This fall I am planning to take a seminar in NT Greek Linguistics. For one of the requirements for this seminar, I hope to examine the structure of 1 Corinthians chapters 12 through 14. Recently, in a discussion in Steve Sensenig’s blog (“Theological Musings“), a discussion about music turned to the question of 1 Corinthians 14 (see “I’ve been interviewed by the iMonk“).
I see 1 Corinthians 14 as very important for the church – both for the church in the first century and for the church in the twenty-first century. In fact, this is the only glimpse that Scripture gives us into the meeting of the early church. Were there problems at Corinth? Certainly. Was Paul correcting problems? Probably. However, it also seems that he was laying down some foundational concepts for a church gathering.
For example, consider the following commands from 1 Corinthians 14 (ESV) – imperatives are highlighted:
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (vs. 1)
So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. (vs. 12)
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. (vs. 20)
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. (vs. 26)
If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. (vs. 27)
But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. (vs. 28)
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. (vs. 29)
If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. (vs. 30)
… 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. (vs. 34)
If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (vs. 35)
If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. (vs. 37)
So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. (vs. 39)
But all things should be done decently and in order. (vs. 40)
Now, many of these commands are conditional: i.e. the prophet who is speaking should be silent IF a revelation is made to another (vs. 30). For now, let’s only consider those commands that are not conditional. How do we deal with these commands? At this point, many people point to the difference between the “regulative principle of worship” and the “normative principle of worship”. Let’s look at each of these principles. (By the way, I do not understand “worship” here in the sense of “worship service”, but in the sense of living a life in obedience to God. In other words, these principles answer the question, “What should we do to please God in our lives?”)
According to the “regulative principle of worship“, “only those elements that are instituted or appointed by command or example in the Bible are permissible in worship”. If God commands something in Scripture, then this command should be obeyed. If God does not command something, then that is prohibited.
According to the “normative principle of worship“, anything that is not prohibited by Scripture is allowed. Only things that God prohibits in Scripture is prohibited. Thus, according to the normative principle, there are more things allowed than using the regulative principle.
Apparently, there is a new (to me) principle called the “informed principle of worship”. According to this principle, “what is commanded in Scripture regarding worship is required, what is prohibited in Scripture regarding worship is forbidden, what is not prohibited in Scripture regarding worship is permissible, but only if properly deduced from proper application of Scripture using good and necessary consequence”. This seems to be a position that is somewhere between the regulative principle and the normative principle.
There is something common to each of these three “principles”: if something is commanded by God through Scripture, then believers are required to obey those commands. This is true for those who hold to the “regulative principle”, the “normative principle”, and the “informed principle”.
So, that brings us back to 1 Corinthians 14. What do we do with these unconditional commands (not an complete list)? “Strive to excel at building up (edifying) the church” (vs. 12). “Let all things be done for building up (edification)” (vs. 26). “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (vs. 29). “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (vs. 39). According to the regulative principle, the normative principle, and the informed principle, these commands should be obeyed by believers.
It would seem, in fact, from the context of this passage, that in order for church gatherings to be “decent and in order” (vs. 40), we should obey all of these commands, since this is how Paul described “decently and in order”. So, what do we do with 1 Corinthians 14?
Series on 1 Corinthians 14:
Prologue 1 – What do we do with 1 Corinthians 14?
Prologue 2 – 1 Corinthians 14 and the Leadership
Context & Verses 1-5 – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 1
Verses 6-25 – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 2
Verses 26-40 – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 3
Concluding Remarks – Summary of 1 Corinthians 14 – Part 4