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1 Cor 14:22 "the tongues" and 1 Cor 14:23

(Garth D. Wiebe, December 2016)

1 Cor 14:22 and 1 Cor 14:23 seem at first to contradict each other. Most translations have verse 14 categorically stating that tongues are for unbelievers, but then the next verse contradicts that. For example:

Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!" (1 Cor 14:22-25, NIV'78)
Here are the things needed to resolve this:

First, the translation of the beginning of verse 22 is not right in most versions. There are two things missing: An adverbial conjunction and the definite article:

ωστε αι γλωσσαι...
ωστε is the adverbial conjunction. This is Strong's G5620, "[h]oste," which Strong's describes as "in this way (referring to what precedes or follows)." A more comprehensive definition of ωστε covering all of Greek classical literature is in LSJ #119472, showing that it refers to a "simile," an "actual or intended result." The conjunction makes verse 22 a dependant, or subordinate, clause. A dependant/subordinate clause grammatically cannot stand on its own as a sentence, but is dependent upon, or subordinate to, another clause. That clause is the clause that precedes it.

αι is the definite article, corresponding to "the" in English. Both in Greek and in English, the definite article points to something already specified. An indefinite article ("a/an"), or no article (Greek has no indefinite artices), would introduce something for the first time, or otherwise speak of something in general, not something already specified.

So, grammatically, the beginning of verse 22 becomes,

such that the tongues...
Second, we remember that there was no punctuation, verse numbers, or paragraphs in the original text. These were first added in 1560 with the publication of the Geneva Bible. There is therefore no inspiration behind them and no compelling reason to be bound by them; they are part of the translation, not the original, inspired text.

Third, and given the above, we must go back a "verse" or more to find out what "such that the tongues..." is referring to. Both the adverbial conjunction and the definite article compel us to do that. So, let's do that:

Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. In the Law it is written,
Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me. [Isa 28:11-12]
says the Lord. (1 Cor 14:20-21, NIV'78)
Now we put the "verses" together, with the conjunction and the definite article:
[21]...through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord, [22] such that the tongues..."
Now we see that "the tongues" is the "tongues" of Isaiah 28:11-12. And, in context, it is a rebuke. The apostle Paul several times in this letter to the Corinthians rebukes them as being immature, like children.

Again keeping in mind that chapters and verses were a 16th century addition, the way that writers in New Testament times referenced Old Testament scriptures was by quoting a snippet. That would bring back the context of the whole Old Testament scripture to the one who had memorized them, or to the one who would, like the "noble" Bereans in Acts 17:11, "examine the scriptures." Let's do that next.

1 Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards, to the fading flower, his glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley- to that city, the pride of those laid low by wine!
2 See, the Lord has one who is powerful and strong. Like a hailstorm and a destructive wind, like a driving rain and a flooding downpour, he will throw it forcefully to the ground.
3 That wreath, the pride of Ephraim's drunkards, will be trampled underfoot.
4 That fading flower, his glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley, will be like a fig ripe before harvest- as soon as someone sees it and takes it in his hand, he swallows it.
5 In that day the Lord Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people.
6 He will be a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment, a source of strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.
7 And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions.
8 All the tables are covered with vomit and there is not a spot without filth.
9 "Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast?
10 For it is: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule ; a little here, a little there."
11 Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people,
12 to whom he said, "This is the resting place, let the weary rest"; and, "This is the place of repose"- but they would not listen.
13 So then, the word of the Lord to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there- so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured.
14 Therefore hear the word of the Lord , you scoffers who rule this people in Jerusalem.
15 You boast, "We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place." (Isa 28:1-15, NIV'78)
This is horrible. Note the parallels. Verse 19 talks about trying to explain the "message" to "children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast." Besides 1 Cor 14:20, it is said of the Corinthians,
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly--mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly... (1 Cor 3:1-3)
Also, see my article on 1 Cor 13:8-10,12 that refers to their immaturity. Then, one cannot miss the reference to the Corinthians getting drunk while partaking of the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor 11:21.

Isaiah is speaking to Israel before the time that God handed them all over to be finally defeated by the Assyrians. The account of Assyria conquering Israel throughout Samaria is in 2 Kings 17. The significant thing in context is the language issue, the issue of "tongues." Israel up to this point of time spoke in the Hebrew tongue. The Assyrians spoke in Aramaic. In fact, there is an interesting exchange around 2 Kings 18:26 between the Assyrians taunting the Jews, and the Jewish officials on the wall of Jerusalem, because they taunted the Jews in Hebrew. The officials on the wall who knew Aramaic told the taunters to speak Aramaic, so that not everyone in Jerusalem would understand their intimidating taunts. But, the Assyrian commander wanted to intimidate as many people as possible by speaking in Hebrew.

By now you should be seeing the significance of the prophecy in Isaiah 28:11-13, "...with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people...but they would not listen...so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured." In fulfillment of this prophecy, the "strange tongues" would be Aramaic.

That finally brings us to the meaningless babble, futilely translated here in verse 10 and 13 as "Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there." This is what the "drunkard" "priests and prophets" who "stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine" and whose "tables are covered with vomit" and "filth" say. It is baby-talk and gibberish. In Hebrew it is,

צו לצו צו לצו קו לקו קו לקו זעיר שם זעיר שם
That's pronounced roughly,
sav lasav sav lasav qav laqav qav laqav zeer shem zeer shem
In the Hebrew it is just as unintelligible, the only instance of unintelligible tongues in the Old Testament.

This brings us back around to 1 Cor 14:22. These are "the tongues" corresponding to what the apostle Paul is talking about, and now the contradiction is resolved. "The tongues" of Isaiah 28 is for "unbelievers," the childish, drunkard priests and prophets and etc. The prophecy of Isaiah 28, rightly discerned, for those who would heed and understand the prophecy, is for believers.

1 Cor 14:22 literally continues,

ωστε αι γλωσσαι εις σημειον εισιν ου τοις πιστευουσιν αλλα τοις απιστοις η δε προφητεια ου τοις απιστοις αλλα τοις πιστευουσιν
such-that the tongues into [a] sign are not to-the believing but to-the unbelievers yet the prophecy not to-the unbelievers but to-the believing
Note again another definite article above: Not "prophecy" (in general) or "a prophecy" (unspecific), but "the prophecy." What "prophecy"? The prophecy of Isaiah!

The exhortation is that the Corinthian believers, if they should heed the prophecy, should not act like the Israelites of Isaiah 28.That is why in the next verse, 1 Cor 14:23, if unintelligible tongues are being spoken by everyone and some unbelievers happen to come in and hear it, they will conclude that "you are being raving maniacs" (μαινεσθε), whereas if you prophesy then they will be convicted and worship God, becoming convinced that God is in you, and so on, as the exhortation continues.

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