What then shall we say, brothers and sisters?

1 Corinthians 14:26-40

Some of the new translations place a subheading between this section and the last, and while that may be a convenient way to break up the chapter, it gives the impression that the subject has changed, but actually it would appear that Paul is winding up the whole discussion from 12:1-14:25…  What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? (14:26a)

In 14:26b-28 Paul indicates that whatever kind of message, whether a hymn, instruction, a revelation or something in a tongue, they must be presented in an orderly and clearly understandable fashion for the edification and building up of the entire Body of Christ. If someone is going to speak to the assembly in a tongue, there must be an interpreter, or else the person must hold their tongue. Again, this is for the sake of edification of the entire assembly.

In the next paragraph, Paul gives essentially the same word for any prophets or prophetic messages.  In 14:34-35, he indicates that the women should remain quiet in the assembly and address any questions or comments to their husbands at home, and then…

Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored. (14:36-38)

If you just read through this passage, Paul was moving right along giving instructions… no big deal, just take notes and make necessary corrections to improve the flow of your worship time. Then suddenly, he changes the tone entirely, which seems to me to indicate that there were three groups in the Corinthian assembly who tended to insist of causing confusion or disruption in their worship services: People speaking in tongues, people bringing prophecy, and… women.

The modern eye skips right to the last one and jumps to the conclusion that Paul has just uttered a shocking, terrible and sexist bit of instruction. I wouldn’t be too quick to jump to conclusions if I were you…

Paul is writing this in response to an inquiry made in a letter from Corinth about a situation they were experiencing there c. 55 AD. We can only infer from the answer Paul has given what the exact issue was, since sadly, their letter is not available to us. In any case, the culture and circumstances of mid first century Corinth were quite different from anything we are likely to experience today. Secondly, and this is my guess, it may have been that the people speaking in tongues and prophesying were predominantly female. If that guess is correct, then Paul’s quiet comment would have been directed more in the direction of the women who insisted on speaking in tongues and giving prophecy in a disorganized fashion, then on women generally, and then there are Paul’s final words on the subject:

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. (14:39-40)

Paul’s conclusion of the section (chs. 12-14) is an inclusive one. All should be eager to prophesy, none should forbid tongues, and all should conduct themselves in an orderly manner in the assembly. This is why I see Paul’s comments in 14:34-35 as actually intended for those who are causing disruption rather than at women as a class of humans. Sadly, many over the years have not seen it this way.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
This entry was posted in Bible and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What then shall we say, brothers and sisters?

  1. John Apodaca says:

    nice clarification!

  2. Really appreciate this post!

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