Question: "What does it mean that God is not the author of confusion?"

Answer: “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33, NKJV). The context of 1 Corinthians 14 deals with some problems the Corinthians had regarding speaking in tongues and prophesying during the gathering of believers for worship, prayer, and teaching—what we would today call the “church service.” Things had been getting out of hand in Corinth. When the church met, people were speaking in tongues with no one interpreting, and more than one person was prophesying at the same time. Pandemonium and chaos were the result.

Paul says that this babble—this confusion—is neither proper nor beneficial in the church, and he gives some practical life examples: “Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying?” (1 Corinthians 14:7–9).

Then Paul makes application: “So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” (verse 23). Or, as the NLT puts it, “If unbelievers . . . hear everyone speaking in an unknown language, they will think you are crazy.” God is not the author of such confusion.

To keep order, if a person speaks in tongues as part of a church service, there must be an interpreter present to translate for everyone else. If there is no one to interpret, then the one speaking in tongues should refrain from speaking. Even if there is an interpreter, no more than two or three should speak in tongues during the service (verses 27–28). If someone has a prophecy to share, only one can speak at a time and, again, two or three at most during the service, with others (perhaps the leaders) evaluating what is said (verses 29–32). “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (verse 26).

Paul sums up his objection to the Corinthians’ chaotic services by saying, “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (KJV). This is also translated “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (NIV) and “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (NASB, ESV). The church services in Corinth were confused, chaotic, and unintelligible, and they were blaming it on the Holy Spirit! In their view, the Spirit was moving in such a way that they had to express themselves in tongues and prophecies, and there were no limits on who said what or when. Paul says that this confusion is counter to the character of God. God’s character is not confused, chaotic, or disorderly. Confusion and chaos do not express who He is and is not characteristic of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church.

In Paul’s final admonition in the chapter is a plea for balance: “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:39–40).

Many Pentecostal and Charismatic churches today have a high tolerance for chaos and confusion in their services, and they may even see the bedlam as evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work among them. But God’s Word is clear: “God is not the author of confusion.”