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Prophets And Tongues in the New Testament - 1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Nov 27, 2022    Andrey Bulanov

Title: Prophecy and Tongues in the New Testament - 1 Corinthians 14:1-25


1. What is the gift of prophesy?

2. What is the gift of tongues?

3. Are these gifts present today?

4. How does this text speak to us today?

• The goal of the gathered church is edification, not personal exaltation, or performance.

• Christian growth is rooted in understanding his truth.

• Spiritual experience must be explained and supported by Scripture.

• We should indeed expect a dynamic daily experience of God's presence and work in our lives. 

Scripture references:

• 1 Corinthians 14: 1-25

• 1 Corinthians 14: 30-31

• Ephesians 2:20

• Acts 2:4-13

• Acts 10:46


A lot of what is wrong with human religious experience is that it is driven by personal experience and that it is rooted at exalting the self.

Rather than pursuing deep, slow, patient spiritual change - people would rather have a supernatural experience that makes them feel spiritual and alive.

Rather than humble themselves under God's authority - people want to feel like they are in control - like they can do something and show how good they can be.

These are the tendencies of the sinful human heart, and they manifest themselves in human religiosity in a variety of settings.

Unfortunately they also frequently flow into the church.

Rather than submitting to the message of grace, that we bring nothing, that we must first of all see our total need in God alone - people want to come to the church as a place where there ego is put on display - a place where they can show their skills or gifts.

Rather than submitting to a slow process of spiritual growth, rooted in God's Word, people want to change supernatural experience that makes them feel spiritual and close to God without humbling process of real discipleship.

These are the challenges we see in the Corinthian church.

They were obsessed with supernatural gifts and experiences. They made their church life about some members of the congregation putting themselves in the spotlight over others.

Here in ch. 14 we get to the heart of the argument Paul makes to them about their unhealthy understanding of spiritual gifts, and the especially the gift of tongues.

In thier obsession with spiritual gifts and personal exaltation - they had a particular obsession with the gift of tongues that was totally backwards - and it was creating chaos in their church services.

Paul counters this imbalance by pointing to the supremacy of the gift of prophecy, and in doing this he points to the TRUE purpose of the gathering of the church - not personal glory or miraculous experience - but the building up and encouragement of all who are present.

So much confusion continues to exist in the church on this same subject - prophecy, spiritual gifts, miracles, tongues. And it can be quite damaging.

This chapter is massive and theres no way we will cover every detail. But we will try to get most of it. Won't be able to cover everything. I am happy to talk and answer questions.

Recommend book.

1. What is the gift of prophecy?

"Prophecy is the act of communicating spontaneous revelations from God."

This is a very common sense definition that fits with the general pattern of the whole Bible.

Spontaneous - not based on planning or studying.

• 30 But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged.

Prophecy is also not the same thing as teaching or preaching. Preaching has to do with studying Scripture and preparing a message. Paul challenges Timothy to be a good servant of God who "rightly teaching/handling the Word of God.." (2 Timothy 2:15)

Sometimes its a prediction of future events:

• Agabus in Acts 21:10-11 - Paul would be bound and imprisoned.

Always for the edification of the church

• 3 On the other hand, the person who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation.

Some people say that prophecy in the NT is different from prophecy in the OT. The main proponent of this view is Wayne Grudem. We love most of his writing. But here I think he is unpersuasive.

• Grudem: "Prophecy is an impression or a idea that the Holy Spirit puts on your heart, which may be fallible and should not be treated with the same authority as Scripture."

• Example - During a church meeting, God puts it on someone's heart to say we should call such and such a church because they might be willing to sell their building.

• Example - After church, God puts it on my brother to come up and encourage them to persevere in the challenges they are facing - though i don't even know what kind of challenges they are facing.

• Essentially an impression of the Holy Spirit to say something for their building up.

NT prophecy is NOT different from OT prophecy:

• The New Testament speaks of prophets and prophecy a lot, it quotes the old testament about prophecy a lot - and there is never any clear reason to think that it is doing that in a way that is totally different from the OT.

• Hannah, John the Baptist, Jesus, Agabus (uses formula "thus says the Holy Spirit")

• The book of Revelation is called a prophecy numerous times (1:3, 22:7, 22:18, 22:19)

• 2 Peter 1:20-21 speaks of the writing of Scripture as a prophetic act

I certainly believe the Holy Spirit does that. And sometimes we have an impression or idea we think is from God but we may be mistaken. But we should not call that prophecy. We would just call it, "something the Lord put on my heart...".

One of the dangers of this view is that it makes it almost impossible to distinguish between true and false prophets. The Bible constantly warns about people claiming false prophetic gifts - one of the key features of a false prophet is that they said something that wasn't true.

But if the New Testament gift of prophecy is a gift that can make mistakes, how were christians in the early church to tell false prophets from true ones?

In Ephesians 2:20 Paul says that the church is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone." So the prophets have a unique role in the building and setting the foundation of the church.

This is not just some gift of impressions that everyone gets. Its something that was very important to the foundation of the New Testament church.

2. What is the gift of tongues?

There are two main answers to this question:

• The gift of tongues is the gift of speaking God's truth in human languages that a person never learned.

• The gift of tongues is the experience of expressing ecstatic utterances with no discernible code or meaning.

The gift of tongues in Acts 2 is is clearly human languages.

Acts 2:4-13

4 Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were Jews staying in Jerusalem, devout people from every nation under heaven. 6 When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 They were astounded and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 How is it that each of us can hear them in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the magnificent acts of God in our own tongues.” 12 They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But some sneered and said, “They’re drunk on new wine.”

The next instance of speaking in tongues is found in the story of Cornelius and his friends (Acts 10:1–48). They receive the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues (Acts 10:46).

Acts 10:46

46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and declaring the greatness of God.

Luke makes it clear that the gift is the same one that was given to the 120 on Pentecost. In other words, Cornelius and his friends spoke in languages they didn’t know.

Peter confirms this interpretation in Acts 11:17 when he says, “If, then, God gave them the same gift that he also gave to us.” Peter specifically tells us that the gift was the same one received on Pentecost.

Following this line of reasoning - you have to assume Luke is speaking of the same thing in Acts 19 - because he has already established the meaning of tongues.

What about tongues in 1 Corinthians?

Three reasons why "tongues" in Corinthians refers to human language:

• Acts clearly speaks of languages.

There has to be two very different experiences in the NT with the same term used.

Is there evidence of this?

I don't think so. Especially since speaking in tongues in Acts was such a big deal - a sign of the coming of the Spirit and the New Covenant age has begun.

• "Glossa" is a greek word that clearly means human languages.

The historic scholarship on this is clear.

• Paul repeatedly speaks of the need for interpretation.

This is the assumption Paul has in the whole chapter.

"5. The person who prophesies is greater than the person who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets so that the church may be built up."

"13 Therefore the person who speaks in a tongue should pray that he can interpret."

Notice that Paul says that if someone is present who can interpret the tongue speaker then it becomes similar to the gift of prophecy - it is God's truth that builds up the church!

What about vs 2?

"2 For the person who speaks in a tongue is not speaking to people but to God, since no one understands him; he speaks mysteries in the Spirit."

Isn't this different from Acts? In Acts, they were speaking in languages and people got saved. It was like a prophetic gift. But here Paul says its just for God, mysteries in the Spirit.

But that doesn't mean the gift was different. It just shows the situation was very different. In Acts you have a bunch of people from all different nations - and they heard the truth in their own languages.

What is interesting is that in Acts also, some of the people thought the Apostles were drunk because they were speaking in other languages.

What about 13:2 - the language of angels?

• Paul is speaking in exaggerated terms. The tongue of angels is never again mentioned anywhere. It could likely be an exaggeration.

• Even if its not, it still assumes a language with meaning.

Linguists have analyzed the experience of people who claim to have the gift of tongues today and can never find any sort of discernible code or meaning.

What then do we make of tongue speaking today that is made up of ecstatic utterance? Is this something spiritual or demonic?

• Some of what goes on in charismatic churches is likely demonic. There are some very dangerous and twisted aspects of the charismatic movement today which completely goes against Scripture.

• It is clearly wrong to say that unless someone has the gift of tongues they don't have the Holy Spirit.

• It is clearly wrong to say that tongue speaking is the result of some second blessing or spiritual baptism.

• "13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body" - the baptism of the Spirit occurs when a person becomes a christian

• It is clearly wrong make tongue speaking the most important spiritual gift - thats Paul's who point here!

• But it is likely that not all who experience what is called today the gift of tongues is demonic.

• J. I. Packer identifies it as a form of psychological relaxation. This phenomenon has been identified by psychologists outside of christianity who study this behavior and point to the fact that some people have an ability to vocalize non language sounds that bring people a form of relaxation.

3. Are these gifts still present today?

• The gift of apostleship is ceased for sure.

Apostolic authority is a key in the New Testament. It is a unique office of people chosen by Jesus to take his message to the world and be the foundation of the church.

• If by prophesy we mean people who spoke God's Word to the church, then with the passing of the Apostles and the completion of the New Testament canon, it seems clear that the need for prophesy has also passed.

Paul repeatedly speaks of "the apostles and the prophets" forming the foundation of the church - Eph. 2, 1 Cor. 12, Eph 4 - these two gifts were uniquely given for a season in the life of the church when the foundation was being set and Scripture was being written.

People today who claim to reveal revelations from God that are equal with Scripture make a dangerous claim that questions the sufficiency of Scripture.

What about the gifts of tongues, miracles and healing?

When we look at the whole story of Scripture, we can see that miracles took place, not evenly though-out. But at certain high points in redemptive history to authenticate God's redeeming work. 

This happens in the Exodus time with Moses. It happens during the time of Elijah/Elisha. And it happens during Jesus and the early church.

Additionally, even by the end of the New Testament era, it seems that the prominence of these gifts is already fading.

When you get to the period of the early church in the first three hundred years, you hardly see any mention of supernatural gifts, prophesy and tongues.

I just had a conversation with an early church historian about this a few weeks ago.

Does this mean God doesn't heal today?


This does not mean God does not do miracles today or that occasionally God does not give someone the ability to preach the gospel in a language they never learned. This does take place today. However it is far from the norm. This has been the case throughout virtually all of church history.

The healings of the NT are not like the healings on charismatic tv - back pain, fatigue. Plus in the NT there is a very diligent process of verification - did this person REALLY get healed? (see John 9)

4. What does this mean for us today?

• The goal of the gathered church is edification, not personal exaltation or performance.

"Paul isn’t criticizing tongues or any other spiritual gift, but he reminds us that they are not the pinnacle of spiritual experience." Schriener

• Christian growth is rooted in understanding his truth.

Much of what fills the charismatic world is a movement on experience and emotion. It is a christianity that is rooted in experience.

Paul and the rest of the NT show us that it is Scripture that is our root source of life. It is Scripture that the Holy Spirit uses

"3 On the other hand, the person who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation."

"19...I would rather speak five words with my understanding, in order to teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue."

So many ppl jump from experience to experience when we have the Spirit inspired Word!

• Spiritual experience must be explained and supported by Scripture.

Experience does not provide its own interpretation. Just because something felt like something - does not mean we understood it correctly.

• We should indeed expect a dynamic daily experience of God's presence and work in our lives.

It has to be rooted in Scripture. It has to be for the sake of loving and building others up.

And yet we should not merely become brains on a stick christians who do not beleive in anything subjective or dynamic.

Answers to prayer must be expected. Impressions and leading from the Holy Spirit must be expected.

God will work in ways we don't understand. We don't need put everything in a box of everything we can perfectly logically explain and had deep doubt on people who's experience is different than our own.

24 But if all are prophesying and some unbeliever or outsider comes in, he is convicted by all and is called to account by all. 25 The secrets of his heart will be revealed, and as a result he will fall facedown and worship God, proclaiming, “God is really among you.”

Notice here the effect of truth piercing the heart. Prophesy was ONE way that truth was expressed in the church during the NT era. But obviously not the only one.

We have something far greater than a prophet today. We have Scripture.

What is the effect of a group of people gathered and worshipping in the Word?

It should be a place of movement by God. It should be a place where hearts are exposed. Where people are convicted. A place where people proclaim in worship to God and say, "God is really among you!"

Do you hunger for this power to work in and through you today?

God has drawn near to us in Jesus. God has come to bridge the gap between our sinfulness and his holiness by taking our sin on himself on the cross.

He has given us himself that we may have life.

Do you have this life? Has his word cut deep into your heart to make you new?

Do you life a life in Jesus that is saturated in the power of his Word working in and through you?