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Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 15:27-34

27 For “God[a] has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”[b] 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

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Last week’s post concluded Paul’s instructions on worship; it must be ‘done decently and in order’. Good news for the Frozen Chosen and the reason why orderly worship has been the norm for over two millennia.

1 Corinthians 15 is all about the Resurrection and eternal life.

In the preceding verses, Paul describes how Christ’s mediatorial kingdom will end, at which point he will deliver it to God the Father (emphases mine below):

22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

In verse 27, Paul says that everything is in submission — ‘in subjection’ — to Christ, except for God the Father, and cites Psalm 8:6, a Messianic verse:

You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,

Matthew Henry describes Christ’s nature as our Mediator:

… though his mediation supposes his divine nature, yet as Mediator he does not so explicitly sustain the character of God, but a middle person between God and man, partaking of both natures, human and divine, as he was to reconcile both parties, God and man, and receiving commission and authority from God the Father to act in this office. The Father appears, in this whole dispensation, in the majesty and with the authority of God: the Son, made man, appears as the minister of the Father, though he is God as well as the Father. Nor is this passage to be understood of the eternal dominion over all his creatures which belongs to him as God, but of a kingdom committed to him as Mediator and God-man, and that chiefly after his resurrection, when, having overcome, he sat down with his Father on his throne, Revelation 3:21. Then was the prediction verified, I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion (Psalms 2:6), placed him on his throne. This is meant by the phrase so frequent in the writings of the New Testament, of sitting at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19; Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:1, c.), on the right hand of power (Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69), on the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2), on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, Hebrews 8:1. Sitting down in this seat is taking upon him the exercise of his mediatorial power and royalty, which was done upon his ascension into heaven, Mark 16:19. And it is spoken of in scripture as a recompence made him for his deep humiliation and self-abasement, in becoming man, and dying for man the accursed death of the cross, Philippians 2:6-12. Upon his ascension, he was made head over all things to the church, had power given him to govern and protect it against all its enemies, and in the end destroy them and complete the salvation of all that believe in him. This is not a power appertaining to Godhead as such; it is not original and unlimited power, but power given and limited to special purposes. And though he who has it is God, yet, inasmuch as he is somewhat else besides God, and in this whole dispensation acts not as God, but as Mediator, not as the offended Majesty, but as one interposing in favour of his offending creatures, and this by virtue of his consent and commission who acts and appears always in that character, he may properly be said to have this power given him; he may reign as God, with power unlimited, and yet may reign as Mediator, with a power delegated, and limited to these particular purposes. (2.) That this delegated royalty must at length be delivered up to the Father, from whom it was received (1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:24); for it is a power received for particular ends and purposes, a power to govern and protect his church till all the members of it be gathered in, and the enemies of it for ever subdued and destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:25; 1 Corinthians 15:26), and when these ends shall be obtained the power and authority will not need to be continued. The Redeemer must reign till his enemies be destroyed, and the salvation of his church and people accomplished; and, when this end is attained, then will he deliver up the power which he had only for this purpose, though he may continue to reign over his glorified church and body in heaven; and in this sense it may notwithstanding be said that he shall reign for ever and ever (Revelation 11:15), that he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end (Luke 1:33), that his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, Daniel 7:14. See also Micah 4:7.

John MacArthur says:

Jesus Christ takes the assignment from the Father to redeem the earth, and He goes about and does it. And when He’s all done, when He’s all finished – He’s finished coming as a baby; He’s finished living as a man. He’s finished dying, rising, coming back. He’s finished fighting the enemies of Satan and all the other world enemies. He’s finished with all the rebellions; He’s squelched all the enemies; He’s crushed all the foes.

It’s all done, and He reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And He’s got all the redeemed, and they’re all gathered together, and all the ones who were unbelieving are gone, and they’re judged, and they’re all away. And all that’s left are the redeemed. Then He gives it all to God and says, “Here, I did My task.” He gives it to the Father. And that’s what the Bible calls the eternal state: the new heaven and the new earth. No more rebels. He gives it all to God. All things in the kingdom are under His feet.

There’s an interesting footnote, in verse 27, I’ll call your attention to. He says, “God the Father’s going to put all things under His feet in that kingdom.” But he adds one thing, “But when God the Father says, ‘All things are put under Christ,’ it is obvious” – manifest means obvious – “it is obvious that He” – that is God the Father – “is an exception.”

At that point, Paul says, Christ will become subject to His heavenly Father so that those who are redeemed will know their salvation came through God’s power (verse 28).

Henry interprets the verse:

… it will appear to the divine glory, that God may be all in all, that the accomplishment of our salvation may appear altogether divine, and God alone may have the honour of it. Note, Though the human nature must be employed in the work of our redemption, yet God was all in all in it. It was the Lord’s doing and should be marvellous in our eyes.

MacArthur clarifies the reign of Christ:

You say, “Christ is going to keep on reigning?”

Yeah, because when He was born, in Luke chapter 1 it said, “Fear not, Mary, for thou has found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David – now listen to this – and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be – what? – no end. He will reign forever. Forever.

In Revelation chapter 11, verse 15, it says, “He will reign forever and ever.” You know what I love? I’ll illustrate it, Revelation 3 he says, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit down with Me in My throne.” And where is My throne? My throne is in the Father’s throne. You see what Jesus is saying? “Ultimately, My throne and the Father’s throne is your throne.” In other words, all things return to God. As in the beginning we were all coming out of God, in the end we all return to God, and we reign with Him in common life. No wonder Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I made everything, and all things resolve in Me.” That’s where history’s going. It came from God, it goes back to God, and resurrection makes it happen.

When God made a humanity, he made a humanity of righteousness, with a plan that they would dwell with Him forever. When they lost that righteousness, He didn’t give up the plan; He will raise them to a new humanity of righteousness and gain them back into His presence. That’s history. That’s history, that God may be all in all. Everything goes back to Him. And not in a mystical, Greek philosophical way are we – do we float back into some deity, but we are united with God by the common life that flows through us. And we sit with Him on His throne, with Christ who is in the same throne, and the Holy Spirit no doubt is there as well. A great, great reality.

I’m positive the Holy Spirit will be there, too. Be in no doubt.

Then we come to verse 29, which must be one of the most problematic in the Bible. Paul speaks of people being baptised on behalf of the dead, and if there were no resurrection of the body, why would such baptisms take place.

Matthew Henry goes through the most common theological explanations of what ‘baptised on behalf of the dead’ means and poses this question:

But who shall interpret this very obscure passage, which, though it consists of no more than three words, besides the articles, has had more than three times three senses put on it by interpreters?

Henry’s conclusion is that some Corinthians became baptised when they saw that those in the congregation who disgraced the Lord’s table through drunkenness became sick and died:

We read that many were sickly among them, and many slept (1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Corinthians 11:30), because of their disorderly behaviour at the Lord’s table. These executions might terrify some into Christianity; as the miraculous earthquake did the jailer, Acts 16:29; Acts 16:30, c. Persons baptized on such an occasion might be properly said to be baptized for the dead, that is, on their account. And the hoi baptizomenoi (the baptized) and the hoi nekroi (the dead) answer to one another and upon this supposition the Corinthians could not mistake the apostle’s meaning. “Now,” says he, “what shall they do, and why were they baptized, if the dead rise not? You have a general persuasion that these men have done right, and acted wisely, and as they ought, on this occasion; but why, if the dead rise not, seeing they may perhaps hasten their death, by provoking a jealous God, and have no hopes beyond it?” But whether this be the meaning, or whatever else be, doubtless the apostle’s argument was good and intelligible to the Corinthians.

MacArthur also had problems interpreting this verse in 1977, when he delivered his sermon on it:

Now, there are some of you persistent Bible students in this congregation who have asked me to interpret 1 Corinthians 15:29 for the nine years that I’ve been here. And I have stalled you off until this very hour. And now I can no longer stall you because here we are, at a very, very difficult passage in the Scripture, that we’ll endeavor to gain an understanding of as we look at it this morning …

Now, that verse, beloved, has between 40 and 400 interpretations, any one of which might be right with some exceptions. What it’s saying I really don’t know; I’ll be very honest with you. I do not know. I will take a calculated risk; I will throw myself at your mercy this morning, and you can determine whether or not there is much grounds for my conclusion. But believe me; you don’t hardly have time during one week to study 40 views intelligently, let alone to come to a conclusion. But I have one anyway, and I’ll offer it to you. I will not be dogmatic on this simply because this is one passage that is so obscure and so difficult, that we couldn’t be dogmatic, but we can draw some conclusions that I think the context sort of lends itself to.

Now, let me give you a basic point that I’m working with as a result of working over the text. By the way, I started with a completely different view on Monday than I wound up with on Friday. In fact, I was very surprised at my conclusion. I think three people talked to me during the week, and I told them three different views that I was holding on that day.

But anyways, this is Sunday morning, and here we are. As for me tomorrow, you don’t know where I’ll be. But anyway, I think that the context lends itself to the fact that Paul is trying to point out things that would be lost if we give up bodily resurrection. And so, in my mind, there must be legitimate things. And there’s much reason for that; I just make that statement to you. But I think what Paul is saying here is simply this: people get saved because they anticipate resurrection. In other words, one of the strongest incentives for people to become Christians is the hope of resurrection.

MacArthur discusses proxy baptism, which is what the Mormon Church does. It is a heresy:

Let’s look, first of all, at the simple statements in the verse. “What shall they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?”

Now, the Mormon Church takes this verse, and they take what appears on the surface to be the most obvious view: that somebody is baptized for a dead person. And the Mormons call it vicarious baptism. And they teach – and incidentally, you might note that that is not common only to Mormonism; that was a heresy taught by two ancient fathers in the Church known as Cerinth and Marcion. They both believed this. In fact, it was branded as heresy even then.

But they say, “Paul is saying this, that a Christian who is alive and has been baptized can get rebaptized for a dead person to that the dead person can get saved by proxy.” Okay? So, like if your great, dear friend at work dies without the Lord, you can come here and get baptized for that dead person, and by proxy he’ll get saved.”

The Mormons, of course, teach that the spirits of those who have died can’t enter heaven unless a Mormon is baptized for them by proxy.

Now, it’s obvious, I think, to all of us that we don’t believe that. Proxy baptism, vicarious baptism could only be extrapolated out of this text. And there’s a simple principle of biblical interpretation: you never generate a doctrine out of an obscure text when no other text in the Bible teaches it. I mean you – that’s mercilessly attacking the Bible with your own bias and making it say what you want it to say. And you can’t do that.

The person who gets baptized himself doesn’t get saved by being baptized, let alone a dead person. We believe you’re saved by faith in Jesus Christ. Right? And baptism is simply an act of obedient faith that proclaims that testimony of salvation. But no one is saved by baptism, not living people, to say nothing of dead ones. “It is appointed unto man once to die,” the Bible says, “and after this” – the baptism? – “after this the judgment.”

MacArthur thinks that verse 29 means the following:

… “Some people, unbelieving people, are being saved because of the dead.” Now it is most likely that the dead have reference to Christians. The dead.

There is the yearning among mourners to be reunited with the people they lost to death. Therefore, if the dead were Christians, the mourners become Christians. They also see the way that those who died, in their final days, were optimistic about dying because they would be with the Lord.

MacArthur says:

There are some people who come to Christ and are saved because of some dead person or persons. What do I mean by that? Just this: there are two things, I think, in this particular area that draw people to Christ. One is this: an unbeliever sees a Christian, and he watches that Christian face death. And that Christian has hope and confidence; he is encouraged; he anticipates being with Jesus

And you know, there have been people come to Christ simply because they’ve seen the hope in the heart of a believer. And what Paul was saying here, possibly, is just that, “If there is no resurrection, then why are some unbelievers being baptized because of the great hope they see in those that have died?” See? If there’s no resurrection, why?

There’s a second element to this. You know, another great thing in death that is a cause for people to be saved is the hope of reunion. Do you know that? I’ve never had a funeral in which I didn’t give that word. You say to – someone who’s a Christian has died, and you’ll say, “You know, this person knew and loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and they went to be with Him. And if you will come to Christ, you can be rejoined with this one you love.” Right? You’ve heard that at funerals? I would dare say some of you came to Christ because you wanted to be reunited with somebody you loved who went to be with the Lord. That happens all the time. All the time.

I’ve seen a husband, who wouldn’t come to Christ for any to her reason, finally come to Christ when his wife died because he wanted to be reunited. I’ve seen it happen in the case of a mother dying, and a child who had been wayward and rebellious come to Jesus Christ in the hope that he would be reunited with his mother. Reunion.

Paul then discusses his own ministry. If there were no hope of resurrection, why would he put himself in danger every day (verse 30), saying ‘I die every day’ (verse 31) and says he fought with ‘beasts at Ephesus’ (verse 32a).

He mentions that because he was persecuted when he preached: beaten, imprisoned, thrown out of town. If there is no hope of resurrection, then enduring that was pointless and masochistic.

Did Paul actually fight with beasts at Ephesus?

Henry says that it is possible he did, although he probably meant ‘beasts’ as being a figurative expression for enraged men:

he had fought with beasts at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32; 1 Corinthians 15:32), and was in danger of being pulled to pieces by an enraged multitude, stirred up by Demetrius and the other craftsmen (Acts 19:24, c.), though some understand this literally of Paul’s being exposed to fight with wild beasts in the amphitheatre, at a Roman show in that city. And Nicephorus tells a formal story to this purport, and of the miraculous complaisance of the lions to him when they came near him. But so remarkable a trial and circumstance of his life, methinks, would not have been passed over by Luke, and much less by himself, when he gives us so large and particular a detail of his sufferings, 2 Corinthians 11:24, ad fin. When he mentioned that he was five times scourged of the Jews, thrice beaten with rods, once stoned, thrice shipwrecked, it is strange that he should not have said that he was once exposed to fight with the beasts. I take it, therefore, that this fighting with beasts is a figurative expression, that the beasts intended were men of a fierce and ferine disposition, and that this refers to the passage above cited.

MacArthur thinks an actual fight with fierce animals might have taken place, although he is not sure:

People say, “Well, it can’t be real beasts, because, you see, we don’t have any other record of it.”

Well, you have this record. How many times does God have to say something to make it true?

“Well,” you say, “they couldn’t be real beasts simply because Paul was a Roman citizen, and a Roman citizen really couldn’t suffer that kind of a situation; he couldn’t be brought to – into the arena before the beasts. And Paul, as a Roman citizen, wouldn’t have done that.”

Well, listen, Paul’s Roman citizenship did get him out of some things, but it may well have been that it didn’t get him out of this. And those people would have figured if the beasts all eat him, who’s going to protest? Right? Who’s going to write Rome and tell them? Not us. And not him either.

I don’t know. Some say, “No, this is a wild beast; it’s a metaphor.”

I know Lenski, in his commentary, goes on paragraph after paragraph to prove it’s a metaphor. And I’m not sure he does, but it might be. He says it’s really just saying “wild beast” is a metaphor for the wild people at the riot in Acts 19 that occurred in Ephesus. Maybe so; I don’t know. But whatever it is, Paul says, “Look” – verse 30 – “all of us apostles are in jeopardy. I particularly am in jeopardy; I die daily. Here’s one incident: I had to fight beasts in Ephesus.”

By the way, there is an old historic church legend that says he did fight beasts in Ephesus, and that they had the same problem that they had in the den of Daniel; they became totally passive and left him alone. That’s just a legend.

The next half of verse 32 says that, if there is no resurrection, then we might as well live life as Epicureans, indulging our base instincts.

Paul was citing Isaiah 22:13:

and behold, joy and gladness,
    killing oxen and slaughtering sheep,
    eating flesh and drinking wine.
“Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.”

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the body and eternal life. There might have been some Jews in the Corinthian congregation who adopted that same outlook, unbiblical as it is.

However, as those who have studied the Classics know, this was also a widespread philosophy in Greece and Rome. Atheists were likely to have been in the Corinthian church, more about whom below. Perhaps they enjoyed the revelry of eating and drinking before the Communion service.

MacArthur tells us how parties ended in ancient Egypt:

Classic literature is full of this kind of thought. Herodotus, the Greek historian, tells one of the customs of the Egyptians. He says, “In social meetings among the rich, when the banquet was ended, a servant would often carry around to the guests a coffin. And in the coffin was a wooden image of a corpse carved and painted to resemble a dead person as nearly as possible. And the servant would show it to each of the guests, and he would say, ‘Gaze here, and drink and be merry, for when you die, such you shall be.’” That’s a great way to end a party. I’ll tell you what; it’s a great way to get a party going. If you really believe that, you are going to party.

Paul warns the Corinthians about keeping bad company: it ruins good morals (verse 33).

Henry says:

Note, Bad company and conversation are likely to make bad men. Those who would keep their innocence must keep good company. Error and vice are infectious: and, if we would avoid the contagion, we must keep clear of those who have taken it. He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed, Proverbs 13:20.

Paul issues a reprimand to the congregation, saying that they must wake up from their ‘drunken stupor’ and repent, because there are people among them who have no knowledge of God — atheists; he says that to their shame (verse 34).

Henry explains:

… I am apt to think that the expression has a much stronger meaning; that there were atheistical people among them who hardly owned a God, or one who had any concern with or took cognizance of human affairs. These were indeed a scandal and shame to any Christian church. Note, Real atheism lies at the bottom of men’s disbelief of a future state.

MacArthur emphasises the importance of good theology:

See, some in the church didn’t know God truly, didn’t know God’s teaching truly. And so, they were espousing heresy. And listen to this – now here’s our point that we made at the beginning of the message – bad theology leads to bad behavior, just like good theology leads to good behavior. Just like because of all God has done, because of this truth, you are to so live. So, if you introduce error, you’re going to have corrupt morals.

So, he says, “Stop being deceived. Bad theology will corrupt your good morals. You’ve got to break the association with these people teaching this heresy. You can’t run around with heretics without it having a corrupting influence.”

In other words, what he’s saying is, “Look, holiness is predicated on a association with good teaching. If you deny the truth of the resurrection, you have removed an incentive to good living” …

You see, beloved, the resurrection has tremendous implications. If Jesus rises from the dead, if He is alive, and we shall live also, then there is an incentive for people to be saved, because there’s hope after death, and there’s reunion. There is an incentive for people to serve Jesus Christ, because you can throw this life away and know that you’re going to get it a million-fold in the life to come. There is an incentive to sanctification, because morality will be honored and rewarded in the days to come. And anything less than that is shameful heresy and will corrupt the truth.

The hope of resurrection is in both the Old and New Testaments. Only those with a poor understanding of the Bible or an atheist would discount it.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 15:39-41

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 14:36-40

36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instruction that women be silent in church. My post provided as nuanced an explanation as possible, especially the excerpt from Dr Craig S Keener’s work on hermeneutics in the Bible.

In today’s verses, Paul wraps up the directives he has given the Corinthians about worship. Theirs was disorderly and chaotic.

Paul was sarcastic in his letter to the Corinthians more than once. He uses sarcasm once more in verse 36, which John MacArthur interprets as follows (emphases mine):

This is very sarcastic. Whew. He’s saying, “Did you write the Bible?”

See, you are either – listen to this – you are either the one who wrote it, or you are required to submit to it, that’s all. So if you didn’t write it, obey it. Now if you’re not going to obey it, maybe you wrote it. Maybe it doesn’t apply to you; it’s just for everybody else.

“You think you have a monopoly on Scripture?” That’s what he’s saying. “Did it just come to you or from you? You got some special dispensation? If not, if the same Scripture applies to you that applies to everybody else, the same Scripture authored by God, then you have one response: obey.” And I’m telling you, boy, he really calls a halt to all their activity, doesn’t he. “Let’s make it edify.”

Paul says that anyone who thinks he can prophesy (preach) or has spiritual gifts should acknowledge that Paul’s directives come from the Lord (verse 37).

Furthermore, anyone who does not recognise that principle is not recognised (verse 38). The Corinthian church had false teachers who were part of the problem in worship.

MacArthur interprets Paul’s message to the church in Corinth:

He says this: “Look, if the gift is legitimate, they will acknowledge that I speak the Word of God; and if they acknowledge that I speak the Word of God, they will bring that gift into submission to the principles I’ve just spoken. Now if they don’t, it isn’t the true gift.” You see that?

If you go somewhere and they don’t do it by two or three, and they don’t do it in order, and it isn’t interpreted, and prophets don’t speak in this manner, et cetera, et cetera, believe me, they do not acknowledge this as the Word of God; and if they don’t, then they’re not legitimate. So Paul really lays it down. It’s one of the greatest claims Paul ever made to being inspired by God: “The things that I write are the commandments of the Lord.”

Matthew Henry picks up on a crucial spiritual aspect in verse 37:

If he will not own what I deliver on this head to be the will of Christ, he himself never had the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of Christ can never contradict itself if it speak in me, and in them, it must speak the same things in both. If their revelations contradict mine, they do not come from the same Spirit; either I or they must be false prophets. By this therefore you may know them. If they say that my directions in this matter are no divine commandments, you may depend upon it they are not divinely inspired.

Paul concludes his chapter on worship by saying that the men should desire the gift of preaching and to allow the true gift of tongues (verse 39), which is speaking the word of God in a foreign language that can be interpreted — not the pagan-influenced ecstatic gibberish of the Corinthians.

Paul’s final word on the subject is that worship be conducted in a decent and orderly manner (verse 40).

MacArthur explains what decency means in Greek:

“Let all things be done” – all things, all things – “decently.” That is a word that means beauty. Beauty is a word that means harmony; and harmony has to do with the way everything fits together. “Let it all be done in beauty and in order.” Sequence. God is a God of harmony and beauty. God is a God where everything fits together. And God is a God of order, system, order. He says, “Let your service manifest God.”

Paul would commend the Frozen Chosen, those who like decency and order in their worship.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 15:27-34

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 14:33b-35

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

——————————————————————————–

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instructions for orderly worship, something sorely needed in the church in Corinth.

Paul’s instructions ended with verse 33a (emphases mine):

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

Today’s post is the hardest one I will ever write.

Paul says that in all the proper churches (verse 33b), women should ‘keep silent’; they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission as Scripture teaches (verse 34).

John MacArthur says that the Corinthian women were trying to dominate worship:

the women were leading the parade in this seeking for the showy gifts; and women were usurping the place of the men; and women were not being silent and submissive in the church, they were bursting out and trying to take over

That isn’t a Corinthian cultural issue, that’s everywhere in the church to be the standard. Here are these women speaking in tongues, and interpreting, and singing their songs, and prophesying, and usurping the authority; and Paul singles them out. Not that men were not equally guilty; men were guilty of all these things. But he reminds the women that they are to take the place of submission and silence in the public service of the church.

Genesis has the ‘Law’ of men ruling women:

What law? The law of God, the Pentateuch, Genesis 3:16, which says, “He shall rule over thee.” From the very beginning, the man was given the authority over the woman.

Paul also mentioned women in a letter to Timothy:

In 1 Timothy chapter 2 in verse 11, “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. I permit not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” The reason is not because now we’ve got a culture in Ephesus or a problem in Timothy’s town, but because Adam was made first, and because Eve sinned. In other words, “This is a divine design from the beginning. You can’t acculturate it, you can’t just slide it out the door on the basis of culture; it is in the law of God.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary agrees with this general premise but cites an important exception:

And seeing there were women who had spiritual gifts of this sort in that age of the church (see Acts 22:9), and might be under this impulse in the assembly, must they altogether suppress it? Or why should they have this gift, if it must never be publicly exercised? For these reasons, some think that these general prohibitions are only to be understood in common cases; but that upon extraordinary occasions, when women were under a divine afflatus, and known to be so, they might have liberty of speech.

Paul says that if women have difficulty understanding the messages delivered during worship, they should ask their husbands at home, because it is ‘shameful’ for them to speak in church (verse 35).

MacArthur explains the Greek word for ‘shameful’:

“It is a shame for women to speak in the church.” And the word aischros means it is ugly, it is a deformity. It is a deformity of God’s intention; it is a perversion of beauty into ugliness.

However, ten years ago I wrote about Dr Craig S Keener’s exploration of hermeneutics in the Bible. Keener addressed these verses and offered the following interpretation, which was specific to an era when women had little education:

we need to take into account differences in situation: in the first century, men were far more apt to be educated, including in the Bible, than women; would Paul have written exactly the same applications for today, when women and men are more likely to share equal opportunities for education? [Gordon] Fee’s principles resemble those we articulated above on the use of cultural background.

We may provide one stark example of how we need to take Paul’s situation into account. In two texts, Paul requires women to keep “silence” in church (1 Cor 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:12). If we press this to mean all that it could mean, women should not even sing in church! Few churches today press these verses this far, but are they ignoring the passages’ meaning? Not necessarily. In other texts, Paul commends women for their labors for the kingdom (Phil 4:2-3), and in Romans 16 commends more women for their services than men (even though he mentions more men!) Moreover, he at least occasionally uses his most common terms for his male fellow workers to some women: “fellow worker” (Prisca, Rom 16:3); diakonos (“servant,” Phoebe, Rom 16:1); and once even “apostle” (Junia, according to the best translations; Rom 16:7)! Even more importantly, he accepts women praying and prophesying with their heads covered (1 Cor 11:4-5). How can they pray and prophesy if later in the same letter he requires them to be completely silent in church (1 Cor 14:34-35)? Does the Bible contradict itself here? Did Paul contradict himself in the very same letter?

But the two texts about silence probably do not address all kinds of silence, but deal with special kinds of situations. The only kind of speech specifically addressed in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is asking questions (14:35). It was common for people to interrupt teachers and lecturers with questions in Jewish and Greek cultures alike; but it was rude for unlearned people to do so, and they might have considered it especially rude for unlearned women. Keep in mind that women were usually much less educated than men; in Jewish culture, in fact, boys were taught to recite God’s law but girls almost never received this education. As to 1 Timothy 2:11-12, scholars still debate how Paul uses the Old Testament background (he applies Old Testament examples different ways in different passages, even the example of Eve: 2 Cor 11:3). But one point, at least, is interesting: Paul’s letters to Timothy in Ephesus are the only letters in the entire Bible where we know that false teachers were specifically targeting women with their false teachings (2 Tim 3:6). In fact, they may have targeted widows (1 Tim 5:9) who owned homes so they could use their houses for churches–one of the Greek terms in 1 Tim 5:13 nearly always meant spreading “nonsense” or false ideas. Those who knew less about the Bible were naturally most susceptible to false teachings; those who do not know the Bible should not be allowed to teach it. Whatever other conclusions one may draw from this, it seems unlikely that Paul would have refused to let women sing in church!

There, that’s done and dusted.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:36-40

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 14:26-33a

Orderly Worship

26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s conclusion on the false gift of tongues that the Corinthians displayed. That false gift is the one evident in today’s Pentecostal churches and Charismatic movements, not the one in Acts 2 of preaching spontaneously in a foreign language at the first Pentecost, a special gift only for the Apostolic Era to further the growth of the Church.

In the remainder of 1 Corinthians 14, Paul tells the Corinthians how to worship together properly, as their worship assemblies were a true free-for-all, with no structure or leader whatsoever.

In short, Paul wants the whole congregation to be edified.

John MacArthur discusses edification and what it means in Greek (emphases mine):

the key to this chapter is the word “edification” or “edify.” In this chapter, it appears in many, many ways. In many, many ways, the form of edification is used, its actual word, and in other cases it is alluded to. You’ll remember that in verse 3 it talks about edification; and in verse 4, edifying the church; and in verse 5, “that the church may receive edifying;” and in verse 12, “that the church may be edified;” and in verse 19, “that I might teach others also.” And in verse 26 comes the sum of it all, “Let all things be done unto edifying,” – the end of verse 26.

So this is the thought that is the emphasis of the entire chapter, that when the church comes together – and, incidentally, all the way from chapter 11 to the end of 14, he is referring to the assembly of the church when it comes together in corporate worship. But he is saying that when the church comes together, the primary point is that they be edified.

Now I want to talk to you for just a minute or two about the word “edification.” The Greek word oikodomeō in the Greek verb form, or oikodomē in the noun, comes from two words: oikos, which is a word that means house, and demō, which means to build. And so the word is to build a house or a house builder.

Edification then is to build up. That is the term that is used here. The word is translated five times in the same phrase in the New Testament. Five times there is the phrase “the stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner,” and it’s a metaphor picturing Christ. But the word used there for builder, in all five cases, is a form of this word oikodomé or edify.

So in a spiritual sense it means to build up, like a person would start with a foundation and build a house. So the church has as its intention and design, the building up of the saints into full completeness. It means, spiritually, to promote spiritual growth, to develop the character of the believer to the place of real maturity.

Now this then is the major element of the church. We are together to be edified. Evangelism may take place, but that is a sidelight. Edification is the issue. Beyond that, beloved – and I only remind you of this because I’m sure you’re aware of it – it is the responsibility of every individual believer to be busy about edifying the other believer.

In 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 in verse 11, a simple word comes to us, and this is what it says: “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another.” So it is the task of the people to edify. It is not just the task of the preacher or the leader. It is all of our tasks to edify each other…

“Christ did not come to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Christ did not seek that which would be the most beneficial to Him, but that which would be the most beneficial to others. And that is exactly what we are enjoined to do. We have a responsibility before God to edify each other.

This was not happening in the church in Corinth:

In Corinth, the whole procedure of edification had come to a screeching halt. Edification was non-existent in the Corinthian church because of the confusion and the disorder with which that church was functioning. And so in the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul is trying to call a halt to the perversions, to call a halt to the counterfeit, to call a halt to the confusion, and bring the Corinthians back to a system of order that would grant them edification.

Paul begins by saying that everyone has a way in which they want to participate in worship, but those elements must be delivered in a way that edifies everyone present (verse 26).

Should anyone manage to speak with a true gift of tongues, there should be only three at the most, and they should all speak in turns, with someone available to interpret the message (verse 27).

MacArthur says:

I told you that when tongue appears in the chapter in a singular form, earlier in the chapter in the first twenty-five verses, it had reference to the false gift, to gibberish, which couldn’t be plural. Here it could have reference also to the true gift, because it’s simply singling out, “One of you has a tongue.” It could be translated, “One of you has a language, the true gift; or one of you has gibberish, a counterfeit.” But the idea of its singularity is demanded because the subject is singular, “One of you.”

And the same is true in verse 27 as we shall see. So that doesn’t do any violation to our premise that where it appears in the plural, it is the true gift; in the singular it is false. We would say, where it is in the singular demanded by a single subject, it could be either true or false.

Paul adds that if no interpreter for the message in a tongue is present, the person with the true gift should remain silent and pray silently to God about the message he received (verse 28).

Paul goes on to say that only three prophets should speak, each in turn, allowing other prophets to discern what has been spoken (verse 29).

MacArthur explains that prophets were part of the Apostolic Era, therefore, for a limited time only:

Now, you say, “Who are the prophets? Are these Old Testament prophets?” No, these are New Testament prophets, from prophēmi, to speak before. They were the men who spoke before the people. They were those who stood up to declare God’s message.

They spoke in two ways: they spoke revelation, that is direct revelation from God, direct revelation, never been given before for the life of the church; and they spoke what I call reiteration, that is they repeated a message given by the apostles, a message already received which they just preached in a manner not unlike what I do. And so there could be direct revelation or there could be just this reiterating something already revealed. And the church service apparently was structured so that one, or two, or at the most, three, could take their time to be the ones who spoke God’s message.

They were foundational, incidentally, and we don’t find any prophets later in the church. In fact, when Paul writes the Epistles to set the churches in order – 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus – he never mentions prophets. He simply talks about elders, and presbyters, and deacons, and bishops, and deaconesses. And he’s referring to pastors there, and deacons and deaconesses and elders. That’s all he ever talks about, because prophets passed away with the passing of the apostolic age; they were a unique group.

Ephesians 2:20 says, “They were given for the foundation of the church,” and they belong to that time. And so they were to speak God’s message. Sometimes they had prepared the message and they spoke out of that preparation. On other occasions, they literally received a direct revelation from God without any preparation, and they spoke.

MacArthur goes on to explain the discernment of the prophets’ messages:

Second principle in verse 29: “Let the others judge.” “The others” refer to the other prophets. The other prophets were to sit in the front there and sit beside the one speaking and to evaluate the truth of what he was saying. It might well be that these had, what is in chapter 12, verse 10, called the gift of discernment. But they could discern whether something was of God or not of God, and so they were there to evaluate the truth of the message. People just couldn’t stand up and speak, and nobody evaluate it.

Paul instructs the prophets on making way for someone with a new revelation or insight. The prophet delivering a reiteration should make way for a prophet who has a revelation to share (verse 30).

MacArthur says:

Here’s a guy up there, and he’s got his message prepared, and he’s up there giving it. But all of the sudden, God gives a new revelation. And as soon as one of those other prophets receives from God a new revelation, he pulls the tunic of the guy speaking, and he says, “Hey, I got a new revelation,” number one has to sit down, because a new revelation takes precedence over reiterating something already given. God has a special word for the church.

Now, beloved, this reinforces a point that I’ve been trying to make all along, and sometimes people argue with me about it, and that is I don’t believe – some people say, “Well, the prophets only spoke new revelation.” No, I don’t think so. I think they spoke revelation or reiteration; and I think here is one of the strongest proofs. Here is somebody who is up there proclaiming; but when another one gets a new revelation, he has to sit down. So it is very reasonable to see that some received new revelation on occasion, while others were simply reiterating a message that was no less from God but was not a fresh new revelation for the moment. So number one had to sit down; and it changed the order a little bit.

Paul says that every prophet may prophesy one by one for everyone’s edification (verse 30), but according to his rule of a maximum of three (verse 29).

He adds that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets (verse 31). That means that the prophets have a modicum of self-control and restraint when they speak.

Matthew Henry explains:

the spiritual gifts they have leave them still possessed of their reason, and capable of using their own judgment in the exercise of them. Divine inspirations are not, like the diabolical possessions of heathen priests, violent and ungovernable, and prompting them to act as if they were beside themselves; but are sober and calm, and capable of regular conduct. The man inspired by the Spirit of God may still act the man, and observe the rules of natural order and decency in delivering his revelations. His spiritual gift is thus far subject to his pleasure, and to be managed by his discretion.

Then there is verse 33a, which is worth committing to memory when it comes to public worship:

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

To conclude on the false gift of tongues on show today, MacArthur points out that the true gift of tongues from the first Pentecost was limited:

It was a gift reserved for those special times when an unbelieving Jew was there, those special times when an interpreter was there, those special times, and those alone; and never should it occur more than three in any one given time. That’s the limit.

Now, beloved, I would just add this. This is not true today in the Charismatic tongues session. They do not have such limitations. They do not limit them on the basis of an unbelieving Jew being present, they do not limit them on the basis of them being a legitimate language, and they do not limit them to two or three in most cases. Now some may; but in most cases that is not true of those who engage in tongues sessions. And so, you see, what you have today is so much of the Corinthian problem all over again that ignores these basic features.

Secondly, the second principle – two or three is the limiting principle. Secondly, “and that by course.” The Greek means in turn, or in order, or in sequence. The Corinthians were involved in a simultaneous expression where everybody was doing it all at the same time – as I’ve pointed out. That is forbidden. And that is precisely, again, what you see so frequently in Charismatic tongues meetings today: everybody speaking in tongues all at the same time.

Have you ever noticed sometime when you turn on a program on the television and you see them all begin to pray, that they all begin to pray at the same time, and they all begin to pray together? In fact, that’s just normal procedure in almost all Charismatic churches, to pray all at the same time. And various people will go into their tongues language, all simultaneous, all in direct violation of 1 Corinthians 14:27; but exactly what the Corinthians were doing.

Next week’s verses are highly contentious, especially in today’s churches.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35

Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 14:20-25

20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 21 In the Law it is written, “By 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, says the Lord.” 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign[a] not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians to speak and sing in worship in clear language so that everyone in attendance could understand and say ‘Amen’ with confidence that they had grasped the message of a prayer or hymn.

The Christians of Corinth claimed to have the gift of tongues, but they did not. They were reverting to their pagan habit of ecstatic, incoherent babbling as they used to do before a man-made deity.

It is a blessing to be covering Paul’s teaching on tongues on Pentecost Sunday, the Church’s birthday.

My exegesis on Acts 2:1-21 explains the proper use of speaking in tongues, which served to evangelise to the Jews in Jerusalem for the feast of Shavuot, which occurs around the time of Pentecost. By the end of that miraculous preaching in different foreign languages, 3,000 converts had been gathered into the fledgling Church.

John MacArthur explains the divine message behind the use of tongues on that marvellous day (emphases mine):

The tongues at Pentecost were saying, “Look, God’s not going to any longer work through one nation. God’s not any longer going to speak just one language. God’s not any longer going to favor one people. God’s going to go to the world, and through the world to build His church, see, the kingdom for all nations.”

And, you know, the very fact that they spoke in all those languages was God’s way of saying, “It’s all over for the uniqueness of Israel, and I’m going to speak in the world’s languages, and build that church that’s hidden in the Old Testament.” So tongues speak primarily as a sign of a curse on Israel.

But notice, no sooner have I said that, than I have to say they speak too of the blessing that’s going to come to the whole world; because as Christ turned away from a rebellious people, He opened His arms to the world. So it becomes a sign of blessing, residually. It’s like Romans 11, you know, where Paul says, “The fall of them is become the riches of the world.” Jerusalem destroyed, Israel set aside; and yet, in their setting aside, we became beneficiaries – don’t we? – because God reaches out to us.

So God’s New Testament apostles and God’s New Testament prophets suddenly burst out spontaneously declaring the wonderful works of God in every language. Read Acts 2: an unmistakable sign that a transition had come; a curse on one hand, but then a blessing on another hand; because even Jews could still come, couldn’t they? Three thousand did on the day of Pentecost. So, in a sense, while being a judicial sign of a curse, residually it’s also a sign of blessing.

MacArthur thinks that the true gift of tongues ceased with the destruction of the temple, which had not yet taken place when Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians:

Seems to me that once the destruction of Jerusalem came in 70 A.D., the whole purpose for the gift of languages ceased. That’s what the text says; that’s not my opinion. It never was intended to be something for a Christian, it’s for one who doesn’t believe. Which one? A Jew, one of this people, that they might know God is acting in judgment.

Jesus said, in Luke 13:35, “Behold, your house is left to you desolate.” And then in Luke chapter 20 in verse 21, He carried it a step further. He said – let’s see, Luke chapter 21, verse 20 rather: “And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then you know that its desolation is near.” And verse 24, “They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles.”

Jesus said, “Hey, judgment, judgment.” All through the apostles’ ministries judgment was coming on Israel. Jesus preached it, and the sign of languages again showed it.

I’m not sure I fully agree that it died out that soon, if the purpose of tongues was also to spread the Good News to the many nations in the ancient world. In any event, that gift of the Holy Spirit was limited in time in order for the Church to grow and expand. It no longer exists.

In today’s reading, Paul continues his discourse on tongues by saying that Christians must not think as children do, rather they must be ‘infants in evil’, yet display clear, mature thinking (verse 20).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains why Paul gave the Corinthians that particular instruction:

Children are apt to be struck with novelty and strange appearances. They are taken with an outward show, without enquiring into the true nature and worth of things. Do not you act like them, and prefer noise and show to worth and substance; show a greater ripeness of judgment, and act a more manly part; be like children in nothing but an innocent and inoffensive disposition. A double rebuke is couched in this passage, both of their pride upon account of their gifts, and their arrogance and haughtiness towards each other, and the contests and quarrels proceeding from them.

Paul then cites Isaiah 28:11-12 and Deuteronomy 28:49 (verse 21), which warn impenitent Jews of God’s judgement on them delivered by a people who speak a foreign language.

MacArthur takes us through the history behind those verses, beginning with Isaiah:

when they began to hear that unintelligible language of Babylonia that they couldn’t understand, they would know the judgment of God had fallen. And it happened in 588 B.C. And because of their unbelief and apostasy, God brought a terrible judgment.

This wasn’t the only time they’d been warned. Back in Deuteronomy chapter 28 in verse 49, back in the 15th century before Christ, listen to this, 28:49. “The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand.” I believe that most likely could have reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. So in the 15th century, God warned them that when they heard a strange language it would be judgment.

In the 8th century, Isaiah, God warned them that when they heard a strange language it would be judgment. “Jeremiah” – that great weeping prophet – “said, ‘Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel,’ saith the Lord. ‘It is a mighty nation. It is an ancient nation, a nation whose language you know not, neither understand you what they say,’” Jeremiah 5:15. And God had clearly pointed out in their minds that when they were going to be judged, there was going to be a sign, and the sign was they would hear a language they couldn’t understand. Do you see?

He thinks that Paul was preoccupied with the temple in Jerusalem:

When Paul quotes that here, he is saying, “Look, just as when Isaiah said it, just as when Moses said it, just as when Jeremiah said it, those languages are a sign to the unbeliever that God is about to act in judgment.” That’s what he’s saying.

You say, “Well, what did it mean in this generation in which Paul lived?” Well, listen; when they began to speak those languages on the day of Pentecost, every Jew should have known that the judgment of God was eminent. And do you know it wasn’t but just about thirty years later when the Roman Emperor came in and wiped out Jerusalem, and with it, Judaism as such. The sacrificial system ended and it’s never been restored. They should have known the judgment of God was going to fall.

Henry gives us Paul’s purpose in those citations for the Corinthians — that God might abandon the church in Corinth if they persist in speaking in false tongues:

surely the apostle’s discourse implies, “You should not be fond of the tokens of divine displeasure. God can have no gracious regards to those who are left merely to this sort of instruction, and taught in language which they cannot understand. They can never be benefited by such teaching as this; and, when they are left to it, it is a sad sign that God gives them over as past cure.” And should Christians covet to be in such a state, or to bring the churches into it? Yet thus did the Corinthian preachers in effect, who would always deliver their inspirations in an unknown tongue.

Paul goes on to say that the true gift of tongues is intended to evangelise to unbelievers while the gift of preaching is for the benefit of believers (verse 22).

Henry says:

The gift of tongues was necessary to spread Christianity, and gather churches; it was proper and intended to convince unbelievers of that doctrine which Christians had already embraced; but prophesying, and interpreting scripture in their own language, were most for the edification of such as did already believe: so that speaking with tongues in Christians assemblies was altogether out of time and place; neither one nor the other was proper for it. Note, That gifts may be rightly used, it is proper to know the ends which they are intended to serve. To go about the conversion of infidels, as the apostles did, had been a vain undertaking without the gift of tongues, and the discovery of this gift; but, in an assembly of Christians already converted to the Christian faith, to make use and ostentation of this gift would be perfectly impertinent, because it would be of no advantage to the assembly; not for conviction of truth, because they had already embraced it; not for their edification, because they did not understand, and could not get benefit without understanding, what they heard.

Paul warns them that outsiders or unbelievers will think if they walk into an assembly of Corinthians babbling in gibberish; they would think the Corinthians were mad (verse 23), something that God would find deeply displeasing.

Henry says:

Note, The Christian religion is a sober and reasonable thing in itself, and should not, by the ministers of it, be made to look wild or senseless. Those disgrace their religion, and vilify their own character, who do any thing that has this aspect.

Paul says that when an outsider or an unbeliever enters an assembly of Christian worshippers, he should feel convicted by what he hears (verse 24) with the secrets of his heart disclosed so that he comes to be humbled and worship God, declaring that He is truly present in that place (verse 25).

Henry explains:

Note, Scripture–truth, plainly and duly taught, has a marvellous aptness to awaken the conscience, and touch the heart. And is not this much more for the honour of our religion than that infidels should conclude the ministers of it a set of madmen, and their religious exercises only fits of frenzy? This last would at once cast contempt on them and their religion too. Instead of procuring applause for them, it would render them ridiculous, and involve their profession in the same censure: whereas prophesying would certainly edify the church, much better keep up their credit, and might probably convince and convert infidels who might occasionally hear them. Note, Religious exercises in Christian assemblies should be such as are fit to edify the faithful, and convince, affect, and convert unbelievers. The ministry was not instituted to make ostentation of gifts and parts, but to save souls.

That provides us with a good segue to Paul’s next topic: worshipping in an orderly manner.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:26-33a

Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 14:13-19

13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider[a] say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s condemnation of the Corinthians’ use of tongues, which was no more than gibberish. No one, not even the speaker, could interpret what was being said. They spoke that way to recapture the ecstasy of their old pagan ways of speaking when worshipping their gods.

Paul continues his discourse by saying that whoever speaks that way should pray for the gift of interpreting the message (verse 13).

John MacArthur is certain that Paul was being sarcastic (emphases mine):

The effect of tongues is emotional rather than mental. And that’s what he hits on in verse 13. Now watch: “Wherefore, let him that speaks” – and here we go with the singular again – “in gibberish, pray that he may interpret.” Now this is a very difficult verse to interpret. I’ve thought many times as I read this verse, I’m praying, Lord, may I interpret this verse; it is difficult. But, “Let him that speaks in gibberish pray that he may interpret.”

What is he saying? As we know from our study already, they were speaking in this private kind of ecstatic communication with their god, in the language of their god, thinking it was the true God and it was truly of the Spirit. But praying in gibberish was not ever the intention of the gift; it was always the perversion. And Paul is saying, “Look, you who or praying in gibberish,” – or the one praying in gibberish literally – “let him pray with the purpose of translating, or with the purpose literally of interpreting.” In other words, I think it’s a little sarcastic. “Hey, you that’s so busy praying in your gibberish, why don’t you pray for something that will have some meaning to somebody?”

And in case you think that’s forcing the issue, if you read through Corinthians carefully, you’ll find that such sarcasm and such irony is introduced on many, many occasions. In other words, “Let the one who is so anxious to pray in his private little language pray instead for the gift that’s intelligible. While you’re praying in your gibberish, ask God for something that some of the rest of the body can be benefited by, because what you’re doing is so very selfish.”

Now somebody’s probably saying, “Boy, John, you really pushed that into that verse.” Well, there’s another alternative. The other alternative is this: “Wherefore, let him that speaks in an unknown tongue pray that he may receive the gift of interpretation.” Now if we take it that way, then that means that we can seek certain gifts – right? – that if we want the gift of interpretation, or the gift of anything, all we have to do is pray for it. Right? Is that true?

First Corinthians 12:11 says, “The Holy Spirit gives the gifts to whomever He wills.” First Corinthians 12:30 – now watch this. First Corinthians 12:30 says, “Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” And what is the answer implied by the Greek construction? No. No. God never said that we can pray for any gift you want, you can seek for any gift we want. This verse can’t be saying that we ought to seek the gift of interpretation.

I’ll show you another reason. Look at verse 28 of chapter 14, verse 28. Watch this: “If there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church.” In other words, if somebody is going to even use the true gift – listen to that – that some pagan present would understand, he shouldn’t even do it unless he knows that there is an interpreter there who will interpret it. And let me add this, folks: they must have known then who had the gift of interpretation, and to such the gift was limited. You see? It was so limited that they couldn’t even do it if that person wasn’t present.

So there’s no way that verse can be teaching an individual to seek the gift of interpretation. The only other alternative is that Paul really riding them a little bit and saying, “While you’re jabbering, why don’t you pray something intelligent, like ask God for something that will mean something to us.” I hope that helps you understand the point.

Paul goes on to say that if he speaks in such a way — hypothetically — then his spirit is drawn in but his mind does not benefit (verse 14). In short, Paul is saying that he is merely blowing hot air.

MacArthur explains the use of the Greek word pneuma here:

Verse 14. He says, “Because if I pray in gibberish,” – now watch this. The word is pneuma. I like to think that it could be translated this way: “My breath or wind prays, but my mind is unfruitful.” So you know what I’m doing; blowing air into the air, that’s all. Pneuma can be translated “spirit,” “breath,” “wind.” Some would even say it refers to feeling or inner-feeling.

The Charismatic folks, for the most part, make it the Holy Spirit. That’s really not fair, because it says, “My spirit prays.” And they say, “But the Holy Spirit is my spirit.” Yes, but it’s compared with “my understanding.” And if you’ve got human understanding as one end of the comparative, you’ve got to have the human breath or the human spirit as the other end of the comparison. You’ve got to be balanced and careful there.

So he says, “If I’m praying in gibberish, my wind may be praying, but my mind is unfruitful.” In other words, “There is nothing beneficial occurring; there is no fruit bearing. Tongues praying then, or gibberish, is mindless. If I pray in an unknown tongue, it’s just my breath, or my wind, or my spirit, or my inner feeling, whichever term you want. It’s just blowing air into the air like the heathen. I don’t understand what I’m saying, you don’t understand what I’m saying; I’m blowing air into air.” So the counterfeit gift just set up an emotional experience; it had no mental benefit.

Paul poses a question in verse 15 and answers it by saying that, whether he is praying or singing, he should so in a way that involves the mind.

It seems that the Corinthians sang in ecstatic tongues, too.

MacArthur says:

We have that today among Charismatics who sings in tongues too. Paul says, “I don’t do that. What purpose is that, except to give off the idea to everybody that I have this private little prayer language between me and God that hooks me up in a special way.” Very selfish.

So Paul says, “Listen, I’ll pray with my breath and my mind, and I’ll sing with my breath and my mind, not mindlessly.” Listen, you pray in English, and God understands; and you sing in English, and God understands. Beloved, let me tell you, that is far superior than to talk to God in some kind of gibberish, no matter what anybody tells you. God doesn’t need that.

MacArthur adds an interesting footnote about the original meaning of singing, which is connected with the harp:

Interesting footnote. The word “sing” originally meant “to play the harp.” Then it came to mean – listen to this: “to sing to the accompaniment of the harp.” There are some people who say today that the church shouldn’t have musical instruments. The very word “sing” originally meant “to sing to the accompaniment of a harp.” That’s the way it was used in the Septuagint; and no doubt, that’s the way it was understood in the New Testament. So we do use instruments.

Returning to Paul’s discourse, he asks how an outsider — one without spiritual gifts — can understand what he is agreeing to by saying ‘Amen’ if he cannot understand the thanksgiving prayer or the song (verse 16).

Paul says that the person praying or singing might understand — or believe to understand — what he is saying, but the outsider has no way of being edified (verse 17).

Henry says:

Note, There can be no concurrence in those prayers that are not understood. The intention of public devotions is therefore entirely destroyed if they are performed in an unknown tongue. He who performs may pray well, and give thanks well, but not in that time and place, because others are not, cannot be, edified (1 Corinthians 14:17; 1 Corinthians 14:17) by what they understand not.

Paul says that he is grateful for having the true spiritual gift of speaking in tongues: foreign languages that can be easily understood by those who speak them (verse 18).

MacArthur explains:

Verse 18. Now Paul does what he does earlier in the chapter. He says, “I’ve been kind of hard on this thing, and I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about tongues,” – or languages – “I believe it is a true gift.” So he says, “I thank my God, I speak with languages.” Notice this in the plural again; and here he’s referring to the true gift, I think. “I think my God that I speak with languages more than all of you.”

Now, he says, “If you’re wondering whether I’m a little on the outside and don’t quite understand all of this phenomena, I just want you to know that I’ve probably done this more than any of you.” He had the true gift. He was an apostle, he had the gifts of an apostle according to 2 Corinthians 12:12. He exercised those gifts, and no doubt, as he traveled around, he used this gift.

How did he use it? Well, number one, I’m sure he didn’t use it as a private prayer language. Number two, I’m sure he didn’t use it in Christian meetings to show he was spiritual. Number three, I’m sure he didn’t use it for his own benefit. I’ll tell you how he used it: he used it in occasions where he traveled to a place where there were people who spoke a foreign language; and he was given the ability by God to speak that language, that they might know God was present, and a miracle had happened. And then he would speak to them the truth of God, and they would be converted.

He was a missionary to the Gentiles; and no doubt, in the case of many times in his missionary travels, he could have used this gift. But it’s interesting to me that he ranked it so very low, that never any time in his entire ministry and in his writings, does he ever refer to using it except here, and gives no illustration.

Paul says that he would rather speak five words with his mind in order to edify others than 10,000 words in incomprehensible gibberish (verse 19).

MacArthur explains the original Greek used:

Do you know what ten thousand is? It’s the Greek word murios, and it is the word that is used here, because it is the largest number in the Greek mathematics for which there was a word. Do you get that? For example, in Revelation, you remember when it talked about the angels, it says, “And there were ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands”? It just keeps repeating murios and murios, and chilioi and chilioi, because that’s the biggest word there was for a number. And so he’s saying – literally in the English, we would say it this way: “I would rather say five words with my understanding than quintillion words in gibberish. There isn’t even a comparison. I would rather say, ‘I have something to say,’ and sit down, than say a quintillion things in gibberish.” That’s his point. Why? “Because nobody is going to learn, and I want to use my voice to teach others also.”

In closing, MacArthur says:

Beloved, you know as well as I do that there is never a time in the Word of God when God wants us to be mindless. Would you agree with that? There is never a premium set on your brain being turned off, never. There is never a time when God wants us to function on pure emotion without understanding, never. And here, what you have is a wrong thing. You have a mindless, emotional experience that has no meaning, no meaning.

Another thing for us to remember is that the gift of tongues died after the Apostolic Era. God granted it for a limited time in order for the Church to grow and expand.

MacArthur has this to say about today’s Charismatics:

Now let me tell you something; this is very important as I conclude. What are the lessons here? Now listen. Does this passage tell us how to govern tongues in the church today? No, not really, because they ceased.

What does it show us? Number one: It shows us that the modern Charismatic Movement is – now watch this; and I say this with great love and great concern; but I believe this in my heart – that the Charismatic movement today is the same old Corinthian problem all over again. Listen. Why? They use them in their assemblies today. They speak in gibberish. They do it for private self-edification. They seek the emotional experience rather than the intellectual understanding. They sing in tongues. They are absorbed in their own experiences. They glory in the unintelligible as if it were some secret communion with God. They do it among believers. And their missionaries do not have the true gift to reach people with different languages. And so what I see there is a mirror of this problem.

What do we to learn from this? Here we go. Learn, one, to exalt the proclamation and teaching of the Word of God, to come together to hear God’s Word so that we can understand it, to do whatever we do with whatever gift we have to build up somebody else, to never seek a selfish spiritual experience, to never relish the emotional but knowledge, to watch out for Satan’s counterfeits, to do all things with a clear mind open to God’s truth. And, beloved, the greatest tragedy arising from the modern tongues movement is that they miss the true work of the Holy Spirit.

Remember the dog in the ancient fable who, while crossing a bridge with a bone in his mouth, looked over the edge and saw in the water the reflection? And the bone in the reflection looked so good, better than the one in his mouth, that he dropped the substance for the shadow, and went hungry. And I’m afraid that many of our dear friends in this movement have dropped the substance and the reality of Ephesians 5:18 for the shadow of a Charismatic experience, and they’re going to go hungry.

Paul has more to say about speaking in tongues. More to follow next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:20-25

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 14:6-12

Now, brothers,[a] if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

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Last week’s reading introduced Paul’s discourse on the false use of speaking in tongues in the church in Corinth.

The Corinthians who thought they were speaking in tongues were not speaking in a foreign language at all. They were speaking in gibberish, the way pagans did before their deities. Even they did not know what they were saying. Furthermore, they were having an experience of ecstasy while doing so. It was a carnal and sinful practice.

Paul’s use of the word ‘prophecy’ is the original: ‘preaching’. Last week’s post explains that the inclusion of prediction in that definition did not come about until centuries later in the Middle Ages.

Note 1 Corinthians 14:5 (emphases mine below):

Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

Paul continues his discourse by asking the Corinthians how they would benefit if Paul spoke to them in tongues — a foreign language (verse 6). In order for it to be of use, someone would have to interpret that spiritual lesson in Greek, the language of Corinth.

John MacArthur gave his sermon on this chapter in 1977, when many mainstream churches were undergoing what was called a Charismatic ‘renewal’ at the time. Suddenly, a spiritual gift that, for centuries, was considered one of the Apostolic Era — the earliest years of the Church — and died out because the number of Christians had grown sufficiently, became a trend which would continue for the next two decades or so.

I knew mainstream Christians who attended special Charismatic services at their church because they ‘felt better’ afterwards. They sought some sort of ecstatic comfort which they interpreted as emotional healing. They didn’t understand what they were saying, nor did they understand what anyone else was saying. It was entirely personal.

MacArthur says:

It’s amazing to me today that we have seen this one segment of the church put such an incredible premium on unintelligible communication that nobody, not even the speaker, understands. It’s also amazing to note that many, many times when the interpretation is so-called given as the true interpretation, it can be indicated that it is, in fact, not a true interpretation at all, as there’s many, many testimonies to the effect that people have experimented speaking in Hebrew and whatever, and somebody gives a translation that’s in no way related to what they said.

And somehow today we have made some kind of sacred cow, some kind of great, spiritual hierarchy out of people who have been able to communicate to nobody. Paul says, “If I came and used the true gift, it wouldn’t mean anything to you because you speak Greek.”

Also, referring to verse 9:

the only significant time for the use of the true gift in the Apostolic Era was when somebody was there who understood the language; and if it occurred in the assembly of believers, then it would be translated in order that the believers might even also, in addition, be edified by it. It must be easy to be understood, or you’re just blowing into the air.

In order to get his point across, Paul poses questions using musical illustrations, something that everyone would understand.

He asks whether the flute or the harp would make sense without different notes played to create a melody (verse 7).

Matthew Henry explains:

Unintelligible language is like piping or harping without distinction of sounds: it gives no more direction how a man should order his conversation than a pipe with but one stop or a harp with but one string can direct a dancer how he should order his steps …

Similarly, Paul asks, what good would a bugle be in calling troops to battle if it played only one note (verse 8). We are all familiar with our respective nations’ military instrumental melodies. One tune awakens the troops, another readies them for battle and another announces the end of the day.

MacArthur says:

A military trumpet was the clearest and the loudest of all instruments; but no soldier would have any idea what to do if it didn’t blow something with significance.

Paul then asks the Corinthians how any of them, including the person ‘speaking’, as it were, will understand unintelligible speech; what good is that doing anyone but talking into the air (verse 9)?

Henry interprets this verse as follows:

Words without a meaning can convey no notion nor instruction to the mind; and words not understood have no meaning with those who do not understand them: to talk to them in such language is to waste our breath.

Paul brings his point to a close by saying that the world is full of different languages (verse 10) but if he does not understand a particular language, then he is a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to him (verse 11). In other words, the whole point of a spiritual lesson is lost unless one understands that particular language.

MacArthur says that Paul uses the Greek word ‘barbaros’ — ‘barbarian’ — in verse 11:

He says in verse 11, “Therefore, if I know not the meaning of the sound,” – or the voice – “I shall be unto him that speaks a barbaros, and he that speaketh shall be a barbaros unto me.” Now he says, “If you don’t talk in something I can understand, we’re two barbarians trying to talk.”

In case you don’t remember what a barbarian is, a barbarian is a term for a foreigner; and a barbarian was anybody who didn’t speak Greek. So he’s simply saying, “If you talk in that kind of stuff, we’re just going to be incommunicado, because it’s going to be like two barbarians, neither of whom have a common language.”

Interesting thing about the word. The word barbaros is, again, a word that is onomatopoeiatic. Remember that? A word that sounds – remember “bzzz” and “zip” and “hiss” – any of those kinds of words that simply repeat a sound. Well, this word really is the repetition of “bar-bar.” And what he’s saying is, “If you speak like that, and I don’t know the meaning of what you’re saying, it’s just ‘bar-bar-bar-bar’ to me. I don’t understand it, and it doesn’t make any sense.”

So the whole point, you see, is the uselessness of unintelligible languages and pagan gibberish. It had absolutely no signification whatsoever. It is contrary to all the laws of sound and meaning, according to verse 10.

Paul ends with the same message he gave in 1 Corinthians 14:5: seek gifts of the Holy Spirit that will build up — edify — the church in Corinth (verse 12).

MacArthur says:

“Seek that the church be edified.” He’s really dealing with their selfishness. The Corinthians came together; they were all seeking this experience. They were all seeking this ecstasy; they wanted the sensual experience.

And we still have that today. And I think that’s part of what is going on in the Charismatic and Pentecostal movement is they all seek this personal experience, when Paul is saying “That’s the antithesis of the spiritual gift, which is to seek to edify the body.” So the position of tongues is secondary, reason number one, because prophecy will edify the church; and number two, tongues are unintelligible, and consequently have a very limited use. And, incidentally, that limited use was limited also to the Apostolic Era.

Many moons ago when I was in high school — around the time MacArthur gave this sermon — I knew a girl who stopped going to her family’s church and began attending Sunday service with her boyfriend and his family at the local Foursquare Gospel church. She said she preferred the services there because they were ‘exciting’ and one never knew what would happen next.

The preacher gave sermons, but she said she never listened to them because they were ‘boring’. She was there to watch someone experience personal ecstasy. For her, church was theatre. She thought every church should be like that.

I’m going to skip ahead to 1 Corinthians 14:33 and 40 for an answer to ‘church as theatre’:

33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

40 all things should be done decently and in order.

Paul has much more to say on the topic of speaking in tongues, so more will follow next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:13-19

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 14:1-5

Prophecy and Tongues

14 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

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Last week’s entry concluded Paul’s treatise to the Corinthians on Holy Communion. It included a warning about sickness and death afflicting those who took the sacrament unworthily.

The next two chapters are in the Lectionary. 1 Corinthians 12 concerns spiritual gifts and the members of the church comprising one, holistic body. 1 Corinthians 13, concerning love, is often read at weddings.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul discusses the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Taking up where he left off, he begins by encouraging the Corinthians to pursue love and desire the gifts of the Holy Spirit especially that they might prophesy (verse 1).

Prophesying means preaching, as John MacArthur explains (emphases in bold mine):

It comes from the Greek word prophēteuō. Two words: pro, meaning before; phēmi meaning speak. It means to speak before. Prophecy is for somebody to speak before somebody else.

That’s what I do every Sunday, I prophesy. You say, “I thought it meant to predict the future.” No. No. You know the idea of predicting the future never came along until the Middle Ages when the English word took on that meaning. That’s never its intention in the Greek. It simply means to speak before somebody.

Matthew Henry’s commentary agrees:

While they were in close pursuit of charity, and made this Christian disposition their chief scope, they might be zealous of spiritual gifts, be ambitious of them in some measure, but especially of prophesying, that is, of interpreting scripture.

Paul uses two interesting verbs in that sentence: ‘pursue’ and ‘desire’. Today, ‘pursue’ suggests a police chase. As for the second, we think of the word in the context of ‘heart’s desire’, not entirely a religious thing to say.

Henry defines ‘pursue’ in Greek as follows:

Follow after charity, pursue it. The original, diokete , when spoken of a thing, signifies a singular concern to obtain it; and is commonly taken in a good and laudable sense. It is an exhortation to obtain charity, to get this excellent disposition of mind upon any terms, whatever pains or prayers it may cost: as if he had said, ‘In whatever you fail, see you do not miss of this; the principal of all graces is worth your getting at any rate’.

MacArthur addresses the context of ‘desire’ and refers back to 1 Corinthians 12 to make his point:

Now this word “desire” could be translated many ways, because it’s a kind of a form that could go a lot of ways. But when you study the context, it comes out as an imperative; and it comes out, I believe, as kind of a continuous imperative, so that it would translate this way – now watch: “Pursue love,” and then there is a de in the Greek, and de is like “but.” It is not equating equals; that would be kai. It’s adversative; there is a change here.

So he is saying, “Follow after love, but continue desiring spirituals.” In other words, “I’m not telling you to quit desiring gifts.” And then go back to 12:31, “You are pursuing the showy things. You should pursue love, but don’t stop pursuing gifts,” or the spiritual realm literally. In other words, “I don’t want you to quit, because you should want the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Spirit. I’m not saying don’t have anything to do with gifts. But rather pursue love and continue to seek the spiritual realm, the realm of the operation of the Holy Spirit, the true things that the Spirit of God is doing. But” – now look at the end of the verse – “most of all, most of all, mallon, most of all that you should prophesy.” You see, tongues are secondary. “When you come together, instead of the chaos, and the confusion, and the gibberish of tongues, should be the clarity of prophecy.”

Paul says that speaking in tongues does not say anything to men; the person is speaking to God only, uttering mysteries in the Spirit (verse 2).

Henry says that the Corinthians were pleased with their notional ability to speak in tongues:

It seems, this was the gift on which the Corinthians principally valued themselves. This was more ostentatious than the plain interpretation of scripture, more fit to gratify pride, but less fit to pursue the purposes of Christian charity; it would not equally edify nor do good to the souls of menwhatever mysteries might be communicated in his language, none of his own countrymen could understand them, because they did not understand the language

MacArthur has more on this peculiarity, which was part of their pagan heritage. Sadly, they were returning to it. This was not even close to the 70 disciples speaking in tongues on the first Pentecost:

… as we come to the Corinthian situation – incidentally, the only time that the gift is ever mentioned after the book of Acts is in Corinth, and there because it was so confused and chaotic. But as we come to the Corinthian situation, we find that they had counterfeited the real gift and substituted a pagan, ecstatic kind of speech. The true gift had been confused with ecstatic tongues, which was the counterfeit

Remember that, for the most part, the Corinthians had allowed the entire world system in which they existed to infiltrate their assembly. For example, they were all hung up with human philosophies, the first four chapters say. They had a hero worship cult just like their society did; chapter 3 talks about that. They were involved in terrible, gross, sexual immorality; chapters 5 and 6 talks about that. They were suing each other in the court; chapter 6 talks about that. They had fouled up the home and marriage, and misevaluated that whole thing; chapter 7 talks about that.

They were all confused about pagan feasts and idolatry and things offered to idols; chapters 8, 9 and 10 talks about that. They had goofed up the proper place of women in the church; chapter 11 talks about that. They had misconstrued the whole dimension of spiritual gifts; chapter 12 talks about that. And they had lost hold of the one great thing, love; chapter 13 talks about that.

They had let the entire mass of the satanic system that existed in their society infiltrate the church. And once it all came in, in with it came pagan-style of religion, with all of the ecstasies, and all of its eroticisms, and all of its sensualities; they bought the whole bag.

In short, they were developing a syncretic version of Christianity:

It was Christianity in part and paganism in part, all wedded together.

This can be seen in some pseudo-religious movements which are popular today: New Age and vaudou, to name but two. However, one can also add the charismatic movement and Pentecostalism to the list.

MacArthur mentioned ecstasy, which is a key feature for the person speaking in tongues that no one else can understand. These people seek the mind rush, for lack of a better term, that they experience:

Now if you study the Greco-Roman world the time of the Corinthian church, you would know that they had various priests and priestesses; and people who were devotees of the gods would go to these great temples, and they would worship these priests and priestesses. And it was very common for a devotee would go into an ecstasy. An ecstasy means to go out of yourself. That’s the literal meaning of the word, to go out of yourself. They would literally flip out, and they would go into an unconscious state, in which they would have all kinds of phenomena occur, a psychic kind of phenomena. They would believe that when they went out of themselves, they literally left the body, and they ascended into space, and they connected to deity, whatever deity they were worshiping, and they began to commune with the deity; and once they began to commune with that deity, they would begin to speak the language of the gods.

This was a very common thing in their culture. So that term used in Corinthians, glōssais lalein, to speak in tongues, was not invented by Bible writers, but was a term used commonly in the Greco-Roman culture to speak of pagan ecstasy, and going out of the body, connecting with the deity, and in a mystical way beginning to speak the language of the gods, which came out as some kind of gobbledygook and gibberish.

Now the Greeks even had a word for this ecstatic religious experience. You’ll be interested to know what the word was. It was the word eros. Remember that word? We sometimes translate it as sensual love. But the word is a bigger word than that; it has a broader meaning. The word eros simply means the desire for the sensual, or the desire for the erotic, or the desire for the ecstasy, or the desire for the ultimate experience or the feeling.

And the kind of religion they had was erotic religion. It was religion designed to be felt. It was sensual, ecstatic kind of religion. And you’ll remember, if you studied those religions, that when they went to those temples and to those priestesses they actually entered into orgies, didn’t they. And that whole idea of erotic and sexual and sensual and ecstatic and the gibberish that went on with divine utterances, all was rolled into one big ball under the mystery religions that had spawned in Babylon and had come into the Corinthian society. And I’m not going to take the time to read you all of the information on that, but there is tremendous historical information that tells us that this did occur.

Now I’m afraid that what has happened today in the Charismatic movement is just a reproduction of exactly what happened in Corinth. The church, because of a deadness, and because of years of ignorance of the true work of the Holy Spirit, and because of a lack of really fine Bible teaching in many places, and because of just the dearth of anything really significant going on, people in the church began to reach out, and to want to feel God, and to sense reality, and Satan’s counterfeit came flooding in the door. And what happened now in the Charismatic Movement is simply Corinth revisited. The church has married the system of pagan religion again, and we have developed a sensual, feeling, experiential, erotic kind of approach to religion, only we call it the work of the Holy Spirit, when in fact it is the counterfeit of Satan. If you were to find time to talk with various people who’ve been involved in it, you would find that some of their experiences are very much in that way – very sensual, very feeling-oriented.

This is what speaking in tongues involved — and it was only ever a means for the early Church to expand into every possible nation in the ancient world. That time was known as the Apostolic Age or the Apostolic Era.

MacArthur explains:

when God gave the gifts to the early church, He gave them some miraculous gifts which were designed to be signs that authenticated the validity of the message of the new age. You see, God had spoken in the past by the fathers through the prophets; but in these last days, He has spoken in His Son, and there was a new message; and to let, particularly, the Jewish world know that this was a new era, and there was new revelation, and God was speaking again. There were attendant signs and wonders, and one of those was the ability that the apostles and some who worked with them had, to speak a language they did not know, under divine inspiration. That was the gift of languages.

We learned also that it was always a language, that it was the ability to speak a foreign language. In Acts 2, “Everybody understood in their own language,” it says.

As the Corinthians were not truly speaking in tongues, rather in a pagan gibberish, Paul encourages them to seek the desire to prophesy, or to preach, because good preaching edifies those hearing the message, that of the Good News (verse 3).

Paul goes on to say that those who speak meaningless words in tongues help no man, but those who can prophesy — preach — duly build up the Church (verse 4).

Paul says that he wants the Corinthians to speak in tongues — properly, one might add, as had the disciples in Acts — but more importantly, they should preach, so that everyone can understand what is being said and thereby benefit from it (verse 5).

MacArthur explains the Corinthians’ situation and that of some of the present day church movements:

In Christianity, it was the true gift of languages, used only when someone who spoke the language was present in order that it might be a sign that God was there, and that God’s people were speaking God’s truth. Never was it intended to be confused with paganism. But as always, whenever God does something, Satan counterfeits it, doesn’t he? And that confuses the issue.

And so Satan’s smokescreen to cloud the true revelatory work of the Holy Spirit in the early church were phony revelations and phony visions and phony tongues. And that’s why in 1 John, John says, “When somebody comes along and starts telling you they speak for God, you’d better test the spirits.” It’s easy to fall prey to the phony. And the Corinthians, because they had decided to marry the spirit of the age, were victims.

Now remember, Satan is called the god of this age, Satan is called the spirit who energizes the children of disobedience. Satan is the one who wants to be like God, and Satan appears transformed as an angel of light. He wants to counterfeit reality, he wants the church to buy a phony; that’s his business. And so we see in heathenism all that fake; and here in Corinth, it had engulfed the church.

And I’m afraid it’s doing the same today. There are no ecstasies, no sensualities, no eroticisms, no going out of yourself ever associated in the New Testament with the true work of the Holy Spirit – never, never. In fact, in 14:32 it says, “The spirits of the prophets must be subject to the prophets.” Nobody ever gives up his spirit. Nobody ever loses control. Nobody ever goes out of himself in terms of that which God has designed. And that’s why, at the end of the fourteenth chapter, the final word of the apostle Paul is, “Let everything be done decently and” – what? – “in order.” This is not the Holy Spirit’s way. It is not the Holy Spirit’s way to have everybody jumping up, “and everybody has a psalm” – verse 26 – “and everybody a doctrine, and everybody a revelation, and everybody an interpretation, and everybody wanting to speak in ecstasy, and everybody wanting to have a vision,” and so forth. That’s the confusion of paganism that has engulfed the church.

This is the reason why members of established churches are often called the ‘frozen chosen’. Long may they remain so.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:6-12

Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 11:27-34

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[a] 31 But if we judged[b] ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined[c] so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

33 So then, my brothers,[d] when you come together to eat, wait for[e] one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

———————————————————————————————

Last week’s passage discussed the church love feasts that the Corinthians held. These would be comparable to today’s church potlucks. Afterwards, they would receive Holy Communion. The problem was their irreverence and mutual hostility.

Some wealthier members deprived poorer congregants of food. Other people attending got drunk. Many argued at table. They were not in a fit state to receive the Lord’s body and blood.

Paul takes them to task for their irreverent behaviour, especially in the presence of the sacrament.

In last week’s post, I’d written that the church potlucks I’d attended were happy occasions where everyone was united over plates of homemade food and good conversation.

One of my readers, Rob, wrote about the potlucks he’s been to and has given me permission to post his comments, revealing a much different perspective (emphases mine):

This is a sad topic to miss out on in the 3-year lectionary. Addressing the disorder in the Corinthian church, Paul is relevant to today’s fellowships as well. I suppose it’s not the same as back in his day, with our socially dispersed lifestyles and varied views of the Supper.

One thing I think applies: today, there are the “in crowd” and the less visible hangers-on. One group is clearly more in fellowship than the others. Being ignored or dismissed because one is not “theological enough” or isn’t involved in popular trends of his church is analogous to what Paul is fighting in this passage.

Yes, the cliques are ever-present, though largely ignored or dismissed. The latest trends are regular old liberal theology, homeschooler superiority, subordination of women and then the typical class divide. Doubt it’s any different from any decade, really. Though folks are certainly more agitated and outspoken these days (social media).

Between last week’s and this week’s verses are the following, which are in the Lectionary:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for[f] you. Do this in remembrance of me.”[g] 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Those are important because not only are they theologically precise but Paul wrote them before the Gospels were written.

John MacArthur explains:

this is directly taken from the statements of Jesus Christ. In fact, it’s practically certain. And I think that you’d find very few conservative scholars who would disagree with this. It is practically certain that 1 Corinthians was written before any of the four Gospels, though the four Gospels appear in your New Testament first in their order, they are not, in terms of chronological authorship, in that order. They were not written till a later period than this.

So, here is really the first statement of God in print regarding the Lord’s Table. For a full understanding of all of it, you need to read the account in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but here is the earliest account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. And Paul says, “It was directly from the words of Jesus. He Himself instituted it.

There are two ordinances of the Church: communion and baptism. Both of them were set in order by the example of Christ and ordained and initiated by Him as well. And this is no different. So, he says, “This is straight from the Lord. It is His Supper. He has instituted it.” You notice in verse 20 “the Lord’s Supper.” It is His Supper.

One wonders how many people are familiar with today’s verses wherein Paul says that receiving Holy Communion in an unworthy manner can — not will — lead to illness or death. I only discovered these 12 years ago, thanks to another blogger.

No doubt this has applications beyond the Corinthians’ situation.

Paul says that receiving the sacrament in an unworthy manner is akin to crucifying Christ all over again (verse 27).

Matthew Henry’s commentary states:

He lays before the Corinthians the danger of receiving unworthily, of prostituting this institution as they did, ad using it to the purposes of feasting and faction, with intentions opposite to its design, or a temper of mind altogether unsuitable to it; or keeping up the covenant with sin and death, while they are there professedly renewing and confirming their covenant with God. 1. It is a great guilt which such contract. They shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (v. 27), of violating this sacred institution, of despising his body and blood. They act as if they counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith they are sanctified, an unholy thing, Heb. 10:29. They profane the institution, and in a manner crucify their Saviour over again. Instead of being cleansed by his blood, they are guilty of his blood.

We say that we do not do that. Many of us receive Holy Communion in a worthy manner, however, it is easy to profane it.

MacArthur gives us examples:

I’ll tell you how you can come unworthily. The Corinthians did it. You can come – here’s the way you can treat the Table of the Lord unworthily. Number one, by ignoring it rather than obeying it. By just not doing it. You’re saying, “It’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. It’s unimportant.” Is that right? No, that’s wrong; that’s unworthy of you, and unworthy of Him.

Second, you can treat the Table unworthily by making it a performance rather than something meaningful, by just doing it rather than understanding it.

I’ll tell you another way you can pervert the Table and come unworthily is by making it into a saving thing rather than a communing thing. By thinking that it saves you to do it rather than understanding that it only causes you to make a fresh commitment and a fresh communion with Christ.

Another way that you can come unworthily is by treating it as a ceremony rather than as a personal experience. And another way that you can come unworthily is by treating it lightly rather than treating it seriously. If you come to this table with any bitterness toward another Christian in any way, shape, or form; with any unconfessed sin; living in any kind of sin that you will not repent of and turn from; if you come with any less than the loftiest thought about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God; if you come with anything less than total love for the brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, you come to this Table unworthily.

And you say, “What’s the result?”

Look; you are liable for the body and blood of the Lord.

Paul advises the Corinthians — and us — to examine our consciences beforehand, then receive Communion (verse 28). If you have had an argument with someone, seek reconciliation. If you’ve done someone a wrong, right it. Then receive the sacrament.

Paul says that it is important to discern ‘the body’ — that means Christ’s body — beforehand. Contemplate our Lord’s suffering, the horrifying way He bore our sins on the Cross. 

Serendipitously, today’s Sunday Gospel reading, for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B), discusses His sufferings. Christ’s crucifixion was a suffering of both body and soul. In that reading, in which Jesus speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd, John MacArthur points out that the Greek word psuche is used, which means soul, or inner person. Our Lord suffered our sins in an unimaginably intense way in order to reconcile us to God.

Returning to today’s passage, MacArthur discusses the Greek used in 1 Corinthians 11:29:

Look at your heart. Is there anything there that shouldn’t be there? The word here in the Greek means a rigorous self-examination: your life, your motives, your attitude toward the Lord, your attitude toward the Lord’s Supper, your attitude toward other Christians. Be certain you’re not careless, flippant, indifferent, entertaining sin, unrepentant, mocking – all of that.

And when you’ve examined yourself, then let him eat of the bread and drink the cup. Examination first. Why? “Because he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks” – krima in the Greek; it should be translated chastisement. It’s not damnation. That’s the worst translation I’ve ever read of that. It means chastisement. Katakrima means damnation. That’s used in verse 32. Krima is a less intense word; it means chastening. “If you eat and drink unworthily, you will eat and drink chastening to yourself because you are not discerning the Lord’s body.”

Paul goes further and says that the reason many of the Corinthians are becoming ill and some dying is because of their unworthy reception of Holy Communion (verse 30). Older translations use a form of ‘sleep’ for ‘death’.

MacArthur says:

How does God chasten us? Well, in Corinth, this is what He did, verse 30, “Because of this, many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” And “sleep” is a metaphor for death. The Lord said, “Because of the Corinthians’ abuse of the Lord’s Table, some of them had gotten weak. They were mildly sick. Some of them were very sick, and some of them God had killed.

And incidentally, the Greek says a sufficient number were dead. I don’t know how many God killed in Corinth, but a goodly number. Why did he kill them? What evil did they do? The evil of coming to the Lord’s Table in an irreverent manner. You get a little idea of the seriousness.

He refers to Ananias and Sapphira who suddenly dropped dead in Acts 5 (another passage excluded from the three-year Lectionary) after cheating the church in Jerusalem:

I personally believe that Ananias and Sapphira, who were executed by God for their sin, were probably killed and executed at a communion service. That would be very, very stark, wouldn’t it? They probably dropped dead at a communion service, because that’s what the early Church did when it came together. And I’m not sure that it isn’t true that some Christians today are weak, others are sick, and some have even died because of how they treated the Lord’s Table: with indifference, sinfulness, whatever.

Paul offers a remedy. We are to judge ourselves so that God does not judge us (verse 31). That means examining our conscience (verse 28), repairing our broken relationships, repenting of our sins, then receiving Holy Communion.

Paul also points out that when the Lord passes judgement on us it is a chastisement for this world, one from which to learn, so that we may avoid judgement with ‘the world’ — non-believers — in the life to come (verse 32).

MacArthur explains:

I love this, “But when we are judged” – he says – “we are chastened of the Lord that we should not be katakrima with the world.” We are chastened by the Lord that we might not be damned with the world. Want to hear something? You want to hear something? No Christian, no time, under no circumstance will ever be damned with the world.

People say, “Oh, does this mean I lose my salvation? Does this mean I’m lost?”

No. You will never be damned with the world because short of that, you will be – what? – chastened by the Lord. The worst thing that could ever happen to a Christian would be the ultimate chastening. And what’s that? Take you to heaven. See, that’s not too bad. The point of the verse – a tremendous verse – the point of the verse is, “Look, we are being chastened by the Lord in order that we would not be damned with the world.”

You say, “But maybe the Lord won’t chasten me.”

Whom the Lord loves He chastens, and every son He scourges. Every Christian is under the chastening hand of the Lord which prevents him from ever being condemned with the world. Is that a great truth? So, we have not that ultimate fear. I don’t know about you; I’d just as soon be healthy, happy, and alive for a little while. So, I want to check myself when I come to the Lord’s Table.

Paul closes with simple advice on church dinners, especially if followed by Holy Communion, as was the case in the early days of the Church. Those who are hungry should eat at home first (verse 34). When gathering together, wait until everyone has arrived before eating (verse 33).

Paul ends by saying that he will give the Corinthians more instructions — ‘directions’ — when he sees them again.

About that, MacArthur says simply:

I don’t know what the rest of the problems were, but you can let your imagination run wild.

Indeed we can.

The next two chapters are in the Lectionary. 1 Corinthians 12 concerns spiritual gifts and the members of the church comprising one, holistic body. 1 Corinthians 13, concerning love, is often read at weddings.

1 Corinthians 14 discusses the Holy Spirit’s gifts to those living in the Apostolic Era in order to increase the growth of the Church.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:1-5

Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 11:17-22

The Lord’s Supper

17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part,[a] 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

——————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s reading was about women’s hair, a particular instruction to the church in Corinth and not a general one, as that was the only time Paul discoursed on head coverings.

The rest of 1 Corinthians 11 is about the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. The Corinthians were partaking of the sacrament unworthily.

Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises the situation (emphases mine below):

In this passage the apostle sharply rebukes them for much greater disorders than the former, in their partaking of the Lord’s supper, which was commonly done in the first ages, as the ancients tell us, with a love-feast annexed, which gave occasion to the scandalous disorders which the apostle here reprehends

The problem was not with the love-feast, or agape, but the manner in which they conducted that feast then received Communion afterwards.

The early church in Jerusalem instituted the agape out of love and mutual necessity. Shortly after the first Pentecost, the numbers of Christian converts grew to more than 3,000 people. Some had travelled to Jerusalem from afar — e.g. the Hellenic Jews — to celebrate Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, and stayed in the city afterwards. They had no money or jobs. Acts describes how the Christians who did have money and property pooled together what they had so that every convert could be fed, clothed and housed.

John MacArthur gives us more history on the agape, which some small sects still practice, although it is not commanded in the New Testament. Our modern day equivalent would be coffee after a Sunday service, a time of fellowship. Another would be a church potluck, where everyone brings a plate of food to be shared by others attending.

MacArthur says:

Notice verse 41 and 42 of Acts chapter 2. Acts 2:41, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized” – and this is in response the message of Peter given on the Day of Pentecost – “the same day there were added” – and they would be added to those who had already believed in Christ – “three thousand souls.” Now, there is the birth of the Church.

And they continued steadfastly in four areas, four ways in which the early Church celebrated its life. One, the apostles’ doctrine. That’s teaching. Theology. Teaching that which the apostles received as revelation from God. Fellowship. That’s ministering. That’s carrying out the duties and responsibilities that believers have within the framework of the Christian community …

And then lastly, in prayers. Those are the four dimensions of the life of the early Church: teaching, ministering, communing with the living Lord, who had died for them, and praying.

Now, those things, again, are indicated in part in verse 46, “They continued daily with one accord in the temple” – and apparently that’s where they gathered for teaching or apostles’ doctrines, very likely – “and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their food with gladness and singleness of heart.” And the idea there again is you have breaking of bread and fellowship, and certainly prayer would be thrown in as well.

So, in the life of the Church, notice, they continued every day breaking bread. I’m convinced, along with many other Bible scholars and historians of this period, that the early Church celebrated the Lord’s Table on a continual basis. In fact, it is not unlikely that they may have had communion with every meal they ate at the close of that meal. That is not an impossibility. That is, perhaps, a likelihood …

Now, we see this as we go through the book of Acts. And eventually, that fellowship meal became known as the love feast, became known as the agapē, or some of you may have heard it pronounced agapē. It was the love feast, the common meal, the sort of early Church potluck that they ate and followed it with the communion.

Now, it seems as though, in the early days, they were doing it every day. They were fellowshipping all over everywhere all the time. Now, remember this; that at the time when Peter preached at Pentecost … in that whole long period of feasting in Israel, many pilgrims had come to the city and were living with other Jewish families. This was part of the culture. When many of those pilgrims were saved, they didn’t want to go back; so, they stayed in the community. And when they stayed in the community, then the Christians had to take care of them. That’s why it says in chapter 2, verse 44, “They had all things in common and were selling their possessions and goods and giving them to the people that had need,” because there were all these people who had come into the city, whose needs had to be met. They had no livelihood.

In addition, instantly, at the point that the Church began, slaves were saved. And there became a common brotherhood of the slave and the rich man, and the slaves’ needs were then being met by rich men who could meet needs. And there was a beautiful commonness. They ate in different houses. They began to mingle their lives, and part of this was the celebration of the breaking of bread commemorating the communion of our Lord.

Eventually:

this became a pattern in the early Church. The church came together the first day of the week. They had a fellowship meal, followed by communion, followed by a sermon. Now, that became pretty much the pattern. And as time progressed, it stayed with us. And in fact, even today, there are many churches that meet together on every Lord’s Day, have the breaking of bread, followed by a sermon.

The love feast, long ago, faded away. The love feast was not something instituted by our Lord. It was not something instituted by the apostles. It was something that was a holdover from the culture. And so, it never really stuck. The early custom to connect the Lord’s Supper to the ordinary meal of every day began to fade away a little bit. They didn’t do it with every meal. Then they did it with the common meal, once a week, and even that began to fade.

Now on to today’s verses.

Paul begins by saying that he is not about to compliment the Corinthians on the way they gather for Holy Communion, because it is for the worse, not the better (verse 17).

He says that when they gather together as an assembly — a church — they do so with divisions among them (verse 18).

Recall that in the early parts of 1 Corinthians, Paul tells them to put their divisions aside, come together and follow Christ.

MacArthur explains:

Verse 18, “For first of all, when you come together in the church” – and the word church – ekklēsia – is never used in the New Testament in reference to a building. Never. It is always used in reference to an assembly of people. Whether they’re living, dead, universal, or local, it’s always people. A church is an organism. So, “When you come together in the church, I keep on hearing” – again and again is the Greek – “that there are schismata among you, and I partly believe it.”

Now, schismata is an interesting term. It refers basically to a difference of opinion. I want you to understand the word here, because I think we’re seeing another dimension in the messed up life of the Corinthian church. It refers basically to a difference of opinion …

So, he says, “When you come together, I continually hear that there are differences of opinion among you.” When the Church comes together, instead of uniting and fellowshipping, all you do is argue. Argue.

Now, this adds another dimension to their already messed-up church. They had already split the church on at least two other accounts. The rich and the poor had drawn a big line between them, and they were totally alienating each other. So, they were split on that basis – the sociological split.

They were split theologically – “I am of Paul;” “I am of Apollos;” “I am of Cephas;” “I am of Christ.” Everybody had his little clique. We’ll read it in chapter 1 and chapter 3. They had their own little theological group, and the amazing part of it was that the different groups didn’t even disagree theologically; they just isolated around personalities.

And so, here there were personality cults, segmenting everybody. There was a split sociologically between the rich and the poor. And now here we find that in just the – every week, week in, week out, discussion and interaction of the life of the church, there was a constant wrangling about differences of opinions about everything.

Interestingly, Paul says that factions have to exist in order for the peacemakers to emerge (verse 19).

Henry interprets that verse as follows:

Note, The wisdom of God can make the wickedness and errors of others a foil to the piety and integrity of the saints.

Paul says that the Corinthians are not coming together to partake of the Lord’s Supper (verse 20). Instead, they are behaving like gluttons and drunks with others among them going hungry (verse 21).

Henry explains:

They would not stay for one another; the rich despised the poor, and ate and drank up the provisions they themselves brought, before the poor were allowed to partake; and thus some wanted, while others had more than enough. This was profaning a sacred institution, and corrupting a divine ordinance, to the last degree. What was appointed to feed the soul was employed to feed their lusts and passions. What should have been a bond of mutual amity and affection was made an instrument of discord and disunion. The poor were deprived of the food prepared for them, and the rich turned a feast of charity into a debauch. This was scandalous irregularity.

Paul asks why they have to behave in this manner (verse 22). Do they not have homes where they can privately enjoy a feast? Or are they behaving like that because they hate the Church, especially in their humiliation of sending the hungry away empty? He rebukes them for their actions and says they deserve no commendation at all for their love-feasts. In fact, he implies they deserve condemnation.

MacArthur summarises Paul’s frustration with the Corinthians:

what kind of a potluck is that, where you go and sit in a corner and eat your own food? Selfish. And one is hungry. The poor man, he can’t get anything, and another is drunk. You have extremes there. The rich are drunk, and the poor have nothing. And you call this the love feast? You call this the Lord’s Supper? You say this is communing, and then you enter into the communion in that kind of a situation, hating each other, fighting each other, antagonizing each other. How can you celebrate the common unity of the saints? How can you do what he says in 10:16, “How can this be communion with the blood, communion with the body? How can you be that one bread and one body of verse 17? How can you celebrate that you’re a one-bread family? You’ve destroyed it. There’s no room for that.”

And then Paul, in just a frustration, as if he were groping for a reason why they’re doing it says in verse 22, “What? What am I to think? What is the answer? Is it because you don’t have a house to eat and drink in? I mean do you roam the streets, and the only place you can go to eat is here, so you’ve got to come here and stuff your face? Is that it? You don’t have a home, if you’re hungry, that you could go home to and eat or drink? You got to turn the fellowship meal into a gluttony and drunkenness exercise because you don’t have a house you can eat and drink in? Is that it?

Or maybe it isn’t that you don’t have a house. Maybe it’s that you despise the church of God. Maybe your problem is you hate the church, and you’d just as soon destroy it. Maybe your desire is to take the thing which Jesus has bought with His precious blood and wreck it. Is that what you want to do?

I hope this does not happen these days. I haven’t been to a church potluck for 40 years. I remember them as being happy occasions of fellowship, with tables full of food, more than enough for everyone.

Paul isn’t finished with his criticism of the Corinthian love-feasts. In fact, he issues a severe warning about receiving Communion unworthily. More on that next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 11:27-34

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