Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
1 Corinthians 14:26-33a
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. 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. 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.
Paul transitions from talking specifically about the Gift of Tongues to discussing orderly worship more generally. He gives advice on how to both use the spiritual gifts while simultaneously maintaining order. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(26) How is it then, brethren?—From a discussion as to the relative value of the gift of tongue and that of prophecy, the Apostle now turns to practical instructions as to the method of their employment in public church assemblies. He first gives directions regarding the tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27-28), then regarding prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:29-36), and the concluding verses of this chapter contain a summing up and brief repetition of what has been already laid down. In this verse he introduces the practical application of the truths which he has been enforcing, by the question, “How is it, then?”—i.e., what should follow from all these arguments?—and, instead of answering the question directly, he first recalls the existing state of confusion in their public assemblies, which had rendered necessary the teaching of the previous verses, and which is to be remedied by the practical instructions which now follow.
When ye come together, every one of you hath . . .—Better, when ye are assembling together each one of you hath a psalm, &c. The uppermost thought in each mind as you are assembling for public worship is the individual gift which he possesses. One had the gift of pouring forth a psalm of praise; another could deliver a doctrinal discourse; another could speak to God in a tongue; another had some deep insight into the spiritual world; another could interpret the tongue. If these varied gifts were employed by each for his own gratification, or even for his own spiritual advancement, they would not be used worthy of the occasion. In public these gifts were to be exercised not by each one for himself, but for the building up of the whole Church.
building up / edification = οἰκοδομή oikodomḗ, oy-kod-om-ay’; feminine (abstract) of a compound of G3624 and the base of G1430; architecture, i.e. (concretely) a structure; figuratively, confirmation:—building, edify(-ication, -ing).
We can view Paul’s use of “building up” as connected to Chapter 13’s statements on love. Paul wants Christians to consider others – and the Church specifically – before themselves. Continuing with the theme of the Chapter so far, he addresses the gift of Tongues specifically in the next couple of verses. That gift in particular seems to have been misused among the Corinthians. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And that by course; rather, and that in turn. He does not allow more than one glossolalist to speak at a time, and not more than three at the most in any one service. This rule alone tended to extinguish the disorderly exhibition of” tongues.” To control the passion which leads to it is, sooner or later, to stop the manifestation—a result which St. Paul would probably have been the last to regret, when its purpose had been accomplished.
Let him keep silence. The “him” refers to the glossolalist, not to the interpreter. To himself. In his private devotions (as St. Paul himself seems to have done); not in the public assembly.
The goal is to maintain order in a Church gathering. If an unbeliever arrives, nothing described by Paul will necessarily scare that person away. Building up the Church, as a whole, is the priority. He does not limit his advice to just this one gift. Continuing on with Ellicott, he gives advice for how to use the gift of Prophecy during a meeting also.
(29) Let the prophets speak.—Here follows the application, to those who had the gift of prophecy, of the general principle, Let all be done to edification. Only two or three prophets are to speak in each assembly on each occasion; the others (not “other,” as in English version) who had the gift are to sit by silent and judging, i.e., determining whether the utterances were from the Spirit of God. (See 1 Corinthians 12:3, and 1 John 4:1-3.) If, however, while one prophet was standing speaking there came a sudden revelation of truth to some other prophet who was sitting by, the speaker would pause, and the other prophet give utterance to the inspiration which had come to him. The suddenness of the revelation would show that it was a truth needed there and then, and so should find utterance without delay.
Paul builds into this advice a mechanism to help avoid the misuse of the gift of Prophecy. If someone is misusing the gift, others with the gift will be tasked with judging the utterance. The whole exercise will occur in an orderly way. Paul continues on, with more reasoning, which we can examine in The Pulpit Commentaries:
Let the first hold his peace. It would be easy enough to judge whether the revelation vouchsafed to his neighbour was more pressing and important than his own address.
Ye may all prophesy; rather, ye all can; that is, “if you have the gift of prophesying.” St. Paul has already implied that at every assembly there would be idiotai, unendowed worshippers, who only came to profit by the gifts of others, and that “all” are not prophets (1 Corinthians 12:29). May be comforted; rather, may be exhorted or cheered.
Just as with the Gift of Tongues, Paul calls for order and a building up of the Church through the use of prophecy, also. It is worth noting, as it was with the Gift of Tongues, that not everyone has the gift. Anyone teaching a requirement of this gift, as a sign or a proof of one’s faith or one’s conversion, would seem to be teaching something in opposition to Paul’s view. We’ll wrap up this section in Ellicott. The verse numbering doesn’t correspond perfectly to the transition between thoughts, so this section will cover the first part of verse 33, and the next blog post will pick up with the second part of verse 33.
(32) The spirits of the prophets . . .—They might have said it was impossible to carry out St. Paul’s instructions; that the rushing Spirit of God overcame them—shook them, so that they could not control themselves. To this St. Paul replies (1 Corinthians 14:31; see above) that it is not so; that they can prophesy one by one; that the spirits of the prophets are under the control of the prophets.
(33) For God is not the author of confusion.—Better, For God is the God, not of confusion, but of peace. The Church is the Church of God, and should bear on it the moral image of its King: there should be order, therefore, not confusion, in their assemblies.
Paul repeats the idea that the utterances of the prophets, in Church, are to be subject to other persons with that gift. This should, in theory, prevent the misuse or false use of that gift. Prophetic utterances are also to be expressed in an orderly way. As the note states, some might argue that the gift requires immediately speaking out, but Paul tells us that this is not so. Paul states plainly in verse 33 that God is a God of order, not of confusion.
One way that the Church can judge its own meetings, and behavior is by discerning whether an action creates order or chaos. God’s nature is to bring about order.
Keeping the idea of order in mind, the next few verses, to finish Chapter 14, are among the most controversial in the Bible (in modern times particularly) and they concern apparent gender roles within the Church.