1 Corinthians 14:1-12

Chapter 14 begins.

1 Διώκετε τὴν ἀγάπην, ζηλοῦτε δὲ τὰ πνευματικά, μᾶλλον δὲ ἵνα προφητεύητε.

Pursue love, emulate things spiritual, but better that you prophesize.

Here we are with << ζηλοῦτε >> once again. It really means envy. Or it can mean envy. From the Latin, it provides the root of ’emulate’. The idea is to want something to the point of envy, so that you will contend for it by imitating the person you envy. So there are a lot of different ways to take this. The choice of most of my crib translations is ‘desire’; this works only if you keep in mind that this word can include sexual desire as well. Otherwise, the word is a bit too bland in English. Most of the potential intensity has been watered down with overuse.

As for content, we’re back on the spiritual track. So if you think of ‘desiring’ spiritual things in the sense of passion, you get an idea of the intensity with which Paul is telling the Community to become spiritual.

1 Sectamini caritatem, aemulamini spiritalia, magis autem, ut prophetetis.

2 ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ  ἀλλὰ θεῷ, οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀκούει, πνεύματι δὲ λαλεῖ μυστήρια:

For the one speaking in tongues is not speaking to men, but to God, for no one hears, but by the spirit one speaks the mysteries.

That’s an interesting take on speaking in tongues. I’ve always kind of wondered about that: why speak in tongues if no one is going to understand you?  Now, a question: does the idea of speaking to God like this sound like something Jews would believe in, or at least accept as possible? Yes, God spoke to Moses, and to the prophets, but I don’t get the sense that people did much talking with God by the First Century. In which case, is this mostly a pagan sensibility? But then, I don’t get the sense that pagans were speaking with gods all that often, either. Or is this part of the “Pater Noster” revolution? The new approach that Jesus and/or Paul helped bring into the world?

2 Qui enim loquitur lingua, non hominibus loquitur sed Deo; nemo enim audit, spiritu autem loquitur mysteria.

3 ὁ δὲ προφητεύων ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ οἰκοδομὴν καὶ παράκλησιν καὶ παραμυθίαν.

The prophesying speaks to men for edification and exhortation and comfort.

When I say “edify”, I mean that rather literally, since that is what the Greek word literally means. It means ‘edify’, as in, ‘erect an edifice’. Note that the Latin is ‘aedificationem’, which pretty much sounds like what it is. Somehow, in the interim–at least in English–it went from ‘erecting an edifice’, to ‘instructing’.  

So the question is, ‘what does it mean here?’ That is, I think, truly a good question. Obviously, this is a figurative use, but in what way? A building up of…what? By putting it into the modern sense of ‘edify’ as in, ‘to teach/provide a positive example/lesson’ is anachronistic, I believe. But, honestly, I’m not sure how to take this, in this particular instance. But, to be honest, in this case, I don’t think it truly makes that much difference. It’s a nice logic puzzle to keep academics arguing back and forth, but it’s at least borderline moot.

3 Qui autem prophetat, hominibus loquitur aedificationem et exhortationem et consolationes.

4 ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ ἑαυτὸν οἰκοδομεῖ: ὁ δὲ προφητεύων ἐκκλησίαν οἰκοδομεῖ.

The one speaking in a tongue builds himself; the one prophesying builds the assembly.

Is this a clue? Perhaps the use of ‘to build’ is literal after all? Or, sort of figuratively literal? Here it seems like it should be taken as ‘building’ as in ‘making stronger’ as in, ‘stronger in faith’ perhaps? 

But to the main point. Speaking in tongues, apparently, has little benefit for the Community as a whole. By doing so, one speaks with God, and builds oneself. OTOH, prophecy, builds the Community by…how exactly? Providing information for all? By demonstrating the power of God to give prophecy, just as healing or working miracle would do? Seems like it’s something like that.

4 Qui loquitur lingua, semetipsum aedificat; qui autem prophetat, ecclesiam aedificat.

5 θέλω δὲ πάντας ὑμᾶς λαλεῖν γλώσσαις, μᾶλλον δὲ ἵνα προφητεύητε: μείζων δὲ ὁ προφητεύων ἢ ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσαις, ἐκτὸς εἰ μὴ διερμηνεύῃ, ἵνα ἡ ἐκκλησία οἰκοδομὴν λάβῃ.

I wish all of you to speak in tongues, but better in order to prophecy; To prophecy is better than speaking in tongues, out of if not you should interpret, so that the assembly should receive building.

or–

I wish all of you to speak in tongues, but better in order to prophecy; To prophecy is better than speaking in tongues, unless you interpret, so that the Community should be strengthened. 

As warned, I’m providing very literal translations. This one, however, requires some interpreting; perhaps I’m speaking in tongues? “Literalese”? And I think ‘strengthened’ is a good substitute for ‘building’. I think that mostly captures the thrust of the original without being overly literal.

Now, this is interesting: he wishes everyone could speak in tongues? Well, that is, I think, being over-literal again. What he’s wishing is that all members of the Community should receive one of the gifts of the spirit. Prophecy would be preferable, but speaking in tongues is acceptable–so long as one provides the translation. Which is an interesting point: a translation is needed.

Finally, << ἐκκλησία >> This word literally means ‘a calling out’. It became the standard term for the political assembly of the people in Athens during the years of the democracy. So the first iteration I translated as ‘assembly’. However, this word, in English, has overt political overtones, just as it did in Greek, or for a lot of Greeks. Perhaps this had been loosened somewhat by Paul’s time, when the Assembly of Athens was three hundred years dead. It transliterates as ‘ekklesia’, or ‘ecclesia’. As such, it’s the root of ‘ecclesiastical’, and of the words iglesia and iglese. So it came to mean ‘church’. And, in fact, that is how most English translations render it in this passage. However, that is horribly anachronistic. “Church” is too fraught with additional meanings for the word to be used here without drastically colouring the implications for modern readers. Since “assembly” is too political, I’ve chosen “Community”. While a Latin root, I believe it gets the sense across without too much undue influence. It’s not really political, and it’s not a church, so I think this captures the spirit of the original. I’ve been using the term “Community” for some time now, without fully explaining the word behind it. My apologies.

5 Volo autem omnes vos loqui linguis, magis autem prophetare; maior autem est qui prophetat, quam qui loquitur linguis, nisi forte interpretetur, ut ecclesia aedificationem accipiat.

6 Νῦν δέ, ἀδελφοί, ἐὰν ἔλθω πρὸς ὑμᾶς γλώσσαις λαλῶν, τί ὑμᾶς ὠφελήσω, ἐὰν μὴ ὑμῖν λαλήσω ἢ ἐν ἀποκαλύψει ἢ ἐν γνώσει ἢ ἐν προφητείᾳ ἢ [ἐν] διδαχῇ;

But now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will  I benefit you, if  I do not speak to you either in revelation or in knowledge or in prophecy or in teaching?

What I’m really getting here is that the whole idea of speaking in tongues implies that the listeners did not, at least generally, understand what the person speaking was saying. Now, I have to ask: if this is true, then what, really, was the point? Now, let’s think of this in relation to the famous description in Acts of the events of Pentecost, when the Holy Sprit (as it surely was by then; or, perhaps not?) allowed, or enabled the Eleven to speak in tongues so that the whole varied assembly of Jews of different linguistic backgrounds all hear Peter and the rest speaking in the hearers’ own language. What I am getting from these passages is that the Pentecost story is a much later development. That, by the time “Luke” got around to writing that story, the idea of speaking in tongues had mutated from what Paul describes here, to the idea of the Pentecost story. Or, more likely, that the author of Acts came up with this explanation of ‘speaking in tongues’ to create a purpose for the gift. By that I mean that he conceived of a set of circumstances in which speaking in tongues–and being understood by those hearing–carried a real benefit. Because think about it: Paul may have been a native Greek speaker; this would have been an immediate and compelling reason why he became the Apostle to the Gentiles: because Jerusalem Community spoke Aramaic, and the overwhelming majority of Gentiles did not. Most non-Jews in the eastern Mediterranean, OTOH, did speak at least a smattering of Greek. And the people of Corinth–native speakers of Greek–would probably not have spoken another language. Educated Romans of the period–like Pilate–would have been essentially bilingual in Latin and Greek, but they would not have spoken, as a rule, any of the languages of the subject people they ruled. So, given that most people were monolingual, what is the benefit of speaking in tongues?

The answer is that there is none. Paul flatly tells us so here. What’s good is speaking in tongues if you do not translate? He could impart great revelations, he says here, but what is the point if he’s speaking in a tongue that no one understands? And this would mean, essentiall, any language that was not Greek. The problem posed by speaking in tongues is not solved until Acts.  

6 Nunc autem, fratres, si venero ad vos linguis loquens, quid vobis prodero, nisi vobis loquar aut in revelatione aut in scientia aut in prophetia aut in doctrina?

7 ὅμως τὰ ἄψυχα φωνὴν διδόντα, εἴτε αὐλὸς εἴτε κιθάρα, ἐὰν διαστολὴν τοῖς φθόγγοις μὴ δῷ, πῶς γνωσθήσεται τὸ αὐλούμενον ἢ τὸ κιθαριζόμενον;

In the same way, the soul-less sounds being given, whether the flute or the kithera, if  the difference to the sounds is not given, how will you know the fluting or the harping?

Q.E.D. This is exactly the point that I just made. If you don’t know, how do you distinguish the flute from the kithera (harp)? Or if you don’t know the language, how do you know what is being said? Answer: you don’t.

7 Tamen, quae sine anima sunt vocem dantia, sive tibia sive cithara, nisi distinctionem sonituum dederint, quomodo scietur quod tibia canitur, aut quod citharizatur?

8 καὶ γὰρ ἐὰν ἄδηλον σάλπιγξ φωνὴν δῷ, τίς παρασκευάσεται εἰς πόλεμον;

And for if  the trumpet should give an uncertain soud, who will prepare themselves towards battle (lit = ‘war’)

The metaphor continues.

8 Etenim si incertam vocem det tuba, quis parabit se ad bellum?

9 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς διὰ τῆς γλώσσης ἐὰν μὴ εὔσημον λόγον δῶτε, πῶς γνωσθήσεται τὸ λαλούμενον; ἔσεσθε γὰρ εἰς ἀέρα λαλοῦντες.

In this way you because of the the tongues do not give understood speech (speech that is understood), how is it known what is said? For you will be speaking in the air.

or–

Because, in this way, if you do not say what is understandable because of the language you speak, how will anyone know what you said? For you will be blowing empty air.

That seems pretty clear. Don’t think I need to add anything. 

9 Ita et vos per linguam nisi manifestum sermonem dederitis, quomodo scietur id, quod dicitur? Eritis enim in aera loquentes.

10 τοσαῦτα εἰ τύχοι γένη φωνῶν εἰσιν ἐν κόσμῳ, καὶ οὐδὲν ἄφωνον:

How many, would you guess, races of languages are there in the world? And not one is without a voice.

10 Tam multa, ut puta, genera linguarum sunt in mundo, et nihil sine voce est.

11 ἐὰν οὖν μὴ εἰδῶ τὴν δύναμιν τῆς φωνῆς, ἔσομαι τῷ λαλοῦντι βάρβαρος καὶ ὁ λαλῶν ἐν ἐμοὶ βάρβαρος.

So if I do not know the power of the voice. we, by the speaking, will be babblers, and the one speaking to me will be a babbler.

I am very deliberately translating << βάρβαρος <>> (which transliterates to ‘barbaros’–‘barbarian’) as ‘babbler’ because that is what the Greek word means. It does not mean ‘barbarian’ as we understand the word. At root, it means someone who does not speak Greek, so their language sounds like someone saying ‘bar-bar-bar’; in short, like someone babbling. There was no implication of cultural inferiority: the Greeks applied it both to Egyptians and Persians, both of whom they recognised as highly evolved culturally. The Romans applied it to the Germans, who definitely were less advanced culturally, and that is where it acquired our connotations.

11 Si ergo nesciero virtutem vocis, ero ei, qui loquitur, barbarus; et, qui loquitur, mihi barbarus.

12 οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς, ἐπεὶ ζηλωταί ἐστε πνευμάτων, πρὸς τὴν οἰκοδομὴν τῆς ἐκκλησίας ζητεῖτε ἵνα περισσεύητε.

In this way you also, when you are zealous of spiritual things, towards which you seek to build the assembly/community in order that you prosper.

12 Sic et vos, quoniam aemulatores estis spirituum, ad aedificationem ecclesiae quaerite, ut abundetis.

There isn’t much more to be said about this, I think. I’ve made my point, and it’s been borne out pretty effectively, I believe, through the text. 

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on June 15, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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