1 Corinthians 14:27-33a (the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets)

spiritual giftsPaul now begins a series of instructions on how spiritual gifts should be used in the assembly —

(1Co 14:27-28 ESV) 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.

First, with regard to tongues, he insists that an interpreter be present, that the speakers take turns, and that no more than two or three tongue-speakers speak. Obviously, Paul is being very practical here. It’s not that there is some profound theological reason limiting the number of speakers in an assembly to three. Rather, Paul simply thinks that in that congregation and in that culture more tongue-speaking would not be edifying, and it’s easy to see his point.

(1Co 14:29-33a ESV)  29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.  30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.  31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged,  32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.  33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

As to prophecy, the instructions are very similar. Do not interrupt each other. No more than two or three per assembly. If the Spirit moves a prophet to speak, then whoever had been speaking should yield the floor.

Paul then insists that the prophets (and presumably the tongue speakers) are able to control themselves. “The spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.” In other words, don’t bother arguing that you were rude and went beyond Paul’s guidelines because the Spirit made you do it.

Rarely commented on is the phrase in v. 29 “let the others weigh [pass judgment] on what is said.” “Weigh” does not mean merely to reflect or think about. The sense of the Greek is to pass judgment on what is being said. In other words, don’t assume that all that is spoken in the name of prophecy is truly from God. The other prophets should judge the validity of the message. This is the same message as —

(1Jo 4:1 ESV) Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

We are not allowed to be naive. We cannot accept as true all that is credited to the Spirit.

(1Co 14:37-40 ESV) 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.  38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.  39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.  40 But all things should be done decently and in order. 

You’ll notice that I’ve skipped the passage on the role of women. We’ll come back to it. For now, notice how well these verses fit immediately after v. 33a. The lessons on women are generally applicable, but Paul reverts here to addressing only those who consider themselves prophets or “spiritual.” “Spiritual” translates pneumatikos, meaning driven or activated by the Spirit, rather than “concerned about religion.” Paul is saying that if you claim your behavior is Spirit-driven, then surely the Spirit will help you see the rightness of Paul’s words.

The NRSV translation places 14:33b-36 in parentheses, as an interjected thought on a different subject, which seems right.  This passage does not really fit in Paul’s flow of thought in this location.

And so this tells us what Paul means by “decently and in order.” It does not mean “very formally” or “with great solemnity.” Plainly, Paul’s real point is that the assembly should be conducted in a manner that edifies, and edification requires that we not allow chaos to govern our services. Interrupting a brother to show off one’s gifts or refusing to control one’s gift for the benefit of those present does not demonstrate that the Spirit works powerfully within you. It demonstrates that you are rude.

We err when we imagine that our assemblies are acceptable to God based primarily on whether we conducted them decently and in order. It’s a standard we ought to meet, but it’s a very low standard. The point is to avoid chaos and rudeness. We should strive for a much higher standard: that our services edify, that is, that they build up the body to better follow Jesus.

Therefore, rather than concluding an assembly with a prayer that our worship has been done decently and in order, we’d do better to pray that we leave the service better able to live the life that Jesus lived.

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 14:27-33a (the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets)

  1. Jim H says:

    Great series. An interesting read: Cane Ridge:America’s Pentecost, by Paul K Conkin

  2. Larry Cheek says:

    Amen, Amen, Amen. Sooo many of those who claim the ability to speak in tongues also testify that they had no control, the Spirit had taken them over exclusively. I personally believe that a person looking for that kind of event will definitely find it, God promised that they could.

  3. laymond says:

    Larry, you have got to be kidding.

    Gen 11:1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
    Gen 11:7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
    Psa 55:9 Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues: for I have seen violence and strife in the city.
    Isa 66:18 For I know their works and their thoughts: it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory.
    (tongues in the Old Testament simply meant different languages )

    Act 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
    And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
    (Surely Jesus would not sent the apostles on their mission unprepared to speak to the people)

    No the ” unknown tongue ” is not necessary any longer.(to spread the gospel) when some one claims this god given power ask how long they studied to receive it.

    Act 2:5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
    Act 2:6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.

    Yes the apostles, and prophets spoke in foreign tongues, but not “unknown” .

  4. Larry Cheek says:

    It is apparent that you did not understand that I was addressing Jay’s post. Specifically the portion that discusses the control that the individual has over the Spirit in opposition to the Spirit totally controlling the individual.

  5. Dwight says:

    The concept of “decent and in order” is taken way beyond its original intent. Now, assembly worship is highly structured with tight control. Hardly organic and fluid and natural.
    The standard for worship is John 4:20-24 “spirit and in truth”. There are no other places in the scripture where a certain way of worship is commanded in at certain way in a certain place at a certain time . There are examples, but no commands. We are the Temple of God, priest and a living sacrifice and God lives in us, so we are a living, breathing movable center of worship capable of worship anywhere, anytime in any way we choose, be it praying, singing, feast, Sabbath, etc. The only requirement is that it is to God and from our hearts.

  6. laymond says:

    You are right Larry, I did misunderstand what you were saying. Just because you are a prophet, does not mean you don’t have “Free Will”.

  7. Jay’s observations are part of real life today in the portions of the church where the spiritual gifts are not rejected. Yes, the exercise of these gifts do involve the believer who has received them. While I do not generate the words of a prophecy, I certainly have the capacity to stop and wait my turn to speak. Same with speaking in tongues. Those who might claim that they cannot control such utterances (I haven’t met such folks, but I will accept the theory that they exist) simply need to be discipled and taught about such things. This really is not much of a problem. It’s mostly just immaturity, a disease which is imminently treatable.

    I appreciate Jay bringing up “judging” words of prophecy. It is a practice which is often left undone where prophecy is received. In my experience, we hear prophecies offered which fall into three categories: words from God, words from men, and doctrines of demons. The second category may cause some consternation, but they most resemble some segments of many sermons. That is, they are merely human in origin, but not harmful or antithetical to what God has already revealed. (“Cleanliness is next to godliness” is harmless, but it’s not from the Lord.) Those who in this way say what they think God would say should be taken aside and taught and discipled in discernment. OTOH, those who speak that which opposes the revelation of God are to be corrected on the spot, in the group, so that no harm may come to the hearers. Generally, the best thing is the public concurrence of those who hear the Spirit in the prophecy that comes forth, so that others may place confidence in it.

    I have heard literally hundreds of prophecies live and in person. And as I have been a leader for many years, I have judged many of these words. There have been several occasions where what I heard was just someone’s good intentions and not the Holy Spirit. Those did not receive my “amen” and I have called these speakers aside. When asked, I have said clearly that “I did not hear the Lord in that word.” I will say that in the last twenty-seven years, I have not heard in person a single case where it was clear that the enemy was speaking, claiming to be the Spirit. Not saying it can’t happen, or won’t, but in the context where prophesy serves the church as intended, apparently the enemy does not get much traction here.

  8. Dwight says:

    Charles, prophecy is defined as words from God, technically the prophet is a mouthpeice of God. So if one speaks as a prophet they are speaking as if it was from God. Utterances from man wouldn’t qualify as it would just be from man. But there were false prophets, those that spoke as if from God, but the prophecies did not come true or were against known revelation, but these propbably aren’t where the demons were speaking through the people, but just the people. And yet if Satan is in your heart, you can speak well, but not speak the truth.
    And yet I still have a problem with the question of what is the purpose in prophecy today. It was needed when they didn’t have all of the writings written down and circulated, but we do today and we can study and compare notes. If it is new information, let’s say a person “prophet” says we must fast for 2 hours everyday, are we do this this as a command and if not, then it wasn’t a prophecy. Prophecies of the future never really helped the people at present, so how would that help us now. We have been warned about sin, do we need more warnings?

  9. Dwight, I was simply trying to explain how we deal with prophecy and related issues in the church today. Sorry if I was unclear about it. The members of the Body of Christ continue to need to be edified, and that is the purpose of prophecy, as Paul makes clear. So as the need remains, so does the gift given for that purpose. The idea that having scripture precludes the need for prophecy contradicts the history of “the Law and the prophets”, which indicates no such dichotomy.

    Your idea of “all the writings” is entirely foreign to scripture, even though you speak of it as if it were divine truth. Here, you take an idea from OUTSIDE the writings you consider to be closed, and you present it as though it were part of those writings. This reasoning is entirely oxymoronic.

    The idea that “we can study and compare notes” as a substitute for divine prophecy is extrabiblical. In the face of this clearly flawed reasoning, I hesitate to comment on your speculations. But this idea that “we have been warned about sin, do we need more warnings?” is just silly. God is not a smallpox shot.

  10. Dwight says:

    I would have to disagree Charles, The prophets neither added to or took away from the Law. If you read the writings of the prophets, they basically pronounced judgments and called for repentance and tried to get the people to follow God. During the time of I Cor. the writings were just being written and while there was limited circulation among churches, the individuals didn’t have the copies in their hands, so a reiteration of the gospel was important, but now almost every one has the gospel.
    In regards to “all the writings” we are told that Paul would write a letter to one place and then he might tell them to send it on to another or they might do that anyways, but in between and before that time, they didn’t have his writings. That is all I meant.
    If the scripture isn’t “divine prophecy”, then what are we talking about. We are warned by Paul that if some come in that speak other than what he spoke then it was wrong. He was an appointed apostle of God who spoke by the Holy Spirit about Jesus whom he knew. That is authority.

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