Saturday, May 22, 2010

So who are Tongues and Prophecy for?

As I prepare my sermon on 1 Corinthians 14 tomorrow, I'm intrigued by vv. 20-25 and exactly who is Tongues and Prophecy for? Are they for believers or unbelievers? The line of argumentation is less than clear:

22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.
23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?
24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all,
25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you (ESV).

Probably the answer to this apparent contradiction is through the word "sign" (semeia). Notably the ESV probably gets it wrong by having "sign" twice in v. 22, since it only occurs in the first half of the verse in the Greek. Prophecy is not a "sign" for believers, but simply "for" believers. Garland offers some helpful comments in his BECNT commentary:

'In my view, “sign” has a double meaning in this context that is both negative and positive (cf. Grudem 1979; Fee 1987: 683). Glossolalia as a sign is to be taken in a negative sense with regard to unbelievers because it hardens them in their unbelief, as it did Israel in Isa. 28 (Rengstorf, TDNT 8:259; Sweet 1966–67: 244–45; Dunn 1975: 230–32; Grudem 1979: 390–91). It is a sign of alienation that will lead to judgment. On the other hand, glossolalia cannot be a negative sign for believers, because they are already believers. To Christians, speaking in tongues is a manifestation of the Spirit, though they may not understand what is said. Thiselton (2000: 1125) objects that tongues seem to have a negative effect on uninitiated Christians as well as on unbelievers. But Paul does not say that believers are driven away or hardened in their disobedience by witnessing someone speaking in tongues, only that they do not understand and consequently are not edified—a more neutral result.'

Garland, D. E. (2003). 1 Corinthians. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (650–651). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.


smijer said...

You seem to have a viewpoint on a question I've tried to answer for a long time. I hope you'll share it more fully. My question is whether glossolalia is what is referred to by Paul when he discusses tongues. In other words, does the notion of glossolalia exist in the NT. It appears that your view is that it does. Is that your expert opinion - something I can take to the bank? Or is it a little too hazy to go out on a limb for? Do you know others who take a different view & know what the arguments are for each view? If glossolalia is represented in the NT, was it also a Jewish phenomenon? Is it an innovation, and if so, on the part of whom?

Sorry for the lengthy, rambling question... Just trying to scratch an itch I haven't been able to get at for quite some time.

Rich Griese said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Judy Redman said...

I'm also interested in what is being referred to in 1 Corinthians. ISTM that glossolalia as practised in various contemporary Christian churches is a different phenomenon to what is described in Acts 2 as happening at Pentecost and I always wonder what Paul was talking about. :-)

Al Shaw said...

You will have delivered the sermon by now, but you may be interested in an article on this specific issue that I wrote a while back.