I like the New International Version’s translation of 1 Corinthians 14:29. Paul has just been saying that, at Christian gatherings, every believer should have something to share — a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a message in tongues, an interpretation — to build up the church. Now he continues, “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.”
Weigh carefully. The Greek verb, diakrino, might more literally be rendered, Judge thoroughly. It is used of discerning or interpreting the signs of the times (Matthew 16:3), distinguishing good and evil (Hebrews 5:14), deciding disputes (1 Corinthians 6:5), examining oneself (1 Corinthians 11:31), discerning the Body of Christ at communion (1 Corinthians 11:29), and the spiritual gift of discernment of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10) — and also of discrimination against the poor (James 2:4), intellectual contentions with those weak in faith (Romans 14:1), and the Jewish believers’ criticisms of Peter’s association with Gentiles (Acts 11:2).
In none of these other passages do our English versions translate diakrino or diakrisis as “weigh.” But in 1 Corinthians 14:29, the NIV is not alone. The RSV also has “weigh”; the Amplified, “weigh and discern.”
In the Balance
The word “weigh” echoes an Old Testament image that is too often overlooked. “The Lord abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are His delight” (Proverbs 11:1, NIV). “Honest scales and balances are from the Lord; all the weights in the bag are of His making” (Proverbs 16:11, NIV).
The picture comes from the marketplace. A merchant or a government official owned a balance and a set of weights. When a man came to purchase land or pay taxes, a one-tablet stone might be placed in the dish on one side of the balance; the man’s silver would be added to the other until the two sides were level. Cheating could creep in if the balance itself were “off,” or if the weights actually weighed more or less than their declared values. D.J. Wiseman and D.H. Wheaton report that “no two Hebrew weights yet found of the same inscribed denomination have proved to be of exactly identical weight,” and they cite a study finding a margin of error of up to 6% in ancient balances.(1)
But in the Book of Proverbs, something more than business dealings is at stake. Note this passage:
When a king sits on his throne to judge,
he winnows out all evil with his eyes.
Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure;
I am clean and without sin”?
Differing weights and differing measures —
the Lord detests them both.
Even a child is known by his actions,
by whether his conduct is pure and right.
Ears that hear and eyes that see —
the Lord has made them both. . . .
The Lord detests differing weights,
and dishonest scales do not please Him. (Proverbs 20:8-12, 23, NIV)
The subject here is the human faculty of judgment — not how honestly we measure gold or grain, but how fairly we evaluate human behavior, including our own. We are warned that the Lord weighs even thoughts or motives (Proverbs 16:2).
Part of God’s plan is that His people should learn to assess and discern. This requires, first, that we have an accurate set of weights. I submit that we possess these in the Scriptures, God’s own words to us. Then we also need an honest balance; this describes our faculty of judgment. We need minds renewed by God (Romans 12:2) and continually quickened by His Spirit, and “faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14, RSV).
For Good Measure
Returning to 1 Corinthians 14:29, we are called to “weigh carefully” or “judge thoroughly” what is said. We are blessed to live in a time when much is being said; the Web has removed some barriers to communication. But our weighing has not kept pace. I read and hear many statements in which believers pursue one pet theme to the exclusion of all else, or determine truth by placing a single text in the balance, ignoring the rest of Scripture.
We cannot hope to live Biblically unless we learn to think Biblically. We should aspire to know, declare, and obey “the whole counsel [or purpose] of God” (Acts 20:27, RSV). Hence this blog.
Weigh Station is a place to examine some teachings, assumptions, behaviors, judgments. The goal is not to silence, shame, or condemn anyone, but to find what is right and grasp hold of it: “Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, RSV).
I cannot do this on my own. The “thorough judgment” that is diakrisis easily becomes the critical spirit; it also turns into doubt, hesitation, wavering (e.g., Romans 4:20; 14:23; James 1:6; 3:17). Our aim must not be to keep forever adjusting the scales, but to buy, and then use what we have appraised to build each other up. Indeed, the hope is to move beyond human hairsplitting and quarrels to judging with Divine generosity: “full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over” (Luke 6:38, Living).
(1) “Weights and Measures,” The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962, 1975), 1319-25, esp. 1320.