Category Archives: 1 & 2 Corinthians

Christian trash burned up at Judgment Seat of Christ



Image result for clipart rip off

By Spencer D Gear PhD

We know from mass media coverage that people, especially the young, can work for low wages and encounter further rip-offs. In Australia, we’ve seen that with businesses such as 7-11, The Super Retail Group, hospitality industry, Woolworths, Coles, Hungry Jack’s and KFC.

Who has caught these employers involved in the rip-offs? The Fair Work Ombudsman has picked up some of these underpayments and some have come from complaints by former employees.

So, the concept of judgment for both achievement and condemnation applies in both secular society and the Scriptures.

1. The judge’s job

When I looked up the meaning of the noun, ‘judge’, in the Collins’ English Dictionary, I discovered two meanings:

  1. A judge in the law courts who was decides the application of the law.
  2. This is a person who decides who is the winner of a competition (Collins English Dictionary (Collins English Dictionary 2018. s.v. judge).

In NT Greek, judge is used in these two senses. The first condemns and the other rewards. There will be condemnation for unbelievers and rewards for believers.

One of the significant NT verses emphasising the judgment for believers is 2 Cor 5:10 (NIV): ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due to us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad’.

This is known as the Bema Seat Judgment because the Greek word used for judgment in this verse is bema. It will be a judgment only for true believers in Christ, born again people.

Don Stewart explained:

The bema is a tribunal for rewards. In the large Olympic arenas, there was an elevated seat on which the judge of the contest sat. After the contests were over, the successful competitors would assemble before the bema to receive their rewards or crowns. The bema was not a judicial bench where someone was condemned; it was a reward seat. Likewise, the Judgment Seat of Christ is not a judicial bench. The Christian life is a race, and the divine umpire is Jesus Christ. After the race is over for each believer, He will gather every member before the bema for the purpose of examining each one and giving the proper reward to each (Stewart 2018).

That was the question asked on a Christian forum online:

Could you please tell us who or what you believe is being burned up in the following verses: 1 Corinthians 3:8-15 (NASB)?1

2. Who is the audience in Corinth?

Who is Paul addressing in 1 Cor 3:8-15?2 At the beginning of chapter 3, he is clear that his audience consists of ‘brothers and sisters’ in Christ (3:1). So this passage is dealing with what happens to Christians when their rewards are determined by God at the end of life (v 8).

3. Paul’s use of metaphors: God tests our works

Image result for clipart metaphorPaul cannot mean literal buildings, foundation. silver and chaff when he wrote of ‘fellow workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building’ (v. 9). He is dealing with something other than the physical when he wrote of Christians (fellow workers) involved in ‘God’s service’, ‘God’s field’, and ‘God’s building’, but he used a natural analogy his audience would understand – a metaphor..

Examine the metaphors that are used in this passage.

A metaphor is ‘a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable’ (Oxford Dictionaries Online 2018. s.v. metaphor). It is like a word picture using figurative language. It refers to something concrete in our experience, but uses it an an analogy to teach spiritual truth.
Here are the metaphors I observed in this passage:

v. 8, plants + waters –> own reward, which is the Christian’s labor (while on earth after salvation).

v. 9, Christians are God’s ‘fellow workers’ who are in ‘God’s field’ and are ‘God’s building’. Metaphors from agriculture and carpentry are used here to convey God’s message.

v. 10, ‘master builder’, ‘laid foundation’, ‘building’, ‘how he builds’. These are metaphors again to demonstrate what kind of foundation and building are being built into the Christian’s ‘own reward’. Seems to me that this points to James 2 in action.

v. 11, ‘lay a foundation’, ‘is laid’. This verse talks about a true foundation, which is Jesus Christ. The inference is that there are other foundations Christians can build on that will not lead to a good ‘reward’. The next verse tells us this:

v. 12, ‘builds’, ‘foundation’, ‘gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw’. All of those are metaphors but when speaking of the two types of ‘rewards’, Paul differentiates between the refined reward of ‘gold, silver, precious stones’ and what will be burnt up, ‘wood, hay, straw’ (anticipating v. 15).

v. 13, ‘man’s work’, ‘revealed with fire’, ‘fire … tests the quality’;


v. 14, ‘man’s [Christian person’s] work’, ‘built’, ‘reward’.


v. 15, How is this reward determined? Paul used the metaphor of ‘burned up’, ‘suffer loss’, ‘through fire’.

All through this passage, Paul uses metaphors of analogies known to the people of his day and ours – agriculture and particularly of carpentry.

4. It takes place at the Judgment Seat of Christ

In my understanding, Paul taught what takes place at the Judgment Seat of Christ where our works (AFTER salvation) will be tested to determine if they are trash (wood, hay, straw) or treasure (rewards of silver, gold, precious stones). Trash is burnt up; treasure is purified.

What is to be ‘revealed with fire’ is metaphorical language for when God hands out rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ and believers will know the Judge’s decision on what were trash and treasure in the believers’ works.

What will be ‘burned up’ is like saying that what Christians do that is outside of what is articulated in James 2 (NIV) and Matt 25:31-46 (NIV) will be regarded as trash to be incinerated or discarded by Christ

We see in v. 15 that Christians can be those whose lives are built on ‘wood, hay & chaff’ or ‘silver, gold and precious stones’.
Paul is not speaking of literal fire. He’s using the example of fire as a metaphor to demonstrate that junk gets God’s treatment as does treasure. This ‘fire’ is God’s way of telling what amounts to true works after salvation and false works.

5. How will you respond?

In your personal or group responses, I encourage you not to examine your lives using Christian cliches like: they are ‘dead works’; that’s coming from my sinful nature; or if Satan didn’t tempt me I’d be as pure as gold in God’s sight. Christian cliches need to be translated into practical actions.

That is the junk in your life that will be burned up?

For me, it has been the times when I didn’t think of others and work to better love my neighbour. There have been the times when I became angry with those who were close to me and with employees. My motives have not always been pure. I have hurt people, including my wife and children. It’s too late to take back the hurt but I did seek forgiveness, etc.

What is the treasure in your life that will not be destroyed at the Judgment Seat of Christ?

For me, they have been the times when I genuinely loved and served my neighbour with practical help and care. I spent 34 years as a counsellor, mostly with non-Christians. I thank God for helping me with many break-throughs. I was an instrument that God used. Today I’m helping an elderly couple and the husband is in the early stages of dementia. I’m involved in a discipling ministry and challenging secular values and consequences in my society through the mass media, etc. None of this is to brag about what I’m doing.

This is where I often fail:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these (Mark 12:30-31 NIV).?

Loving God will all my heart, soul, mind and strength is a discipline in which I fail all too regularly. Instead, I fall back on my puny self – which amounts to wood, hay and chaff that are burnt up.

Only God knows what is truly genuine or false in our works for Him, but we have enough information in the Bible to give us direction.

5.1 This message throughout the Bible

You will find this same message in both OT and NT:

  • Psalm 62:12 (NIV), ‘and with you, Lord, is unfailing love’; and, ‘You reward everyone according to what they have done’.
  • Matt 16:27 (NIV), ‘For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done’.
  • Rom 14:10 (NIV), ‘You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister?[a] Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat’.
  • Eph 6:8 (NIV), ‘because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free’.
  • 2 Tim 4:7-8 (NIV), ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing’.
  • 1 John 8 (NIV), ‘Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully’.

Image result for clipart well done good and faithful servant

6.  Works consulted

Stewart, D 2018. What Is the Judgment Seat of Christ? (The Bema) The Blue Letter Bible (online). Available at: (Accessed 25 August 2018).

7.  Notes 2018. Who or what is the fire burning? GodsGrace#1, original post, 23 August. Available at: (Accessed 25 August 2018).

2Most of what follows is in ibid., being my response to GodsGrace as OzSpen#61, 25 August 2018.



Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 25 August 2018.

The heresy of women preachers?

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected in 2006 as the first female Presiding Bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church and also the first female primate in the Anglican Communion (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

Go to one of the conservative Christian forums[1] on the Internet and raise the issue of women in teaching ministry in the local church. If you support women in this kind of ministry, as I do, expect a tirade of invective (covered with Christian jargon) from traditionalists who oppose women teaching men in the local church. I experienced this when I participated in two threads on Christian Forums: (1) ‘Women’s pastors’,[2] and (2) ‘Can women hold office in the church even pastors’. There were so many inflammatory comments in these 2 threads that the moderators of the forum closed the threads permanently after many posts.

One person stated that liberal theology was associated with a more liberal view of women in ministry. I asked him, ‘Are you affirming that those who support women in ministry are promoting “liberal ideology”’? A person responded, ‘I would answer in the affirmative. Liberalism has risen mainly out of the 19th century, it denies the authority of the Word of God, and it is heresy’.[3] Since I’m a supporter of women in teaching ministry, even female pastors, he accused me of promoting theological liberalism, denying the authority of Scripture, and heresy.

My response was:

I do not deny the authority of the Word of God. I support the inerrant Scripture. I am not promoting heresy when I support women in ministry because I’m convinced – THROUGH EXEGESIS – that God has not excluded women from preaching and teaching ministries. I am NOT a heretic; I do NOT promote false doctrine. I come to a position different from your traditional view of women in ministry.

Are you telling me on this forum that I’m a heretic because of my support for women in ministry?[4]

Inerrancy is the biblical doctrine that teaches that ‘being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives’ (The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Short Statement #4).

A controversial verse

One verse seems to be used as a shot-gun approach of conservative Christians. It is First Timothy 2:12, which states: ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet’ (NIV). This is the verse that the traditionalists use to close down the teaching of women over men.

International Greek scholar, exegete and specialist in biblical criticism, Dr Gordon D Fee, in his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, wrote of 1 Timothy 2:12:

Verse 12, which begins with Paul’s own personal instruction (I do not permit; better, “I am not permitting,” implying specific instructions to this situation), picks up the three items from verse 11 and presents them with some further detail. I am not permitting a woman to teach corresponds to a woman should learn. Teaching, of course, is where much of the problem lay in the church in Ephesus [where Timothy was located]. The straying elders are teachers (1:3; 6:3); the “worthy” elders, for whom Timothy is probably to serve as something of a model (4:11-16; cf. 2 Tim. 2:2), are “those whose work is teaching” (5:17). Indeed, Paul calls himself a teacher in these letters (2:7). But he is here prohibiting women to teach in the (house-) church(es) of Ephesus, although in other churches they prophesy (1 Cor. 11:5) and probably give a teaching from time to time (1 Cor. 14:26), and in Titus 2:3-4 the older women are expected to be good teachers of the younger ones.

Part of the problem from this distance is to know what “teaching” involved. The evidence from 1 Corinthians 12-14 indicates that “teaching” may be presented as a spiritual gift (14:6, 26); at the same time, some in the community are specifically known as teachers (cf. Rom. 12:7), while more private instruction is also given (Acts 18:26; here by a woman). Given that evidence and what can be gleaned from the present Epistles, teaching most likely had to do with instruction in Scripture, that is, Scripture as pointing to salvation in Christ (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15-17). If that is what is being forbidden (and certainty eludes us here), then it is probably because some of them have been so terribly deceived by false teachers, who are specifically abusing the OT (cf. 1:7; Titus 3:9). At least that is the point Paul will pick up in verses 14 and 15 (Fee 1988:72-73, emphasis in original).

So, no matter how many supporters of the traditional interpretation that may be included, there are others who disagree. Gordon Fee is one of them and so am I. N T Wright is another (see below). I’m encouraged to know that there are others in the evangelical community who support women in ministry.

What does 1 Timothy 2 teach?[5]

While I affirm the inerrancy of Scripture in the original manuscripts, I find it difficult to determine from the New Testament where ‘ordination’ of either men or women is taught, as experienced in our 21st century church. Where is the language of ordination to the pastorate in the NT?

First Timothy 2:8 reads, ‘I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling’ (ESV). What the ESV has translated as ‘then’ is the Greek connective ouv, meaning, ‘therefore’. This means that the sentence of 2:8 is linked to what precedes it and what is said in v. 8 goes back to the subject of the paragraph that begins in 1Tim 2:1 (‘I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings’ etc. God desires all to be saved (2:4).

So in v. 8, Paul is saying to Timothy in Ephesus and dealing with what is happening in the Ephesian house church(es), (this is my paraphrase): Therefore, while we are dealing with prayer, God’s desire for all people to be saved, one God and Jesus the one mediator (v 5), Jesus who gave his life as a ransom (v 6) and Paul appointed as a preacher and apostle (v7), therefore while we’re dealing with the subject of prayer, I urge that people pray with lifting up holy hands and ‘without anger or quarrelling’ (v. 8). This was the demeanour in prayer in Judaism and early Christianity.

Where should that be happening? It is to be everywhere in and around Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) in the house-churches – everywhere where believers were gathered in Ephesus.

Please remember that when this book was written there was no NT canon of Scripture. However, the book could have circulated to other churches in the region around Ephesus. First Timothy was written to Timothy to deal with a particular church or group of churches dealing with various situations. There was false doctrine being taught in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3). The ESV reads, ‘that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations….’ It does not say that these are specifically men or women who are doing this. They are ‘certain persons’. In 6:3 it is ‘anyone’ who ‘teaches a different doctrine’. However, 2:12 indicates something was happening with women and their domineering authority and these women had to be quietened down. Their false teaching had to cease.

First Timothy 1:6 refers to ‘certain persons’ who have ‘wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law’ (1:6-7).

Who were some of these wondering off into false doctrine, getting into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers? Could they have been the women spoken about in 1 Tim 2:12 who had a domineering authority and were usurping authority (not church authority as the word used is authentein and not exousia)?  What had to be done with these women promoting false doctrine? They had to learn quietly and with submissiveness (2:11) and were not to teach but to remain quiet (2:12).

This is not a closing down of all women down through the ages from preaching and teaching men (the traditional view) but is a practical issue to deal with the false doctrine being perpetrated in the house church(es) in Ephesus.

Another slant: Opposing what Paul said

This was an interesting approach to oppose women in ministry:

I think those who are opposing what Paul said [1 Tim 2:11-15] should read that article I posted earlier.[6] It seems those who are opposing are weighing in the internal evidence which there is none. If Paul meant something other then (sic) what he wrote in scripture there would be evidence to the contrary but there isn’t. Scripture clearly prohibits women teaching spiritually above men. It’s a bitter pill to swallow and I know people have a hard time with scriptures like that but the Bible can be a source of comfort and a source of seriousness and we have to accept that.[7]

How should I respond?[8]

I don’t understand why this person is putting it that I am ‘opposing what Paul said’ when in fact I am AGREEING with what Paul said. I’m disagreeing with his interpretation because I do not see it as being consistent with the exegesis, context and culture Paul was addressing in Ephesus (for the 1 Tim 2:11-15 passage).

He stated that there is no internal evidence (Is he referring to 1 Tim 2?). There is a stack of internal evidence that I have provided in both of these threads on the two related topics.

He stated:

If Paul meant something other then (sic) what he wrote in scripture there would be evidence to the contrary but there isn’t. Scripture clearly prohibits women teaching spiritually above men.

I do wish he would differentiate between what Paul stated in Scripture and his interpretations – his hermeneutics (interpretation) and mine. The way he has written this indicates that his is the only correct interpretation and mine is contrary evidence, so it cannot be accepted. That is not the case. We weigh the evidence and come to different conclusions.

I support the inerrant Scripture but have rejected the traditional interpretation against women in ministry – for exegetical, contextual and cultural reasons.

He stated that ‘Scripture clearly prohibits women teaching spiritually above men’. No it doesn’t. In the Ephesian church of 1 Timothy 2:12, it states that women must not authentein (the only time the word is in the NT), i.e. not have domineering authority over a man but must have a quiet demeanour. The context seems to indicate that women could have been involved in disruptive behaviour, including the promotion of heresies (perhaps Gnostic-related or Diana-related) and these women were told to ‘learn quietly with all submissiveness’. The examples of Adam and Eve in 2:13-14 and the woman being deceived suggest that women in Ephesus were being deceived and they had to be told not to teach but to remain quiet. She must ‘learn quietly with full submissiveness (2:11).

The fellow online stated: ‘I know people have a hard time with scriptures like that’. No, I have a hard time with his conservative, traditionalist interpretation of Scriptures like that because I do not find it to be consistent with the exegesis, context and culture of Ephesus.

I urged him not to place his view as the only correct one in opposition to those who disagree with his position as ‘I think those who are opposing what Paul said’. I am one who is opposing what he said. I’m not opposing what Paul said. I’m agreeing with Paul’s teaching, but that is contrary to this person’s teaching.

Let’s get this clear. I have a very high view of Scripture and in 1 Tim 2:11-15 I’m agreeing with Paul’s teaching.


The Salvation Army logoThe Salvation Army logoThe Salvation Army.svg

(image courtesy Wikipedia)

There are some extremist views that arise when discussing this topic. Here is one that I encountered. He stated that this ‘is part of the reason why I will not give to the salvation army. Almost all the heretical groups in modern history were started by women. Both Booths hated the God of the Bible, Calvinism and vehemently wrote and spoke against Him’.[9]

My response was that this is an inflammatory statement. This biographical piece, ‘Founders William & Catherine Booth’, refutes his view. Since the Booths were not Calvinists, does that make their views heretical?

I’m not a Calvinist. Does that make my views heretical also? Do I not worship the God of the Bible because my theological conclusion is not that of his Calvinism? Is he telling all those who are not Calvinists, including all the non-Calvinists on Christian that they are not worshipping the God of the Bible and are thus heretics?

He wrote: ‘You folks can twist and skew and spew all the nonsense that you want to justify an unbiblical position’ of supporting women in teaching ministry. I consider that this also is flaming others and me. The citation is no longer available online at that Christian Forum. It seems as though the moderators could have removed it as it violates their ‘flaming’ code.

Examples of women in ministry

A standard line by traditionalists is that we must use 1900 years of teaching on the subject (against women in ministry) to define orthodoxy. One fellow wrote: ‘Interesting, the view point that was not heretical for 1900 years is now supposedly “heresy”’.[10] The same person spoke of ‘your inconsistent hermeneutic and lack of appreciation of 2000 years of Church Tradition’.[11] He continued:

If we go by what the Scripture says, how the earliest Christians that actually read and wrote in Koine Greek interpreted, and how Christian tradition for nearly 2,000 years interpreted until people 50 years ago thought they knew better than all those people read the same Bible, then know women should not be ordained pastors.[12]

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

(image courtesy The Nizkor Project)

This argument, based on 1900-2000 years of practice commits a logical fallacy: Appeal to common practice. In this Nizkor Project link it is stated this way:

The Appeal to Common Practice is a fallacy with the following structure:

1. X is a common action.

2. Therefore X is correct/moral/justified/reasonable, etc.

The basic idea behind the fallacy is that the fact that most people do X is used as “evidence” to support the action or practice. It is a fallacy because the mere fact that most people do something does not make it correct, moral, justified, or reasonable.

Today we can see examples of women in ministry. Dr Marianne Meye Thompson is George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. I’m encouraged to know that there are others who have investigated the role of women in ministry and have come to a different conclusion to the traditionalists. But the more important issue is, ‘What does the Bible teach?’

Church of the Nazarene in Australia

Church of the Nazarene in Australia

From its inception, the Church of the Nazarene has recognised from Scripture and history that God calls women to preach and pastor. Brad Mercer has expounded on this in his article, ‘Women in Ministry and the Church of the Nazarene’ (Mercer 2013). In this article Brad states the Church of the Nazarene’s stance clearly:

From its very beginning the Church of the Nazarene has recognized from both Scripture and history that God calls women to preach, to pastor, and to other positions of leadership. Many Christians today contend that the Bible teaches the opposite, that women are forbidden by Scripture to preach, or to pastor, or be in any positions of authority over men in the Church….

In light of the opposition to women in ministry from some branches of evangelical Christianity, the General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene adopted an official statement in 1993. This simply put into writing as official policy what had been practiced in the Church from its inception.

904.6. Women in Ministry
We support the right of women to use their God-given spiritual gifts within the church. We affirm the historic right of women to be elected and appointed to places of leadership within the Church of the Nazarene. (1993) [From the Manual, the official statements of doctrine and polity of the Church of the Nazarene] (Mercer 2013).

Nazarene researcher, Richard Houseal (2003), has presented an analysis of ‘Nazarene Clergy Women: A Statistical Analysis from 1908 to 2003’. How is it that you have ‘certified membership’ in the Church of the Nazarene when you have this resistance to what the Church of the Nazarene affirms, the promotion of women in ministry?

In the Baptist denominations in the States of Victoria and New South Wales, Australia, women are ordained to ministry – pastoral ministry. See:

However, as for my home state of Queensland, it has reached a different conclusion. As of 2009: ‘Queensland Baptists has decided that women will not be accepted as candidates for ordination'(Registration and Ordination Guidelines, Adopted by the Board of Queensland Baptists, 25 June 2009, section 5.4, Assembly 22.05.2009).

Carolyn Osiek’s research has uncovered support for silence and non-silence of women in ministry in the early church fathers. See: ‘The Ministry and Ordination of Women According to the Early Church Fathers‘.

Elizabeth Hooton (1628-1671) was the first Quaker woman preacher and she lived in the 17th century. That’s a long time before the last 50 years.

William and Catherine Booth (evangelists and pastors) founded the Salvation Army in the UK. Catherine was a co-founder, a prominent woman in ministry who was gifted by God. Today there are Salvation Army female officers around the world who are functioning – yes, functioning – as women pastors.

clip_image001Photo of Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army (image courtesy Wikipedia)

See ‘The Women in Leadership‘ emphasis in the Salvation Army in Australia.

The fact is that Catherine Booth is a female example, NOT of somebody who called herself a pastor. She was one with an evangelistic-pastoral gift as the co-founder of the Salvation Army. No matter how some want to brush aside God’s gift of women to public ministry, Catherine Booth is an example of how defining away the supposed ministry doesn’t work. If there was anyone who was a demonstration of a female Christian woman in active ministry among men and women, it was Catherine Booth. History demonstrates it. It is too late to try to convince me that ‘a woman can call herself a pastor but that doesn’t make her one either. It is a deception and biblically impossible’.

Mission work around the world would be in a sad state if women missionaries were prevented from ministering publicly to women AND men. I’ve seen situations where conservative Western congregations have a very strict view of women missionaries not allowed to minister publicly in a mixed congregation when they return home on furlough, but when these same women return to the mission fields, it is straight back into mixed ministry. This is hypocritical. If it is good enough for mixed ministry in Africa, it surely is good enough for mixed ministry in Australia.

The issue does get down to biblical interpretation and I’m of the view that for too long women have been silenced in ministry because of a traditional, but distorted, understanding of certain Scriptures.

Here is another example that is trotted out in this controversy: It is claimed in some churches that women must be absolutely silent in public ministry to a mixed congregation because 1 Cor 14:33b-34 states, ‘As in all the churches of the saints, 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’ (ESV).

How is it possible to have women to ‘keep silent in the churches’ when the very same book of 1 Corinthians 11:4 speaks of ‘every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head’ (ESV). The context is wives (who are women) prophesying in the church publicly. Women can’t prophesy with their mouths shut. We either have a contradiction (which I don’t think it is) between 1 Cor 14:33b-34 and 1 Cor 11:4 or we have the ‘silence’ of women in 1 Corinthians 14 to be addressing an issue specific to the Corinthian church.

However, I emphasise that even though 1 Corinthians is addressing issues in the Corinthian Church, it has broad application – yes, application – if those kinds of issues are happening in any churches from the first to the twenty-first century. However, the issues of 1 Cor 14:33-34 are not designed to close down all women in ministry for all time in any church anywhere in the world.

John MacArthur Jr’s view

John F. MacArthur Jr..JPGJohn F MacArthur Jr (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

You may be interested in John MacArthur’s traditional view against women in ministry from 1 Timothy 2. See: God’s High Calling for Women, Part 4.

MacArthur, in expounding on 1 Tim 2:11-12, stated in this article:

Silence, you’ll remember, refers to not teaching.  It refers to not teaching.  Subjection refers to not ruling.  That is, women in the church are not to be the teachers when the church assembles itself in its constituted worship, women are not to be the teaching persons, and they are not to be the ruling ones.  The context makes it very clear that that’s what he has in mind because verse 12 says, “I permit not a woman to teach,” and therein does he define the kind of silence he’s talking about, nor to usurp authority, and therein does he define the kind of subjection he is talking about.  In the assembly of the church women are not to teach and preach, and they are not to rule.  Now, there’s no doubt that that’s exactly what he is saying.  Obviously in Ephesus some were seeking to do both of those things and that’s why he has to deal with this….

It does not mean that women cannot teach the Word of God to children or other women.  It does not mean they cannot speak out for God the gospel of Jesus Christ on every occasion that they are given.  It does not mean that cannot contribute in a Sunday-school class, or in a Bible study, or in a home fellowship meeting.  What it is saying is that in the duly constituted worship and service of the church, there is to be clear line of distinction between the role of men and women that God wants established as His pattern, and that is that men do the leading, and the teaching, and the praying, and the preaching, and women learn in silence with all subjection.

The major problem I have with MacArthur’s exposition on women in ministry is circular reasoning (begging the question fallacy). Before he begins his exposition on 1 Timothy, we know what his view as a conservative expositor is on women in ministry (no women in public ministry among a mixed audience) and that is where he concludes (no women in public ministry among a mixed audience). We can’t have a logical discussion when this kind of logical fallacy is used.

A better understanding by N T Wright

NTWright071220.jpg (N T Wright, photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Why don’t you take a read of this article by N T Wright (2004) for an alternate view: ‘Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis’. In this challenging and thought provoking article, Wright wrote of 1 Timothy 2:12,

The key to the present passage, then, is to recognise that it is commanding that women, too, should be allowed to study and learn, and should not be restrained from doing so (verse 11). They are to be ‘in full submission’; this is often taken to mean ‘to the men’, or ‘to their husbands’, but it is equally likely that it refers to their attitude, as learners, of submission to God or to the gospel – which of course would be true for men as well. Then the crucial verse 12 need not be read as ‘I do not allow a woman to teach or hold authority over a man’ – the translation which has caused so much difficulty in recent years. It can equally mean (and in context this makes much more sense): ‘I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.’ Why might Paul need to say this?

There are some signs in the letter that it was originally sent to Timothy while he was in Ephesus. And one of the main things we know about religion in Ephesus is that the main religion – the biggest Temple, the most famous shrine – was a female-only cult. The Temple of Artemis (that’s her Greek name; the Romans called her Diana) was a massive structure which dominated the area; and, as befitted worshippers of a female deity, the priests were all women. They ruled the show and kept the men in their place.

Now if you were writing a letter to someone in a small, new religious movement with a base in Ephesus, and wanted to say that because of the gospel of Jesus the old ways of organising male and female roles had to be rethought from top to bottom, with one feature of that being that the women were to be encouraged to study and learn and take a leadership role, you might well want to avoid giving the wrong impression. Was the apostle saying, people might wonder, that women should be trained up so that Christianity would gradually become a cult like that of Artemis, where women did the leading and kept the men in line? That, it seems to me, is what verse 12 is denying. The word I’ve translated ‘try to dictate to them’ is unusual, but seems to have the overtones of ‘being bossy’ or ‘seizing control’. Paul is saying, like Jesus in Luke 10, that women must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way, not in order that they may muscle in and take over the leadership as in the Artemis-cult, but so that men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching and leadership God is giving them.

Is my view egalitarianism in disguise?

A fellow made this accusation against me: ‘You probably don’t really care about how the vast majority of interpreters for all time have viewed the subject. You are more concerned about modern notions of egalitarianism than the view that is in simple terms presented in the Bible’.[13]

My response was:[14] I am not the slightest bit interested in ‘modern notions of egalitarianism’ – a secular approach to egalitarianism. I’m interested in the equality of men and women before God.

I support a high view of Scripture and I try to engage in careful exegesis of the text, including culture and context. When I pursue this approach, I come out with a version of women in ministry that is different from the one that is promoted by traditionalists.

I’m very concerned that God’s gifts should be allowed to function and not be closed down by faulty hermeneutics. I find it interesting that you claim that I’m interested in modern notions of egalitarianism. I wonder what the interpreters of the traditional way would have thought about the history of interpretation when Martin Luther promoted justification by faith and nailed his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg. I wonder what had been taught in the centuries preceding Luther about justification by faith.

This person’s accusation of egalitarianism did not come through dialogue with me on whether I supported egalitarianism. It came by his imposition by assertion about what he thought my views were. He, in his judgmental view, arrived at a totally wrong understanding of my view.

I’m not going to allow the traditional teaching against women in ministry in the centuries prior to my lifetime to stop me from carefully examining the biblical text to find what it states in the inerrant text (in the autographa). I’m excited about what I’m finding from the biblical text that contradicts the traditional view. It gives me insights into how Martin Luther might have felt after he discovered in Scripture justification by faith after centuries of a different interpretation.


I’m of the view, from a careful exegetical and contextual examination of 1 Tim 2:11-15, that it has been used as a defining section of the NT to close down all women in public ministry among men. Instead, it was addressed to a specific circumstance in the Ephesian Church. It was never meant to apply to all women in ministry since the time of Christ’s passion-resurrection, but to all women who were promoting false doctrine. By application, the same should apply to men who promote false teaching. They should be silenced in the church by not being permitted to teach.

In addition, N T Wright has summarised the other influence at Ephesus so well. There was a dominant religion in Ephesus with the biggest Temple associated with a female-only cult. The Temple of Artemis (called Diana by the Romans) dominated the area. The worshippers of a female deity were assisted by priests who were all women. The women domineered the men. It would be strange for Paul to write to Timothy about an issue in the Ephesian Church and not raise the matter of Diana in the Ephesian culture and the problem with the female deity and female priests. Wright has nailed it: ‘I believe we have seriously misread the relevant passages in the New Testament, no doubt not least through a long process of assumption, tradition, and all kinds of post-biblical and sub-biblical attitudes that have crept in to Christianity’ (Wright 2004).

I’m not going to allow the traditional teaching against women in ministry in the centuries prior to my lifetime stop me from carefully examining the biblical text to find what it states in the inerrant text (in the autographa). I’m excited about what I’m finding from the biblical text that contradicts the traditional view. It gives me insights into how Martin Luther might have felt after he discovered in Scripture justification by faith after centuries of a different interpretation.

This is a range of my articles on women in ministry (there may be a repeat of information in some of them):

3d-red-star-small Anti-women in ministry juices flowing

3d-red-star-small Women in ministry in church history

3d-red-star-small Women in ministry: an overview of some biblical passages

3d-red-star-small Women in ministry in I Corinthians: A brief inquiry

3d-red-star-small Women wrongly closed down in ministry

3d-red-star-small Amazing contemporary opposition to women in public ministry

3d-red-star-small The heresy of women preachers?

3d-red-star-small Women bishops – how to get the Christians up in arms!

3d-red-star-small Are women supposed to be permanently silent in the church gathering?

3d-red-star-small Must women never teach men in the church?

Works consulted

Fee, G D 1988. W W Gasque (NT ed).1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (New International Biblical Commentary). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Mercer, B 2013. Women in Ministry and the Church of the Nazarene, The Voice (online), March 25. Christian Resource Institute. Available at: Women in Ministry and the Church of the Nazarene (Accessed 23 December 2014).

Wright, N T 2004. Women’s service in the church: The biblical basis, a conference paper for the Symposium, ‘Men, Women and the Church’ (online). St John’s College, Durham, September 4. Available at: Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis by N.T. Wright (Accessed 16 December 2014).


[1] Christian and Christian are two examples.

[2] I participated in these 2 threads as OzSpen in Christian

[3] abacabb3#109, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Can women hold office in the church even pastors?’ Available at: (Accessed 7 January 2015).

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#113.

[5] Some of this material is in ibid., OzSpen#119.

[6] Here James is referring to the article, ‘Women pastors / preachers? Can a woman be a pastor or preacher?’ for which he provided the link in ibid., James is Back#154.

[7] Ibid., James is Back#167.

[8] This is my response at ibid., OzSpen#173.

[9] This post was by twin54 but at the time of preparing this article, I was unable to locate his original citation. It may have been deleted by the moderators because of its inflammatory nature. Here I’m quoting what he stated as OzSpen#284, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Women’s pastors’. Available at: (Accessed 8 January 2014).

[10] Ibid., abacabb3#86.

[11] Ibid., abacabb3#100.

[12] Ibid., abacabb3#155.

[13] Ibid., abacabb3#163.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#164.


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 30 May 2018.

Is the spiritual gift of tongues ‘gibberish’?

By Spencer D Gear

Stir up the Gift

(image courtesy ChristArt)

It is not unusual on public Christian forums on the Internet to be exposed to all kinds of strange or different teaching. I came across this one:

Speaking gibberish has no relation to the Holy Spirit. It is uttered by a person’s spirit. The Holy Spirit will not indulge in such cheap gimmicks and degrading behavior to make known the will of God when He can directly speak to people as evidenced in the entire book of Acts without a middle man designated as an interpreter![1]

Yet one of God’s special ministry gifts to the body of Christ, A W Tozer, wrote, after citing Rom. 12:5-6 and 1 Cor. 12:4-7, that

The Bible teaches us that the genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit are a necessity in the spiritual life and ministries of every Christian congregation serious about glorifying Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord…. It seems to me that Paul was trying to make it as plain as he could in his epistles that any segment of the Body of Christ, anywhere in the world, should recapitulate – gather up and sum up within itself – all of the offices and gifts and workings of the entire church of Christ (Tozer 1978:21, 22; emphasis added).

How is it that a person in the pews is so opposed to the gift of tongues to call it ‘gibberish’, yet one of God’s special gifts to the body of Christ, A W Tozer, should claim that the Bible’s teaching that genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit are needed in every congregation? And these gifts include ALL of the offices, gifts and workings of the entire church. Tozer was adamant: ‘A careful study of the Apostle’s teachings concerning Jesus Christ and His church should persuade us that any local assembly ought to demonstrate all of the functions of the whole body’ (1978:22). Tozer is inferring that if God gives the gift of tongues to any local assembly of Christian believers, that gift should be allowed to function. Of course, the gift of tongues requires the gift of interpretation to make tongues intelligible for the congregation.

Sneering language against God’s gifts

How does one reply to such pejorative language of the Holy Spirit’s gift of speaking in tongues being described as ‘gibberish’, ‘cheap gimmicks and degrading behavior’? My response was:[2]

So what are we told not to forbid in this verse: ‘Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues (1 Cor 14:39 NIV)? Does this verse apply to the 21st century church as much as it did to the Corinthians?

What I often find in these discussions is that a person avoids some of the specific content of what is said. When this happens, it is called a red herring logical fallacy. The Nizkor Project explains that ‘a Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to “win” an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic’.

That is what happened to me in this circumstance. The response I received was:

Paul was referring to people who had already practicing this emotional part of personal prayer. I have nothing to say about personal prayers done in private in whatever language they want. But as one grows in the knowledge of the Lord, one would prefer greater gifts as Paul advised. That happened actually. Speaking gibberish diappeared (sic) after sometime (sic).
Now deluded Christians backsliding to bring back the worst conditions of Corinthian church![3]

This person continues with derogatory language for the gift of tongues, ‘emotional part of personal prayer’, ‘gibberish’, and ‘deluded Christians backsliding’ in the Corinthian church. Also the gift of tongues is not included in the ‘greater gifts’.

Rejection of mocking language for the gift of tongues

How should one reply to such negative views and mocking language against the gift of tongues? I wrote that[4] this person referred to tongues as ‘this emotional part of personal prayer’ and ‘speaking gibberish’ and that it is associated with ‘the worst conditions of Corinthian church’. To refer to God’s gift as ‘gibberish’ is something that I find pejorative towards God the Holy Spirit and the gifts that he gives. I note that he provided no biblical exposition for his position.

God’s language for the gift of tongues

What do the Scriptures state about the nature of the gift of tongues (glossolalia)?
The gift of tongues is a gift that God continues to give by his Spirit as a spiritual gift. We know this from 1 Corinthians 14:1-5,

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 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. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 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 (ESV, emphasis added).

We are to earnestly desire all spiritual gifts, especially prophecy, but the genuine gift of tongues and interpretation continues. There is no place in the church gathering for any who speaks in tongues without interpretation. The exhortation from 1 Cor 14:13 is, ‘One who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret’. Why? It is in order that the gift is intelligible to the remainder of the congregation that does not understand the tongue.

However, these verses teach that there is a genuine gift of tongues where one ‘speaks not to men but to God … for he utters mysteries in the Spirit’ (14:2). Please note that the biblical language does not speak of glossolalia as ‘gibberish’ but as speaking ‘to God’ and people uttering ‘mysteries in the Spirit’. I find it offensive that this person calls a ministry of the Spirit ‘gibberish’.

While the apostle Paul gives a preference for prophecy as a gift in the church as it ‘builds up the church’, he still gives this important teaching about tongues:

clip_image002_thumb‘I want you all to speak in tongues’ (1 Cor 14:5).

So the gift of tongues was available to all NT believers. Notice the contrast:

clip_image0021_thumb‘The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up’ (1 Cor 14:5).

So the gift of prophecy approximately equals tongues with interpretation for the building up of the church.

Contemporary evangelical scholars and the gift of tongues

While a person who posts on an evangelical Christian forum regards the gift of tongues as ‘gibberish’ and a ‘cheap gimmick’, how do some evangelical scholars describe this gift?

These three evangelical, New Testament scholars from very different traditions provide their definitions of the gift of tongues.

cubed-redmatte Jack W MacGorman, distinguished professor emeritus of New Testament, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, does not consider the gift of tongues to be a demonstration of ‘gibberish’. He wrote of the glossolalia in 1 Corinthians as, ‘Holy Spirit inspired utterance that is unintelligible apart from interpretation, itself an attendant gift. It is a form of ecstatic utterance, a valid charismatic endowment’ (MacGorman 1994:390-391). MacGorman considers that this definition is supported by these verses from 1 Corinthians 14:

  1. 1 Corinthians 14:2, “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” (ESV). McGorman’s argument was that nobody understands the ‘tongues’; he speaks to God and he speaks mystery.
  2. 1 Corinthians 14:13-14, “Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful” (ESV). The one speaking with the gift of tongues is not understood but his spirit is praying and therefore the person needs to be interpret.
  3. 1 Corinthians 14:18, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you” (ESV).
  4. 1 Corinthians 14:26, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (NIV).

MacGorman’s view is that if these verses refer to tongues as real languages, then these verses become sheer nonsense.

cubed-redmatte D A Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity International University, is not of the view that it is nonsense, but Carson considers that the tongue is a real language that is not known to the tongues-speaker. Carson’s perspective is that

the evidence favors the view that Paul thought the gift of tongues was a gift of real languages, that is, languages that were cognitive, whether of men or of angels…. What bearing does the discipline of linguistics have on the assessment of modern tongues? To my knowledge there is universal agreement among linguists who have taped and analysed thousands of examples of modern tongues-speaking that the contemporary phenomenon is not any human language. The patterns and structures that all known human language requires are simply not there. Occasionally a recognizable word slips out; but that is statistically likely, given the sheer quantity of verbalization (Carson 1995:83).

cubed-redmatte Gordon D Fee, professor emeritus, Regent College, Vancouver BC, Canada, a card-carrying Assemblies of God minister, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians states of the nature of the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 12:10:

The following seem certain (a) It is Spirit-inspired utterance; that is made explicit in vv. 7 and 11 and in 14:2; (b) The regulations for its use in 14:27-28 make it clear that the speaker is not in “ecstasy” or “out of control.” Quite the opposite; the speakers must speak in turn, and they must remain silent if there is no one to interpret. (c) It is speech essentially unintelligible both to the speaker (14:14) and to other hearers (14:16). (d) It is speech directed basically toward God (14:2, 14-15, 28); one may assume, therefore, that what is “interpreted” is not speech directed toward others, but the “mysteries” spoken to God.

What is less certain is whether Paul also understood the phenomenon to be an actual language. In favour of such a view are (a) the term itself, (b) the need for “interpretation,” and (c) the evidence from Acts 2:5-11. In the final analysis, however, this question seems irrelevant. Paul’s whole argument is predicated on its unintelligibility to both speaker and hearer; he certainly does not envisage someone’s being present who would be able to understand it because it was also an earthly language. Moreover, his use of earthly languages as an analogy in 14:10-12 implies that it is not a known earthly language, since a thing is not usually identical with that to which it is analogous. Most likely, therefore, the key to Paul’s – and their – understanding lies in the term “the language of angels” in 13:1 (q.v.) [Fee 1987:598].

Yet, a lay person on a Christian forum wants to call the gift of tongues, ‘gibberish’ and the Holy Spirit does not engage in ‘cheap gimmicks’. Such is not consistent with an exegesis of the passage as MacGorman, Carson and Fee have demonstrated.

There have been excesses

My experience is that there is such poor teaching on the correct approach to the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit – especially tongues and interpretation. I have seen too much existential chaos allowed by church leaders at the local church level that is too much like Toronto ‘blessing’ and Brownsville Pensacola ‘revival’ excesses that I’ve seen online and on DVDs. I can understand, but not endorse, this Christian forum person’s use of the language of ‘gibberish’ to describe tongues. I also have witnessed much disorder with the gift of tongues in a church gathering when there is no gift of interpretation taking place.

However, I have been in church gatherings when the gifts of the Spirit of tongues and interpretation have been manifested and I have been built up in my faith.

Paul was correcting excesses at Corinth with language such as the following in 1 Corinthians:

  • ‘If with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said?’ (14:9);
  • ‘Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church’ (14:12);
  • ‘One who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret’ (14:13);
  • ‘I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue’ (14:18-19);
  • ‘Tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers’ (14:22);
  • ‘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’ (14:27-28).

God’s gifts functioning when the church gathers

However when the church gathers, this should be how the gifts of the Spirit are manifested by brothers and sisters in Christ: ‘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’ (1 Cor 14:26). Imagine if that were allowed in many churches today! The dominance of a few people in worship could be replaced by ‘each one’ being allowed to function in ministry. There is this biblical proviso, ‘All things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor 14:40).

So, the gift of tongues with the gift of interpretation should continue in the church gathering. These are gifts from the Holy Spirit of God and are meant for the ‘building up’ of the church. We have as much need for this building up in the 21st century as the 1st century.

The excesses should not cause us to reject the correct biblical teaching of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit that include tongues and interpretation. Faulty use of the gifts should not negate the gifts. It should mean correction of improper use of the gifts of the Spirit and promotion of the need for the Holy Spirit to be allowed to function with supernatural gifts when the church gathers.

It is important for us to remember that ‘God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose’ (1 Cor 12:18). Since he arranges the gifts of tongues and interpretation in the body, who are we to label one of them as ‘gibberish’? God did not arrange for ‘gibberish’ in the body of Christ. He arranged for His gifts by His Spirit and I dare not diminish them to a humanistic standard. However, there is always the need when the church gathers for believers to ‘weigh what is said’ (14:29) – weigh prophecy in this context.

What is the biblical exhortation about the gift of tongues? ‘Earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order’ (14:38-39).

The person who wrote negatively about the gift of tongues on this forum, also wrote:

I am going by the dictionary definition for speaking unknown tongues as gibberish just as Paul claimed himself as an apostle based on a similar understanding. There are only twelve apostles according to spiritual understanding, and in that Judas was replaced by Matthias.[5]

Which kind of dictionary was he using? Is it an English dictionary or a Greek dictionary (lexicon)? [6]

So what was he meaning when he said that ‘there are only twelve apostles according to spiritual understanding’? He did not explain how that relates to the gift of glossolalia (speaking in tongues).

I wrote: ‘The gift of tongues is a gift that God continues to give by his Spirit as a spiritual gift. I know that from 1 Corinthians 14:1-5, we are to earnestly desire all spiritual gifts, especially prophecy’. His response was:

Sorry, you are wrong here! Paul did not say to desire all spiritual gifts
1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.

I replied that he was correct. It was an error of mine to write, ‘to desire all spiritual gifts’. This we do know that Paul taught the Corinthians, ‘Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy’ (1 Cor 14:5). So Paul was urging all of the Corinthian believers to be open to speaking in tongues, but even more to prophesy. He wrote:

No way God wants an agent’s agent to speak on behalf of the Holy Spirit!
1 & 2 Corinthians were early letters of Paul. He was still growing in the knowledge of the Lord that he had missed out since he was not a part of the ministry of Jesus on earth.

So he was inferring that the theopneustos (God-breathed)[7] Scripture of 1 & 2 Corinthians is a lower level of knowledge since he said that Paul ‘was still growing in the knowledge of the Lord’. Was Paul writing the truth about spiritual gifts or not? Was Paul writing the truth in the Corinthian correspondence or was he writing a lower knowledge since he was still growing in the Lord’s knowledge (his words)? He wrote:

One need (sic) to read 2 Corinthians to understand the 1 Corinthians. 2 Corinithians (sic) is nothing but a boastful and confessing letter of him that puts him in the right perspective.

I haven’t read anything in 1 or 2 Corinthians to say that I have to read 2 Corinthians to help me to understand 1 Corinthians. The second letter is addressing mostly different matters to the first letter. This person wrote:

This piece-wise interpretation is misleading. Let us see the entire verse:
5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
So do you accept that Paul is calling one gift is superior to another! That cannot happen when it comes to gifts of God! (emphasis in original)

The greater gifts are the intelligible ones. We know that from 1 Corinthians 14:9-12:

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 (ESV, emphasis added).

The emphasis here is on gifts that are intelligible, understandable. The gift of tongues, as long as there is the gift of interpretation, is intelligible.

He asked an excellent question: ‘What do you mean by ‘approximately’? Do you have a yardstick to compare?’

This is what I wrote to which he was responding: ‘So the gift of prophecy approximately equals tongues with interpretation for the building up of the church’. I was referring to 1 Cor 14:5, ‘The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up’. Here, the use of the word, ‘unless’, shows that the gift of prophecy is like the gift of tongues PLUS interpretation. That’s what I mean by ‘approximately’.

He wrote: ‘One need (sic) to imitate Jesus Christ, not Paul, Apollos et al with their claims based on their personal traits!’

The biblical perspective is that ‘All Scripture is theopneustos [breathed out by God] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV, emphasis added).

Instruction for my Christian living to become competent and equipped for my Christian life and ministry, is from ALL Scripture and not just from Jesus Christ. That’s what the Bible teaches.

This person wrote:

No theory or behavior should be based on one verse, one author, one book, etc. Show me where else in the Bible you find the mention of this business of speaking unknown language supported by interpretation?

Since all Scripture is God-breathed, the book of 1 Corinthians comes with the authority of God. I dare not reject the gifts as articulated in 1 Corinthians when God has given them authoritatively for the edification of the church. Acts 2:1-11 does speak of ‘tongues’ but in a different context and understanding to the exposition in 1 Cor 12-14.

This person wrote that ‘from this it is obvious that what was happening and what is happening now in many churches is uncontrolled emotions elevated to spurioius (sic) spiritual status!’

I agree that there is excess happening in some churches regarding the gifts of the Spirit. The truth is that excesses and spurious teachings should be corrected, but excesses do not negate the truth of the spiritual gifts that are available for the 21st century.

This was the response from that person to what I wrote above:[8]

‘Since we are communicating in the known English language, any emotional blurting out by a person of an unknown language – when God has given one of the greatest gifts of speaking an intelligible language – can be branded as gibberish!’

My response was as follows:[9]

I find it offensive that he would call the Holy Spirit’s gift of tongues to be ’emotional blurting out’ and ‘gibberish’.

Why didn’t he answer what I wrote about going to the Greek language to obtain the meaning of the Greek lalein (to speak) in glwssia (tongues)? Even though we speak the English language, we need to go to the original NT language of koine Greek to obtain the meaning of glossolalia. Why did he ignore this input that I provided? Is it because he does not read and understand NT Greek?

Then this man wrote:

As I indicated earlier, the answer to this is found in 2 Corinthians when Paul admits the use of his craftiness to bring order there. Let us consider a situation wherein one person speaks an unknown tongue, and there is no interpreter. His sayings go as a waste. That can never happen if the Holy Spirit is prompting that.[10]

Paul’s craftiness has nothing whatsoever to do in context with an understanding of the gifts of tongues and interpretation in 1 Cor 12-14.As for there being nobody with the gift of interpretation in the church gathering, the person who spoke in tongues should be told by the elders that he/she is out of order and should not have spoken that gift.

First Corinthians 14:13 provides the answer to the question he raised: ‘Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret’ (ESV). I have seen this happen on many occasions where the person God gifts with the manifestation of tongues is also given the gift of interpretation. It is very rare that I have ever heard someone manifest the gift of tongues without the gift of interpretation. Does he have any experience in attending a Pentecostal/charismatic church or group where the gifts of tongues and interpretation have been happening? It seems that he is speaking from a lack of knowledge of the Bible (1 Cor 14:3) in this area, and non-exposure to these supernatural gifts of the Spirit in the local church.

How does one respond to his statement, ‘At the same time this unknown tongue is an act of person’s spirit. The Holy Spirit has nothing to do with that’?[11]

I do wish that he would read carefully what I Cor 12-14 states. Yes, the gift of tongues comes through the human spirit as 1 Cor 14:14 states, ‘For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful’. However, who or what is the origin of his gift? ‘For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God, for no one understand him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit‘ (1 Cor 14:3, emphasis added).

In context, 1 Cor 12:1 reads, ‘concerning spiritual gifts’, that person is ‘speaking in the Spirit of God … in the Holy Spirit’ (12:3). Then we are assured in 12:4, ‘There are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit‘ (12:4). As for the ‘varieties of gifts’ (12:4), ‘it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (12:12:6-7).


Therefore, all of these spiritual gifts that are manifest in the ekklesia, are through the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit, the same God. But he wanted to label one of these gifts as ’emotional blurting out’ and ‘gibberish’. I urged him not to impose his pejorative meaning on these supernatural gifts from God’s Spirit. Of course, there can be abuse and misuse, but I am exposed to such in preaching/teaching as well. Abuse and misuse are not the sole responsibility of the spiritual gifts. They can happen elsewhere in the church as well.

And have a guess what? Two of those manifestations of the Holy Spirit of God are ‘various kinds of tongues’ and ‘interpretation of tongues’ (1 Cor 12:10). That is why I find his labelling of the Holy Spirit’s gift of tongues as ’emotional blurting out’ and ‘gibberish’ to be contrary to what the Scriptures state and to be offensive to Christian exegesis of the text. Why is he using such derogatory language to label God’s gifts of tongues and interpretation?

This person is anti the gifts of the Spirit and has resorted to using language that is contrary to what the Scriptures state in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Therefore, this person erected a straw man logical fallacy. When one does that, one is building a non-existent case for a view that comes from somewhere else – perhaps from a person’s anti-charismatic presuppositions. It looks very much like imposing a worldview on the text. Thus, this becomes eisegesis – the meaning is not determined by what the text says but by what the interpreter believes and imposes on the text.

I urged this person not to use such offensive language for two of God’s Spirit’s gifts to the congregation that are designed ‘so that the church may be built up’ (1 Cor 14:5).

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1995.[12] Showing the Spirit: A theological exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press.

Fee, G D 1087. The new international commentary on the New Testament: The first epistle to the Corinthians, F F Bruce (gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

MacGorman, JW 1974. The gifts of the Spirit: An exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Nashville: Broadman Press.

Tozer, A W 1978. Tragedy in the church: The missing gifts. Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications.


 [1] Justtruly #26, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Gift of Tongues – Book Research’, available at: (Accessed 24 July 2013).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #31.

[3] Ibid., justtruly #32.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen #33.

[5] Ibid., justtruly #34.

[6] My response is at ibid., OzSpen #35.

[7] Based on 2 Timothy 3:16 which states: ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God [theopneustos] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ (ESV).

[8] Ibid., justtruly #49.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen #50.

[10] Ibid., justtruly #49.

[11] Ibid.

[12] This book was first published by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA in 1987.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 May 2016.

An explanation of the ESV translation of 2 Corinthians 12:16

ESV Global Study Bible

(image courtesy Crossway Bibles)

By Spencer D Gear

Verses in the OT and NT cannot be translated in isolation from the context if we are to gain the correct meaning of a verse. After all, verse numbering came as later additions to the Scriptures. They were not there in the originals.

How is it possible to justify these words in the ESV translation of this verse, ‘I was crafty, you say’, when ‘you say’ does not appear in the original Greek?

I had some back and forth with a person on Christian Forums who did not like the ESV translation of 2 Cor. 12:16.

This person stated, ‘I do not accept Paul nor his writings’.[1] Part of my response to him was, ‘How come you are able to excise Paul’s writings from the NT? What gives you that authority? How do you know about justification by faith without Paul’s teaching in his epistles?’[2] Part of his response was, ‘I don’t believe that we are justified by faith alone. Brother, have you considered that the rest of Scripture points to justification by trust, repentance, and obedience, and not simply faith alone?’[3]

My response was:

We do not have the responsibility to test what is in the Scriptures. By the way, Deut 13:1-5 applied to the theocratic nation of Israel as v. 5 makes clear: ‘…. your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery’ (ESV).

And what was the penalty for a false prophet for Israel? Deut. 13:5 says that prophet “shall be put to death”. Are you advocating that false prophets in this NT era should be put to death?

By the way, what makes Paul a false prophet so that you cut out his writings from the NT?

With respect, you have stated that we are justified by trust, repentance and obedience. I note that you gave me not one reference so that I could check you out. By the way, trust is associated with faith.[4]

As the conversation progressed, he stated:

I cannot follow a man who admitted that he engaged in deception in his ministry:
2 Cor 12:16 Greek text – But be it so, I did not myself burden you; but, being crafty, I caught you with dolos/deception/guile. (cf 1Cor 9:19-23)[5]

Part of my response was:

Why do you twist what 2 Cor 12:16 in context states:

14 Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not bound to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. 17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps? (2 Cor. 12:14-16 ESV)

Literally, it says, ‘being crafty with guile you’. The Corinthians were saying Paul was crafty and with guile. That was not Paul speaking.[6]

His challenge to this understanding was:

Sorry, but actually the ESV is twisting that verse here. There is absolutely no “you say” found in the Greek. The ESV translators added that, perhaps to save Paul.[7]

Is this person correct? Is the ESV twisting the meaning of 2 Corinthians 12:16? The following is an attempted explanation

Three English translations & the Greek version of 2 Cor. 12:16

blue-satin-arrow-small The English Standard Version, using formal equivalence translation methodology, reads, ‘But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit’ (2 Cor. 12:16 ESV).

blue-satin-arrow-small The New Living Translation, using dynamic equivalence as a translation methodology, reads, ‘Some of you admit I was not a burden to you. But others still think I was sneaky and took advantage of you by trickery’ (2 Cor. 12:16 NLT).

blue-satin-arrow-small The New International Version, using dynamic equivalence, reads: ‘Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery!’ (2 Cor. 12:16 NIV).

blue-satin-arrow-smallHow is it possible to justify any of these translations from the Greek of 2 Cor. 12:16 (Westcott & Hort Greek text)?

To obtain an understanding of how the

  • ESV translates as, ‘I was crafty, you say’;
  • NLT translates as, ‘But others still think I was sneaky’;
  • NIV translation, ‘Yet, crafty fellow that I am’,

we turn to Simon Kistemaker’s explanation of the context.

Simon J. Kistemaker’s commentary on 2 Cor. 12:16[8]

2 Corinthians

Courtesy Best Commentaries

e.  Scurrilous Slander (12:16-18)

‘We surmise that Paul has received an oral report from a person who has recently come from Corinth and has informed the apostle about comments made by his adversaries in the church. Paul has now come to the point of directing a few remarks to the people who are slandering him in his absence.

16. Very well! [You say] that I have not been a burden to you. But [you say] I, as a crafty fellow, took you in by deceit.

‘Gentleness has now changed to candor. The apostle must address slander that can be counteracted only by confrontation. He alludes to the words spoken by his opponents and which are believed by some members of the church. He realizes that slander can change the relationship between him and the Corinthian church. Therefore, he must deal forthrightly with this evil and eradicate it.

‘Paul knows that an unwholesome sentiment exists in the church. He himself has received no money at all from the Corinthians, and they admit that he has not been a financial burden to them. And that is to his credit. Thus he writes the first words, “Very well!”

‘The next comment, introduced by the adversative but, exposes the sting of slander. The saying that Paul cannot be trusted has been circulating openly in Corinth. The background is that Paul, who refused to accept money for his services, has sent Titus to them with a request for a collection. The slanderers spread the rumor that under the guise of helping the poverty-stricken saints in Jerusalem, Paul and Titus are working to fill their own pockets. These doubters suspect that the money will not go to the poor but will remain with the apostle.

‘Paul uses the Greek term panourgos, which I have translated “crafty fellow.” It conveys the idea of a person who is “ready to do anything” to achieve his purpose.[9] This odious expression originates not with Paul but with his opponents. They use a word that is a cognate of the one the apostle writes to describe the “craftiness” of the serpent deceiving Eve (11:3). Further, they accuse Paul of deceitfully taking in Corinthians who have put their trust in him.

17. Did I take advantage of you through any of the men I sent to you?…’


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Scriptures, Bibliology & Hermeneutics, ‘Anyone else here reads from the American Standard Version?’, netzarim (non-Pauline Messianic) #7, available at: (Accessed 7 October 2012).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #8.

[3] Ibid., netzarim #9.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen #10.

[5] Ibid., netzarim #36.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen #37.

[7] Ibid., netzarim #38.

[8] Simon J Kistemaker 1997. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, pp. 430-431.

[9] The footnote at this point was Bauer, p. 608 (Kistemaker 1997:431, n. 64). This is a reference to the Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich Greek lexicon. In my edition of BAG, it is on p. 613 [William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House)]. Arndt & Gingrich’s actual words for the translation of panourgos were ‘in our lit. never without an unfavorable connotation clever, crafty, sly lit. “ready to do anything” (1957:613).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 May 2016.