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It’s not just about prophecy and tongues

Posted by on Oct 13, 2011 in spiritual gifts | 8 comments

It’s not just about prophecy and tongues

At some point in the history of the believers in the Corinth, they (some of them anyway) apparently wrote a letter to Paul. He had traveled to Corinth (a major city east of Athens) earlier and had spent almost two years proclaiming the gospel and strengthening those who received the message.

Eventually, after Paul left on his continuing journey, some troubles and questions arose among the Corinthian believers. In response to their questions, Paul wrote a letter back to them. One of the questions that Paul answered concerned spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14).

He begins by reminding the Corinthians that only God could give them gifts, and he did so according to his own grace and desires. All spiritual gifts (and, thus, all believers) are necessary and important – especially those that may seem less important. (1 Corinthians 12)

Next, Paul tells the Corinthians that any spiritual gift (even the greatest) was worthless if the person did not love others. He said that eventually all spiritual gifts would cease (would no longer be necessary), but love would never cease. (1 Corinthians 13)

Within these two sections, Paul lists several different types and forms of spiritual gifts, all of them given by God for the benefit of others. While he says that different people are given different gifts for different reasons, he does not actually differentiate among the gifts (i.e., he does not call some “sign gifts” or “miraculous” gifts). To Paul, all of the gifts of the Spirit are “miraculous” because they are given from God through people.

In the last part of his answer to their question about spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14), Paul focuses on two of the spiritual gifts that he had already mentioned: prophecy and tongues. To Paul, there is one major difference between these two gifts: prophecy is directly understandable by people while tongues must be interpreted otherwise it is not understandable. In fact, Paul gives several examples, illustrations, and exhortations that prophecy is more beneficial when the church is gathered together specifically because people can understand it.

If we understand this major point in Paul’s argument, we can see that Paul is not only talking about prophecy and speaking in tongues. He’s using prophecy as an example of something that is understandable to all, and he’s using tongues as an example of something that is not directly understandable. (Of course, if the tongues is interpreted, then it becomes understandable.)

In this way, we can see that the end of Paul’s instructions (1 Corinthians 14:26-40) can help us understand other types of speaking and/or serving when the church is gathered together. Is the activity/speaking directly understandable to those gathered? If so, then it would fall under the guidelines that Paul gives for prophecy. If the activity/speaking is not directly understandable, then it would fall under the guidelines that Paul gives for speaking in tongues.

Teaching, praying, singing, etc. (if done in a way that others can understand) should be by two or three (one at a time) then the other would judge/discern what was said/sung/etc. If these things are done in a way that others can’t understand, then they should only be done by two or three (one at a time) if someone can interpret. (Of course, the interpretation would then follow the guidelines for prophecy, including being judged/discerned.)

It’s clear from the entire passage (1 Corinthians 12-14), that Paul is not ONLY concerned about prophecy and tongues. If we carry this broad concern into 1 Corinthians 14, then we can see that Paul’s guidelines are not only for prophecy and tongues.


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

  1. 10-13-2011

    Another great post Alan. You kinda gave me a chuckle this morning as I thought of those who are considered to be a “pastor” today the super initiated paid public speakers and how they would react if the rest of the body discerned/judged what was said as they shared and discussed the text and its application. But of course those who set themselves up as lords over God’s people/Nicolaitans will simply not allow that to be done in the kingdom that they are building.

  2. 10-13-2011

    Great insite to those verseAdmIt never thought of them in the context of the gather. Failure on my part for not applying the basic rules of interpretation That said, I’m having a difficult time with your choice in graphics. Not that i took offence to it. If it offended me I would have asked you about it privately. Is that your view of prophecy? And as always a great post, Alan.

  3. 10-13-2011

    Sorry that I pressed submit before I gave my comment the once-over. I am certain you got the jest if it.

  4. 10-13-2011


    This thought also came to me: Perhaps the historical misunderstanding and debate regarding the gift of languages and the clear teaching from Paul that if someone who was able to interpret that langauge was not available to do so that the gift of bringing a message in another language was not to be exercised has caused many to just quickly gloss over and skip over the verse and the other applications from this verse regarding allow more than one speaker/teacher based on whom the LOrd gave a message to and that the body was to discern and judge what was said by the all those who speak. Just a thought.

  5. 10-13-2011

    Good thoughts Alan. I am preaching through the book of 1 Corinthians right now. Lord willing I will finish ch. 14 this Sunday.

    Hutch, I am a paid pastor who invites those in my church to comment on what I bring each week. Not all of us paid guys fit your stero-type. I know many who gladly invite their congregations to give feedback, comments, and even criticism to their messages. I do agree many do not like this, but I think more and more are realizing the need for it. In the end, I think most want the same thing: for all to conformed more into the image of Christ. That means the guidelines in 1 Cor. 14 are very crucial to every church. Me being paid does not change that truth.

  6. 10-13-2011


    I do think that the guidelines that Paul provided for the Corinthians are typically overlooked today. Of course, this is the most direct teaching concerning the times when the church gathers together that we find in Scripture.


    The image was meant as a “tongue-in-cheek” homage to the mysticism that is usually attached to both prophecy and tongues. That’s not the way I think of prophecy at all.


    Are others among the church there given opportunities to bring their own messages (teachings) as well?


  7. 10-13-2011



  8. 10-13-2011


    That’s awesome! I’d love to hear more about how you meet together and how several are involved in teaching one another when you meet. Would you be interested in writing a guest post about it that I could publish here?