1CORINTHIANS 14:26-40 – ORDER IN CHURCH MEETINGS

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

A.    THE ORDERLY USE OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS – 14:26-33

Read verses 26-33. Answer these questions:
[1] What is the purpose of exercising spiritual gifts?

 

[2] What four limits does Paul place on using the gift of languages?

 

 


[3] What instructions does Paul give about using the gift of prophecy/proclamation?

 

 

 


[4] What is the impact of ‘prophecy’?


[5] What does Paul say that makes it clear that prophets are fully in control of what they say?

 


[6] What is the foundational reason Paul insists on the orderly use of the gifts?

 

 

Paul now brings his discussion of the gifts to a close, by giving the following instructions relating to church gatherings:

[1] Whatever is done must be done with the purpose of strengthening the church [14:26].

[2] If someone speaks in a language, no more than three must speak, only one at a time, and only if there is someone there to interpret what is said, that is to verbally translate the language spoken into the local language [14:27].

[Note: the intended effect of interpreted languages is similar to the effect of prophecy – ‘the strengthening of the church’. Interpretation effectively made speaking in languages equivalent to a teaching gift, that is, it turned it into effective proclamation of the word of God. We must keep in mind here that speaking in languages in Acts 2 had specific content: ‘the wonders of God’.]

[3] No one must speak aloud in a foreign language unless someone interprets [14:28].

[4] Up to three ‘prophets’ should speak, everyone else should carefully weigh what they say [14:29]. If a ‘revelation’ comes to another, the first should sit down, allowing the next person to stand up and speak.

[Notes: (a) the fact that what is spoken must be carefully weighed by those listening outlaws the contemporary concept that words of prophecy, words of knowledge, words or wisdom, or revelations, are direct words from God with power and authority similar to the written word. The messages spoken by those with the gift of prophecy, teaching, etc, are and remain the words of men, and are liable to error. (b) It is clear from the context that ‘prophecy’ and ‘revelation’ refer to the same thing. (c) It is also clear that the purpose and impact of prophecy is instruction and encouragement.

[5] The reported disorder must be replaced by order [14:33,40].

[6] In the exercise of the gifts the person is to remain in control; the gifts do not control him/her; rather he/she controls the use of the gifts – those speaking in languages have the responsibility of remaining in control and not speaking in languages when there is no interpreter, also, when someone else is speaking in a language, and also, when three have already spoken in a language [14:27-28]. Similarly, those ‘prophesying’ are to be in control of their ‘spirits’ [14:32].

[7] This need for order is grounded in the fact that God is not a God of disorder, but of peace.

B. THE ORDERLY BEHAVIOUR OF WOMEN IN CHURCH GATHERINGS – 14:34-35

B.1 The context
The immediate context of the verses in question is the context of orderliness in church gatherings – grounded in the truth that God is a God of peace, not of disorder.

From verse 26 to verse 40 Paul’s subject is the maintenance of some kind of order in the church gathering. These two verses about women are inserted to address an additional cause of disorder in the church.

The context of coming together is mentioned in verse 26.

While brothers are addressed in verse 26, we cannot legitimately conclude from this that only men were involved. 1Corinthians 11:5 clearly indicates that women were praying and prophesying. In addition, Paul frequently addresses to ‘brothers’ things that are equally applicable to and equally true for both men and women.

Everything that is done must edify [build up] the church [26]

To keep the gathering orderly Paul gives instructions about speaking in languages [26-28]   

To keep everything orderly Paul also instructs ‘prophets’ [29-32]

God is not a God of disorder but of peace [33]

Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way [40]

B.1.1 What is Paul trying to achieve in the context?
The relevant questions here are:

What is the disorder that Paul wants to eliminate?
And what is this peace and order that he wants to encourage?

[1] Whatever it is, the purpose of it is that the church will be strengthened (built up, edified, confirmed) [26], instructed (will be taught, will learn) and encouraged (comforted, consoled, exhorted) [31].

[2] He is trying to eliminate the verbal/audio disorder caused by

More than one person speaking at a time [27, 30,31]

People saying things which no one can understand [27,28]

Too many people contributing to the service [27,29].

People getting carried away so they don’t know when to stop [32].

Note that all of this is not the disorder of cultural or religious inappropriateness, but the disorder of confusion – an audio overload that makes it impossible to concentrate on any one thing. The Greek word used in verse 33 – God is not the author of ‘disorder’ [NIV, GNB, NEB], ‘confusion’ [KJV] – is akatastasia, which literally is ‘not according to stability’.  It means: a state of disorder, disturbance, confusion, tumult. [A contemporary equivalent: when the worship leader is saying something at the same time as the singers and congregation are singing something else; or, when the worship leader is praying and the pianist plays a well known hymn tune that automatically brings its words to mind. The mind can only focus on one set of verbal input at one time. If we try to think and focus on both our minds are confused and we lose both.] Note: A woman standing up and taking her turn to speak in the manner instructed in verses 26-33 would not cause this kind of confusion or disturbance.

[3] It is peace and order:

Brought about by the prophets keeping their spirits under their control [32] – hupostasso – under obedience, subdued, subjected.

Peace [33] – eirenes - normal word for peace, quietness, rest.

That happens when everything is done in a fitting way [40] – ‘decently’ [KJV]. The Greek word is euschemonos – ‘beautiful form’. [Vines: ‘gracefully, becomingly].

That happens when everything is done in ‘an orderly way’ [40] – by arrangement, in due order in contrast to confusion.

Again, this peace and order is that of due control and arrangement, contrasting with confusion, not with religious or cultural inappropriateness.

[The second half of verse 33 – ‘as in all the congregations of the saints’ – is understood by some to introduce Paul’s instructions about women. If that is how we are meant to understand it, Paul is saying, as he did in relation to women wearing head covering, that these comments about women are in line with the common practice of the churches at the time.]

B.2 1Corinthians 14:34
Transliteration of Greek text: ‘The women [or wives] in the gatherings [or churches] let them keep [or be] silent [or hold their peace] for it is not permitted [allowed] to them to speak [talk, utter]; but let them be under obedience [or subdued] as the law says.’  

‘Women’yunaikes – translates as ‘women’ or ‘wives’. [Note that some Greek MSS have ‘your’ – ‘your women’ or ‘your wives’.]

‘should remain silent’sigatosan. Can also mean ‘hold their peace’, or ‘should be silent’. Present tense. Imperative mood. This is the same instruction given to a person speaking another language with no interpreter present. This is the regular word for silence. [A different word used in 1Timothy 2:11,12.]

‘in the churches’ – is a reference to the gatherings referred to in verse 26. Just the ordinary word for ‘church’ – ekklesiais [plural].

‘They are not allowed’ – literally ‘it is not permitted to them’. [The word – epitrepo - occurs nineteen times in the New Testament. Of these at least 15 refer to things being permitted, or requests for things to be permitted, that are either unexpected or exceptions to the norm. If this has any significance to this verse and to 1Timothy 2:12, then the possibility exists that in stating his denial of permission in these two verses Paul is stating something that is specific to the circumstances to which he was writing, and which were common to all the churches at that time [verse 33b].]   

‘to speak’- laleo. Just the normal word for the physical act of talking or speaking. Used over 1000 times in the NT in both formal and informal contexts. Does not necessarily refer to ‘speaking publicly’. Could legitimately be understood as an instruction to women not to talk to each other or to their husbands in such a way as to disturb and bring disorder into the worship service, preventing others form hearing the word of God. Such an interpretation would fit readily into the context.  

‘but’  is the stronger of the two Greek ‘buts’, setting up a contrast between what Paul has just said and what he is going to say.

‘must be in submission’ – same word used in verse 32 for spirits of prophets subject to the prophets’ control. The word ‘control’ is not in the Greek text of that verse. In 32 it is the prophets themselves who are in authority over their own spirits. Here in relation to the women, there is no immediate identification of who they are to ‘be in submission’ to. The Greek verb – hupotasso – is the verb commonly translated by ‘be subject to’ in the KJV. In the New Testament it is used, for example, in the context of the child Christ in relation to his parents [Luke 2:51]; the submission of the evil spirits to Christ’s disciples [Luke 10:17]; everything being under Christ’s feet [1Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 1:22]; our submission to God [James 4:7]; and in every passage speaking of the submission of wives to husbands. The hupo means ‘under’; ‘tasso’ is a verb meaning ‘arrange’, the related noun means ‘anything placed in order’. This being in ‘submission’ is being subject to the appropriate order or arrangement. Whatever the silence and not speaking are, they are an expression of ‘submission’, that is, of living under a prescribed order or arrangement.

The three possibilities before us here are

[1] a simple maintenance of order rather than confusion in the church meeting;
[2] under the authority of the male leadership of the church, or
[3] under the control of her husband.

Whatever option we choose the bottom line is that women are not to be out of control. This parallels the instructions given to the people who speak in other languages and to the prophets that they must do so within the prescribed order. [Grammatical note: ‘must be in submission’ translates a single Greek word. The verb is imperative mood (a command), and middle voice (something the women have to do to themselves, not something done to them); it is also present tense, indicating a continuing, on-going action.]

‘as the Law says’. This puzzles scholars. The only reference I have seen referred to by various scholars is Genesis 3:16 ‘he shall rule over you.’ The problem with this is that verse 34 does is not talking specifically about a wife’s subjection to her husband’s rule but to an instruction about her conduct in church gatherings. In addition, Genesis 3:16 is not a command, but a statement of God’s judgement. There are however, several scriptures commending the value of a woman who knows when to talk and when not to talk. These are mostly in Proverbs, but that does not exclude this interpretation because the whole Old Testament is sometimes referred to as ‘the Law’.

B.3 1Corinthians 14:35
Here we have perhaps the kind of talking that Paul is telling the women not to do in church gatherings.

‘but if’ - In the Greek this verse begins with ‘but if’ [not the strong ‘but’, but still a ‘but’.] The if is not the if of uncertainty [if it does not rain we’ll have a picnic tomorrow], but the if that means something like since or seeing that [biblical example - the tempter came to Jesus and said 'If you are the Son of God, tell these stones ... Matthew 4:3] – so that Paul is assuming that there will be things the women are not understanding, and about which they want to learn the answers, and instructs them to wait till they get home to ask their husbands.

The woman is forbidden to discuss and talk about the messages during the church meeting, but if she wants to ‘inquire about something’literally ‘learn anything’that is, if she wants to learn or understand [same verb translated ‘be instructed’ in NIV in verse 31; it’s the verb related to mathetes - ‘disciple/learner/student’] she should question [‘ask’ in NIV] her husband at home. The verb translated ‘ask’ is an intensified form of the normal verb for ask. It can mean inquire, interrogate, demand.

Here we have a woman who wants to learn something – a commendable thing. Perhaps she heard something in the meeting that she doesn’t understand; rather than disturb the meeting by asking about it there and then, she should wait to ask her husband at home. [A woman who was actually capable of giving a message in the meeting would not normally be a woman who would have questions to ask her husband, but the women here being commanded to be silent and under submission are women who understand so little that they are bursting with questions they want answered.]

[This need of the women, and the need for this instruction, is consistent with the cultural status of women at the time.]

‘it is disgraceful’ – ‘it is a shame’ – the word strictly means ‘deformed’, is the opposite of ‘good, beautiful’, and came to mean, metaphorically, indecent, dishonourable, or indecorous. It would create confusion that Paul has been speaking against since verse 26.

‘to speak’ – same word as in 34.

‘in the church’ – literally ‘in gathering [church meeting]’. [But often simply refers to believers.]

Summary: While the traditional interpretation that these verses prohibit women from preaching can be sustained by the text and the context, there is also much to indicate that it is not the only textually valid interpretation. Paul could be simply telling the women not to talk to each other, or to call out to their husbands who were seated separately, in the meetings because he wants everyone to be able to hear the messages being given. The broader context 26-40 would support this option.

CONCLUSIONS – 14:36-40

Paul now concludes his instructions about order in church meetings, and in particular the use of the gifts of the Spirit in an orderly manner that will edify the Church. He begins his conclusion with two further references to the arrogance that characterized the Corinthians:

He asks if the word of God originated with them.
He asks if they are the only people the word of God has reached.

Obviously the answer to both of his questions is ‘no’. But, just as the teacher-based divisions addressed by Paul in the opening chapters demonstrated a wrong attitude to the word of God, so here. They are behaving as if they were the only people who had the truth, and were therefore above learning from the example and practice of other churches. Their misuse of ‘spiritual gifts’, including their wrong attitudes to ‘spiritual gifts’, manifested a wrong attitude to the word of God. The particular gifts Paul has focused on – prophecy and languages – both related to the communication of the word of God. But their use of these gifts – multiple people all speaking at once, and foreign languages spoken without translation – prevented the Church from hearing the word of God, and thus, prevented the church from being edified and encouraged.

Paul challenges his readers to acknowledge that what he has said is God’s command: such an acknowledgment will validate their claims to be spiritually gifted.

Paul’s final comment is that their priority should be ‘prophecy’ – this is what they should be zealous for in their churches. They should not stop people speaking in languages, but should, both in prophecy, and in allowing tongues, make sure everything is done decently and in order [which he has defined in verses 27- 32].

[Note: Paul’s ‘do not forbid speaking in tongues’ causes some people to believe that it is wrong to criticize ‘speaking in tongues’ today, or to state that contemporary ‘tongues’ are out of place. Paul’s instruction, however, was given in the era in which the gift of languages, along with the other sign gifts, was still present in the church. Obviously while these gifts were still being given to confirm the apostolic message it was wrong to forbid their use.]