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1 Corinthians 14:26–32

“If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God” (vv. 27–28).

Now that Paul has firmly established the superiority of prophecy to tongues because of the intelligibility of the former, the Apostle can move on to instructions for using these gifts in corporate worship. As we see in 1 Corinthians 14:26–32, the inferiority of tongues to prophecy does not mean that tongues should not be used in public worship. However, when they are used, guidelines must be followed, as is also the case with prophecy.

Again Paul stresses that spiritual gifts are given to build up the body of Christ (v. 26; see vv. 1–5), and it is evident from verses 27–32 that such building up cannot happen if the gifts are exercised in a disorderly way. Tongues must be interpreted, or those with the gift are to remain silent. Prophets and tongues speakers must not all speak at once but one by one, and the church is to evaluate what is said, either to make sure the spoken word conforms to the gospel or to identify who actually possesses the prophetic gift. This is done so that “all may learn and all be encouraged” (v. 31). This text, then, commends to us structured and orderly worship. Having a set order of service where pastors and other people speaking in worship take turns adds to the intelligibility of the service and contributes to the edification of God’s people.

That principle of intentional, structured worship is the key application for us today, since the gifts of tongues and prophecy have ended. The cessation of these so-called sign gifts at the end of the Apostolic age has been the historic position of the Christian church across denominations, though the rise of Pentecostalism in the twentieth century has called this consensus into question. Still, the cessationist position continues to best represent the biblical evidence. Hebrews 1:1–4 declares the finality of the revelation in Christ. So, we should not expect special revelation today, since there are no Apostles to speak for Christ, and there are no Apostles because there is no one alive who ministered alongside Christ or who can qualify as an eyewitness to the resurrection (Acts 1:21–22). Furthermore, when the Apostles speak directly to the post-Apostolic situation, such as in 2 Timothy, we find no call to look for new prophecies or for people to declare the mysteries of God in tongues (see 1 Cor. 14:2). The Holy Spirit is still at work in His church, but special revelation has ceased, and with it the gifts of prophecy and tongues, because those gifts are the means of giving that revelation.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

In affirming that the gifts of tongues and prophecy have ceased, we are not affirming that the work of the Holy Spirit has ceased. The Spirit continues to work through the preaching of the Word and the service of others in the church to bring people to faith and build them up in Christ. In this present era, He works through the ordinary administration of Word and sacrament, Christian fellowship, and other practices to build His church.


For Further Study
  • Deuteronomy 13
  • Lamentations 2:14
  • Ezekiel 13
  • 2 Peter 2:1–3

Signs for Unbelievers and Believers

The God of Peace, Not Confusion

Keep Reading The Confessing Church

From the June 2021 Issue
Jun 2021 Issue