This assignment was the most challenging paper I have written by far. I know I am a novice in exegesis when it comes to the Word of God, and I don’t know Hebrew or Greek. I lack academic training, and English is not my native language. The list could go on, but the point is I was not capable of writing a decent exegesis paper or Biblical foundation paper.

However, it is a learning process, and I learned a lot while writing it. Please consider these things and know that it does not compare to what experts on the Word of God can do in an exegesis. This paper follows my thought process on some interesting dynamics regarding speaking in tongues and prophecying and how prophecy can build up the church. It was hard to write, and it may be hard to read, as well. If you read it, I pray God will bless you and give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation.

In this study, I will be focusing on 1 Corinthians:12-14 and examining what Paul believed the gift of prophecy to be and how it functions. The historical and contextual analysis of the whole book shows that Paul’s discussion about the gift of speaking in tongues and prophecy is deeply intertwined with Paul’s burden to remind the believers to be mindful of other members of the body when practicing them.

I will also examine verses such as 1 Corinthians 14:3-4  and verses 24-25 to explore the “upbuilding” nature of the gift of prophecy. Building up the church to be Christ’s bride and offering herself up to Him holy and without blemish is our ultimate goal (Ephesians 5:27). This Biblical foundation paper will investigate how this upbuilding is crucial to the gift of prophecy and the church at large, as well as what factors are impacting its effectiveness in building up the church.


“…but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

1 Corinthians 13:10 (English Standard Version, ESV)

“Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.”

1 Corinthians 14:1

“On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church.”

1 Corinthians 14:3-4

  “But if all prophesy, an unbeliever or outsider who enters is reproved by all and called to account by all. After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, ‘God is really among you.’”

1 Corinthians 14 24-25

There is a lot of controversy regarding the gift of prophecy and its use within the body of Christ today. Many interpretations of the Apostle Paul’s writings mislead others to believe that this gift has ceased. These believers strongly advocate for its cessation along with other gifts Paul names. There are, however, denominations and Christian groups who practice the gift of prophecy today and believe in its functionality and necessity. A theological examination of Scripture within 1 Corinthians 12-14 reveals Paul’s intention for prophecy and shows that it is still sanctioned by God for today’s use.

This paper will review the biblical passages of 1 Corinthians 13:10, 14:1, 3-4 and 24-25. The role of this paper is to serve as a biblical foundation showing that prophecy is an effective and profitable gift given to the body of Christ for today. The verses of 1 Corinthians 14:3-4 will especially explore the upbuilding nature of the gift of prophecy. Building up the church to be Christ’s bride, holy and without blemish, is Paul’s ultimate goal (Eph. 5:27); prophecy is crucial to upbuilding and to the church at large.

Contextual Analysis

The book of 1 Corinthians is written by the apostle Paul to a church in the city of Corinth, Greece. It is impossible to fully know the situation of the city of Corinth during Paul’s time due to limited historical records. However, some details are known and are helpful to provide a social and economic background regarding the church Paul was speaking to. Theologian Richard B. Hays states in his book, First Corinthians, “in order to listen intelligently to Paul’s conversation with the Corinthians, we must first know a few things about the letter’s setting and occasion.”

Much of modern Greece existed as two Roman provinces: Macedonia and Achaia. Corinth is the capital of Achaia. Corinth today (and as Paul knew it) is the successor to the city-state of Ancient Corinth. Before Paul came to know the city, it was active as a commercial crossroad between the Adriatic Sea in the west and Aegean Sea in the east. It was located on the Isthmus of Corinth. Since transporting goods from the southern tip of Achaia island to other parts of the world took a long time and was dangerous, ships and cargoes chose to use Corinth’s harbors to save costs of transporting their goods. Ships unloaded on either of Corinth’s two harbors using its road to travel in between. Corinth boasted of its harbors and because of this it became a prosperous commercial city.

Unfortunately, their prosperity and freedom were interrupted in 146 BCE. when the Roman army took control of the city. Roman soldiers destroyed Ancient Corinth and enslaved its inhabitants. The city was rebuilt as a Roman colony in 44 BCE. and became prosperous again. One hundred years later, Paul visited this newly rebuilt city of Corinth.

According to the New Testament (NT) scholar Mark Allan Powell, modern or new Corinth was also a busy port and famous for its amusements, theaters and brothels. Powell comments, “Throughout the empire, the expression ‘to act like a Corinthian’ came to be Roman slang for engaging in sexual promiscuity.” This is exampled in chapter five of 1 Corinthians. Paul deals with an issue regarding a man living with his father’s wife, and Paul claims that such activity was “not found even among pagans” (1 Cor. 5:1). Mark Taylor says in his commentary, “Like other ancient Greek cities, Corinth was notoriously wicked, given over to the vices of idolatry and sexual immorality (cf. Rom. 1:18–32) and associated sins (cf. 1 Cor 5:9–11; 6:9–11).” 

Despite Taylor and Powell’s claims, Hays seems to favor a more pronounced promiscuity before Rome controlled Corinth: “The older, pre-Roman Corinth had apparently acquired—at least among the Athenians—a reputation as a center of sexual promiscuity. In fact, it was the Grecian, comic playwright Aristophanes who coined the verb korinthiazesthai, meaning “to fornicate.” Hays points out that even recent scholars claim that early comments about the promiscuity of Corinth were exaggerated. For example, author Charles Kingsley Barrett writes in his book, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, “In Paul’s day, Corinth was probably little better and little worse than any other sea port and commercial center of the age.” Hays concludes, “C. K. Barrett puts the topic of Corinthian sexual mores in its proper perspective.” 

Regardless of the amount of sexual promiscuity during ancient or modern Corinth, it was present within their society. In his book, 1-2 Corinthians, Craig S. Keener makes an appropriate suggestion as to the real problem. He states, “Even if some have exaggerated Corinth’s reputation for lewdness, male Gentile sexual behavior diverged significantly from biblical standards.” Biblical standards, especially those set forth by Paul in the book of Galatians, do not leave room for Corinth’s immoral practices. According to Paul’s definition of things pertaining to the flesh, sexual promiscuity is an umbrella term encompassing several on his list. Corinth not only practiced sexual immorality but were also noted for exemplifying strife and idolatry.

Paul refers to the quarrels and divisions that existed when he writes, “for it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you” (1 Cor. 1:11). This was likely caused by various teachings of Christian workers in Corinth since Paul states that some claim, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas” (1:12). Although Paul does not mention the reason for why lawsuits existed among the believers in chapter six, we are still informed that there existed enough strife that persons within the church community were taking each other to court (6:1-9).

In chapter seven, Paul encourages Corinthian believers to “lead the life that the Lord has assigned” (7:17). He then says, “Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision” (7:18). These verses give us another clue that within the Corinthian church there existed tension between Jewish believers and newly converted Gentle believers. Hays helps us understand Paul’s great task of bringing conformity. He explains,

From Acts 18:1–17, we know that there was also a Jewish community in Corinth, as confirmed by a passing comment by Paul’s contemporary Philo of Alexandria (Legatio ad Gaium 281). An inscription referring to the “Synagogue of the Hebrews” has been found in the excavation of the site, but we have no information about the size of the Jewish community, and it appears from the content of Paul’s letters to Corinth that most members of Paul’s fledgling Christian community were of Gentile, rather than Jewish, ancestry. This meant that Paul was faced with a massive task of resocialization, seeking to reshape the moral imaginations of these Gentile converts into patterns of life consonant with the ways of the God of Israel.

Taylor affirms Hays’ conclusion regarding Corinth’s members. Taylor states, “Although Jews numbered among the Corinthian believers, the membership of the church was predominantly Gentile, some of whom had lived formerly shameful lives (6:9–11, 12:2). Most of the Corinthians were of low social status although there was a core group of persons of rank among them.” 

There may have been people of low social rank because citizens of the former Corinth had been made slaves when Rome took over. In Paul’s day, however, former slaves became freemen, and some were even given the chance to be selected as city leaders. The varying social classes and amount of financial possessions were other reasons for strife among their community. Paul infers this in chapter eleven when he writes about eating the Lord’s supper. Paul says,

For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! (1 Cor. 11:21-22)

Powell expounds on Paul’s statement. He says,

The wealthier members of the church came early and shared with each other whatever they had brought. Members of the lower classes, who labored until dark, came later, bringing whatever meager contributions they could afford. They arrived to find that the elite had already enjoyed a nice banquet and were sated with expensive food and sometimes drunk on fine liquor.

Powell suggests that in Greco-Roman banquets it would be acceptable for the late arrivals to partake in their own supper time together. Paul, however, sees this as a problem since the church was to be unified as they partook. Paul expresses his thoughts by characterizing such a thing as an embarrassment—that a meal to be eaten in remembrance of Jesus (11:24) has become an occasion for humiliating the poor (11:22). Hays makes a concluding statement. He states, “This [socioeconomic diversity] is most evident in the case of the problems surrounding the Lord’s Supper, where the ‘haves’ were disregarding and shaming the ‘have-nots.’”

A few other worthy observations about the church in Corinth are noted below. Since the larger congregation was comprised of Gentile converts, the Corinthian church encompassed a large population of former idol worshippers. This is reason for why Paul addresses the members as “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1:2). Hays explains some of the pagan worship below:

The accounts of Strabo and of the second-century C.E. writer Pausanias indicate that the city supported numerous sites of pagan worship and was adorned by magnificent statues of gods and goddesses in public places, including a large statue of Athena in the middle of the agora (marketplace). There was nothing unusual about this. Every significant city in the Greco-Roman world displayed similar temples and statuary. Athens, for instance, is described in Acts 17:16 as being “full of idols.” The Corinthian Christians would have been confronted on a daily basis by these imposing symbolic reminders of the religiopolitical world out of which they had been called.

Other Bible scholars make similar observations. For example, Powell comments, “In Roman society, the gods were blessed and propitiated at virtually all public events, including birthdays, weddings, banquets, business parties, and other affairs that Christians who had any dealings with non-Christians might be invited to attend.” Though Paul was clear that all things were cleansed by God (attending non-Christian events or eating meat once offered to idols), Paul was aware that some had a weaker conscience than others and were not able to engage in such activities to the same extent.

Every church has its problems, but it seemed that the church in Corinth had so many that Paul had to deal with them one by one. Paul states almost from the beginning that Corinthian believers acted and were immature in many ways. Paul writes,

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? (1 Cor. 3:1-3)

Paul makes other references to their low understanding of spiritual matters on several other occasions. Concluding, Corinthian believers lived in fraction, strife, division, and other forms of carnal behavior. This, combined with believers’ relative infancy in their faith, contributed to their limited spiritual growth. Hays was correct in suggesting that the Corinthian church needed to relearn how to socialize, this time according to the ways desired for them by the God of Israel.

Formal Analysis

First Corinthians is comprised of sixteen chapters and is one of the fourteen letters Paul wrote in the NT. It is possible Paul wrote a letter before this one, making 1 Corinthians the second letter to the church in Corinth. Hays comments, “From the letter itself we learn that he had written to them at least once previously (5:9); this correspondence, unfortunately, is lost to us, unless a fragment of it is preserved in 2 Cor. 6:14–7:1.” 

Margaret Mitchell offers insight into the book’s primary purpose and helps audiences understand why Paul chose to speak to certain situations. Mitchell uncovers what she believes to be the pivotal issue with the Corinthian church. She states,

The arrangements of 1 Corinthians conform to expectations for deliberative discourse. Paul’s response to the Corinthian situation of which he had been variously informed (1:11; 51; 7:1; 11:18; 16:17), likely by several parties soliciting his support for their own position, is an argument in which each of the topics of Corinthian debate (sexual morality, civil procedures, marital relations, the consumption of idol meats, hairstyles, the Lord’s supper, the meaning and use of spiritual gifts, the resurrection) is subsumed under a discussion of what he considers to be the seminal problem at Corinth—factionalism—which is the innate cause and further result of these specific contentions. The various questions of Corinthian debate thus become transformed into subordinate arguments in Paul’s larger argument throughout 1 Corinthians for the reunification of the church.

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to correct dissensions that he became aware of through members of the Corinthian church. While Powell acknowledges that there are diverse topics covered in 1 Corinthians, he agrees that this book is popularly known for addressing church problems. In fact, Powell considers 1 Corinthians to be “Paul’s epistle to ‘that church with problems.’” 

Paul’s writing is not simply a letter; it is a sermon, a teaching, constructive criticism (even an argument), and a guide for how the immature may become mature in Christ. Paul employs literary features in 1 Corinthians such as allegory and metaphoric language to help his readers understand spiritual concepts. An example of metaphoric language is Paul’s illustration of the spiritual body versus the physical body (12:12-27); or gifts without love being compared to a clanging cymbal (13:1).

Within 1 Corinthians, many topics are covered. Powell provides a list of the major themes and practical matters which Paul addresses in his letter. These include church unity (1:10-12, 3:4-6, 22, 4:6, 9:5, 11:18-19, 15:5, 16:12); wisdom and power (1:18, 19-20, 23-24, 26-27, 2:3, 14, 3:18-20, 4:9-10, 12:5, 9-10, 13:4, 9); Christ crucified (2:2, 11:26, 15:31); resurrection of the body (15:5-8, 14-17, 18-19, 23, 24-26, 51-52, 54-57); and Christian freedom (5:1, 2, 6, 6:12, 16-18, 20, 10:23). Practical matters include the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34); excommunication (5:5, 6-7, 11, 13); sexual morality (chapters 5-7 and 10:8); food sacrificed to idols (chapters 8-10); love (chapter 13); and spiritual gifts (chapters 12-14).

Mitchell continues her thoughts on the intent of the letter. She argues that 1 Corinthians “should be read as an extended appeal for unity.” According to a thorough exegetical study of the language and composition of 1 Corinthians, Mitchell concludes that “1 Corinthians is a unified deliberative letter which throughout urges unity on the divided Corinthian church.” Hays takes this concept further by defining “united” in chapter one. He explains,  

The word in 1:10 translated by the NRSV as “united” may carry the connotation of restoration to a prior condition, the putting in order of something that has fallen into disarray. (The same verb is used in Mark 1:19/Matt. 4:21 to describe the “mending” of fishing nets; NEB felicitously translates this word in 1 Cor. 1:10 as “firmly joined.”). Paul had left the Corinthian community in a relatively harmonious condition; now he has learned, to his dismay, that quarrels are splitting the church.

When comparing the content of 1 Corinthians to 2 Corinthians, Hays considers this letter to be “what Paul wrote to the Corinthians on a single occasion” whereas 2 Corinthians is “artificially constructed by an editor who has pieced together excerpts from more than one letter of Paul.” Powell believes that 1 Corinthians is a discourse, but he makes a different comparison regarding the style of 1 Corinthians to the book of Romans, another of Paul’s writings. He states,

To some extent, Romans is more theoretical, presenting key theological ideas in a fairly systematic way; 1 Corinthians is more practical, focused on specific issues that have arisen in a particular context. Taken together, the letters offer us a portrait of Paul as theologian and pastor, and what stands out is how interconnected those roles are for him: Romans reveals him to be pastoral in addressing theological issues, and 1 Corinthians reveals him to be theological in dealing with pastoral concerns.

According to this comment, 1 Corinthians may also be thought of as a book of pastoral care meant to answer practical problems within the church of Corinth. While 1 Corinthians is practical, Paul uniquely approaches issues by making theological arguments for them, even when the problems themselves are not theological. Hays comments again,

It is not always clear that the problems addressed by Paul have their basis in explicitly theological ideas. It is Paul who frames the issues in theological terms; indeed, this is an important part of his pastoral strategy, as we shall see.… In many cases, the practices of the Corinthians were motivated by social and cultural factors—such as popular philosophy and rhetoric—that were not consciously theological at all. The brilliance of Paul’s letter lies in his ability to diagnose the situation in theological terms and to raise the inchoate theological issues into the light of conscious reflection in light of the gospel.

Hays lists some of these major theological themes in the letter as Christology, apocalyptic eschatology, embodied existent, the primacy of love, and the transformation of power and status through the cross. Chapters twelve through fourteen seem to fit into Hays theme of the primacy of love. This combines with Mitchell’s point that Paul’s intent is to appeal for unity. Paul works hard to show that unity is a necessary tool to combat the strife and divisions of the Corinthian church (Gal. 5:19 -21) because this is the way of love.

Paul frequently emphasizes unity throughout his book. Paul assumes that as the members grow spiritually, unity will be a natural byproduct. He says in Colossians 3:15, for example, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.” In chapter twelve of 1 Corinthians, Paul likens the believers to a spiritual body using the illustration of a physical body with its members intact, working in conjunction with each other. Notice how Paul consistently writes comparing the topics of unity and division, and fleshly, or childish ways versus the spiritually mature.

Paul discusses communal and outward ways of practicing unity such as not verbally boasting to others about Paul or Apollos (3:18-23, 4:6-9); resisting fighting in court (6:1-8); correcting strife between Jewish and Gentile believers (7:17-24); eating the Lord’s Supper together (11:17-34); and avoiding conflict by properly stewarding the gift of speaking in tongues (14:1-40). Paul also writes about a proper spiritual perspective of unity and the inward, spiritual attitude believers should possess. This includes boasting in Christ only (1:26-31); being joined to the Lord in one Spirit (6:12-20); all baptized in the same Spirit (10:1-4); imitating Christ (11:1); practicing different gifts which derive from the same Holy Spirit (12:1-11); functioning as one spiritual body (12:12-27); and love as the connecting factor (13:1-13).

While Mitchell makes a good case for unity being the centerpiece of Paul’s letter, other scholars do not agree. German theologian Johannes Weiss rejected the theme of unity based on perceived inconsistencies within Paul’s arguments, especially in comparison to other writings of antiquity. Mitchell, however, defends her conclusions by stating that “the issue of the compositional integrity of 1 Corinthians is, first and foremost, a literary question.”

She compares 1 Corinthians to two other deliberative rhetorical pieces from the Greco-Roman period and concludes that deliberative rhetoric like that which Paul uses  “was commonly employed within epistolary frameworks in antiquity.” She sees no reason for why unity cannot still be the centerpiece for Paul’s letter to the Corinthian believers. Hays agrees that unity of the Corinthian church is Paul’s primary concern. He says,

The fundamental theme of the letter is sounded in 1:10: “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. Everything that follows, especially in 1 Corinthians 1:11–4:21, must be understood as an elaboration of this appeal. Paul, writing to a community torn by divisions (schismata), calls for unity.

Hays further stresses his point by stating, “Keeping this passage in focus as the keynote of 1 Corinthians will help us see that Paul’s basic concern throughout the letter is the wholeness and integrity of the community.” It is within this framework of establishing unity and training the carnal nature of the Corinthian believers that Paul talks about the gift of prophecy in chapters twelve through fourteen. His main burden in these chapters is to promote the gift of prophecy to build up the church. In other words, Paul’s desire is for the Corinthian believers to mature in their spiritual life.

Since Paul sees love as a way of maturing the Corinthian believers, Paul sets himself up for the discussion of love in chapter thirteen by first stating in chapter eight that “love builds up” while “knowledge puffs up” (8:1). He continues to talk about love in chapter thirteen, but within the context of the spiritual gifts. This was undoubtedly purposeful because after all, “Love, as Margaret Mitchell has persuasively argued, is the Pauline antidote to factionalism in the Corinthian church: ‘Love is the principle of Christian social unity which Paul urges on the Corinthians’ (M. Mitchell, 274).”

Taylor adds to this viewpoint. He explains, “Paul expounds on the theme of edifying love primarily in the context of the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.” In other words, Paul saw a great opportunity to teach about love through the example of the gifts. Witness Lee offers another example, demonstrating the connection among chapters and Paul’s intentional positioning of them throughout 1 Corinthians. Lee, speaking of the church body, states,

The Body has many members, and every member has a gift. This is the reason that after the headship and the Body, Paul comes to the matter of the spiritual gifts. The spiritual gifts are for the functions of the members of the Body. Hence, chapter twelve is the direct continuation of chapter eleven. After discerning the Body, we need to see the importance of all the gifts of the members of the Body.

Lee links the gifts of the Holy Spirit in chapter twelve directly with head coverings and the institution of the Lord’s supper in chapter eleven. Many other scholars mention the connection between twelve and fourteen with the remainder of Paul’s chapters. For example, Anthony C. Thiselton says in his book, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, that the gifts are not independent from other topics. Thiselton says,

Too many writers treat 12:1–14:40 as if it were simply an ad hoc response to questions about spiritual gifts (or spiritual persons) rather than an address to this topic within the broader theological framework of 11:2–14:40 in deliberate continuity with 8:1–11:1, and indeed ultimately with 1:1–4:21.

Thiselton gives audiences a broad perspective that is often missed when the chapters on gifts are read out of context. As Thiselton points out, Paul connected his thoughts starting from chapter one. In following chapters, Paul also links his thoughts and intent. In chapter fifteen, Paul talks about the resurrection which makes Jesus and his sacrificial death the center of our prophetic message. In chapter sixteen, Paul charges the saints to offer their material offerings so that others can be blessed by them.

Paul did not write 1 Corinthians to be a practical guidebook of random sections. Instead, he maintains a message throughout, which is to grow into a maturity that unites and brings others closer to Christ. He stresses the care of others in every kind of service. Using the gifts properly and in an orderly fashion is designed to help build unity within the church. Since the body of Christ is composed of individual believers, it is hard to imagine how the body will be built up if every one of them does not grow up.

Detailed Analysis of 1 Corinthians 13:10, 14:1, 3-4, 24-25

1 Corinthians 13:10 (ESV)

“…but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

Pastor and expository writer, Kurt Jurgensmeier, comments regarding the large debate surrounding this verse 13:10: “The whole debate concerning the Apostle’s view of the timing of the cessation of the miraculous gifts can be simplified into two camps: 1) at the completion of the reception and distribution of the NT revelation; or 2) the return of Christ.” Most non-cessationist scholars, even ones not active in the gift of prophecy, would agree that this verse is not implying perfection as the time when the canon of the NT was completed and Jesus had returned to the Father. Rather, it refers to Christ’s parousia.

A word study shows that the word “perfect” in Greek is teleios. It occurs nineteen times in the Bible and is the same word used in Matthew 5:48 (ESV) when Jesus charges his disciples to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. This active verb renders to be matured and finished. It may refer to the ongoing reaching toward a state of maturity of life that God desires for his bride.

Wayne Grudem, who writes extensively on miracles and the gifts of the Holy Spirt, explains that the time of ‘perfect’ has to be referring to the time when the Lord returns. He states,

This is because it has to be the same time as indicated by the word “then” in verse 12… To see “face to face” is an Old Testament phrase for seeing God personally (see Gen. 32:30; Exod. 33:11; Deut. 34:10; Judg. 6:22; Ezek. 20:35—these are the only Old Testament occurrences of this Greek phrase or its Hebrew equivalent, and they all refer to seeing God). The time when I shall know “as I have been known” also must refer to the Lord’s return (1 John 3:2; Rev. 22:4).

We may also logically consider Paul’s argument against its counterpart verses. Grudem comments that a statement that prophecy and gifts would cease with the canon would not fit Paul’s purpose in his argument because the last NT book was written about thirty-five years after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Therefore, Paul would have to be implying that the Corinthians would understand that they only had thirty-five years to practice the gift. Grudem writes, “The context requires rather that Paul be contrasting this age with the age to come and saying that love will endure into eternity. 

1 Corinthians 14:1

“Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.”

Only in chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians did Paul start to develop the relationship between gifts and love. By no means did Paul intend to belittle the gifts of the Holy Spirit when he commanded believers to pursue love. Keener states,

Love advises Christians which gifts to seek on the criterion of what will edify the church (12:31, 14:1). Paul frames his discussion on love (13:1-13) with exhortations to seek “the best” gifts, especially prophecy (12:31, 14:1). Love defines which gifts are the “best”: those that build up the body.

As explained by Tyndale House Commentary, the Greek word for “and” is most commonly rendered “then”: “pursue love, then strive for the spiritual gifts.” In this verse, this conjunction (and) may be translated into a variety of conjunctive particles including “but,” “and,” “then,” and “rather.” In this sentence, δέ (and/then) is marked as a “superaddition of a clause, whether in opposition or in continuation, to what has preceded.” Therefore, it may also render as “on the other hand,” “also,” “now,” “when,” “too,” or “yea” among other possible words. If “and” is replaced by any of these words, it is understood that Paul wishes to urge Corinthian believers to pursue both and neglect neither. As Taylor points out, “The topic of chap. 14 is the edification of the church, which cannot occur apart from the practice of love.” In other words, Paul did not mean for prophecy to be practiced exclusive of love. This is because prophecy without love cannot benefit people or build up the church.

The word “strive” in Greek is zēloō and it used only twelve times in the NT. Each use of the word carries relatively the same meaning: “to be earnest,” “eager,” “envy,” “desire emulously,” “strive after,” and “to be jealous of.” Interestingly, related words include: “to rekindle,” “be fervent” or “hot,” and even “to burn inwardly.” The same word zēloō is used in Revelations 3:19: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Christians are quick to obey John when it comes to bowing their hearts in repentance; in 14:1, however, Paul is encouraging the same kind of zeal in the believer’s pursuit of prophesying. When Paul uses this word in the context of the spiritual gifts, he is not using a past tense conjugation but is advocating a continual hot pursuit of the spiritual gifts, especially to prophesy.

Per Tyndale House, the word “prophesy” in verse 1 is the Greek word profēteuō and it is the same word used in verses 3, 4 and 24 (1 Cor.). It means “to speak an inspired message—sometimes encouraging obedience to God, sometimes proclaiming the future as a warning to preparedness and continued obedience.” Its definition (according to Paul) has been widely debated and may have various implications. Both suggestions in the definition above imply helping someone to mature in Christ through obedience to God’s paths and standard for living.

1 Corinthians 14:3-4

“On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church.”

Grudem gives readers a definition for prophecy as stated in his book, The Gift of Prophecy. He writes,

Prophecies could include predictions of the future, even though this was not an essential component of prophecy or perhaps even a frequent one. Prophecies could also indicate a person’s spiritual gifts or areas of effective ministry and might even do so in connection with the gift that was being mentioned in the prophecy. While prophecies were generally seen as communication from God to man, there is no reason to deny that prophecies could also include occasional elements of “prophetic praise” and “prophetic prayer”—praise and prayer whose content was based on something revealed spontaneously by the Holy Spirit.

Gordon D. Fee, a theologian and minister with the Assemblies of God, offers a more concise definition. He considers prophecy to be “spontaneous, Spirit-inspired intelligible messages, orally delivered in the gathered assembly, intended for the edification or encouragement of the people.” Thiselton adds that prophecy is related to pastoral insight and is more of a reflective process. According to him, prophecy is:

A gift of the Holy Spirit, and combines pastoral insight into the needs of persons, communities, and situations with the ability to address these with a God-given utterance or longer discourse (whether unprompted or prepared with judgment, decision, and rational reflection) leading to challenge or comfort, judgment, or consolation, but ultimately building up the addressees. 

In Taylor’s commentary, he points out that Thiselton considers prophecy as “the near equivalent of pastoral preaching.” Thomas R. Schreiner gives another definition. In his book, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology, he states, “Prophecy is better defined as communicating revelations from God in a spontaneous utterance.” These scholars agree that prophecy is a gift from the Holy Spirit and a form of communication that carries some mystery to it in the way it can confirm or reveal hidden things. According to them, prophecy can bring judgement (correction), comfort, or challenge to a person’s life; console; and pastorally guide a person in their decision making.

Although the debate continues as to whether the nature of Paul’s prophecy was meant to be spontaneous, reflective, or both, most all scholars agree that prophecy is something that should encourage believers and build up the church, and it is likely for the reasons stated above. Taylor concludes after reviewing opinions from Grudem, Thiselton, Schreiner, Ciampa and Rosner, “In the end, defining the nature of prophecy is not Paul’s primary task. Rather, his concern is for the edification of the church, which is the purpose of all the gifts.”  

This statement brings the readers’ attention back to the fact that Paul’s intention when writing was not to dispute whether the gifts were relevant for future believers. Paul wished to use the gifts—tongues and prophecy, things already commonly being practiced within the Corinthian church—as examples of how one can draw both believers and unbelievers closer to Christ and mature spiritually. Scholar and NT Professor Craig S. Keener confirms this rationale. He writes,

Paul encourages them to be mature in their thinking (14:20), as he had encouraged them before (3:1-2; for simplicity in evil, cf. Rom 16:19). He then quotes a prophet who, a few lines earlier, warned that Israel acted like infants just weaned from milk, who could handle only the most basic instruction (Is 28:9-10; cf. 28:13).

What Paul speaks in Ephesians 4:11-16 also echoes this thought which is that all the body members work together with their different gifts to grow into unity together to reach the full stature of Christ. 

The word “upbuilding” in verses 3-4 is translated as “edification” in several other versions such as the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the New King James Version (NKJV). The Greek word is oἰκοδομή (oikodomē) and it can mean “building up, edification, strengthening, developing another person’s life through acts and words of love and encouragement.” According to Hays, “the verb oikodomein (to build up) and the noun oikodomē (upbuilding, edification) occurs seven times in this chapter.” Ciampa and Rosner explain ‘encouragement’ in their book, The First Letter to the Corinthians,

The word translated encouragement has to do with the “act of emboldening another in belief or course of action” (BDAG) and here reinforces the idea of the previous word. It may also mean essentially the same thing as the following word, translated comfort, which has to do with “that which serves as encouragement to one who is depressed or in grief” (BDAG).

Anyone passing through depression, sadness or grief knows the importance of staying connected to the body since grief has a way isolating a person. Paul understands that speaking in tongues to a heavy-laden heart does not bring comfort. Instead, acting and speaking words of love and encouragement (prophecy) have the power to bring solace, strength, and inclusion.

The gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy are considered speech gifts. Raymond F. Collins points out in his book, First Corinthians, that Paul uses the word “to speak” twenty-four times. This has everything to do with why Paul compares tongues with prophesying. James 3:5 says, “so also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.” While James shows the negative impact of the power of speech, Paul refers to it in a positive way. Ciampa and Rosner comment, “Paul literally says that ‘those who prophesy speak strengthening, encouragement and comfort to people.’ That is, the ‘strengthening, encouragement and comfort’ are the direct objects of the verb speak.” 

Ciampa and Rosner propose that if we were to speak to God with mysteries, the result is that our spiritual man will be built up. That is, with the gift of speaking in tongues, God is addressed and the speaker is edified; if we prophesy, people are addressed and the church is edified. The ability to build a community is lost when tongues are used in place of prophecy because incomprehensible words render a body without direction, knowledge, edification, or consolation. Instead of bringing people together, tongues can disrupt the process of collective growth and unity. Hays comments, “In preference to tongues, Paul advocates prophecy as the highest gift, because the prophet speaks inspired intelligible messages from God directly to the congregation, thereby building up the church.” 

1 Corinthians 14:24-25

“But if all prophesy, an unbeliever or outsider who enters is reproved by all and called to account by all. After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, ‘God is really among you.’”

Two Greek words are used in verse 24 that are useful to show that Paul means to say that prophecy can reach those inside and outside of the church. That is, the unbelieving and the believing. “Unbeliever” is the Greek word apistos and it refers to those who are “doubting,” “lacking in trust,” and to someone who “does not believe the Gospel.” It is the same word Jesus uses when he addresses “faithless” generations.

Contrastingly, “outsider” is the Greek word idiōtēs and it may translate as “unlearned,” “ordinary,” and “an inquirer.” It may also refer to an “untrained person,” someone “ungifted,” or one “devoid of special learning or gifts, a plain person.” Paul uses this word in two other verses: (1) to describe Peter and John as “common,” uneducated men (Acts 4:13); and (2) to refer to himself as “unskilled” in speaking (2 Cor. 11:6). Although Paul speaks of prophecy being a tool to reach the unbeliever, it may also be for immature, unlearned persons like the Corinthian believers.

A congregation that prophesies can bring conviction and rebuke, and expose and prove what is truth. The active verb in the Greek is elenchō, and it is used seventeen other times in the Bible. It can mean “to expose,” “lay bare,” “detect,” “put to proof,” “rebuke,” “refute,” “show fault,” or “convict.” Ciampa and Rosner recognize Paul’s inclusiveness for believers and the power of prophesying when (and if) believers engage in such activity. They say,

Since all believers do have the Spirit and are real candidates to speak prophetically (see Joel 2:28), Paul encourages the Corinthians to pursue gifts such as prophecy and seems to think that any believer might try their hand and see if God might in fact use them to bring prophetic insight to the community. As in the previous verse, here he is describing a hypothetical situation (if everyone were to prophesy) and its potential impact on those who have yet to fully enter the Christian community. As pointed out in the comments on v. 23, the emphasis on inclusive participation is highlighted by the repetition of the word everyone/all three times in this verse: “everyone prophesies, they are convicted by all … judged by all.

The power of the gift of prophecy is not only in its intelligibility but also in its ability to carry revelation from the Spirit of God to its hearers to reveal the secrets, intentions, motives, sins, stories, and histories. Ciampa and Rosner explain,

While those who speak in tongues “utter mysteries by the Spirit” which are unintelligible to others as the speakers worship individually (v. 2), the prophetic ministry, operating at an intelligible level, brings to light the secrets of the hearts of men and women and leads them to join in the worship of God’s people.

In the English Standard Version (ESV), “secrets” is used in eight verses (OT and NT), but it carries four different meanings in the Greek. Unlike its counterpart definition in Matthew 13:11, which translates to “a misunderstood part of the kingdom of heaven,” “secrets” in verse 25 (1 Cor.) refer to “unseen things.” Its Greek translation kruptos is used nineteen times in the Bible and can even refer to “a trench covered and concealed by planks and earth.” Now, imagine the power Paul says prophecy has—that even the deepest secrets (ones in a trench in the earth) can be made faneros (disclosed): “visible,” “clear,” “plain,” “known,” “apparent,” and “manifest.” 

D.A. Carson describes prophecy’s role in his book, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 12-14. It is “communication designed by the Spirit to expose the secrets of [the unbeliever’s] own heart and thereby to convict him of sin, bringing him to repentance and worship.” Through the revelatory nature of prophetic words, people’s secrets and sins are revealed and they are able to see that God is really among the church. Hays states it this way,

Only when our proclamation plumbs the depth of the human predicament and narrates the extraordinary story of God’s costly redemptive act in Jesus Christ will outsiders and unbelievers recognize that something different is here, that the truth is being told and God is really present.

These verses parallel Isaiah 45:14 and Zechariah 8:23. Others will be drawn to Christ through the believer’s witness. Ciampa and Rosner point out that Paul changed some wording when he expressed this idea of prophecy being a witnessing tool for the nations. They state,

Paul has changed the plural verb (“they will worship”) to a singular (“he/she will worship”) since he is describing the conversion of an individual, and he has changed the pronoun from the singular (“in your [singular] midst”) to the plural (“in your [plural] midst”) because he is describing the gathered community rather than the nation of Israel.

Ciampa and Rosner suggest that Paul is speaking specifically to the gathered community of Corinthians as partakers in what once was Israel’s mission to evangelize the world. Paul is making the case that evangelization is meant to happen through utilization of the gift of the prophecy. Hays continues this thought process in his book, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture,

In Paul’s scenario it is the church—itself a predominantly Gentile community—through which God will accomplish the eschatological conversion of outsiders. The Gentile Christian “understudies” seem now to have stepped into the role originally assigned to Israel in Isaiah’s eschatological drama. Using the scriptural imagery in a metaphorical manner, Paul has clothed his depiction of the conversion of “outsiders” in language that originally had been used by Isaiah to portray the response of Gentiles to an eschatologically restored Israel.

Paul considers the church to be a spiritual body with many members functioning together using the gift of prophecy. Paul mentions that some prophesy while others judge the words; together they deliver a prophetic experience to the unbelievers to turn their hearts to God. Collins commented on verse 24,

The unity of all these prophets (note the use of pan-, “all,” three times in v. 24) contrasts with the cacophony of sounds emitted by those speaking in tongues. Their unified activity can also be brought to bear on the single (tis) unbeliever or outsider who enters the assembly. 

Ciampa and Rosner believe this motif of evangelization was disclosed since the beginning of Paul’s letter. Paul referred to the Corinthians as “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” They say,

We argued there that Paul was echoing Malachi 1:11 and the whole eschatological motif of the final universal worship of God which is to be brought about through Christ’s work. The Corinthians have been reminded at key points throughout this letter that they are supposed to bring glory to God as Gentiles who have come to find true wisdom in Christ and his cross and who have learned to flee sexual immorality and idolatry and to give proper worship to the one true God. Their own encounter with Christ had kept them from being led away to idols to being led by the Spirit to confess “Jesus is Lord” (12:2–3) and worship God aright. Their conversion and worship are intended to lead others to do the same. In this way, the gift which has been promoted as the one most effective at building up the community is also now seen as most effective at bringing God glory through the conversion of the nations.


The letter of 1 Corinthians reveals the apostle Paul’s burden to construct a spiritually mature body of Christ among the Corinthian believers (1 Cor. 3:2, 14:20). The chapters of this letter demonstrate that Paul consistently prioritizes the growth of the community. He is concerned, for example, that practices such as eating meat offered to idols (10:28) and the right to marry (9:5) or receive financial support from the church (9:15) would cause unlearned or weak believers to stumble. Paul later states, “We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do” (8:8). Paul then explains his rationale, “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial; all things are lawful, but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other” (10:23-24).

Throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul is not concerned with do’s and do not’s, but rather if the action or deed one does would bring unity among the community of believers. Paul even personally gives up his right to many things because he understands that love prefers others above oneself. His point is that seeking the good of the whole is a demonstration of love and in this way the law is fulfilled.

Since Paul’s ultimate commission as an apostle is to build, train and prepare the collective church for Christ, he understands unity is key. Paul never intends to do away with the gift of prophecy. On the contrary, Paul advises Corinthian believers to be zealous in pursuing the gifts, but in a way that edifies the entire group. He, therefore, instructs believers to be mindful of other members of the body when practicing the gifts. Both tongues and prophecy have the capacity to build and will result in spiritual growth; however, one builds the individual (tongues) and the other builds the community at large (prophecy).

In dealing with the gift of prophecy, Paul wishes to direct believers to focus on (1) maturing and building up the church through being mindful of others (love); (2) building unity among the believers by strengthening, encouraging and consoling one another; and (3) using the gift of prophecy to (a) train Christians into perfection by helping them reach the maturity of a son or daughter in the Kingdom of God and (b) evangelize, and build the family of God. He both cautions and commissions Corinthian believers to use each gift according to its purpose. Ultimately, Paul understands that it is not simply the message prophesied that builds up people but the love of God displayed in the act of prophesying that also edifies and strengthens the community of God.

Tongues cannot offer encouragement or consolation (unless translated) because they do not convey messages understandable to humans. Getting revelation and presenting revelation effectively are equally important. We need revelation and knowledge to receive messages from God, and we need prophecy and teaching as tools to convey these received messages. Paul understands this and for this reason he commands believers to focus on prophecy for the sake of growing the Corinthian body since prophecy can bring the factor of intelligibility to its audiences.

Lastly, the word “perfect” (13:10) should be thought of as believers being perfected after the Father. When compared to love, prophecy is a gift given for a time from the Father who gives good gifts, and it will cease. However, the complete or perfect state does not refer to completion of the canon. It refers to reaching the state of maturity of life that God desires for believers as his bride. It is similar to what Paul says: “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Prophecy will endure until Christ returns, but it needs to be disclosed within the context of love (13:3). This will bind believers in unity and mature them spiritually, bringing them closer to perfection.

Reflection and Conclusion

Paul’s instructions have significant importance for church congregations today. As Witness Lee suggests, “Every local church is a Corinth.” Whether it is matters of being carnal or issues pertaining to the use, misuse, or lack of use of the gifts, each congregation is on a path to maturing in Christ. However, not all churches prophesy and not all churches believe that the gifts exist today. While churches are still struggling to define prophecy and its limitations, they are missing out on engaging in it and reaping its benefits. As a result, congregations mature at a slower rate, miss out on an intimacy with each other and Christ that cannot otherwise be obtained, and evangelize less effectively. This reveals the necessity for this project.

NT prophecy is not perfect. Rather, it was designed to be an intimate process that requires an individual to share the heart and mind of God and not simply deliver a message. By earnestly desiring it, Christians invite the Spirit of God to change them to become more united with Christ, and the result is that others are also invited into that process. Grudem states, “Once we understand prophecy this way, we can allow our churches room to enjoy one of the Holy Spirit’s most edifying gifts.”

Nevertheless, some may be concerned that they do not how to prophesy or hear God sufficiently to speak on his behalf. The modern prophet Shawn Bolz states, “the modern prophetic gets a bad reputation because of the immature persons that get involved.” To combat this, Bolz suggests that those who want to be prophetic should learn the heart of God. He writes, “You cannot translate what you do not know or understand, and the type of knowing we are talking about is not knowledge based, it is heart based.” Both Bolz and Paul advocate the same thing: out of love and for love, believers prophesy—they come to know the heart of God and allow this to be the content of the Christian message. Only then is prophecy translated best to audiences. This is the picture of 1 Corinthians 14.

The cornerstone of the Christian life should first be to pursue holiness and an intimate relationship with God. Out of this relationship, Christians can encourage and console other believers and edify the church through the gift of prophecy. Spiritual practices in LCM churches focus on holiness and renewing the mind through meditation on the Word of God. Pentecostal churches are focused on getting supernatural revelation and sharing it. While the LCM lacks using the gifts of the Holy Spirit to receive supernatural revelation, Pentecostal churches can be strengthened by employing the LCM practice of meditation (PRSP) to mature in prophesying. Careful attention to the verses of 1 Corinthians 13:10, 14:1, 3-4 and 24-25 in an exegetical reflection offers a biblical foundation for why and how prophecy is a valid and healthy gift given to the worldwide body of Christ for edification, consolation and strengthening so that Christ may receive her spiritual bride and the nations may be gathered to Him.

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Written By : Sean Song

Edited By : Danielle Pagnanella