1 Corinthians 14:23-25 (each one has a gift)

spiritual gifts

“Prophecy”

(1Co 14:23-25 ESV) 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

To me, the really interesting part of this passage is not the ban on tongue-speaking in the assembly (unless an interpreter is present), but the insight it provides into the nature of prophecy in the Corinthian church. Evidently, in that congregation, prophecy was not so much about knowing the future as knowing the secrets of someone else’s heart.

Obviously, we have in Acts the example of Agabus, a prophet with knowledge of the future, but that hardly means that all persons called “prophet” had the same sort of prophetic gift.

As we’ve seen in earlier posts, the OT calls “prophecy” not only those messages from God destined to become part of scripture, but all sorts of other Spirit-driven utterances. And sometimes the term clearly refers to ecstatic speech, as in Num 11 and 1 Sam 10. In Acts, there is something about the speech of certain converts immediately after baptism that identified their speech as “prophecy” — although Luke records nothing that was said. Clearly, it’s a mistake to assume that all prophecy is of the same nature as scripture — and 1 Cor 14:24-25 gives a great example of what a prophet might be gifted to do that has nothing to do with doctrine or inscripturization.

But we can see this just from the fact that Paul had to write 1 Corinthians to the church in Corinth despite the fact that the church was filled with prophets. Obviously, these prophets weren’t gifted to give the kind of instruction Paul gives in his letter. And so we really need to stop teaching that God gave the church prophets to provide the church with the same knowledge as is now provided by the NT. It’s just not true. If it were true, most of the NT never would have been written.

Of course, some men were prophets with the gift to write scripture — which is why we have scripture from non-apostles, such as Luke. But “prophecy” covered a wide range of spiritual gifts, and the only prophetic gift that we clearly find in Corinth is the ability to know someone else’s heart — much as Jesus knew the history and heart of the Samaritan woman in John 4.

The visitor

Again we see Paul being very concerned with the impression left on visitors. The goal insofar as visitors are concerned is for them to “worship God and declare that God is really among you.” And we don’t need the gift of prophecy for visitors to perceive the presence of God in the Christian assembly. On the other hand, neither should we assume that visitors will recognize God among us regardless of how we behave.

And so it’s worth pondering: How in the present age should a church display God’s presence in the assembly?

“Each one …”

(1Co 14:26 ESV)  26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 

In my experience, there are two takes on this passage popular in the blogosphere:

* Some argue from this for spontaneous worship. Each member is free to speak, lead a prayer, give a brief talk, or lead a song as the Spirit moves him. There is no planning and no “order of worship.” And many readers here have experienced just such services and found them very moving.

My church has actually experimented with this many years ago — when we were much smaller. The risk you take is that someone gets up and does something just dreadful and embarrassing, of course, but then again, I’ve seen some pretty dreadful leading by paid professionals.

Nonetheless, it’s an idea well worth experimenting with in the right setting. But we should not make the mistake of taking this as a “binding example” and insisting that things must be done this way. There is no such doctrine in the Bible.

* Others argue that this is actually a criticism by Paul of the selfishness of the Corinthians. “Let all things be done for building up” is read as a rebuke against each person doing his own thing.

And grammatically and contextually, it’s hard to say such a reading is impossible — which is another reason not to insist on spontaneous worship as the only right way. It’s not even clear that Paul is describing something that he favors.

One commentary rejects the notion that Paul is suggesting that the Spirit prompts the worship entirely during the assembly.

That each one has one of those things seems to suggest they bring them to the gathering, rather than that they receive them during the meeting.

Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 710.

In fact, I just checked six premier commentaries, and not a one agrees with either of the above theories. Rather, all conclude that Paul is speaking about inclusiveness. The assembly should include participation by the members according to their giftedness. After all, the subject here is spiritual gifts.

The commentators are careful to point out that Paul is not requiring that literally everyone participate in a leadership role, but that participation be broadly based, using the gifts God has given them, but only in a way that is truly edifying — as he’ll explain in the next few verses. The idea is that the church assembles so that the wide ranging gifts of the Spirit may be shared for mutual edification.

Now, at this point I have to point out a parallel passage, often ignored in discussions of the assembly —

(Heb 10:23-25 ESV)  23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering [without turning to the side], for he who promised is faithful.  24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 

The author’s point is that, because we can fall away (10:26 ff), we must hold fast to our faith. To do this, we must stir up (the Greek can be used of provoking, even irritating, someone) each other “to love and good works” — which is why we must be diligent in meeting together. Our meetings are to be encouragements to remain true to Jesus until the end.

In other words, rather than “edification,” the author of Hebrews speaks of “encouragement” and stirring up to love and good works — which are, of course, examples of edification. Remember: edification is about becoming like Jesus, and so love and good works are surely at the core the concept.

I said all that to say this: the verb is active, not passive. We don’t consider how to be encouraged or how to be stirred up. Our task is to reflect on how we might encourage others so that the others love and do good works. We attend the assembly to edify others, not to seek edification from others. It’s not about being “fed” but feeding others. It’s not about leaving having been encouraged but leaving having encouraged.

And every church I’ve ever attended has a few members who are powerfully gifted in this way, and I suspect that they are the ones who leave most encouraged — because there is nothing more encouraging than thinking about others. We are far, far too self-concerned when it comes to the assembly. And our self-indulgence discourages us, because the path to happiness is not found in self-indulgence.

Paul’s statement that “each one has …” tells us that Paul expects the members to come prepared to provide something for the edification of others. And while our modern assemblies are not all that participatory, the fact is that much of the most important encouragement in church happens in the aisles, not from the pulpit. It’s those invitations to lunch, to join a small group, to help with the soup kitchen, to host a shower, to visit the hospital, and on and on that the assembly is really all about. This is where we learn to follow Jesus. This is how we encourage our brothers and sisters to love and do good works. It’s not about taking turns at the microphone nearly so much as inviting new and old, young and aged, to participate in the Kingdom work of the church. Even if the sermon is boring and songs are led too slowly.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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10 Responses to 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 (each one has a gift)

  1. Jay wrote: “sometimes the term clearly refers to ecstatic speech, as in Num 11 and 1 Sam 10”

    Jay, what do you mean exactly by “ecstatic speech” and what in these two passages leads you to conclude that the prophesying is ecstatic speech?

  2. Dwight says:

    Yes, Num.11:25 “Then the Lord came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they never did so again.” I Sam.10:10 “When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.” There is no indication that it was jibberish or ecstatic speech, but rather prophecy. The word “naba” or prophecy is used in these as prophecy in every other piece of scripture without implying or stating that it was not understandable speech.
    Paul makes the link between “speaking in tongues” and “languages in the world”, so it must not be jibberish either, but languages that are real as spoken elsewhere. I Cor. 14 never makes the case for estatic speech and it never even argues that the interpretor is gifted either, so the interpretor must be someone that actually knows the language and can tell others what is said.

  3. Jay Guin says:

    Eddie asked,

    what in these two passages leads you to conclude that the prophesying is ecstatic speech?

    (1Sa 10:5-6 ESV) 5 After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, where there is a garrison of the Philistines. And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. 6 Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.

    How was Saul to tell that the group of prophets were “prophesying”? Did they speak in iambic pentameter? What was it about their speech in the presence of musical instruments that would indicate prophecy?

    What does “rush upon you” mean?

    WHat does “turned into another man” mean?

    Most commentators, quite sensibly, take these passages to refer to ecstatic speech.

    (1Sa 10:10-11 ESV) 10 When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. 11 And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”

    Again, what was Saul doing that made him appear to be a prophet? It’s unlikely that he was penning scripture. There something about his behavior that indicated prophecy.

    I should have added 1 Sam 19 —

    (1Sa 19:18-24 ESV) Now David fled and escaped, and he came to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and lived at Naioth. 19 And it was told Saul, “Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah.” 20 Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. 21 When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied. 22 Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” 23 And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. 24 And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

    There’s something about stripping oneself naked while “prophesying” that surely indicates ecstatic speech.

    Finally, Saul must go himself (v. 22); no one can do his dirty work for him. Before he even reaches the place where David and Samuel are, he is also seized by the Spirit of God (v. 23). He falls into the same ecstatic frenzy as the others while apparently continuing to Naioth in Ramah.

    Bruce C. Birch, “The First and Second Books of Samuel,” in Numbers-2 Samuel (vol. 2 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 1128.

    Num 10 describes God giving the Spirit to the 70 men appointed to be judges.

    (Num 11:26-29 ESV) Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

    What was it about their speech that seemed to be prophecy to those who heard? If they were just preaching or encouraging, it’s unlikely anyone would have called it “prophecy” or asked them to stop. In fact, it appears to have been fearsome to those who saw it.

    In any case, the text clearly states that they were not at the tent of meeting outside the camp but within the camp. The Spirit of God spilled out upon them, causing the two to go into ecstatic frenzy like the seventy elders. Eldad and Medad represent the unpredictable side of charismatic leadership and hence a challenge to the orderly control of the spirit of Moses in vv. 24–25.

    Thomas B. Dozeman, “The Book of Numbers,” in Numbers-2 Samuel (vol. 2 of New Interpreters Bible, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 107.

    “Ecstatic” is defined in Dictionary.com as follows:

    adjective
    1.
    of, relating to, or characterized by ecstasy or a state of sudden, intense, overpowering emotion: an ecstatic frenzy;
    ecstatic cheering for the winning team.
    2.
    subject to or in a state of ecstasy; full of joy; rapturous:
    They are absolutely ecstatic about their new baby.

    We in the Churches of Christ have a marked bias toward the purely rational. But the OT gives a history of prophecy that indicates that prophecy sometimes comes in the form of ecstatic speech. And it seems most likely that the speaking in tongues and prophesying we read about for the newly baptized in Acts was ecstatic, too — or how else would the witnesses recognize the speech as “prophecy”? What was it about someone talking when they came out of the water that marked their speech as prophecy?

    The content of their speech is never recorded. It’s unlikely that they were predicting the future. It’s far more likely to have been in some sense ecstatic.

  4. Larry Cheek says:

    Why would we not believe that Satan could also duplicate this undetermined, void of understanding speech?

  5. Price says:

    Jay… some were gifted to know the future like Agabus.. Some were gifted to know the secrets of a person’s heart that only God would know and be able to share… How many different variations of that could God come up with to use for his glory and for the uplifting of the saints ? Untold would be my guess.. I think it’s a mistake to try and categorize prophesy into little segments of possibility and say that “obviously” this or that.. Not sure it’s so obvious.

    What makes Luke a prophet ? That he wrote down what he remembered ? Matthew ?

    Paul confirmed his authority to speak what God had told him to speak by confirming miracles. In fact he said this… “and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, [1Co 2:4 ESV] so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. [1Co 2:5 ESV]

    Peter and John heal a lame man since birth (Acts 3)… It seems that those that were gifted to speak and give divine instructions from God were able to do miracles to confirm it..

    It seems the prophesy going on in the Corinthian church was personal and perhaps local.. Not for world wide consumption.. It is informative and instructional.. It is not inscripturation for all man kind.

    I understand your concern about jibberish being accepted as some form of divine speech.. Although I’ve been wrong in the past about miracles and gifts in general I too have some difficulty with it. However, “estatic speech” whatever that was, seemed to be something that was similar in the other known prophets. It would seem strange that it would mean speaking in jibberish unless it was similar jibberish to the other prophets.. Perhaps the Hebrew isn’t as clear as it might be. But whatever it was, it seemed to be a clear indication of being filled with the Holy Spirit for prophetic purposes..

    My guess is that within the churches of Christ there are scant few who could teach on this subject from an experiential point of view. Probably less who would do it if they could. What can be learned about it is far more in the experience than in an academic review… It seems interesting to me that we WANT to discuss it.. It’s very much a part of the NT, especially Paul’s writings but who can teach from experience ? Could you name a person, if you wanted to, that was a long time member of the CoC who was known to have the gift of prophesy ?

  6. Jay Guin says:

    Price wrote,

    I understand your concern about jibberish being accepted as some form of divine speech.. Although I’ve been wrong in the past about miracles and gifts in general I too have some difficulty with it. However, “estatic speech” whatever that was, seemed to be something that was similar in the other known prophets. It would seem strange that it would mean speaking in jibberish unless it was similar jibberish to the other prophets.. Perhaps the Hebrew isn’t as clear as it might be. But whatever it was, it seemed to be a clear indication of being filled with the Holy Spirit for prophetic purposes.

    Not sure whether or not we agree.

    I think it’s clear in the OT and Acts that some speech called “prophecy” or “tongues” was in some sense ecstatic — clearly not ordinary speech. It could even take control of a person so much that they had no choice put to “prophesy.” 1 Sam 19 is the clearest but not the only example.

    I think it’s clear that many different kinds of speech were called “prophecy,” from ecstatic utterance to the composition of Genesis and Revelation. “Prophecy” can be what became scripture, or predicting the future as Agabus did, or knowing someone’s life as Jesus did, or speaking in tongues or other ecstatic speech, as the converts in Acts often did, or preaching the gospel, as the apostles did, or writing Isaiah, as Isaiah did. In any event, it’s Spirit-activated and -driven speech, and there’s something about it that’s very nearly self-authenticating. People who hear it recognize it as from God and as “prophecy.”

    Could jibberish be divine speech? Well, divine speech could certainly be heard as jibberish — by people speaking another language or because God is causing this person to speak in the tongues of angels — which I take to be metaphorical but doesn’t have to be. I don’t have any reason to care either way. If God wants his people to express their innermost feelings in a form of speech that requires an interpreter, how is it my business to complain? But I do think that all prophecy should be interpretable, because this seems to be Paul’s position in 1 Cor 14. He never takes up the case of tongues or prophecy that has no meaning.

    I guess my point is that it’s not our place to limit how God gifts people just so God will act within our comfort zone. My experience is that God prefers to kick us out of our comfort zones and surprise us. And so I have no reason to assume that God will only act in ways that suit my personal preferences.

    I don’t see the point of the modern tongues movement, and have no interest in experiencing such a thing. But that’s me, and there are people for whom tongues is a profound, deeply moving spiritual experience. And if God chooses to bless them that way, why would I complain?

    On the other hand, any fake gifting is of concern. We should discern the spirits. We’re commanded to do so. Spiritual gifts can be faked. But I say that because the Bible says that; not because I want to push a particular outcome.

    Anyone in the CoC known to be a prophet? Not generally. No. Do I know preachers and elders who speak in tongues in private? Yes, I do. I suspect we have quite a few closet tongue speakers among us, and I’m more concerned that they feel the need to be closeted than that they speak in tongues. I think brothers and sisters should love each other enough that they can be honest with each other.

  7. Price says:

    Jay… I think brothers and sister should love each other enough that they can be honest with each other”.. yep.. couldn’t agree more.. Would like to have a recording of “ecstatic speech” but I guess we’ll just have to get the DVD in heaven… To me it would be odd to think that a prophet of God would break off into some bizarre action for which there was seemingly no benefit to anyone other than to recognize them as one doing what other prophets occasionally did.. but what do I know.

  8. Larry Cheek says:

    All the people that I have encountered who claimed the abilities to perform speaking in tongues or ecstatic speech were obviously involved in creating a profile for themselves that is closer to or above the average believer in God.
    I guess I really have not encountered a place in scriptures which has identified this ecstatic speech.

  9. Dwight says:

    From my understanding of I Cor.14 the gift of tongues was different than the gift of prophecy. One could understand prophecy, which is why a interpreter wasn’t needed for it. Speaking tongues needed a interpreter. Also speaking in tongues doesn’t indicate that prophecy was going on. The one speaking on tongues was told to keep quite if there was no one to interpret. From what I understand speaking in tongue offered the ability to speak in a tongue not native to the speaker, which would require a interpreter, who need not be inspired.
    One interesting thing is that we don’t hear of speaking in tongues in the OT, probably due to the fact they spoke and wrote the same language, Hebrew or another semetic language. But we do hear of prophecy and this prophecy was understood by all and didn’t require an interpreter.
    I also do not understand any of the speaking in tongues in the NT or prophecy in the NT or OT to be “ecstatic” in nature.

  10. R.J. says:

    I don’t think we are to exasperate others in coercing them to do good(the Boston Movement was notorious for doing this). Rather I think this word(when used positively) has prepping and stirring involved.

    Also the term is a Genitive Noun. Meaning we’re not to do the “paroxysm” but to “Consider one another unto(with a view towards) outbursts of love and goods deeds”.

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