Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 14:6-12

Now, brothers,[a] if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. 12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.

—————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s reading introduced Paul’s discourse on the false use of speaking in tongues in the church in Corinth.

The Corinthians who thought they were speaking in tongues were not speaking in a foreign language at all. They were speaking in gibberish, the way pagans did before their deities. Even they did not know what they were saying. Furthermore, they were having an experience of ecstasy while doing so. It was a carnal and sinful practice.

Paul’s use of the word ‘prophecy’ is the original: ‘preaching’. Last week’s post explains that the inclusion of prediction in that definition did not come about until centuries later in the Middle Ages.

Note 1 Corinthians 14:5 (emphases mine below):

Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.

Paul continues his discourse by asking the Corinthians how they would benefit if Paul spoke to them in tongues — a foreign language (verse 6). In order for it to be of use, someone would have to interpret that spiritual lesson in Greek, the language of Corinth.

John MacArthur gave his sermon on this chapter in 1977, when many mainstream churches were undergoing what was called a Charismatic ‘renewal’ at the time. Suddenly, a spiritual gift that, for centuries, was considered one of the Apostolic Era — the earliest years of the Church — and died out because the number of Christians had grown sufficiently, became a trend which would continue for the next two decades or so.

I knew mainstream Christians who attended special Charismatic services at their church because they ‘felt better’ afterwards. They sought some sort of ecstatic comfort which they interpreted as emotional healing. They didn’t understand what they were saying, nor did they understand what anyone else was saying. It was entirely personal.

MacArthur says:

It’s amazing to me today that we have seen this one segment of the church put such an incredible premium on unintelligible communication that nobody, not even the speaker, understands. It’s also amazing to note that many, many times when the interpretation is so-called given as the true interpretation, it can be indicated that it is, in fact, not a true interpretation at all, as there’s many, many testimonies to the effect that people have experimented speaking in Hebrew and whatever, and somebody gives a translation that’s in no way related to what they said.

And somehow today we have made some kind of sacred cow, some kind of great, spiritual hierarchy out of people who have been able to communicate to nobody. Paul says, “If I came and used the true gift, it wouldn’t mean anything to you because you speak Greek.”

Also, referring to verse 9:

the only significant time for the use of the true gift in the Apostolic Era was when somebody was there who understood the language; and if it occurred in the assembly of believers, then it would be translated in order that the believers might even also, in addition, be edified by it. It must be easy to be understood, or you’re just blowing into the air.

In order to get his point across, Paul poses questions using musical illustrations, something that everyone would understand.

He asks whether the flute or the harp would make sense without different notes played to create a melody (verse 7).

Matthew Henry explains:

Unintelligible language is like piping or harping without distinction of sounds: it gives no more direction how a man should order his conversation than a pipe with but one stop or a harp with but one string can direct a dancer how he should order his steps …

Similarly, Paul asks, what good would a bugle be in calling troops to battle if it played only one note (verse 8). We are all familiar with our respective nations’ military instrumental melodies. One tune awakens the troops, another readies them for battle and another announces the end of the day.

MacArthur says:

A military trumpet was the clearest and the loudest of all instruments; but no soldier would have any idea what to do if it didn’t blow something with significance.

Paul then asks the Corinthians how any of them, including the person ‘speaking’, as it were, will understand unintelligible speech; what good is that doing anyone but talking into the air (verse 9)?

Henry interprets this verse as follows:

Words without a meaning can convey no notion nor instruction to the mind; and words not understood have no meaning with those who do not understand them: to talk to them in such language is to waste our breath.

Paul brings his point to a close by saying that the world is full of different languages (verse 10) but if he does not understand a particular language, then he is a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to him (verse 11). In other words, the whole point of a spiritual lesson is lost unless one understands that particular language.

MacArthur says that Paul uses the Greek word ‘barbaros’ — ‘barbarian’ — in verse 11:

He says in verse 11, “Therefore, if I know not the meaning of the sound,” – or the voice – “I shall be unto him that speaks a barbaros, and he that speaketh shall be a barbaros unto me.” Now he says, “If you don’t talk in something I can understand, we’re two barbarians trying to talk.”

In case you don’t remember what a barbarian is, a barbarian is a term for a foreigner; and a barbarian was anybody who didn’t speak Greek. So he’s simply saying, “If you talk in that kind of stuff, we’re just going to be incommunicado, because it’s going to be like two barbarians, neither of whom have a common language.”

Interesting thing about the word. The word barbaros is, again, a word that is onomatopoeiatic. Remember that? A word that sounds – remember “bzzz” and “zip” and “hiss” – any of those kinds of words that simply repeat a sound. Well, this word really is the repetition of “bar-bar.” And what he’s saying is, “If you speak like that, and I don’t know the meaning of what you’re saying, it’s just ‘bar-bar-bar-bar’ to me. I don’t understand it, and it doesn’t make any sense.”

So the whole point, you see, is the uselessness of unintelligible languages and pagan gibberish. It had absolutely no signification whatsoever. It is contrary to all the laws of sound and meaning, according to verse 10.

Paul ends with the same message he gave in 1 Corinthians 14:5: seek gifts of the Holy Spirit that will build up — edify — the church in Corinth (verse 12).

MacArthur says:

“Seek that the church be edified.” He’s really dealing with their selfishness. The Corinthians came together; they were all seeking this experience. They were all seeking this ecstasy; they wanted the sensual experience.

And we still have that today. And I think that’s part of what is going on in the Charismatic and Pentecostal movement is they all seek this personal experience, when Paul is saying “That’s the antithesis of the spiritual gift, which is to seek to edify the body.” So the position of tongues is secondary, reason number one, because prophecy will edify the church; and number two, tongues are unintelligible, and consequently have a very limited use. And, incidentally, that limited use was limited also to the Apostolic Era.

Many moons ago when I was in high school — around the time MacArthur gave this sermon — I knew a girl who stopped going to her family’s church and began attending Sunday service with her boyfriend and his family at the local Foursquare Gospel church. She said she preferred the services there because they were ‘exciting’ and one never knew what would happen next.

The preacher gave sermons, but she said she never listened to them because they were ‘boring’. She was there to watch someone experience personal ecstasy. For her, church was theatre. She thought every church should be like that.

I’m going to skip ahead to 1 Corinthians 14:33 and 40 for an answer to ‘church as theatre’:

33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

40 all things should be done decently and in order.

Paul has much more to say on the topic of speaking in tongues, so more will follow next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 14:13-19