Tongues Least Of The Gifts Exegetical Observations

Tongues Least Of The Gifts Exegetical Observations

Click to join the conversation with over 500,000 Pentecostal believers and scholars

Click to get our FREE MOBILE APP and stay connected



| PentecostalTheology.com

TONGUES-LEAST OF THE GIFTS? SOME

ON 1 CORINTHIANS

OBSERVATIONS

by

Gordon D. Fee

EXEGETICAL

12-14

One of the common

charges brought against

Pentecostals/charis- matics is that in their

high

level of interest in glossolalia they are

seeking

that the Bible describes as the least of the

gifts.

Such an

something accusation

is based on an

interpretation

last and

by allegedly contrasting

of 1 Corinthians

12-14 that

gifts”

in

12:31),

and

sees Paul as

actually saying

this in chapter 12 (by always listing tongues

it to the “better

that sees him as

“condemning tongues

with faint

praise”

in chapter 14.

to be found in evangelical/fundamentalist books

and was even

tendentiously

Such a view continues

or commentariesl

edition of the New International

” … and

finadly

those

speaking

in different

brought

into the first Version, by translating 12:28,

kinds of

tongues.”2

(ed.

lSee, e.g. W. Harold Mare, “1 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Frank E. Gaegelein; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), vol. 10, pp. 261-281.

2The deletion of this word in the second edition (1978) was the result of a letter to the editors in which I indicated that the translation with “finally” was pejorative and based on

questionable exegesis.

Gordon D. Fee (Ph.D., University of Southern California) is Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

– 3-

1

The

problem belongs

to Pentecostal ially)-is that “exegesis”

with most such

interpretations-and

interpreters

as well

(I

am

tempted

the fault here to

say espec-

claim

only

with the data in 1 Corinthians inthians.

has been the servant of

prior

hermeneutical concerns rather than the other

way

around.3 I do not herewith exemption

from such a reading of the text; but what I do

hope

to offer in this

paper

are some

exegetical suggestions

12-14 but with the whole of 1 Cor-

that are consistent not

The

exegetical problem

areas are three:

ing

of the nature

of the

problem

(1)

A proper understand- that Paul is

addressing

in these

chapters; (2) the

nature of the

argument

is chapter

12,

and

especially

the function of the “gift lists”, and

(3) the meaning

of the crucial

text,

12:31:

zeloute de ta charismata gifts [NIV].

ta meizona

(But eagerly

desire the

greater

THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM

Such a reconstruction

first task in the reconstruction of the

in 1

It should

go

without

saying

that the

absolutely

exegesis

of the

epistles

is to

provide

a provisional

problem

to which the

epistle (or

section

thereof)

is providing an answer.

must account for all the data and must

regularly be

kept

in view

during

the

exegetical

Corinthians 12-14 it is

arguable

that the nature of the

problem

must

consistent with that found in the rest of the

letter,

reflect a perspective especially chapters

7-16.

well as some of the better

process.

Furthermore,

look at the

problem,

reference to it. Most of the literature not

carefully spelled

out-either

Yet it is precisely at this

point

that most of the

popular literature,

as

commentaries,

difficulty.

Even when this section of a

commentary

the

exegesis usually proceeds

have had their

greatest

begins

with a brief

without further assumes the stance-even if it is

deficiencies

or that

that Paul is

informing

the Corinthians in matters where

they

have

theological/experiential

he is

correcting

an abuse that has come to his attention.

Those who see him as

basically giving teaching

think of the Corin- thian letter as one that is

asking

such

questions

of PauL That

is, “Paul,

3In this regard the books by John F. MacArthur (The Charismatics, Zondervan. 1978) and Charles R. Smith (Tongues in Biblical Perspective, DyIH Books, 1973), are particularly notorious. MacArthur especially engages in all kinds of exegetical gymnastics to avoid the plain sense of texts. The commentary by Mare (Note 1) is also faulty at this point.

4

2

what do

you

think about … way

Paul

begins

his

response brothers,

by

the

gifts, Thus

they

have asked a

,

of a divided

church,

in

Paul’s answer

interpretation,

as J. C.

?”4 This seems to be

supported

in 12:1: “Now about

spiritual

I do not want

you

to be

ignorant.”

question,

based

perhaps

on the “enthusiasm” of some of their

number, and Paul is seeking to fill in the lacunae in their

understanding.

Those who see

chapters

12-14 as basically

correcting

an abuse, see the Corinthian letter to Paul from the

perspective

which the

glossolalics

were

abusing

the

non-glossolalics.5

in this latter case takes the side of the

non-glossolalics.

The

problem

with

the “giving

information”

Hurd has

pointed out,6

is that it does not take

seriously enough

the clearly

combative nature of Paul’s answer, and that this answer must be consistent with his

response

to other items from their letter. I would add that this

position

tends

very

often not to see the structural

unity

of the whole

section,

that

is,

that Paul is

giving

a

single

answer to a rather singular problem.

On the other

hand, again

as Hurd has

argued,7

Paul’s s

7-16 to the Corinthian letter have

very

little in them to

suggest

that the letter comes from one of the

parties

1-4. Indeed what is revealed

throughout

so much a church

deeply

divided

internally

responses

in 1 Corinthians

chapters

from its founder. The

strongly rhetorical, of 1 Corinthians

in

1 Corinthians is not

but a church “divided” combative,

defensive nature

.

makes sense best if we see the church as over

against Paul on issue after issue. It is the failure to see the Corinthians’ anti-

through nearly every

section of 1

that is the chief weakness of most of the commentaries

Pauline stance that breathes Corinthians

on this letter.

but

I have

argued elsewhere,8 following

Hurd’s

general perspective

that one can best make sense of all

7 and 8-10

by assuming

three

things: (1)

that

letter to Paul was the

product

of the whole

church,

not just

a party within it (after

all, of those

who

presumably

not his

specific reconstructions, the data in 1 Corinthians the Corinthian

carried the letter

Bousset,

4See, inter alia, the commentaries by Findlay, Evans, Grosheide, Morris, Mare,

Weiss, Leitzmann and Wendland.

Rivingtons, 1914),

5See, e.g., Kirsopp Lake, The Earlier Epistles of Sx Pau4 2nd ed. (London:

206-209.

6The Origin of 1 Corinthians (London: S.P.C.K., 1965), pp. 193-195.

7Ibid.

8″1 Corinthians 7:1 in the

NIV,” JETS 23 (1980); “Eidolothuta Once An

Again:

Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 8-10,” Biblica, 61 (1980).

-5-

3

[1 6: 1 5-1 7], Stephanas

at least would have been a “Paulinist”); (2) that the letter was a response to Paul’s earlier letter

(1 Corinthians 5:9) and that its tone was basically combative: “Paul,

you say …

but we think … Why can’t we?” rather than, “Paul, we

respect your apostolic opinion,

what do

you

think about … ?”

(After

all Paul takes issue with them on every single item in the letter!); and

(3)

that Paul’s responses,

even when

they appear

to digress (such as in chs.

8-10),

are in fact unified

arguments

to

singular problems,-even though

the

singular problem

at times

may

have had more than one side to it.

If this be true of the

arguments

in chs.

1-4, 6:12-20, 7, 8-10

and

15, for

example,

it is proper to assume a similar stance for 12-14,

especially given

the

argumentative

nature of the answer.

What, then,

is- the problem?

What have

they argued

for over

against

Paul in this section of their letter?

Even the most casual

reading

of 1 Corinthians 12-14 makes it abundantly

clear that the

problem

has to do with the

gift

of

tongues. This can be seen first of all by the sheer

weight

of numbers-“speaking in

tongues”

is mentioned or referred to at least 19 times.9 It is further demonstrated

by

the fact that it is the

only gift

that makes all seven “gift lists,”

where in the course of the

argument

Paul lists or refers consecutively

to three or more

gifts.10

The final

proof

lies in the structure of the

argument

itself. Similar to the

long arguments

of chs. 1-4 and 8-10, where Paul

begins by addressing

the

larger theological

issue raised

by

the Corinthian

position

before he moves to a specific response

to the

problem

at

hand,

so

here,

chs. 12-13 in a more general

and

theological way

lead to the correctives of ch. 14. These correctives,

with their

running

contrast between

tongues

and

prophecy and the concomitant

plea

for

intelligiblity

for the sake of

edification, followed in turn

by

the concern for the

ordering

of spiritual

gifts

in the assembly, especially tongues,

make it clear that this

gift

is the

culprit. The

problem is,

how is

tongues being

abused and what is the Corin- thian

position?

At this

point,

of course, the reconstruction becomes more

specula- tive,

but there are

enough

clues from what is actually said in the text to give

us a viable

working hypothesis.

Some

things

from ch. 14 are cer-

.

912-10, 28, 30 ; 13:1, 8; 14:2, 4, 5, 6, 13, 14, 18, 19, 22, 23, 26, 27. 39.

1012;g_10; 12:28, 12:29-30; 13:1-3; 14:6; 14:26.

– 6-

4

for edification

for the need for intelligibility respectable guess

that

precisely inthian

community. Indeed,

tain. The

problem

has to do with the

community

at

worship. 11 l The plea

in

community worship, coupled

with the twin

arguments

and orderliness

not

hypothetical,

in order to edify, makes it a the

opposite

obtained in the Cor-

makes sense if 14:23

(“If

the

everything

whole church comes together and everyone

speaks

in tongues,” NIV) is

but actual. One need

only

note how often in ch. 14 Paul seems to reflect similar Corinthians attitudes or

practices:

would like

every

one of you to

speak

in tongues, but …

with you,

Unless

you speak intelligible

you,

since

you

are

eager

to have

spiritual gifts… ;”

praising

God with

your Spirit … ;” subject

originate

spiritually gifted….”

We

may affirm, therefore, overly

enthusiastic

to the control of

prophets”; with

you?”

14:37 “If

anybody

they

were also

singularly Corinthian

14-5 “I

;”

14:9 “So it is

words … ;

14:12 “So it is with

14:16-1?

“If you

are 14:32 “The

spirits

of

prophets

are

14:36 “Did the word of God

thinks he is a

prophet

or

Chapter

12

about

tongues.

That

is,

the the church as a

worshiping

from ch.

14,

that the Corinthians were

about

tongues,

to the

point

of disorder.

prepares

the

way

for the

specific

correctives of ch. 14

by suggesting

that

enthusiastic

abuse not

only destroyed

community,

but it had also

given

them a very

myopic

view of the

Spirit. The

point

of ch.

12,

it seems

clear,

it not to inform them as to the nature and function of

spiritual gifts,

but to

expand

their horizons to see how

much more diverse the

ministry enthusiasm

of the

Spirit

is than their

singular

about

tongues

had allowed. Thus at

every

turn the

emphasis is on

diversity,

which will

always

include

tongues,

emphasis

on

diversity

is heard.

but

only

after the

All of this seems

relatively certain;

what is less certain is why they were

doing

this and what

they

had told Paul in their letter. At this

point one needs to offer a view of the nature of the Corinthian false

theology

as a whole, a matter that is much debated and which lies

beyond

the limits of this

paper.

But a few words are in order.

I have

argued

for a view “that sees their

problem

as

eschatology,

informed

by

an

improper

Elsewherel2

basically

an over-realized standing

of

spiritual

enthusiasm.”

under- This latter was

probably

based on

some form of hellenistic dualism that took a

negative

view of

present bodily

existence. On such a view their criteria for

spirituality

would

prophesies “speaks

llsee such passages as v. 16, 19, 23-25, 26, plus vv. 3 and 4 where the one who

to men” and “edifies the church.”

pp.

121 Corinthians 7:1, “p. Cf. my study guide, Corinthians (Brussels, ICI, 1979), 84-86.

– 7-

5

be

considerably

different from Paul’s. Indeed there is much in both 1 and 2 Corinthians to

suggest

that

they thought

of themselves as spiritual in a

way

that excluded Paul.

Thus

they

denied a future

bodily

resurrection

(ch. 15), kept their marriages “pure”

while

consorting

with

prostitutes (6:12-7:16), argued for non-contamination at the

idol-temples (8-10), etc.,

because

they were

already realizing

the future in its fullness

(4:8). Already they were rich; already they

had come to

reign.

The resurrection for them was spiritual;

who needs a future resurrection of the

body (15:12,

35).

If this is a correct view of things, then chs. 12-14 fit in perfectly. The Corinthians indeed

thought

of themselves as

spiritual (14:27),

as al- ready realizing

the future. The evidence for this was in their

community worship,

where all were

speaking

the

language

of heaven, the

tongues

of angels (13:1).13 Why

should

they

not continue to do so? The

fact

of tongues

itself was evidence

enough

for them of a

spirituality

that showed the future to have arrived.

If this final reconstruction is a bit more

speculative,

it must be insisted on that some such overview of the Corinthian false

theology- and one that includes all the data from 1 and 2 Corinthians-must continually inform,

and in turn be informed

by,

our

exegesis

of these letters. The

point

for now is that all of 1 Corinthians 12-14 makes sense as a

response

to this kind of

problem, predicated

on this kind of theology.

Not

only

does Paul correct their

singular

and

overly

en- thusiastic view of

tongues,

but he also tries to

replace

their false spirituality

with a genuine one. A true work of the

Spirit,

Paul

says,

will be

judged by

its content, not

simply

its mode

(12:1-3),

and it will have love as its aim

(=

the edification of the whole

community),

not “spirituality”

as such

(13:1-13).

THE ARGUMENT

OF CHAPTER 12

Although

the whole of Paul’s

argument

can be seen as a response to this insistence of theirs on

“tongues

in the

community

at

worship,”

the crucial matters for this

paper

lie in ch. 12.

Here, because

of its more

13A common interpretation of 13:1 is that Paul “was using hyperbole-exaggeration- to make a point” (Mac Arthur, op. cit, p. 163). But this fails to take seriously the context of 13:1-3 in which tongues, now mentioned first because it was the problem, is followed by three other charismata mentioned in ch. 12. Furthermore, there is good evidence that early Christians understood tongues as speaking the language of angels. See The Testament of Job 48-52 (ed. R. A. Kraft; Scholar’s Press,1974, pp. 83-85, a Jewish apocalypse reworked by

Christian hands, where Job’s three daughters are caught up in the “Spirit” and speak the “dialects of the angel.”)

_

-8-

6

.

point

as basically suggests

otherwise.

general

nature and less combative tone, one

might

be tempted to see the

informational But a close look at the

argument

are less certain

them of their

The

argument begins,

in w.

1-3,

with one of the more difficult passages

in 1 Corinthians. But if some of the

particulars

(the grammar

of v. 2; the

meaning

of “Jesus is cursed”), the overall

point is not so obscure. Paul

deliberately begins by reminding

own

knowledge

and

experience

of ecstasy as

pagans. Formerly they

had

wherever the demonic

spirits

had led them. His

point

seems to be that it is not the

fact

of

ecstasy

itself

been “carried

away” (apagomenot),

that is the evidence of the

Spirit-and

this is what he does not want them

to be

ignorant

of- but the content of spiritual utterance. Even as pagans they

knew

ecstasy,

but the

Spirit

will be evidenced

by

the exaltation of

Jesus as Lord.

the fact of

and

emphasized.

Verses

With that basic

principle stated,

the whole of the rest of the

chapter has a very singular

theme, played

in various

motifs-namely,

and need for a

diversity

of charismata, “Different kinds of charismata there

are,

and services and

working,” says

Paul

(vv. 4-6),

and in each case the diaireseis

(different kinds)

is repeated

7-11 then elaborate this

point by actually listing

some of this

variety. The

purely

ad hoc nature of this, and all the other, lists must be em-

The list is neither exhaustive nor ordered. Paul is not

saying,

are nine

spiritual gifts

and these are the sum of

them,” nor, “There are nine

spiritual gifts

and

tongues

is the least of them.” Rather he is

saying,

“There are a

great variety

of

spiritual gifts

and here are

phasized. “There

some of them.” Moreover, the

emphasis

in this

listing

is not on the

gifts

themselves at all. In contrast to

every

other enumeration of this kind in Paul,

here he

places first,

and

repeats

nine

times,

the words

ho,

hetero and allo

(to one,

to

another,

to

another).

In other such

listings,

such as Rom. 12:6-8 or 1 Cor. 12:28, Paul’s

style

is to

repeat

the connective word a few times, then to

drop

it in favor of the list itself. Thus in Rom. 12 he

says, “whether, whether, whether, whether,”

then

merely

lists the

final three members.

But this

stylistic

the

body

that follows

(12:12-26).

feature does not occur here

body,

and each

in

precisely

because the

emphasis

is not on the

list,

or gifts, as such, but on the need for each

person

to be a part of the

ministering

one to do so in his or her own diverse

way.

This same

emphasis

on

diversity

is also the

point

of the

analogy

of

It must be noted here

especially, contrast to much of the

popular

literature and

preaching,

that Paul is not by

this

analogy striving

for

unity

within a divided church.

Quite

the contrary,

he is

arguing

for the need for

diversity

in a church

arguing

for

uniformity. Every part

of the

argument the

preamble:

Just as the

body

is one

(unity

is the

presupposition

-9-

says

this. Verses 12-14

provide

of the

7

its common

experience and ministries. One must not be jealous

analogy)

but has many

parts,

so also the

church,

which is one because of

of the

Spirit (v. 13),

must have a variety of gifts

In the

analogy proper,

he then makes two

points: (1)

of another’s

gift (vv. 15-20);

that is, to

deny

one’s own

place

in the

body

because it is not like another’s is sheer

folly.

(2)

One must not disregard

another’s

gift (vv. 21-26),

that

is,

to

deny

another

person’s place

or function in the

body

because it is not like one’s s own is likewise

folly. Again,

it is clear that both

points emphasize

the value of diversity.

expands

to

After the first three

with these

Finally,

and one more

time,

vv. 27-30

repeat

the same theme. In v. 28 Paul offers another ad hoc list, which now, because it flows

directly out of the

preceding analogy

of the

body

and its

functions,

per

se. Here indeed Paul

begins

with a

of rank, but that

quickly disappears.

which are

clearly persons

ministries,14

he returns to the list of vv. 8-10 and

randomly

(but

now lists them in their reverse order!).

He then adds two other items

(“helps”

and

“administrations”),

include more than charismata concept

(apostles, prophets, teachers), functional

picks

two of these charismata

before

concluding

with

tongues.

One is

tempted

related to the

“workings,”

“services”

at this

point

to see these

groupings

(servant)

of the church

concerns tend to be different

as

perhaps and “charismata” ov vv. 4-6. But

that would be too neat and would

surely

be to miss Paul’s

point.

After all,

a prophet and

apostle

from Paul’s

point

of view would be a diakonos

yet prophecy

itself is called a charisma. If from our

point

of view Paul seems to mix

apples

and

oranges,

it is because our

from his. He is not

trying

to sort

out, categorize

and rank “the

spiritual gifts.”

His concern remains

singular, and this is evidenced

by the (partial) repetition

“Are all one

thing?

Do all have one

ministry?” Answer

is, “Of course

not.” The Corinthians lacked

unity, yet

insisted

God insists on

unity,

the

questions,

on

uniformity. diversity.

The Triune

demonstrated

of v. 28 in vv. 29-30 with

The

but

glories

in

need to be said about the

This is

Some final

exegetical words, therefore,

gift

lists. First,

they

are all ad hoc, not definitive nor exhaustive.

by

several data:

(a)

The list

always

serve in a functional way

in the

argument; they

are not the

point

of the

argument

two lists are

exactly alike,

and in most cases

they

include items that

itself.

(b) No

l4See

e.g. A. D. Palma. “Spiritual Gifts-Basic

Considerations,” Pneuma 1 (1979) 17-18.

this

term, especially in the earlier Paul, is a favorite in describing himself and his fellow ministers (1 Thess. 3:2; 1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor. 3:6; Rom. 15:8; 16:1.

10

8

seem to move beyond charismata,

ordinary

endowments

as

supernatural

manifestations of the

(=special,

extra- in 12:8-10. Thus in

Spirit.

The later lists also include further charismata

of the

Spirit)

not mentioned

the ad hoc list in 14:6 Paul includes

apokalypsis (revelation)

and didache (word

of

instruction), along

with

knowledge

cernment elaboration themselves

are not even mentioned

and

prophecy

and dis- but are included in the

ensuing

the

gifts

of chapter 12 is to

empha-

(14:29-32). (d) Finally,

and most

importantly,

are never defined or

explained.

If gifts per se were the intent of such

listings,

then

surely

one would

expect

some kind of explanation. But not so;

they simply

have a different function in the

argument.

Second,

their function in the

argument

size the fact of and the need for

diversity

of

Spirit gifts

and ministries over

against

the Corinthians’ over- and

singular

tongues. Third, they

are therefore

church.

Fourth,

least! On the

contrary, variety always

includes

tongues,

enthusiasm about not

given

in order to define or rank

ministries in the

the most

important, tongues,

them

except

in the case of the

primary

functional

and for our

argument

which is the

only gift

that makes all seven enumerations in these chapters, always appears

at the end of the

listings

in chapter 12 because this is where the

problem lay. But it is not listed last

because he thinks it

the lists

emphasize variety

within

unity;

and

but will not allow the

tongues

to be exclusive. Thus

tongues

is listed last because it is a part of the

diversity, but in this

argument

it always makes the list

only

after

diversity

is heard.

THE MEANING OF 12:31

of,

or

disregarding,

another’s

.. .

gifts”

after he

After all this

emphasis

on variety and

unity

and on not

being jealous

place

in the

body,

v. 31 comes as some- thing

of a shock. How can Paul now talk about

“greater

has been

trying

to

destroy

the kind of thinking for 27 verses

(12:4-30)?

interpretations

There are four

possible

1. The traditional

interpretation, the

difficulties,16

therefore

tongues

of this text:

which sometimes fails even to see

and

to

stop

has commented: interpretation,

Paul urges

seeking tongues “Having

mentioned Christians

has been to view the verb as an

imperative,

as an exhortation in

light

of an

alleged ranking

of

gifts

in vv. 27-30 to seek the items

high up

on the list

and, conversely,

at alL Thus W. H. Mare

recently

and their

to seek the better

gifts

not that of speaking in tongues.” I? As we have

already noted,

Mare has also rather

thoroughly

missed

Harper, 1968), p.

16See, e.g., the otherwise excellent commentary by C. K. Barrett (New York:

296.

170p. cit, p. 267.

– 11-

9

the nature of the

problem

even similarly:

“Yet it

greater gifts

in this whole

passage. Nevertheless, an

exegete

as skilled as C.K. Barrett has commented

was

proper

to

give

the

advice,

Strive

for (be

ambitious to

acquire)

the

proper

because the Corinthians

evidently

valued too highly

what Paul

regards

as one of the lowest

gifts,

that of

speaking

with

tongues.”18

But such an interpretation take

seriously

how

contradictory argument

that has

preceded.

is fraught with difficulties.

(a) It does not

“greatest,”

this statement

is to the whole

that the item by

the same

reasoning

the

know what the for

example,

is

in ch. 14.

(d)

It fails to prophecy

and other

to contrast

intelligibility note that

intelligible gifts

with

tongues “greater”

in the exhortation. circumvent Paul’s

very positive

2. Another

suggested

that the Corinthians

(b) It looks back to the previous

list to see tongues

as “one of the least,” but fails to

acknowledge

at the

top

of the list

(apostle)

and therefore

cannot be striven for.

(c) It fails to note that Paul

does not in fact rank the

gifts

in such a way as to help the Corinthians

“greater gifts”

are that

they

should strive for.

Prophecy,

sixth on the first

list,

second on the second

list,

but becomes the

gift used

with

non-intelligibility

where Paul does in fact contrast

(14:1),

he does not use the

adjective

(3)

It devalues or otherwise must

statements about

tongues

in ch. 14.

possible option

I have

yet

to find in

print

was once

to me

by my

friend

Larry

W. Hurtado.

were in fact zealous to be “spiritual” (lit. “zealous of spirits),

and since at several

places

in 1 Cor. 7-16

(e.g. 6:12-13; 17:1; 8:1,

only

make- sense if he is

quoting

their

letter,

it is

4) Paul’s statements

possible

that zeloute de ta charismata Paul is

quoting

and will then

qualify.

On the basis of 14:12,

” ta

meizona is their

position

which ‘But seek

earnestly

the

greater

to that.”

at the

beginning

of Paul’s

at the

beginning,

nor have

of seeking “higher

gifts,”

the solution to this

problem

3. In an article

published

gifts,’ you say; well,

I will show

you

a

way

far

superior

This

option

has clear

merit,

but it also has some strikes

against

it. In every

other such

alleged citation,

it

appears

argument,

he

partially agrees

with

them,

but then

sharply qualifies

their position.

Since our verse does not

appear

some kind of signal such as “we know that…” as in 8:1 and 4, and since ch. 13 does not

appear

to be a real

qualification

must lie in one of the final two

options.

in

1963,

Gerhard Iber

argued vincingly

that the solution to 12:31 lies in

seeing

the de as

adversative,

and the zeloute as an indicative,

not

consecutive,

180p. cit, p. 296.

con-

not an

imperative.19

19″Zum Verstandnis von I Cor. 12:31,” ZNW 54 (1963) 13-52. Cf. A. Bittlinger, Gifts and Graces (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967, pp. 73-75, who wholeheartedly adopts this alternative.

12

10

Thus Paul, after arguing strenuously

are seeking the excellent

for an obliteration of their

ranking

“But

you

of

gifts by showing

the need for

diversity,

has

remonstrated,

so-called

greater gifts.

Rather I will show

you

a ‘more

way.’ ” Thus,

Paul

goes on, you

must exhibit

love; indeed, pursue

love,

and in that context

simply

seek

spiritual gifts.

And when

love and

seeking spiritual gifts-he

or she

gift

such as

prophecy

knowledge

of

teaching, 14:6)

for

only

what is

intelligible

will

edify

the

one is

doing both-pursuing will seek for an

intelligible

community.

This is a

particularly

attractive

seeking

the

‘better’gifts; spiritual

zeloute as an

imperative

(or

a revelation

or

option

and has

against

it

only

the

fact that the zeloute in a similar context in 14:1 is clearly an

imperative. But as Iber

points out,

when it does become an

imperative

in 14:1 it does not have the ta meizona of 12:31. Thus Paul would be

saying,

“You are

what

you

should be

doing

is

simply seeking

gifts

in the context of love.”

4. The final

option,

and the one I

finally

settle

for,

is to see the

in 12:31, but not in contrast to 12:4-30. That

is, Paul

really

does mean to

say,

“But

eagerly

desire the

greater gifts.” However,

he is not

thinking

back to a list of gifts

they

should desire in the order he has

given

them. Rather he is looking ahead to his next

point,

the

in the

community;

intelligible gifts edify

the

community

and

tongues by itself does not. But before he can

get

that

point made,

he

interrupts

proper

framework in which the

“greater gifts”

are to

function, namely,

need for

intelligibility

love.

and in the

community

all the

himself to

give

the

If in 13:1-3

tongues

is mentioned first as

having

no value without love, again

it is

only

because that is their favorite. But as Paul

clearly says,

none of the

gifts,

indeed not even charitable deeds

(!),

counts for anything

if one is not

doing

it in love

i. e., seeking

not one’s own but

another’s welfare.

In this

interpretation

“Pursue

love,”

he

says.

14:1 is

resumptive.

Now in that context zeloute the

things

of the

Spirit, especially

those

gifts

and will thus

edify

the

community.

that are

intelligible

THE ARGUMENT OF CHAPTER 14

that in church

intelligibility

once more that

to

non-intelligibility,

because

We

may

conclude these

exegetical

notes

by referring

once

again

to the

argument

of chapter 14. It needs to be

emphasized

Paul does not

say

that

tongues

is inferior to

prophecy.

What he

says

is

is

preferred

the former seeks to edify the whole

community

while the latter is only for one’s own edification. The

pursuit

of love demands that in church one

– 13-

11

seek to

edify

the whole

community.

Furthermore,

Paul is clearly

not “damning tongues

with faint praise,”

unless one

argue

that his

positive

statements are not

really

to be taken

seriously.

But

quite

the

contrary.

With

interpretation

even tongues

becomes

intelligible

and is therefore one of the “greater gifts” in church. Hence the

regulations

on order in

14:27-28,

so that

tongues might

become

intelligible

and therefore

edify.

That Paul values

tongues

as a

private gift

is reflected in several ways,

and not

simply

in his “I would like

every one

of

you

to

speak

in tongues” (14:5)

and “I think God I

speak

in

tongues

more than all of you” (14:18).

The one who

speaks

in tongues is speaking to God

(14:2)20 and

thereby edifying

himself

(14:4).

Such a person prays and

sings

with his

Spirit.

Even if the mind is unfruitful, the clear

implication

is that not all

Spirit-communicated

edification must

pass through

the cortex of the brain. Such affirmations are

scarcely

consonant with

seeing tongues

as the least of the

gifts. Nonetheless,

in church

only

what edifies the whole church must be manifested.

Such an

interpretation,

we would

argue,

is not the servant of a prior hermeneutical commitment, but is correct

simply

because it touches all the bases and makes sense of all the data.

.

20In what must be classified as a curiosity-or

absurdity- MacArthur (op. cit, p. 161) has argued: “Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 14:2 is not a commendation to the Corinthians; he was using satire. It is also possible from the Greek, because of the absence of the definite article, to translate the term for God as ‘a god’-referring to a pagan deity. Whether we want to take 1 Corinthians 14:2 as a satire or as a reference to a pagan deity, it is condemnation, not commendation. The context demands this.” In all of this, of course, he

conveniently overlooks 14:28 where Paul says to theo and clearly says, “let

him speak…

to God!”

– 14-

12

Be first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.