This morning we are continuing in our study of Rabbi Paul’s first letter to the believers in Corinth. The Corinthian church was in all kinds of disarray, and reading through the letter sometimes feels like having to have a tooth extracted. It seems long and drawn out, and painful. But these things were written as much for our benefit as for theirs. This is much more than a letter written in a certain historical context. It is the Word of God. And remember the Proverb: Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. Paul is rebuking them and applying correction, not because he doesn’t care about them, but because he deeply cares about them.

Verses 26-28

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two — or at the most three — should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.

In all of his New Covenant letters, exactly 8 times Rabbi Paul uses the Greek expression Ti¢ oun, translated, what then shall we say…? Seven of them are in Romans, and the only other one is right here in 1 Corinthians 14. And each time it is used, its purpose is to sum up a point. It’s roughly the equivalent of saying, “The point is…” or in Yiddish, “Nu…?” or “Farshtay…?” – are you getting this?

My point is, that Ti¢ oun here in verse 26 is Paul’s rhetorical device, meant to sum up everything he’s said in this and the previous three chapters, and to drive home the point. And what, exactly, has been the issue from chapter 11 to now? Disunity. The Corinthians’ assemblies have been chaotic; characterized by selfish disregard for others and indifference to holiness, and it reflects badly on Yeshua.

Last Shabbat, Jerry unpacked Rabbi Paul’s discourse on prophecy as a spiritual gift more to be desired than, say, speaking in tongues. But, ultimately, chapter 14 isn’t so much about prophecy, or speaking in tongues, or any of the other spiritual gifts. Those things are symptomatic of a much deeper issue; they are not the heart of the matter. You see, this is all part of the apostle’s larger rebuke of the Corinthians’ for their disunity, and he is pressing them to stop with the petty arguments about who has superior spiritual abilities. But Jerry was right to do the work of exposition, to unpack the text for us, and I’ll do that as well this morning. I just don’t want us to lose sight of the big picture.

He writes, What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

It would feel a bit strange to us, but there are congregations, especially Brethren churches, that don’t have a pastor, and they don’t have a prepared order of service. Everyone comes in, and sits quietly, and waits. As individuals feel prompted, they stand up and say what is on their heart. For example, one will suggest a hymn, so everyone turns to that hymn and they sing it together. And then they resume sitting quietly. Someone else may feel prompted to read a passage of Scripture. Then they continue in silence. Someone else may suggest another hymn, or someone will have a word of exhortation. And that is how their worship service goes.

If all is done respectfully and by the leading of the Spirit, it can be a worshipful, meaningful experience. But imagine if you have someone, or even several people in that service, who are not being led by the Spirit at all. John Phillips, writing in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, tells about his experience growing up in just such a congregation. He says,

“More often than not… carnal brethren, or those who had really nothing to say, or those who simply liked to be heard, or those who had a favorite hymn or Scripture passage, regardless of whether or not it was suitable to the occasion, inflicted themselves on the believers, spoiling the Holy Spirit’s orchestration of the service.” [1]

These gifts from God are wonderful things! One person has a song, another has a teaching, yet another has a revelation of some kind, one has something in another language, and yet another is able to interpret it. The point is that these gifts are for the strengthening of the church – for the common good; and at Corinth there were too many ego trips and too little order. It was happening all at the same time, and it amounted to gibberish. There was, and is, a proper way to exercise these gifts of the Holy Spirit. Under the inspiration of that same Spirit, Rabbi Paul laid out these guidelines. No more than two or three were to speak in a different language, and only if someone was present that was known to have the gift of interpretation, and it was to be one speaker at a time.

The Corinthian believers seem to have known who among them was capable of interpreting tongues; these individuals had long since been identified. But if, on a given day, none of them were present in the assembly, then even if someone felt they had something to communicate in tongues, unless they themselves also had the gift of interpretation, they were to keep silent, and pray within themselves. Uninterpreted tongues do not edify the congregation.

The same is true where prophecy is concerned.

Verses 29-33a

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

Once again, the inspired apostle says that no more than two or three should prophecy. There was to be no free-for-all in the assembly of Yeshua! And if someone who is seated suddenly has a prophetic word, the other is to stop speaking. And according to this passage, no one can claim they can’t control themselves. Paul says, the spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. To suggest otherwise is to accuse the Holy Spirit of fomenting chaos.

Furthermore, Paul tells us that what is spoken aloud is to be weighed carefully. Evidently there were those who uttered words as though from Adonai that were inauthentic. No word of prophecy is to be automatically regarded as correct and authentic. He says the same in 1 Thessalonians 5:21. While we shouldn’t despise prophetic utterance, at the same time we are told to evaluate each one carefully.

Unfortunately, some segments of Christianity in the 21st century are so personality-driven, that there are certain men, claiming to be prophets, whose prophetic utterances are regarded as infallible, and are automatically given a pass. And, apparently, you dare not question their authenticity, or else you will be labeled as ‘divisive’ or having a ‘contentious spirit’.

Again, let me stress that verses 28 and 32 make clear that both tongues-speakers and prophets have control of themselves, and must not speak unless the proper conditions are met. It is a violation of Scripture for anyone to simply blurt out an utterance in tongues, or to blurt out a message of prophecy.

Let me take it a step further: nowhere in the New Covenant Scriptures do we have an example of someone speaking directly as the voice of God. We have examples of people saying, “This is what the Lord says…” but no examples of anyone speaking as God. Those of us who have at some time traveled in Charismatic or Pentecostal circles are all too familiar with someone standing up and saying, “O, my children…”

Now to be fair about this, the New Covenant is a comparatively brief book. It was never meant to be seen as an exhaustive record of all that was said and done by Yeshua and the early apostles. So just because we don’t have a specific example of something doesn’t preclude its possibility. But when it comes to walking in the ministry of prophecy, doesn’t wisdom dictate that if you have to err, better to err on the side of caution and reverence for God, rather than to arrogant presumption?

But the bottom line here is that everything be in order, because God neither causes nor approves of chaos in the assembly. He is a God of shalom.

In our Bibles, there is more to verse 33, but those verse and chapter numbers didn’t exist in the original or early manuscripts. In fact, the insertion of chapter numbers didn’t occur until the 13th century through the work of Archbishop Stephen Langton. The further division into verses didn’t take place until the 16th century. I point this out, because the better, more natural reading puts the second half of verse 33 with what follows than with what goes before.

And now we come to the passage that everyone would just as soon leave well enough alone, and avoid all possible controversy (and which Jerry conveniently left for me to exposit).

Verses 33b-36

As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?

Now, I could have some fun here and remind us, as Rabbi Loren frequently does, of the Golden Rule of Biblical Interpretation: that absent any overriding factors, if the natural sense makes sense, seek no other sense. Ah, but there are overriding factors here. The first overriding factor is that the Word of God isn’t misogynistic. Women are given honor in the New Covenant far beyond any works of literature from the ancient period. So, for us to take this in a woodenly literal way, or to apply it universally, as though it applied to every assembly for worship would be to interpret it in a way inconsistent with the rest of Scripture. Secondly, God’s Word is never self-contradictory. If women are to always remain silent in the assembly, how do we explain the fact that, in chapter 11, verse 5, women are mentioned right along with men in the context of the proper way of praying and prophesying. Those are not silent activities. Prayers and prophecies are spoken aloud.

Therefore, anyone who would interpret this passage to mean that women are never to speak in church are taking this beyond Rabbi Paul’s intent. Now they may argue that by being literal about it, they are simply being more faithful to the Bible. What they are actually doing is ignoring the context, and so doing a disservice to biblical interpretation.

So let’s consider the context. The context is that when individuals in the assembly prophesy, that prophecy must be weighed carefully – evaluated as to whether it is consistent with the Word of God, and with the character of God. The ones who would evaluate it would be the elders among them. And that isn’t the purview of women. Elders were men. Further, for them to discuss among themselves whether a word was genuinely from Adonai, they would need quiet. Have you ever tried to focus on something extremely important in the midst of a lot of chatter? Good luck with that!

It doesn’t require a doctoral degree in women’s studies to know that women are more verbal than men. Men want to fix the problem and move on. Women want to explore how they feel about the problem. I’m sure it’s a bit overstated, but there’s some truth to the idea that, while men speak an average of 7,000 words per day, women speak closer to 20,000.

So now take that into the context of the assembly of believers. As wise King Solomon observed, there is a time to speak, and a time to be silent. And when the elders are attempting to evaluate the legitimacy and weight of a message someone has uttered, saying “This is what the Lord says…” they need silence in the place in order to do so. If wives were curious about it, or had opinions about it, they were to wait until they and their husbands got home, and to talk about it there. Yes, Rabbi Paul felt that women needed the extra reminder about the need for silence in that context. That doesn’t make him a sexist, nor does it make the Bible misogynistic.

Let me also remind us that this is the third mention of situations in which individuals are told to be silent in the assembly. The other two are found in verses 28 and 30. So this isn’t a diatribe against women, as critics of the Bible would have us believe. If we take the time to see it in light of chapter 11, it becomes apparent that women did have a role to play in the churches, both in teaching and in prophecy.

This is not a relegating of women to a status of lesser worth, but has to do with chatter and how it has the capacity to disrupt an otherwise orderly service. I have preached enough sermons to know that even quiet discussion between husbands and wives is enough to distract and disturb.

There is, of course, a very practical solution. Come to Shema with a pad of paper and a pen, and take notes on the parashas and d’rashas. Then when you get home and are having lunch, you can compare notes and ask questions and learn. Again, this is about order in the service. Chapter 11 establishes some of the reasons why men are to have authority in the assembly, but greater or lesser authority is not the same things as greater or lesser intrinsic worth.

And, lest the Corinthians think they are the exception to the rule, that they can operate in the prophetic realm by a different standard than all the other assemblies, Paul chides them and says, Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? Beware of an attitude of arrogance that would make you think that you know better, and that these standards are for the less enlightened, the weaker, the hoi polloi.

Verses 37-38

If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.

Paul isn’t making suggestions here. This is a biblical standard for order in the assembly of God’s people. It is to be regarded as from the Lord. Some among the Corinthians, and many today, regard themselves as prophets, and think this rule doesn’t apply to them. They consider it beneath them to have their prophetic utterances weighed in the balance and evaluated for consistency with the Word of God. Paul tacitly warns of God’s judgment on such people.

Verses 39-40

Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

Spirituality and orderliness in worship are not mutually exclusive, but order is the final word. Paul commends those in Corinth who aspire to prophesy, and we would do well not to despise the ministry of prophecy. The same is true of the gift of speaking in tongues. These are genuinely good gifts from a Good, loving God.

Admittedly, in an age of so much charlatanry and counterfeit spirituality, it is difficult not to feel a bit jaded. That is a challenge for us, and I think we need to make sure we don’t become hard of heart, but remain open to whatever Adonai wants to do in our midst.

But I am grateful that the authoritative Word of God tells us not to simply accept uncritically everything we hear that claims to be from the Lord. We are to weigh these messages carefully. And I’m grateful that the same One who gives these gifts of the Spirit, is a God of order, so that while allowing ourselves to be tender before Him, we are not expected to naively give way to every Tom, Dick or Moishe who claims to speak for Him. Father, help us to be devoted, and also discerning.