1 Corinthians Chapter 14:13-25

Sorry for the gap in posts. I’m on family vacation, and the WiFi is spotty. So Chapter 14 continues.

13 διὸ ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ προσευχέσθω ἵνα διερμηνεύῃ.

So let the one speaking in tongues (lit = ‘a tongue’) pray, in order to translate.

Bit of a question here: does the one speaking in tongues know what s/he is saying?  The implication here is that perhaps not. Else, why would it be be necessary to pray in order to provide the interpretation? We have seen before that Paul apparently believes in prayer as a means of communication with God, as a means of obtaining understanding by way of divine revelation*. Is this another example?

[*Explicitly, 7:12, the discussion about marriage. Implicitly, especially Chapter 5, when he comes up with his strictures on sexual morality.]

13 Et ideo, qui loquitur lingua, oret, ut interpretetur.

14 ἐὰν [γὰρ]προσεύχωμαι γλώσσῃ, τὸ πνεῦμά μου προσεύχεται, ὁ δὲ νοῦς μου ἄκαρπός ἐστιν.

[ Forif we pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is fruitless.

If we needed it, more evidence that tongues were not necessarily–and most likely were not–understood by the person hearing. It seems, from this, that even the person speaking did not understand what s/he was saying.

14 Nam si orem lingua, spiritus meus orat, mens autem mea sine fructu est.

15 τί οὖν ἐστιν; προσεύξομαι τῷ πνεύματι, προσεύξομαι δὲ καὶ τῷ νοΐ: ψαλῶ τῷ πνεύματι, ψαλῶ δὲ καὶ τῷ νοΐ.

So what is it? I will pray in the spirit, I will pray in the mind; I will sing with the spirit, I will sing with my mind.

This is kind of interesting from a philosophical, or perhaps ontological perspective. In these past two verses he is contrasting the spirit and the mind; ergo, they are not the same thing. I think we moderns tend to conflate the spirit and the mind, as the non-corporeal part of us. For the Greeks–and so, it seems, for Paul–the two are not the same. 

Which leads to another question: to what degree was the spread of Greek language and thought responsible for the appearance of some of these ideas in Jewish thought? If Paul spoke Greek as a native language, then some cross-fertilization was inevitable. One of the ontological arguments for a soul is that there is a word for it, so it must denote something (I didn’t say it was a powerful argument). So when Jews started running into words like spirit and soul and such, did they start to assume that these words denoted something? Just because they were words? 

15 Quid ergo est? Orabo spiritu, orabo et mente; psallam spiritu, psallam et mente.

16 ἐπεὶ ἐὰν εὐλογῇς [ἐν] πνεύματι, ὁ ἀναπληρῶν τὸν τόπον τοῦ ἰδιώτου πῶς ἐρεῖ τὸ Ἀμήν ἐπὶ τῇ σῇ εὐχαριστίᾳ, ἐπειδὴ τί λέγεις οὐκ οἶδεν;

If  when you pray in the spirit, the one filling of the place of the individual how does one say ‘Amen’ upon your blessing, if what you say you do not know? 

The English is pretty tortured, but the gist is that praying is not effective if neither your audience nor you understand what is being said.

16 Ceterum si benedixeris in spiritu, qui supplet locum idiotae, quomodo dicet “ Amen! ” super tuam benedictionem, quoniam quid dicas nescit?

17 σὺ μὲν γὰρ καλῶς εὐχαριστεῖς, ἀλλ’ ὁ ἕτερος οὐκ οἰκοδομεῖται.

On the one hand, you pray beautifully, but (on) the other you do not build.

Essentially, form over content. It all sounds very nice, and the speaking in tongues sure sounds impressive, but there is no substance to any of it. It is all rather vain, as in the sense of ‘in vain’.

17 Nam tu quidem bene gratias agis, sed alter non aedificatur.

18 εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ, πάντων ὑμῶν μᾶλλον γλώσσαις λαλῶ:

I thank God, (that) I speak in tongues more than all of you.

OK, this is a bit odd. I get that Paul is, more or less, saying that speaking in tongues is really not a wonderful gift. It sounds nice, but whatever is said is not understood. As a result, there is little positive good that comes out of it. So in this verse he’s not so much talking up his gift of tongues as he is relieved that this ‘gift’ has not been more common among the Corinthians. 

This is odd for several reasons. And I use “odd” in the broadest sense: it provokes curiosity. Not so long ago, Paul was describing speaking in tongues as one of the gifts of the spirit (Holy or not; at this point, I prefer not). Since then, he’s been on a bit of a diatribe that seems to be minimizing the benefit of this ‘gift’; it really doesn’t do either the listener nor the speaker nor the Community much good, since no one knows what is being said. So, basically, what’s the point? But it’s also odd because it seems that Paul does this to some extent. This is a gift which has been given to Paul.

Now I don’t particularly want to go all psychoanalytical here, because a) I’m not particularly qualified to do so; and b) I don’t particularly see the point. However, we could discuss what William James called the “variety of religious experiences”. Before, we saw that Paul appeared to be one who prayed and then received revelation; here, he is telling us that he is prone to ecstatic religious moments, manifested by speaking in tongues. Think of this in terms of his conversion–the “Road to Damascus” moment that apparently didn’t happen on the road to Damascus, but was nonetheless a momentous experience that obviously (IMO) changed Paul’s entire outlook on life, which led to an entire change in life. But then, in Galatians he bragged about being a Hebrew among Hebrews, and the most zealous of his age cohort. So he was a man prone to strong religious conviction and action. So that he had a lightning-bolt conversion, and followed this up with speaking in tongues should not surprise us. This was how Paul was built, pretty much from the get-go. Or, it certainly preceded his conversion to the Christ. 

18 Gratias ago Deo, quod omnium vestrum magis linguis loquor;

19 ἀλλὰ ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ θέλω πέντε λόγους τῷ νοΐ μου λαλῆσαι, ἵνα καὶ ἄλλους κατηχήσω, ἢ μυρίους λόγους ἐν γλώσσῃ.

But in the community I wish to speak five words, so that I will also instruct others, (rather) than a myriad words in tongues.

The Greek ‘myriad’ literally means 10,000. But, just in case you haven’t been paying attention, speaking in tongues is not a particular benefit. So five plain words are better than 10,000 in a language no one understands. I believe this came after Confucius’ famous “a picture is worth 10,000 words”. 

19 sed in ecclesia volo quinque verba sensu meo loqui, ut et alios instruam, quam decem milia verborum in lingua.

20 Ἀδελφοί, μὴ παιδία γίνεσθε ταῖς φρεσίν, ἀλλὰ τῇ κακίᾳ νηπιάζετε, ταῖς δὲ φρεσὶν τέλειοι γίνεσθε.

Brothers, do not be childish in the understanding, but you are childish in your bad ways, but by understanding you are completed.

Not entirely sure how this follows. Change of subject?

20 Fratres, nolite pueri effici sensibus, sed malitia parvuli estote; sensibus autem perfecti estote.

21 ἐν τῷ νόμῳ γέγραπται ὅτι Ἐνἑτερο γλώσσοις καὶ ἐν χείλεσιν ἑτέρων λαλήσω τῷ λαῷ τούτῳ, καὶ οὐδ’ οὕτως εἰσακούσονταί μου, λέγει κύριος.

In the law it is written that “In other tongues / and with other lips I will speak to this people / and not in this way will they hear me,” says the lord.

No doubt this goes to the heart of Judaism, but once again we have the motif of the people that do not, or cannot follow their Lord God. Now, in this case, does  this refer back to those members of the Community who don’t follow by virtue of their not understanding due to speaking in tongues? 

21 In lege scriptum est:  “In aliis linguis et in labiis aliorum / loquar populo huic, / et nec sic exaudient me”, / dicit Dominus.

22 ὥστε αἱ γλῶσσαι εἰς σημεῖόν εἰσιν οὐ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν ἀλλὰ τοῖς ἀπίστοις, ἡ δὲ προφητεία οὐ τοῖς ἀπίστοις ἀλλὰ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν.

In this way the tongues are signs, not to the believers, but to the non-believers, but prophecy (is a sign) not to the unbelievers but to the believers.

This is interesting: speaking in tongues is for non-believers. Does this mean that it’s sort of showy, gets attention, but, ultimately, it does nothing to enhance the faith of those who believe? Actually, yes. This is what he’s been telling us, about how speaking in tongues doesn’t build the community.  Prophecy, OTOH, does build the Community. Both are gifts of the spirit, but prophecy seems to carry more significance.

22 Itaque linguae in signum sunt non fidelibus sed infidelibus, prophetia autem non infidelibus sed fidelibus.

23 Ἐὰν οὖν συνέλθῃ ἡ ἐκκλησία ὅλη ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ καὶ πάντες λαλῶσιν γλώσσαις, εἰσέλθωσιν δὲ ἰδιῶται ἢ ἄπιστοι, οὐκ ἐροῦσιν ὅτι μαίνεσθε;

So if the Community should come together, the whole as the same one, and all speak in tongues, but will laymen or non-faithful come in they ask if you are mad? 

He doesn’t ask if the laymen will understand; the assumption is, clearly, that they will not. Rather than hearing other languages, they will hear babble, and this will prompt them to question the collective sanity of the Community. Further evidence, I think.

BTW: the word translated as “laymen” would transliterate as ‘idiot’. I believe we’ve discussed this: in Greek, it means ‘an individual who keeps to himself and doesn’t participate in the government’. So it came to mean someone who didn’t have anything to say, which then evolved into ‘someone who’s not very bright’. But it also meant ‘someone without specific knowledge’; so, here it becomes ‘layman’.

23 Si ergo conveniat universa ecclesia in unum, et omnes linguis loquantur, intrent autem idiotae aut infideles, nonne dicent quod insanitis?

24 ἐὰν δὲ πάντες προφητεύωσιν, εἰσέλθῃ δέ τις ἄπιστος ἢ ἰδιώτης, ἐλέγχεται ὑπὸ πάντων, ἀνακρίνεται ὑπὸ πάντων,

If everyone prophecies, someone faithless or a layman may come  in, he is convicted by all, he will be judged by wall.

So, once again, prophecy is superior to speaking in tongues.

24 Si autem omnes prophetent, intret autem quis infidelis vel idiota, convincitur ab omnibus, diiudicatur ab omnibus,

25 τὰ κρυπτὰ τῆς καρδίας αὐτοῦ φανερὰ γίνεται, καὶ οὕτως πεσὼν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον προσκυνήσει τῷ θεῷ, ἀπαγγέλλων ὅτι Ὄντως ὁ θεὸς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐστιν.

The hidden things of one’s heart will become apparent, and in this way falling upon the face in obeisance to the Lord, announcing that “In reality, God is in you.”

25 occulta cordis eius manifesta fiunt; et ita cadens in faciem adorabit Deum pronuntians: “ Vere Deus in vobis est! ”.

And the effect of prophecy is salubrious; that of speaking in tongues…well, not so much.


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 23, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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