the weblog of Alan Knox

What do we do with 1 Corinthians 14?

Posted by on May 3, 2007 in edification, gathering, scripture, spiritual gifts, worship | 10 comments

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


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-3-2007


    Please tell me what to do with I Cor. 14. I know you have studied that passage a great deal, so I look forward to your conclusions. Thanks for not starting your conclusions with preconceived ideas, but rather with the biblical text.

    One thing I believe is still crucial to the meaning of chapter 14 is the positioning of chapter 13. When we arrive at 14, we have just come through a beautiful passage on love relating to spiritual gifts. So it seems that as we begin to read 14, we should be reading the text through the lens of our having sacrificial love of our brother.

  2. 5-3-2007

    I agree with what Eric says about love, and I’d be very surprised if you weren’t headed there, too, Alan.

    Chapter 13 almost seems like a huge parenthesis between chapters 12 and 14, which to me gives it incredible emphasis.

    The first few verses of chapter 13 demonstrate that even the greatest of spiritual gifts and the greatest expression of those gifts is completely meaningless without love.

    Love is also the first in Paul’s list in Galatians of fruit of the Spirit. Which tells me that teaching that focuses on spiritual gifts without emphasizing spiritual fruit is a mistake.

    One can demonstrate outwardly what would appear to be spiritual gifts, but without the Spirit (thereby, without love), those gifts are nothing of value at all.

  3. 5-3-2007

    I think we should stop focusing so much on our rational understanding and trust in God with all our hearts. Perhaps what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians is that we should submit to the Lord and His Holy Spirit and allow the only One truly worthy of leading to do so. As all submit to that one Authority, order will be the result. The clearest way to know that God is not leading is to see disorder, disunity, backbiting, envy, etc. And, I do believe that unless something is prohibited in the Scripture, then God may lead such activities in worship.

    I also agree that this passage is for today in every aspect.

  4. 5-3-2007

    Hey Alan,

    First time commenter… I enjoy reading your stuff.

    “So, what do we do with I Corinthians 14?”

    We apply it! Instead of looking for ways to “tweak” Scripture so that it will agree with our cultural worldview… Let us simply obey the word. That means we may have to adjust our ecclesiology to what God’s word tells us to do, instead of finding ways to explain it away. Chapter 13 in no way changes what chapter 14 teaches… it complements it.

  5. 5-3-2007


    I agree that chapter 13 is important. There is a reason that Paul placed the “love chapter” between chapters 12 and 14 (and, I don’t think it was for weddings). Everything we do (even edifying one another through spiritual gifts) must be motivated by love. But, now that we know that all gifts are important and necessary and now that we’re motivated by love, what do we do when we come together? I think this is what Paul is telling us in chapter 14. Instead of telling you what I think we should do (which I’ve done a few times already on the blog), I’d like to hear from others – including you.


    Yes, gifts without fruit demonstrates that the Spirit is not actually acting through someone. It seems that the Spirit produces the fruit in us, so that he might use his gifts to benefit others.


    You said: “The clearest way to know that God is not leading is to see disorder, disunity, backbiting, envy, etc.” Yes! Exactly! “Order” is not demonstrated by us sticking to a plan. “Order” is demonstrated when we submit and follow the Spirit.


    Welcome to my blog! Thank you for the comment. I’ve followed you since you were Mr. T. (You don’t look like what I pictured you… what happened to the mohawk?)

    You said: “That means we may have to adjust our ecclesiology to what God’s word tells us to do, instead of finding ways to explain it away.” I think this says it all. Are we willing to change our lives to align with Scripture, especially when we see so many places where our practices are not found in Scriputre?


  6. 5-3-2007


    Just curious of your view, from the perspective of your knowledge of greek, of v. 26. I have heard some people claim that Paul was not being prescriptive when he says “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,” but rather, merely descriptive. And on top of that, he doesn’t praise them for carrying on their meetings in this fashion, but rather calls them to task for this, for all practical purposes equating each one having a hymn, lesson, revelation, tongue or interpretation with doing things indecently and out of order.

    My question for you is, from a grammatical standpoint, is there any possible basis for this interpretation or is it just blatant eisegesis?

  7. 5-3-2007

    David, I know you addressed your question to Alan, but I just wanted to say that I think it’s a great question.

    I’ve actually thought about it a lot myself, wondering if we overuse (or worse yet, misuse) v. 26 in the house/simple church paradigm.

    It’s hard for me to tell for sure, but I think the “all can prophecy” statement later seems to go along with the idea that v. 26 is prescriptive.

    I actually asked the very same question you ask on my blog last June. You can read my thoughts here.

  8. 5-3-2007

    Oh, and David, about four comments down into the post I just linked to, Alan gave some grammatical thoughts there, so you can get a jump on what he might answer here 😉

  9. 5-3-2007


    Thanks for the heads up. I went over to your post, and read the whole thing, comment string included. Very instructive! It helped me a lot with my question.

  10. 5-3-2007


    If anything, I see Paul as redirecting the Corinthian understanding of spiritual gifts, especially in the context of the meeting of the church. He was directing them to exercise gifts that build up the church, not the individual. I plan to explain this in a little more detail in my next post.


    I had forgotten about your post and my comment. That was almost a year ago. It must have been one of the first times that I commented on your blog. I still agree with what I said there.