Many people in the ancient world sought counsel from Delphi’s oracle on Mount Parnassus, about 75 miles west of Athens. Its priestess claimed to speak for the God Apollo and prophesied in a trance state after breathing fumes from a crevice in the mountain. The oracle’s messages were often obscure and could be interpreted in many ways.
Unlike the Delphi oracle, the church’s prophets spoke clearly so that people would be strengthened, encouraged, and comforted (v. 3). New Testament scholar Leon Morris explains that the New Testament practice of prophecy was similar to preaching but not identical with it: “It is not the delivery of a carefully prepared sermon, but the uttering of words directly inspired by God.” Those who spoke in tongues, on the other hand, could not be understood unless there was someone present who was able to interpret (v. 5). For this reason, the apostle urged the church to prefer prophecy over tongues (vv. 1, 19).
Paul also provided guidelines for the practice of tongues and prophecy when the church met together. No more than three were to speak in tongues, one at a time and only when an interpreter was present. If there was no interpreter, the speaker should “keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God” (v. 28). Likewise, no more than two or three prophets were to speak as others tested the validity of their message (v. 29).
Paul’s command in verse 34 that women in the congregation “should remain silent in the churches” is not absolute. Earlier in this letter, he gave guidelines for women who prayed and prophesied in the assembly (1 Cor. 11:5, 13). The basic rule for exercising spiritual gifts was that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (v. 40).
>> The church’s ministry must be built on the solid foundation of God’s Word. Spend a few minutes praying for those who will be ministering the Word in your church this week.
Heavenly Father, we intercede for Bible teachers this week, asking that you guide their studies and grant them insight into Your Word so that they can teach it accurately and powerfully to those under their authority.