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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


1 Corinthians 11-13

Introduction & 3 Models of Church Gatherings and Leadership
Examining the Models
Examining the Models Conclusions and Study Expectations
Examining Church Gatherings in the Gospels
The First Supper, Jesus' Specific Instructions, Conclusions
Survey of Post-Ascension Church Gatherings
Apostolic and Eldership Functions in Acts and the Epistles
1 Corinthians 1-10 & Introduction to 1 Corinthians 11-14
1 Corinthians 11-13
1 Corinthians 14
1 Timothy 2:12, Conclusions on Women in Church Gatherings
Conclusions: 1 Corinthians 14, Church Gatherings & Leadership




1 Corinthians 11 – Paul Begins His Discussion of Church Gatherings

 

The first important point from 1 Corinthians 11 is that Paul’s discussion of church gatherings doesn’t begin until verse 17. In his article on women participating in church gatherings, Viola contends the opposite and states that 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 discusses women praying and prophesying in church gatherings.

                                                                                               

(Incidentally, women had both the right and the privilege to participate in the meetings of the church. See endnote for details.) 6 – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 2, Reimagining the Church Meeting, pages 55

 

First, Paul has already encouraged the women to pray and prophesy earlier in the

letter (1 Cor. 11:5). Second, Paul encourages the whole church to function in Chapter 14. He writes, “for you can all prophesy one by one” (v. 31) and “when you assemble, every one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation . . .” (v. 26). – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 10

 

Does this mean that the sisters are never to speak in the meeting? Certainly not. Such an reflects a culturally biased misreading of Paul. It also puts Paul in stark contradiction with himself (11:5; 14:26, 31). – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 10-12

 

Consider the following: In 1 Corinthians, Paul states numerous times that women may prophesy in the church (1 Cor. 11:5; 14:26, 31). – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 14-17

 

The truth of the matter is that the “limiting passages” are highly obscure. Anyone who asserts that they are clear and direct is living in a fog of presumption and academic naivety. For one thing, such an assertion reflects a benighted dismissal of texts like Acts 2:17, Galatians 3:28, and 1 Corinthians 11:5, 14:26, 31. – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 9

 

Even though Viola contends that 1 Corinthians 11 is discussing women praying and prophesying in church gatherings, he offers no evidence or exegesis from the passage in support of his claim. To be clear, it is true that 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 does discuss women praying and prophesying. Where we disagree, however, is that verses 1-16 are referring to church gatherings rather than just in average daily life or in their own household. As we stated earlier, Paul does not begin to discuss church gatherings until verse 17 of this chapter. To put it simply, it is hypothetically possible that this passage is discussing women praying and prophesying in the church, but it is equally possible that Paul is simply discussing women praying and prophesying at home or in a private setting. What reason do we have to conclude that Paul must be discussing church gatherings and not private settings? Viola himself offers nothing but his own conclusion that this passage is about church gatherings. However, there is clear indication from the chapter itself that it is not. This clear indication comes in verse 17.

 

1 Corinthians 11:17 Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. 19 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

 

The first thing to recognize about chapter 11:1-16 is that this portion of the passage is not discussing church gatherings at all. There are three facts that tell us this.

 

First, we know that the first 16 verses of this chapter are not about church meetings because, as we indicated earlier, nowhere does Paul mention church gatherings in this chapter prior to verse 17.

 

Second, Paul’s language in verse 17 clearly introduces a change of topic, particularly his use of the opening phrase “Now in this,” followed by new terms and issues that he has not mentioned previously. He goes from discussing issues of head coverings, hair length, and general headship without mentioning church gatherings to a wholly different topic involving divisions, overeating, getting drunk, and the need to examine one’s self before eating at church gatherings.

 

Third, Paul does not present his first criticism of the Corinthian church gatherings until verses 17-18. While verse 17 contains Paul’s first mention of church gatherings in this chapter, verse 18 begins with the phrase “for first of all” and then proceeds to his first criticism about their church meetings, which he states is “divisions.” If verses 1-16 were a problem related to church meetings then Paul could not have listed “divisions” in verse 18 as his “first” problem with the Corinthians’ church meetings. Rather, Paul’s “first” issue with the Corinthians’ church gatherings would be “women praying and prophesying without head coverings.” If verses 1-16 were about church meetings then “divisions” would be the second issue that Paul had with the Corinthians and not the first issue. In that case, Paul would not be able to use the word “first” with regard to “divisions.” Consequently, we must conclude that Paul’s comments in verses 1-16 do not refer to protocols for women in the Corinthian church gatherings.

 

The second thing worth noting about chapter 11:1-16 is how it relates to Paul’s thematic way of correcting the Corinthians as well as to the question of hierarchy in the body of Christ in general. We have already noted that each of the Corinthian behaviors that Paul has sought to correct related to the issue of pride, particularly self-assertion to the detriment of others. And we must recall that Paul’s constant means of correcting inappropriate Corinthian behavior has been to point to New Testament truths that were known and taught everywhere in all the churches. In no instance, do we have Paul prescribing a solution for Corinthian misbehavior that is a novel contrivance, which Paul intends to pertain solely to the church at Corinth. 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 is no different.

 

Though this passage deals with a new issue, it is part of the same thematic problem. In this case, Paul turns his attention to women praying and prophesying and head coverings. Now, how does the issue of women and head coverings relate to the overall theme of 1 Corinthians, which is prideful self-assertion rather than humility for the benefit of others? Simple, apparently according to this passage, a woman who prayed or prophesied without wearing a head covering was asserting herself over her husband rather than humbling herself in submission. By doing so the woman was asserting herself over her husband’s interests and bringing shame to him (1 Corinthians 11:5.) In the modern church, there are those who might feel that women have the right not to be subordinated or submitted to a man. But contrary to such a view, Paul asserts that it is proper for a woman to humbly do so (1 Corinthians 11:1-5, 10).

 

As we pointed out earlier in our discussion of hierarchical structures in the church, this passage does bear evidence of a hierarchical structure in the Church. The hierarchy is structured as follows: the husband is the head of the wife, Christ is the head of the husband, God is the head of Christ. As we saw in our earlier discussion of this topic, Viola denies that any such hierarchies exist in the church.

 

Paul’s point in this passage is clear and it fits quite well within his thematic method for correcting the same recurring issue within the Corinthian church. In verse 16, for the second time, we see Paul state that his teaching is the custom of all the churches. (The first time was in 1 Corinthians 7:17. In fact, we will find a third time in 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 as we discuss that chapter later on.)

 

1 Corinthians 11:15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. 16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

 

As Paul turns to the issue of church gatherings and leadership, we will find the same general problem underlying the Corinthian misbehavior, prideful self-assertion without regard for the benefit of others. And we will also find the same type of corrective response from Paul, citations of teachings and practices held throughout all the churches.

 

As we have said, verses 17-19 of 1 Corinthians 11 discuss the problem of “divisions” at the Corinthian church gatherings.

 

1 Corinthians 11:17 Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. 19 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

 

In verses 20-34, Paul presents his next criticism of the Corinthian church gatherings. Paul’s objection concerns the administration of the Lord’s supper.

 

1 Corinthians 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. 23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. 27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. 33 Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. 34 And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.

 

Here, Paul’s complaint is again within the larger theme that is repeated throughout this epistle. In this case, some of the Corinthians were not waiting for everyone before they began to eat the communion meal. The result was that those who started early ate and drank too much and were getting drunk while those who arrived later had to go without and remained hungry (verse 21.) So, a meal that was instituted as a means of sharing with one another had become a time of self-preference, selfishness, and greed. And what is Paul’s response? Paul corrects the Corinthian abuses by reminding them of something he’d passed on to them, which of course, had been taught in all the churches. Specifically, Paul pointed the Corinthians back to Jesus’ institution of the communion meal. Again, this is no novel teaching that applies only to the Corinthians.

 

In conclusion regarding 1 Corinthians 11, we can see that verse 34 is the last verse of chapter 11. In the 18 verses spanning from verse 17-34, no new information is presented that would prompt reconsideration of the church gathering model we seen so far. But we do have some additional information about the communion meal of the early church. 1 Corinthians 11, confirms that the New Testament church understood the Last Supper was prescriptive for their church meetings (verses 23-26). This is demonstrated by the fact that Paul lists problems with the communion meal second under his general heading of criticisms related to Corinthian church gatherings beginning in verse 17. And we note that according to this passage, the communion meal was a full meal. After all, how could some be drunk while others go hungry if the meal only consisted of a small portion of bread and wine?

 

 

 

1 Corinthians 12-13: Format, Common Features,
and Participation at the Church Gatherings

 

Chapter 12 comes next and contains a discussion of the distribution and use of spiritual gifts. We have seen Viola refer to this particular passage throughout his book in support of a church model in which every member is participating, functioning, and contributing equally.

 

1 Corinthians 12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. 2 Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. 3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. 4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. 

 

At this time the only point to observe from 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 is that Paul indicates that not all believers will receive the same spiritual gift. However, he does indicate that the purpose of all the gifts was to benefit the entire church. But, Paul’s general statement that the entire church benefits from the gifts does not in any way demand that all the members use all the various gifts at the church gatherings. It is more than plausible that some gifts were more useful in everyday life or ministering to unbelievers on the street rather than in church gatherings. This fact will become clear in chapter 14 (particularly verses 1-5, 19-25) when Paul states that he would prefer some gifts be exhibited over others during the church gatherings. (Chapter 14 will be covered in depth later on.) Consequently, these verses do not prove Viola’s “every member functioning” model for church gatherings. Lastly, Paul’s statement (that the purpose of all the gifts was to benefit the church) leads very well into Paul’s next series of statements regarding the church as the body of Christ. So, once again, we see Paul correcting Corinthian practices by reminding them to serve one another instead of themselves.

 

1 Corinthians 12:12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many.

 

As Paul continues, we can easily see the connection he makes in this comparison. In verses 1-11, Paul has explained that there are different gifts given to different believers in the church, but the purpose of the gifts is to benefit the entire church. This is similar to the body, which has different parts, which function together to the benefit of the entire body. Paul continues in verse 15.

 

1 Corinthians 12:15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? 18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. 19 And if they were all one member, where were the body? 20 But now are they many members, yet but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. 22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: 23 And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. 24 For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: 25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. 26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

 

It is apparent from this segment of chapter 12 that the Corinthian misuse of the gifts involved some persons who did not think other people’s gifts were necessary in some sense. Paul indicates this specifically with his comment in verse 21. Again, we note that Paul’s response is to point the Corinthians toward helping one another just as all parts of the body need one another and care for one another in mutual benefit. Paul says similarly in his letter to the Romans.

 

Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 7 Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; 8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.

 

In fact, Frank Viola references this metaphor of the body (found in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12) in support of his view that everyone should participate, function, and contribute equally.

 

Jesus Christ has no freedom to express Himself through His body at His discretion. He too is rendered a passive spectator. Granted, Christ may be able to express Himself through one or two members of the church – usually the pastor and the music leader. But this is a very limited expression. The Lord is stifled from manifesting Himself through the other members of the body. Consequently, the Protestant liturgy cripples the body of Christ. It turns it into one huge tongue (the pastor) and many little ears (the congregation). This does violence to Paul’s vision of the body of Christ, where every member functions in the church meeting for the common good (see 1 Corinthians 12). –Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 3, The Order of Worship: Sunday Mornings Set in Concrete, page 76

 

We believe the pastoral office has stolen your right to function as a full member of Christ’s body. It has distorted the reality of the body, making the pastor a giant mouth and transforming you into a tiny ear.186 It has rendered you a mute spectator who is proficient at taking sermon notes and passing an offering plate. But that is not all. The modern-day pastoral office has overthrown the main thrust of the letter to the Hebrews – the ending of the old priesthood. It has made ineffectual the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12-14, that every member has both the right and the privilege to minister in a church gathering. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 5, The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning, pages 136-137

 

Footnote 186: To put this tragedy in the form of a biblical question, “And if they were all one member, where would the body be?” (1 Corinthians 12:19, NKJV). – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 5, The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning, pages 136-137

 

In fact, one of the goals of New Testament-styled preaching and teaching is to get each of us to function (Ephesians 4:11-16). It is to encourage us to open our mouths in the church meeting (1 Corinthians 12-14). – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 4, The Sermon: Protestantism’s Most Sacred Cow, page 97

 

According to Viola then, Paul’s very use of the body as a metaphor indicates conclusively that everyone should participate, function, and contribute equally at church gatherings. But is his position valid? There are several reasons why it is not.

 

First, Viola’s conclusion is completely contrary to Paul’s point. Beyond the main theme of mutual benefit, Paul’s point about the church being similar to a body is that, like the parts of the body, we do not all have an identical function. This is completely contrary to Viola’s conclusion. In the quotes above, Viola objects to church gatherings in which everyone present does not participate equally. And as seen in the quotes, the basis of Viola’s objection is that limited participation makes those who do participate into “mouths” and those who do not participate into “ears.” But Viola’s objection itself violates Paul’s metaphor, which acknowledges that there are different parts of the body. What Viola wants is for everyone to be able to function as a mouth. But this is not what Paul is saying at all. It is true that Paul says that each part need all the other parts of the body, but Paul does not state that everyone should be able to be a mouth, which Viola’s conclusion necessitates. Rather, Paul allows for some to be mouths and others to be ears. We might also point out that the body has more ears than mouths.

 

In fact, what Viola wants it the opposite of Paul’s vision. Paul envisions a body with different parts which each perform their specific, but different roles. Viola envisions a body in which all parts may at any time function in the same manner as any other part, in which sometimes you are an ear, sometimes you are a mouth, sometimes you are an eye. But this is completely outside Paul’s statements. According to Paul, but contrary to Viola, if all the members of the church functioned in the same way as one another and did the same things as one another, it would be as if the entire body was just an eye or an ear. In Viola’s model we would all be mouths and we would all be ears. Clearly, Paul’s statements here are contrary to the notion of all the members of the church participating in the same function. Instead, Paul is establishing with clarity that the members of the church will not all function in the same way.

 

It should also be noted that Paul does not assign specific functions to specific body parts, such as ears and mouth like Viola does. It should be obvious that Paul did not intend to go so deep with his analogy as to assign specific real functions, like speaking or hearing, to metaphorical body parts. What does the “stomach Christian” do or the “knee Christian” or the “tooth Christian” or the “fingernail Christian?” Unfortunately Viola’s argument requires this kind of specific analogy of parts and functions in order to relate Paul’s metaphor to the subject of who can speak at church gatherings. But in doing so, Viola goes beyond the meaning of 1 Corinthians 12. Lastly, since bodies do have ears, by equating “ears” to “mute spectators” Viola inadvertently ends up translating Paul’s analogy in such a way as to actually necessitate the presence of some members whose function is to be mere listeners. To paraphrase Viola’s wording “after all, what would the body of Christ be if it had no ears at all?” If “ears” equal “mute spectators,” then Paul’s analogy demands that some in the body of Christ function as mute spectators. And if we continue with Viola’s kind of specificity of function, it is also worth noting that there are far more parts of a body that cannot speak than parts that can. But again, Paul in no way intends his analogy of the body to translate so specifically.

 

Second, contrary to what Viola says in the quote below, Paul’s statement that the members have different functions for the benefit of the whole church doesn’t in any way imply that all the members are functioning at the same time. Nor does it imply that they have the same degree of participation in whatever activity the body is currently engaged in.

 

The early church met for the purpose of displaying Jesus Christ through the every-member functioning of Christ’s body. The goal was to make Christ visible and to edify the whole church in the process. Mutual edification through mutual sharing, mutual ministry, and mutual exhortation was the aim. To our thinking, what would make all the difference is if God’s people were equipped and then encouraged to have meetings where every member shared the Christ they had encountered that week, freely and openly, as 1 Corinthians 14:26, 31 and Hebrews 10:25 exhort. The result: God would be seen and thus glorified. Consider your physical body. When every member of you body functions, your personality is expressed. It is the same with Christ. When each member of His body shares his or her portion of Christ, then Christ is assembled (see 1 Corinthians 12-14). – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Afterword, page 268

 

Contrary to Viola’s thinking, there are many times when the mouth speaks and the ears listen while the rest of the body remains largely inactive (or at least acting silently or hidden). Yet the whole body is still present. The whole person is still living. When we run or walk, many parts of our bodies are active and working together, but the mouth may remain entirely silent. Yet again, the whole body is present. (Paul may have this idea specifically in mind in verses 22-24 where he distinguishes between the parts of the body that aren’t featured prominently in public or used in public activity, but which still have an important use to the body.) Again, according to Paul we are not all mouths and we are not all eyes. And it is equally true, we are not each little bodies with mouths, ears, hands, etc. that the Holy Spirit can call into action at any point in order to make us exhibit any or every function. We each contribute something different to the body of Christ. We do not all contribute the same thing.

 

Nothing in Paul’s metaphor requires or implies Viola’s concept of every member functioning in church gatherings. In fact, what Paul says in comparison to the body, directly contradicts Viola’s arguments. This becomes even more apparent as we continue through Paul’s statements. In verse 27, Paul translates his metaphor back to the church itself comparing the parts of the body in his metaphor to the members of the church.

 

1 Corinthians 12:27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. 28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? 30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

 

Interestingly, Paul’s identification of apostles, prophets, teachers, etc. with the various parts of the body itself also directly undermines Frank Viola’s notion that all parts of the body of Christ participate, function, and contribute equally at church meetings. Remember that according to Viola, apostles dominate church meetings by instructing the church.

 

There are two chief characteristics of the apostolic meeting. One is that an apostolic worker does most of the ministry. They are temporary and have a long-range goal. Namely, to equip a local body of believers to function under the headship of Jesus Christ without the presence of a human head (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 14:26). For this reason, an apostle always ends up leaving the church on its own. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 2, Reimagining the Church Meeting, pages 49-51

 

If therefore, one part of the body, such as apostles, can dominate the meetings, then the body metaphor says nothing about equal participation or forbidding dominance by some as Viola would like us to conclude. Similarly, Viola also states that apostles were not present at the regular church gatherings. This completely undermines his point that, in order for Christ to be present, all of the parts of His body must be present and functioning during church gatherings. If Viola’s argument is true, then how could Christ be present and express himself when one part, the apostle, is absent from the meeting and, therefore, unable to participate? And yet, as we have just seen Viola states that apostles are not present at regular church meetings. If, according to Viola, apostles (which Paul identifies as one kind of member of the body) don’t have to be present and functioning for Christ to be fully expressed in the church meetings then why do all other parts have to be present and functioning? Again the reasoning behind Viola’s interpretation of these texts is completely inconsistent and unsound.

 

In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul similarly singles out some of the same roles that he mentions here in 1 Corinthians 12:27-30. It is interesting that in verses 12-15, Paul states the purpose of these roles. He specifically identifies that the purpose is the maturing of the saints in the knowledge of the Son of God so that we are no longer tossed to and fro by false doctrine but instead understand and speak the truth of the gospel.

 

Ephesians 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

 

Ephesians 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors (4166) and teachers (1320); 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

 

As we have already seen from our study, the role of the apostles and elders was chiefly to instruct the church in the teachings of Jesus Christ and they carried this out by functioning as the dominant focal element and chief contributors in the New Testament church meetings. This teaching of the doctrines of Jesus Christ is what Paul said brought maturity to the body of Christ. The combination of this apostolic function with Paul’s comparison between the body and the church in 1 Corinthians 12 leads unavoidably to the conclusion that not all the members in a church community will perform the same function as one another. There will only be some apostles. There will only be some who are prophets. Nor will everyone be a teacher. And the same is true for other kinds of gifts that are given to benefit the church through its members.

 

Once again, the fact that not all members are apostles, prophets, or teachers inherently implies that not all members of the church will teach and share at the church meetings. And it is equally implied that other members of the church will not necessary speak, teach, or lead to the same extent at the church meetings as apostles, prophets, or teachers, which are the parts specifically given the function of teaching in the Body of Christ. Other members who are not apostles, prophets, or teachers may contribute and participate in other ways, such as the distribution of food, or the preparation beforehand, or some other worthy service. For example, Acts 6 seems to distinguish between the role of the apostles and that of the deacon along just these lines. But it is impossible to conclude from 1 Corinthians 12 (and what we’ve seen in the rest of the New Testament) that all members of the church will participate equally in speaking, leading, and teaching at the church gatherings.

 

As we can see, Paul’s use of the metaphor of the body in 1 Corinthians and in Romans 12 is relevant to our discussion of the format and common features of church gatherings. Most importantly, Paul’s metaphor not only fails to support Viola’s model, but it completely contradicts the idea of equal participation, function, and contribution. Paul specifically says that different parts have different functions or gifts. As we move forward into later chapters, we will see that Paul takes this farther and also specifies which of the gifts should be used in the church gathering.

 

As chapter 12 finishes, Paul heads toward a similar discussion of the value of spiritual gifts in chapter 13. We will place chapter 13 here because it is part of this series of chapters. However, as we read through chapter 13 we will see that its 13 verses provide little or no new information about church meetings or the role of elders. We can, however, note that Paul continues to stress doing things for the benefit of others rather than prideful self-assertion. And again, Paul’s instruction does not in any way involve a novel or contrived solution that is unique for the Corinthian church.

 

1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

 

At this point, it is important to provide the following clarification. We certainly agree that Paul’s comments and instructions in these chapters were relevant and necessary to early church life and early church gatherings. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the portions of these passages, which pertain to the administration of spiritual gifts, are relevant to our church meetings of today. Before we apply instructions for how to administrate spiritual gifts to today’s church gatherings, we must first examine whether the church today legitimately possesses the gifts that they did in the early church period. A discussion of this subject is available on our website in the In-Depth Studies section of our website under the title “Charismatic Doctrines.” The conclusion of that study is that the gifts are not being distributed by the Holy Spirit in the modern church the way they were in the early church. Consequently, the way in which these gifts were utilized under the Spirit’s direction in the early church, both inside and outside of their gatherings, is not informative for the format of modern church meetings since we do not genuinely retain the gifts in modern times.

 

 

 

1 Corinthians 14 – Format, Common Features,
and Participation at the Church Gatherings

 

We now proceed into 1 Corinthians 14. The first portion of chapter 14 is a continuation of Paul’s discussion of the use of the spiritual gifts. However, here in this chapter Paul indicates that not all of the gifts are useful to the same degree. He also indicates that not all of the gifts should be practiced to the same degree at church gatherings. At certain points, Paul restates the central theme of acting for the benefit of everyone (verses 4, 6, 12, and 19).

 

1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. 2 For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. 3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. 4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. 5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. 6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine? 7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? 8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? 9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. 10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. 11 Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. 12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. 13 Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. 15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. 16 Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? 17 For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified. 18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: 19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach (2727) others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. 20 Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. 21 In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. 22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.

 

As Paul begins his discussion in this passage, we again want to be clear that just because the early church was enabled by the Holy Spirit to function with spiritual gifts, that fact alone does not necessitate that the modern church is likewise enabled. As indicated earlier, this is the subject of another study on our website. But it is important to point out that when spiritual gifts are not in operation in the church, the result will be an even greater restriction of which teaching-related gifts can and do occur in a church gathering. Paul himself illustrates this principle in verses 1-6 and 18-19. In these verses, Paul states that he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in tongues, because without an interpreter the church will not know what the speaker is saying and, therefore, the church will not be instructed. This implies that in the absence of the gift of interpretation, there is automatically a restriction placed upon the use of the gift of tongues, which is useful for teaching when an interpretation is also provided. Consequently, in this example, we can see how the absence of certain spiritual gifts would limit or prevent the practice of the supernatural teaching-related gifts. 

 

However, we should keep in mind that chapter 14 is the continuation of Paul’s instructions for how to use the gifts, which he began in chapter 12.

 

1 Corinthians 12:27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. 28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? 30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

 

Paul has already declared that not all are apostles, prophets, or teachers. In Romans 12:4-8, Paul indicated similarly by saying that not all teach, etc. And here in 1 Corinthians 14:6 Paul states that the sharing of revelation, knowledge, prophecy, or teaching (doctrine) should be the dominant feature of church meetings. The Greek word for “revelation” is “apokalupsis” (Strong’s number 602), which can indicate the sharing of truth or instruction. The Greek word for “knowledge” is “gnosis” (Strong’s number 1108), which in the New Testament is generally used to refer to understanding the teachings of the Judeo-Christian faith.

 

In verse 19, Paul’s point is made clear. Activities at church gatherings (and those who contribute at church gatherings, including through the use of gifts) are restricted to those which are geared for the teaching and instruction of the assembly. The Greek word for “teach” in verse 19 is “katecho” (Strong’s number 2727) and it is used in the New Testament to speak of oral teaching, instruction, and providing someone with information. Therefore, since not all have the gift of teaching, it follows that those who can’t teach the church won’t participate in the church gatherings (at least not in the same manner or to the same extent as those who can teach.)

 

What is apparent is that Paul is restricting who participates in the church gatherings to those who are able to teach the entire church. During times when the church does not have the spiritual gifts, this list is reduced completely to just teaching from the scriptures since prophecy, words of knowledge, revelations, and speaking and interpreting tongues are not available. In any case, Paul is clearly restricting the activities of some persons at the church meetings under the principle that some gifts are not useful or as valuable in a corporate setting, particularly with regard to Paul’s mandatory goal of teaching those who are gathered. So, once again it is clear that not all who are present at a church gathering will have the same gifts and therefore, not all who are present at a church meeting will contribute in the same way or in equal amounts. Contrary to Viola’s model, Paul is describing diversified (specialized) function among the parts and unequal participation based on function. And once again, we see that teaching is emphasized as the chief and most important element of the church meeting.

 

Paul continues with his line of reasoning, explanations, and instructions for church gatherings as we proceed through this chapter. Again, we must keep in mind that Paul has already indicated that only those gifts, which benefit the whole church by providing instruction or teaching, should be used at the church gathering. He persists in this restriction as he moves forward in verses 23-33 of chapter 14.

 

1 Corinthians 14:23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth. 26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. 29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

 

The first thing that we should take note of is verse 26, where Paul asks the question, “how is it then, brethren?”

 

1 Corinthians 14:26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.

 

The question “how is it then” is comprised of three Greek words. The Greek word for “how” is “tis” (Strong’s No. 5101) meaning “who, which, what.” The Greek word for “is it” is “esti” (Strong’s No. 2076), which is the third person singular form of the verb “to be.” The third person singular is represented in the English by the neuter pronoun “it.” And the Greek word for “then” is “oun” (Strong’s No. 3767) meaning “then,” “consequently,” or “these things being so.” Paul has just finished a subsection spanning from verses 1-25 in which he argues against using gifts in church gatherings that don’t edify the understanding of everyone present. After laying out this argument, Paul follows with this question in verse 26. Effectively Paul is asking, “These things being so what is the state of things? Or better yet, “In light of what I’ve said, how should things be when you all come together?” Consequently, Paul’s question is the prelude for instruction of how things are supposed to be in church gatherings. And Paul’s instruction for how things should be is “when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.”

 

As indicated in the quotes below, Frank Viola agrees that verse 26 is Paul’s instruction for how things should be in church gatherings.

 

“To our thinking, what would make all the difference is if God’s people were equipped and then encouraged to have meetings where every member shared the Christ they had encountered that week, freely and openly, as 1 Corinthians 14:26, 31 and Hebrews 10:25 exhort.” – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Afterword, page 268

 

In the words of 1 Corinthians 14:26, “every one of you” contributes something of Christ to the gathering. In organic church life, the corporate church meeting is an explosive outflow of what the Lord revealed of Himself to each member during the week. These features are virtually absent in the typical institutional church service.” – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Afterword, page 261

 

However, while Viola interprets verse 26 as teaching that literally everyone present is supposed to share at the meetings, Paul’s words actually convey an opposing idea. Rather than saying that everyone should express themselves, Paul is actually intending to restrict who can and should contribute. Both the surrounding context and the internal content of verse 26 make this clear. As noted earlier, the entire 25 verses leading up to verse 26 are an argument against the use of unedifying gifts, which do not result in understanding. And within verse 26 itself Paul answers the question “how should things be done” by saying, “let all things be done unto edifying.” Paul does not stop with simply saying, “let all things be done,” as if to provide instruction to allow all things (all gifts, all functions) to be performed at church gatherings. That is how Viola interprets this phrase. But the reality is that Paul actually includes the words “unto edifying” at the end of the phrase. The full instruction is “Let all things be done unto edifying.”

 

The key question then is what edifies the church? The clear answer is that only those gifts which help the church gain a better understanding of Christian teaching edify. This same concept was also conveyed in Ephesians 4:11-14, which we looked at earlier where Paul noted that God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers to edify the church so that it would not be tossed to and fro by false teaching. But this question is also answered in Paul’s own words here in 1 Corinthians where we have twice now seen Paul prohibit speaking in tongues when it cannot be interpreted on the grounds that it does not edify the understanding of those present.

 

1 Corinthians 14:19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.

 

1 Corinthians 14:26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.

 

Likewise, we should note Paul’s instructions for prophets in verse 29.

 

1 Corinthians 14:29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

 

Notice that Paul’s reason for restricting what can be included in church gatherings is clearly articulated in verse 29’s explanation “that all may learn.” The word translated as “learn” in this verse is the Greek word “manthano” (Strong’s number 3129), which means “to learn, to increase one’s knowledge, to be informed.” Repeatedly, Paul makes his point clear. Gifts which teach, instruct, and provide knowledge or understanding of Christian doctrine (and refute false doctrine) are to dominate the meetings of the church. Those which do not are prohibited. Consequently, we can see that Paul’s response to the question “how should things be done” is none other than a firm reassertion of his previous instruction that only those things that edify should be done. As such, Paul is specifically instructing the Corinthian church that only teaching-oriented gifts (gifts that produce learning and increase understanding) should be practiced at church gatherings and, therefore, that only those who have teaching-oriented gifts can participate.

 

But beyond repeatedly limiting participation to teaching-oriented gifts, in verses 26-33 Paul further restricts the specific number of people who can speak and participate through teaching-gifts in the church gatherings. In verse 27 and 28, Paul specifically states that only two or three people may speak in tongues and that only two or three people may prophesy at the most.

 

Paul’s restriction to “two or three at most” prophesying or speaking in tongues is part of his response to the question given in verse 26 “how should things be done?” So, in addition to limiting participation to those who were able to provide teaching or instruction, Paul also limits the number of speakers. Here’s why.

 

First, the phrase “two or thee at the most” does not designate how many could speak simultaneously. Instead, it clearly refers to the total number of speakers. We know this because Paul explicitly states that all speaking must be done one at a time, taking turns. This is most clear in verse 29-31, when Paul says that two or three prophets can speak but the first must be silent when God reveals something to the second. This necessitates that Paul does not want more than one person speaking at a time. Paul is very explicit on this point in verse 31 when he says “ye may all prophesy one by one.” He clearly means one at a time. But Paul doesn’t say this concerning the prophets only. When speaking about talking in tongues in verse 27, Paul not only says “two or at the most three” but he says “two or at the most three and that by course.” The phrase “and that by course” is clearly meant to connect the speaking of two or three to an assigned course or order of speaking. They are supposed to speak one at a time also, just like the prophets.

 

Consequently, since Paul clearly requires that only one person may speak at a time, the phrases “two or three at the most” must refer to the total number of persons who could take turns speaking at the church meeting in general. In effect, Paul is instructing the Corinthians that “only two or three can take a turn.” The idea that only two or three could speak in turn is an explicit prohibition against everyone taking a turn throughout the meeting.

 

Again Paul’s statements directly contradict Frank Viola’s view.

 

Jesus Christ has no freedom to express Himself through His body at His discretion. He too is rendered a passive spectator. Granted, Christ may be able to express Himself through one or two members of the church – usually the pastor and the music leader. But this is a very limited expression. The Lord is stifled from manifesting Himself through the other members of the body. –Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 3, The Order of Worship: Sunday Mornings Set in Concrete, page 76

 

In Viola’s view, the idea that participation in church meetings would be restricted to one or two persons and prohibit everyone from participating equally is wrong. And yet that is exactly what Paul is doing in the very passages that Viola, without providing any exegesis, claims support his model.

 

But there is no other way to make sense of Paul’s statements limiting the number to two or three at the most. If we wanted to suppose that everyone present at the church gathering could speak then what sense can we make of Paul’s repeated limitation that only two or three at the most could share? Unless, these church gatherings were only attended by three prophets, three speakers in tongues, and one interpreter, we must understand that Paul is here prohibiting everyone from contributing and speaking equally at a church meeting. If only these seven people were present, then Paul would not have to say that only two or three prophets or speakers in tongues could speak in turn because that would be all there were in the first place. So according to Paul, but contrary to Viola, the mutual benefit of all requires a restricted number of people who could participate and speak in church. And that participation was further restricted to those whose function resulted in the rest of the church learning and growing in understanding.

 

But what about verse 24 which says that “all speak in tongues” and “all prophecy?” And what about verse 31 which says “for you may all prophesy one by one that all may learn”? Doesn’t this mean that every one of them was allowed to prophesy? Isn’t this clear instruction that all were allowed to prophesy? Viola claims that these verses mean just that.

 

Second, Paul encourages the whole church to function in Chapter 14. He writes, “for you can all prophesy one by one” (v. 31) and “when you assemble, every one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation . . .” (v. 26). – Frank Viola, Reimagining A Woman’s Role in the Church, An Open Letter, page 10

 

But again, Viola is wrong. We have already seen that Paul has repeatedly stated that not all are prophets. And he has also said that not all speak in tongues.

 

Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 7 Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; 8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.

 

1 Corinthians 12:4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

 

1 Corinthians 12:27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. 28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? 30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

 

If not everyone could speak in tongues how can we conclude that Paul is saying that they all spoke in tongues in their meetings? If they weren’t all prophets, how could we conclude that they all could prophesy? If they didn’t all have the gift of prophesy how can we interpret Paul to be saying that everyone in the church at Corinth could or would prophesy during their gatherings?

 

We cannot. Paul’s statements that not all spoke in tongues or prophesied is inherently contradictory to the conclusion that verses 23, 24, and 31 indicate that everyone could speak in tongues or prophesy at their meetings.

 

Similarly, Paul also explains in these passages that everyone has a different gift. We do not all have the same gifts. Paul is very explicit on that point. So, when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26 “when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation” he does not mean that each one of them had a song and a teaching and a tongue and a revelation and an interpretation. Rather, Paul was saying that some of them had songs, others had teachings, others had revelations, etc. all according to their specific, individual gifting. Similarly, Paul cannot be saying in verses 23, 24, and 31 that each and every one of them all prophesied and all spoke in tongues. Instead, Paul is only referring to those particular individuals who had the gifts of prophecy or tongues. Paul is not saying “everyone present can prophesy” but instead he is saying “all of those with a gift of prophecy can prophesy.” Similarly, Paul is not saying “and “everyone present can speak in tongues” but instead he is saying “all of those with a gift of tongues can speak.” Clearly, Viola is wrong to conclude that these verses teach that literally all of those present could prophesy or speak in tongues when Paul obviously says that not everyone has the gift of prophecy and not everyone has the gift of tongues. Consequently, since the word “all” (in the phrases “all speak in tongues” and “all prophecy”) does not refer to everyone present, verses 24 and 31 neither require every member participation nor overturn Paul’s limitation that only those with teaching-gifts can participate in gatherings.

 

Also, it is important to consider the Greek word translated as “all” in these verses. The word “all” in these verses is the Greek word “pas” (Strong’s number 3956.) It can mean “all” as in “everyone” or it can mean “each” as in “each individual.” In the context of Paul’s comments that not all prophesy or speak in tongues, Paul’s statements in verses 23, 24, and 31 are not a reference to “everyone” at the Corinthian meetings speaking in tongues or prophesying. Likewise, Paul’s statement in verse 26 that all had a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or interpretation does not mean that each and every person had all of these things. Rather than the whole church, these statements are references only to those specific individuals with those gifts. And we have already seen that Paul has limited which gifts could participate and even the number of people with those gifts who could participate. According to Paul, only those with teaching-oriented gifts could participate and only two or three of them at the most.

 

The meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:26 becomes even clearer in comparison to similar phrasing in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22. In both passages, Paul uses the same pattern to address and correct unorthodox Corinthian practice at church gatherings. The pattern is as follows:

1) Paul describes something “every one” of the Corinthians were doing as they came together.
2) Paul questions what “every one” of the Corinthians were doing as they came together.
3) Paul corrects what “every one” of the Corinthians were doing as they came together.

When we examine these two passages side by side this pattern becomes obvious.

In 1 Corinthians 11:20-21, Paul states that when the Corinthians came together for church “everyone of them” was taking too much or not waiting for the others (v.33).

1 Corinthians 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul states that when the Corinthians came together for church “every one of them had a psalm, a teaching, a tongue, a revelation, or an interpretation.”

1 Corinthians 14:26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

In 1 Corinthians 11:22, Paul questions the Corinthian’s inappropriate practice of the Lord’s Supper saying “What shall I say to you?”

1 Corinthians 11:22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What (5101) shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul questions the Corinthians practice of everyone speaking at church gatherings saying “How is it then?” (Taken together verse 26 can be read as “How is it then brothers when you come together every one of you has a psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation?”)

1 Corinthians 14:26 How (5101) is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

In both passages, Paul questions the Corinthians practices. He uses these questions to indicate his disapproval of their unorthodox behavior. The questions are even similar in the Greek. Both start with the Greek word “tis” (Strong’s number 5101).

But Paul’s disapproval of the Corinthians practices in chapter 11 and 14 isn’t just indicated by questioning. In both chapters, Paul also provides correction for the behavior (with appeals to universal church practice).

In 1 Corinthians 11:22-34, Paul corrects the Corinthians misconduct by reminding them of the appropriate manner to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He reminds the Corinthians that their celebration of the Lord’s Supper should not be conducted in selfishness or revelry. Rather it should be conducted in sanctity and with consideration for one another.

1 Corinthians 11:22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not. 23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. 27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. 33 Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. 34 And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26 “every one” spoke during the meeting (they each had a psalm, a teaching, speaking in tongues, a revelation, or interpretation). In short, according to Paul, the Corinthian practice of everyone speaking contradicted the spirit and intent of the meetings. Church gatherings are for edifying the whole church. They are not an opportunity for egoism and prideful, self-expression. According to Paul, the Corinthian practice of everyone speaking created confusion (v. 33). And he corrected the practice of everyone speaking by restricting who could participate in the church gatherings. These restrictions are:

1) Only those who could edify the whole church through teaching could speak (v. 5-6, 12, 23).
2) Those who could teach must take turns speaking and could not all speak at once (v. 27, 29-31).
3) Only 2 or 3 persons could teach during the meetings (v. 27, 29).
4) Only men could speak or teach at the meetings (v. 34-35).

1 Corinthians 14:26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. 29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

It is important to note that 1 Corinthians 14:34-40 also confirms that in this chapter Paul is condemning the Corinthian practice of everyone speaking at church meetings. It is clear from verses 34-36 that the Corinthian practice was to allow women to speak at church gatherings. But Paul corrects the Corinthian practice of everyone speaking and makes further restrictions on who could speak. In verse 35 (as in verse 33), we can see that one of Paul’s ongoing purposes is to eliminate the confusion and disorder that he felt was the inherent result of everyone speaking in church.

1 Corinthians 14:34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience (5293), as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. 36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? 37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order. 15:1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand…

In conclusion, it is clear from verse 26, that the Corinthian meetings included everyone speaking. But it is equally clear from Paul’s comments in the rest of chapter 14 (and a comparison to chapter 11:20-34) that Paul did not approve of everyone speaking in the church gathering. Instead, Paul saw this practice as disorderly and out of line with the customs that he and the other apostles had handed on to the churches in every community (v. 33, 36-37, 40).

 

So, in no way can verses 23, 24, and 31 of 1 Corinthians 14 be taken to indicate that all could participate at the church meetings when it is quite obvious that they were not all prophets or speakers in tongues in the first place. And in the second place, the number of speakers in tongues and prophets itself was limited by Paul to two or three at the most.

 

And, as Frank Viola himself insists, we must recognize that 1 Corinthians 14 applies to all church gatherings everywhere and that Paul’s instructions in this chapter, like everywhere else in this letter, were not contrivances built for solely for problems in first century Corinth. Instead, Paul’s correction of Corinthian error involves pointing to customs taught universally throughout the church.

 

Point: Normative apostolic commands are binding on the contemporary church. But normative apostolic practices are as well. By normative, I mean those practices that contain a spiritual subtext and are the outworking of the organic nature of the body of Christ. Such practices are not purely narrative. They carry prescriptive force. This means that they reflect the unchanging nature of God Himself. And they naturally emerge whenever God’s people live by divine life together – irrespective of culture or time. In that connection the Book of Acts and the Epistles are awash with references to the apostolic tradition. In 1 Corinthians 4:17, Paul declares how he taught his ways “everywhere in every church.” To Paul’s mind, doctrine and duty – belief and behavior, life and practice – are inseparable. In short, that which is included in the apostolic tradition is normative for all churches yesterday and today. The exhortations of Paul to “hold firmly to the traditions just as I delivered them to you” and to practice what “you have learned and received and heard and seen in me” are the considerations that should guide our church life. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 14, Reimagining the Apostolic Tradition, pages 247-248

 

In this case those normative, universal church customs and practices restricted those who could participate in church gatherings to those who could edify through teaching and instruction, which not all were gifted to do. In addition, according to Paul’s prescription here, these universal customs further limited the number of participants down to two or three persons leading. Therefore, Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:17-14:33 coincide perfectly with what we have seen in church gatherings throughout the rest of the New Testament and with the Elder-Leadership model in particular. At the most two or three speakers were allowed to lead the meetings. On the other hand, far from providing the key supportive passages for the Viola model, 1 Corinthians 11-14 actually contradict the Viola model.

For a more detailed and in-depth explanation of the relationship between prophecy and teaching as well as the relationship between prophecy, teaching, edification, speaking by revelation, and speaking by knowledge please see our supplemental outline to this study entitled “1 Cor. 14: A More Detailed Look at Prophecy and Teaching in Church Gatherings.”