1 Corinthians 14 generates more questions per square inch than just about any other chapter in the New Testament. Here are a few of the questions I have received over the years and the answers I attempted to provide. The questions have been lightly edited for brevity, clarity and confidentiality.
Hey Pastor Paul! In one of your teachings on 1 Corinthians 14 you said something like: “According to the Bible, speaking in tongues in certain contexts is appropriate and good but we don’t do ‘open mic tongue time’ here in our church.” Do you think that tongues is gibberish? Do you think it has any real meaning? I’m just seeking clarification.
Thanks for the great question! The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:
For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:2–4 ESV)
From this we understand that at least one form of the gift of tongues was unintelligible (‘no one understands him’) and therefore not appropriate for use in the public worship services. However, this is not to say that the sound was meaningless. Something can have a meaning that is unintelligible. D.A. Carson makes this point and hypothesizes that tongues may be a type of divine code. Suppose a tongue speaker is given a certain phrase by God that means “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and good will toward men”. Imagine that the message was encoded using the following cipher: 3L x 2 + A repeat. Meaning that you take every third letter into groups of 2 and then add the vowel “a” and then repeat. That would create the following UNINTELLIGIBLE message: “ota nea gsa nna owa wda na”
Therefore my answer to your question is that something can be unintelligible AND have an actual meaning – but such a thing would be unedifying to the gathered church and therefore inadmissible in corporate worship. If you are wondering why God would send an actual message in an unintelligible form, it might be helpful to recall that Paul describes tongues as a prophetic rebuke towards the unbelieving world. It is as though God is saying, “If you won’t believe me when I speak to you plainly then I shall speak to you in code.”
Hope that helps.
Hi Pastor Paul! I have a quick question. Can I receive new spiritual gifts in the future that I do not presently have? The Apostle Paul talks about seeking gifts in 1 Corinthians 14 – what does that mean? Thanks!
The passage you are referring to reads as follows: “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret.” (1 Corinthians 14:12–13 ESV)
In this context Paul was trying to help the Corinthians understand that their primary concern and emphasis needed to be on edification and not on sensational experiences. As such he was wanting them to eagerly desire gifts that edify the body such as prophesy and teaching over and against tongues which edified only the individual and was therefore of lesser value. Leon Morris says:
There was apparently nothing static about possession of the gifts. Anyone who had the gift of tongues need not take that as his end state. He might later receive other gifts, more particularly that of interpretation. He should pray to this end. (Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians; p. 190)
Clearly the Apostle Paul believed that a saved person could receive new gifts later in their spiritual journey. It is probably helpful to notice how Paul suggests that new believers seek after new gifts. He tells them to pray. He does not say: “wait until I come and I shall lay hands on you to give this gift”; neither does he say: “call the elders and have them pray for you”. He just says: “pray”.
That puts the matter firmly in the lap of God. God gives whatever gifts best suit his will for the church at a given time. God is ultimately Sovereign over the gifts – but sometimes we have not because we ask not. Therefore, ask away and be content with whatever God gives or decides to withhold.
I hope that helps!
Hi Pastor Paul! I have a question regarding women preaching from the pulpit. I know the bible says its wrong in 1 Corinthians 14 and I don’t question that authority, I just have always pondered over the reasoning for it. Does it have something to do with the man being the head of his household? This is just something I wish to have more knowledge in as I have heard people say Christianity is sexist because of this and does not treat women as equal partners.
Great question! This comes up a lot nowadays and it probably needs to be taught on far more frequently within the church. The Apostle Paul says a number of things in 1 Corinthians 14 that sound odd to our modern ears but none sounds odder (and more offensive!) than this:
“the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.” (1 Corinthians 14:34–35 ESV)
In 1 Timothy he says something similar:
Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Timothy 2:11-14. NKJV)
What does Paul mean by “keep silent”? Does he mean that a woman can’t say anything at all in church? There are two reasons why I think that isn’t so. Earlier in the chapter Paul said: “if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.” (1 Corinthians 14:28 ESV)
It is obvious that Paul’s definition of “keep silent” in 14:28 means that the tongue speaker is not to speak publicly or “from the pulpit” but rather he may speak “to himself and to God”. To state the obvious then, “keep silent” doesn’t mean “keep absolutely silent” it means “not from the pulpit” or “not for public consumption”.
The second reason I don’t think Paul intends for women to keep absolutely silent in church comes from 1 Corinthians 11.
“every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.” (1 Corinthians 11:5 ESV)
(To read an FAQ explaining Paul’s complicated teaching on head coverings see here).
In chapter 11 Paul assumes that women are praying and prophesying in the public worship services – provided they are dressed modestly and appropriately as women. Therefore, I think we are on firm ground when we conclude that “keep silent” does not mean “keep absolutely silent”. Women might be speaking to God and to themselves and they might be praying and prophesying. What then are they not doing?
The command to “keep silent” in 1 Corinthians 14 is given in the context of delivering and discerning the public doctrine of the church. It seems that Paul envisioned one or two recognized leaders giving a sermon and then a time of “discernment” or “weighing” by “the others” – presumably “other elders and pastors”. Perhaps that discernment might involve a few questions for clarification or simply a spoken “amen” indicating that the sermon given accords with the doctrine of the church. When this is happening (delivering the sermon and discerning the sermon) the women should remain silent. The verb used actually means “stand down”, as in ‘step back and let the men do the job assigned to them’.
The Bible teaches that men and women are equal but not interchangeable. They are both equal with respect to dignity and worth and are both equally made in the image and likeness of God. They are both equally leaders. They share the dominion mandate given back in Genesis 1; however, the roles they have in executing this leadership are best understood in a complementary way. Women will take the lead in the domestic sphere in terms of having and raising children. Men will steward the commandments of God – in the home and in the household of faith.
Thanks for your question; I hope I have answered it in a faithful and useful way.