We’ve seen that Church prophets are involved in evangelism, edification, exhortation, comforting, profiting others, and teaching. It’s probably obvious that prophets also prophesy.
“Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” 1 Corinthians 14:1
The Apostle Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians 12 & 13 that love is the “greatest” and the “more excellent way.” Concerning the gift of prophecy Paul wrote, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2) Prophets, take note! We need to prophesy from hearts filled with love – love for God, love for the people God has saved, and love for the people God wants to save.
Paul began his teaching about believers prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul addresses both male and female prophets.
“Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.” 1 Corinthians 11:4-6
Two key words in this passage are “praying” (proseuchomenos) and “prophesying” (propheteuon). Proseuchomenos, proseuchomai and proseuche are always used for prayer to God. Propheteuon, propheteia and prophetikos deal with “speaking forth” the mind and counsel of God (W.E. Vine). Christian prophecy is about God and for God, so we need to understand clearly what God wants us to do with the spiritual gift.
Every Church prophet should read, study, re-read, and re-study 1 Corinthians 14. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles and senior prophet and teacher of the Church, gives us an unprecedented view of how prophets and others in local churches should conduct themselves.
“Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.” 1 Corinthians 14:1-5
It’s obvious from what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians that the church in Corinth had some serious problems. The church was divided about many issues, one being the use of spiritual gifts. One of those problems concerned the gifts of tongues and prophecy. Both spiritual gifts concerned “speaking forth,” so it’s understandable how people might be confused how these “speech” gifts might work.
The Greek word for “tongues” is glossa. It is used 50 times in the New Testament for the tongue as an organ of speech, a language, the “divided tongues, as of fire” that sat on the head of each of the 120 people who gathered together on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:3) to wait on the baptism of the Holy Spirit Jesus had promised to them (Acts 1:5), and the supernatural “tongues” that came with the baptism and filling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). Many of the Jews visiting Jerusalem on Pentecost were from different countries of the world and spoke a variety of languages. All of them heard the 120 Christ-followers speaking “the wonderful works of God” in their native language (dialekto).
How could this be? It was a miracle – possibly the reversal of what God did when He confused the one language of the world into many languages. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit moved in the Christ-followers in such a way that people who spoke many different languages (dialekto) heard the Word of God from one language (glossa). Is that the same glossa Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians? Let’s see.
The first mention of glossa in 1 Corinthians is in chapter 12:10 – “another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” This is something new. There are “different kinds of tongues” (hetero gene glosson) and “the interpretation of tongues” (hermeneia glosson). “Kinds” is a translation of gene and speaks to “families” of glossa. “Interpretation” is hermeneia and means “to explain.” That’s the first time we’ve seen the concept of “explaining” glossa. People in Acts who heard “tongues” understood the speech in their own native dialect. For some reason in Corinth, tongues (glossa) needed explaining (hermeneia). The time between the events in Acts and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is relatively short (between 20-25 years), so what happened to tongues that it would need interpretation in Corinth?
The next time we see glossa mentioned is later in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians.
“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” 1 Corinthians 12:27-30
In a list from first to last, tongues is mentioned last. Prophets are mentioned second, just behind apostles. Then Paul asks an interesting question that is easy to answer. Are all apostles? No. Are all teachers? No. Are all workers of miracles? No. Do all have gifts of healings? No. Do all speak with tongues? No. Do all interpret? No. Paul just told the Corinthians earlier in chapter 12 that they were part of one body with many different parts. Paul told them not to look down on others who didn’t have their gifts and not to feel bad about themselves if they didn’t have the more public gifts that others had. Why did Paul say that? “… that there should be no schism in the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:25) Wasn’t that the theme of Paul’s letter? He started by writing, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-11) Division was the disease, unity the cure.
Paul continues about tongues two verses later: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1) Paul addresses those who speak in glossa first, then he speaks to prophets: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2) Paul is an equal-opportunity apostle – no matter what the spiritual gift, if you don’t use your gift in love (agape) it is just noise and offers nothing of value to others.
Paul goes on to say this about some of the spiritual gifts – “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8) Paul says that love (agape) never (oudepote) fails (piptei), but prophecies (propheteiai) will fail (katargethesontai), tongues (glossa) will cease (pausontai), and knowledge (geosis) will vanish away (katargethesetai).
Paul addresses three of the spiritual gifts he listed in chapter 12 – prophecies, tongues, and knowledge. Prophecies will “fail” and knowledge will “vanish away.” Both words – “fail” and “vanish away” – come from the same root word katargeo, which means “to reduce to inactivity, render idle, abolish, be done away.” Both grammatical uses of the Greek word in 1 Corinthians 13:8 are 3rd person, singular, future, indicative, passive. That means something else would act on prophecies and knowledge at a future time to reduce them to inactivity. Tongues would “cease” (pausontai), which means “to stop, to make an end.” The grammar for pausontai is 3rd person, plural, future, indicative, middle. That means glossa would stop on their own at a future time.
These gifts are compared to love which never “fails” (piptei), which means “to fall” in the sense of from a higher place to a lower place. Love will always rank at the top. It will never fall to something less than first and best.
When Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians about prophecies, tongues, and knowledge, he used the future tense for what would happen to each one. Sometime in the future prophecies would “fail,” tongues would “cease,” and knowledge would “vanish away.” Did that happen soon after Paul wrote to the Corinthians? Later? Or is it still a future event? We’ll see in the next part of our study.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”