannot be translated into any language (including Greek).”[16]  This is also true of the ecstatic approach to what was being spoken in Corinth.  And if it can’t meet the criterion of being translatable, by what right can it be called a genuine, Biblical style “tongue” in the first place?    

Faced with the impossibility of translating that which communicates nothing intellectually, Fred D. Howard concedes that what was said “formed no words or sentences.  Therefore, interpretation hardly would consist of a word-by-word translation; it would be a general explanation of what was uttered.”[17]  Yet if there were neither real “words or sentences,” how can one meaningfully even claim there was anything to be “explained” or interpreted? 

Does God mysteriously invest “nothing” with a “substance” when it passes through the lips of a (pseudo) translator—pseudo because there is nothing to be translated in the first place?  If a Divine message is being given at all, is it not through the misnamed “translator?”  If so, why waste time with the (non) tongue speaker who is actually communicating nothing? 

In this scenario, the tongues were a dead end phenomena to manifest miraculous power.  Nothing more.  The “translation” was a totally separate phenomena in order to provide a message that would benefit and was related to the preceding tongue speaking only by virtue that the other came first.  Nothing was actually derived from the tongue speaking except an occasion (excuse?) to deliver a message for the listening audience in their own language.     

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            D.  14:9-11:  Paul argues that tongues, to be useful, must have “words easy to understand” (14:9), that there are “many kinds of languages” of this kind in the world (14:10),[18] and that unless we “know the meaning of the language” we will sound and speak like an alien outsider (14:11).  This argues that tongues were just as able to convey genuine information as any of the languages that existed; hence, were languages themselves. 

            Against this can be introduced the reference to musical instruments in verses 7-8.[19]  Even there, however, Paul stresses that they must “make a distinction in the sounds” so the listener can understand their intent.  This point would be expected if the subject consists of genuine human languages, but not be germane if tongues were merely ecstatic utterances.   


            E.  14:21-22:  The “tongues” of foreigners (14:21, quoting from Isaiah 28:11-12) is equated with speaking in tongues.[20]  In Isaiah, these foreign “tongues” are the “languages of an invading army;” hence they are not “gibberish” but a genuine language.[21]  The tongues of Paul’s day—on Isaiah’s precedent--constitute then contemporary languages.  Those who heard it previously would recognize it and because of that these “tongues are [to them] a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers” (14:22).  At the minimum they would know it was genuine and, in more dramatic cases, understand what is being said because they were natives of those places or had learned some / much of it while abroad. 

It has been objected that since Corinthian tongues are “compared” or “contrasted” with real languages they can’t be real languages[22] (note the important but subtle shift when we substitute “compared/contrasted” with for “equated” with).  On the other hand, how can ecstatic, meaningless “jibberishbe compared with a foreign language at all since the idea of real meaning is inherent in the concept of any human tongue?  The comparison only works if the difference lies in the ability of locals to recognize and grasp the words rather than in the words being inherently incomprehensible because meaningless.   


            F.  14:20-25:[23]  The response of the listeners constitutes an argument in its own right.  If “a church full of people speaking gibberish would hardly convert an unbeliever,”[24] then it would seem almost equally true that even a church limiting itself to three tongue speakers would have little convincing impact as well. 

On the other hand if speakers of a genuine language were in the audience (or even individuals who could recognize it as a genuine tongue) then hearing such coming from mouths untutored in these languages would be startling and impel them to a reconsideration of their own lack of faith.  Paul’s objection to everyone speaking spontaneously would remain true:  it would sound chaotic and impede the listener from verifying that what he was hearing was genuine and was what it appeared to be.              

            And how much more so would be the impact when the two or three who were permitted to speak, had their words actually interpreted into the local language--a double blow to the unbelief.  Interpreting gibberish would, on the other hand, be dismissed as illusion or delusion if nothing known to be “real” were there to begin with.

[Page 88]         Interestingly, we have an ancient example of a person speaking a genuine, legitimate language but who was literally laughed at because the locals could not speak it.  I refer to Ovid’s description of his exile in a city located on the Black Sea, “I am a barbarian here because no one understands me, and the stupid Getae laugh at my Latin speech.”[25]  If they laughed at what they knew was a real foreign tongue (even though they could not understand it), how much severer would their reaction had been if they suspected it was not a genuine one at all?


            G.  12:10:  This text refers to “kinds of tongues” in the plural.  Genuine languages would fit the plural but are their kinds (plural) of gibberish?[26]



Certain other elements, however, can be introduced in behalf of the dominant approach, that the tongues were ecstatic in nature.


            A.  The ecstatic phenomena is widespread even in our own age.  Which proves absolutely nothing as to whether it is a duplication—or a perversion—of the tongue speaking in the first century.  Applying a “scriptural label” no more makes something scriptural than Satan calling himself “God” would transform him into such.  No, I am not calling Pentecostals followers of the devil; I am simply trying to provide an illustration that is so crystal clear that no one on either side of the controversy will attempt to deny it.  We should always make sure that scriptural language is used in scriptural ways and not merely assume that since the language is the same, the practice is identical as well.


B.  14:19:  Paul contrasts speaking “five words with my understanding” with speaking “ten thousand words in a tongue.”  This could be taken as an indication that tongues could not be spoken with “understanding;” hence had to be ecstatic.  But Paul is discussing here the speaker (note the emphasis on “my understanding” rather than “their understanding)--on the listener’s capacity rather than that of the hearer:  the central idea of speaking in an unknown tongue was that it was unknown to the person uttering the words.  He (or she) couldn’t understand it, but that did not mean it was not understandable by anyone at all; that is why he insisted that there be interpreters available before the gift was exercised in the assembly (14:27).  Then, the people would hear, as Paul desires “words with . . . understanding.”


            C.  13:1:  Paul refers to speaking “with the tongues of men and of angels” in the preceding chapter and some would find this relevant in the current context  as well as indicating that which is literally and inherently incomprehensible and which will sound like “gibberish” to us.  However, let us put the expression outside of the tongue speaking controversy.  If we heard the term “tongues . . . of angels” in some other context, we most naturally would interpret it to mean the language they communicate with each other in.[27]  There is no reason to change that in the tongue speaking context either. 

(Or are the “angelic tongues” we hear in such services real languages and only the human ones we hear  gibberish even though they sound remarkably alike?  And if they are real ones, why do they sound like gibberish rather than something that would actually communicate meaning?)

[Page 89]         An intriguing argument can be made that Paul is actually utilizing hyperbole:  i.e., if it were possible that I could speak all earthly languages and whatever angelic ones that may exist.[28]  Just as it was inherently implausible that Paul meant that they would speak in all the languages of their day, it would not necessarily require that they speak in angelic languages either.  On the other hand, he clearly assumes that they were utilizing some other human languages, so the internal logic of the argument would seemingly require that they might speak in some angelic tongue(s) as well. 

The tongue would have convincing power to the unbelievers only to the extent that they recognized genuine foreign languages, thereby giving credibility to any speaker’s claim that they were then shifting to an angelic one.  But where do we get the idea that even the speaker himself knew the difference or when the shift would occur?  And on what other basis was the audience to assume such a shift had been made? 

If they were routinely used without notification, could their “gibberish” form avoid prejudicing the hearers against accepting the evidence of even genuine earthly ones?  What hearers could understand but not naturally explain (earthly tongues) could well produce faith, but “angelic” ones that both made no sense to the ears and no earthling has ever naturally spoken?  And for which one only had the claim of genuineness and an utter impossibility of confirming it?     

Hence—if they occurred at all--we would expect their use in church to be rare and minimum.

            Furthermore, Paul neither asserts nor implies that “tongues” of an “angelic  nature were actually being utilized in the assembly.[29]  His language is hypothetical—“if.” Even if such gifts were being granted, their use in a private situation of prayer and meditation makes far greater sense than in a public one.  No one at any time could verify whether an angelic tongue really was being spoken no matter how many visitors passed through their meetings, while if it was used in private, that highly desirable trait of external  verifiability would be totally irrelevant.  Here it was for your good, while the congregational use was for everyone’s.    

            In addition, in chapter 14, Paul deals with what was being practiced in the church’s meeting; in chapter 13 he is conspicuously not discussing the church service but the entirely different matter of evaluating the basis of an individual’s claims to human grandeur and pointing out that even if such language ability was present in an individual, being love-less made it all in vain. 


Conclusion as to the nature of the phenomena:  As we examine the pros and cons of the matter, the evidence seems clear that Paul considered the tongues of his day to be genuine languages.  And that, though he clearly regarded being able to speak them as miraculous, that was still no justification for utilizing them in the church assembly unless it could be done in a manner useful to the audience.   


            Another issue needs to be raised in this connection, however:  What is the relationship of the Corinthian tongues to those of Pentecost in Acts 2?[30]  It is extraordinarily hard to read Acts 2 (“began to speak with other tongues,” 2:4) without concluding that the intent is to describe genuine, contemporary existing languages--especially when the author goes out of the way to provide a lengthy list of the country / regional languages that were being heard (2:8-12). 

[Page 90]         Certainly what was being said was not of the ecstatic nature:  The apostles were able to shut up and let Peter begin a message on the lessons to be learned from what was going on;[31]  clearly the gift was within their control just as Paul insisted that the Corinthians control theirs by limiting the number of speakers and none talking at the same time as someone else.  (Alternatively, one can infer that all the apostles moved through the huge crowd or gathered different segments of the large audience and addressed it; either way they would break the crowd down into more manageable size groups.) 

            A very different approach will be taken by those who regard it as improbable or impossible that genuine languages could have been spoken on Pentecost.  One way to do this is to distinguish between the intended literalness of the author and its true, abiding meaning to the current generation.  Yes, the author thought in such terms, but because he—through excess enthusiasm?  exaggeration?—misstated the true nature of what happened, we must seek out a symbolic meaning.  But if we begin with a falsehood, how do we make it spiritually relevant when we make it “symbolic?”  Furthermore, if the author intended something that was clearly untrue, how can this but strike a major blow at his credibility on any other contested issue that he discusses?

Another way to handle it is to argue that a symbolic nature was intended from the beginning.  Hence one well known scholar speaks of how “this part of the Pentecost story may be intended simply as a symbolical way of saying that Pentecost reversed the curse of Babel (Genesis 11).  The alienated and scattered nations are reconciled in the language of the Spirit.”[32]  What does Luke say that actually suggests such an intent?  Only the apostles spoke in tongues, not the crowd. They were not reunited in one language; the message was communicated in the listeners’ respective languages—the linguistic divisions still existed.  Babel” still existed!   

            For ourselves, we will simply accept that he meant what he said “literally” since there seems no good reason to degrade the moral integrity of the gospel writers--Acts having been written by the author of Luke--nor his historical integrity.  He may not always have provided all the details we would like to have (what historian does?), but those that he does provide come from a man who well researched his topic (Luke 1:1-4). 

            Even so, concededly there are differences between the two cases of Pentecost and Corinth.  The central one in Acts is the difficulty in determining whether the wonder being described is in the speaking or in the hearing/perceiving or both.[33]  In favor of one of the latter is the fact that though there were twelve apostles (the place of Judas having been taken by Matthias) yet there are more than that number of languages listed.    Admittedly some overlap may be intended for the text speaks in terms of place of origin of the listeners rather than directly of the languages being spoken--and the language of some of these groups may well have been identical or varying dialects of the same. 

Even if a strict geographic location = distinct language correlation is adopted, does that exclude the supernatural power being at work in the speaker rather than the listener?  It would not have been improbable that as the individual apostles wandered through the large crowd, that they shifted languages according to the nationality group they were addressing, which would still place the wonder in the speaking rather than the comprehension.  Even if Peter was doing all the speaking alone, one could imagine him shifting from one tongue to another so that the impact of his message would be maximized.

[Page 91]         Evidence in favor of a miracle on the hearing end lies in how the text records the listeners asking “how is it that we hear each in our own language in which we were born” (2:8).  But hearing in their tongue would be natural if the speaker was speaking in their language.  Indeed, what else would they be hearing if such were the case?

            Hence these objections are not conclusive in shifting the miracle from speaker to listener, though one can not exclude the possibility of elements of both being intended by the author of the text.[34]   

            In Corinth the miracle is, of course, limited to the work of the Spirit on the speaker.  This major difference may reasonably be attributed to the fact that in Acts 2 we are dealing with an apostolic gift and in Corinth with a gift to John and Jane Q. Christian.  One would not (with all of the New Testament’s emphasis on apostolic authority) expect the gift to be exactly the same in such cases.  Furthermore, Corinthians speaks of the ability as a “gift” of the Spirit; Acts 2 is described in terms of a baptism of the Spirit (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).  Something above and beyond the Corinthian situation was clearly at work upon that occasion.       

            One additional difference also deserves passing attention.  In 1 Corinthians tongue speaking and prophecy are treated as if two separate phenomena; in Acts 2 the ability to speak in tongues was a means of expressing supernatural teaching (prophecy).[35]  Actually, the demand that there be “interpreters” present in Corinth argues that a teaching (de facto prophecy, either predictive or sermonic) was being communicated there as well.  The difference lay more in language:  the prophet spoke in language all understood; the tongue speaker taught in one that only a few if any did who were present.  By the translator, however, the tongue speaker’s words could be converted from the latter to the former.  (Of course the reference to “prophecy” as a separate function in the assembly argues that it also existed fully distinct from any tie-in with the tongue speaking.)         



            14:3:  The main nature of “prophesying (ATP:  miraculously speaks what God has revealed):”  “foretelling” or “forthtelling,” prediction or teaching?  Mentally, most individuals equate the term “prophesy” with a prediction of the future.  After all, was that not the function of the Old Testament prophets who claimed that very gift?  On the other hand, their example should warn us against limiting the term to this narrow a form:  although much of their teaching is prediction, it went hand in hand with and as a tool, to encourage the current generation to reform itself. 

As such it also represents advocacy and a plea for change.  Indeed large sections of the prophets contain rebuke independent of any explicit linkage to a forthcoming threat at all.  In short, teaching, “preaching,” admonition, rebuking.  Prediction is the “goad” to reinforce the urgency of the teaching.

            Fred Zaspel concisely sums up a number of New Testament texts that may--or even conclusively--make the concept of receiving Divinely granted teaching or knowledge the primary thrust of being a prophet,[36]

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For example, when at His hearing before Caiaphas Jesus was spit upon and smote in the face while blindfolded, He was mockingly exhorted to "prophesy who it is that smote thee" (Luke 22:64).  This prophecy would clearly involve direct revelation. 

When Jesus could tell the hidden past of the woman at the well, He was immediately recognized as a prophet (John 4:19).

Agabas exercised the gift of prophecy in a predictive way: he foretold a coming famine and also Paul's coming sufferings (Acts 11:27-28, Acts 21:10-11).

I Timothy 4:14 informs us of the same regarding Paul's gift of prophecy: God told him that Timothy was to receive his gift by the laying on of hands; it was direct revelation.

Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5 clearly associate the New Testament Prophets with receiving revelation directly from God, and that revelation is not necessarily regarding the future but rather doctrine.


            Indeed, 1 Corinthians 14:3 stresses the teaching rather than predictive element in prophecy:  “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.”  Paul’s use of the three words “edification,” “exhortation,” and “comfort” indicate that direct teaching will play the primary role in the message of the “prophets” he has under consideration. 

            This would be a practical outgrowth of the setting of a congregational service.  It was designed to be of immediate encouragement and benefit to the listeners through the presentation of a truth, insight, or message that would build up the hearers.  Heribert Muhlen suggests that 2 Corinthians 5:20 serves as a useful commentary on the meaning of prophetic speech in the current text, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us:  we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.”[37]  It was not only that God gave the message authority, but that it also represented the Divine message needed by the listening audience for their betterment.

Yet prophecy in the sense of predicting did continue to play a role, as the book of the Apocalypse shows.  Written to be read to the various congregations, the predictive element is dominant, though mixed with a dose of overt and immediate moral instruction as well.       

            The Old Testament prophets played this dual role in their work, as noted at the beginning of this section.  On the one hand, they predicted the future--either threats or blessings, depending upon the obedience or defiance of the nation and its leaders at the moment.  On the other hand, they delivered plea after plea for a renewed obedience and dedication to Yahweh.  Neither part of their function eliminated the other.  Nor did it in the New Testament era as well.  But the dominant one, in both cases, would seem to be teaching and preaching on immediately applicable matters.  



            14:14-15:  Personal involvement in Holy Spirit guided prayer and singing.  Paul’s emphasis upon the role of the Holy Spirit could easily have been read as an excuse to downgrade the importance of personal emotional and intellectual involvement.  “Let the Holy Spirit do the work,” so to speak. 

Paul indicates in these verses that the entire process was more complicated that this, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful (ATP:  my mind is not being used).  What is the conclusion then?  I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding (ATP:  understanding mind).  I will sing with the [Page 93]   spirit and I will also sing with the understanding (ATP:  mentally aware mind).” 
            One deeply committed believer in singing aloud in tongues today uses 14:15 to defend the practice of singing what one does not understand,[38]


Singing with the spirit then is obviously singing without the understanding, since it is contrasted in this verse of scripture with “singing with the understanding.” We are expected then--as in Paul's demonstration of the gift--to sing with the understanding and also sing without understanding. Why this would be the case, is one of the mysteries of being a spirit-filled believer, but our understanding does not have to be complete in order for us to benefit from it.


            Deeply held conviction no doubt, but I would suggest not as compatible with the text as he believes.  The repetition of the word “my” twice in verse 14 stresses the obligation of the individual to be immersed in what is going on.  Even if the Holy Spirit has given the reader a prayer to be uttered in the worship service, it is not to be done unless the speaker can say it with personal conviction, sincerity, and passion--with the involvement of his own spirit (the “my spirit,” twice mentioned).  Likewise, even if the Holy Spirit has given a song for the benefit of the church, it is to be kept to oneself unless one could, similarly, throw one’s entire self into its presentation. 

Note that the text says “and” not “or.”  They are not being given an alternative to choose between, but instructed to have both Spirit and one’s own intellect involved.  In short, the text implicitly stresses the essentiality that the Spirit’s message be either provided in the speaker’s own language or interpreted into it by the Spirit before being spoken aloud.  Unless it is, there is no way the individual can fulfill his own role of praying or singing with understanding.  Nor can it provide anything to others beyond being another “idle wonder” that looks impressive and may move one’s emotions, but provides no actual value to the intellectual part of Christian spirituality.  

            The point is made explicit in verse 28, where the writer pointedly insists that if there is no interpretation of a tongue, there is to be no speaking aloud.  This also fits in well with 14:16, where Paul points out that unless the listener knows the meaning, how can he or she express endorsement (by saying “Amen” to it)?   If the listener needs to be able to understand what is said to be able to approve and endorse it, how much more so the person who is giving the message in the first place!    

            Hence, though the individual human spirit is involved so is that of God’s Spirit.  The individual did the singing but the divine Spirit gave the message that was sung.[39]  The individual spoke the prayer, but the Holy Spirit provided the text.  Either one represents a situation in which a prayer or song is first spoken in a tongue and then “led” by an interpreter or both are done by the same person.  The latter would seem to make more inherent sense and would be the situation envisioned as ideal in 1 Corinthians 14:5, one where the tongue speaker is the one who “interprets, that the church may receive edification.”[40]

            (This does not rule out times where the tongue speaker might sing or pray in his own mind rather than out loud.  14:28 specifically speaks of an interpreter-less occasion, in which the tongue speaker is instructed to “keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.”  “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself” (14:4) even when the [Page 94]   words are not spoken aloud.)

            Even in an age lacking the supernatural gifts, there are obvious lessons from these texts.  We can not sing with the Holy Spirit, but we can sing with our own spirit, our inner self involved in the singing, which includes investing the singing with emotion and sincerity.   

            Similarly, we can not pray under the guidance of the Divine Spirit, but we can pray with the guidance of our own spirit—avoiding rote phrases and repetition we seem to use, unvaryingly, every time we pray.  It needs to involve an expression of the inner spirit and wishes and that involves far more than the narrow repertoire that prayer can become.  

            In both singing and prayer we need to know what we are saying.  If a song is one of those older ones with a little known word or phrase, the meaning is going to “go over the head” of many unless it’s explained by the song leader—or, as I’ve seen done, footnoted in the song book itself.  Likewise a prayer needs to be in the language that people understand; proverbial “two dollar words” have rare place in a worship setting if everyone is to be sure to understand.  Even more important, whoever is leading a prayer needs to speak loudly enough to be heard.  He may not be speaking in an “unknown” tongue if he doesn’t, but he surely will be speaking in an unheard one!



            14:16:  The nature of “Amen.”  Words and expressions sometimes lose their meaning.  For example, the “Dear Sir (Madam, Miss, Ms., etc.),” at the beginning of a letter becomes not so much an indication of respect as a stumbling block that must be leaped so we can get to the point of the message.  Likewise, a “sincerely” at the end of the correspondence may not indicate one’s honesty or friendship, but simply another formality, so we can sign the letter and get it out of the way.

            Something much akin to this has happened to the word “Amen” at the close of  prayers.  It often becomes merely equivalent to:  “This is all that’s going to be in the prayer.  It’s over.”  It becomes, in effect, ritualistic and stripped of any particular significance beyond telling everyone that the service can now go on to something else.  Similarly an “Amen” to some point in a preacher’s sermon is irrelevant unless one has been paying attention to what has been said and has been impressed by its insight or accuracy.

In its original Hebrew setting (and its usage in New Testament Greek), the word was taken far more seriously.  Literally the meaning was, “so be it”[41] or “it is so,”[42] i.e., “it is true.”[43]  Hence, it indicated concurrence, endorsement, and approval.[44]  

Tony B. Warren sums up the thrust of the word quite concisely,[45]


Found both in the Old and the New Testaments, it is also translated in different ways, depending upon the context of the passage in which it is found. This Hebrew “Amen” is derived from the root [aman], which means to be firm or solid in the sense of permanency.  Thus by implication, it means to be sure, true or faithful.  So whenever we see this word “Amen” used in scripture, it is affirming truth, or illustrating something is said that is of absolute certainty.


[Page 95]         Unless those elements are there, “Amen” represents nothing but empty rhetoric.  The endorsement use of the word goes back at least to the days of Moses when various parts of the Law were read to the people and, after each section, they responded with an “Amen” (Deuteronomy 27:14-26).  Some suggest this as the earliest “prayer” use of the term,[46] though in my mind the element of acceptance as true and authoritative seems far better.  More parallel to Deuteronomy 27 than prayer usage, are the 75 cases in the gospels where Jesus introduces a teaching or assertion with the word “Amen” to stress its thorough reliability and truthfulness (typically rendered by something along the line of, “Truly, I say to you”).[47] 

In the second century, Justin Martyr explained to his Gentile readers who would usually be unacquainted with the religious services of believers, that after church prayers “all the people present express their assent by saying ‘Amen.’ ”[48]    He also explained to them that this was a carry over from the Jewish use, “This word ‘Amen’ corresponds in the Hebrew language to ‘So let it be!’ ”[49]             



14:22-25:  How can tongues be a “sign” to unbelievers (14:22) but the teaching/prophesying they hear is what leads to an acceptance of the gospel message (14:24-25)?  When Paul calls these foreign languages a “sign” for unbelievers[50] (14:22)—and this is the only place in the chapter that he actually gives a specific reason for its use at all[51]--the natural inclination is to interpret this to mean that they are designed to directly convert the unbeliever.  Yet Paul promptly assigns that role to the prophetic teaching they hear (14:24-25). 

Hence Paul’s reasoning might be along this line:  if the outsiders heard an individual speaking in a foreign language from their own native land—or which they had learned during their own travels—and which the locals had no reason to be acquainted with, that would be a sign that could not easily be gainsaid.  It would make them aware that something unexpected was going on and that they had best pay closer attention to the proceedings than their biases might normally permit.  It would be a “sign” that God was at work; in contrast, the prophetic message they heard, was to build upon that “sign” and actually convince them of the validity of Christianity in particular and/or their spiritually lost state.  Tongues began it; direct teaching completed it. 

In the context of no local speakers of the tongue, the tongues could still be a warning “sign” to attending unbelievers that something possibly miraculous was going on.  To those knowing a smatter of it, it would encourage belief in a miraculous origin.  Only in those who spoke it well would it be a near conclusive evidence that a miracle was occurring before their eyes. 

That would encourage belief, but belief in what?  If the speech he heard told him what, his problem was resolved, but since the presence of an unbeliever is treated as unusual (but not uncommon), the assumption has to be that the message was normally one for the benefit of believers in particular.  Further reason that a separate “prophetic message” was needed to provide the visitor with what else he needed to know.       

But what of when such a person was not present—which could easily occur?  Of what value would the phenomena be in such cases?  For one thing, the speaking would still alert the listener that something strange was going on—and, as believers, be an ongoing manifestation that divine power was at work among them.

In either case, the prophet would automatically be speaking in the local tongue as [Page 96]   a matter of daily course and, hence, be able to provide a message of direct, convincing benefit to the listener.  If one assumes that in Acts 2, the tongue speaking merely attracted the attention of the crowd, while there was only one lesson delivered (by Peter), then we might have a roughly comparable situation (or, for that matter if there were multiple speakers, all using a language most all understood).  The tongue speaking would have served its attention as a “sign” and opened the audience’s hearts to listening.[52]  

            From this utilitarian standpoint, we can understand Paul’s personal preference to minimize his use of tongues in the assembly, “But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching” (1 Corinthians 14:6).  The tongues would be a “sign” but it would be these other means in the vernacular that would lead to conversion or to the moral improvement of those already converted.   



            14:24-25:  How literally are we to interpret the “secrets” revealed by prophetic teachers?        In a minimalist sense, this would suggest that the teaching so clearly fits their own moral conditions, faults, and failures that they accept it as a divine rebuke.  The term “secrets,” is likely intended to mean something far more specific, however, especially when we note that the full expression is that “the secrets of his heart are revealed (ATP:  disclosed).”  “Revealed” most naturally suggests that the Spirit Himself is informing the speaker of the sins committed by the visitor and which others are unaware of.[53]  After all, the entire idea of inspired prophecy is that it comes from a supernatural source that could reveal such information not known to the population at large. 

            The second half of verse 25, describing the result of hearing his secrets being exposed, has been cited as evidence:  “so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.”  This sounds far more like overwhelming guilt over specific matters rather than the reaction to even the best regular gospel message, no matter how powerful and convincing.[54]       

            That same reality is argued, Wayne A Grudem suggests, from the Greek word rendered “revealed”--in his preferred reading, “disclosed” or “become manifest:”  It is “the Greek term phaneros.  Both this word (eighteen times in the New Testament) and its related verb phaneroo (forty-nine times in the New Testament) always refer to a public, external manifestation, and are never used of private or secret communication of information or of the internal working of God in a person’s mind or heart.”[55]  What was previously known only to the visitor, has now been shared with all who are present. 

            The least satisfactory explanation is to say that the message has forced the hearer to examine his own heart and “his secret thought, desires and motives become clear, to himself at least.”[56]  In this scenario, the words prick the heart, forcing repressed uneasiness and guilt to come to the surface and be faced.  The person already recognizes the folly of what has been done, but for the first time the full moral impact that it was evil comes to the surface.[57]  “Something previously hidden and painful for the individual to see is revealed as an essential part of the experience of liberation.”[58] 

That people today come to conversion through such a process, an often unwilling acknowledgement of one’s severe imperfections—and, since human psychology and [Page 97]   nature is fundamentally the same as back then—one has to assume that many first century converts went through the same progression.  Paul does not deny that such occurs.  What he has in mind here, however, seems to be something even more dramatic, the exposure of specific sins in such a manner that the listener knows that he or she fits the description regardless of whether their name is actually mentioned.  (Probably not the latter for that would tend to set off such a fit of human defensiveness that shame could easily overrule the admission of guilt.) 

            This seems to best fit Paul’s attribution of the conversion to the teaching that has been heard.  It is the message, not the hearer’s conscience, that has stripped away the veil of secrecy.  Now one must either openly embrace the behavior or repudiate it.  If there is anything worse than “playing a fool,” it is to have to admit it and yet keep acting in the same manner.



            14:26:  Holy Spirit revealed “psalms.”  What was sung in the church service is touched on in passing in verse 26, “Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm (ATP:  song of praise), has a teaching, etc.”   

            In a context of direct supernatural guidance, the reference could be to an individual being instructed—before or during the assembly--to quote a Old Testament psalm (a “psalm” in the traditional Jewish use of the term).[59]  If a new composition is in mind, the idea would be that they had been guided to write a psalm for presentation to the group[60] or that it had been revealed to them during their group meeting itself.[61] 

Writing psalms and other compositions for religious singing was not unknown in first century Judaism, the example of Qumran being the obvious one.[62]  Since the practice was much wider followed in Jewish circles than just that one movement, Jewish members in Corinth were likely aware of the custom even if not the actual literary  products produced by their labor.  Philo, in particular, refers to the Therapeutae, a different religious sect within Judaism, that routinely introduced new psalms and hymns with a variety of lyrical backgrounds for them.[63]

Song writing for pagan worship was a social reality as well and the Gentile component of the church would have been acquainted with the phenomena from their own past life.  Writing religious songs to glorifying the One they served would, therefore, have been regarded as quite natural by those coming from both backgrounds.

If the “psalm” were a new one and no one else knew it, it could be shared in one of two ways.  Firstly, it could simply be recited.  Since hymns typically have a poetic sound to them, a certain rhythmic structure might easily come to the mind of the audience as soon as they heard the words, providing an automatic “melody” to go with the words.

Secondly, it might the composer/recipient singing it solo,[64] where the full impact would be gained, something lacking if only the words and not the tune were all that was involved.  The Divine giving of a psalm to be sung (rather than just to be read) might logically include a gift of singing talent--the ability to present a given psalm[65] (and, by implication, that of others as well?) with such skill and ability that if the people paid attention they would be edified and emotionally moved (as versus merely entertained as in much modern church music?).

Either way, a Christian psalm so presented would obviously--if it attracted the interest of the group--become part of its ongoing repertoire of music for congregational  [Page 98]   use.  Scholars have suspected that sections of such works form the basis of several passages in the New Testament:  Ephesians 5:14; 1 Timothy 3:16, Revelation 5:9-10, 15:3-4 have been cited as likely examples of the phenomena.[66]  Philippians 2:6-11 and Colossians 1:15-20 have also been suspected of having such a musical root.[67] 

            It is worthy of comment that the Christian repertoire of religious music involved “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (the identical language being used in both Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16).  Yet if this is so why are only “psalms” (i.e., compositions in a style or presentation similar/parallel to the Davidic ones) mentioned in our text?  If pre-existing psalms are under consideration, and the Spirit is guiding them as to which of these to utilize, then obviously Davidic and similar compositions would be under consideration.  Likewise the primary source for ideas and thoughts of any they might write on their own initiative--or received by inspiration—would be presented  in that style as the one they would be most familiar with.

            So far as it goes, all this makes perfect sense but still leaves the puzzling fact of “hymns and spiritual songs” being omitted.  Perhaps it was taken for granted that “psalms” would be taken as standing not only for works in that specific style but for these other ones as well.  Some contend that “hymns and spiritual” songs simply refer to types of Biblical Psalms, an approach that precludes the use not only of later songs but all non-biblical ones as well.[68] 

Such, however, would have excluded any truly Christian music.  The cross, Jesus’ death and triumph, and such like can certainly be found in passing mention in the Psalms, but a hymnology for a religion where Jesus is the heart and soul, would seemingly require a music that puts him directly and emphatically at the center.  The Biblical Psalms would only partially serve that function.

            Perhaps the wisest approach is that of Adela Y. Collins who argues that “it is unlikely that the text refers to three sharply differentiated (our emphasis, RW) kinds of liturgical expression here.”[69]  In other words the three expressions likely are intended to overlap and reflect, in part, the terminological inexactitude of everyday speech—especially when groups of varying background, as in Corinth, are involved.  Some people prefer one expression; others another but all have a grasp of the general point(s) being made.[70]  They are songs of religious joy, hope, and faith however much they might differ in type, origin and authorship.     



            14:26:  Congregational participation in the service.   Earlier in 1 Corinthians 11:18 Paul refers to “when you come together as a church.  That was a time when they “come together in one place” (11:20).  It was the time “when you come together to eat” (contextually, the Lord’s Supper, 11:33).  When “the whole church comes together in one place” it was a time when speaking in tongues might well occur as well (14:23).  Within the context of this religious type and intent of assembly “each of you” has something to contribute (14:26).

            These references to “coming together as a church” could argue one of two things:  (1)  Not every time the congregation came together was for the purpose of worship; they might gather together for the purpose of eating and enjoying each other’s company—not for the worship purposes discussed by Paul.  These would not be cases of eating as part of or supplemental to the worship but as an entirely different phenomena of social or

[Page 99]   charitable fellowship.  (2) He might be contrasting this with how smaller groups might meet in their “houses to eat and drink in” (11:22); again, without the intent of gathering as a “church” for joint worship and reverence.  Quite likely he has both concepts in mind, leaving room for whatever was within their resources and interests.

What interests us here are the strictly religious assemblies in which “each of you” had something to contribute.  Unfortunately, religious worship in the western tradition has become very much a spectator sport. If one comes from a background where the emphasis is on a liturgy, then the center of the service lies in that prescribed set of rituals.  Everything else is really secondary.  If one comes from an evangelical type background, the emphasis is on the sermon and everything else is perhaps little more than an adjunct to fill out the remainder of the time.

            Although these characterizations are exaggerations, there is more than a little validity to them.  (In extreme cases, they are barely exaggerations at all.)  In contrast to both, Paul seems to have in mind a situation in which a significant number of individuals participate actively, “Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm (ATP:  song of praise), has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation (ATP:  has an explanation of it)” (14:26).  Paul does not place responsibility on just a few individuals in the congregation; fundamentally every one has a degree of accountability to assure that the gathering works together for the spiritual good of all the participants.[71]

            Oddly, some insist that Paul is condemning all this:  it is in the midst of multiple rebukes against each and every one doing what they wished rather than what was for the common good, citing 11:21 as an example of this hyper-individualistic attitude being applied to participation in the Communion—each did it on their own without waiting for everyone else.  “So now, in chapter 14, ‘each one’ is attempting to exercise his spiritual gift divorced from those regulating principles which were designed to facilitate edification.”[72]

            This view is driven explicitly by the desire to remove the danger of church solos being derived from “each of you has a psalm.”  Of course, in real life you are far more likely to have “groups” or “choirs” singing rather than soloists and the text is talking about what a (= one specific individual) does rather than groups, choirs, or even what the congregation specifically does together in regard to singing. 

Perhaps the biggest difficulty of the condemnatory/prohibition interpretation is that it ignores the closing words, “Let all things be done for edification” (14:26).  He doesn’t prohibit anything he mentions; instead, the closing words do prohibit the presentation of these various items in the church service from being used in a divisive manner that would break down rather than build up the church.  Similarly chapter 11:21, using the same prohibitory logic, would be a ban on partaking of the Communion at all.  Yet there we recognize that all that was intended was prohibiting the abuses that went with the Lord’s Supper and not the Supper itself.

            The same critic, in a different context, more meaningfully notes that singing was not the only way psalms could have been presented (though, in our judgment, one could easily imagine singing fitting the description being given at least equally  well):  “A psalm can be read or quoted as easily as it can be sung.”[73]  Furthermore, if the goal involves teaching the psalm and encouraging audience participation, “It certainly could have been introduced phrase by phrase with the church joining in, much in the same fashion as with antiphonal or part singing.”[74]  (For all we know, that may have been the [Page 100]   way it was done!  First the individual singing a segment and then the congregation repeating it.)  Any further congregational use naturally would match the norms they would utilize with any other vocal composition.[75] 

            Some of Paul’s list best fits a predetermined decision to participate:  to present “a psalm” and “a teaching,” in particular.  “A revelation” is easy to imagine as either received before the service or during it.  In contrast, even if a person knew beforehand that the Spirit would be speaking in a “tongue” through him, the actual meaning of the words would still not have been received and its “interpretation” (by its very nature) had to be “on the spot,” for the benefit of the listeners.[76]  (Unless we are going to assume that the translator knew—beforehand—what was going to be said in a tongue, which seems astoundingly unlikely.)  The same logic is also true if “interpretation (ATP:  an explanation of it)” refers to the newly delivered “revelation,” which immediately precedes the “interpretation” reference.  Revelation requires application of the teaching and development of it unless the recipient were blessed with both skills.

            Although the context is that they are explicitly supernatural gifts of the Spirit, the emphasis on the ability and willingness to participate is also quite emphatic.  The “each of you” does not mean that each individual had all of the forms of participation that Paul then lists—just that each had at least one of these (assuming that the list is even intended to be an exhaustive one, which is unlikely).  A differentiation of roles and responsibilities seems clear from Paul’s earlier challenge, “Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?  Are all workers of miracles?” (12:29).[77] 

Each, at least potentially, had something to contribute, but not everyone could be expected to fulfill the identical role.  Furthermore, just as there were limitations on the number who spoke in tongues and prophesied (a maximum of three each), such texts presuppose that not everyone who had something to contribute actually did so in any single given service.  

Even assuming only 50 or 60 people were present, if everyone—even just the males—literally had a separate and distinct “something” to do in any one specific service, they would have an “all day/night meeting” whether they intended to or not.  Hence it is wise to see the participation of “all” as including joint activities done together.  For example, in their collective singing or in their giving—but that would still be a contribution to the service while in a following meeting some of the same individuals who took no leadership role in the current service might be the major participants.  Nothing was locked in concrete.

Recognizing that it would be a practical impossibility for “each of you” to literally participate individually in every service, the author promptly imposes some practical limitations:  two to three can speak in tongues, accompanied by an interpretation of the message (14:27-28).  Likewise only two or three prophets are to speak in a single service (14:29). 

            How long each of these presentations would take is any one’s guess, but it would seem hard to have crammed it into a single service of the traditional hour or less of modern practice!  On top of this, there was a contribution taken up (chapter 16) and the observance of the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11).  From Paul’s own practice (at Troas, in Acts 20:7, for example) we know that a guest speaker might provide a lesson that would continue for a considerable space of time.

[Page 101]       Though it is right to stress the practical limits beyond which Paul’s words were not intended to go, we still need to remember that “each of you”--at least potentially--had something to contribute.  This clearly required that participation opportunities were to be maximized rather than minimized, the reverse of the dominant practice today.  (Thereby doing much to encourage the creation of “house churches,” whose limited numbers maximize the need for participation.  That approach, unfortunately, also limits a congregation’s collective potential for the very same reason.)

            In the non-miraculous church assembly of today, there still remains maximum room for personal involvement, limited only by the practices of the individual congregation and personal willingness to participate.  Even in 1 Corinthians 14, the text conspicuously does not label everything they did as an act immediately directed by the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues and prophesying would have been. 

In our society this is even more important.  Having a “psalm” or “teaching” today could involve something as “down to earth” as a selected scripture reading that is presented.  Having an “interpretation” means one thing miraculously, but non-miraculously it would cover thoughts on what a text means that had not previously been discussed.  (Think Bible class context especially.)  But miraculous matters—and their, ironic, potential for disruption—is the thing foremost on Paul’s mind, however much these other matters would rise in importance in cases when the Spirit was not active or today when that age is completely over. 



            14:29:  While “prophets” spoke during the service “let the others judge (ATP:  evaluate what is said).”  Two factors come into play here:  who are the judges and what is the nature of the judging?  Since the verse is immediately concerning prophets, it is quite possible that the “judges” are the prophets themselves[78] or other prophets in the assembly who are not speaking that day.  After all, they are the ones who are supposed to have the supernatural gift.  Who better to have primary responsibility? 

            On the other hand, neither Testament encourages credulity and one would anticipate an active, concerned evaluation of what is being said not only by the other prophets but by all the members at large who are in attendance.[79]  Taken this way, it is not that one prophet is to be “judged” by the other prophets, but that all the prophets are to be judged by the membership.[80]  This is extraordinarily radical for its day:  judging was not just for the formal leadership, it was not just for those deemed as having the deepest religious perceptivity, it was to be done (or at least attempted) by one and all.[81]

            A third approach is also possible.  In 12:10 the “discerning of spirits” is distinguished from those having the gift of “prophecy.”  On this basis, it can be argued that the judges are neither the prophets nor the general audience.  If so, the “others” would need to be those with that specific gift rather than the audience in general.  This assumes, however, that the “judging” is to be taken as a miraculous gift and that the “discerning of spirits” is to be taken as referring to the same talent. 

            Finally, what is the significance of the word “judge” in this context?  Does it mean to “judge” the application of what is being said to the congregation?[82]  Does it mean to judge the validity of what is being said, i.e., to protect the group against the danger that someone has spoken by self-delusion?  Quite probably it took in both aspects.[83]  

[Page 102]       Some make a distinction between judging the prophet and judging the prophecy.  Those who believe that there was a major subjective element in New Testament era prophesying argue that the judging required a shifting out of what was consistent with the Old Testament and apostolic messages from what was not.[84] 

In “real world” terms would not the failure to speak strictly in accord with those OT and apostolic standards automatically brand the speaker as deluded, at best, and an open false teacher at the worst?  In either case, having failed the test, why should the membership yield their meeting time to such individuals in the future? 

Or to look at it from a different angle:  Why would we expect an omnipotent God to give a message so ineptly that the speaker could mistake what was really given with his/her own interpretive gloss?  Is God that inept? 

Shifting viewpoint angles yet again:  Or are we so humanly inept that any Divine communication inherently carries with it an uncertainty factor as to whether we received what we thought we did?  One believer in contemporary revelation argues this way, “We must always bear in mind that we seldom see or hear clearly from God (their emphasis, RW).  It is also true that we do not always clearly understand what he has even said.”[85]  If the trouble is with us then, why doesn’t God choose someone who can understand things rightly then?  What would be the very relevance of revelation if it couldn’t be counted trustworthy?

This type of approach would seem to inevitably leave us with a bungling God:  One who either cannot provide fully reliable and understandable revelation or who has created a species utterly incapable of accurately and reliably receiving it.

Laying aside what appear to be futile concepts of revelation (or of God’s nature), even the genuine article required application and the danger of ungenuine “revelation” required a testing of those claiming to give it in Biblical days.  The idea of testing what we hear as to its genuineness and how it applies is certainly not an idea unique to 1 Corinthians.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:21--in the context of “prophecies” (5:20) given by the Spirit (5:19)--a very similar general admonition is given to, “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” 

A pivotal test was its consistency with revelations accepted as definitively coming from God.  Acts 17:10b-11 indicates Paul  taught to listeners in the synagogue, i.e., “prophesying” [forth speaking]--a parallel to what happened in the Corinthian congregation.  In the context of judging the validity of that teaching, we read that “these were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (17:11).[86]  We have every reason to assume that this would have been a pivotal test for the Corinthians as well, supplemented by the generally acknowledged teachings they knew were accepted locally and elsewhere as apostolic in origin.



            14:30, 32:  Supernatural gifts were controllable by the recipient.  In verse 30, if a person receives a message while another is speaking, the speaker is to yield to the new person:  “let the first keep silent (ATP:  let the first yield the right to speak).”  This implication that self-control is possible is explicitly affirmed in verse 32, “And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. (ATP:  remain under the control of the prophets themselves)”[87]  Indeed, Paul implicitly argues that this has to be the case for [Page 103]   disorder would otherwise result, “For God is not the author of confusion (ATP:  disorder) but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints (ATP:  those set apart for God’s service)” (verse 33).

Hence these verses picture supernatural gifts as fully under the control of the person the Spirit has given a gift.[88]  Furthermore, this implies they were fully aware of what was going on around them.[89]  Their consciousness was not blotted out nor their awareness of what was happening internally and externally.  In short, there was no such thing as a Spirit-produced and guided lack-of-control or “ectasy.”  Indeed, the existence of such a situation would be a priori evidence that self-delusion or worse was directing the individual.

            It should be noted that Paul does not explicitly apply the self-control principle to tongue speaking.  On the other hand, he labels prophesying the greater spiritual gift (14:19-25) and if the superior is controllable, it seems hard to grasp how the lesser would not be as well.  Furthermore, if the gift were uncontrollable then the “confusion” and disorder that Paul warns of in verse 33 would be inevitable and he emphatically denies that God is ever behind such chaos.  This self-control principle is in marked contrast to much of what is done today in the name of alleged tongue speaking.  (The fact that “tongues,” to Paul, refers to known and knowable languages is likewise in emphatic disagreement.) 

            The element of controllability marked Christian worship distinctly from its polytheistic competitors, a reality which local church membership would have been well acquainted with due to their pagan background:[90]  The oracular “revelations” given by polytheist prophets and prophetesses were regarded as thoroughly beyond their control, the “divine” so overwhelmed them that they claimed no responsibility for what came out of their mouths.[91]

            In true prophecy, in contrast, even though there might be an inner sense of “compulsion” to speak, it still remained a controllable one.[92]  The God of the Hebrews permitted you self-control rather than turning onto its automation.  If they acted as the pagans in their prophesying, then they were open to the obvious accusation that the same ill or degrading spirits were still active within them and guiding them.[93] 

            In the rank and clique obsessed congregation of Corinth, this “sharing of the spotlight” meant the removal of any one “noted” individual from dominating what was happening; he had to yield to someone else even if he was perceived to be one of lesser talents or (worse yet!) of a different clique.  Or even of a lower social standing.[94]  (Which might well have been counted as even worse.)  It produced a crude equality that, over a period of time, must have transformed their attitude toward those of different social levels, via the crucible of behavior rather than abstract theory.

            The element of controllability provided a ready make “check” for whether what was being said was genuine. If two spoke at one time, at least one had to be faking it[95] or self-branded by behavior as self-centered—so much so that he thought he was immune to the rules governing any one else.  Either was likely a crippling (fatal?) blow to one’s standing and acceptability in the congregation.

How the three speakers were to be chosen is not spelled out.  It may well be that certain individuals requested in advance permission to speak during the current (or forthcoming) service.  Even so, if God acted during the service to give another a message, then those pre-arrangements were to be set aside and they were all to listen to the speaker [Page 104]   currently receiving a revelation.[96]

            We aren’t informed how one prophet told another they had something to say.  A gesture?  A hand motion?  A simple, “I have something I need to say,” spoken at a breaking point in the first prophet’s words?  Whatever it may have been, it is clear that the one speaker at a time edict prohibited him from beginning until (to use modern parliamentary equivalence) “the floor had been yielded” to the second person.[97] 

            Nor are we informed as to why Paul limited the number of prophets to a maximum of three in one service.  The most obvious reason for this (as well as the sister limitation of tongue speakers to a maximum of three—14:27), was so that these not consume all of the available time for worship.  Verse 26 had referred to psalms, teachings, revelations, and interpretations also being present in a typical church service.  In an earlier chapter Paul had mentioned the Communion.  However valuable any one particular aspect of the service might be, the maximum good was accomplished when there was time for everything and a rush for none.

In chapter 14, it is clearly the Holy Spirit that is assumed to be providing the prophecy yet 14:32 speaks of how “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets:  the “spirits” plural, i.e., their own spirits.  Hence we seem to have the idea of an interlinking between the Divine and the human spirit and the period of their linkage being the period that God spoke through them. 

            In contrast to this type of analysis, Leonard L. Thompson argues that the “prophetic spirit” was simultaneously Divinely sent and “part of the human makeup of a prophet.  Being at home in both the divine and the human, the spirit made a natural link between the two.”[98]  The problem with this approach is that you end up with a “spirit” that is neither truly human nor truly Divine:  note that it is only “in” the divine rather than being divine.  It seems far more faithful to the concept of genuine supernatural gifts in the first century, to take the “interlocking” approach suggested in the previous paragraph. 

            A further step away from the idea of objective Spirit given messages being passed through the individual’s own spirit to the audience, is taken by Gerhard Maier, who uses 14:32 to prove that it is the human’s own spirit that “reveals” the message not the Divine Spirit, “That means that the interpreter cannot simply equate his words with the Holy Spirit’s, as if the later had irresistibly implanted this or that statement.  He must take personal responsibility for his claims, representing his interpretation (our emphasis, RW) in the context of the entire congregation, allowing it to be corrected as need be (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:29).”[99]  Based on the same proof text, a more popular orientated volume puts the logical results of such an approach, “. . . [T]hose who are being moved by the Spirit can make mistakes  One’s own ideas can intrude themselves on the working of the Spirit.  Heretical doctrines and practices can be the result.”[100] 

So the congregation can set right what the Holy Spirit was inadequate to fully and accurately reveal through the prophet?  (Some of the claims analyzed in earlier sections merge in with this scenario.)  Furthermore if the prophets’ own spirits could so subjectivize an objective revelation that he could no longer distinguish between revelation and personal opinion, how in the world did those who “judge” what was being said do so? 

In cases of brazen fakery--out of psychological maladjustment, for example--one can grasp them detecting that it wasn’t happening at all.  But to “winnow out” the “real truth” from the larger mass these scenarios would require?  Utilizing Occam’s razor, [Page 105]   wouldn’t it be far simpler (if genuine revelation occurred at all) to have it occur undiluted to the prophet him or herself?

On a more positive (and intriguing) note, the nineteenth century Biblical scholar Moses Stuart argues from the presence of both the Holy Spirit and the human spirit in 14:29 that we have a critical piece of data on the nature of inspiration--that the Divine Spirit worked through the modes of thought and expression most fitting to the individual’s personality and background.  “The diversities of style and plan, throughout all the Scriptures, is evidence which cannot be set aside, that this matter must be substantially as has now been stated.”[101]  Neither dictation nor subjective interpretation without supernatural control fits the concept of divine inspiration, he argues.



            14:32:  Why the plural “spirits of the prophets”?  When 14:32 speaks of how “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets,” we have argued that in this context the most likely explanation is their own spirits in distinction from the Holy Spirit, who gave their spirits its message.  However likely as that is, some see a potential problem in the plural use due to its presence in unrelated passages, some with a similar and some with different contexts: 

In Revelation 22:6 we read of “the God of the spirits of the prophets,” the reading in NASB, RSV, and most modern translations; NKJV goes with “the Lord God of the holy prophets.”

            Likewise, 1 John 4:1 utilizes the plural when it cautions, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

            1 Corinthians 12:10 identifies one miraculous gift as the “discerning of spirits,” plural.

            In 14:12 the translation “zealous for spiritual gifts,” more literalistically, would refer to being zealous for “spirits.”[102]


            First of all, let us approach the subject from the interpretive standpoint of divine revelatory “spirits” not being involved.  In that case, Revelation 22:6 may well mean exactly the same as 1 Corinthians 14:32—the spirit of the individual prophet. 

            1 Corinthians 12:10 (“discerning of spirits”) might mean discerning their intent and meaning—one might well be giving a fully accurate presentation of the Spirit’s revelation yet not be anywhere near aware of the implications of it, which a different individual might be blessed with.  Alternatively, if “spirits” be taken as including the possibility of evil spirits steering the speaker wrong, then the function would be to determine what came from the Divine Spirit and what came from demonic imitators.

            In 1 John 4:1 “test[ing] the spirits” is needed “because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  This would be fully compatible with the idea of demonic spirits inspiring individuals, but--as an individual who has followed politics for over 50 years--a more down to earth possibility also comes to mind:  egotistical or mentally unbalanced individuals who are faking the gift for money or reputation.  Either way it does not have to be a case of divine spirits being involved.

            The effort to find revelatory “spirits” in the literalistic rendering of 1 Corinthians 14:12 about being zealous for “spirits” flies in the face of the fact that the terminology is [Page 106]   taken by virtually every translation as synonymous with being enthusiastic for what the Spirit gives, rather than to a multiplicity of spirits as the agents of the revelation.  If the latter has any validity at all, one explanation might well be that God and His Spirit actually spoke through the use of angels and that these angelic “spirits” varied from one tongue speaker/prophet to another.


            Which brings us to the alternative view, of revelatory “spirits” in general and angels in particular.  Certainly the use in Hebrews 1:7 (quoting the Old Testament) would be compatible with such an angelic explanation, “And of the angels He says: ‘Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire.’   Likewise of angels in Hebrews 1:14 it is said, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?”[103]

            One could imagine them as agents of the Holy Spirit, as we’ve mentioned, just as the Spirit is of God in 1 Corinthians 12 and of God and Christ in John 16:13-15.  However even these two Hebrews proof texts make angels the servants of the Father and not of the Spirit, making that intention seem unlikely to be underlying Paul’s teaching on Spirit revelation.

That there is nothing in the texts we’ve examined that require such an interpretation has already been noted.  Furthermore, we have a fundamental nomenclature problem if this is the case.  Note how chapter 12 describes these various gifts,


“12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant:   . . .  3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.   4 There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.   5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.   6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.   7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:   8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit,   9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit,   10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.   11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”


            So, are these gifts of the Holy Spirit or gifts of angels?  On one side is the repeated emphasis on the Spirit as if being the sole giver; on the other side, verses that might – but no more than that -- argue the Spirit’s utilization of angels.  In such a case where does the overwhelming probability lie?

And, if angels were the immediate tool of the Spirit, why doesn’t Paul come right out and call them what they really are?   

            Other texts to prove angelic or other divine (rather than demonic) spirits are also appealed to, “This view of the pneumatika also seems to be reflected in the comment about Peter’s angel (Acts 12:15), in Paul’s reference to his (prophetic) ‘spirit’ praying through him (1 Corinthians 14:14), and in the benediction, the Lord be with ‘your spirit’ (Galatians 6:18).”[104] 

[Page 107]       In Acts 12 we do have an angel freeing Peter from prison and then departing the scene (12:7-10).  When Peter arrived at the home of Mary (12:12) he knocked at the “door of the gate” (12:13).  She did not open it but was so startled by Peter’s voice that she quickly ran inside and told them that Peter stood outside (13:14).  “But they said to her, ‘You are beside yourself!’  Yet she kept insisting that it was so.  So they said, ‘It is his angel.’   Only after continuing pounding on the gate did they go out to see who was really there (13:16). 

Most likely this was simply a derogatory dismissal in accord with their claim that she was crazy (“you are beside yourself!”), neither of which was to be taken as anything more than a determination to make her be quiet.  If they really believed it was “only” an angel, wouldn’t they have gone out to see if the angel had a message for them?  Or was “angel” an euphemism for how we would likely express it today, “It must be his ghost”?  

            1 Corinthians 14:14:  “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.”  “My spirit:  did each believer have a specific “spirit” dedicated just to them?  Such would seem to be the inevitable requirement of the text.  Hence pressing this as an external spirit would not be the most natural meaning.  To the rest of us, it simply means that Paul prayed with his own inner spirit.  Even Spirit guidance did not become an excuse for rote religion.

            Galatians 6:18:  “Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.  Amen.”  Their individual human spirit obviously needed “the grace (favor)” of Christ; why in the world would their external revelatory spirit need it?

            In short, these verses seem increasingly marginal to any successful effort to define Paul as referring to external revelatory spirits in 1 Corinthians 14:32.


            It is, of course, possible that “spirits” is effectively an euphemism for the Holy Spirit personally, but in its different specific manifestations of presence.  This way the fact that the mere mortal can stop from continuing the prophesying or tongue speaking does not sound as extreme a statement as saying, “You can stop the Holy Spirit from speaking through you.”[105]

            Wayne A. Grudem, who seems to clearly have this idea in mind (though worded differently), sees evidence not in angelic texts—as considered above--but in ones that may more directly concern the Holy Spirit.  In John 4:2 we read, “By this you know the Spirit of God:  Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.”  The spirits are manifestations of the Holy Spirit.[106] 

On the other hand it could equally well mean that the testimony given by the individual human spirit (whether claiming inspiration or not) has the backing of the Divine Spirit but only if it believes that Christ came in a tangible, fleshly form.  The Spirit” reveals toevery spirit” (directly or indirectly) rather than being synonymous.

            More relevantly he takes “the seven spirits of God” in Revelation 3:1, 4:5, and 5:6 (and possibly “the seven spirits who are before His throne,” in 1:4) as texts that  apparently refers to the various manifestations or workings of the Holy Spirit.”[107]  Although this is a fascinating assumption, one would seem hard pressed to take it beyond the most conjectural of speculations.  As far as what we know, these could be seven special angels set apart for extraordinary duties (cf. the Hebrews epistle texts we examined).  And, of course, we can’t raise that beyond the level of reasonable speculation either.


[Page 108]

            14:34-37:  Women were not to exercise their supernatural gifts in the church assembly.   A huge volume of controversy has erupted--especially in the second half of the twentieth century and to the present--as to the proper role of women in the church meeting.  The present passage lies at the hub of much of the disagreement, invoked by some and denounced by others.  Even in the first century there were major inconsistencies as to the perceived “proper” role of women in public and religious affairs in both Jewish and polytheistic cultures.[108]  Hence the picture was far from uniform and there was an inevitable need for Paul to deal with at least limited aspects of such matters to assure the peace and unity of the congregations he ministered for. 

The fact that Paul argues from the universal precedent of “all the churches of the saints” (14:33) to establish the desirability of embracing his position on the matter, argues that a general consensus already existed.  It was a question of maintaining it rather than establishing it.

            Regardless of how one argues the application of the text to the modern world, it is  vital to remember that in its original context the admonition for womanly “silence” is both preceded and followed by admonitions about the exercise of supernatural gifts.  Paul’s thought flow goes through five steps:


            First, he lays down the principle that women are to “keep silent (ATP:  keep quiet) in the churches (ATP:  assemblies), for they are not permitted to speak” (14:34).  Since he has just been speaking of prophesying and tongue speaking in their collective religious assembly, this has to be understood as the immediate frame of reference.  As in other cases, context should always be considered pivotal in interpreting the intent of a teaching and efforts to expand a principle above and beyond its original purpose should be done only with the greatest caution. 

            The admonition of women to silence is not part of a “broadsheet” of generalized instruction; it comes hard on the heels on trying to bring order to the Corinthian gathering in regard to the use of supernatural gifts.  Of speaking in tongues, the apostle had said:  “If anyone speaks in a tongue” (14:27) contrasted with “if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church” (14:28).  In regard to prophecy are the words:  “Let two or three prophets speak” (14:29) contrasted with “if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent” (14:30). 

            We see here in verses 34-37 the continuation of that speaking versus silence scenario but with the addition of a new point, its application to women.[109]  They are to leave the speaking to the men (or husbands if one interprets the text as we have argued).  Indeed, it is strictly in this context that the “silence” of women should be interpreted—at least initially and in its primary application so far as the book of Corinthians is concerned.

            Prophesying was supernaturally provided teaching and could take the form of either prediction or admonition.  As we look at the Old Testament prophets, though, the admonition element was clearly just as important to them; indeed, the prophecies were generally of what would happen if they refused to yield to God’s will, a goad to repentance rather than the cause of the prophet speaking.

            The closest modern parallel we have to the prophetic office today would be that of [Page 109]   pulpit preaching.  It involves a degree of oversight of the congregation—whether official or unofficial--whether one seeks it out or claims to deny it.  Responsibilities of that nature come automatically if for no other reason than you are perceived as an “authority figure” and to assure that someone “gets the job done.” 

Hence it seems hardly likely Paul would have been any more happy with modern women in the pulpit that he was with supernaturally guided women prophesying in his day.  Furthermore, his emphasis on how what he was teaching reflected the universal consensus of the church (14:33) argues that, however broad woman’s role was outside of direct church leadership, this was one area reserved for the other gender.  Many feminists regard it as “sexism;” I would propose it was God’s method of kicking the male gender and making sure they were actively involved in their religion rather than considering it part of “a woman’s responsibility.”  


            Second, he supports his assertion that this was a desirable practice by noting that this mind frame had always been the divine will (14:34):  “they are to be submissive, as the law also says” (“should be subordinate, as even Moses’ Law teaches,” ATP).  Hence they were not to think it was new teaching in any way; the principle had always been present.

            We have noted in the Old Testament precedents section the difficulty of pinning this down to one specific text.  Likely this is what caused Walter A. Maier to note that “Paul is careful to write kathoos kai ho nomos legei, ‘as also the law states,’ so that one need not search the Pentateuch for the record of the precise words employed by Paul in this verse 34.  Kathoos allows for similarity of teaching.[110] 

He then goes on to argue that the similar teaching in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 does cite a scriptural precedent, that of Adam being created first and Eve only secondarily.  He then notes that in 1 Corinthians 11:3, 8-9 also goes to this relationship to show the proper husband-wife relationship.  Hence, in his judgment, this cumulative evidence argues that Paul had the Genesis in mind as his proof text.[111]  That might well be the case.


            Third, Paul reminds them that they have a quite acceptable way of gaining the information they seek:  they should “ask (ATP:  question) their own husbands at home” (14:35).  Hence, in its strict sense, the text is speaking of wives rather than women in general.[112]  On the other hand, at any given moment the majority of adult women are married (even more so in that age than today when marriage was so much earlier); in “real world” terms there would have been little difference between saying “women” and saying “wives.” 

In our world of large numbers of unmarried women, the advice would probably be (for an adult) to seek advice from the preacher or a respected teacher they had confidence in or (if a child) seek out assistance from their parents.  In regard to both its original setting and its modern day applications, the Pauline counsel was based upon the assumption that the male would be knowledgeable enough to answer the question—or at least know the right place to find it.  It does not require much imagination to think of the scathing language Paul would have used of such males who did not—then or today. 


            A.  Limiting the prohibition to challenging one’s own spouse in public.  As already noted, in the verses preceding telling them who to seek counsel from, Paul had [Page 110]   been speaking of prophets and their function (14:29-32) and the need to avoid disrupting the church service (14:33).  Some have creatively tied this all together into one package:  wives are prohibited from embarrassing their prophet-husbands by challenging what they say outside the privacy of their home.  In other words the “silence” limitation is only in regard to what their own spouse was doing and not to males in general.[113] 

Anthony C. Thiselton supports this analysis.  He makes an intriguing case that “ask” should carry the more stringent overtone of “interrogate,” i.e., vigorously question and, perhaps, even deny.  Such actions were to take place in the privacy of the home rather than in public where one or both parties might be embarrassed or humiliated.[114] 

A few translations lean in that direction--or, at least, can be read in that manner once the idea has been put into one’s mind.  Rotherham:  “Let them put questions to their husbands privately.”  BBE: “Let them put questions to their husbands privately.”  Young:  “At home their own husbands let them question.”

The analysis unquestionably has its share of difficulties.  Even taken as a reference to husband-prophets and as “interrogating,” it remains a case of women reacting to the public teaching of others rather than doing it.  And even that limited role is specifically discussed in a prohibitive rather than permissive context.  If reacting is prohibited, how could Paul have anywhere intended to embrace the leadership role of publicly presenting prophecy itself?      

The harsher and more stringent an overtone we put on the word “ask,” the more difficult it is to see the logic as to why the prohibition would be specifically a female orientated command.  Would it be proper for a male to try to make “mincemeat” out of a fellow male—who is a prophet—merely because they share the same gender?  The reverse is also true:  The more we minimize or remove the element of censuring questions from “ask,” the less reason we would expect a female to be denied the privilege of intervention—unless a question of gender / marital status rather than the questioning itself be the central matter of concern. Let us develop the matter at greater length:


B.  The problem of the indirect nature of the prohibition—“silence” referring to only one type of speech in particular.  If Paul was only putting the damper on time-hogging or confrontational questioning or stirring up needless controversy--or anything of that nature--why would women be specified in particular?  In my preaching days my memory is permanently scarred by two obnoxious women who were a plague on anyone who crossed them—not just me.  But need we mention the excesses of the male gender?  In short, if Paul has in mind just behavioral intemperance why single out just the women?[115]   

            For that matter, it is assumed that women had been disruptive in Corinth.  Where is the textual evidence to back it up?  It is total assumption.[116]  Indeed, to the extent that we dare hazard even a guess, need it be noted that the faction names Paul utilizes for the local groups are all male—and he spends no less than three chapters to tackle the problem?  The man having his father’s wife?  Male.  The lawsuits?  Almost certainly a male foolishness in that day and age.

Furthermore, the shortest distance between two lines is a straight line:  To deal with confrontational and disruptive females, the shortest and directest method would have been an explicit rebuke of such behavior.  Would we not expect a direct censure along the [Page 111]   lines of, “The disorderly women should keep silence”?[117]  If that is his actual or primary concern?        

Instead, we are supposed to believe that he took the very indirect method of laying down the broad pattern of “silence” and in such a manner that all women (married at least) are covered.  This when he was actually only concerned with a far narrower issue, which we must carefully draw out of the much broader wording.  We have to “back read” from a needlessly broad principle to what was really the matter.[118] 

This does not seem a reasonable interpretive approach.  It seems far better to argue—whether one accepts his restrictions or not—that Paul has in mind the issue of proper gender or marital behavior not the more limited sphere of just interference with worship or congregational matters.


             C.  And the other women?  Paul was well aware that there were individual women not covered by his immediate reference to marital status--1 Corinthians 7[119] mentions the long term betrothed (assuming that “his virgin” refers to that relationship), to the separated, to the divorced, and to the widowed.  Paul’s all encompassing language argues strongly that he regarded such individuals as representing a very small proportion of female disciples since he did not feel it necessary to address any of these specifically in the current text. 

The fact that the question is to be received by one’s andras (Strong 435, defined by him as “a male human being; a man; husband”) has caused some to argue that the verse’s “husband” would be better translated as “menfolk.”[120]  One would be hard pressed to find much in the way of translations—I haven’t come across any—that so renders it.  The fact that the term is more expansive than just “husband,” does, however, establish a precedent at least for those who were outside the married category as to the propriety of their seeking out alternative sources of assistance.

As in all other areas of life, “rules” are established to cover the “normal situation”—in his age married women—rather than the exception.  How Paul would have dealt with these exceptions to married individuals must be a matter of speculation.  It seems extremely unlikely, however, that he would have regarded even possible exceptions to his teaching as denying the general application of what he had said.  In other words, in even the most expansive reading of his intent, the possible “exceptions” were unlikely to remove the general prohibition of female leadership roles. 
            Whether intent or side effect, this would also compel the husbands in particular—and males in general--to pay attention to what was going on and to be able to understand and explain it.[121]  They could not play the gender game of the twentieth century and pretend that religion was women’s work. 

            Almost inadvertently, the text also gives us a fascinating insight into the informal aspect of early worship.  As R. C. H. Lenski puts it, “It seems that in the early church the custom prevailed to ask questions at the public services, very probably on subjects that were brought up by the prophets.  It would thus be natural for the more ‘forward’ women to claim the privilege of at least asking questions.”[122]


            Fourth, the apostle emphasizes that they had no right to alter this situation (14:36):  “Or did the word of God come originally from you (ATP:  originate with you)?  Or was it only you that it reached?”  How they acted on such matters was not merely a [Page 112]   matter of local concern—they did not have the authority to change matters on something so fundamental and basic.  They had not originated the gospel message nor were they the only place it had been taught and accepted.  Hence, they had no right to initiate a change in the accepted procedure found throughout the various congregations.  Which leads to the final point.


            Fifth, he stresses that what he is teaching throughout this chapter is divinely ordained (14:37), “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.”  It is hard to imagine how he could have made more emphatic the absolute necessity of following his instruction on the matters discussed throughout this chapter.    

            To what extent did Paul intend this to apply to conventional preaching, teaching, and discussion in the assembly (i.e., that done without any claim to being miraculously guided)--either on the giving or the questioning end of such matters?  The principles regulating order in the assembly so things will not become chaotic (cf. 14:40) would obviously have an application in any day and age.  And if women were prohibited the exercise of miraculous gifts in the assembly, one would be hard pressed to see how Paul would be sympathetic with the exercise of non-miraculous leadership ones either.           

            Furthermore, verse 34 seems to have in mind something above and beyond just a situation in which miraculous gifts are being exercised, “And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.”  Here the perspective is that of asking questions (“want[ing] to learn something”), rather that of personally conveying teaching either in conventional or purportedly miraculous forms.  (Yet if he was condemnatory of the former how could he consistently have been laudatory of the latter?) 

            However, the context is not asking questions in a class nor is it something done “at home” or in some type of meeting (religious centered or otherwise) outside the worship service of the church.  The context is a formal assembly of the church which, in those days, involved people speaking in tongues or prophesying.  The logic of the text is that they are not to interrupt the process, even when it did not involve the personal use of Spirit gifts but merely the normal questions that arise from hearing a message. 

            Tongue speakers were to speak “in turn” (i.e., one at a time), with the implication that it was not to be interrupted though it was to be interpreted (14:27-28).  Likewise prophets were not to interrupt each other but to “keep silent” when another spoke (14:29-31).  If tongue speakers and prophets were not be interrupting one another, how much less appropriate would it be for a person in the audience to interrupt with their questions!  Paul specifically speaks of women, but it is hard to see how the logic of the situation would avoid applying to the male as well.  Paul is saying:  let those leading the service lead; don’t interrupt them; it is neither the time nor the place.


            The text and modern church practice--Context is pivotal:  teaching / preaching whether through speaking in tongues or prophesying is that context and any twenty-first century application should be within that framework.  Conspicuously not touched upon by Paul’s instruction is, for example, saying “Amen” at the end of a prayer that someone else has said.  Profoundly different from the topic under [Page 113]   consideration, are such things as passing out the communion or taking the collection; it is hard to see how either can be classified as a “leadership” role and certainly neither involves the prohibited teaching.  (The conceptual parallel would be closer in the terms “deacon/deaconess” [= servants of the church] and in no way preachers or “elders” [= church leaders].  “Deacons/deaconesses”—as the terms themselves show—are servants / workers on behalf of the church, rather than leaders and authority figures over it.)   

            Would public reading of a scripture text be a form of prohibited teaching?  One can see how it might be, but one can also see how you aren’t teaching anything.  You are merely reading aloud what a teacher has said.  (Unless one adds a personal “commentary” on to it.)  Are they really the same? 

            Finally, singing, is an activity in which all join in (or should) on an equal basis, the only “leadership” here being, perhaps, the song “leader.”  Though, in all candor, he is not the “leader” in anywhere near the sense we attribute “leadership” to the public speaker.  The song “leader” is simply walking the audience through how someone else arranged for things to be done.  What that other person has done is definitive; not what the song “leader” wished had been done.  So here too we must carefully ponder which side of the “silence” barrier of 14:34-35 these things lie upon.  Of the several items we’ve glanced at, this is the one that seems the most likely to fall on the prohibitive side of Paul’s teaching.    



Six approaches to eliminating the Pauline restriction



Many efforts are made to eliminate the female teaching limitations Paul insists upon in these verses and we have only touched on one of them in detail—the effort to redefine the silence to questions only and abrasive questions in particular.  Hence it is appropriate that we spend further time on other approaches that attempt to remove the limitations Paul refers to.  Six basic arguments are common.


The first is to dismiss it all on the grounds that it represents Paul’s personal and “sexist” opinions.   This is the easiest method:  Paul was simply prejudiced against women.  We are the centuries later theological victims of one’s single man’s biases.  Not just single numerically but also single so far as never being married and with all the prejudices that can bring. 

            On the other hand, if Paul’s apostleship was genuine and we accept that divine “inspiration” (however you desire to define the term) was providing permanently authoritative guidance, then such objections in no way demand the rejection of his teaching.  Flipping the argument over, if such guidance was not present, is anything immune to rejection?


Which edges us into the second way to limit the modern application of Paul’s teaching—it merely represents the culture of his times.  Cultures have changed so the public leadership role of women must be altered to include all those open to males.   Accepting that the biases were not purely personal, then one can argue that they [Page 114]   were absorbed from the customs of his day.  Hence Paul need not be pictured as a villain perpetuating evil but even as a victim himself of the assumptions of his culture.[123] 

Yes, his views do reflect the prevailing norms of his time—church norms at least.  He himself claims that all the congregations of his day (at least outside Corinth) accepted his teaching on the limitation of the public role of women (1 Corinthians 14:33b).  To that extent, at least, Paul would willingly have said—and been proud—of reflecting the anticipated standards of his world.

But nomenclature games can be played two ways.  Whose norms are the better ones?  We are alive and they are dead.  We are far more technically advanced than they.  We write the books “exposing” their folly and they aren’t around to defend themselves.

Were they biased?  Or is the term far more fitting our own reaction to it?  That we can not tolerate something different from our own set of preferences?  For that matter, what right do we have to hurl the term “bias” in regard to earlier cultural norms when we live in a modern world that denies that moral absolutes either can or do exist? 

And when they can’t, must not all judgments be purely subjective ones?  Accept those premises, and our practices have no claim to superiority; theirs have every right to be respectfully regarded as at least equal.  (Not superior, necessarily, but at least equal.)  Who then are we to criticize them for their “failures” when we have an abundant set of our own?

Yes, Paul was certainly concerned with the standards expected in his day.  Yet it should also be noted that the desire to have a church compatible with the mores of a given society does not necessarily mean that one is merely yielding to its prejudices and preferences.  In addition, even though a culture may have a “bias” against something that does not automatically prove that its criticism is erroneous or misguided.

When Paul rebuked incest because of how even outsiders condemned it, he was reflecting the dominant view, but surely he wasn’t wrong in going so.  Was he acting merely on the basis of societal bias or, primarily, on the basis of underlying Christian standards?  Surely the latter!  The two interlocked and he invoked both.

Although “women preachers” certainly are not in the same category as incest, it should be noted that Paul condemns such partly, at least, on the basis that “the law also says” it (14:34).  Divine revelation is again at the root.  Cultural conformity again walking in accord with scripture rather than cultural environment being the defining influence on church belief and practice.  If we take his words at face value, he taught what he did because he was convinced that it was right and God’s will.  He was convinced he was reflecting God’s “biases” not man’s.  If society’s views could be invoked as well, it was an ancient equivalent of our modern “icing on the cake.”

            Furthermore to claim that Paul was writing just to make the church acceptable to the surrounding world carries with it the inherent difficulty that the central message of the crucified Christ was anathema to that society—Jew and Gentile alike.  If he defied societal expectation on this most fundamental issue, would it have been so startling to have done so on important lesser matters as well? 

Especially when a justification could easily be found in his emphasis on the “oneness” of all in Christ—regardless of gender, wealth, or earthly status.  In addition, female leadership precedent was not totally lacking even in his age.  There were religious [Page 115]   cults in polytheism in which women did play a major religious leadership role.  Precedent existed. 

Hence it is not surprising that there is a tendency to believe that the bias reflects not so much polytheistic values as Jewish convictions.[124]  Paul was insisting that the Gentiles follow these limitations, presumably in the interest of inter-ethnic peace.  On the other hand, Paul did yeoman’s work in opposing the imposition of Jewish customs when it was needless (think circumcision in particular).  Why, on this relatively secondary issue, would he be so insistent upon capitulation?  To some this argues for the improbability of it happening; to others it might argue for him yielding on a secondary point in order to easier stand firm on more central matters.

Yet beyond the existence of a “Petrine” party in Corinth, which argues for a predominantly Jewish backing, there seems nothing to argue for Jewish-Gentile tensions within the church.  (Even it is attributed no specific beliefs, much less Jewish traditionalist ones; it is presented merely as another power-seeking faction.)  We read of pride, wealth, injustice, litigating—but these having nothing to automatically connect them with such a situation.  Certainly nothing ethnically religious is suggested within the context of their church worship, which is what Paul is discussing in chapter 14.  Why interject an unnecessary hypothesis, thereby making one’s arguments ever more speculative with each one factored in? 

Or, perhaps, there is one piece of evidence in that context—but it comes not from anything they are described as doing (or reasons for their divisions) but from the authority that backs up his teaching.  Paul insisted that what he said about women needed to be followed because it was what “the law” taught (14:34) and the text, indeed, reads not merely “law” but “the law” in Greek.[125]  Hence we can have no doubt that scriptural “law” is in Paul’s mind and not the “law” of human tradition or practice. 

But when the “law” of old was no longer relevant, Paul’s consistent pattern is to advocate what is now relevant—or are we to argue that every time he introduces scripture in 1 Corinthians he does so to keep the Jewish faction happy?  Would not far sounder reasoning be to argue that he introduces the Old Testament because, on the point(s) considered, they are germane and relevant to the contemporary practice he desired?  Which is profoundly different than citing it so as to keep traditionalist Jewish Christians happy.

One other aspect of the “bias question” deserves consideration before passing on.  Even assuming that the roots of the teaching be treated as far more rooted in cultural practice than divine revelation, how would that establish as desirable and better the contemporary “bias” in favor of unlimited opportunities for public religious service by women?  What are the objective criteria that establishes our modern set of preferences (“biases”) as better than another? 

We often think differently than they did, but we should tread quite gingerly as to where and how fervently we affirm our own superior spiritual insights.  If the Pauline ones are to be dismissed on such grounds, what will be the fate of our own at the hands of a future generation?  The path of future history is neither set in concrete nor guaranteed:  they might well applaud our “responsible change.”  On the other hand, if catastrophe should overtake America and the West, the disaster might equally well be attributed to the “spurning of God’s will”—both on matters like this and, even more, so our

[Page 116]   redefinition of moral norms in a way repugnant to the apostle’s teaching.  Love it or hate it; it could go either way.

In short, whatever conclusions we come to on such matters, the Pauline doctrine can not be so cavalierly dismissed out of hand as it often is.  Fundamental principles of how long apostolic teaching is binding and how, when, and whether it should be adapted to a new set of cultural biases have to be resolved.  Historically speaking, the “proper” solutions will only appear transparently obvious long after they have become generally adopted and tested by the “fire” of opposition, duration, and an ever changing environment.


            The third approach to justify contemporary practice is to play off Paul’s “permissive” teaching against his “restrictive” teaching and argue that the former must prevail.  Of course, a female prophetic gift is referred to not only in this book but also in Acts as well.  The early scholar Origen (c. 185-254) had to respond to the Montanist argument, that since there were apostolic age female Christian prophets, that automatically provided the right to exercise their gift any time and anywhere.  Origen countered, with full justice, that though the daughters of Philip are referred to as having the gift in the book of Acts there is no evidence that they utilized it in the church assembly.  Similarly, women in the Old Testament were, upon occasion, blessed with the gift and we also find in that context no evidence of it being exercised in a religious assembly (the synagogue or some conceptual equivalent).  Hence, even if the gift be genuine, the church meeting was not the proper place for it.[126]  (It should be noted that he wasn’t ready to grant the assumption of genuineness either.)

            As to Paul’s writings in particular, it is certainly true that his teaching in various places present both women’s equality with men in the church (Galatians 3:28, for example) as well as their subordination.  Since two strains are present, each age has the right to pick the one that most fits the needs and attitude of its own era. 

(The cynic in me can’t help but suggest:  If a new generation arises—one that decides a modified “patriarchialism” would be better for society’s survival—will the same individuals who argue this, happily go along with the reversal or will they “fight to the death” for maintaining the changes they have brought into being?  It is surely a “given” that when rejection of the apostolic norm comes into play, any acceptable changes must be in a “liberal” and “permissive” direction and are assumed to be definitively established “forever.”  This reflects the same stubbornness and refusal to yield as their critics manifested before a new order gained dominance.  To passionate advocates of any approach, change seems acceptable—but always in only one direction.) 

The problem here is that the same apostle taught both principles:  hence he saw nothing inconsistent between the two; he saw nothing in the idea of “equality” that required a woman’s ministry.  Did he misinterpret what he himself wrote?  And how in the world did God permit a misinterpretation (i.e., the restrictive elements) to be embodied in the scriptures?  (Of course if one believes the writings represent Paul’s unique religious self-consciousness, without such external fail-safe mechanisms, there is no difficulty.  But there should be, even then, considerable embarrassment at the apostle’s blunder.)

Few would deny that the early church leadership of elders/presbyters represented [Page 117]   a male prerogative and the qualifications are written in such terms (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1).[127]  This would argue that however much theoretical and even real equality there was in the earliest church, that there remained areas where gender distinctions were observed, preserved, and insisted upon.  That may offend our twenty-first century preferences for absolute egalitarianism, but seems an inescapable reading of the textual evidence.  Why then would it be regarded as an unquestioned evil if the current generation did the same?  Why should our own set of culturally influenced biases triumph over those of the apostles?  (Assuming we should even admit any such dominant role in the rules they laid down.)


            The fourth way of expanding the contemporary rights of women in regard to public ministry and leadership, is to argue that Paul explicitly recognized it in chapter 11 and that, therefore, chapter 14 must be interpreted in some manner recognizing that unrestricted teaching right of females.  It is argued that in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Paul endorses the right of women to publicly pray and prophesy as church leaders and this is thoroughly inconsistent with the prohibitory teaching found in 14:33b-36.[128]  Of course this is based upon the assumption that chapter 11 is discussing congregational worship, a premise we have examine in detail and found wanting.  In chapter 14, however, Paul makes explicit that he has in mind what is happening in the congregational assembly.  In chapter 11, the discussion is quite different:  the right of women to exercise the gift of prophesying in and of itself.  As to right, there was no doubt (chapter 11); as to exercising that right in the church service there was complete rejection (chapter 14).[129]

            On other subjects the distinction is easy to see:  Paul embraced marital sexuality (chapter 7), but no one would argue that it had a place in the church service.  There are many other things that are right as to morality and propriety but would be inappropriate as part of the worship.  Paul taught that women’s prophesying was of such a nature—praiseworthy and laudable, but not part of the church service.[130]    

            The problem seems to be that we place on the generalities a broader construction than the limitations Paul taught must also be observed.  Within the context of his time, this combination of principle and application made him very much a “liberal” in religious conduct; applying them in our own very different age makes the same man with the same attitudes and beliefs seem very “conservative” if not “reactionary.”

            But assuming that the teaching was intended to create a blanket right for women in chapter 11, how do we explain the apparently restrictive comments in chapter 14?  Several explanations have been suggested for this.   

For example, the restrictions of the chapter have been interpreted as only forbidding “disputation”[131] the raising of “controversial issues in church,”[132] and “violat[ing] rules of social decorum of that era.”[133]  The silence was like that of the prophets who were to speak one at a time and be silent if another had a message to reveal.[134]  Hence the “submissive” “silence” of 14:34 was in regard to the other prophets when it was their turn to speak (14:30).[135]   

            Although such factors would be included in the prohibition, one wonders how such behavior as being argumentative, violating the expected social norms, and refusing to be respectful of the right of the others to speak would have been considered proper for the male either.  In other words, something significantly beyond such factors must be involved when only one gender is specified.  (See our lengthy discussion further above.)

[Page 118]       The power of the argument in favor of a public leadership function of women is weakened when the nature of the silence is reduced from banning public disputes and debates to merely “the practice of women joining in the congregational discussion of what a prophet or a teacher had said.”[136]  Approached this way, this would seem a nonsensical prohibition:  women could publicly teach in that assembly but could not join in the ensuing discussion as to what it meant?

            Others define the Greek word rendered “speak” in 14:34 as prohibiting the equivalent of merely idle and aimless “talk” or “chattering:”   “it is shameful for women to keep talking during the worship service.”[137]  Yet, as one proponent of this view concedes, that is equally true of males![138]   He argues that the “social roles” of women in general and married women in particular in that society permitted them to gossip along while the serious business of a meeting was proceeding.  As a result they would not pay attention to the speaker and would disrupt the assembly.[139] 

Yet the wording of the argument is so broadly asserted that it seems to be against speaking at any time rather than against any one form of speaking, especially a form that would be wrong from either gender!   In other words, one can easily see it applied to this potential problem, but as only one application of the broader principle.[140]


            The fifth way of resolving the perceived difficulty of reconciling Pauline limitations with modern preferences is to simply dismiss the restrictive teaching as an interpolation and, therefore, irrelevant to creating an authoritative apostolic teaching.  Hence a goodly number deal with the antagonism between Paul’s teaching and current western theories of women’s proper religious roles on the grounds that the relevant verses (33-35) are an interpolation.[141]  It began as a “marginal note” and was inadvertently inserted into the text and, once there, was perpetuated by later copyists.[142] 

In all candor, verse 36 does sound like a more logical sequel to verse 33.  Verses 34-35 are a sharp break with what comes before and after so far as the thought-flow of the text.  In contrast, placing it after verse 40 (“Let all things be done decently and in order”) would make it an amplification of that clearly relevant principle.  The “Western” style text places it at this point—and only the “Western” textual tradition.[143]  Since this tradition is one that is usually viewed skeptically due to additions not present in other manuscript traditions, a number of scholars tend to believe this is yet another example of its alleged bad habit of accepting interpolations.  (Of course this “disposes” only of the Western version not its alternatives.)

Yet even here the disputed teaching is not missing; only its location is altered.  And we can easily imagine a disturbed editor moving it from its apparently original and relatively “disruptive” setting to this more congenial one.[144]  In light of the paucity of manuscripts with it here, an alternative and reasonable scenario is “that this displacement is due to a scribal error of omission that immediately was corrected by reinserting the text at the end of the section.”[145] 

  Since the charge of “bias” has a tendency to be thrown around as a slur on those who do not concede the modern feminist approach to women in the pulpit, is it not worthy of consideration that without such pressures, the interpolation dispute would only be waged as to where it was moved from and to rather than from the standpoint of never having been in the text originally?  The embarrassing fact is that the challenged words are found in all manuscripts.[146] Hence, if there was an interpolation it occurred at an

[Page 119]   extraordinarily early period, one that was far more likely to reflect Paul’s own attitudes than that of a more anti-female generation a century or two later.  

Failing to find manuscript evidence, the insertion hypothesis has to be defended on alternate grounds.  Hence the interpolation approach has been supported on the ground that the appeal to the law (i.e., Law of Moses, the Torah) was more likely to come from those he was answering than from Paul himself.  In other words, it represents a view that Paul rejects.    

Carl B. Bridges, Jr., makes two arguments against this deduction.  First he observes that Paul does cite the Torah in this book, “though admittedly on a somewhat different basis, in 9:8-9 and 14:21; and second, that his use of the law here is illustrative rather than prescriptive (‘as also the law says’).”[147]  It should also be noted that obligatory Torah observance by Gentiles is never raised as an issue in this book--unlike Galatians, for example.  Hence the introduction of the Law as direct evidence would be unlikely to encourage the Judaizer belief that it was obligatory upon them in each and every particular.

The interpolation scenario has also been backed on the grounds that Paul praised such women workers as Phoebe (Romans 16:1-15) and that Priscilla was involved in the conversion of Apollos (Acts 18:26).[148]  But one would be hard-pressed to convincingly argue that Paul (Romans) or Luke (Acts) assumed that either of these women’s activities occurred as part of the church worship or that they were exercising public leadership functions while carrying out their activities. 


            The final method of dealing with the difficulty is to argue that the “restrictive” view is actually that of Paul’s opponents rather than Paul himself.  This allows a bi-gender application to posts of church leadership from the more “liberal” texts we have discussed.  Hence the appeal of the argument that Paul is actually presenting the views of his Corinthian foes and that he is rejecting them.[149]  To make this scenario work, one must abandon any interpolation theory; it can only work if it remains where it is and is genuinely apostolic.

In this reconstruction, 14:34-35 represents the views of those (probably Jewish) who wish to put severe limits on women’s public speaking in the assembly.  Right here we hit a massive bolder:  In the various apparent quotations (or summations) found in this book they are always short and to the point. 

1:12 (unquestionably the Corinthian view):  “Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ ”

6:12 (probably the Corinthian view):  All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”     

6:13 (probably the Corinthian view):  Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them.  Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”

7:1 (definitely the Corinthian view):  “Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.”

8:1 (definitely at least an allusion to what they had written if not their exact words):  Now concerning things offered to idols:  We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.”

[Page 120]       While 6:12 and 6:13 are hard to view as anything short of their view, he melds it into his own thinking.  In one instance he modifies it into a form definitely acceptable to him (6:13); in the other, he puts it into a form that, however unwisely the principle may be worded, alters it in a way that neutralizes its potential for harm (6:12).   

Three of five cases seem conclusively the Corinthian view, one puts their view into a form he can accept and one neutralizes its potential for harm.  How in the world does 14:34-35 fit any of these precedents?  He does not cite it explicitly as the Corinthian view.  He does not rework it into a form that strips it of its misuse (as in 6:12).  He does not rework it into a form that brings with it the threat of the judgment of God if one does not modify the approach (6:13).

In none of these does Paul introduce a scriptural proof text as coming from his foes as part of his presentation (“as the Law also says,” 14:34).

This is not even to get into the matter of the pure, unprecedented length of the hypothetical quote in 14:34-35.[150]                       

Assuming that one can somehow overcome these major obstacles, then and only then is there the need to deal with the argument that in 14:36 Paul is rejecting this view.

“His response comes in 14:36,” it is contended, “and is indicated by a Greek particle which signifies rejection of 14:34-35. This understanding of 14:36 would be: ‘Nonsense! You men (masculine gender) did not originate the Word of God, and, nonsense! you men (masculine gender) are not the only ones to receive it.’ Consequently, Paul rejects the Jewish restrictions and authorizes women to speak in the assembly.”[151]

Even taking 14:36 as explicitly aimed only at males, one can see its relevance in the exact opposite direction of this:  “Why do you put up with female leadership when you know so well it’s wrong?”  It would not be a rejection of 14:34-35 but a condemnation for not following it in the past!  

Of course “male language” need not refer exclusively to such; it is also known to include women, according to the context:  Think that despicable word “brethren” so despised by feminists that its very presence in a translation is deemed abhorrent nowadays.  Furthermore, the indignation factor in 14:36 could well come not from rejecting women preachers/teachers but from rejecting what Paul insists is the universal pattern of the church.  Wouldn’t that be sufficient grounds for more than a little indignation on his part?[152]  There were plenty of issues to disagree on but on one where everywhere there was the same consensus, would have left the Corinthians precious little to work with. 

Hence this commentator finds it extraordinarily hard to see how 14:34-35 can be interpreted as something Paul was opposing.  Furthermore, the very attempt suffers from the severe disability that the earliest official leadership (both apostolic and local) was male.  It is extraordinarily hard to see how that could have resulted from anything less than the generally/universally accepted principles that it was males who were to take such official positions.  Again, we may not like them having this attitude, but the texts need to be interpreted within the light of their “reality” and not that of our society’s preferences.









[1] Ehrman, 271.  Others who take the real languages approach include Gromacki, Called, 153; Lenski, 504-505, 509.  Witherington, Conflict, 258, 267, believes they may have been real though, if so, often obscure ones.  On the whole, however, he feels it far more likely that they were genuine languages, but not earthly ones--i.e., that of angels (267).  Onlookers in one place or another would be able to tell whether a language was a real one or not, those in all places could tell if they were ecstatic, but how could anyone, anywhere be able to know they were angelic?   


[2] Heribert Muhlen, A Charismatic Theology:  Initiation in the Spirit, translated from the German by Edward Quinn and Thomas Linton (Ramsey, N.J.:  Paulist Press, 1978), 152.  He firmly rejects the notion, however, that it can be described as “ecstatic” since it is under the person’s self-control (citing 1 Corinthians 14:27) (151).


[3] Coffman, 197, 227-228.  Also advocating a mixture of “real” and “subjective” tongues, is Boyer, 131.   


[Page 125]   [4] Coffman, 227-228, suggests the possibility that Paul knew that there were no such Spirit-gifted interpreters in Corinth and that this would thereby terminate the public practice of both the real and the counterfeit (236, 237).  Perhaps so, but one is hard pressed to see how a reader of Paul’s epistle in any other city of the empire would have read the regulation as anything except what it immediately sounds like:  a restriction not an effective prohibition. 


[5] A phenomena Ibid. concedes occurs in our contemporary world (236-237). 


[6] Spivey and Smith, 322, describe the phenomena as “inspired but unintelligible utterance.”  Frederick C. Grant, 96, describes it as “wild and uncontrollable;” “unintelligible,” but that it was also somehow “inspired” and genuine proof “of the divine presence in the Christianity community.”  This creates the a priori difficulty of how a real God would overtly cause people to speak a non-real language and then go through the “pretense” of translating it for the audience.  There seems a vast ethical difficulty in this as well. 


[7] Hunter, 109. 

[8] Goodspeed, xx; Selby, 366, calls it “ecstatic gibberish.”  Zahn, 279, uses almost the same terms, “ecstatic and unintelligible utterances.”  Others who take the ecstatic interpretation of tongues include Raymond Bryan Brown, 363; Connick, 280; Freed, 272; Horton, 65; Koenig, 77, 89; Lohse, 64; Murphy-O’Connor, Doubleday, 140-141; Orr and Walther, 282, 283, 291; Perrin, 103; Pregeant, 361; Price, 807; Rife, 47; Russell D. Snyder, 475-476; Walter, 147; and Martin Israel, Smouldering Fire:  The Work of the Holy Spirit (New York:  Crossroad, 1981), 70.       


[9] Cf. Cartledge, 105. 


[10] Price, 807. 


[11] Metz, 430. 


[12] Zerhusen, “Tongues, Part II.”    


[13] John R. Williams, Renewal Theology:  Systematic Theology from a Charistmatic Perspective, three volumes in one edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan, 1990, 1996), vol. 2, p. 404.


[14] Texts suggested by Robertson, “Tongues Today?” 


[15] Texts suggested by Robertson, “Tongues Today?” also includes 1 Corinthians 4:7, “stewards of the mysteries of God;” how could they be a “steward” of it, if they didn’t know the substance of those “mysteries?”  He also utilizes 1 Corinthians 2:1, which in [Page 126]   whatever translation he relies upon, utilizes the phrase “the mystery of God,” a rendering found or implied in few other versions.  He provides a useful presentation of many other relevant passages in this regard as well.   


[16] Zerhusen, “Tongues, Part II.”    


[17] Howard, 108.   


[18] Parry, 150, correctly takes this to be an “illustration from foreign languages.”  Yet he believes that, at a minimum, the bulk of tongue speaking was “ordinarily unintelligible” (149), statements which seem to contradict unless one takes the approach that both foreign languages and ecstatic tongues are under consideration in the chapter.


[19] Kugelman, 272, who sees the instrument reference as an indication the tongues were incoherent and, with the possible interjection of a few genuine words, ecstatic in nature.


[20] Frederick C. Grant, 109, accepts this as a reference to genuine language but holds to the ecstatic nature of the tongue speaking in Corinth.      


[21] Murphy-O’Connor, Doubleday, 146, makes both the quoted identification of the language as that of an invading army and the assertion (in the very following sentence) that this was gibberish, hence precedent for ecstatic tongues.  It might sound like gibberish but it wasn’t such, unlike any genuinely incoherent speech.  Armies can’t function with “communications” being incomprehensible—not and win at least.  The citation rather properly provides evidence for the Pauline understanding of “tongues” as genuine foreign languages.


[22] McFadyen, 196, and Nielen, 275.  


[23] For reasons I do not comprehend, I somehow put this under pro-ecstatic arguments in an earlier draft.  How I made this transposition I have no idea, but it is an effective illustration of a lesson useful in dealing with all commentators, including this one:  we are all human and quite capable of making mistakes.


[24] Selby, 367. 


[25] Tristia V. x. 37f., as quoted by Bruce, Corinthians, 131.  


[26] Orr and Walther, 280, hold to the ecstatic interpretation and concede that they do not understand what Paul has in mind.  Zerhusen, “Tongues, Part II,” introduces this ability to differentiate into “types” as an argument against the ecstatic approach. 


[27] Cf. Zerhusen, “Tongues, Part II.”


[28] Cf. Bridges, 91.        

[Page 127]

[29] Zerhusen, “Tongues, Part II.” 


[30] Holl, 21, argues--oddly, in our judgment--that there is no textual evidence of what the author of Acts meant by the phenomena.  Gettys, 104, hedges as to how the Pentecost phenomena was intended to be interpreted:  on the one hand he calls it “a form of ecstatic utterance” (which suggests gibberish and non-sense language), yet on the other he describes it as utilized by the kind of person who “seemed to have a power to speak in a dialect or tongue not natively his own.”   


[31] Wayne A. Grudem, Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan, 1999), 422.


[32] Moule, Holy Spirit, 87-88 concedes a literal original intention but, while hedging his language, seems to find this approach the preferable one for the modern age.


[33] Raymond Bryan Brown, 376, who adds that it could also have involved both elements.  Brauch, 160, takes the same approach.  Talbert, 89, believes it was exclusively a miracle of hearing in a person’s own language.


[34] For a negative evaluation of additional arguments against both Corinthian and Pentecost tongues being the same basic gift of speaking in knowable foreign languages, see Mare, 262-263. 


[35] Raymond Bryan Brown, 376.


[36] Zaspel, Fred.  “Chapter 15:  Prophets & Prophecy” of Spiritual Gifts.  1996.  At: [January 2011]. 


[37] Muhlen, 149, though quoting the text from a different translation.


[38] Watson, Ray.  “Singing in Tongues—Why Do You Sing in Tongues in Worship?”  At:  [January 2011].  This view is quite common.  To give but one other example, Feeney, Jim.  “Why Speak in Tongues?  (Is Speaking in Tongues of God?  Is It for Today?)”  At:  [January 2010.]


[39] Lipscomb and Shepherd, 208; Zerr, 33. 


[40] For the argument that the “spiritual songs” Paul encourages in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 are Holy Spirit inspired “tongues” songs, see John R. Williams, vol. 2, p. 404.  Of course even Spirit inspired songs could—like prophesying—be in the vernacular.  Indeed, since the songs were intended for use by one and all, one would be startled if they were (often) anything else.


[Page 128]   [41] Bratcher, Guide, 134.  


[42] Ibid. 


[43] Mare, 273. 


[44] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 91.


[45] Warren, Tony B.  “What Does ‘Amen’ Mean?”  July 2003.  At:  http://www.  [January 2011].


[46] Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus through the Centuries:  His Place in the History of Culture  ([N.p.]:  Yale University Press, 1985, 1999), 14.


[47] Ibid., 15.


[48] As quoted by Ibid., 14.


[49] As quoted by Ibid. 


[50] For a critique of the view that we should put the interpretive gloss “Jewish unbelievers” on this, see Thomas R. Edgar, Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Kregel Resources, 1996), 184-186.


[51] Ibid., 184.


[52] John R. Williams, vol. 2, p. 400.


[53] Grosheide, 332. 


[54] Grudem, Prophecy (Revised Edition.  Wheaton, Illinois:  Crossway Books, 2000), 153  The example he gives is one where the message is in a contemporary non-charismatic Baptist congregation where the speaker feels impelled to say something not originally intended for his message.  It is not explicitly addressed to a specific individual but the message so clearly fits him (someone has walked out on his family)—and by probability alone no one else in the audience—that the guilty one is moved to repent.


[55] Ibid., 152-153.


[56] Parry, 156.         


[57] Chester, 119.


[Page 129]   [58] Timothy Ashworth, Paul’s Necessary Sin:  The Experience of Liberation (Burlington, Vermont:  Ashgate Publishing Company, 2006), 205.

[59] Ralph Brucker, “Observations on the Wirkungsgeschichte of the Septuagint Psalms in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity,” in Septuagint Research:  Issues and Challenges in the Study of the Greek Jewish Scriptures, edited by Wolfgang Kraus and R. Glenn Wooden (Atlanta, Georgia:  Society of Biblical Literature, 2006), n. 28, p. 362, argues it could refer to either these traditional psalms or “newly written psalms.”


[60] Adela Y. Collins, “The Psalms and the Origins of Christology,” in Psalms in Community:  Jewish and Christian Textual, Liturgical, and Artistic Traditions, edited by Harold W. Attridge and Margot E. Fassler (Atlanta, Georgia:  Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 113.


[61] Nielen, 284, and Abraham Kuyper, Our Worship, translated from the 1911 Dutch edition by Harry Boonstra (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 79.


[62] Adela Y. Collins, 113.


[63] See the extended quote from On the Contemplative Life in Ibid, 114.


[64] Bruce, Answers, 99.


[65] Grosheide, 335. 


[66] Raymond Bryan Brown, 381.      


[67] Frederick J. Cwiekowski, The Beginnings of the Church (Mahwah, New Jersey:  Paulist Press, 1988), 127.


[68] John W. Keddie, Sing the Lord’s Song:  Biblical Psalms in Worship (Pittsburg, Pennsylvania:  Crown & Covenant Publications, 2003), 31-34.


[69] Adela Y. Collins, 113.


[70] Ibid., 113.  Whether this is or is not the exact point she is driving at in her amplifying remarks, it would certainly seem one inescapable implication of it. 

[71] Robert Jewett, Paul, the Apostle to America:  Cultural Trends and Pauline Scholarship (Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), 117.


[72] Wayne Jackson, “1 Corinthians 14:26—Presentation Worship.”  Part of the Christian Courier website.  At: [January 2011].

[Page 130]

[73] Wayne Jackson, “Are Choirs and Solos Authorized for the Church Assembly?”  Part of the Christian Courier website.  At: [January 2011].


[74] Jackson, “Choirs and Solos?”


[75] Ibid.


[76] Cf. Andrew Wilson, “1 Corinthians 14:26—Participation and Edification.”  Part of the Participatory Church Gatherings website.  At:  http://www.participatorychurch [January 2011].


[77] Ibid.


[78] Lenski, 611; Lipscomb and Shepherd, 214.


[79] Hargreaves, 182, and Moule, Holy Spirit, 63.


[80] Grosheide, 338.; Zerr, 34-35. 


[81] Jewett, 119.


[82] As suggested by Bruce, Corinthians, 134, and Grosheide, 338.  


[83] James D. G. Dunn, The Christ and the Spirit:  Pneumatology (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 70.


[84] For quotations and citations, see Kell, 27-28.


[85] Ken Crause, Praying with Purpose and Power ([N.p.]:  Xulon Press,  2007), 104.


[86] Robert A. Rorey, The Bible, Natural Theology and Natural Law:  Conflict or Compromise?  (Millerstown, Pennsylvania:  Christian Scholars Press, 2010), 6-7.


[87] Orr and Walther, 311, and Walter, 153.


[88] Bruce, Corinthians, 134-135, and Elmer H. Zaugg, A Genetic Study of the Spirit-Phenomena in the New Testament (Doctoral dissertation; Chicago, Illinois:  University of Chicago Libraries, 1917), 53.


[89] Sam Storms, The Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts (Ventura, California:  Regal Books, 2002), 95.


[Page 131]   [90] Kell, 36.


[91] Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, 527.


[92] Kell, 36.


[93] Cf. Jewett, 117.


[94] Ibid., 118.


[95] Ibid., 119.


[96] Getty, 1128.


[97] Storms, 95.


[98] Leonard L. Thompson, “Spirit Possession:  Revelation in Religious Studies,” in  Reading the Book of Revelation:  A Resource for Students, edited by David L. Barr (Atlanta, Georgia:  Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 140.  Note his downplaying of the possibility of God’s Spirit objectively being present by making the means of “revelation” seemingly parallel to that of Homer and Virgil and even Einstein (141).  Shall I mention the apparently intended “parallel” to Dizzy Gillespie’s inspiration? (141).


[99] Gerhard Maier, Biblical Hermeneutics, translated by Robert Yarbrough (Wheaton, Illinois:  Crossway Books, 1994), 93.


[100] Paul Hughes, Christ in Us:  The Exalted Christ and the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Liberty, Texas:  [N.p.], 2006), 51.


[101] Moses Stuart, A Commentary on the Apocalypse (Andover:  Allan, Morrill, and Wardwell, 1845), vol. 1, p. 168.


[102] E. Earle Ellis, Prophecy, 30-31.


[103] Ibid., 32-33, introduces the idea of revelatory angels and the parallel he sees to the concept in Qumran as a possible interpretive framework for 14:32.  On the same theme, E. Earle Ellis, “Prophecy in the New Testament Church—and Today,” in Prophetic Vocation in the New Testament, edited by J. Panagopoulos (Leiden, Netherlands:  E. J. Brill, 1977), 50.


[104] Ibid., “Prophecy,” 50.


[105] In effect this seems to be the view of Grudem, Gift, Revised Edition, 97-98.


[106] This appears to be the thrust of Ibid., 97.

[Page 132]

[107] Ibid.


[108] C. K. Robertson, 71-73.  Some, however, argue for a uniform practice, at least in Judaism.  Richard Boldrey and Joyce Boldrey, 62, contend that women teachers were incompatible with Jewish custom and therefore Paul prohibited it.  If Paul could argue that they needed to avoid behavior that would be repulsive to their polytheist neighbors (14:23), there seems no particular reason he would have avoided an indication that his concern was with how outside Jewish traditionalists would react.  Surely they would have been of just as much concern!  Furthermore, there really is precious little on which to hang the premise that the Corinthian church had a substantial Jewish minority.


[109] Boiled down to its essence, this is the argument of Walter A. Maier, “1 Corinthians 14:33b-38.”


[110] Ibid.


[111] Ibid.


[112] For the case that wives are the specific “women” under consideration see Orr and Walther, 312-313; cf. Parry, 159. 


[113]Kistemaker, Exposition, 513-514.

[114]Thiselton, 1158-1161.

[115] Wayne A. Grudem, Evangelical Feminism:  A New Road to Liberalism? (Wheaton, Illinois:  Crossway Books, 2006), 161.


[116] Ibid., 160-161.


[117] Ibid., 161.


[118] Ibid.


[119] Because of the non-married women mentioned in chapter 7, Sawicki, 49, regards the instruction to ask one’s spouse to be a rather “curious” assertion.  Not so curious, however, if married couples were the prevalent case.    


[120] Walter A. Maier, “1 Corinthians 14:33b-38.” 


[121] Grosheide, 343. 

[122] Lenski, 618. 


[Page 133]   [123] Cf. Barclay, 151-152. 


[124] As noted by John M. Hicks, “Women in the Assembly (First Corinthians 14:33-35).”  Institute for Biblical Research Regional Meeting, Jackson, Mississippi, December 1990.  At: (unnumbered pages) [January 2011].


[125] Ibid.


[126] For the full quote see Kovacs, 239-240.


[127] One has far more room to argue in regard to whether there were “deaconesses” as well as “deacons,” though there would still be the important matter of whether the terms manifest de facto descriptions of a pious woman’s work or de jure descriptions referring to a formal church office. 

The picture is further complicated by the modern inclination to look upon “deacon” as a formal church position rather than as a service to the membership.  A “deacon” was “a servant;” “a servant” is—in the strict sense—not a post of “instruction giving” (i.e., authority) but of instruction “carrying out.”  (Yes, in practice there is an overlap caused by the fact that “carrying out” can mean “giving instructions” in order to carry out their commission.  But wise and successful “servants” in all ages have known that there were still distinct differences in the two roles.)  For an interesting critique of “deacons” as “office holders” from what appears to be a Baptist perspective, see Cooper P. Abrams III, “A Biblical Look at Deacons.”  Dated 1998, 2009.  Part of the Bible Truth web site. At:  [May 2011.]


[128] For example, Sampley, 79.

[129] Grosheide, 251, 341. 

[130] For a consideration of evidence of women prophesying outside both the family and church contexts see Grosheide, 251-253. 


[131] Kummel, 203.  Bruce, Corinthians, 135-135, takes the approach that disruptive behavior is in mind, but concedes that some of Paul’s wording is incompatible with that being all that was involved in his prohibition.   Ralph P. Martin, Spirit, 86-88, believes it applies specifically to this and miraculous speaking in tongues. 


[132] Metz, 454. 


[133] Raymond Bryan Brown, 382.        


[134] Brauch, 169-171. 

[135] Ibid., 171.      

[Page 134][136] Thrall, 102.  Cf. Gromacki, Called, 178.         

[137] Bristow, 62.  Also see Quast, 186.  Wilfred L. Knox, n. 16, p. 323, disputes the premise, arguing that “the word . . . has lost its sense of ‘chattering’ in New Testament Greek as it is clear from its use in verses 1-6, 19, where it is used of prophesying; consequently it is impossible to hold that Saint Paul intends to forbid women to talk in Church; the prohibition clearly refers to public speaking.”         


[138] Bristow, 62.


[139] Ibid., 63-64.


[140] For a strong argument that since the same word is not used in this sense in its multiple occurrences in this chapter, that it is highly questionable to do so in the current text, see Barrett, Corinthians, 332.   


[141] Pregeant, 363, emphasizes it by stating that “many scholars” take this approach.  The expression is repeated on page 368.  Specific examples of such scholars include Bassler, 328; Conzelmann, 246; Schenlle, 65-66; and Graydon F. Snyder, 185.  For a fine essay defending the interpolation scenario (and rebuttals to criticisms of the scenario) see Phil Payne, “Is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 an Interpolation?”  Summary with link to download of full essay text on the Evangelical Textual Criticism website.  At:  http://evangelical [January 2010]. 


[142] Murphy-O’Connor, Message, 133.    Cf. Flanagan, 80-81.       


[143] Eriksson, 202.  


[144] Hicks, “Women in the Assembly.” 


[145] Murphy-O’Connor, Message, 133, adopting the view of Antoinette Wire.  


[146] Bridges, 133, Polhill, 249, and Scott G. Sinclair, Jesus Christ According to Paul:  The Christologies of Paul’s Undisputed Epistles and the Christology of Paul (Berkeley, California:  BIBAL Press, 1988), 71.


[147] Bridges, 139.   


[148] Cf. the summary of such texts in Flanagan, 80-81.   


[149] For a detailed summary of this approach, see Flanagan, 81-82.  Those who take this approach include Peter F. Ellis, 103, and Getty, 1129.  Murphy-O’Connor, Doubleday, 152, suspects that this was the case.  Note that this represents a shift from his earlier view (see above) that the verses were originally an interpolation.  Now he accepts that they were genuine (151).

[Page 135]

[150] Hicks, “Women in the Assembly.” 


[151] Summary from an individual who is open to women preachers but regards this view as weak: Hicks, “Women in the Assembly.”


[152] Ibid.