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.


In our last essay we studied 1 Cor. 12:10b-31, which completed our study of chapter 12. The first part of the passage completed a list of nine gifts of the Spirit. And the rest of the chapter indicated that Paul gloried in the unity of Christ’s body, in spite of the diversity seen in the earlier verses. In the last verse of chapter 12 (v. 31) Paul promised to show the Corinthians a “more excellent way.” That did not mean that he was against supernatural gifts of the Spirit. Clearly he was in favor of them. He even encouraged them to seek “the greater gifts” (12:31). But there was something more important to seek. The better way is the way of love.

First, verses 12:1-3 reveal love’s necessity. Love is a more excellent way, because it is absolutely necessary that it underlay our character. If love is not at the heart of what and who we are, then our lives and ministries, even if supernaturally gifted, will be of little or no value. Notice that Paul does not say that our ministries always will be of no value to others. Supernaturally gifted persons, even if they have motives other than love, help some people in spite of themselves.

But notice the effect on the persons themselves. Verse one tells the Corinthians that if they speak in tongues without having love, they are just making noise. We must remember that speaking in tongues is speaking to God (14:2). The implication is that God isn’t interested in what they have to say, if they have no love.

Verse two informs them that if they prophesy, understand all mysteries and knowledge, and “have all faith, so as to move mountains,” but do so without love, they are nothing in God’s sight.

Verse three declares that even if they go so far as to give away their property, or deliver their bodies to be burned; and they do so without love, they gain nothing. Scholars are uncertain about Paul’s meaning when he talks about delivering one’s body to be burned. Among the suggestions are: seeking martyrdom, and being burned in the sense of branded as a slave. The idea of the latter suggestion is to sell oneself into slavery, ostensibly for the benefit of others. Still another idea that has been advanced is that Paul meant self-immolation, that is, suicide by self-burning. There is nothing in Paul’s language that indicates his approval of any of these. However they do represent extreme levels of dedication. And martyrdom was a reality for some early Christians.

The point of all this is that it is not the presence of the gifts of the Spirit that signify the working of God’s Spirit in a Christian, but rather the presence of God’s love. Thus we see love’s necessity.

Second, in verses 4-7 Paul explains love’s character.

As Paul begins to describe love, he begins with two things that love is, and then he gives a series of things it is not. The two things that Paul declares love to be are patient and kind. You will recognize patience and kindness as two of the fruit of the Spirit as set forth by Paul in Gal. 5:22-23. The fruit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control. Notice that love heads the list. Based on the larger context, I believe we can confidently say that love contains the other fruit of the Spirit. That is, love is not simply one of nine fruit of the Spirit. It is by far the most important characteristic of the Holy Spirit, and the other eight fruit derive from it and describe it.

Turning to the things that Paul says love is not, we see that it is not envious or boastful. It is not proud, literally “puffed up.” Nor is it rude or self-seeking. Love is not “irritable” as the NRSV translates it, “not easily angered,” according to the NIV.

Next according to the NRSV, Paul declares that love is not “resentful.” “The NIV translates it, “keeps no record of wrongs.” The Greek literally reads, “does not reckon the evil.” In other words, those who love with God’s love do not let hurts or slights done to them fester. Instead they forgive, even as Jesus on the cross forgave those who crucified him.

Paul continues by saying that love “does not rejoice in wrongdoing (literally evil), but rejoices in the truth” (v. 6). In other words God’s love takes no pleasure in the evils around us such as war, greed, mistreatment of the poor, and so forth. Nor does it rejoice in the fall of another person. Love always wants God’s best for everyone.

Then in verse seven Paul concludes this little section with a series of verbs all with the same direct object “all things.” Love “bears (literally “covers”) all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” When he says that love “believes all things,” he does not mean that it believes anything and everything uncritically. Paul has established elsewhere that a Christian has to “test the spirits.” And Paul’s statement that love hopes and endures all things shows us that a Christian must never give up hope or fail to persevere.

Alright, we have seen love’s necessity and love’s character. Third, in verses 8-13 we see love’s permanence.

The first sentence of verse eight raises a couple of questions. One, some question whether the sentence “love never ends (NRSV) or fails” (NIV) is the end of the list in the previous paragraph, or if it is the beginning of this new paragraph. As you can see by the modern translations, most scholars agree that it begins the new paragraph, because its content goes with the content of the following verses.

Two, a question also rises over the meaning of the assertion that “love never ends.” The term translated “ends” or “fails” literally means “falls.” Therefore the sentence literally reads, “Love never falls.” The NRSV translators’ “love never ends” interprets “falls” to mean that love persists to the end, even if rebuffed. Thus it is closely related to the already-stated fact that love “endures.” The NIV translation, “love never fails” understands “falls” to mean that love never is brought down. It successfully withstands all attacks by the evil one. Personally, I believe the term is ambiguous enough that Paul easily may have had both of these ideas in mind. But “ends” is the best translation, because of what we see in the rest of verse eight, in which Paul speaks of three gifts of the Spirit that do come to an end, namely, prophecies, tongues and knowledge.

In verse nine Paul describes these three representative gifts as limited and temporary. They are limited, because they function only “in part.” They are not perfect or mature. Therefore at best they are only partial and thus limited. They also are temporary, because when the “complete” or “perfect” comes, they “will come to an end.”

In verses 11-12 Paul uses two analogies to nail down his point. First, he uses the analogy of giving up childish ways when one becomes an adult. He seems to be suggesting that the Corinthians, in their immaturity, still were acting like children. And second, he sets forth the analogy of looking into a mirror, which in those days provided a distorted image. Fee suggests that a modern equivalent would be a photograph. No matter how good the picture is, it is not the real thing. In other words, we have a distorted view of God now, and our knowledge of him also is distorted. But when the perfect comes, we will see and know God clearly.

Finally, in verse 13 Paul brings the chapter, to a conclusion by speaking of a triad that likely was familiar in early Christian preaching, namely, faith, hope and love. Faith refers to faith in Christ; hope refers to hope for the future; and love is love for God and others. These three remain Paul says; but of the three, the greatest is love.


In our last essay we studied 1 Cor. 12:4-11 in which Paul stressed the tremendous diversity of gifts of the Spirit found in the body of Christ. We noticed that there are nine gifts listed in verses 8-10. Since we are continuing that study in this essay, I will give a quick review of the five gifts that we studied last time.

The first gift on this list is a word (or utterance) of wisdom, which I defined as a perceptive insight into an immediate situation. In other words, God reveals to a believer “wisdom” in that situation that the believer would not otherwise have.

The second gift listed is a word (or utterance) of knowledge, which is a gift or revelation of specific information of which the recipient had no previous knowledge.

Ken Kinghorn defines faith, the third gift listed, as a gift “given to some Christians as a special ability to see the adequacy of God and to tap it for particular situations.” We noted that this gift of the Spirit is not the faith that saves and sanctifies us. Rather it is an enablement to believe for something that God will do, even though the person gifted has no idea how God will do it.

The fourth gift, gifts of healing, enables the one gifted to function as an instrument of God’s healing grace in the lives of others. I pointed out that God heals sick spirits, sick relationships, sick emotions, and sick bodies although spiritual healing is more important to God.

Next we noted that physical illness must be understood in the context of God’s circumstantial, or permissive, will. That is, he does not intend or cause sickness; but he does permit it. I indicated that a direct instantaneous healing miracle means that God has chosen to act miraculously in a particular situation. Many cannot understand why God chooses to act miraculously in certain situations, but not in others. I gave my opinion that God acts miraculously in certain situations in order to produce a new situation that somehow better reflects his will at a level beyond the individual involved. In other words he doesn’t work a miracle for you and not for me because he loves you more. Rather he is addressing another situation, perhaps one completely unknown to us, in which the healed one is not directly involved.

This discussion of physical healing led us to the fifth gift, miracles. Paul evidently distinguished in his mind between healing miracles and other miraculous acts of God. The gift of non-healing miracles is given on special occasions to meet special needs, according to the good judgment of God.

All right, in this essay we are studying 12:12-31. The sixth gift listed is prophecy. A gift of prophecy is inspired speaking on behalf of God. It is not primarily predictive, though some seem to forget that. Prophecy sometimes does function to predict future events (foretelling). But it usually provides a word from God for the present (forth-telling). It is the latter type of prophecy that predominates.

Paul’s letters contain four lists of gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:8-10, 28; Rom. 12:6-8; and Eph. 4:11). And prophecy is the only gift that appears in all four passages. Some Christians, mostly from a Pentecostal background, believe that prophecy always is a spontaneous message given in the assembly, rather than a prepared sermon. Others believe that a prepared sermon can be a vehicle for a gift of prophecy. In either case, the gift is given for the sake of believers (1 Cor. 14:22).

The seventh gift on the list is the discernment of spirits. This gift enables one to discern whether person’s (primarily prophets) are moved by their own human spirit, the Holy Spirit, or demonic spirits (see John 4:1; cf. 1 Cor. 14:29).

Eighth on the list is the gift of various kinds of tongues. The gift of tongues, as Paul describes it, has several characteristics. One, it is spirit-inspired speech (vv. 8-10). Two, it is given to some, but not all Christians (1 Cor. 12:30). Three, it is unintelligible to both the speaker (1Cor. 14:14) and the hearers (1 Cor. 14:16). Four, the speaker is in control of the gift (1 Cor. 14:27-28). Five, the message is directed to God, not to the people (1 Cor. 14:2). Thus six, tongues are a form of prayer, primarily thanksgiving (1 Cor. 14:14-17).

Therefore the gift of tongues, as Paul describes it, is not a means of God’s sending divine messages to congregations. The gifts of prophecy and teaching, assisted on occasion by the gifts of wisdom and knowledge, serve that function. The gift of tongues, rather, provides a vehicle for prayer and thanksgiving.

The ninth and last gift on the list is interpretation of tongues. Of course the purpose of this gift is to make something spoken in tongues in a worship service intelligible to outsiders (1 Cor. 14:13-17). There are three major views of the gift of tongues current today:

One is the view of liberal scholarship. Liberal scholars tend to interpret tongues as a kind of ecstatic speaking that was practiced in several of the Hellenistic religions of the first century. In other word, it was a typical religious activity of the day that was neither unique nor a gift from God.

Another view is that of Pentecostals and Charismatics. In their view the gift of tongues in 1 Cor. 12-14 are the glossolalia practiced in their groups today. Many of them view it as a language of angels, based on 1 Cor. 13:1, where tongues of angels are mentioned. But that is unlikely.

In any case, this means that the tongues of 1 Cor. 12-14 are a different type from those of Acts chapter two. In Acts two, the tongues clearly were intelligible, earthly languages that were understood by the hearers. That definitely is not the case in 1 Corinthians.

Most Pentecostals and Charismatics agree that the tongues in 1 Cor. function to edify the individual who exercises the gift, rather than the community. Some speak of it as a “prayer language,” meaning a language used in private prayer. That may be a legitimate deduction from what Paul says, but he never uses the phrase “prayer language” anywhere.

Still another view is that of traditional orthodoxy, which has tended to view the tongues of 1 Cor. 12:14 as the same as those of Acts two. In other words in this view, there are not two different types of tongues in the New Testament. They interpret the gift of tongues consistently as a gift of intelligible languages. That is why, in this view, Paul forbids their use in public assembly without an interpreter. No one would understand it.

In difficult cases of biblical interpretation like this, I believe in going with the broadest evangelical interpretation that the evidence allows. In this instance, the case made for the gift of tongues in 1 Cor. 12-14 as intelligible languages is not strong enough to overcome the likelihood that there are two gifts of tongues in the New Testament.

Now then, that completes Paul’s discussion of the diversity of spiritual gifts in the early church. In the next section of the epistle, which is the rest of chapter 12, Paul glories in the unity of Christ’s body, in spite of the diversity.

Verse 12 offers a straight-forward analogy. As a physical body has many members, yet is one body; the body of Christ has many members, yet is one body. In other words, there is both unity and diversity in the church.

Verse 13 frequently is interpreted as a reference to salvation. In that view, the baptism mentioned is interpreted as water baptism, though I personally believe it would be more accurate to interpret it as spiritual baptism, of which water baptism is the symbol. But in any case, Paul is emphasizing the unity of the church that is based on our union with the Holy Spirit.

In verses 14-20 Paul clarifies the necessity for the diversity of gifts. We need diversity of functions in both the physical body and the body of Christ. As Paul illustrates, each member is important to the whole.

Paul shifts his thinking a little bit in verses 21-26 and begins to emphasis how interdependent we are. Not only is each member important, each has to depend in important ways on the others. Notice in verse 22 that Paul describes certain body parts as “weaker” and “indispensable.” presumably he is referring to the heart and other vital internal organs. The fact that they are found deep within the body, where there is maximum protection, indicates their importance.

On the other hand, Paul describes other parts of the body as “less honorable” and “less respectable.” Those we treat with greater honor and respect by covering them with attractive clothing. In my opinion Paul is referring here to the parts of the body that deal with elimination and sexual functions. Most agree that the “more respectable members” mentioned in verse 24 (the face and hands) do not require covering.

In verses 24b-26 Paul applies the body analogy directly to the Corinthians. As we saw earlier in the epistle (1:10-4:21; 11:18-19), there was discord, literally division in the body of Christ at Corinth. And Paul is saying here that it is not supposed to be that way. Rather the members are to “care for one another” (v. 25). Paul had made that point about caring back in chapter eight (vv. 7-13) when he discussed the eating of meat sacrificed to idols, and again in chapter 11 when he dealt with the Lord’s Supper. He instructed the Corinthians to be sensitive to their weaker members regarding what they should eat (chapter 8), and to be sensitive to the poor members when hey met for Holy Communion (chapter 11). And now Paul is saying the same regarding the distribution of spiritual gifts, Christians are to “care for one another.”

I like William Barclay’s application of this part of the passage to our situation today. He puts it in three “ought” statements. First, “we ought to realize that we need each other.” Second, “we ought to respect each other.” And third, “we ought to sympathize with each other” (p. 127).

At the end of the chapter, in 12:27-31, Paul returns to the subject of spiritual gifts. As you can see, Paul gives us a second brief list of gifts of the Spirit in verse 28. This time he emphasizes gifts that set persons apart as officials in the church. The first two gifts are apostles and prophets (v. 28), which we already have discussed (9:1-2 and 12:10). The third gift is teachers (v. 28), meaning those who instruct Christians, including new converts about what it means to be a Christian and how to live the Christian life. However, I believe it would be a mistake to separate these offices too sharply. There was considerable overlap in function among early church leaders. For example, in Acts 13:1 five men, including Barnabas and Paul, are listed as both prophets and teachers. And the same kind of overlap exists today.

Coming back to verse 28, after apostles, prophets and teachers Paul lists miracles, healings, helps, administration (NIV) and tongues. We already have dealt with all of these, except “helps” and “administration.” The gift of helps is the ability to see the needs of others and move to meet the need. The gift of administration, on the other hand, is the ability to provide leadership or governance where it is needed.

In verses 29-30 Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions the answer to all of which is “No.” Clearly not every Christian is to have every gift. And then in verse 31 he indicates that some gifts are “greater” than others. Although Paul already clearly has stated that God is the one who apportions the gifts, it is legitimate “to strive for the greater gifts.” Unfortunately the Corinthians have desired lesser gifts. Be that as it may, Paul says that there is a better way, the way of love that is laid out in chapter 13.