Rules for Prophecy and Speaking in Tongues Part 2

This is the final post in my miniseries explaining the spiritual gifts from 1 Corinthians 12-14. If you’ve been missing out, you can start with the first post here. Let’s pick up with the second half of 1 Corinthians 14.

A God of Order (1 Corinthians 14:26-40)

In many ways, Paul’s discussion on speaking in tongues and prophecy concerns addressing disruptions that create chaos in a public meeting. In the previous section he addressed personal use of speaking in tongues without interpretation as disruptive in a public service.

Now he addresses the disruptions of improper use of the spiritual gifts of prophecy and tongues in the public meeting. He will also speak to the issue of distracting side talking in the service. And then he will conclude with the principle that God is a God of order.

Rules for Prophecy and Tongues (1 Corinthians 14:26-33a)

“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:26–33a, ESV)

Paul expected that the gifts would be in full operation during a Christian service. In fact, he expected there to be so many gifts in use that order would need to be the chief concern (1 Corinthians 14:26).

There are two concepts in this chapter. First, the body of Christ is built up by every gift. Second, there must be order in exercising our gifts. Even after half a chapter of making the point that tongues is secondary to prophecy, he permits two or three to speak in every service.

He sets up roles for those who speak in tongues:

  • Those who speak in tongues must take turns and be interpreted (1 Corinthians 14:26-27).
  • A message and tongues can be stopped to hear another spiritual gift.
  • Speaking in tongues requires maturity..

Then Paul moves on to the prophetic gift. For the second time he says two or three should speak. This may reflect the Old Testament principle of two or three witnesses to confirm truth (Deuteronomy 17:6; 18:15; 2 Corinthians 13:1).

The prophetic gift is not left unchecked either. Prophets operate with the rules laid out by Paul.

  • Prophecy is weighed by other prophets and must agree with Scripture (1 Corinthians 14:29).
  • Prophets can control their gift (1 Corinthians 14:30, 32).
  • The prophetic gift is essential to the church and needs to be shared (1 Corinthians 14:31).

Although the principle of order has been presented throughout the chapter, Paul firmly states that God doesn’t work through confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33a). God works through order and submission to the Spirit.

Women in the Church (1 Corinthians 14:33-35)

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (1 Corinthians 14:33–35, ESV)

Okay, ladies, please don’t get upset. This isn’t what you think. Paul is not a chauvinist pig. He is an apostle of God. But how should we take passages like this? Historical and cultural context aid us greatly in understanding why Paul would say this.

In many of the early church gatherings, men and women would sit separately from one another. Husbands would be with other men and wives would be with the women. Apparently it was common at least in the Corinthian church that the women would yell across the room and ask their husbands about the events of the service.

Paul speaks about women in the church because their questioning disrupted the service as much as people having personal experiences with speaking in tongues too loudly. So for these cultures, Paul set a role that the women should wait to ask their husbands about church experiences until they were at home (1 Corinthians 14:35).

It really does sound harsh to the 21st century ear what Paul says about women in church. But this does not mean women can’t use their gifts in church. Remember that there were female prophets throughout the Bible.

Not only this, but Christianity was one of the most liberating movements for women in the first century. Women were the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. And they minister powerfully among us. We must not take Paul’s ruling to be referring to gifts. He refers to the disruption caused by yelling to their husbands in the service.

The Apostle’s Authority (1 Corinthians 14:36-40)

“Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:36–40, ESV)

Our goal is to resist anything that would hinder the Spirit from moving among us. The rules that Paul sets in place, some cultural and some helpful, have to do with order in the service. We must resist confusion, distraction, and disruption. The Spirit must have freedom to move as he wishes.

Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are not the ones who tell the Spirit what he is able to do. God’s Word didn’t originate with them. The Spirit within them speaks the word through them and us (1 Corinthians 14:36).

Everywhere Paul went, he had issues with people recognizing his apostolic authority. There were “super-apostles” and Judaizers (Jewish teachers who taught Jesus’ salvation plus following Mosaic law to be truly saved) who followed him around.

We know from 2 Corinthians that Paul had trouble in Corinth especially. If they didn’t like his teaching, they raised issues with his apostleship. So Paul tends to take a hard hand with the Corinthians. It’s no different here where he says that they must agree with him or they are wrong (1 Corinthians 14:37-38).

Paul concludes by making it clear once again that prophecy is the greatest gift for the reasons he has given. But he also commands them and us to not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39). Everything should be done decently and in order. Distractions keep us from receiving everything from the Spirit.

Principles for Practice

  • It’s expected that many people are prepared to share the gift in every service.
  • Any message through the gift of speaking in tongues must be interpreted for the body of Christ.
  • Prophecy must be weighed by other prophets and prophets can control their gift.
  • Every distraction or disruption of any kind must not hinder the work of the Spirit.
  • Neither prophecy nor speaking in tongues must be forbidden.
  • Everything in a service must be done in an orderly fashion because God is a God of order.


I know these posts have been long and I’ve tried to break them up for easier reading. But I also wanted you to understand the thought flow of these three chapters. I believe it’s essential to the robust operation of the spiritual gifts.

Let us give the Spirit all of the tools he needs to speak to us. May we not quench the Spirit or grief him in the way that we follow his leading. I hope these posts have helped you to see why Paul said what he said throughout 1 Corinthians 12-14. May we be blessed as we serve the Spirit and live the full life he wants to give.

Image by Ryan Morrison from Pixabay

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