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Desire Prophecy: Pursuing what builds the church

In verse five Paul also states, in a qualified sense, the superiority of prophecy over tongues. The qualification can be seen in Paul’s statement that “He who prophesies is greater that one who speaks in tongues unless he interprets (emphasis mine).” Here again, as the later part of the verse makes clear, the issue is intelligibility. This verse has led some commentators to conclude that tongues plus interpretation equals prophecy. C. K. Barrett holds this position.17 Leon Morris also seems to subscribe to this view claiming that man receives a message from the gift of tongues when it is accompanied by interpretation.18 I think that this blurs the distinction between the two gifts. I am indebted to charismatic scholar Craig S. Keener for pointing out that tongues is prayer (which would be directed to God).19 Gordon Fee also holds this view.20 This is not to put down interpreted tongues, we can all benefit from understanding the praise that the one who speaks in tongues offers, it is just to say that interpreted tongues should not be a word from the Lord, on the contrary, it should be a word to the Lord.

In verse six Paul raises the question of what benefit he would be to the Corinthians if he came to them speaking in tongues. He implies that he would be of no value to them unless he brought them something intelligible (revelation, knowledge, prophecy or word of instruction). He then goes on to show the importance of intelligibility. In verses seven and eight He uses two examples involving musical instruments to make his point. The first one involves a flute or harp. Ferguson says that the word should be pipe not flute.21 Be that as it may Paul’s point is not lost. If the notes are not clearly sounded no one will recognize the song that is being played. In the same way in a battle situation one will not know what instructions are being given if he can not detect the notes of the trumpet call. In order for any benefit to be received one must understand. That the instrument examples relate to Paul’s argument about spiritual gifts is borne out by verse nine where he says, “So it is with you” and then proceeds to speak about tongues. Paul’s point; they must speak intelligibly in order to benefit each other. In verses ten and eleven Paul acknowledges that there are many languages in the world and that they all have meaning but if their meaning cannot be grasped then the words spoken are of little value to the hearer. In verse twelve Paul again states that the Corinthians should channel their zeal for spiritual gifts toward those gifts that will benefit the church as a whole. Morris states it well, “The great thing for the Christian is that he may be able to edify others.”22 That is the point that Paul is trying to make to the divided Corinthian church.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2006

About the Author: John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written for a number of publications and is the author of four books Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers Then and Now (Xulon Press, 2008), The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry (J. Timothy King, 2010), Answer the Prayer of Jesus: A Call for Biblical Unity (Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Dreams & Visions: Divine Interventions in Human Experience (J. Timothy King, 2012). He also served as co-editor of the book Creative Ways to Build Christian Community (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Amazon Author page. Facebook

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