Thursday, September 20, 2012

1 Corinthians 14

After his magnificent hymn to love, Paul returns to the question of the proper use of spiritual gifts in the church. I suspect he thought a conversation about maturity (when I was a child . . . now I am an adult) and the preeminence of love were necessary when talking about the explosive and potentially divisive subject of speaking in tongues and prophecy. Notice that he suggests that prophecy (speaking for God) is a more significant and more to be desired gift than speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues, a popular gift in charismatic/pentecostal churches and gatherings today as well as the ancient world, is an ecstatic babbling that may or may not resemble human language. As a gift of the Holy Spirit it is manifested through individuals in the form of a private prayer language. Examples of speaking in tongues can be seen in every Christian renewal movement since the beginning -- including the Wesleyan revivals of the 18th century. It is clear, in 1 Corinthians 14, that this ecstatic language was also being spoken aloud in the congregation. Paul insists that this happen only if there is one who has the gift of interpretation of tongues present and that it be done decently and in order (see verses 30-32). It appears that the Corinthians, in their spiritual zeal, were expressing these gifts willy nilly and morning worship was utter chaos.

There is a clear difference between "speaking in tongues" and the tongues spoken on Pentecost. Notice in Acts 2 that the Apostles were all speaking in their native tongue but the HEARERS were hearing them in their own native tongue. The miracle was not in the speaking but in the hearing. Here in Corinth the "gift" is not in the hearing (the hearers cannot understand what is being said without interpretation) but in the speaking of a "heavenly" language.

Notice that Paul assumes that there will be "unbelievers" present in worship. One of the key evangelistic opportunities of the Christian movement is when there are seekers present for morning worship. The seeker gets to see the Christian church at worship, hear the gospel spoken and be present with believers. For this seeker to see utter chaos, Paul suggests, would not be much of a witness. On the other extreme, of course, is that for this guest to witness dry, uninspired, formalism in the context of worship would also not be much of a witness. We need to be free to allow the Holy Spirit to move in the midst of worship and life. But the "spirit of the prophets are subject to the prophets (32)." That is to say, God is not the God of disorder and chaos. A worship celebration is not just about the believers. Worship also needs to show some sensitivity to the seekers among us. And, of course, the focus is on God.

The parenthetical statement in 14:34-36 that requires women to be silent in the churches has to be held in tension with all of the other biblical passages on decorum in worship. The requirement to "keep silent" is clearly not intended to prevent women from teaching or preaching -- there are ample and sufficient examples of women speaking in church and even preaching the good news to suggest that Paul does not mean this. Remember in the context of worship the newly converted Corinthians come from a religious tradition that is free wheeling, loud and chaotic -- or so is described most pagan temple worship of the time. It is likely that this is simply another reminder to all those present to give to those who are speaking the respect due and to not interrupt them for questions (unless, of course, questions have been asked for). There are many scholars who suggest that the parenthetical statement mentioned here is a later gloss which may be indicated by the fact that many early manuscripts have this statement at the end of the chapter (following verse 40).

1 comment:

Joshua Reagan said...

Nice! I love being in a place where I am able to have your knowledge on the subject imparted on me within the parameters of the context (considering the particular places and times). Your witness to God's truth revealed in these tougher passages bears witness in my spirit, and gives me more information with which to work with in a way that continuously resonates in agreement with that which I've previously understood!Just awesome!