The Room of the Unlearned

What is the “room of the unlearned”? Often, younger believers in assembly fellowship, and sometimes even those who are older, are unsure as to what the place of the unlearned is, for whom it is intended, and why we practice it.

Is it an actual physical place? Some would say that it is not a definite place or location to be occupied. However, the original Greek word, topos, for “room” in 1 Corinthians 14:16 states otherwise: “Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say ‘Amen’ at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?”

Strong’s Concordance, defines topos as a “spot, scabbard, coast, license, place, plain, quarter, rock, and room.” This word occurs 92 times in the New Testament, including the verse mentioned above. Some have suggested that the use of the “room of the unlearned” concerns those who did not understand the language spoken, as found in verses 2, 6, 9, and 11. But is this consistent with the passage or the other occurrences of this word in the New Testament? Almost every mention of topos, but not all, relates to a physical location.

Other verses that support the meaning of topos as “a place” are: “Put again the sword into its place (sheath)” (Matt 26:52).

Matthew 27:33 “Place called Golgotha.”

Matthew 28:6 “Come see the place where the Lord lay” (Matt 28:6).

“There was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

“All with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1).

Different Greek words are used when the translated words “room” or “place” do not mean an actual physical place, but a “sphere” or “opportunity.” For example: “Archaelaus did reign in the room of Herod his father” (Matt 2:22). “My word hath no place in you” (John 8:37). “To whom we gave place by subjection no, not for an hour” (Gal 2:5).

If the Spirit of God intended the “room of the unlearned” to be something other than a physical place, a different word would have been used instead of topos.

A careful reading will show that there are two categories of people who are not part of the gathered company. Some are saved and others are not saved. There are those who can intelligently say “Amen” when praise is offered to God. They must be believers. What they need to learn is found in verse 25: “That God is in ‘you’ of a truth.” Notice the wording: “God is in you” (not ‘us’) of a truth.” They were observing while the whole church was gathered together in one place to remember the Lord; they were not part of that company. Also, 1 Corinthians 5:13 uses similar wording regarding discipline: “Put away from among yourselves.”

In contrast to those who are saved, there are also unbelievers who are observing the gathering. For them, as well, the place they occupy is outside the company. The purpose of this practice is not meant to be discriminatory, but it distinguishes the “in” and “out” of an assembly. Nor is it an inferior place in the gathering. It is to preserve holiness in the assembly, to help keep order at the Lord’s Supper. A little appreciated aspect of this practice, of having a place for those not in fellowship to observe the meeting, is that it actually preserves them from participating in the breaking of bread (1Cor 10:16, 17), before they understand what the fellowship really means.

Scriptures are very clear that the word “church” is used in two different ways in the Word of God. All those who are saved are in the Church, which is His Body, often called the Universal Church. The other usage means a local church, or assembly, which is a group of believers gathered to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ in a particular locality.

1 Corinthians 1:2 states “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord both theirs and ours.” This is an identifiable local company in a specific location.

In today’s world, often we are encouraged to be politically correct in what we say and do, so as not to offend others. Hence, there may be a tendency to compromise the truths of God as found in His Word. However, tolerance for others should not be placed above honoring the Word of God and obeying divine truth.

The purpose of this study is to help give a clear understanding of this Scriptural practice so that anyone who wishes to come along to an assembly gathering and to observe the breaking of bread will be given a clear Scriptural explanation of why we do what we do and thus enable us to hold fast to the Word of God until He come. In obeying His Word, we are able to bring honor and glory to Him.