In this second part of a conversation (listen to part 1) with Greg Lanier on how to teach through the book 1 Corinthians, we work our way through a number of thorny issues and questions:
- Why have the majority of modern-day believers rejected Paul’s instruction for women to cover their heads?
- What are spiritual gifts, and why are they given?
- How does the gift of prophecy Paul talks about differ—and how is it similar—to the prophecy in the Old Testament era?
- Are tongues ecstatic speech or a known language?
A huge challenge for us as Bible teachers is to figure out what instructions in the epistles are binding on believers today and what instructions were unique for to the particular time, place, and audience to which they were originally written.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Greg Lanier: Tongues, even here are still talking about known human languages. Even though sometimes it meant you sort of squint your eyes and it doesn’t look like it, but whenever he gets to 2021 etc, and the translation thing, it’s clearly still a language that people know. What Paul is simply trying to do is say, “Don’t play the game of who’s got the better spiritual gift because that undermines the work of the gospel.”
Nancy Guthrie: Welcome to “Help Me Teach the Bible.” I’m Nancy Guthrie. “Help me Teach the Bible” is a production of the Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway a not for profit publisher of the ESV Bible Christian books and tracks. Learn more at crossway.org. This is part two of a conversation I began with Dr. Greg Lanier, on the book of First Corinthians. Dr. Lanier, you’ve helped us a lot with a lot of challenging topics, but like now we’re getting to the really hard stuff in First Corinthian, so we appreciate you sharing your wisdom with us on that.
Lanier: Yeah. I think a meeting just came up and so…
Guthrie: You’ve got to go.
Lanier: …I gotta jet. Yeah, I gotta bounce. Sorry. No, it’ll be good.
Guthrie: Okay, good. We are on First Corinthians chapter 11 and the heading is head coverings. So I think by the fact that there are very few people in our circles who actually cover their head to go to church would say that we have decided something about this passage. But perhaps what’s most helpful to us is if you help us understand why maybe we’ve landed there or, you know…
Lanier: Or why some folks haven’t perhaps.
Guthrie: Or why some folks haven’t. So help us with this command regarding head covering.
Lanier: Yeah, sure. And just, if folks are just joining, to bring them up to speed, one of the things I was trying to articulate in the last installment is Paul is walking his way through a whole bunch of basically raging issues in the Corinthian church. And what’s so instructive about that for us is that he gives us, in my view, sort of a three-step process. The first step is identify the core theological principle at play. Sometimes it’s Old Testament stuff. Sometimes it’s the nature of Jesus and so… So that’s step one and step… Step three… And I’ll come back to step two. Step three is what’s the specific thing he’s addressing and for instance, in this case it would be head coverings. It could be the man who has his father’s wife. And then the middle step, step two, is what does Paul instruct them to do in light of the theological foundation? What does he say they should do with this issue?
All three of those steps I think are really instructive for us because we can diagnose our own situations with that same grid. You got a new issue pop up. Where do I go in the Bible to address this? And then what am I gonna do with it? This one is kind of, it’s a thorny passage obviously. The thing that makes it so challenging is that Paul is speaking about a local situation that is foreign to us. You got women shaving their heads. You have some sort of symbol of authority on their heads. He says something about long hair is good for women. It’s her glory. It’s her covering. But long hair for men is a disgrace. Okay, well what does that about? So do I need to chop off my man bond? No offense. You can probably scratch that part.
And so we faced these challenges. What exactly is he talking about? And so that’s the local issue. But what you notice as you read through it is that it’s actually a very immensely theological passage. He goes back to in verse three, “the head of every man is Christ and the head of the wife is her husband and the head of Christ is God.”
Guthrie: There’s that theology, you were telling us.
Lanier: Yes. He says okay, whatever I’m about to tell you I want it to flow from this idea that the head of Christ, that God is the head, that God the father’s, the head of Christ, Christ is the head of the husband, the husband is the head of the wife. And even though he doesn’t quote it, he’s very clearly getting that from Genesis, Genesis one and two. He goes there and lots of other places, in fact, lots of other thorny passages like First Timothy two. And so he’s drawing on creation language. He’s drawing on the orderliness that because God is the God of order, that God has seen good, that it’s good to structure his creation this way. Now, we may not like that, but we just, that’s what Paul says. You may not like that, but it’s not me saying it. It’s Paul saying it, right? So we have to kind of go there.
The next thing he says that’s related is verse seven. “The husband or the man is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of man.” That’s a thorny issue we can come back to. He’s still riffing on the same thing. I think probably most helpfully in verse 10, he says, “because of the angels.” And I think he probably just leave it there. I’m kidding. Yeah, that’s one of the most obscure things that’s in the New Testament. I think there is an angle on that. And then finally, verse 16, verse 16 is one of those great, you know, Paul is not inclined to the warm fuzzies. We may not like it, but he says, look, if anyone’s inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice.
Guthrie: Well, we don’t know anyone like that. Do we?
Lanier: No to the church of Christ. You can complain about this, but okay, this is what we do. He’s not really concerned about whether you’d like it or not. So facts don’t care about your feelings. Anyway. So he goes back to those two basic principles. His argument then is something like this… And as a sort of general caveat, I think there could be legitimate ways to arrive at a different point. And so if someone listening is in a certain camp where maybe they turned the knobs in a more conservative direction and they wanna say, no, we actually do think women should wear a shawl or something like that, I can completely acknowledge there. I think there’s a way to get there. I think this is one of those passages where we have to use some sanctified reason to kind of make sense. So I’ll just caveat it with that.
So what’s going on here? What’s the local situation? What appears to be going on is that you have at Corinth as in the entire ancient world, you have a general cultural practice where women, especially married or engaged women, covered their heads.
Guthrie: So it signals something about their marital status.
Lanier: Exactly. In fact, in my little notes that I have a whole bunch of pictures. We have paintings, carvings from both Jewish and Greco Roman artifacts, pottery and that kind of thing where the women almost all have a head covering. And, you know, in fact there’s one where it has the parents taking a soon-to-be wed husband and wife and the young girl has a head covering, whereas a little girl wouldn’t. She wouldn’t cover her head. And so there’s something about the showing of the head that signals that you have a particular social status and particularly the status with respect to your husband.
Okay. That’s not what we have in most circles in say America or in England, what have you. But a lot of places we still have that. And in fact, we have a lot of international students here at RTS who come from cultures where that’s what they do. You know, pretty much the entire Middle East does this, right? Mostly due to the influence of Islam, but some of it is just cultural. Like this is how you show propriety. This is how you show that you’re a respectable woman. It’s not much different than, you know, when you go from being 15 years old as a guy to maybe make it less contentious to being… Or let’s say you’re in high school when you can get away with wearing, you know, ripped up shorts and you know, a band t-shirt, what have you, but when you show up first day at your new job in New York, unless it’s Google, what you wear signals a maturity.
So we still do this with clothing today. It’s all crazy and it changes very quickly. But there’s still a sense of propriety and decorum when it comes to dress. So that actually is still something that we can have a bridge there. We’re listening to half the conversation because we were missing a lot of the back and forth that Paul has had with the church at Corinth. But what appears to be happening here at Corinth is there appears to be because the women, not all of them, but some of the women are buying into worldly thinking, buying into whatever the new way of thinking is, whatever, however you show that you are a liberated woman, this is not a new thing. This has happened back then. We have a lot of historical evidence for that. What they were doing was either unshawling themselves and saying, “I’m not playing by your rules. I’m tearing down the patriarchy.” hashtag, you know, whatever. Or in some cases maybe even shaving their head to say, “We are visibly flaunting your authority, maybe even my own husband’s authority.” That is a known thing.
So Paul is specifically addressing that and that’s it. I think there’s pretty clear that that’s what’s going on, that the women were doing things to the place where they show that they’re under authority, namely how they adorn their head to flaunt the authority. And so he says, that can’t be. He says basically don’t buy it. Don’t buy into that liberation is impulse because how you carry yourself sends a message. It sends a message that you are under the God ordained. What God has said is a healthy way for marriage and perhaps, you know, the broader church to function. You can read a passage like this and say, Paul is this crazy misogynistic, he hates women. And the problem with that is if you turn a few chapters back in chapter seven when he deals with marriage and sex, he says something very profound. He says, men need to give their wives sexually what he owes to her because she has authority over his body. And he says, vice versa, women should give to their husbands what they owe to them sexually because he has authority over her body. You would expect all of these, this just massive, misogynistic, hateful person to just say, “Husbands, you can do whatever you want to do to your wives.” In fact, he leads with, “the wife has authority over her husband’s body.” In fact, he uses the a word. He uses authority, which is mindblowing. That’s one place you could go to kind of balance that out.
Basically what he says is when you’re gathered for worship, when you’re praying or prophesying, the women need to cover their heads. That’s his point. They need to adopt the visible symbol of their posture that, “I am in a good way again. I am under the spiritual leadership of my husband and he is under the spiritual headship of Christ who is under the headship of the father.” And so that’s the basic principle. And I’ll get to the kind of conclusion. He says, look at, it’s wrong for someone to flaunt these things. And then he says, actually in verse 14, “Doesn’t nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it’s a disgrace. But if a woman has long hair, it’s her glory, her hair is given to her for a covering.” That bit, “does not nature itself….” To me, that’s an interesting kind of foothold. The cultural conventions of our time in the sort of mid-Roman era, time of life that he’s writing in, the way we signal these things is hair length. And that’s why guys had short hair and women had long hair and you see all the artwork that’s how it always looks. That’s his point. It’s like you should dress or comport yourself in the public gathering in a way that respects that to show that I’m a woman and in particularly a woman who’s married versus I’m a man and therefore I should not reverse those kinds of things.
If we [inaudible 00:11:19] it all to 2019 central Florida and we said, “Okay, Paul, we’ve read 1 Corinthians:11 therefore we all know that women have to have hair that’s at least 15 inches long and they all have to have a shawl,” I think he’d say you’re crazy.
Guthrie: Because that doesn’t signal.
Lanier: That doesn’t mean anything, right? Other than you’re probably kind of backwards and weird. One of the things I think can become a risk for us as we, particularly in America, read scripture is we read it through our own cultural lens. But if you go to East Africa, if you go to Southeast Asia, the North might be completely different and certainly, you know, I spent a lot of time in Kenya speaking within certain tribes and so forth in certain parts of a Kenyan culture, women don’t typically maybe not even have any hair or it’ll be really short and so it’d actually be offensive. I mean, imagine exporting a gospel, you parachute into South central Nairobi and say, “Okay, we want you to come to Jesus. What that means is all you ladies need to grow your hair out.” Like that would be insane. I think Paul would say, “That makes no sense at all. You’ve completely missed what I’ve tried to say.” What he is saying is whatever in your context signals that you are under the authority. And in fact, what it really says there is a wife ought to have an authority on her head. It doesn’t even say symbol, it just says an authority. Whatever that means… And again, in Corinth that meant this, but it may be something different in Ireland. It may be something different in Malaysia. I don’t know. Then do that to show that you respect the orderliness of God.
So it goes back to God ultimately, which raises the question of the angels because I know you’re going to ask me about the angels. If you look at both the Old Testament and Jewish literature, angels are observing worship. They are not only around the throne room of God, but they are watching things on earth. And you get a taste of this and the New Testament as well and also how we relate to angels.
Guthrie: Yeah. I think about Peter talking about salvation being a thing on which angels look.
Lanier: Yeah, exactly. And so they’re clearly involved in what’s going on with God’s people. And so the most compelling way to kind of take that part of verse 10 is not only do you need to show this godly ordering of relationships, he says, “angels are watching.” I think his argument is if they looked on and saw us calling ourselves the church of God, but completely overthrowing God’s created order, they’re gonna be impacted by that as well. Because by the way, they’ve already tried that or at least some of them, right? They tried… Satan and his minions, they tried overthrowing the divine order and it didn’t go well. And which actually if you think about that, that’s mindblowing that our worship has, at our little old church up in Lake Mary, has cosmic implications. And in fact, how we do it reflects the very creative rationale of God and how that impacts angels.
Like that’s a pretty impressive way to think about what’s going on in worship. I mean, if that’s the case, then by all means we should conduct ourselves in a reverent way. And so what that looks like day to day, I mean it depends on where you are, but I think most of us sort of intuitively know it’s almost like we sort of know it when we see it that in our particular context. There’s certain cues that “nature” gives us to show God, Christ, husband, wife and that we are submitting to God in this way. But I don’t necessarily wanna prescribe what that is because it’s gonna change.
Guthrie: Well, when you began in our first episode on First Corinthians and you gave kind of a statement about what First Corinthians about, you talked about it being a book of wisdom on determining these things. And he’s applying it to many different things. But it seems to me perhaps the biggest challenge of the wisdom he’s presenting here in terms of the way it goes against our modern day culture is, you know, we just get this message of you gotta be you and, you know, don’t try to please other people. You just have to express yourself. This seems to me to be a message to us to be, no, you need to be considering how some ways you present yourself, how it impacts the larger body of Christ and even angels, that you are sending some signals about your willingness to submit to Christ in many different ways and actually you do need to be conscious about how you come across. Is that taking it too far?
Lanier: I think that’s right. I mean another way you could maybe phrase it, each of these issues that Paul is addressing involves other people. And Paul is saying the work of Christ is not just about you. That I think is one of the key insights that we have imbibed in an increasingly individualistic era. This is not new. I mean we’ve overly individualized the gospels and say it’s just about me walking, me offering the prayer and getting right with God. You don’t find that at all in First Corinthians. What you find is a profound otherness that all of the ethics, all of the thinking about how we live and the work of Jesus sort of flowing through is profoundly about other people and how we show love to other people with how I’m acting.
Paul’s vision and the whole Bible’s vision of the church is what happens to me impacts you. What happens to you when you’re doing well with the Lord or when you’re not doing well with the Lord impacts me, that we’re not on an Island. I’m not doing well unless you’re doing well. Hearing about your faith makes me feel, makes me [inaudible 00:16:472]. But what becomes interesting about First Corinthians is how as he’s applying scriptural truth and the work of Jesus to these issues, he’s always directing us towards loving those with whom we share this oneness in Christ. And so that I think is a key thing as you’re working through it with a group, is to constantly say, “Okay, how can we love you? How does this help us love each other better?” Why is fighting against my own sin and even church discipline? No one likes talking about it. I know it’s hard. Even that is actually deeply about how that dynamic of unchecked sin impacts all of us.
Guthrie: Well, let’s jump to 12, 13 and 14.
Lanier: Okay. If we must.
Guthrie: Don’t act so excited about it Greg.
Lanier: No, no. It’s interesting…
Guthrie: The reason I…
Lanier: …but it’s hard.
Guthrie: …understand because it’s hard and because you and I both recognize that we’ll have listeners to this podcast who see a lot of these things very differently. And so maybe we can’t anticipate that we are gonna first please everybody or cover it as broadly or deeply as some might like, but let’s just do our best to provide some helps for those of us who we’re thinking about teaching this and we’ve got to figure out, “Wow, how am I gonna present this in my church, in my denomination?” Maybe even think those ways. So I wonder if a good way to start might be just some definition of terms. Would you give me a definition first of all, just for spiritual gifts then maybe give me one for prophecy and give me one for tongues.
Lanier: Okay. If I had to pick a section in the New Testament, not to get myself in trouble, but I’m not in the camp of like I have a 100% certainty about every single thing. If I had to pick a section in the New Testament where I have the most open questions, it’s probably this one.
Guthrie: Okay. I think that’s helpful for us as teachers to know. Someone who’s immersed in Greek and New Testament, that if we are struggling with this and we feel like, “I’m not sure I can come down and say, this is what it’s clearly teaching,” that we probably have a lot of good company.
Lanier: Yeah. It doesn’t mean that I want to say nothing about it, but it means at least I’m trying to be…[crosstalk 00:18:56]
Guthrie: Humble. You’re a little humble about your conclusions, right?
Lanier: I can see how people can come to a different position and I don’t have to vilify them and somehow losing the gospel or something like that. And so even just modeling that and even saying, “Look, I don’t have all the answers here. I think there are some things that are clear. I think there’s some things that aren’t clear and that gives us some space to agree to disagree and still go to the potluck afterwards, right?”
Guthrie: So that sounds like one approach for teachers as you approach this, what is clear and to maybe major on those things and tread lightly where it’s less clear?
Lanier: That would be my approach. Yeah. I mean there are some who want to always have 100% certain about everything. That’s not me. I wish [inaudible 00:19:38] Anyway, in terms of the definition, spiritual gifts, it comes from charisma.
Guthrie: Is a spiritual gift something I’m good at naturally or is it something I’m only good at it because of some supernatural provision like [crosstalk 00:19:52]
Guthrie: Yeah, and it’s actually better than the name. I mean, spiritual gift is the English way to capture it, but it’s actually just gift. Whenever you see that, it’s just a certain noun for gift. It already tells you something, that it’s not natural to you. You weren’t born with it, right? So you can’t boast in it. It was given to you. So because it’s a gift, it comes from outside of you. The word relates to the sort of cluster of words related to grace and gift, and so it’s something that has been graced to you by God. Not necessarily innate. It’s not even necessarily something you like. I mean you don’t like all your gifts.
Guthrie: We don’t get to choose them.
Lanier: Yeah. You don’t get to choose them. It may not be your favorite thing to do. You know, a lot of folks who have the gift of hospitality, it wears them out and they hate cleaning up afterwards, right? And so it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the gift just because it’s a struggle for you. And so it is something given by God through the Holy Spirit. You would go to like Ephesians four for that. And so it’s not just a skill or a talent. The other thing that he makes clear here, especially in chapter 12, there is a variety that’s one key but the same spirit. So it’s one God but a variety of gifts. And then he says, “Each Christian” verse seven, “to ‘each is given a manifestation of the spirit,” which is a fancy way of sending a spiritual gift. And notice he says, “for the common good.” And so the other thing you need to think about in terms of defining what a spiritual gift is, it’s not just something you do on your own in isolation. As we mentioned just a second ago, it’s deeply other oriented. The whole point of the gift is for it to bless someone else.
Guthrie: That it’s fruitful in the body of Christ to further God’s kingdom. Would that be a way to say it?
Lanier: Yeah, exactly. And to build up the body, you know, it say that elsewhere it’s to edify and encourage others. And so even when he does define a gift that way, that already removes some things off the table, removes the idea that tongues, and I’ll define them in a minute, that tongues are just about you and God because gifts don’t function that way. They’re almost not about that.
Guthrie: So you’re saying to talk about tongues as a private prayer language might be off the table.
Lanier: Yeah. So you the idea that a tongue is sort of this ecstatic, and I don’t mean this in a pejorative way, but sort of incoherent. It’s not a known language. It’s just your private prayer language with God. And to call that the spiritual gift would actually be against what Paul is talking about. Without impugning that phenomenon, it certainly wouldn’t fit the bill in what he’s describing. If there are tongues and we’ll come to that, they have to be for the purpose of blessing others. It’s not just your own private thing. So that’s probably the first thing or the a big thing in terms of defining gifts.
Guthrie: Maybe before we go on to defining prophecy…
Lanier: Sure, yeah.
Guthrie:…or more on tongues, maybe you should give us a sense for, you know, chapter 13, we have always heard it alone and we think of it mainly as, you know, something that’s read at a wedding that this is about love and relationship between a man and a woman or even just us loving the body. But what is its context in the midst of this conversation about spiritual gifts and then prophecy and tongues? How do we when we’re teaching 1 Corinthians:13 what’s the key to getting it right in terms of it’s context?
Lanier: Yeah. Yeah. I mean in one hand, it’s sort of like the Ruth passage, like wherever you go I will go. And it’s, like, don’t read that at weddings. So like, wow.
Guthrie: But there was something there about commitment, right?
Lanier: Yeah. I mean it’s nice and it plays well. It’s like I don’t wanna completely rain on people’s parades. I wouldn’t say… In fact at a wedding I’m doing coming up, [inaudible 00:23:14]
Guthrie: Are you gonna read it?
Lanier: [inaudible 00:23:15]
Lanier: Some hills you don’t die on. But is it the best use of it? Maybe not. You know, verse one actually makes it pretty clear what it’s about. In many respects, the intrusion of the big number 13 and the verse number one is, you know, certainly later it was added later. And so from Paul’s perspective, he probably wouldn’t have seen a big break there. From gifts and tongues, straight into more about gifts and tongues, about speaking in tongues of men and angels and have not love.
So even though it kind of feels like this love poem, it actually has a very important point. In many respects, chapter 13 is the key to chapter 12 and 14. What they’re messing up at Corinth which probably goes all the way back to the prior discussion in chapters one, two and three about how they’re buying into worldliness and worldly thinking is that they are in effect competing over guests. They’re saying, this person has a better gift than this person. This person speaks in tongues, but this person just does this and you know, keeps the nursery or what have you. And he’s saying, look, even if I spoke in the tongues of men, even if I had an angelic tongue… He’s not saying that they exist. He’s saying, “even if I did that, but I don’t have love, if I’m doing it selfishly, if I’m doing it, showing off, if I’m doing it as a sense of one-upsmanship or I’m a higher ranking member of my local church or what have you, but I have not love then I’m just making noise.” That’s his point. Without love, love, in the Bible is an other love, if I’m not loving others in my exercise of these gifts, then I’m doing it wrong. That’s what chapter 13 is about. So it actually fits quite nicely in his strategy here.
Prophecy, now this is a big [crosstalk 00:24:54]
Guthrie: Yeah. Let’s read 14 verse one. ”Pursue love and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” He’s telling us to desire it. So I guess we need to know what it is.
Lanier: Yeah. What is prophecy? That is a very important question. There’s basically two schools of thought. It’s very easy to get down in the weeds. And there’s a lot of ink that has been spilled, a lot of friendly fire that comes with this question. One option is it’s prophecy sort of as the Old Testament prophets did it. That is God is directly speaking through you. It’s new information from God that has some kind of binding quality that we should listen to and we should put into practice. So one of you, the idea is that somehow in some respects that’s continuing.
Guthrie: And would be infallible. Would that be the right word to describe it?
Lanier: Depending on who you asked.
Guthrie: Right. Okay.
Lanier: It depends on who you ask. Maybe it’s just sort of the middle ground. So that’s one extreme position that is essentially the same basic thing that Isaiah was doing. The sort of opposite conclusion is it’s basically preaching. And what I mean by that is if you look at what the prophets actually do, apart from a smidgen here and there where they’re forecasting and for lack of a better term, what’s about to happen, which they do do that, the vast majority of what they were is just good old, not good old Baptist hell, and brimstone preachers. What are they doing? They are preaching Deuteronomy. They’re going to Hezekiah. They’re going to them and they’re saying, “Look…
Guthrie: And they’re drawing out the implications.
Lanier: Exactly. It’s almost like they’re simply just expositing the Torah. That’s what the prophets mainly did. And so actually the idea of prophecyings today means Nostradamus, right? You’re making predictions about who’s going to win the football game. That’s actually by and large, not what the Old Testament prophets were doing, at least as their main job description. Did they look forward to captivity and exile in the Messiah? Yes. But that wasn’t the bread and butter of what they were doing. They they were good old gospel preachers in the Old Testament. So the other view of prophecy at least as [inaudible 00:26:55] you’re gonna hear is that it’s something like that. It’s you’re proclaiming the word of God, applying it to his people and that that’s the essence of prophecy.
And then there’s kind of a middle ground, which is sort of, if you’re aware there’s this Calvinistic continuation is to movement where folks are reformed broadly but believe in certain kinds of ongoing special spiritual gifts. And so that camp generally says, “Look, there is this newness of prophetic reception from God, that I am receiving a message from God, but it’s not necessarily binding. I’m not necessarily saying thus sayeth the Lord.” That’s kind of a middle position. You’re gonna have to talk to your pastor, you’re gonna have to do some reading to kind of figure out where you’re gonna land because the word doesn’t tell you. You have to bring in a lot of other theology in terms…
Guthrie: Are there any resources you would point us to as we’re trying to understand the different positions?
Lanier: Sure. Yeah. I mean, I think there actually is a three views or four views on the, this kind of activity has stopped camp. I’ve always appreciated Richard Gaffigan’s perspectives on Pentecost. It deals with tongues. It deals with this as well. But if you wanna approach it from a different perspective and get their arguments, you know, Wayne Grudem is one of the key figures and the discussions of the kind of middle position. Sam Storms as well, who’s kind of broadly in a reformed camp. And there’s probably some others [crosstalk 00:28:17]
Guthrie: Those are all very helpful.
Lanier: Not that I’m necessarily commending them, but that’s where you could go to get the kind of the best [crosstalk 00:28:21]
Guthrie: To hear their view.
Lanier: …of that position. So, and go to your pastor and say, “What do you think about this?” Whatever the prophesying is… And I do lean in the direction that it’s a declaration of what God has already said as opposed to some new revealing of what God has said. He says that’s more important, that kind of proclamation. And he explains why. “For the one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God for no one understands him.” Now, that may make it seem like it’s some sort of ecstatic language that has no real intelligibility.
He goes on to describe how the reason why it’s unintelligible is that it’s not in a language that you know. You know, if you started speaking in Mandarin, I wouldn’t understand you. This point here is that prophesying is intelligible to everyone whereas tongues may not be. In verse three maybe this is probably the best place to configure what he’s getting at. “The one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and constellation.” So again, the gift is for other. Tongues are so divisive, just like baptism is. And, you know, those are probably the two things that we divide on the most in this sort of modern broadly evangelical world. If you look at Acts, it’s I think 100% clear that it is an intelligible language that you didn’t naturally learn.
Guthrie: Because you had all these people from all over the world who were there for that feast of Pentecost.
Lanier: Right. And later on with [inaudible 00:29:41] and…
Guthrie: And they’re hearing the gospel in their own language.
Lanier: Exactly. I mean it says… Two things give it away. Well first the word means dialect. I mean it means your physical tongue or it means the kind of actual known linguistic dialect. So that’s even the word sort of tips it’s hand. Second, you have the verb that is used is a word that is only used for intelligible speech. In fact, so you have them the tongues of fire come down. They all ”speak in tongues.” That word for speak is not the normal word for speak. It’s kind of a fancy word. And a couple of verses later is the exact same word that’s used when Peter stands up and starts speaking. And so it’s clearly intelligent language. And the third thing is they all hear the language that they know, but those largely Galilean Jewish background guys shouldn’t have known Persian or whatever.
So Acts is 100% clear that the tongues are intelligible language. First Corinthians 14 appears to be the fly in the ointment where as I mentioned in verse two, “you’re speaking not to men but to God.” This idea that the tongue is just speech that is not intelligible in verse eight, like a view of giving an indistinct sound. Verse nine, if you’re with your tongue, you utter speech that is not intelligible and so forth. So a lot of folks look at that and say, okay, this is some sort of angel language. It’s a heavenly language. It’s not a real human language and it’s just syllables can catenate it together. And that’s what I do when I speak in tongues. And I’ve been in churches where that happens. And when I was overseas in Auckland and I was at a…I didn’t know, I don’t even know what these words meant. I was young. But I was at a what I later learned was a Pentecostal church and they started doing these things. I was like, “What on earth is going on?” It was very shocking to me. And so I was actually in the position of the guy in verse 21 outsiders coming in and I’ve experienced, I was like, “What on earth is going on? These people are crazy,” right? At least that’s what I as an outsider felt.
And so the way I look at verse or chapter 14 to kind of, okay, are tongues special charismatic angel languages or are are they actual human languages? Paul goes to, as he has over and over again in First Corinthians, he goes to sort of rock solid truth. The way he explains all this is in verse 21. He says, “in the law…” By the way, it’s interesting because it’s actually Isaiah, ”It is written by the people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners, will I speak to this people and even then they will not listen to me.” And then he says, ”thus tongues are a sign not for believers, but for unbelievers, while prophecy is assigned not for unbelievers but for believers.” It all seems very convoluted. What he’s saying is this based on tongues, according to Isaiah tongues according to the word of God, this speaking foreign known languages such as the language of the Babylonians when they roll into town. Speaking a foreign language is actually an eschatological sign of judgment. It’s saying that gospels, the message is being proclaimed to the people of God by a foreign language and they’re not listening.
So the judgment comes in, you hear a foreign language and you don’t understand. And that’s why Pentecost is so powerful because they hear the foreign language and they do understand and that’s how they hear the gospel. So his point is, the reason why he’s saying tongues as an intelligible language are not nearly as important as prophecy, is that they become a sign of judgment on the person who can’t understand them, not a helpful thing. And in fact, unbelievers come in and they see this and it becomes a kind of an inaccessible thing that they therefore sort of stands in judgment over. And he says, so therefore, if you’re gonna speak in a tongue, it has been translated. Just speaking in a tongue does no good for anyone. It has to be made intelligible, otherwise it brings judgment on the person who can’t respond to it. So he goes to Isaiah to kind of prove that out.
So it’s complicated. So no doubts you can easily in a hour-long Bible study on Thursday morning and get completely caught in the mud. And so if I were trying to strategically make my way through this, I think what you suggested, defining those terms, trying to frame that tongues, even here, are still talking about known human languages, even though sometimes it makes you sort of squint your eyes and doesn’t look like it, but whenever he gets to 2021 et cetera, and the translation thing, it’s clearly still a language that people know. What Paul is simply trying to do is say, “Don’t play the game of who’s got the better spiritual gift, because that undermines the work of the gospel.”
Guthrie: So we get to chapter 15, and I have to tell you, wow, this chapter is so important. This is important for us facing life and death. And as I think about this chapter, I think about how most of my life, I thought the trajectory of the Christian life was, I choose Christ now become a Christian, then I go to heaven when I die.
Lanier: Right. You probably would become an angel.
Guthrie: And I think…That might’ve been in there. But certainly, you know, I didn’t understand a resurrected and renewed earth. And clearly through most of my Christian life, I never gave a thought to how is my eternal existence after I come back with Christ and he calls my body from the grave and I become united once again, body and soul? But now in a resurrected glorified body like Christ, how is that existence going to be different than what we would call theologically the intermediate state or the way Paul describes it in Second Corinthians, away from the body…
Lanier: But with Christ.
Guthrie: …at home with the Lord? But I think many people have just not thought through this.
Lanier: Sure. Well, it’s complicated.
Guthrie: And I would assume however, when you get to first Corinthians, you’re as a teacher, presented with this incredible opportunity to make these things clear.
Lanier: I mean, in this, you know, almost 60 verses you’re like, “How could I even cover this?” Right. And so it’s almost too much good to cover. And so just to kind of give you the high level take on it, the first 20 verses or so, he’s arguing for the theological necessity of the resurrection and it’s just a beautiful… He begins by quoting this apostolic tradition of what’s the essence of the gospel and the resurrection is front and center. “If there is no resurrection we should pack it up and go home.” So he starts there because apparently the Corinthians, because of whatever worldly philosophy that bear some resemblance to like Platonism that the body is bad, soul is good and we don’t know exactly what they were buying into, but whatever the case they were denying the resurrected body, somehow body is, that’s just new ages and today. There’s no, without a resurrection of the body of Christ, we are just, we might as well just go home. Let’s just pack it up. So he starts there.
And then he shifts to the question of, okay, if the resurrection is true because it happened to Jesus, what is it gonna look like? He asked the question with what kind of body am I gonna be raised in? Which, I mean, my kids asked that question. “Are we gonna have candy in heaven, random ice cream in heaven?” and so forth. And it’s kind of hard to answer that without you just sort of completely ruining all their hopes, but giving them a better hope. So he says in verse 35, someone will ask, how are the dead raised with what kind of body do they come? And so what he then does just blows everyone’s mind, right? And it’s extremely complicated and, but in a good way. What he basically does in my reading is he’s trying to describe the indescribable. I mean, how do you describe the resurrected body? No one’s experienced it, but one person. And what do we get in the gospels when we see them experience the risen Lord? It doesn’t quite fit our categories. I mean he can withhold knowledge of who he is and they mistake him for people. They don’t know.
Guthrie: But he eats.
Lanier: But he eats but he can just show up places and then he’d go, it’s like, “Where is he?” And he went up to heaven and it’s, “Where is he?” And so already it stretches any ability for us to even imagine what is getting at. And so what Paul I think is trying to do is say, “I’m gonna do my best to give you a taste of what the body is. But what I wanna do is emphasize that it is a body. You’re not just an energy force field floating around. You’re not even an angel because angels don’t have bodies. You actually have a body.” Because theologically it’s really important that he had a body and he’s the first resurrected. And once all that hangs together again, theology is the basis for what he’s doing here.
And he gives, in my way of sort of slicing and dicing it, he gives basically three pictures, try to describe what it’s gonna look like. The first one is this seed plant analogy, which is my favorite one. It’s the easiest to understand. What he essentially says is he says, “your body is like the seed you plant in the dirt,” which I mean, that’s a very nice metaphor. The body going down to die. He says that seed has, if you look at, so let’s say, you know, my kids plant seeds and we grow stuff and they usually die in a couple of days. You pick a single seed and you plant it and it grows into a plant and could you say, “Okay, that final plant is that same plant as the seed?” And the answer to that is yes. I mean there is an essential integrity between those two. It didn’t come from some other seed. It came from that specific seed.
And so the seed analogy says, look, there is continuity between what goes into the earth and what comes out of it that you are the same person. You’re the same being, so to speak.
Guthrie: So when I…
Lanier: So what changes is you have the breakdown of the one and the full completion when it emerges. And I use in class… You look at the silk Sequoia tree being one of the biggest that exists. It comes from this microscopic little seed. And so it’s the same Sequoia, but it’s been just completely transformed. So it’s the same thing, but it’s gone from less to great and in a way that he can’t even explain. So that’s his first picture.
Guthrie: Somehow in a way that we can’t imagine. God is going to take this dust. He’s gonna gather up the dust of our body, whether it was planted in the ground or spread in the sea, and it’s gonna be our DNA. And he’s gonna gather from that and he’s going to somehow fashion from that a glorious body, like Christ body, that’s fit to live forever.
Lanier: That’s a beautiful analogy. The next one is this heaven and earth analogy. And he says, okay, there’s heavenly bodies and there’s earthly bodies. And it’s a bit of a complicated analogy, but you’re gonna go from flesh and earthiness, which still has a kind of glory because he said elsewhere in First Corinthians, you have the glory of God in you, but it’s gonna be even better. You’re gonna be transformed in this way that he sorta just takes us to [inaudible 00:40:09] and then leaves it there. And then the final, he goes from first Adam to last,Adam, so original Adam to Jesus. And he says, look, the first Adam was from the dust, he was from the earth. He was filled with a soul, but he was just, he was clearly less than what the second Adam was.
And so then at the sort of turning point late in the passage he smashes all those together and he sort of takes the seed analogy and he says, “Look, you were sewn perishable dust, glorious but still earthy and you’re gonna be raised,” switching the imagery, “to resurrection inperishable, glorious,” and so forth. And he sort of leaves it there. And so what I tell my kids, like, you know, the Bible tells us a lot about what the resurrected state is gonna be like, but doesn’t tell us all the details. I don’t know if [crosstalk 00:40:55]
Guthrie: It doesn’t answer all the questions we would like answered.
Lanier: I don’t know if I’m gonna be taller, handsomer. I don’t know if we’re gonna have ice cream. I don’t know. That wasn’t Paul’s point because he’s describing the indescribable. But whatever it is, it’s not just, you know, Nancy got through 2.0 it’s something far beyond what you can even imagine. I think really, especially if you have a group of folks that you’re teaching this to, one opportunity is you can deal with some of the real key issues we’re facing day in terms of disability, in terms of the dignity of people who are born with genetic or other kinds of brokenness. Because many people, they have this idea of what normal is, what functioning is. And then they say, “Okay, the resurrected body is just sort of a more tweaked, fitter, happier, more like Brad Pitt version of that.” And that’s not at all what Paul is saying. He says, look, what you are now, and whatever God has put in your life is just the seed. We have no idea what we’re really gonna be like. But that sort of levels the playing field because I think the folks who deal with chronic disease or, you know congenital things can be very hurt by the idea that I’m normal. That person’s not normal. The resurrected body is just gonna be normal. It’s like, nope, none of us are normal. We’re all flesh. We’re all dust. Just some of us is more visibly broken than others and all of us are gonna be transformed.
So that sort of cuts through the question of like, “okay, how old will I be in my resurrected body? Will I still have this?” Like none of that’s really on the table because you have no idea what you’re gonna be. You’re gonna be conformed to the image of Christ and perfected in a way that we don’t even have an analogy for today. So I think it’s a better place to take it because there’s a lot of freight that gets brought to it. And sort of studying afresh and that can help deal with that. So…
Guthrie: Well, Greg, why don’t we close this way, when we’ve finished teaching through the book of First Corinthians to whoever we’re teaching it to, what do we hope the impact has been on those we’ve taught?
Lanier: In some respects there’s gonna be chapters that are not easy discussions and people will be offended and you have to take, you have to sort of do some digging. And so all of the kind of ethical, moral issues and women and those kinds of things are, they’re loaded topics. And so you don’t wanna necessarily land there in some big argument about head coverings. Perhaps the nice thing is that apart from the concluding chapter, the thrust of First Corinthians lands in the resurrected body. And so if you wanna sort of wrap it all up, that’s a pretty good place to land, which by the way, it goes back to the beginning, Christ is the one who is sufficient for all of our needs because even the First Corinthians 15 by the way, it feels like a bit of a slightly random rhapsodic, you know, sort of beautiful thing about the resurrected body. It’s actually dealing with an issue. They’re denying the resurrection and if they’re denying the resurrection and the importance of the body, then why not go have a prophecy, right? So it’s actually a very pastoral issue he’s dealing with, but he lands on this, the glory that we’re heading towards.
And so that’s a nice final conclusion to your First Corinthians Bible study. Land there, where’s the sting of death? As you are discipling people through this letter and all of its complexity, the thrust as we’ve mentioned is drawing us together in unity. And so the beautiful thing about the resurrection chapter and where it ends is that even in our current suffering death all around us the perishability that we all face and whatever suffering any person is bringing to that bible study where you land is celebrating that we together are heading to a particular place, that victory is gonna swallow up whatever suffering with united to Christ this is our great hope so that we can sing together even in the midst of suffering.
Guthrie: Well, Dr. Lanier, thank you so much for helping us teach First Corinthians.
Lanier: You’re welcome.
Guthrie: You’ve been listening to ”Help me Teach the Bible” with Nancy Guthrie, a production of the Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway. Crossway is a not for profit publisher of the ESV Bible Christian Book and Tracks. Learn more about Crossways gospel centered-resources at crossways org.