1 Corinthians 14:1-40 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. In 1 Corinthians 14:1-3 (printed below), Paul mentions two spiritual gifts. What are they? Which gift should the church value more highly? Why?

Follow the way of love, but also have a keen interest in spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy—(2) for the one who speaks in a foreign language is not speaking to men but to God, for no one understands him, by the Spirit he is speaking mysteries. (3) But the one who prophesies is speaking to men words that will strengthen them and encourage them and comfort them. (1 Corinthians 14:1-3)

The Corinthian church was placing an excessive emphasis on the fascinating gift of speaking in different languages (or, “tongues,”) and disparaging the more useful gifts, such as prophecy (which in the early church would be a means of edification for the entire assembled body). The reason the apostle urges the church to place a high premium on the gift of prophecy in comparison to “tongues,” is due to the fact that prophecy has more value for edifying the entire congregation (verse 2).

2. What is the value of the gift of speaking a different language (i.e.; speaking in tongues?) See 1 Corinthians 14:4 (printed below)

The one who speaks in a foreign language is edifying himself. But the one who prophesies is edifying the church. (1 Corinthians 14:4)

The one who speaks in “tongues” edifies himself. Without the gift of interpretation, he is unable to communicate the meaning of his utterances to the church—nor was he able to understand those utterances himself. Nevertheless, his personal involvement in the experience of speaking in an unknown language under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was edifying for himself.

3. What role did “tongues” (or, strange, foreign language) play with regard to the Old Testament covenant community? See 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 (printed below)

In the Law it is written, “‘I will speak to these people by men who speak a foreign language and by the lips of foreigners, but not even then will they listen to me,’ says the Lord.” (22) So then, foreign languages are intended to be a sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers. Prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers, but for believers. (1 Corinthians 14:21-22)

In verses 21-22 the apostle explains the significance of “tongues” and prophecy for the covenant community. Quoting from Isaiah 28:11-12, Paul indicates that “tongues”  (i.e.; foreign languages) were used by the Lord as a sign of judgment against Old Testament Israel. For so many years the Lord spoke to the people of Israel by means of the prophets (speaking the language the people understood)—by means of the prophets the Lord called His people to covenant faithfulness, promising His blessing and warning of His judgment. But when the people persistently refused to listen to the word of the Lord spoken through His prophets, the final consequence was judgment in the form of invasion by a foreign army—an army speaking in “tongues” (that is to say, speaking in an unintelligible foreign language). So then, within the context of the Old Testament covenant community, “tongues” was the sign the Lord used to indicate that covenant communion had been broken and judgment had come.

4. What directions does the apostle give the church with regard to the role of women in the public worship service? See 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 (printed below)

As in all the churches of the saints, (34) women should keep silence in the church assemblies, for it is not permissible for them to speak. On the contrary, they should be in submission, just as the Law also says. (35) If they want to inquire about something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (1 Corinthians 14:33b-35)

The apostle Paul, speaking in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, gives the following instructions to the church: let the women keep silence in the public worship service of the church; if any woman desires to learn something, let her ask her own husband at home. What exactly was the situation that the apostle is addressing? Apparently, in the worship service of the early church, the men of the congregation actively participated in the teaching ministry: asking questions, discussing the meaning of a portion of Scripture, proposing applications to everyday life, etc. The early New Testament worship service may have been modeled along the lines of the Jewish synagogue service (note Acts 13:13-15). In the Corinthian church the women were entering into this part of the worship service; and by so doing they were failing, or refusing, to respect the distinctive roles assigned by God to men and women respectively (note 1 Timothy 2:11-13).

5. Anticipating protest and resistance from some within the church concerning his instruction about public worship, what questions does Paul pose in verse 36 (printed below?) What point is he making?

Did the word of God come forth from you, or did it only come to you? (1 Corinthians 14:36)

Anticipating protest and resistance from the Corinthian church, the apostle poses to them the following two questions. “Did the Word of God come forth from you?” That is to say, are you Corinthians the human instrument by whom God spoke His Word, so that what you Corinthians say and do is the authoritative word and practice for the entire church of Christ? (the answer to Paul’s question is obviously, “No!”) “Did the Word of God only come to you?” In other words, are you Corinthians the sole possessor of God’s Word, so that all the church of Christ must look to you and accept your word and practice as authoritative? (once again, the answer to Paul’s question is obviously, “No!”) The point that the apostle is making is that the Corinthian church, and every other Christian congregation, must regulate their faith and conduct by the Word of Christ communicated to His church through His apostles.