Prophecy and Tongues

Pursuing What Is Best

1 Corinthians 14:1-15

Listen or read the following transcript as D. A. Carson speaks on the topic of spiritual gifts from 1 Corinthians 14:1-15.

I want to use the majority of my time in this lecture to address directly a question I have so far avoided, namely.… What, precisely, are such gifts as prophecy, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues? I intend, therefore, to explore those questions with you before turning to a rather summary exposition of the text itself. Some reflections, therefore, on the nature of several of the charismata.

1. Kinds of tongues and interpretation of tongues

What does glōssais lalein or to speak in tongues mean? Discussion of this question ranges across a wide variety of areas. I shall try to simplify the issues by asking and trying to answer the following questions:

A) Were the tongues in Corinth ecstatic?

Everything turns on the definition of ecstatic. One major work offers this: “In ecstasy, there is a condition of emotional exaltation, in which the one who experiences it is more or less oblivious of the external world, and loses to some extent his self-consciousness and his power of rational thought and self-control.”

In fact, the issue lies much deeper. Most non-charismatics who argue that ecstasy accompanies contemporary speaking in tongues mean a cluster of things, in particular that the languages are not real languages but, in the less graceful books, “mere gibberish.”

Strictly speaking, however, whether or not ecstasy is involved, whether the utterance is contentful, and whether it is a known human language are all distinct questions. Any one of them can stand independently of the others. Most charismatics avoid the term ecstasy, but they do not use the term to describe the intelligibility or otherwise of their “tongue” but the psychological state, the degree of mental dissociation, that they experience.

For instance, Culpepper writes, “The main reason charismatics object to tongues being called ‘ecstatic utterance’ is that it seems to suggest one has gone ‘off his rocker’ and lost control of oneself. The first meaning which Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1975) assigns to ecstasy is that of ‘a state of being beyond reason and self-control.’ Glossolalists [tongue speakers] make the point that Paul assumes that the glossolalist can control his or her speech. This, they say, is exactly what they experience. The point is well taken!”

Hollenweger helpfully distinguishes between “hot” tongues and “cool” tongues. Hot tongues are those that are spoken in a state of advanced mental dissociation, and cool tongues are those uttered where the speaker has perfect control of his or her utterance and remains mentally alert and cognizant of what is going on, even though he or she cannot understand the sounds coming from his or her own mouth. In that sense, hot tongues are ecstatic; cool tongues are not.

My perception is the overwhelming majority of modern tongues-speakers resort to cool tongues. By and large, however, ecstasy has become such a slippery term that it is probably better left out of the discussion altogether unless it is thoroughly qualified and all sides in the debate know what is meant.

B) Were the tongues at Corinth real languages or something else?

To put the matter in technical terms, is the phenomenon of 1 Corinthians an instance of xenoglossia (speaking in unlearned real human languages) or glossolalia (speaking in verbal patterns that cannot be identified with any known human language)? This is an extraordinarily difficult question to answer convincingly on either side despite the dogmatic claims made by many proponents on each side.

Most contemporary charismatics would be happy with the definition of tongues offered by Christenson: “… a supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit, whereby the believer speaks forth in a language he has never learned and which he does not understand.” This, of course, simply pushes the question back from the meaning of tongue to the meaning of language.

Probably most charismatics are persuaded their utterances are real languages insofar as they believe they actually convey something; they are the tongues of men or of angels. It is a slightly different question whether they believe they are human languages occurring naturally in the world but unlearned by the tongues-speaker.

Increasingly, however, some charismatics and a variety of sympathetic observers of the charismatic movement, spurred on by modern linguistic analyses of tapes of tongues utterances (about which I’ll say more in a few moments), allow that modern tongues and the tongues in Corinth alike are not real languages at all. For instance, Cardinal Suenens; Heribert Muhlen, who views tongues primarily as a more intense prayer experience in the worship of the inexpressible God; and Michael Green, who suggests some tongues may be real languages and others not.

One of the strongest defenders of the glossolalist position (that is, that tongues are not real languages) over against xenoglossia is Cyril G. Williams in his book, Tongues of the Spirit. He firmly criticizes those word studies of glossa (tongue) that insist the term, when it does not refer to the wagging organ in one’s mouth, always means real languages. Not only may the word “indicate the physical organ, known languages, dialects or sub-dialects, but also the incoherent utterance of certain forms of spiritual fervency.” In any case, he writes,

“Normal usage is not the only criterion when the subject of investigation is what appears to be a new phenomenon or at least one that is unfamiliar in a particular context. In such cases a term in common currency may be given an extension of connotation and sometimes the new meaning establishes a technical application.”

Williams is similarly unimpressed with studies that argue the verb to interpret normally means “to translate,” and translation presupposes a real language. Williams is far from saying tongues are entirely devoid of meaning. He means, rather, they may be an expression of deep feelings and inarticulate thoughts issuing out of the speaker’s deep experience of the Spirit but not demonstrably conveyed in propositional terms in the sounds themselves.

Whereas many commentators would be reasonably happy with this so far as 1 Corinthians is concerned, they might prefer to see in Acts 2 not glossolalia but xenoglossia. For there, of course, people hear the languages as their own address. Williams, however, pushes on to consistency and suggests that even in Acts 2 we are dealing with glossolalia.

After all, even glossolalia makes some sounds that could be identified as real words in various languages. How else could it be, Williams wonders, that many of those present on the day of Pentecost accused the believers of being drunk? Would we accuse someone who was speaking in another human language of being drunk? Nevertheless, I remain unpersuaded by Williams’s arguments.

I shall discuss Acts 2 in the last lecture, but for the moment I must merely register my conviction that what Luke describes at Pentecost are real languages. More careful word studies, too, have shown that in none of the texts advanced by Behm or the standard lexica does glossa (tongue) ever denote noncognitive utterance. By noncognitive here, I mean utterance without cognitive content, regardless of whether such content is understood by either the speaker or the hearer. The utterance may be enigmatic and incomprehensible but not noncognitive.

The ecstatic utterances of the pagan religions prove less suitable a set of parallels than was once thought. Nor is Thiselton entirely convincing when he argues the verb hermeneuo (to translate) can be used in Philo and Josephus to mean “to put into words” rather than “to translate.” Thus, what he wants is that a person might articulate certain deeply expressed feelings which are then put into words so that the translation doesn’t have to be accurate translation in any sense at all.

For, as Turner has pointed out, in 1 Corinthians it is not simply the verb one must wrestle with but the use of the verb in connection with speaking in tongues. MacGorman insists glossolalia in 1 Corinthians is “Holy Spirit inspired utterance that is unintelligible apart from interpretation, itself an attendant gift. It is a form of ecstatic utterance, a valid charismatic endowment.”

He goes on to affirm that if the modern reader reads real languages into the picture, then some verses in chapter 14 degenerate to sheer nonsense. (In particular, chapter 14, verses 2, 13, 14, 18, and 22.) In fact, not one of them is nonsense, even if the tongue is a real language, provided only the tongues-speaker does not know what he or she is saying. Moreover, if tongues are unintelligible at the intrinsic level until the gift of interpretation is exercised, one wonders in what sense tongues are being interpreted at all.

Dunn supports the view that tongues in Corinth were not real human languages, partly on the grounds that the subject matter is mysteries, which he understands to be eschatological secrets known only in heaven, and partly on the grounds that if Paul thought the gift of tongues utilized real foreign languages, he could not have compared them with real foreign languages in 14:10 and following, as he does.

But mysteries in 13:2 are connected with prophecy not tongues, and all mysteries is purposely wildly hyperbolic, since Paul does not think we can now enjoy more than partial knowledge. In any case, Paul is capable of expressing heavenly mysteries in Greek, in a known language. For example in 1 Corinthians 15:51 and 52, “I tell you a mystery,” he says. So there is no necessary connection between mysteries and noncognitive speech. Appeal to mysteries is no justification for noncognitive speech.

In 14:10 and following, “Paul could be pointing to the obvious consequences in the secular realm of what the Corinthians fail to see in the spiritual, without which others do not understand; Paul points out how close they come to being ridiculed as ‘barbarians’ rather than exalted as ‘spirituals.’ ”

Other arguments in favor of taking tongues in 1 Corinthians as noncognitive have been treated elsewhere. Perhaps two more should be mentioned here. Smith says if the tongues are real but unlearned languages, then each instance is an open miracle, and God is in the awkward position of doing miracles through tongues-speakers while simultaneously instructing his apostle to curb them. Therefore, he says these cannot be real tongues miraculously bestowed.

But if this argument were applied to other spiritual gifts, we would arrive at nonsense. For instance, Paul curbs excesses in prophecy, which presumably is Spirit-prompted. It is certainly revelatory (14:30). Smith’s argument seems to suppose if the tongues are not real languages, then the Spirit of God may not be so intimately involved.

Indeed, if Smith’s argument had any real weight, it would be a decisive blow against the notion of a sovereign and providential God. For since all that transpires takes place under the aegis of divine sovereignty (Romans 8:28), why should God forbid anything that does, in fact, take place? Possible answers to that question lie elsewhere, but certainly Smith’s objection does not rule out real languages.

A second objection concerns the use of the verb lalein (to speak). Some have suggested it here retains its older meaning and hints at babbling, utterance empty of cognitive content. Gundry replies with four telling observations:

First, Paul can use legō (another word for to speak) of speaking in tongues in 14:16, and that verb is regularly used for ordinary speech. Second, Paul uses the verb lalein in 14:19 in connection with speaking with the mind, which seems to embrace intelligible speech, so the verb cannot be restricted to unintelligible speech. Third, Paul also uses this verb in 14:29 of prophetic speech which, like tongues, is Spirit-prompted but, unlike tongues, is immediately intelligible. Fourth, the same verb is used in 14:34 and 35 of a woman asking questions, presumably in her normal language.

On balance, then, the evidence favors the view that Paul thought the gift of tongues was a gift of real languages; that is, languages that were cognitive, whether of men or of angels. Moreover, if he knew of the details of Pentecost (a currently unpopular opinion in the scholarly world but, in my view, eminently defensible), his understanding of tongues must have been shaped to some extent by that event.

Certainly tongues in Acts exercise some different functions from those in 1 Corinthians, but there is no substantial evidence that suggests Paul thought the two were essentially different. We have established high probability, I think, that Paul believed the tongues about which he wrote in 1 Corinthians were cognitive, but before any sweeping conclusions can be drawn, another question must be brought to bear.

C) What bearing does the discipline of linguistics have on the assessment of modern tongues?

There is, to my knowledge, universal agreement amongst linguists who have taped and analyzed thousands of examples of modern tongues-speaking that the contemporary phenomenon is not any human language. The patterns and structures that all known human language requires are simply not there.

Occasionally, a recognizable word slips out, but that is statistically likely given the sheer quantity of verbalization. Jaquette’s conclusion is unavoidable: “We are dealing here not with language, but with verbalizations which superficially resemble language in certain of its structural aspects.”

When studies have been made of tongues uttered in different cultures and linguistic environments, several startling conclusions have presented themselves. The tongues phenomena have been related to the speaker’s natural language. For example, a German or French tongues-speaker will never use one of the two English th sounds, because they don’t have those sounds in their language. English tongues-speakers will never use the u sound of French cru, because most English people can’t say it.

Moreover, the stereotypical utterance of any culture “mirrors that of the person who guided the glossolalist into the behavior. There is little variation of sound patterns within the group arising around a particular guide,” even though other studies show the tongues patterns of each speaker are usually identifiable from those of others, and a few tongues-speakers use two or more discrete patterns.

In any case, modern tongues are lexically uncommunicative, and the few instances of reported modern xenoglossia (actually speaking in known human languages) are so poorly attested that no weight can be laid on them.

What follows from this information? For some, the evidence is so powerful they conclude the only biblical position is no known contemporary gift of tongues is biblically valid, and ideally the entire practice should be stopped immediately. For others, such as J.I. Packer, modern tongues are not like biblical tongues; therefore, contemporary tongues-speakers should not claim their gift is in line with Pentecost or Corinth.

On the other hand, the modern phenomenon seems to do more good than harm, he says. It has helped many believers in worship, prayer, and commitment and, therefore, should probably be assessed as a good gift from God that nevertheless stands without explicit biblical warrant. I cannot think of a better way of displeasing both sides simultaneously.

Can we get beyond this impasse? I think so, if the arguments of Poythress stand up. How, he asks, may tongues be perceived? There are three possibilities. First, disconnected sounds, ejaculations, and the like, that are not confused with human language. Second, connected sequences of sounds that appear to be real languages unknown to the hearer not trained in linguistics, even though they are not. Third, real language known by one or more of the potential hearers, even if unknown to the speaker.

I would add a fourth, later treated by Poythress though not at this point classified by him. Speech patterns sufficiently complex that they may bear all kinds of cognitive information in some coded array even though linguistically these patterns are not identifiable as human language.

Our problem so far is the biblical descriptions of tongues seem to demand the third category (that is, real language known by one or more of the potential hearers, even if unknown to the speaker), but the contemporary phenomena seem to fit better in the first and second categories (disconnected sounds, ejaculations, and the like, that are not confused with any human language or connected sequences of sounds that appear to be real languages even though they’re not).

The fourth category is also logically possible, even though it is regularly overlooked, and it meets the constraints of both the first-century biblical documents and of some of the contemporary phenomena. I do not see how it can be dismissed.

Consider, then, Poythress’s linguistic description of glossolalia. “Free vocalization (glossolalia) occurs when (1) a human being produces a connected sequence of speech sounds, (2) he cannot identify the sound sequence as belonging to any natural language that he already knows how to speak, (3) he cannot identify and give the meaning of words or morphemes (minimal lexical units), (4) in the case of utterances of more than a few syllables, he typically cannot repeat the same sound-sequence on demand, (5) a naive listener might suppose that it was an unknown language.”

The next step, then, is crucial. Poythress reminds us that such free vocalization may still bear content beyond some vague picture of the speaker’s emotional state. He offers his own amusing illustration. I shall manufacture another. Suppose the message is, “Praise the Lord, for his mercy endures forever.” Remove the vowels:


This may look a little strange, but when we remember modern Hebrew is written without most vowels, we can imagine that with a little practice this could still be read quite smoothly. Now remove the spaces. Then, beginning with the first letter, rewrite the sequence using every third letter, repeatedly going through the sequence until all the letters are used up. The result is:


Now add an a sound after each consonant and break up the unit into arbitrary bits:


I think that is indistinguishable from transcriptions of certain modern tongues. I’ve done some comparisons. Certainly it is very similar to some I have heard, but the important point is it conveys information provided you know the code. Anyone who knew the steps I have taken could reverse them in order to retrieve the original message.

As Poythress remarks, “Thus it is always possible for the charismatic person to claim tongues is coded language, and only the interpreter of tongues is given the supernatural ‘key’ for deciphering it. It is impossible not only in practice, but even in theory, for a linguist to devise a means of testing this claim.”

It appears, then, that tongues may bear cognitive information even though they are not known human languages, just as a computer program is a “language” that conveys a great deal of information, even though it is not a “language” that anyone actually speaks. You have to know the code to be able to understand it.

Such a pattern of verbalization could not be legitimately dismissed as gibberish. If it is capable of conveying propositional or cognitive content, as capable as any known language, then gibberish is not an appropriate category. Tongue and language still seem eminently reasonable words to describe such phenomena.

This does not mean all modern tongues phenomena are therefore biblically authentic. It does mean there is a category of linguistic phenomenon that conveys cognitive content, may be interpreted, and seems to meet the constraints of the biblical descriptions, even though it is no known human language.

Of course, this will not do for the tongues of Acts 2, where the gift consisted of known human languages. Elsewhere, the alternative is not as simple as “human languages” or “gibberish,” as many noncharismatic writers affirm. Indeed, the fact that Paul can speak of different kinds of tongues, in 12:10 and 28, may suggest that on some occasions human languages were spoken (as in Acts 2) and in other cases not, even though in the latter eventuality the tongues were viewed as bearing cognitive content.

D) What bearing does the gift of interpretation have on the nature of contemporary tongues?

This was discussed in part when the meaning of the verb to interpret was briefly considered, but there are several other things that must be said. A few years ago, a friend of mine attended a charismatic service and rather cheekily recited some of John 1:1–18 in Greek as his contribution to speaking in tongues. Immediately, there was an interpretation that bore no relation whatsoever to the Johannine prologue.

Two people with the gift of interpretation have, on occasion, been asked to interpret the same recorded tongues message, and the resulting different and conflicting interpretations have been justified on the grounds that God gives different interpretations to different people. That is preposterous. If the interpretations are wildly dissimilar, it is preposterous, for it would force us again to conclude there is no univocal cognitive content in the tongues themselves.

I know of no major study that has followed up on hundreds or thousands of examples, but it could be a very revealing study. More commonly, at least in my experience, triteness triumphs. As one writer comments, “Interpretations prove to be as stereotyped, vague, and uninformative as they [the tongues themselves] are spontaneous, fluent, and confident.”

None of this proves there is no valid modern gift of tongues, but these distortions of interpretation are sufficiently frequent and the interpretations themselves so commonly pedestrian, that at some point the gift of tongues must itself, in some cases, also be called into question.

The evidence is still not comprehensive enough to serve as a damning indictment, but it is enough to provoke reflective pauses in all thoughtful believers. In the last lecture I shall reflect a little further on the bearing of church history and of psychology in assessing the modern tongues movement. I shall turn, at the moment, to three other gifts.

2. Apostles

There is neither time nor space to treat this subject in a comprehensive fashion, yet something must be said. For quite apart from its intrinsic interest, the subject has a curious relation to the broader questions of spiritual gifts.

As long as apostles are understood to refer to a select group (the Twelve plus Paul) whose positions or functions cannot be duplicated after their demise, there is a prima facie case for saying at least one of the charismata passes away at the end of the first generation … the apostles. This gift is tightly tied to the locus of revelation that came with Jesus Messiah and related events. Therefore, there is a precedent for asking if there may not be other spiritual gifts in Paul’s day that cannot be operative in our day.

Conversely, once the charismatic movement had rehabilitated all of the other spiritual gifts explicitly mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12–14, it is not altogether surprising that some felt there should be a place for apostles as well. As a result, some wings of Pentecostalism do not hesitate to appoint modern apostles.

Certainly, Paul does not use the term exclusively in a tightly defined or technical sense. The referent in some passages is disputed. Are the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15:7 the Twelve less Judas Iscariot, as I think likely, or a broader group who became, as eyewitnesses of the resurrection, founding missionaries? There are certainly broader uses.

Epaphroditus is an apostle, a messenger of a congregation (Philippians 2:25). Paul’s agents to the churches can also be designated apostles in 2 Corinthians 8:22 and 23. The force of apostles in Romans 16:7 is uncertain on several grounds, but it may be roughly equivalent to missionaries or the like.

Moreover, as has often been remarked, “There could not have been false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13) unless the number of Apostles had been [in some sense] indefinite.” Certainly the tendency in some branches of modern scholarship is to downplay the uniqueness and the authority of those thirteen (the Twelve plus Paul) traditionally referred to as apostles.

All recognize that in time these thirteen came to be looked on as a closed circle that served in part as the foundation of the church, a position already reflected (it is argued) in the epistle to the Ephesians and in the Apocalypse. But because some date Ephesians rather late and Revelation later, naturally there are suspicions that such notions formed no part of the understanding of the original apostles about whom such claims are made.

Taking a leaf out of this analysis, some branches of the charismatic movement therefore cluster the kinds of apostles in the New Testament into three groups. First, Jesus Christ himself, a group of one. Second, the Twelve, unrepeatable and irreplaceable. Third, Paul and all other apostles, an open-ended group that allows modern equivalents. And since it is Paul who is writing 1 Corinthians 12:28, the conclusion is obvious.

This conclusion is nevertheless premature. Dupont has shown that even Acts pictures the missionary and authority status of Paul in the same categories as the Twelve. Jervell, likewise bucking the tide, argues that the perspectives of Acts and of the writings of Paul are indistinguishable so far as the apostolic authority of Paul is concerned.

Too much is made of Paul’s persistent willingness to reason with his churches, to beg them to reform or to take some action, to function as the servant and example. None of this is incompatible with a strong sense of unique personal apostolic authority that may, as threatened in 2 Corinthians 10:13, regretfully be applied in its full force if the church does not conform to gentler admonitions.

Indeed, this combination of authority and meekness lies at the heart of all levels of Christian leadership. So to pit one against the other, as if the former is called into question by the latter, is to exhibit a very deep misunderstanding.

Of course, the word apostle can extend beyond the Twelve plus Paul, but Lord can extend beyond Jesus. Elders and deacons can extend beyond ecclesiastical offices and functions, and so forth. The primary reason is obvious: nascent Christianity had to use the vocabulary into which it was born, and its own specialized use of certain terms did not immediately displace the larger semantic range of the terms employed.

As a result, attempts to establish what apostleship means for Paul by simply appealing to the full semantic range of the word, as it is found in his writings, is deeply flawed at the methodological level. Only a traditional skepticism will ignore several important strands of evidence.

First, Jesus himself, according to the Synoptic Gospels, appointed the Twelve, designated them apostles, and gave them certain distinguishing privileges and responsibilities. Second, after the resurrection and ascension, these men felt it necessary on biblical grounds to make up their number in the wake of the defection of Judas Iscariot. Third, Paul sees his own apostleship as on a par with that of the Twelve so far as immediacy of call, witness to the resurrection, grasp of the gospel, and intrinsic authority are concerned.

The only area in which he admits he is not worthy to be grouped with the others has to do with the lateness of his conversion and call, and that from a context in which he was persecuting the church. Even so, he confesses he has worked harder than all of the others (see especially 1 Corinthians 9; Galatians 1 and 2; and 1 Corinthians 15). There is even a little evidence in Paul’s writings that he recognized the notion of the Twelve sprang from the Lord Jesus himself, which is quite in line with the way he viewed his own ministry.

What use of apostle, then, do we find in 1 Corinthians 12:28? The revealing word, I think, is first. “God has appointed first of all apostles.” If the summary I have just given is cogent, it is hard to imagine why Paul would designate first, in any sense, those who are apostles in some derivative fashion … messengers from the churches, perhaps. It is much more likely he has the narrow scope of apostles in mind.

If we press on to ask, “First in what sense?” the answer is uncertain. It could be “first in the potential for edifying the church,” but that theme does not assume major proportions until chapter 14. It might mean, “first in greatness or importance,” but Paul is about to classify greatness in terms of love and edification not personal pomp or prestige. So this option reduces to the first.

It might be “first in authority in the church,” but not only does this theme seem incidental to the flow of 1 Corinthians 12 and 13, but I shall argue shortly that, in general, the New Testament treats the authority of the teacher above that of the prophet, probably not even Ephesians 2:20 rightly understood as an exception.

It may simply be “first in chronological appointment.” In historical order, God first appointed apostles, then New Testament prophets at Pentecost (about which I shall say more in a moment), and then teachers. About this point, I am uncertain, but it is quite clear, I think, that the gift of apostleship Paul mentions in this text is not transferable to persons living in our day. Perhaps, too, that is why it is not apostleship but prophecy that is discussed so centrally in chapter 13.

If Paul had wanted to say tongues ceased toward the end of the apostolic age or thereabouts, instead of at the parousia, he had a ready-made precedent in the gift of apostleship, already listed as the first appointment in the church. Instead, he links tongues and the gift of knowledge with prophecy, the second appointment in the church, and thereby opens the door to the eschatological argument so central to chapter 13.

3.Teachers (12:28)

About this gift, I shall say very little. The word used, didaskalos, does not, in the New Testament, designate a particular office or role though, by contrast, it is intrinsic to the office and role of apostle and of bishop or overseer. “Presumably they were mature Christians who instructed others in the meaning and moral implications of Christian faith.” Possibly, as some think, they expounded the Christian meaning of the Old Testament.

4. Prophecy and prophets

The range of phenomena covered by this word group in the first century is enormous, but just what was included under the rubric of prophecy in the New Testament? The answers to that question are legion. Sometimes they are formulated less in terms of what prophecy is than what prophecy does.

A) Prophecy defined

One commentator, for instance, writes, “Prophesying was the power of seeing and making known the nature and will of God, a gift of insight into the truth and/or power in imparting it, and hence a capacity for building up men’s characters, quickening their wills, and encouraging their spirits.” That is, of course, all true, but since it is cast in terms of function, it could equally be applied to gifted preaching. Elsewhere, the same commentator makes precisely that connection.

When Paul says prophecy is for the “strengthening, encouragement and comfort of the congregation,” (14:3) he does not thereby define prophecy, for exposition, prayer, and teaching might serve the same ends. Further, it is not even clear, as Turner points out, that 14:3 provides a necessary criterion of prophecy. For such a view inevitably marginalizes, rather arbitrarily, such prophecies as those of Agabus who, when he predicts a famine, does not immediately edify, encourage, or strengthen.

There is, in fact, a sustained tradition that identifies New Testament prophecy with what we today would call preaching or expounding Scripture. The reasons offered are many. One of the most common is prophecy in the Old Testament is largely devoted to calls to reform and renewal. It is paraenetic, in other words. Therefore, paraenetic ministry under the new covenant must also be a form of prophecy. So argues, for example, Packer in his book Keep in Step with the Spirit (page 215). I shall spare you a long discussion of this point.

Logically, in any case, this discussion cannot be made legitimately unless prophecy and paraenesis are so tightly bound together as never to be found separately or in any other linkage, a manifest absurdity. The argument of Ellis to the effect that the exegesis and application of Old Testament texts in the New Testament is sometimes accompanied by some such phrase as “says the Lord,” and therefore to be treated as prophecy, has been shown by Aune to be mistaken.

Aune points out that “says the Lord” formula, in passages like Romans 12:19 where Deuteronomy is quoted, does nothing more than identify God as the source of the Old Testament quotation. Moreover, similar application of Scripture in an epistle like Barnabas is labeled as teaching not prophecy. On the other hand, Green forges an absolute disjunction between prophecy and preaching. Schlink makes New Testament prophecy and Old Testament prophecy absolutely indistinguishable and does not recognize the inherent dangers in that position.

Pryor, alert to the danger, suggests that at least most of the New Testament prophets enjoyed the same authority status as their Old Testament predecessors. But they died out with the apostles, and any subsequent manifestation of the gift must be subordinate to the Canon. This position may be theologically safe, but it is difficult to justify exegetically, and it labors under the disadvantage that any subsequent gift of prophecy is rendered unlike the gift of prophecy that was exercised in New Testament times.

Whereas many writers in non-charismatic traditions attempt to align prophecy and contemporary preaching, others emphasize the essential revelatory nature of tongues and prophecy, concerned to argue that revelatory material of any kind must eventually prove a threat to the stability of Christian truth once for all delivered to the saints and now preserved in the Canon.

This is not the place to analyze each New Testament text that deals with prophecy. Some of the relevant texts lie in the chapter before us and will be briefly considered in a few minutes. Other studies have laid the necessary groundwork.

Aune defines prophecy as “a specific form of divination that consists of intelligible verbal messages believed to originate with God and communicated through inspired human intermediaries.” Grudem finally bases his definition of prophecy in Paul on a detailed study of 1 Corinthians 14:29 and 30. He says, “Prophecy is the reception and subsequent transmission of spontaneous divinely originating revelation.” The verb to prophesy denotes this process. Rather similar is the definition of Panagopoulos.

Grudem’s thesis on New Testament prophecy breaks new ground. I am generally sympathetic to it, although I have reservations at two or three critical points. I shall not defend this thesis, as that would be to write the book he has already written, but I shall now summarize some of his arguments then indicate my mild dissent now and then and show how the thesis bears on these three chapters.

Grudem seeks to put on a systematic basis what has been suggested by some others, namely that the prophecy of the New Testament must be distinguished from the prophecy of the Old Testament, especially in its authority status. Some of the reasons include the following:

First, adequate definitions of prophecy, like the two just reported, accept that prophecy presupposes revelation (the prophecy comes from God), but they do not presuppose that each prophecy is in the form of a direct quotation from God, prefaced perhaps by a stern “Thus says the Lord.” Such instances are rare in the New Testament and somewhat disputed.

Second, for Paul, the legitimate heirs and successors of the Old Testament prophets, so far as their authority status is concerned, were not New Testament prophets but apostles, apostles defined in a fairly narrow way. Here again, Grudem expands on a point advanced by others.

In the Old Testament, once a prophet was tested and approved, God’s people were morally bound to obey him. To disobey such a prophet was to oppose God. If a prophet speaking in the name of God was shown to be in error, the official sanction was death. Once a prophet was acknowledged as true, there is no trace of repeated checks on the content of his oracles.

By contrast, New Testament prophets are to have their oracles carefully weighed (14:29; compare also 1 Thessalonians 5:19–21). The word weighed suggests the prophecy be evaluated, not simply accepted as totally true or totally false. “The presupposition is that any one New Testament prophetic oracle is expected to be mixed in quality, and the wheat must be separated from the chaff.”

Moreover, there is no hint of excommunication as the threatened sanction if the prophet on some occasion does not live up to the mark. More importantly, Paul places the authority of Christian prophets under his own apostolic authority in 14:37 and 38. To contravene apostolic authority may eventually bring enormous threat … being cast out to Satan, for example. There is even some evidence, albeit disputed, that Paul’s self-consciousness as an apostle has close similarities to the self-consciousness of the Old Testament prophets.

Third, the New Testament does not see prophets as the solution to the problem of apostolic succession. The silence is startling. If the gift of prophecy was regarded as the equivalent in authority to that of Old Testament prophecy, and if it persisted (as it did) throughout the New Testament era right into the mid-patristic period, why were the prophets not presented as the church’s bastion against false teaching, its source of light and information in the face of uncertainty?

In fact, the latest epistles in the New Testament sound a quite different note. The emphasis is, “Guard the gospel” (2 Timothy), “Keep the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude), and “Return to that which was from the beginning.” (1 John)

Fourth, although there is quite a range of subjects on which New Testament prophets apparently spoke, there is little evidence they enjoyed the clout in the church that either the apostles demanded in the church or the writing prophets demanded in Israel and Judah. I do not mean that Old Testament prophets were universally revered and uncontested nor that New Testament apostles were never opposed, maligned, and slighted by Christians. Quite the reverse. It is precisely because of the public status and high claims to authority that there were such polarized reactions.

New Testament prophecy, by contrast with that of the Old Testament, cuts a very low profile. The Thessalonians actually had to be told not to treat prophecies with contempt (1 Thessalonians 5:20). Here in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul has to advance the cause of prophecy above the cause of tongues.

There are only two passages in the Pauline correspondence where prophets stand in more exalted company; namely, Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5. The former (Ephesians 2:10) is crucial. We are told the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” In an extended treatment, Grudem plausibly argues that the construction means “the apostles who are prophets.”

Certainly the New Testament writers sometimes view the apostles as prophets (and Paul himself regards himself that way), but even if not all are convinced that his interpretation of this text is right, no one can fail to see the emphasis in Ephesians 2:20 is anomalous.

Fifth, there are instances of prophecies in Acts that are viewed as genuinely from God yet having something less than the authority status of an Old Testament prophecy. Perhaps the most startling is Acts 21:4. We are told certain disciples, by means of the Spirit (almost certainly a signal of prophecy), tell Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Paul goes anyway, persuaded that he is being prompted by the Spirit to visit the city.

Perhaps, as Grudem suggests, these prophets had received some revelation about the apostle’s impending sufferings and interpreted them to mean Paul should not go. Whatever the case, the prophecy, so far as Paul was concerned, needed evaluating and, in the form he received it from them, rejecting.

The prophecy of Agabus, in Acts 21:10–11, stipulates that the Jews at Jerusalem would “bind the man who owns Paul’s girdle and hand him over to the Gentiles.” Strictly speaking, however, in the event itself, Paul was not bound by the Jews but by the Romans. The Jews did not hand Paul over to the Romans but sought to kill him with mob violence, prompting a rescue by the Romans. I can think of no reported Old Testament prophet whose prophecies are so wrong on the details. The rebuttal of Gaffin, in my judgment, does not pay close enough attention to the text.

Sixth, the constraints placed on prophecy in this chapter (1 Corinthians 14, especially verses 29, 30, and 36), “Let the prophets speak, two or three. Let others judge …” and so forth, make it clear the gift of prophecy stands considerably tamed. It is impossible to think, for example, of Jeremiah being told, “Take your turn, Jeremiah. Let the prophets speak. One or two, two or three.”

Moreover, it is precisely because prophecy operates at this lower level of authority that Paul can encourage women to pray and prophesy in public under the constraints of 1 Corinthians 11, whatever they mean, while forbidding them to exercise an authoritative teaching role over men or to evaluate the content of the prophecies. The last point, of course, is immensely controverted.

My hesitations about Grudem’s thesis are two, neither of which does irreparable damage to it but only refines it. First, the thesis oversimplifies the contrast between Old Testament prophets and New Testament prophets.

The Old Testament, for instance, records the existence of schools of the prophets in the time of Samuel, and it is far from clear that everyone in a particular school enjoyed the status of Amos or Isaiah. Moreover, it has been compellingly suggested that Numbers 12:6–8 and 11:29 give evidence, even in the Old Testament, of two kinds of prophecy, one called charismatic and enigmatic and the other Mosaic.

The observation is the more suggestive when it is the former kind (that is, the charismatic and enigmatic kind) that is picked up by Joel’s prophecy, which is said by Peter, then, to be fulfilled in the day of Pentecost. Grudem’s general point stands, but as we shall see, it needs some qualification. Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, some prophecies could be less than fully authoritative.

Second, Grudem bases the distinction in authority on a further distinction between revelation of general content and revelation that extends to the very words of the prophet. Revelation of general content is not authoritative necessarily; it has to be evaluated. Revelation that extends right to the words is authoritative.

This, in my judgment, goes beyond the evidence and is open to several objections. Exegetically, the distinction does not seem securely based in Paul. It appears, rather, as an attempt to find a consistent explanation for distinctions in authority that certainly are there but another explanation may be possible. Moreover, Grudem’s distinction masks a difficult point in the prophetic psychology. When Old Testament prophets were declaring the Word of the Lord, they were not always presenting what they believed to be verbatim quotes.

We may agree the inscripturated form of those prophecies was so superintended by God that the result was God’s truth right down to the words (that was Jesus’ view of the Old Testament, Matthew 5:17), but it is not obvious when, say, Paul was explaining his itinerary to the Corinthians in a second canonical epistle to them that he was psychologically aware of a revelatory process operating that extended to the words he was dictating.

The question arises, therefore, whether there is any difference between the psychological self-awareness of the Old Testament prophet and the New Testament prophet. What evidence is there that it was a different gift so far as the prophet’s self-perceptions were concerned? But if the difference is only in the result, then it seems to me to miss the mark to say in the one case there was revelation of general content and in the other revelation that included the actual words, because you could never know that until you actually got the final words out. Moreover, in the prophecy of Agabus, the errors turn not on quibbles over words but on aspects of the content.

Turner remarks further, “This is where Grudem’s distinction breaks down (and he is not unaware of the problems): semantically it is not the surface structure of the wording, but the semantic structure of the propositions of a communication that is primarily significant. As this suggests, what seems reasonable on other grounds too, namely, that there was no sharp distinction between apostolic prophecy and prophets’ prophesyings—rather, a spectrum of authority of charisma extending from apostolic speech and prophecy (backed by apostolic commission) at one extreme, to vague and barely profitable attempts at oracular speech such as brought ‘prophecy’ as a whole into question at Thessalonika (1 Thessalonians 5:19) at the other.”

Now that Grudem has rightly delineated some distinguishing limitations of New Testament prophecy is, in my judgment, beyond cavil. It will not do to question his entire synthesis because we have sometimes questions to raise about some of his formulations.

B) The superiority of prophecy over tongues (14:1–19)

That Paul should restrict the focus of discussion from the charismata in general to two of them, prophecy and tongues, strongly suggests there was some dispute or uncertainty about these two in the Corinthian church. It is possible the Corinthians themselves lumped both gifts under the rubric prophecy and it is Paul who is making the distinction.

After all, on the day of Pentecost when the believers spoke in tongues, Peter insisted this tongues-speaking was evidence the last day promised by Joel had dawned, the day on which sons and daughters would prophesy. The range of the prophet word group was certainly broad enough to encompass tongues-speaking. In this view, it seems likely that in the eyes of some Corinthians, the tongues form of prophecy was greatly to be preferred over the intelligible form of prophecy, presumably because it was more spectacular.

Paul, in this chapter, draws a distinction between the two and reverses the order of rank on the basis of which one best edifies the church. Whether Paul was the first to make the distinction between prophecy and tongues or not, if the background at Corinth is anything like what I am suggesting, there is an important deduction to be made.

Although some of Paul’s arguments in this chapter are of the generalizing sort, applicable to all the spiritual gifts, Paul’s chief concern is the relative weight given to prophecy and tongues. This means Paul may not be saying tongues is the least of the gifts on some absolute scale but only that it is less important than prophecy on the scale of reference adopted. Equally, it means Paul may not be saying prophecy is the greatest of the gifts on some absolute scale but only that it is more important than tongues on the same scale of reference.

The relative value of prophecy over against, say, apostleship, teaching, or giving is not what is primarily in view. This observation is not jeopardized by 12:31a, which encourages the Corinthians to desire the greater gifts. That exhortation assumes the spiritual gifts can be ranked, of course, but instead of providing such ranking, Paul hastens to transcend the spiritual gifts entirely with his chapter on love.

Then taking up the argument in 14:1, he does not attempt to rank all the gifts he has listed in chapter 12. Rather, assuming spiritually minded believers will want the greater gifts and having encouraged them along such lines, he proceeds to distinguish which is the greater of two … but only of two, the two that apparently stand at the heart of the Corinthian debate. That will become very important later when I will argue that Paul, in certain respects, understands that teaching is above prophecy. Paul makes three points.

First, the greatness of a charisma is in terms of its potential for building the church. Verses 14:1–5. The thought, of course, is simply a corollary of the love expounded in the previous chapter. The importance of love does not mean it should be pursued at the expense of spiritual gifts; they too are to be eagerly desired. There is no clash between this encouragement and Paul’s insistence that spiritual gifts are sovereignly distributed.

Here the apostle immediately becomes more specific. He says, “Eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.” The expression underlying NIVs especially means “rather” or “but rather.” It does not affirm that the best spiritual gift is prophecy; it simply specifies that the Corinthians are to seek this one in particular. The reasons for that specificity can only be learned from the context. Such reasons, as I have already pointed out, are cast in the form of a sustained contrast between prophecy and tongues not in establishing an absolute scale for all of the gifts.

The person who speaks in a tongue does not, in the first instance, speak to men but to God. “No one understands him.” (14:2) Some noncharismatics seek to reduce the scope of that “no one” to “no one who does not know the (human) language that is being spoken.” That is just barely possible, but since the preceding line draws a contrast between speech directed to men and speech directed to God, it seems more natural to understand the “no one” in a broader principial fashion.

The content of this tongues-speech, we are told, is mysteries. The word may be used here in a nontechnical sense to suggest “the speaker and God are sharing hidden truths which others are not permitted to share.” By contrast, the one who prophesies strengthens, encourages, and comforts others. This does not mean that prophecy is the only gift that has those virtues; teaching does as well, as do tongues that are interpreted. In other words, these functions of prophecy are not definitional.

The context specifies the issue here is intelligibility. Among spiritual gifts of speech (others such as giving or administration are not in view), only the intelligible results in the immediate edification of the church. True, the tongues-speaker may be edifying himself (14:4), but that is too small a horizon for those who have meditated on 1 Corinthians 13.

This does not mean Paul is prepared to abolish tongues. Far from it. He would love all of them to speak in tongues (which of course implies some of them didn’t, incidentally). This cannot mean Paul’s conception of the ideal in the church, as a considered theological stance, is that every last Christian speak in tongues any more than his desire in 7:7 that all be as he is means his considered theological stance is the ideal church be utterly celibate.

After all, Paul has just finished insisting, in chapter 12, that not all do speak in tongues. The text before us simply means Paul knows the gift of tongues is from God and is, therefore, a good gift, and he wants his beloved converts to enjoy as many good things as possible. One of these is tongues. “But rather,” he says (using the same expression as in 14:1), “I would like you to prophesy.”

Once again, the “But rather” expression does not itself establish a comparison in intrinsic worth. The expression refers simply to what Paul prefers but does not itself give the reason why. The reason is provided in the context, and the point is now driven home (14:5). In any comparison of prophecy and tongues, in the church the edification of the church is of paramount concern.

On the other hand, it appears as if tongues can have the same functional significance as prophecy if there is an interpreter present. Of course, against Hummel and others, this does not mean there is no difference of any sort between tongues plus interpretation and prophecy. Verses 18–25 are still to come!

Second, Paul emphasizes the fact that amongst the speaking gifts, the goal of edifying the church turns on intelligibility. Verses 6–12. The string of gift words in 14:6 (revelation, knowledge, prophecy, word of instruction) should probably be rendered like this: “How shall I benefit you unless I report to you a revelation or some knowledge, or unless I prophesy to you or teach you?” In other words, the first two words probably refer to content and the latter two to the form of content Paul’s speech would take.

The point is clear. Edification demands intelligible content, and tongues, by themselves, cannot provide it. That Paul has to labor the point with examples from musical instruments and military bugle calls suggests just how deeply committed to advancing the superiority of tongues the Corinthians (or at least some of them) must have been. Distinct notes from an instrument in coherent array constitute music and engender pleasure. Distinct notes from a military horn elicit obedience. Understanding another’s language makes communication possible.

“So it is with you,” Paul writes. And the application of these illustrations is obvious. “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts …” Here an assumption, in verse 12, with perhaps just a hint from the context that their desire was nevertheless unfortunately warped. “… try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” Thus the intelligibility issue is again linked with the first five verses.

Third, Paul extends the lesson to stipulate what the tongues-speaker should, in consequence, do. Verses 13–19. Whether the opening “for this reason” refers to 14:1–12 or just to verse 12, the rendering of the rest of the verse is probably as in the NIV: “The tongues-speaker …” In consequence of the importance of edifying the church and the concomitant need for intelligible utterance in the church. “… should pray for another gift, the gift of interpretation.”

Verse 14, I think, does not introduce a new subject, a switch from speaking in tongues to praying in tongues, for 14:2 has already established that speaking in tongues is primarily directed to God. In other words, speaking in tongues is formally a kind of prayer. Thus, there is no new subject here introduced.

Paul acknowledges such prayer is valid prayer; his spirit is praying but his mind remains “unfruitful.” This may mean such prayer leaves him without mental, intellectual, or thought benefit. But it may mean that under such circumstances, since his mind is not engaged in the exercise, it does not produce fruit in the hearers, the presupposition being that the edification of the hearers requires intelligibility of utterance, and intelligibility of utterance requires the mind of the speaker be engaged. In the light of the sustained emphasis in this chapter on the edification of the hearers, this latter interpretation appears to me to be marginally more likely.

If that is the correct way to understand verse 14, then verse 15 probably means something like, “What then shall I do? Well, having prayed for the gift of interpretation, I will pray with my spirit (that is, I will continue to speak in tongues), but I will also pray with my mind (that is, the prayer will be repeated, this time with the mind engaged, presumably the interpretation of the prayer with the spirit).”

The same is true for singing with the spirit; apparently this is a more melodious or metrical form of tongues-speaking/praying. There is no evidence this justifies entire congregational participation, as in many contemporary charismatic churches. For a start, that would violate Paul’s principle that not all have the same gift. Moreover, since this, too, is a form of tongues-speaking, interpretation should be required. Still less is there justification for linking this with the hymn singing of Ephesians and Colossians postulated by Martin.

That Paul all along has been talking about what he expects the tongues-speaker to do in the church is now confirmed by verse 16. Again, Paul allows that the tongues-speaker whose utterances are not interpreted may well be praising God with his spirit but, “The non-tongues-speaker in the congregation does not know what you are saying,” Paul says, “and cannot join in with the corporate ‘Amen.’ ”

The word I have rendered non-tongues-speaker simply means the outsider, the layman if you like, with the nature of the guild from which he is excluded determined by the context. This person must be a Christian or there would be no expected “Amen” from his or her lips, and hence the conclusion that this must be a non-tongues-speaker. Again the principles of the passage are summarized. “You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.” (14:17)

Reverting again to the first person, Paul thanks God that he speaks in tongues more than all of his readers. Like a wise pastor, he thus identifies himself with those he seeks to correct. More movingly yet, like other passages in Paul’s epistles such as the astonishing list of his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11, this one suddenly provides a remarkable insight into Paul the Christian, an insight of which we would have been totally ignorant had not the circumstances of a particular church, in the providence of God, elicited these words from him.

“But in the church,” he continues, “I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” I can think of no stronger defense of the private use of tongues, and attempts to avoid this conclusion turn out on inspection to be remarkably flimsy.

If Paul speaks in tongues more than all the Corinthians, yet in the church prefers to speak five intelligible words rather than ten thousand words in a tongue (which is simply a way of saying that under virtually no circumstances will he ever speak in tongues in church, without quite ruling it out absolutely), then where is he speaking them?

It will not do to suppose Paul is counseling private quiet use of tongues during the assembly when another is ministering. To adapt Paul’s argument, where then would be the tongues-speaker’s “Amen” if he or she wasn’t paying attention? We have already seen that Paul can envisage praying with the spirit as a form of valid prayer and praise. What he will not permit is unintelligibility in the church. The only possible conclusion is Paul exercised his remarkable tongues gift in private. This is a point of considerable significance from a pastoral point of view. Some concluding reflections …

Throughout history there have been pendulum swings of various sorts. The church, unfortunately, is not exempt. At times there are enormous pressures to intellectualize and formulate the gospel, at others, enormous pressures to “feel” one’s religious faith and develop passion for God, even mystical passion.

At most times in history, of course, groups espousing each of these polarities co-exist, one perhaps on the decline and the other on the ascendancy. Noncharismatic evangelicals tend to the former stereotype. Charismatics tend toward the latter. Both have their dangers. One lesson, however, comes through these first verses of 1 Corinthians 14 with startling force. Whatever the place for personal mysticism, the assembled church is a place for intelligibility.

Our God is a thinking, speaking God, and if we will know him, we must learn to think his thoughts after him. I am not surreptitiously invalidating what Paul has refused to invalidate. I am merely trying to reflect his conviction that edification in the church depends utterly on intelligibility, understanding, coherence. Both charismatic and noncharismatic churches need to be reminded of that truth again and again.

We now have time for a few questions:

Male: How does teaching differ from prophecy?

Don Carson: Prophecy in the New Testament, so far as I can see, is always revelatory (see 14:30). Teaching is not. It is a verse like 14:30, it seems to me, that cuts the ground out from under someone who wants to argue that our modern-day preaching is prophecy. The reasoning, it seems to me, is always fallacious.

The reasoning is usually along the lines of function. Prophecy comforts, strengthens, edifies. So does preaching. Therefore, prophesying is preaching. Obviously that is poor logic, because it refuses to recognize that two gifts may have similar functions. You cannot define prophecy in terms of function. You may qualify it; you cannot define it that way. I know this raises all kinds of sticky points about revelation and modern prophecy.

Male: On the example that you gave of tongues being in a code, how would you know where to put the spaces in when you went back the other way and how to put the vowels back in?

Don: In a sense, that is a situation that arises only by the peculiarities of modern printing orthography. In, for example, the manuscripts of the New Testament, and in the manuscripts of the Old Testament that have come down to us, there are no spaces. In the case of Hebrew, there are no vowels. That is the way they wrote. If that is the way you wrote English consistently, you’d get to read that pretty quickly.

Once you’ve got back just through those steps as I’ve given them, you could read the material if you were used to reading the language that way. In any case, I only gave you a quick example off the top of my head. I could have used a number code or something like that. I could have used half a dozen different schemes to come out with the same sort of result.

The sole point I was trying to make by that is just because something cannot be reducible by linguistic analysis to human language does not mean there is proof the material is merely gibberish. It may be gibberish. In fact, I suggest that a great deal of modern tongues is gibberish. On the other hand, one cannot simply say everything that is not analyzable as a contemporary language, as an actual real human language, is therefore ruled out of court from bearing cognitive content, and I think that can be shown quite strongly by these sorts of models.

Male: [inaudible]

Don: I think he does associate speaking in tongues and praying in the Spirit. I think that’s precisely his point. I think everything here is merely definitional. As I understand prayer in a generic sense, if you’re talking to God, you are praying. Now some praying may be private; you don’t want others to listen in, or if they do, it’s accidental. But some praying, as in corporate praying in the church, you do phrase and shape in such a way that others may be blessed.

That has dominical sanction. After all, Jesus in John 12, for example, can actually pray, “I said this not for your sake, but for their benefit.” In other words, there is dominical sanction, it seems to me, for praying to God (so it is to God and not to the congregation) but shaping things in such a way, on occasion, that there is benefit to those who are, as you know, listening in.

Which is, incidentally, one of the reasons why I strongly encourage that young men who are going to pray in public apart from prayer book prayers should take some time to think those things through and prepare them in advance. So I think there’s probably no difference between us; I think we’re probably quibbling over terms.

Female: [inaudible]

Don: The reason why I brought it up with respect to healings was because of the particular form in which it appears in the text. It’s “the gifts of healings,” which suggests there are many of them, different kinds of them. By institutionalizing it I was contrasting the attitude that says, “Because God in his mercy has enabled me to heal one person; therefore, I have ‘the gift of healing,’ ” as if the one manifestation sanctioned an entire operation. I don’t see that.

In terms of teaching, however, teaching is quite clearly associated in other biblical texts with particular office. One of the distinctive characteristics, for example, of the eldership or the overseership, the bishopric, the presbytery (depending on the particular term that is used) is, in fact, that the person teach. That is one of the qualifications that is necessary. So quite clearly, in that sense (to use your term), there is institutionalizing.

That is also part and parcel of what we saw in the first lecture, too, that the word charisma can cover a tremendous range of materials all the way from the spectacular/miraculous, to use that label, all the way to giving, administration, celibacy, marriage. Marriage is institutionalized. At least I would like to think so.

So I’m not, therefore, trying to say that because something is labeled charisma, it cannot be institutionalized. I am merely saying, rather, that in the case of something like healings where you’ve got those small linguistic factors warning you of diversity of types, it’s a little simplistic to suddenly spring from that to “the charismatic gift of healing, now my ministry.” There is no warrant for that, as I see it in the New Testament. I can’t find someone who goes around saying, “I’ve got a healing ministry.”

New International Version


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The back-to-school season is stressful for moms and dads. New rhythms of school, sports, and other extracurricular activities can quickly fill up a family’s already busy calendar. Where do busy parents look for resources on discipling their family well? Aside from prioritizing church, what else can Christian parents do to instill healthy spiritual habits in their household?

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