“Praying or Prophesying” and “The Covering Question” (3)

By David McClister

Keeping in mind the facts presented in the two previous articles of this study, we must now undertake to identify the “prophesying” of 1 Corinthians 11:4f. Before this can be done correctly, however, a word must be said concerning the difference between a prophet and a teacher. All prophets taught the people of God, for such was the purpose of their prophesying. God wanted to instruct His people, so He spoke to them through His prophets, and this was accomplished through divine inspiration. God spoke to the prophet, the prophet then spoke to the people. It cannot be said, however, that all teachers were (or are) prophets. While it is true that teachers proclaim God’s will as did the prophets, there is one important element missing in the teacher that was present in the prophet, viz divine inspiration. The teacher only “pounds upon and presents what has already been revealed. Teaching was a part (not the whole) or prophecy, and prophecy is not ordinary teaching. Hence, we find that the prophets are distinguished as a different class of servants in passages such as Acts 13:1; Ephesians 4:11; etc. and are not the same as teachers.

What, then, was the prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11:4f? It could be nothing else than true prophesying, which was done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The reasons for this statement are as follows:

(1) The Context. Paul, in the passage before us, assumes that his readers arc already familiar with the idea and practice of a woman prophesying. This is perfect harmony with what is said about prophetesses in the New Testament. Philip had four daughters that prophesied (Acts 21:9). It was even foretold in the Old Testament that women would have the ability to prophesy when God would pour His Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28). Peter said on the day of Pentecost that God had poured forth His Spirit and henceforth introduced the age when men and women would be able to prophesy (Acts 2).

(2) Prophesying by Women. Prophesying, by its very nature, was done publicly. The Bible picture of prophecy is one that shows the prophet speaking openly and publicly to God’s people. A necessary question then arises in the apparent conflict of this passage with 1 Corinthians 14:34. Why would Paul allow the women in 1 Corinthians 11 to prophesy (which obviously involves speaking) if they were veiled, and not allow them to speak at all in 1 Corinthians 14, whether veiled or unveiled? The answer is that the prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11 was that which was done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and was necessarily proclaimed publicly to the church. Since the women could divinely prophesy as could men, the veil was introduced as a symbol of the women’s (continued) subjection to the men. Paul forbids uninspired speech in 1 Corinthians 14, and allows inspired speech by women in 1 Corinthians 11 if the women wear the veil as they speak in the Spirit.

(3) The Combination of Prayer and Spiritual Gifts. In 1 Corinthians 14:14 Paul simply proposes the idea, “if I pray in a tongue.” Now Paul does not go into any detail to explain what he means in saying this. Obviously he did not need to explain it because the recipients of the epistle knew what he was talking about. The Corinthians apparently knew that it was entirely possible to pray to God while speaking in a tongue. Paul would not have said it and would not have made a point about prayer with his statement if it were impossible to combine the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues with prayer. Meyer concedes, “speaking in tongues may have occurred in connection with public prayer by women.”(1) If it was possible to pray in a tongue, then there was inspired prayer, exercised in connection with spiritual gifts.

(4) Prophecy was, in New Testament Times, A Miraculous Gift of the Holy Spirit. The evidence for this is found, as already noted, in 1 Corinthians 12:10. Before anyone contends that the covering must still be worn by women today, he should realize that such a contention implies that he believes the gift of prophecy, which was done only under inspiration of the Holy Spirit and was the occasion for Paul’s writing 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, has not ceased. Yet 1 Corinthians 13:8 states that the spiritual gifts would indeed come to an end, prophesying being one of those gifts. As stated earlier, the prophesying of 1 Corinthians 11 could not be ordinary teaching, for this would not agree with the true significance of biblical prophecy, i.e. its divinely inspired character.

(5) Paul, as an Inspired Apostle of God (1 Cor. 2:10), Would Not Have Condoned False Prophecy. The true prophets spoke by the direct inspiration of God; the false prophets spoke their own will (recall the chart from the previous article). From this fact comes the conclusion that the prophesying in I Corinthians I I must be true prophecy, for Paul would not, yea could not, have given them instructions for carrying out something contrary to God’s will, viz false prophecy.


The ideas of prophecy and inspiration are inseparable. Inspiration is one of the things that makes a prophet a prophet. This concept was understood even by the ancient pagan Greeks. The difference between a true prophet and a false prophet lies in their respective sources of inspiration: the true prophet is inspired of God, the false prophet is “inspired” (stimulated) of human emotion. Because of this connection between prophecy and inspiration, prophecy entails more than ordinary teaching – it is inspired teaching, and more. The prophecy in 1 Corinthians 11, therefore, can only be the true prophecy which was done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. If it were anything else Paul would neither have condoned it nor would he have contradicted his own writings in teaching about it. Since the prophecy in 1 Corinthians 11 is of the true, inspired-of-God type, it came to an eventual end, as evidenced by 1 Corinthians 13:8. If it has ended, then regulations concerning its exercise and use are no longer binding.

Again I wish to state that these articles have not been written in any sort of attempt to settle once and for all the controversy between some brethren that has arisen over the interpretation and proper application of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. The purpose of these articles is to present some facts, and some conclusions that may be drawn from them, which should be taken into consideration in the study of this passage of Scripture. It is my sincere hope that brethren will always consider the meanings, usages, and significances of the individual words of the New Testament before the attempt is made to discern its thought in any portion of Scripture.


1. H.A.W. Meyer, Commentary on the New Testament, Vol. VI, Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Epistles to the Corinthians, trans. D.D. Bannerman, rev. W.P. Dickson (Winona Lake: Alpha Publications, 1979), p. 248.

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 12, pp. 361, 372
June 21, 1984