Paul 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. Continue reading
(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. Continue reading
(1Co 14:21-24 NRS) 21 In the law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people; yet even then they will not listen to me,” says the Lord. 22 Tongues, then, are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if all prophesy, an unbeliever or outsider who enters is reproved by all and called to account by all.
Paul’s argument is that tongues do not edify the saved. But he just said that tongues are inappropriate in the assembly because of how the lost might react. And so, outside the assembly, evidently tongues are a “sign” for unbelievers. How can this be? Continue reading
(1Co 14:16-17 ESV) 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit [NIV/NASB: “in the S/spirit”], how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up.
“Give thanks with your spirit” seems to mean “Give thanks while speaking in tongues.” And while it seems clear, as discussed in prior posts of this series, that the speaker does not know what words he is saying — or else why would Paul urge the tongue-speaker to pray for the gift of interpretation? — nonetheless, the tongues express the heart of the speaker. How else could Paul say “you may be giving thanks well enough”? Continue reading
Spirit or spirit?
Paul next addresses the contrast between a tongue speaker’s spirit (or Spirit) and his mind —
(1Co 14:14-15 ESV) 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
By “spirit” here, I think Paul does not mean the inner man or our emotional side. Rather, “my spirit” refers to the presence of the Spirit in Paul. See BDAG “pneuma.” Continue reading