29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:29-30 ESV)

30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.
39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. (1 Corinthians 14:30-32,39 ESV)

Is the gift of prophecy just for a select few (1 Cor 12:29) or for everybody (1 Cor 14:31,39)?

1 Answer 1


The apparent conundrum in the OP's question is readily resolved by observing the rules about what "all" means in each situation.

πᾶς, πᾶσα, πᾶν (= all, everyone)

In Greek, as in English, the adjective "all" is not absolute; that is "all" means every thing in a specified or implied class. In 1 Cor 14:31 we have:

For all are able to prophesy one by one; so that all may learn and be exhorted (my translation)

The second "all" is obviously all in the congregation meeting at the church at the time of the meeting. This much is easy.

The first "all" is more nuanced, but is ultimately defined by the surrounding verses as all the prophets in the congregation.

V29 - Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.

V32 - The spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.

There is no suggestion here that the first "all" means all the people in the congregation. Thus, we might interpretatively translate V31 as:

For all [prophets] are able to prophesy one by one; so that all [congregants] may learn and be exhorted (my translation)

Thus, there is no suggestion here that all congregants could or should be prophets. This is obviously the view of others as well such as Ellicott:

(31) For ye may all prophesy one by one.—Better, For it is in your power all to prophesy one by one. How it is in their power is explained by the following verse. This orderly prophesying will accomplish the instruction and comforting of all;

Gill reaches the same conclusion:

For ye may all prophesy one by one,.... Not every member of the church, but everyone that had the gift of prophecy; so that they were not confined to two or three prophets at a meeting, but as many as would, or as had anything to deliver, and as time would allow; only care must be taken that confusion be avoided, and order preserved by exercising in turns one after another.

Similarly, the Cambridge commentary is similar:

  1. For ye may all prophesy one by one Not necessarily at the same meeting of the Church, which would be in contradiction to what has just been said (1 Corinthians 14:29), nor that the permission was extended to the whole Christian body. All were not prophets, the Apostle tells us (ch. 1 Corinthians 12:29), and it is clear that none but prophets could prophesy, since prophecy (ch. 1 Corinthians 12:28, 1 Corinthians 13:2, 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:5; 1 Corinthians 14:22) was a special gift of the Spirit.

The Pulpit commentary is also similar:

Verse 31. - Ye may all prophesy; rather, ye all can; that is, "if you have the gift of prophesying." St. Paul has already implied that at every assembly there would be idiotal, unendowed worshippers, who only came to profit by the gifts of others, and that "all" are not prophets (1 Corinthians 12:29). May be comforted; rather, may be exhorted or cheered. 1 Corinthians 14:31

  • Good points, +1. But what about 1 Cor 14:39 "So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues"? Isn't this an exhortation addressed to everybody?
    – user38524
    Jun 18, 2022 at 22:31
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - indeed it is addressed to everyone but that does not mean that all will be granted to gift of prophecy as 1 Cor 12 makes abundantly clear. I believe this part of Paul's general instruction to desire prophecies, that is, do not despise but respect them - from those who have been granted the gift of prophecy. The verb in V39 is infinitive and cannot be construed that all will prophesy. But we are no venturing into another question.
    – Dottard
    Jun 18, 2022 at 22:36

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