1 Corinthians Chapter 14:26-40

This will conclude Chapter 14. It’s a fairly long section.

26 Τί οὖν ἐστιν, ἀδελφοί; ὅταν συνέρχησθε, ἕκαστος ψαλμὸν ἔχει, διδαχὴν ἔχει, ἀποκάλυψιν ἔχει, γλῶσσαν ἔχει, ἑρμηνείαν ἔχει: πάντα πρὸς οἰκοδομὴν γινέσθω.

So what is it, brothers? When you come together, each has his own psalm, she has her own teaching, she has her own revelation, he has his own tongue, he has his own interpretation, let all become towards the building (presumably of the Community).

First,  I alternated he/she pronouns in the spirit of inclusiveness. I have been very remiss in doing this, largely because the Greek default setting is “he”, just as it is in Latin and the Romance languages with which I am familiar (Spanish and French). One can argue that I am contravening my precept about giving as literal a translation as possible, and that argument would be accurate. But, sometimes, you gotta break the rules a bit. It is exactly this sort of solid adherence to the strict rule that has maintained hurtful attitudes even into the 21st Century. I mean, really.

As for content: Paul started this letter discussing divisions in the Community; we’ve picked up the topic a couple of times since then; now, this seems to be something of a climax for the topic. Here what Paul is describing what sounds like a collection of individuals, that scarcely be called a community, let alone a Community. Each has her/his own psalm, teaching, and revelation. And why is this? It is due to speaking in tongues. Recalling that Paul has called this a gift of the spirit, and has told us that he does this on occasion, we have really gotten the sense that Paul does not see speaking in tongues as doing anything beneficial to the Community. Quite the opposite. Instead, it seems a source of division.

We–well, I–have been reviewing Paul’s attitude towards tongues; I’ve been discussing it for some time, because Paul has been talking about it for some time. It has gotten to the point where I’ve nearly lost the forest for the trees. Or the one tree of speaking in tongues. But look at the forest. Everyone has their own psalm, teaching, and revelation. How does this happen? To answer this, let’s keep in mind that speaking in tongues generally signifies what we have come to call an ‘ecstatic’ religious experience, meaning that the worshiper enters into the Spirit–as Paul describes it. 

Now, in very broad, and very general terms there are two sources of religious experience. The first is the passing along of orthodox doctrine that is tended by a professional priest-caste. This was how the ancient religions of Mesopotamia and Egypt worked. This is how Judaism worked, with the priests–often, if perhaps not exclusively–hereditary worked. This is how the Catholic Church operated–or, at least, this was their paradigm and their ideal–in the later Middle Ages. This is a corporate and collective practice of religious ritual, where all members are participating in more or less the same way. The second source of religious experience is the direct participation of the individual in the divine; this is what is usually meant by ‘ecstatic’ religion. Another term for this is ‘mysticism’. While the corporate governing body is, in theory, in favour of supporting the individual’s direct religious experience, in practice such corporate bodies are sometimes hostile to such personal experiences because they circumvent the religious establishment. This, to some degree makes the professional priests largely unnecessary. Which means their livelihood is at stake.

We have a well-documented example of what happens when mysticism becomes popular, in the sense that a large number of the members of the orthodox community start to practice ecstatic/mystical rituals. This occurred in the later Middle Ages when mysticism did indeed start to become popular, at least among a significant number of highly-placed clergy. This mystical movement had a big impact on Luther–and we know how that turned out for the corporate body of the erstwhile Catholic Church. What happened was that the Papacy became covertly–if not overtly–hostile to the mystical movement, condemning some of the more well-known mystics as heretics.

Is this what is happening here? At some point in the early-mid Second Century, what had become the Church hierarchy started to take active steps against Christians who claimed that they had experienced a new revelation. Often these revelations introduced new ideas into the thought of the Church, or at least introduced new interpretations of older ideas. Marcion is perhaps the most notable example. The effect of this is that Christian teaching became less homogeneous, and lack of homogeneity often leads to schism and then actual splitting into separate sects. This is what happened in the 16th Century. 

So the question we have to ask here is whether speaking in tongues was the ultimate root-cause of the different teachings that had introduced divisions into the Community. I will leave a fuller discussion of this to the Chapter summary. For now, it’s enough to ask the question.

26 Quid ergo est, fratres? Cum convenitis, unusquisque psalmum habet, doctrinam habet, apocalypsim habet, linguam habet, interpretationem habet: omnia ad aedificationem fiant.

27 εἴτε γλώσσῃ τις λαλεῖ, κατὰ δύο ἢ τὸ πλεῖστον τρεῖς, καὶ ἀνὰ μέρος, καὶ εἷς διερμηνευέτω:

Whether someone speaking in tongues, according to two (persons) or at most to three, and per each in turn, let one interpret what is said. 

Hmmm. If two or three, and no more than three should be speaking in tongues, only one is to interpret. Is this a method by which Paul is seeking to maintain something of a unity of interpretation? A way of preventing, to some degree at least, the introduction of novel, or multiple ideas about what it means to be a follower of Jesus?

27 Sive lingua quis loquitur, secundum duos aut ut multum tres, et per partes, et unus interpretetur;

28 ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ᾖ διερμηνευτής, σιγάτω ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ, ἑαυτῷ δὲ λαλείτω καὶ τῷ θεῷ.

But if there is no interpreter, let him keep peace in assembly, both to himself and to God.

Again, this sounds like Paul is trying to put a lid on novel interpretations. If you don’t know what is said, don’t say anything.

28 si autem non fuerit interpres, taceat in ecclesia, sibi autem loquatur et Deo.

29 προφῆται δὲ δύο ἢ τρεῖς λαλείτωσαν, καὶ οἱ ἄλλοι διακρινέτωσαν:

But two or three prophets, let them speak, and let the others  judge:

Comment deferred.

29 Prophetae duo aut tres dicant, et ceteri diiudicent;

30 ἐὰν δὲ ἄλλῳ ἀποκαλυφθῇ καθημένῳ, ὁ πρῶτος σιγάτω.

But if a thing has been revealed by another having been seated, let the first keep (his) peace.

Keep in mind this concept of something being revealed. I think this ties in with Paul and the revelation of the gospel that he received not through any human intermediary, but directly from God.

30 quod si alii revelatum fuerit sedenti, prior taceat.

31 δύνασθε γὰρ καθ’ ἕνα πάντες προφητεύειν, ἵνα πάντες μανθάνωσιν καὶ πάντες παρακαλῶνται,

For through one all can prophesy, so that all may learn and all may be comforted/exhorted.

The last word can mean either ‘comfort’ or ‘exhort’. Despite the Vulgate, the KJV chose ‘comfort’; my three modern cribs chose ‘exhort’. Which goes better with ‘learn’? I suppose it would be ‘exhort’. This seems to be a very clear instance of what I’ve been calling consensus translations. What does the word mean in this context? Make a case and there you are.

31 Potestis enim omnes per singulos prophetare, ut omnes discant, et omnes exhortentur;

32 καὶ πνεύματα προφητῶν προφήταις ὑποτάσσεται:

And the spirits of prophets are put under prophets:

This is very interesting. First, in the verb << ὑπο-τάσσω >>, the second half (after the hyphen that separates the prepositional prefix from the main verb) is the same word that gives us “syntax”. So, the spirits of prophets are literally arranged under prophets. Note, however, that this is generally translated as ‘subject to’, in the sense, I suppose, that the spirits are controlled by prophets. In fact, the NIV renders this as ‘controlled by prophets’, actually adding the words ‘controlled by’ for additional clarity. Back to this in a moment.

Second, the spirits of prophets? This is, I believe, the first time that we’ve seen ‘spirit’ referring to anything really connected to a human. IOW, humans have spirits. Here we are taking the first step to the idea of a soul. So this is a really significant usage of this word. 

Finally, what does this actually mean? The spirits of prophets are arranged under prophets? Or subject to prophets? Or subject to control by prophets? Are the spirits different from the prophets? Are the prophets with the spirits different from the prophets to whose control they are subject (although it would seem like this would have to be true).  Curious, I looked to see what Monsieur Calvin had to say about this. He takes it to mean that the second set of prophets are the ones in V 29-30; that the one who does prophecy is then subject to the opinion of others. This, he says, is not the proper reading, because this would imply that the action of the Spirit (as in Holy) would be subjected to human judgement. In a sense, he’s right, but I think that doesn’t fit in with what we’ve been discussing here.

In this section, we’ve been talking about the problems that can be caused by the inspiration of an individual by the Spirit/spirit. This leads to a state of continued revelation which, while admirable in one way, can cause problems for a body of orthodox beliefs. However, if the utterances of these prophets, who are speaking out during the assembly (“church” is grossly anachronistic for this period), are then considered by the others assembled, or at least by those who have prophesied, or do prophesy, then we have a means of determining something of a ‘majority-rules orthodoxy’. 

This has huge implications for the Quest for the Historical Jesus (QHJ). I mentioned this when discussing Mark: there was no single set of Jesus’ sayings. He would have been heard by many people and repeated by many people, and many of these repetitions would not have agreed with the others. There was no single strand of Jesus tradition. This is something that the QHJ folk completely overlook. Theirs is a textual argument, not an historical one. Yes, they talk about separate traditions showing up in Matthew and Luke, but they believe it’s possible to trace the texts back to a single, definitive (more or less) form. I disagree. I disagree vehemently. However, we’ve already had one very long digression; let’s leave this here as merely long.

32 et spiritus prophetarum prophetis subiecti sunt;

33 οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἀκαταστασίας ὁ θεὸς ἀλλὰ εἰρήνης. Ὡς ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῶν ἁγίων,

For God is not of confusion but peace. As in all the Communities of the holy,

Comment deferred

33 non enim est dissensionis Deus sed pacis. Sicut in omnibus ecclesiis sanctorum,

34 αἱ γυναῖκες ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις σιγάτωσαν, οὐ γὰρ ἐπιτρέπεται αὐταῖς λαλεῖν: ἀλλὰ ὑποτασσέσθωσαν, καθὼς καὶ ὁ νόμος λέγει.

the women in the assembly, be silent, for they are not permitted to speak to others; but let them be arranged under (here, clearly ‘subject to’) [but subject to whom not specified] accordingly as the Law says.

So, while the Law may be disregarded on dietary restrictions, it must be followed when it comes to women keeping silent. I guess Paul feels able to pick and choose which parts of the Law are still operative. This says a lot about how he approaches the regulation of the Community.

Now, here’s a thought. Paul has built up this case against speaking in tongues, and now against unregulated prophecy, over a large section of this chapter. This indicates, IMO, that he believes it important that the case be strong and convincing, so that peace may be maintained in this Community, and among others. God is of peace, after all, not confusion. But here’s a thought: is all of this directed, specifically, at women? Are they the ones who are speaking gibberish, calling it ‘tongues’, and trying to introduce innovation into the Community? Perhaps an innovation such as women having at least a voice, if not an equal voice to that of men?

I don’t think this is an outrageous proposal.

34 mulieres in ecclesiis taceant, non enim permittitur eis loqui; sed subditae sint, sicut et Lex dicit.

35 εἰ δέ τι μαθεῖν θέλουσιν, ἐν οἴκῳ τοὺς ἰδίους ἄνδρας ἐπερωτάτωσαν, αἰσχρὸν γάρ ἐστιν γυναικὶ λαλεῖν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ.

But if they (women, presumably) wish to learn something, in the house let them ask their own husband, for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the assembly.

It’s shameful. Now, discussing the a-la-carte approach to the Law, it must be said that, while the dietary restrictions set Jews apart, this attitude towards women fit right in. For most Classical-era Greeks, the best thing that could be said about one’s wife was that nothing could be said about her. She didn’t make waves, didn’t get uppity, she knew her place. Now, the legend is that Socrates’ wife Xanthippe (that we know her name is remarkable) was a bit of a hen-pecker, but being married to a ne’er do well like Socrates would have its problems. And the Spartans believed that the girls should train along side the boys so that they could produce healthier babies. But, overall, selecting this piece of the Law would have set well with many pagans.

35 Si quid autem volunt discere, domi viros suos interrogent; turpe est enim mulieri loqui in ecclesia.

36 ἢ ἀφ’ ὑμῶν ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθεν, ἢ εἰς ὑμᾶς μόνους κατήντησεν;

Or, from you the word of God comes out, or to you alone did it come?

Implies very strongly that the women of this Community were trying to liberate themselves from some of these strictures.

Now, what does this mean? Where did these women get these ideas about being full participants in the worship? Was this a specifically Jesus-follower idea? It’s very tempting to see this as an indication that Jesus had a message about equality–which is true, to some extent, in the gospels–and so that women joined the new religion as a means of attaining a higher level of status. But then, Roman women, relative to other women in the ancient Mediterranean, had a degree of freedom and standing in the Law. So was it something that Jesus preached? Or was it something that the Romans practiced?

It was probably both. But this is a very clear indication that we cannot look inside the text of the NT alone for what was happening within the Community of Corinth.

36 An a vobis verbum Dei processit aut in vos solos pervenit?

37 Εἴ τις δοκεῖ προφήτης εἶναι ἢ πνευματικός, ἐπιγινωσκέτω ἃ γράφω ὑμῖν ὅτι κυρίου ἐστὶν ἐντολή:

If someone seems to be a prophet, or a spiritual person, let it be known what I have written you that it is the commandment of the lord:

Comment deferred

37 Si quis videtur propheta esse aut spiritalis, cognoscat, quae scribo vobis, quia Domini est mandatum. 

38 εἰ δέ τις ἀγνοεῖ, ἀγνοεῖται.

If someone does not know, let him not be known.

Basically, this seems to be an admonition not to speak unless you know what you’re talking about. The implication, of course, is that a woman cannot know what she’s talking about, so she should keep quiet.

38 Si quis autem ignorat, ignorabitur.

39 ὥστε, ἀδελφοί [μου], ζηλοῦτε τὸ προφητεύειν, καὶ τὸ λαλεῖν μὴ κωλύετε γλώσσαις:

So in this way, brothers (but not sisters?), be zealous about prophesy (literally, ‘to prophecy’), and do not hinder speaking in tongues.

Comment deferred

39 Itaque, fratres mei, aemulamini prophetare et loqui linguis nolite prohibere;

40 πάντα δὲ εὐσχημόνως καὶ κατὰ τάξιν γινέσθω.

But let all be well arranged, and according to (‘proper’ is implied) order.

40 omnia autem honeste et secundum ordinem fiant.

So the end lesson is that, neither prophecy nor speaking in tongues should be discouraged; but they must be done properly. That is, they must be done by men.

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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 29, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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