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In our last essay we studied 1 Cor. 14:26-40 in which Paul turned to the third and last major characteristic of the more excellent way. The first was love; the second was intelligibility; and now we saw the third, orderliness. The passage for this essay is 1 Corinthians 15:1-34, which deals with the resurrection of Christ (vv. 1-11) and of the dead (vv. 12-34). In order to study the doctrine of the Resurrection properly, we must begin with an understanding of the Jewish and Greek backgrounds of this idea.
There were two major views among the Jews. First was the view of the Sadducees who were the Jewish liberals. They did not believe that there was any life after death, let alone resurrection of the body. The second view was that of the Pharisees, who believed in both immortality and resurrection of the body. That was in spite of the fact that there is not a lot of teaching about the afterlife and resurrection in the Old Testament. The few passages that one can point to are: Job 19:25-27; Ps. 16:8-11; and Ps. 73:23-26.
The Greeks had still a different view. They believed in immortality of the soul. But they would have ridiculed the idea of resurrection of the body. The Greeks believed, going all the way back to Plato, that the body is a source of evil, that it is a prison-house for the soul, and that immortality depended on escape from the body.
Since the Hellenistic thought world was Greek, most of the population in the first-century A.D. would have held a typical Greek view. Thus the people who were sympathetic to hearing the apostles preach or teach about the resurrection were few. And the Christian message, which is based on the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and promises bodily resurrection to its adherents, was preached in a hostile thought environment.
In the first eleven verses of chapter 15, Paul focuses on two things; namely, the gospel that he preached to the Corinthians, which they had received, and the Resurrection of Jesus.
The main problem with which Paul is dealing here is seen in verse 12, where he says, “If Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” Obviously some of the Corinthian Christians had been strongly influenced by thinking that denies resurrection of the dead. Therefore Paul intended verses 1-11, which deal with the resurrection of Jesus, to lay a foundation for verses 12-34, which deal with resurrection of the dead.
Notice that Paul says three things in verses 1-2 about the gospel (the good news) he had preached to them. First, he reminds them that they had received that gospel. Second, he reminds them that they were even now taking a stand on that gospel. And third, he reminds them that they were being saved by that gospel. However, he concludes by saying that for all of this to be true they must hold firmly to the message.
In verses 3-5 Paul reviews the gospel that he had preached, and they had received. But first notice in verse three that Paul declares that he himself had received the gospel from others. It was not something that God had revealed first to Paul.
Paul’s review is a lovely and totally simple summary. First, Jesus died for our sins. Second, he was buried, which affirmed that Jesus really was dead. Third, on the third day he rose from the dead; and fourth, he was seen alive by Cephas and the Twelve. And notice that all of this is said to be “according to the scriptures.” Indeed many scholars believe that Paul’s summary represents an early Christian creed. Whether or not that is true, Paul does not stress in this passage the idea that Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily resurrection. But it is clear from the resurrection appearances in the Gospels that Jesus was raised bodily, even though it was quite different from his pre-death body.
After reviewing the gospel, in verse 6-8 Paul lists a series of additional resurrection appearances by Jesus. As you can see Jesus appeared to more than 500 disciples at one time. If it were not for this letter, we would not know about that mass appearance. Then he appeared to James, presumably the brother of Jesus, and to all the apostles. We cannot be sure who Paul meant by “all the apostles,” since the Twelve already have been mentioned. Finally in verse eight Paul offers his own experience. The Lord appeared to him “as one untimely born” (NRSV). Undoubtedly Paul was referring to his experience on the Damascus Road, which he interpreted as a genuine resurrection appearance rather than a vision. He considered himself “one untimely born,” because all other resurrection appearances occurred before Jesus’ ascension.
In verses 9-11 Paul explains why he is “the least of the apostles.” He is undeserving, because earlier he had persecuted the church. And everything he is was the result of God’s grace. He was saved by grace, and he was made an apostle by grace.
Verse 11 is important. In it Paul tells the Corinthians, “Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” In other words, all the apostles (especially referring to Apollos and Peter in this case) preached the same message, which included resurrection of the dead. And so in verse 12-19 Paul takes up that subject, dealing first with how it relates to Jesus’ resurrection.
As we noted earlier, verse 12 clearly informs us of the main issue. Some of the Corinthians do not believe in resurrection of the dead. In verses 13-14 Paul gives them the logical outcome of their position. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ was not raised. And if Christ was not raised, then both the preaching of the apostles and the faith of the Corinthians are in vain (literally “empty”). That is, there is no basis for either one, because the entire gospel is based on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Paul presses on in verses 15-19 to declare that rejection of resurrection of the dead means that the apostles and other believers are misrepresenting God, because they have preached and or believed that Christ was raised. The ultimate result is that they are still in their sins, and those Christians who have died have truly perished.
I believe Fee is correct when he suggests that the Corinthians probably had not lost faith in life after death. They likely believed in a bodiless heavenly existence like many people today. But Paul insists that if there is no resurrection, there is no life after death at all and “we are of all people most to be pitied.
Thus far Paul has shown the consequences of rejecting the doctrine of resurrection of the dead. Now as Fee reminds us, Paul continues in 15:20-28 his argument by showing the necessity and inevitability of resurrection.
First Paul declares that in contrast to the denial of some in Corinth, Christ has been raised from the dead as the first fruits of resurrection. Therefore it is inevitable that the dead in Christ will be raised. Second, in verses 21-22, Paul turns to the Adam-Christ analogy. This is the first occurrence of that idea in Paul’s letters. Death came through Adam, meaning through Adam’s sin. And life, via resurrection, comes through Jesus Christ. (See Rom. 5:12-14, 18-19). Third, in verses 23-24 Paul reveals three end-time stages: One, the resurrection of Christ, two, the resurrection of those who belong to Christ when he comes again, and three, at the end after destroying all evil, his act of handing over the kingdom to the Father. For all this to be true, resurrection of the dead is both necessary and inevitable.
Verses 25-28 continue the explanation. And the sum of it is that the last enemy to be destroyed is death, and everything, including the Lord Jesus, eventually will be in subjection to -the Father.
In verses 29-34 Paul turns to how resurrection of the dead relates to several additional matters. In verse 29 Paul mentions something that the Corinthians are doing that others are not, namely, holding baptismal services on behalf of certain people who have died. There is absolutely no way of knowing what they hoped to accomplish by it. The best we can do is to assume that the baptisms were vicariously done on behalf of relatives or friends who had died. At any rate, Paul uses the practice, whatever it was, to add another argument about resurrection of the dead. To baptize dead people makes no sense whatsoever if there is no resurrection of the dead.
In verses 30-32 Paul turns to still another argument. He and others risk their lives for Christ every day. The “wild beasts” that Paul says he wrestled with at Ephesus were not intended to be taken literally. But the risk was that dangerous. His point is that such risk makes no sense if there is no resurrection of the dead. Indeed if death is all there is, one may as well pursue the passing pleasures of the moment (quotation is from Isa. 22:13).
Paul ends the section by exhorting the Corinthians about their moral behavior (vv. 32-33) He demands that they be sober and sin no more. Yes, there is a future beyond this life, because of resurrection of the dead.
This is the last essay until after New Years. We not only have the holiday celebrations, our youngest granddaughter is getting married on December 28.
In the last essay we studied 1 Cor. 14:1-25. As we did that study, we began to see that “the more excellent way” involves more than love. Love certainly is the key, but chapter 14 makes it clear that intelligibility and orderliness also are very important.
Paul continues his discourse in 1 Cor. 14:26-40, and that is our study in this essay. At 14:26 Paul turns to the third and last major characteristic of the more excellent way. The first was love (chapter 13); the second was intelligibility (14:1-25); and now we see the third, orderliness. Once again Paul speaks about the gifts of tongues and prophecy, but with a different goal in mind.
Earlier in the chapter (v. 15) Paul gave the Corinthians a solution to the problem of whether to pray and sing in tongues or with the mind. His simple solution was to do both. Now in the verses we are studying today, Paul offers a solution to the problem of maintaining order in worship services. Apparently the worship of the Corinthians had become chaotic, because everyone wanted to speak at the same time, and most of them wanted to speak in tongues in order to display their gift rather than to edify the church.
Notice that Paul does not address any particular individual whom he believes is responsible to see that there is orderly worship. Notice also that he does not provide them with an order of worship like something we might find in a modern-day bulletin. He leaves the matter of order of worship to the Holy Spirit. But he does give them some guidelines that, if followed, would maintain order in the services.
The first guideline is to acknowledge that everyone has a right to offer a hymn (literally a psalm), a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation of a tongue. The second guideline was to make sure that everything done builds up (edifies) the church. Third, they were to limit the number of speakers in tongues to three at the most, though you will notice that Paul did not think it necessary that anyone speak in a tongue. Indeed fourth, if there were no one to interpret, they should not speak in tongues at all during worship. We also must remember that this is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. Fifth, Paul instructed that those who speak in tongues should speak in turn. This suggests that during worship people were speaking in tongues at the same time, which created chaos.
At verse 29 Paul shifts from guidelines for the orderly use of tongues to the orderly use of prophecy. The first guideline for prophecy is that the number of prophets who speak should be limited to three like those who speak in tongues. Many commentators rather naturally interpret this to mean that only two or three prophets may speak. However, according to Fee there is a problem with this guideline. He points out that Paul, in verse 24, mentions the idea of all of them prophesying; and in verse 31 he says that all the Corinthians can prophesy one by one. Therefore Fee concludes that the guideline could not have meant a limitation to three prophets. He suggests instead that it meant only two or three could speak before the others “weigh,” literally “discern,” what was said. And since the word translated “weigh” (or “discern”) is the same term that was used for the gift of “discernment of spirits” back in 12:10, he suggests further that this was what the weighing meant. I believe Paul was limiting the prophets to three, primarily because of time constraints in a worship service. He didn’t mean that more than three never could speak. Remember, this is a guideline he was recommending.
In verses 30-33 we see a second guideline for prophets in worship. If the Holy Spirit reveals something to a prophet who is sitting in the service, the prophet who is speaking is to yield the floor to the prophet who has been moved to speak. For typical human beings, this is very hard to do, because we allow our egos to get in the way. In any case the other prophets in the community have the responsibility to weigh what each other does and says. As verse 32 tells us, “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” Presumably, they will discern whether or not the Holy Spirit is moving and whether or not anyone is out of order.
Third, prophets, must speak in turn just like those who speak in tongues (v. 31), because “God is a God not of disorder but of peace” (v. 33). Or we might say a God of orderliness.
Next, in 33b-36 Paul turns to the subject of orderliness in respect to the activities of women in the church services. Apparently certain women in Corinth have been transgressing what Paul considers a universal tradition that women keep silent in worship services. This idea seems out of place in Paul’s thought. If you remember, back chapter 11, verses 2-16, Paul assumed that women could and did pray and prophesy in church services (v. 5). There he simply insisted that women wear a head covering, which some of the women in Corinth were not doing.
Because of the conflict between what Paul said in chapter 11 and what he says here, several conflicting theories have risen among scholars. First, some have concluded that these verses were not part of the original letter, but were added later. That is Fee’s position. However they appear in every manuscript of 1 Cor. in existence. Second, others believe that the transgression of the women was not simply speaking, but speaking in a disruptive manner. Some of these suggest that they were speaking in tongues, presumably without an interpreter. Or they were speaking at the same time. And third, it has been suggested that Paul was not giving his own view in these verses but was quoting the view of some strongly Jewish members of the Corinthian church. In my opinion, the context dictates that the second theory is the best. The women were disrupting he services by speaking out of turn and by asking questions at inappropriate times.
In verse 36 Paul chastises the Corinthians for their big-headedness with two scathing rhetorical questions: “Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?” Now that we have reached the end of the large, important section of chapters 12-14, it has become clear that some of the Corinthians believed that their supernatural gifts made them super Christians. They were especially convinced that the gift of tongues proved that they were living the end-time, Spirit-filled life. So they had become quite full of themselves. That is why Paul had to chastise and correct them.
In verses 37-40 Paul closes out the section with a summary and conclusion. In this summary Paul challenges those persons at Corinth, some of whom may have been women, who claim to have spiritual powers and to be prophets. The implication is that they are arrogantly and wrongly making the claim. These undoubtedly are those who have been undermining Paul’s apostolic authority at Corinth. He tells them that they must acknowledge his authority as an apostle and accept what he is writing to them as from the Lord. And if they refuse to do that, their authority and prophetic utterances will not be acknowledged.
In verses 39-40 Paul concludes the section with a three-part summary. First, they are to earnestly desire to prophesy. The reason for that, as we have seen, is that prophecy is the most valuable gift. It always edifies the people. Second, they are not to forbid speaking in tongues. He didn’t want them to overreact in response to what he was saying and forbid tongues. Despite the problems caused by tongues, they also are a valuable gift of the Spirit. And finally, third, all things should be done decently and in order. In sum, everything they do should be done in love, with intelligibility, and in an orderly manner.
In our last essay we studied 1 Cor. 13, Paul’s famous “love chapter.” We saw that there was both a less excellent way to deal with the gifts of the Spirit and a “more excellent way.” The less excellent way, with which Paul dealt in chapter 12, was the way of emphasis on supernatural gifts without love. And the more excellent way, with which he dealt in chapter 13, was the way of love.
All right, as we move through chapter 14, we shall see that “the more excellent way” involves more than love. Love certainly is the key. But it also involves intelligibility and orderliness.
Notice that verse one serves as a transition in two ways. First, the verse transitions back to chapter 12. Chapter 12 ends by telling the Corinthians, “strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” When 14:1 says, “Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy,” it ties directly into chapter 12. In addition it shows that Paul considers prophecy to be the best example of a “greater gift.”
Second, verse one provides a transition from chapter 13 by commanding the Corinthians to “pursue love.” Paul has given an entire chapter to the task of convincing them that love is essential to Christian spirituality; and so he demands that they pursue it. And they should pursue it with passion! This is absolutely true for us as well. Nothing is more clearly revealed in scripture. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16); the character of godly people is love (1 Cor. 13); and we are to pursue love. The apostle John tells us that persons who do not love do not know God (1 John 4:8). And yet some people who claim to be Christians harbor hate in their hearts. Pursue love, says Paul.
In verses 2-4 Paul contrasts the gift of prophecy with the gift of tongues. One who speaks in a tongue speaks to God rather than to the people (v. 2). He speaks mysteries (meaning that what the person speaks is unknown both to the speaker and the listener) (v.2). And he edifies himself rather than the assembly (v. 4a).
This last item is interesting, because the edification is not cognitive. The person who speaks in a tongue is edified; but it is a spiritual edification, because nothing intelligible is communicated, even to the person speaking. But Paul’s main concern was the Corinthians’ selfish attitude. They were speaking in tongues and edifying themselves, while neglecting edification of the church. In other words they were exercising their gifts without love.
One who prophecies, on the other hand: speaks to men rather than God (v. 3). And prophecy edifies, encourages, and comforts the assembly, not just the speaker (vv. 3f.). Verse five summarizes. Paul does not disparage the gift of tongues. Indeed he declares that they are good. But prophecy is better. Prophecy always edifies, whereas tongues must be interpreted to edify. Therefore prophecy is a greater gift and tongues a lesser gift when compared with one another.
Paul goes on in verses 6-25 to explain why tongues do not edify. And the key factor is intelligibility. Tongues do not edify, because they are not understood; they are unintelligible.
Notice in verse six that Paul uses the word “revelation” apparently as another supernatural gift of the Spirit, which he has not listed elsewhere. It is unclear how it would relate to the other gifts, which also sometimes were vehicles for impartation of revelation. At any rate, all four gifts mentioned in verse six, revelation, knowledge, prophecy and teaching, are gifts that impart intelligible information to the assembly. Therefore they are gifts that that edify.
And then Paul illustrates with musical instruments (vv. 7-9). Even lifeless musical instruments must be played in an intelligible way in order to make music understandable. And the bugler, who calls an army to battle, must sound the call in an intelligible fashion if the army is to know what to do. Paul concludes, in verse nine: “So with yourselves. If in a tongue you utter speech that is unintelligible, how will anyone know what is being said”?
In verses 10-12, Paul continues to press the point. In verse 12 he once again uses the expression “So with yourselves” in order to apply his words to the Corinthians (14:9). Since they are so eager for spiritual gifts, they should at least strive for gifts that edify the church.
Verse 13 is another transition verse. The emphasis on praying for “the power to interpret” repeats the need for intelligibility and edification. That still is Paul’s main concern. But the mention of prayer leads to his next emphasis, which is on the relation of the gift of tongues to prayer.
First, Paul exhorts them to pray for the gift of interpretation, if they are going to speak in tongues in worship, because when one speaks in tongues, one’s mind is “unfruitful” (vv. 13-14). And intelligibility is crucial.
Second, he gives them the solution to the problem. He exhorts them to do what he does, namely, pray both with the Spirit and with the mind. He also sings both with the Spirit and the mind (v. 15). Singing traditionally was part of Jewish worship, and it naturally became a part of Christian worship.
It has been some years since I have attended a large charismatic gathering, but in the past singing in tongues as a prayer of thanksgiving and praise was a significant part of the worship services at such gatherings. I always found singing in the Spirit in those contexts to be quite beautiful and moving. It is true that no intelligible communication was going on during the singing in tongues. But there was a communion of spirits among the worshipers that was quite valuable and meaningful for all involved. On the other hand, there was much singing and speaking that was not in tongues, and the intelligible communication came from that singing and from preaching. Everyone present understood that the time spent singing in tongues was a time to glorify and praise God.
As Paul continues in verses 15-17, he points out the obvious. If they speak in tongues in the public assembly, the “outsider” (NRSV), literally the “uninstructed,” cannot say the “Amen,” because they cannot understand what is being said. “Amen” means “so be it,” or “truly.” The saying of “Amen” as a response to something said, came (like the already mentioned music) into Christian worship from Judaism.
In verses 18-19 Paul declares that he speaks in tongues more than the Corinthians. But when it comes to public worship, he would rather speak five intelligible words that instruct people than 10,000 words in an unintelligible tongue.
At verse 20 Paul shifts his focus from tongues and prayer to tongues and unbelievers. Paul begins the segment by exhorting the Corinthians to stop being children in their thinking. Where they need to be childlike, even infants, is “in evil,” meaning in their behavior. They must be “adult” or “mature” in their thinking.
In verse 21 Paul refers to Isaiah 28:11-12, which he offers as Old Testament support for his argument. He doesn’t quote Isaiah, but refers to various parts of the prophet’s two verses. The historical context of Isaiah’s statement was the fact that the people of Israel would not listen to him. So he threatened them with the “strange tongues” of the Assyrians, who were invading them. Paul was not thinking about Isaiah’s historical context. He was thinking about his historical context and that of the Corinthians.’ In Paul’s context, it was the gift of tongues, with which the Corinthians were so enamored, that was causing them not to listen to Paul.
Verse 22 tells us that tongues are a sign for unbelievers and prophecy is a sign for believers. Tongues are a negative sign for unbelievers in the sense that the tongues harden their hearts. Indeed they might think the Christians are mad (v. 23). On the other hand, prophecy is a positive sign for believers, because they are edified by it.
To summarize, Paul insists that the Corinthian’s emphasis on the gift of tongues is misdirected, because it has caused a neglect of the gift of prophecy, which is a more important gift. It is more important, because it edifies the assembly of believers, which the gift of tongues does not. But the same principle holds true in relation to the uninstructed and the unbelievers. The gift of tongues exercised in their presence causes them to judge Christians to be mad, whereas the gift of prophecy causes conviction of sin and conversion to God.