In the first epistle to the Corinthians, we have a term used in chapter 14 which has been the subject of much confusion by many believers, especially those not in the fellowship of a scriptural New Testament assembly.
That term is the unlearned. A careful study of the context surrounding this term will help us in our understanding of it.
Since speaking in tongues is addressed in this chapter, many have concluded that those who were unlearned were simply those who did not understand the tongues being spoken. However, when we examine the context, verses 2,3,6,9,11, & 19 will make it clear that no one had understanding of these tongues. Therefore, let us search, and see what light scripture places on the term, unlearned.
In 1 Corinthians 14:16, we see that those who are unlearned occupy a certain place or room (topos). We know that they are not part of the assembly (vs.23). Verse 16 also shows us that, although this place is separated from the assembly, the person can physically hear those taking an audible part in the meeting. We can also learn from verse 16 that it is desired that this observer would make a positive judgment (Amen) at what he is witnessing. This is in agreement with the events of verses 24-25 and would include a judgment by the unlearned person as to the assembly as a whole. These two verses also portray the great truth that reception to Gods assembly is a two-way street. The assembly receives the person and the person receives the assembly.
Verses 23 & 24 are also helpful for giving more light on our study. Here we see that the unlearned are clearly separated by definition from unbelievers, while at the same time sharing a place in which they can both observe and make judgments pertaining to the assembly.
In summary, when we consider the term in scriptural context, we see that unlearned is a believer who is outside the fellowship of an assembly and occupies a place where he can witness the teaching, worship, and general order of the gathering. The hope of all would be that this person would make a positive judgment from an observers position and that the assembly would make a positive judgment concerning him. The result would therefore be the scriptural two-way street of fellowship. This was the order of things during the early Church and should therefore be our order.