Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tongues of Unbelief

Beginning at 1 Corinthians 14:20 Paul takes another swipe at communicating his essential message regarding tongues. Here he accuses the brethren, his brothers in Christ. By calling them brethren he establishes common ground, but in regard to his argument he does not seek to put them at ease. Rather, he sets before them his clear opposition to their errant thinking. By calling them brothers he establishes that he is speaking to the whole Corinthian church, and yet his major point stands in opposition to a particular group. He opposes those who have misunderstood and misapplied the speaking in tongues -- however defined -- as if tongues are more important or more spiritual than the other gifts, as if Delphic glossolalia is a blessing to the church! I am arguing that prophesying in tongues, properly defined and understood, is actually a function of genuine Christianity. Once it is properly defined it will be clearly seen that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been given to people of every tongue. Paul's basic message in verse 20 is "Grow up! Don't be immature in your thinking and understanding." Thinking and understanding of what? Of tongues. The subject of the immediately preceding verses is tongues. He continues, "Be infants in evil" (1 Corinthians 14:20). Other versions translate the word "evil" as malice or maliciousness. It literally means badness, depravity, or wickedness. Paul tells them not to engage evil, not to be malicious or wicked in their assessment of his opposition to their Delphic understanding of tongues, but to be mature, to be men about it. The Greek word translated as mature or men is teleios. We've seen it before.1 It means whole, complete, and is often translated as "perfect." Paul is calling them to Christian maturity in the same way that he called the Ephesian church to maturity in Christ in Ephesians 4:11-16. Paul quoted Scripture to establish his point. His reference to the law is a reference to the Old Testament, to the established body of truth. "For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people, to whom he has said, 'This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose;' yet they would not hear." (Isaiah 28:11-12). Paul didn't quote the verse exactly, but gets the point across. Paul paraphrased it, "By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord" (1 Corinthians 14:21). It doesn't matter whether Paul meant foreign languages or angelic languages because his point was that the language being spoken was not understood by the hearers. And it wasn't so much that they would not listen to the Lord, but that they could not hear the Lord because they were not regenerate. They did not have ears to hear (Matthew 11:15). This is a very common problem that has plagued God's people from time immemorial. By reaching back into Isaiah, Paul was speaking of the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy in the second chapter of Acts and beyond. Paul was saying that God would speak to His people (Hebrews) through foreigners (non Hebrews), that Gentiles would be given the Word of the Lord (the gospel), and in spite of the gift of tongues (translation into other languages, into the native tongues of the Gentiles) God's Word would not be heard (or listened to) by many, regardless of the language in which it was spoken. Moses also made note of this problem. "And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: 'You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear'" (Deuteronomy 29:2-4). Isaiah (Isaiah 28:12, 30:9, 42:20) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 5:21, 6:10, 11:10, 13:10, 17:23, 19:15, 25:4, 36:31) struggled against it, as did Jesus and Paul. Paul confronted this particular problem at Corinth here in the issue of tongues. It wasn't just that people did not understand the foreign languages that were being spoken, or that they did not understand the so-called angelic languages. People did not understand Paul who was speaking in their mother tongue! The deeper lack of understanding was not a function of the language being spoken, but was a function of not having ears to hear, regardless of the language. The issue of understanding the gospel is intimately related to the issue of speaking in tongues. Those who understand the gospel will speak with understanding, regardless of the language they use. And those who do not understand it, will always speak without understanding. Those who speak without understanding cannot communicate understanding, regardless of the language. The proof of this is that this definition of tongues in conjunction with the lack of regeneration (not having ears to hear) provides the context for the correct understanding of the next verse. The long history of misdefining the word "tongues" as Paul was using it has led to a minor mistranslation of verse 22. The sentence structure is awkward to begin with. The KJV translates the word pisteuo as "to them that believe" and apistos as "to them that believe not." In a later clause of the same sentence the Greek words are repeated, but this time they are translated as "for them that believe not" and "for them which believe." Note that the prepositions are different, "to" verses "for." Note also that there is no preposition in the Greek at this point. A literal, word for word translation would be "Therefore tongues are for sign not believers but unbelievers but prophesying not unbelievers but believers." It's awkward because it doesn't flow in English, but uses the Greek order of words. I'm suggesting that the word "for" is out of place in the English. It should be placed after the word sign so that it reads "Therefore tongues are sign for not believers but unbelievers but prophesying (implied for) not unbelievers but believers." I'm also suggesting that the word "for" (eis) would be better translated as "of" in this case. "Therefore tongues are sign of not believers but unbelievers but prophesying of not unbelievers but believers." Whenever the word "tongue(s)" is used it always refers to a different language, not common to the one currently in use. Because Paul is in the process of chastising the Corinthians for their immaturity, he is at this point using the word "tongues" to mean glossolalia (as in Delphic babbling). That is what he has been opposing in the last couple of chapters, and that is the sense of the word in verse 22. So, Paul's basic message in this verse is that tongues are a sign of unbelief or a lack of understanding (which amounts to the same thing), whereas prophecy is a sign of belief or understanding of the gospel. Why are tongues a sign of unbelief? Because what is spoken in a tongue, whether a foreign language or an angelic language, is not understood. And unbelievers do not understand the gospel in any language.

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